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Court Rulings Draw Fire; Senate Derails Immigration Bill Again

June 29, 2007 at 6:35 PM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Lowry, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and National Review editor Rich Lowry. David Brooks is off.

Gentlemen, keep that debate in mind, because I want to start with the Supreme Court. Margaret was just discussing it with the two professors, but I want to get your take, first of all, Mark, on the significance of not only this week’s school desegregation decision, but this court overall, the first Roberts term.

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, I think that, first of all, the Supreme Court has been the central player in the narrative that is the two terms of George W. Bush. I mean, there wouldn’t have been a Bush presidency but for a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in 2001. And I think his legacy is wrapped up in the nominations of Samuel Alito and John Roberts to the court.

We saw it this term, not simply this week. We saw it in the McCain-Feingold, which gutted the strongest provision in that legislation, which is prohibiting the use of corporate or labor union treasury money in campaign ads. We’ll be guaranteed to have those around the clock next time. We saw the court overturn 12 verdicts assessing damages, turn back, including an $85 million settlement against Philip Morris. We saw them disallow clear evidence of discrimination against a woman plaintiff and a minority because it wasn’t timely.

So, you know, we had, I think, in yesterday’s ruling that race cannot be considered even in a voluntary program seeking racial diversity with thousands of school districts, thus guaranteeing we’ll have litigation in perpetuity.

So I think — you can understand why conservatives were so upset when George Bush considered nominating Harriet Miers. I don’t think there’s any question that Samuel Alito and John Roberts are two stalwarts. And the three of the four conservatives on the court — reliable, dependable conservatives, I guess — three of them were appointed by presidents named Bush and they’re the three youngest. So I’d say it’s quite a legacy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is it? Are we already seeing the Bush legacy?

RICH LOWRY, Editor, National Review: Yes, presumably, they’re going to be there a long time, and both Roberts and Alito are very talented men. I think what we’ve seen so far is they really are as advertised. They’re incrementalist conservatives.

On the highest profile cases this term, partial birth, the campaign finance, now Brown, the race in schools case, we’ve seen incremental steps to the right, and there’s actually been an interesting divide between Roberts and Alito and Scalia and Thomas, where Scalia and Thomas have a tendency to want to be much more sweeping and go much further, and Alito and Roberts are more cautious. And we saw that in particular on the campaign finance case, where Scalia was rather scathing of Roberts for not going further.

But, you know, there’s been a lot of commentary, “Gosh, these guys are supposed to be, you know, conservatives. They’re not supposed to be activists.” But I think there are different kinds of activism. There’s making up rights that aren’t in the Constitution, and it’s also ignoring rights that are in the Constitution. And especially on the campaign finance case, I think there’s no question the First Amendment protects political speech, especially political speech around election time. So that was a good decision that should have gone further.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we know these two new justices are going to be there for a long time; certainly, we expect them to be.

MARK SHIELDS: People can change the Congress, but only a God can change the Supreme Court.

The derailed immigration bill

Rich Lowry
National Review
It does show the president is losing juice. But I think the most important factor was just the substantive weakness of this legislation.

JUDY WOODRUFF: If the president did well with the Supreme Court this week, on the immigration bill, Rich, that was a loss for the president. What happens now? What's the significance?

RICH LOWRY: Well, it's a devastating loss. I mean, given how much Bush cared about this, given how hard the administration worked it -- you had Secretary Chertoff and Gutierrez working this almost 18 hours a day, as far as I could tell. And at the end of the day, they got 12 Republican votes in the Senate.

That's just incredible. It does show the president is losing juice. But I think the most important factor was just the substantive weakness of this legislation. Other factors, the cynicism on the right of any promises of more immigration enforcement, because they haven't seen it the first six years of the Bush administration.

And then also just the ugliness of the process, trying to get through a 300-page bill, extremely complicated and significant, without a committee hearing is really extraordinary, I think turned off some of the old bulls in the Senate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Where do you see it going from here, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think, most of all, Judy, it confirms publicly what the private verdict of a lot of Republicans was last September, and that was the George Bush presidency was essentially over as a consequence of the election of 2006.

