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Political Wrap with Mark Shields and Paul Gigot

July 20, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: Shields and Gigot. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. First, the flap over President Bush’s foreign policy skills. Senate Majority Leader Daschle started it when he told reporters from U.S.A. Today and Gannett that American leadership in the world was eroding. He said, “I think we are isolating ourselves, and in so isolating ourselves, I think we’re minimizing ourselves…I don’t think we are taken as seriously as we were a few years ago.” That prompted this reaction yesterday from President Bush, and a response from Senator Daschle.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: One of the things that America has prided itself on is a bipartisan foreign policy. And I would hope that that continue… That tradition continues a very important tradition. I think the people… I think the people of America appreciate foreign policy positions we’ve taken, that we’re not retreating within our borders. I’ll represent the American interests. And, secondly, the world leaders have found that I’m a person who speaks plainly and openly about key issues. We’re willing to listen. But I will still continue to stand for what I think is right for our country and the world. I happen to believe missile defenses is important to keep the world more peaceful, and I believe we need to work together to reduce greenhouse gases. But I refuse to accept a treaty that will harm our country’s economy. I do believe it’s important to have a bipartisan spirit when it comes to foreign policy. And I would hope that tradition continues.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Well, I can understand their sensitivity to public comments by members of the Democratic Party, and I want to respect their need for support at this point. And so I want to be as helpful to them as I can. And I appreciate the need to be as supportive as I can, and I’ll try to comply. I do think that it’s unfortunate that on so many occasions during the Clinton administration Republicans were extraordinarily critical and damaging to the President’s efforts when he attempted a number of foreign policy initiatives. I don’t want to take that approach. My… as I try always to do in question-and-answer forums, I try to be as open and honest as I can. I was being open and honest yesterday about my feelings. And you know, had I given some thought to the fact that the President was departing, I probably would have chosen a different time to make those comments.

JIM LEHRER: Paul, was Daschle out of line in saying what he said when he said it?

PAUL GIGOT: I think he was. I think this early in an administration when…in particular when a President is going to the G-8 summit, which is something every President has done for more than 20 years, to do that is I think undercuts his ability to do the job. And I think in that sense it was probably a political mistake on his part. Well it was a political mistake on his part because I think it made him look more partisan than he wants to be seen on foreign policy. He wants to be seen, I think, as being somebody who can get along with the President. I think it also opens himself and his Democrats up to criticism if, in fact, they oppose President Bush when he’s proposing a trade agenda, an open trade agenda which a lot of Democrats have real doubts about. Is that isolationist? So I think it was a mistake on of statesmanship.

JIM LEHRER: A mistake of statesmanship?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it was a mistake when he said it. And Tom Daschle said that.

JIM LEHRER: He said if he had to do it all over again….

MARK SHIELDS: Yesterday morning with a bunch of other reporters-and he was pretty clear on that. And the Democrats, Ted Kennedy said that as well. Having said that, I think “me thinks thou dost protest just a little too much.” The treatment that Bill Clinton got at the hands of Republicans, including Governor Bush when he announced, made his first major foreign policy address, President Clinton was in Greece and Turkey. He said we had a foreign policy… That the United States had become like a cork caught in the current. Dick Cheney, when President Clinton was in Colombia, said that we’ll show eight years that the United States was suffering from eight years of neglect and misplaced priorities. My favorite was Tom DeLay, a distinguished Republican leader when the President was in India said history will show these eight years were probably the worst eight years when it comes to foreign policy in the history of the United States. It’s great to talk about partisanship ending at water’s edge. Those are three strong criticisms made of a sitting president by leading Republicans including the one who succeeded them.

JIM LEHRER: The issue wasn’t raised at the time.

MARK SHIELDS: The issue wasn’t raised at the time.

PAUL GIGOT: I think it was. There was a lot of criticism of….

JIM LEHRER: I don’t remember our talking about it. So if we didn’t talk about it….

MARK SHIELDS: It didn’t happen, Jim. It didn’t happen if we didn’t talk about it.

PAUL GIGOT: Most of those were all… You know, a couple of those I think probably were mistakes. But when you’re talking about the middle of a presidential campaign, I think, and particularly when President Clinton in his last year was… I mean he was visiting every country. He had a world tour. So he was overseas an awful lot. It probably, right you shouldn’t do it while he’s overseas. You should wait until his home. I think it’s a little different after six and seven years when he has a track record established and an agenda established than when you’re six months into the presidency and trying to establish your credibility with other world leaders.

JIM LEHRER: Do you think there’s a difference?

MARK SHIELDS: No. I think President Bush started off emphasizing his differences with the Clinton administration. Since then, he’s been criticized by conservatives that he scrambled back to the Clinton position. The Clinton position in Ireland, he’s taken a more active role. In the Middle East he’s dispatched the Secretary of State. He has his own envoy there. I mean, I don’t know where there’s a lot of daylight between the Bush policy and the Clinton policy except, you know, he did not… was not assertive at the outset. And, of course he’s still being examined on both sides because of his searing psychological spiritual analysis of Mr. Putin that… having looked in his soul. I think that’s probably….

