TOPICS > Politics

On the Dole

April 17, 1997 at 12:00 AM EST
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JIM LEHRER: Now, the view of two key House members, John Boehner of Ohio, chairman of the House Republican Conference, and Benjamin Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, who was a member of the Ethics Committee which ruled on the original Gingrich matter.

Congressman Cardin, what do you think of the Dole loan arrangement?

REP. BENJAMIN CARDIN, (D) Maryland: First of all I think Mr. Gingrich is using the right thing on personal funds to pay off the penalty, and I was pleased to see that he chose that method. As he said, it was the only right way to do it. As far as the loan, it raises questions that need to be answered. It needs to be looked at and approved by the Ethics Committee. A member is not allowed to take gratuities or tips, and if this loan is not commercially feasible, what a normal person could have received going to a bank, it raises certain questions as to whether it’s a gift. And under our gift rules, we cannot accept gifts, and there’s a gratuity statute. So you need to take a look at the loan. We don’t have enough information to know whether it is, what a person could have received in a normal circumstance, but our rules are pretty clear about not accepting a loan under terms that would not be available to an average person.

JIM LEHRER: And that is the only question that you would have, Congressman?

REP. BENJAMIN CARDIN: I think that’s the key point. The key point is whether he has gotten something of value. If you get a loan for terms that are different than what you could have gotten at a bank, that is something of value under our gift ban. A member is not permitted to take that. The Ethics Committee would need to take a look at it. And, quite frankly, Mr. Gingrich is submitting this to the Ethics Committee for its review, so I expect the Ethics Committee will look into it.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Boehner, do you agree that’s a legitimate question to ask?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, Chairman, Republican Conference: I think that if you look at the agreement that’s been reached between Speaker Gingrich and Sen. Dole, it is a commercial agreement. It requires the interest to be paid at a 10 percent rate. It’s clear in the agreement that only Newt can repay the loan out of his personal funds. So he can’t go raise money in any other way. He has to pay it out of his pocket. And if, in fact, the Speaker were to die during the term of this, there’s a life insurance policy to ensure that it’s paid off. So I think the Speaker today took personal responsibility for the errors that he made. And I think that the House today really is going through a healing. Most members of the Congress, both Democrat and Republican, are glad that this affair is over, and I think you’ll see the Congress begin to move on with what the American people sent us here to do: balance the federal budget, reduce taxes, solve the problems of Medicare, and working to try to improve the lives of our fellow citizens.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Boehner, what is–you’re a member of the leadership–what is your reading of why it took three months to come to this conclusion?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Well, I think that, as you know, the Ethics Committee was disbanded after the inauguration and after dealing with the Gingrich affair. And only a chairman of the committee and the ranking Republican were appointed, we’re going through a whole review of the ethics process. The committee didn’t set a time limit, and I think that Newt and his wife and his attorneys and his advisers had to work their way through this. And once they did they came to this conclusion, and I applaud the Speaker for taking personal responsibility for what really is a rather difficult time in his life.

JIM LEHRER: Are the stories correct, Congressman Boehner, that the leadership–and I guess that includes you–said to the Speaker, you have to do it with your personal funds; you can’t use campaign funds, you can’t do it any other way, or there would be a problem?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: The leadership really did not engage in this. Not at one time during the last three months was there a discussion of this in the leadership. It was between Newt and his wife and his advisers and his lawyers over how this would be dealt with. But he kept it to himself. He worked with his friends and really did not involve the rest of the leadership in those discussions.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Cardin, you agree, though, that the personal way was the best way?

REP. BENJAMIN CARDIN: I think it was the only appropriate way that he could have done it. I am pleased to see that in his statement he pointed out that the other ways would not have been the right way to do it; that he had to use his personal funds. And hopefully, that will put that issue to rest; that when a penalty is assessed, you should use personal funds to pay it.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Cardin, one of your Democratic colleagues, Congressman Doggett–we just had it in that clip we just ran–said that the Speaker did not deserve to be applauded this morning for violating the rules of the House of Representatives. What’s your view of that?

REP. BENJAMIN CARDIN: Well, it’s never a good day for Congress when one of our members has been reprimanded and subject to a major penalty. And complying with that is not a good day for Congress. Again, using personal funds, hopefully that will put that issue aside, but there are still going to be questions on where he’s getting the money from on the loan. It is an eight-year loan. It’s not paid at all during the period of eight years, not even the interest. We don’t know about the collateral. I think those issues are going to still remain until the committee, the Ethics Committee, has had a chance to look at it to see whether, in fact, it is a standard type of a loan that he could have received from a financial institution.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Cardin, I don’t want to put too fine a point on this, but do you think the applause and the congratulations that the Speaker received were for choosing to go to the personal route? Is that what that was all about this morning?

REP. BENJAMIN CARDIN: This is a collegial body. Sometimes we don’t show it very well. We do have our partisan differences. But I don’t think anyone wants–we understand that this is a difficult decision for the Speaker as to how to pay for this. It’s affecting his family. So I think it was more of a collegial response than any specific thing that he said. Yes, the overwhelming majority of the members of the House were–wanted him to pay for it from personal funds, and he has complied with that.

JIM LEHRER: Congressman Boehner, you wanted him to do that, did you not?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Well, certainly paying this reimbursement to the committee–and we shouldn’t call it penalty or fine–it was a reimbursement to the committee for the expenses that were incurred in the investigation that would not have been necessary if, in fact, Newt’s attorney and Newt in reviewing documents would have covered them more closely. But the issue today I think was one of Newt taking personal responsibility for his actions for trying to bring the House together and bringing credibility back to the House. It was real interesting that not only was there a standing ovation for members from both sides of the aisle, but afterwards, members came up to Newt from both sides of the aisle to shake his hand. There’s a healing process that members want to see occur here in the House, and I was glad to see that bipartisan response today because I think today that process begins.