And any executive, whether that executive elected be a mayor, or a governor, or a president, in dealing with the state legislature, or the city council, the Congress relies upon two weapons: One is being loved, that is out of gratitude, or loyalty, or affection, members will vote for your program. The second is being feared.

And I think it's fair to say, after this week -- which Rich points out only 12 senators did -- the House Republicans went on record, as well.

RICH LOWRY: That was a high number.

MARK SHIELDS: There are 250 elected Republicans in Congress. Exactly 35 of them stood with George Bush on this, the domestic centerpiece of his second term.

RICH LOWRY: And that House vote was exaggerated. You had 23 Republicans voting against the resolution, saying they didn't want this immigration bill.

MARK SHIELDS: That's right.

RICH LOWRY: I understand that that number was high, because some of them just didn't like the process of the internal House vote on this, so there's probably about a dozen House Republicans...

MARK SHIELDS: I think that sealed the Senate. If you're in the Senate, and you're going to cast a tough vote on this bill, where I think the Senate was actually closer than the vote turned out, if you're going to cast a tough one, you're going to take a bullet for the team, you say, "Wait a minute, it's going nowhere in the House." And that basically indicated that it was dead in the House, immigration reform.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So it's dead? Is that what you're saying?

RICH LOWRY: It's dead. Oh, it's absolutely dead. And on the right, amnesty for illegal immigrants is like Social Security is for Democrats. It's a third rail now. And we've seen John McCain -- he touched it, he hugged it, he grabbed it, and his campaign has taken a huge negative jolt of electricity because of that.

A defection on the war in Iraq

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
Dick Lugar is not a media event. It was done at the end of the day to essentially an empty chamber, the Senate chamber. You know, no cameras or anything of the sort.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, if immigration was a tough issue for the president, he had a significant defection on the war in Iraq this week, Senator Richard Lugar, a highly respected former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Is this going to make a decision, though, Mark, when it comes to the war itself?

MARK SHIELDS: Dick Lugar is not a media event. It was done at the end of the day to essentially an empty chamber, the Senate chamber. You know, no cameras or anything of the sort. He's somebody who didn't do it because he was politically in trouble, facing a tough election. He got 87 percent of the vote the last election.

And he stood up, as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, former chairman, still enormously respected, and said that we don't have to follow the president blindly, that timetables must sometimes be considered, because they're domestic, political, democracy. I mean, in other words, he essentially said, "We have to have a Plan B."

JUDY WOODRUFF: And will that affect the conduct of the war?

RICH LOWRY: It remains to be seen. We'll have to see how many Republicans follow him. It certainly is potentially a politically significant moment. I think, analytically, the speech was rather lacking.

You know, he says we have these important strategic goals in Iraq, like defeating al-Qaida and controlling the sectarian violence and protecting our credibility. None of those goals are served by a precipitous drawdown of the sort he's talking about.

But, look, Republicans are very nervous. There are a lot of Republicans in the Senate who loved that Lugar gave the speech, because they think it begins to forge a third way between Bush and the Democrats who want a more immediate pullout.

But so much still depends on Bush. And I think, if push comes to shove, are Senate Republicans going to have a knockdown, drag-out veto fight with President Bush? I'm not so sure, but we'll see whether he wants to go the Lugar direction, as well.

The role of the vice president

Rich Lowry
National Review
They should have gotten congressional signoff on a lot of these things. The secrecy can go too far.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quickly, to both of you, a series of stories in the Washington Post this week about Vice President Cheney, his role, secrecy, going his own way. Quickly, Mark, you and I were talking before the program, you were saying this says as much about the president as it does about the vice president.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think it says that the vice president is an enormously, enormously disciplined, determined, skillful, adroit, even devious player, I mean, a man who had an agenda which was consolidation of executive power and to minimize congressional oversight and that, I mean, certainly the most powerful vice president in the history of the country.