JIM LEHRER: Still a lingering problem?

PAUL GIGOT: These are fundamentally two policy disputes that are really the differences here: One is missile defense. The other is the Kyoto Treaty, per se, which even Europe hasn’t ratified. And Daschle takes these and turns these into an accusation about isolationism and retreating within our borders.

JIM LEHRER: You don’t think that’s a legitimate complaint?

PAUL GIGOT: I think it’s completely phony. It’s completely false, because it resonates so great in American history with the 1930s and when the Republican Party was truly isolationist it’s often used an accusation. But I don’t think it’s true at all. This is the President who on his last trip to Europe said we’re going to extend NATO into — closer to Russia. He’s going to keep the troops in Bosnia. He’s got the most aggressive free trade agenda of any president since John F. Kennedy.

MARK SHIELDS: There’s nobody I know who’s more free trader on Capitol Hill than Tom Daschle. That’s sort of a straw man to lift him up as….

JIM LEHRER: But what about isolating…

PAUL GIGOT: But Gephardt and the rest of the Democrats — a lot of his party are going to oppose it.

MARK SHIELDS: I think… Go ahead. I’m sorry.

JIM LEHRER: Daschle’s point is that the president is isolating the United States from not only from Russia and Europe but also from China and all these… And it has to do with global warming and it does have to do with missile defense. Is Daschle right?

MARK SHIELDS: I think it’s a fair criticism. I think it’s a criticism that’s legitimate. I mean, I think that the administration can counter some of the criticism but I think it’s a criticism. They trumpeted that, Jim. They trumpeted “we are not.” They’ve been pretty open about the ABM Treaty that they intend to abrogate it if necessary. That’s an open issue at this point, as the president would say. And it’s divided between the two. He doesn’t seem… He doesn’t seem to be as concerned. It’s absolutely understandable that George W. Bush would be open to some scrutiny on foreign policy because he came to the office with probably, I think Paul would acknowledge this, narrower and more shallower foreign policy credentials than any president in our lifetime including Bill Clinton.

JIM LEHRER: So it’s a legitimate point of inquiry.

PAUL GIGOT: Oh, sure. You can debate foreign policy. I don’t think there’s any question about that. I just think the accusation itself of isolationism just isn’t factually correct.

JIM LEHRER: All right. New subject. The faith based initiative finally passed the House yesterday, Paul but only after the Republican moderates in the House threw the leadership a scare. What’s going on?

PAUL GIGOT: Well, there was some concern…

JIM LEHRER: They delayed it a day.

PAUL GIGOT: They delayed it a day. In the end they call came around. I think there were only four Republicans who voted against it. The leadership whipped a little harder. They hadn’t been working I think to round up the votes. And there was some doubt. But they really didn’t change the bill at all to get the votes. I think the story was on the Democratic side.

JIM LEHRER: They did change or at least they made the pledge, J.C. Watts made the pledge that when it goes to conference they will do something about the discrimination of religious groups against minorities, et cetera.

PAUL GIGOT: They didn’t change the text of the House bill.

JIM LEHRER: The text of the bill, right.

PAUL GIGOT: They did pledge that. We’ll see… I’ve seen a lot of pledges that in conference are taken back.

JIM LEHRER: You shouldn’t make… What do you think, Mark, about, shouldn’t make too much out of a new power for the moderate Republicans in the House?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think the moderate Republicans, you know, have the potential. But you have to give the leadership credit — or blame the moderates, whatever you want to do. I mean, on every crucial gut vote, Jim, the moderates basically joined the majority and followed the leadership. I think this was a sad development. I really do. I think every Republican president comes to office and they talk about tax cuts. That’s the Holy Grail. This was the one innovative, in my judgment, far-reaching proposal of the Bush administration. I mean this was something that the Republican president – we’re used to them coming in and saying we’re going to get the welfare queen in designer jeans, we’re going to purge the welfare rolls of all these cheats. He said we’re going to do something about poor people. And instead of the debate on helping poor people, it became a debate in the House– and I think Democrats bear responsibility for this– was a debate over hiring practices and, you know, separation of church and state. I’ve got to tell you, if this attitude had prevailed in 1945, we wouldn’t have had a GI Bill. They would have said you want to go to a university, I’m sorry that’s a separation of church and state. You want to be to Oral Roberts, to Southern Methodist, Holy Cross, I thought it was a sad …

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?

PAUL GIGOT: Kudos to Brother Shields here. I think the real story was the Democrats. This wasn’t a partisan issue in 2000. Taxes were a partisan issue. Environment was a partisan issue. This wasn’t. Al Gore on May 24, 1999 in front of the Salvation Army basically said he supported more or less what’s in this bill.

JIM LEHRER: Which is to allow these groups to apply for federal money to do the kinds of things they’re already doing but to do more of them but do it with federal money.

PAUL GIGOT: To have access to federal money that the secular groups have.

JIM LEHRER: Right. This has to do with everything from feeding the poor to all those kinds of things.

