Political Wrap with Mark Shields and Paul Gigot
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JIM LEHRER: Shields and Gigot means political analysis by syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.
Okay, Mark, sort out the winners and losers on this campaign finance thing.
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I hate to say only time will tell. I mean, I think you can tell losers more than winners. I think that there’s no question there was a blow to the Republican House leadership. Procedural vote in the House of Representatives, the rank and file of the party is expected to support the party — 19, as Dick Gephardt, Democratic leader, said, 19 Republicans broke with their leader, with the Speaker Hastert, first time he has ever suffered that kind of a setback in his…
JIM LEHRER: But the end result was that there is no campaign finance reform bill, which is what the leadership, the Republican leadership wanted, which was no bill.
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. That’s right. I think Tom DeLay is probably the happiest Republican in the House right now because he had set out publicly and privately to sabotage and to submarine it. I think that the issue is not going to go away. There is no doubt about it. I talked to John McCain this morning. I talked to the reformers who are committed.
I mean, there is now open speculation among Republicans of organizing a group of maverick insurgents who would vote against every rule on every bill, seven or eight of them would be enough voting with the Democrats to stop the House from bringing up anything because on every piece of legislation there has to be a rule.
JIM LEHRER: Is it that big a deal?
MARK SHIELDS: It’s that big a deal.
JIM LEHRER: To these Republicans.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes and there’s also the possibility again of a discharge petition.
JIM LEHRER: What is that? Explain that.
MARK SHIELDS: A discharge petition is when a House or a committee of the House refuses or fails to produce a piece of legislation which a majority of the House wants to address, that a discharge petition is signed where members go and put their name on a petition when 218, that magic number, the majority of the House is reached, then it is discharged from the committee.
The House resists that because it is a threat to all committees, a threat to the regular order but it happened before when Newt Gingrich was speaker in 1998 and once it reached 200, Speaker Gingrich brought the campaign finance to the floor.
JIM LEHRER: Well, let’s start there, Paul, and work back on Mark’s points. First of all, do you think that is likely to happen?
PAUL GIGOT: I think the discharge petition effort will be mounted. I think whether or not it’s able to succeed, I think is very dicey though. I think the test — nothing will happen before the August recess here in July. The test will be in August when people go back to — the members go back to their districts. If they don’t hear anybody talking about this, I don’t think they’re going to get those 218 votes.
JIM LEHRER: You heard what Mark said about what happened yesterday. What would you add or subtract from his account?
PAUL GIGOT: I think that Speaker Hastert will endure the indignity of losing the rule to win on the broader issue. Yes, that’s usually an embarrassment for a speaker, no question about it. But in this case he got the supporters of campaign finance reform to kill their own bill in essence.
Now, it was on a procedural matter but that’s still on record. And a lot of Republicans are saying, hey, I can run an ad. If they run against me for this going down, I can run an ad that says the Democrats voted against it. So I think Speaker Hastert emerges from this as a shrewder, cannier politician than a lot of people gave him credit for.
JIM LEHRER: As a practical matter, if Shays-Meehan had come to a vote, what would have been the final outcome? Either one of you want to hazard a guess?
PAUL GIGOT: I’ve talked to people on both sides of the issue and they both said opposite things. Some people who supported it said we had the votes. Other people said I don’t know.
MARK SHIELDS: I think, Jim, nobody is sure, but I think it is a pretty good indication when one side wants an up or down vote on a piece of legislation A, and the other side does everything in its power to prevent that, which was the case yesterday. The supporters of Shays-Meehan wanted an up or down vote on Shays-Meehan.
JIM LEHRER: What was their fear about these 14 amendments?
MARK SHIELDS: The fear of the 14 amendments. The 14 amendments are put there occasionally when the leadership of the House thinks it’s in trouble and thinks it can at least confuse and perhaps even disunite the majority on the other side in favor of a piece of legislation. This happened in 1981 when Ronald Reagan was president of the United States, the Graham-Latta bill was coming before the House of Representatives.
The Democrats controlled the House then. They gave a rule where there were 20 amendments that you had to pass before you even got to the Graham-Latta bill. And the idea hoping it would be something to embarrass them; they’re voting against widows and orphans and all sorts of other things.
JIM LEHRER: Remind us of what the bill was.
MARK SHIELDS: That was the heart and soul of the Reagan budget in 1981. It was Delbert Latta, Republican from Ohio, congressman, and Phil Gramm.
JIM LEHRER: Who was then a member of the House.
MARK SHIELDS: A Democratic member of the House and Senate, soon to become an apostate, or a convert, depending upon your perspective. That rule was beaten. The Democratic leadership…
JIM LEHRER: But this doesn’t happen very often.
MARK SHIELDS: It doesn’t happen…
PAUL GIGOT: But Mark broke the code. The reason that didn’t matter — I mean, it mattered but they couldn’t stop it, the coalition reformed because that was something people really cared about. In a time of economic distress, a new president, they wanted that tax and the budget bill and it brought it back up. What we don’t know this time is whether there is still that grassroots intensity for this issue or whether this is just a Washington issue.
MARK SHIELDS: I agree, but the point I make, Jim, is that they put the 14 amendments in as traps hoping to undo the coalition, which is a fragile coalition. There is no doubt about it. I mean what you had is, Jim, Dick Gephardt who worked around-the-clock on this, make no mistake about this.
JIM LEHRER: To get it passed.