I think the role of the vice president as a consequence of Dick Cheney in that office will become a factor in the campaign of 2008. Candidates will have to address what kind of a vice president so-and-so might choose is going to be.

RICH LOWRY: That's interesting. You know, I generally like the thrust of policy that Cheney, with his deviousness, you know, succeeded in getting implemented. But, you know, a point people have made this week, I think that's correct, is that you would think, OK, a vice president who's never going to run for office again, he doesn't have ambitions to become president, he's going to be liberated.

In some ways, it's not a good thing to be liberated from electoral politics, because that's a useful check on people. And, again, since I supported the thrust of a lot of Cheney's policies, but he did go too far in certain respects. They should have gotten congressional signoff on a lot of these things. The secrecy can go too far. So it's an interesting turnabout.

MARK SHIELDS: The defense rests.

Relating to minority voters

Mark Shields
Syndicated columnist
If I were counseling any candidate, I'd say, "You win Iowa and New Hampshire, don't worry about the others, because the victory will follow you."

JUDY WOODRUFF: The Democrats debate, we just heard an excerpt from the debate. What does it say about the campaign, Rich?

RICH LOWRY: Not a lot, I don't think. I don't think it will have much lasting consequence. Hillary Clinton, though, really shines in these debates. I think she almost gets better every time. And Barack Obama is very interesting. He really has a visceral tendency not to want to tell people what they want to hear, not to go for the cheap applause lines, and he was...

JUDY WOODRUFF: African-American audience, it's Howard University.

RICH LOWRY: Yes, he was the only one last night going out of his way to say, "No, you know, all these government programs aren't necessarily the answer unless you have more responsibility on the part of individuals and communities."

MARK SHIELDS: I hate to agree with Rich, but, I mean, I do, because truth in packaging, Judy, it wasn't a debate. I mean, if it was a debate, I missed it. I mean, it was kind of a joint appearance, it seemed, because they didn't really engage at any point. And I think, at some point, the underdogs are going to have to engage with the front-runners.

But I think the focus, the spotlight was really on Senator Obama, whether, in fact, he happened to be a serious Democratic presidential candidate who happened to be an African-American or an African-American presidential candidate who is seen -- and I thought last night at Howard he did resist the opportunity to kind of show, "You know, I'm one of you."

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you think he helped himself?

MARK SHIELDS: I think he helped himself. I think, in the eyes of white America, they saw him as someone who could appeal openly, and directly, and comfortably to both worlds.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quickly, the early primary states, New Hampshire and Iowa, we're looking at the polls. We do look at them every once in a while. And candidates who aren't necessarily doing well nationally, John Edwards doing well in Iowa, he's not doing as well nationally. Mitt Romney doing well in New Hampshire and Iowa. Does any of this mean anything at this point?

RICH LOWRY: Well, it remains to be seen. I mean, Romney's investment so far have paid off. He's the only one who spent heavily in Iowa and New Hampshire, been on the airwaves, and he's gotten that bump up in the polls. Now, whether that all, you know, erodes away at the end of the year and is meaningless, we don't know, but it certainly increases press coverage and the seriousness of his candidacy.

And Edwards, you know, he'd be a second-tier candidate clearly if it weren't for his strong position in Iowa.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Fifteen seconds.

MARK SHIELDS: Nobody has ever been elected president of the United States who did not win the New Hampshire primary or, at the very worst, finished second. Only two have done that. And in Iowa, nobody has ever been nominated who finished less than third.

I think Iowa and New Hampshire are even more important now than they've been in the past. And if I were counseling any candidate, I'd say, "You win Iowa and New Hampshire, don't worry about the others, because the victory will follow you."

JUDY WOODRUFF: We better get there right away. We heard you. Mark Shields, Rich Lowry, thank you both. Good to see you both. Have a good weekend.

RICH LOWRY: Thanks, Judy.