PAUL GIGOT: Housing, juvenile justice. That sort of thing.

MARK SHIELDS: I mean Bill Clinton was the President who signed Charitable Choice. Al Gore had a bigger… I mean the criticism of the Bush folks is too small a proposal. I mean, it shrunk from ninety down to thirteen. But I’ll say this, Jim, in Anacostia, Washington, tonight, the people who are providing the services to people who are dependent on alcohol or drugs are not the people who are opposing this bill. They’re being held in church basements and being conducted under religious auspices.

JIM LEHRER: That’s true all over the country.

PAUL GIGOT: There was enormous partisan pressure on the part of the Democrats — to make the smallest vote as possible. Danny Davis – the Democrat from Illinois — had met with President Bush personally promised that he was going to vote for it, had gone out and made a public appearance with the president and supported it. And then in the end he voted against it. Every member of the Black Caucus, which represents the people who need this help, voted against this and Tony Hall, the Democrat from Ohio, said it sounds to me– who supported it– said this seems to me like it’s a partisan play.

JIM LEHRER: Voting reform. Margaret ran a segment here on the NewsHour last night — two experts who have just finished studies about how to fix the way we vote. Both of them came up with the same conclusion, which is that there is the kind of the fill-in -the-dot electronic scanning system could be done for $1.2 billion all over the country. One of them suggested the $600 million matching federal thing, if the county wanted to do it, they could do it and you could fix the system quickly and easily. Is anybody talking about this except these experts?

PAUL GIGOT: There is a bipartisan bill. Mitch McConnell and I forget — who is his co-sponsor?

MARK SHIELDS: Torricelli.

PAUL GIGOT: Torricelli.

MARK SHIELDS: Chris Dodd is the other one.

PAUL GIGOT: Chris Dodd.

JIM LEHRER: You think it could happen?

PAUL GIGOT: Part of it could happen. If it doesn’t get caught up in other reform issues like registration and motor voter and some of these other partisan edges that are creeping into it.

JIM LEHRER: Go ahead.

MARK SHIELDS: A few things. One, the report last night Margaret had showed the margin of victory or the margin of plurality of Al Gore over George W. Bush was 500,000 votes. Ten times as many votes went uncounted in the election of 2000. That’s an abomination of democracy. It’s unacceptable. When we elect the president, it is a national responsibility; it’s a federal responsibility. Jim, I can go to an ATM machine, take money out of my savings account if I had any there, pay my utility bill and have a record of it so forth. The idea of not doing… I cannot understand why the Bush administration has not grabbed this and endorsed this. They could take the high road on it and say we’re going to make sure that every vote counts and every American matters.

JIM LEHRER: Finally, the death of Katharine Graham, the outpouring of grief and respect for her has been enormous. She touched more cords than people realized.

PAUL GIGOT: Well, she’s one of those who deserved it in terms of her impact on journalism and impact certainly in Washington. She cut a very powerful figure that I don’t think there’s any question about it. And everybody who knows the Washington Post, who lives in this city, knows the Washington Post is a powerful player. Well, she made it not single-handedly but in large part into the newspaper that it has become. And I think in part by being a very, not just a journalist, but a very shrewd businesswoman who kept the post an independent, profitable voice that could afford to spend a lot of money on journalistic enterprise.

MARK SHIELDS: She was a giant in journalism but I mean she was also a Washingtonian. Drive up 15th Street and you’ll see outside the Washington Post people walking up and leaving messages. They’re leaving flowers. It’s a spontaneous national outpouring of affection. I think she was the quintessential American woman of the 20th century in this sense. She started as a daughter. The daughter of Eugene Meyer; she became the wife of Phil Gramm, a powerful influential able guy who went, you know, sadly went crazy. And she was a great mother. Then all of a sudden at middle age she’s thrust into this position of enormous responsibility and she became, you know, probably the dominant American businesswoman of her era.

JIM LEHRER: And one of the most famous and respected women in the world.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, and amazing..

JIM LEHRER: Yes. Okay. Finally – finally, finally there was an announcement bout your future this week. Paul, tell us about that.

PAUL GIGOT: Well, I was fortunate enough to be named a couple of months the editorial page editor of my favorite newspaper the Wall Street Journal, which the editorial page which my predecessor and current boss, Bob Bartley, has turned I think one of the most influential, most well read editorial pages, and my job sometimes is to make sure that that tradition and that readership continues. But it’s a real privilege and a challenge.

JIM LEHRER: Good choice, Mark? What do you think?

MARK SHIELDS: You know, Jim it was about a 51-49 choice. It was an excellent choice.

PAUL GIGOT: I lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College.

JIM LEHRER: Come September when you take over it will mean the end of Shields and Gigot. But we certainly hope that we can continue some relationship with you, Paul. We’ll be seeing you many times between now and then. But on this occasion, congratulations.

PAUL GIGOT: Thanks, Jim.

MARK SHIELDS: Congratulations.

PAUL GIGOT: Thanks, Mark.