MARK SHIELDS: To get it passed. I mean, John McCain said to me Dick Gephardt truly believes this is best for the country. He has been steadfast throughout. John McCain has been up to his eyebrows in it — as you know, the senator from Arizona, who is Mr. Campaign Finance Reform. The thing about it that Gephardt was doing and the threat that it represents, you’re taking $500 million away from politicians. I mean, that’s $500 million.
JIM LEHRER: Soft money, the ban on soft money.
MARK SHIELDS: We’ve gone from $86 million of soft money in 1992 to $500 million now.
JIM LEHRER: Right.
MARK SHIELDS: I’ll tell you — it’s a very comforting thing for an incumbent to know that there is going to be a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of television time.
PAUL GIGOT: Which is why there are some Democrats who are secretly pleased with this.
JIM LEHRER: And there are also some liberal Democrats, members of the Black Caucus and others who at the last minute changed their positions, which is what caused this problem. But John McCain — Mark mentioned John McCain. What does this do for him and his situation now?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, if you assume that he really wanted this legislation, which you have to assume he is sincere, it is a defeat. It does certainly give him the opportunity to fight another day. Now if you’re one of those who thinks that, and one of those McCain campaign advisers who thinks, boy, 2004, an independent, that might be an interesting thing to do. You think this is pretty good because you preserved your issue and you’ve also given yourself, retained the chance to blame your own party, the Republican Party, for the failure.
JIM LEHRER: Gives you a reason to leave if you want to do it.
PAUL GIGOT: Gives you a reason to leave if you want to do it.
JIM LEHRER: You say you talked to John McCain. Is he hot about this? How is his attitude…
MARK SHIELDS: John McCain was very collected. Yes, he was hot about it. He was convening meetings yesterday in search of Republicans….
JIM LEHRER: Hot about the result?
MARK SHIELDS: The result, John McCain had his post-game face on when I saw him this morning. He was smiling. He was sure that equanimity was going to prevail; they were going to be able to work this out. But Paul said something that several critics of the bill have said — if they’re really sincere about it.
Let me tell you if they’re really sincere about it. The toughest thing for any politician to do is to tell supporters, loyalists, contributors, your loyal constituencies, you’re going to do something don’t like. I mean, Dick Gephardt had to tell organized labor, I mean, the Public Employees Union, and Jerry McIntee, the teachers who want this, had to they’ll them, you know, I’m going to do something you don’t like.
He was going to tell the Black Caucus and the Latino Caucus the same thing. John McCain does that on a daily basis. So I mean they’re sincere, believe me.
PAUL GIGOT: It’s such a great sacrifice for John McCain to endure all the bad press he gets for supporting this bill.
JIM LEHRER: To quote Mark Shields just a moment ago, time will tell, Paul on this. On another subject, President Bush’s prescription discount card for Medicare recipients; what do you think of that idea?
PAUL GIGOT: It’s a gimmick in a sense, but it’s a pretty effective gimmick in the sense that it demonstrates what the Republicans need to demonstrate on this issue, which is very powerful politically — no question about it.
JIM LEHRER: Prescription drugs has become a major issue. Has it not?
PAUL GIGOT: A major issue, and I think it has demonstrated unlike campaign finance reform, it has demonstrated that it can move votes. It affects a swing constituency, one that goes back and forth between the two parties, that is seniors, and it has affected elections. Medicare reform, prescription drugs one of President Bush’s big five in the campaign — Social Security, tax cuts, education, faith-based charity.
This is something he had to put on the table. He had to show some — he is going to try to push hard for Medicare reform. The Democrats aren’t going to let him give up on prescription drugs. So this is an attempt to say look, here’s a down payment, if you will, politically. Here is something we can do right away even before Congress acts. And I think it will be well received.
JIM LEHRER: Democrats call it an illusion.
MARK SHIELDS: Did Paul use the word gimmick? I thought he said gimmick. You got your gimmicks and your effective gimmicks is.
PAUL GIGOT: It will cut prices for some seniors, there’s no question about it.
JIM LEHRER: We had Tommy Thompson on the program last night. We talked about it, but go ahead.
MARK SHIELDS: You go to Safeway or Giant and you get a little card that has your name on it. I mean, we all like cards with our names on it. Jim, this prescription drugs is real. Is campaign finance real? John McCain is the most popular figure in the United States right now holding office right now –
JIM LEHRER: Because of this issue.
MARK SHIELDS: — because of campaign finance reform.
JIM LEHRER: You disagree with that, don’t you?
PAUL GIGOT: He’s not president. I mean, John McCain made campaign finance reform the signature issue of his campaign. He lost. If it was that powerful an issue, he would be president of the United States.
MARK SHIELDS: We were told beforehand that nobody ever voted on it, that it was absolutely unimportant. He became the story of 2000, he became the most popular figure in Paul’s own poll. A year ago today the Wall Street Journal-NBC poll, the most popular figure in the country is John McCain.
JIM LEHRER: Back to prescription drugs.
MARK SHIELDS: Defining organizing principle of his campaign was campaign finance reform. Prescription drugs, Jim, this the president can do. I’m glad he is doing it. If it saves anybody prescription drugs money, I’m happy for it. This is serious stuff. This is going to require legislation.
What he is doing is just kind of circumvents the Congress, does that administratively, it’s the kind of thing already available to those who buy in bulk and that’s fine. I’m happy for it. But, I mean, the reality is it is going to be a tough bill that’s going to eventually bother the drug companies which the president’s own proposal….
JIM LEHRER: Make it a guarantee across the board.
MARK SHIELDS: It is going to cost money.
JIM LEHRER: Not just a discount. Thank you both very much. I’ve enjoyed this immensely.
PAUL GIGOT: I’m glad you did.