JIM LEHRER: All right. Congressman Cardin, you’re no longer on the Ethics Committee, is that right?

REP. BENJAMIN CARDIN: That’s right. Actually, we had–the members of the committee have not been appointed yet, but I will not be one the next Ethics Committee.

JIM LEHRER: All right. Take us through the process now. The–as you say, the chairman and the ranking member have been appointed. They sent a letter today to–this afternoon to the Speaker and said they would review this in light of Rule 51, I believe it was. Explain what that means and what the–what the review process will involve, and when that would be finished. When is this thing going to be over?

REP. BENJAMIN CARDIN: That’s a good question. Rule 51 is our gift ban, that you cannot accept–

JIM LEHRER: The one you were explaining earlier.

REP. BENJAMIN CARDIN: And it specifically provides that a loan can be a gift it is not in compliance with standard economic conditions.

JIM LEHRER: And who makes that judgment?

REP. BENJAMIN CARDIN: It’ll probably be the Ethics Committee. It will, I assume, submit more of the details. He indicated–Mr. Gingrich indicated that it will be collateralized. We don’t know what type of collateral is being provided. The committee will–

JIM LEHRER: You mean, he might have to put up a house or a car or something that amounts to $300,000.

REP. BENJAMIN CARDIN: Exactly.

JIM LEHRER: I see.

REP. BENJAMIN CARDIN: And we don’t know that today. We don’t have the information about it. So the committee will take a look at it, and if they come to the conclusion that Mr. Gingrich did not get any special favors in this loan, then it will be, I assume, approved. I agree with Mr. Boehner. I think all of us want this matter completed as soon as possible. We want to get onto the work of Congress. And Democrats and Republicans are anxious to get this chapter behind us.

JIM LEHRER: Do you think it’s a matter of weeks, a matter of months, a matter of days before this thing could be resolved?

REP. BENJAMIN CARDIN: I hope it’s a matter of weeks. I don’t think anyone wants it to be prolonged. It probably will take more than days because we don’t have a full Ethics Committee. And my understanding is that that committee will not be appointed until at least next week.

JIM LEHRER: So it’s not over yet, Congressman Boehner?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Well, it is, in effect, over. Newt making the agreement to pay it out of personal funds I think really takes this issue and puts it in the closet. I don’t think that the Speaker would have proceeded if he hadn’t gotten good advice from the chairman of the Ethics Committee and the ranking Democrat on that Committee. Not that–not that they are going to preclude what the full Ethics Committee will do. But I think there was strong indication from those two that this was appropriate and it was a proper way to do it. And I think, in fact, this case is over.

JIM LEHRER: What about the collateral issue that Congressman Cardin raised?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Again, I think that’s an issue between Newt and his lawyers and the Committee, but I feel confident that that issue will be resolved.

JIM LEHRER: The healing process you mentioned, Congressman Boehner, also involves the Speaker, himself, does it not, and his leadership of the House? Do you think this now puts him on that road to recovery as well?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Well, I think the Speaker has had three or four good weeks. I spent 11 days in East Asia with the Speaker, where he had a very good trip. Over the last 10 days that he’s been–we’ve been back in session I think he’s back at being Newt, and I think that it’s clear to me that Newt wants to lead again; that he was trying to do his planning, trying to take his time, trying to deal with these issues that he’s had to deal with in a real serious way. But I think that today was not a negative for Newt. It was a positive because of the way he dealt with it. I chaired the Republican Conference this morning when Newt shared with all of the members–

JIM LEHRER: He told you all first, right?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: He did. He told us how he was going to proceed, and the members were absolutely overwhelmed with positive things to say. And so this is another positive step for Newt, and I think that you’re going to see him continue to be our Speaker and continue to be our leader.

JIM LEHRER: Is that how you read it as a Democrat, Congressman Cardin?

REP. BENJAMIN CARDIN: Well, I think we all want to move forward. We want our Speaker to succeed as far as leading the House. We want to work together as Democrats and Republicans and have a very positive agenda for the people. Again, no one wants to see any member violate the rules of our House and have to be held up for a sanction, particularly Speaker of the House. The Speaker has submitted this agreement to the Ethics Committee, and the reason why we cannot conclude it is that he has submitted to the Ethics Committee. They’re going to have to take a look at it, but, yes, we want to move forward, Democrats and Republicans. We want a healing process here. We want to tone down the partisan differences, but we also have to understand that this is a serious matter. It was a serious violation of the House rules. It was not a voluntary payment. It was a penalty that was imposed by a strong vote of the House of Representatives. And yes, we would like to put this chapter behind us.

JIM LEHRER: Do you–what’s your reading of where this now puts Speaker Gingrich in terms of power and the ability to lead the Congress?

REP. BENJAMIN CARDIN: Well, that’s a decision that we’re going to have to watch to see what happens. I think it will be more in the actions of the Congress. If he can lead the full House of Representatives, Democrats and Republicans, so that we can work together, work with the Senate, work with the White House, and have a constructive session, that will be the real test of his leadership. And it’s not just what he does within the Republican Caucus and dealing with the Republican members of Congress. He’s the Speaker for all members of the House, and I would hope that he will reach out and try to work with all the members.

JIM LEHRER: Gentlemen, thank you both very much.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER: Thank you, Jim.