Shields and Brooks
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
JIM LEHRER: And to Shields and Brooks; syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and David Brooks of the “Weekly Standard.”
So, David, the House is going to give President Bush pretty much what he wants in his Department of Homeland Security?
DAVID BROOKS: Yes, it looks that way. The Senate may do it, too. It is actually quite an impressive legislative achievement. This is an incredibly complicated bill. If you start reading it, your mind fogs because it is so complicated. It’s like rearranging a bowl of spaghetti. Then you have got powerful chairmen who want to protect their turf; there are some legitimate policy issues. And then, as you walk around the agencies of government as I have this week and talk to people who are going to be moved, they’re fuming mad, there’s a contempt… there’s just a swarm of contempt that they’re used to what they are doing, they’re going to be moved in to some agency they don’t know anything about. They’re quite hostile to that idea. So there is a lot of opposition. And yet Dick Armey, who has been sort of a wrecking ball all his life, is constructing this thing and, I think, doing quite a deft job at it.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, Jim, there are real policy reservations about it, probably most eloquently expressed by David Obey, the veteran Democrat, former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, about an executive power grab. But I don’t think there’s any question that David is right. There is going to be a Department of Homeland Security. Democrats find themselves in an awkward position because they were the ones urging that it be elevated to cabinet status all along and the White House resisted it.
JIM LEHRER: When the president appointed Tom Ridge as an adviser at the White House, the Democrats said, no, no, no, we want a whole department.
MARK SHIELDS: To be very blunt and be accused of being political here, I think the Democrats don’t see this as an issue that is going to be helpful to them in November. So there’s sort of an impetus and a momentum in both parties to pass it. Democrats would like to get the focus back on corporate irresponsibility or corporate corruption, or call it what you want.
DAVID BROOKS: There is sort of an interesting timing issue here. The White House, and the White House staff has spent abbey norm us amount of time on this complex matter to the extent they have almost no domestic policy. And then they were hoping this was a Republican talking point when it was announced, well, we’ll clog up the whole Congress through – up until the election with this stuff and that way they won’t be able to talk about their Democratic issues. Well, by September 11, this thing is going to be out of Congress and Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle will be get to talk about whatever they want to.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think they’re going to actually do it by September 11, both of you?
MARK SHIELDS: I think there will be enormous pressure generated to do it by September 11 — I really do.
JIM LEHRER: All the opposition, is it just pretty well gone now? I mean, there is going to be little token things like what? What is still…
MARK SHIELDS: Civil service protection for the workers. Whether this new department could just hire and fire workers without usual civil service protection. I think civil service protection will be extended. Whether ten assistant secretaries will be able to serve without any Senate confirmation, any Senate review. I mean…
JIM LEHRER: Unlike all other assistants.
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right. It is an enormous strengthening of executive power here. There is no question about it.
DAVID BROOKS: And it is all happening so fast. Maybe it doesn’t rationally on a flow chart style make sense that Secret Service is in Treasury– Coast Guard is over here, FEMA is over there, or off independent, and maybe you think rationally, “let’s rationalize this, let’s get all our ducks in a row and make it look nice on a flow chart.” But, in reality, these organizations have existed for decades or centuries in some cases, and they have created informal channels where they do their work. They’re used to being where they are. If you rip them all apart, and move them here and there, you don’t know what is going to happen. To me it’s a little bit like the urban planners who took all these nice neighborhoods like Greenwich Village in the 1960′s and said that’s a messy neighborhood, let’s put some nice neat office blocks; it’ll be rational. Well, it was a mess then and to me this is radical thing they’re doing.
JIM LEHRER: So what are you saying?
DAVID BROOKS: I’m saying it could be a fiasco.
MARK SHIELDS: I mean, Jim, I think what we’re seeing just in the transportation safety are the problems that David has suggested. I mean, that’s the inspection…
JIM LEHRER: The resignation of John Magaw…
MARK SHIELDS: Of John Magaw, the head of this new agency and the vote and the committee and the Armey committee about – we’re supposed to have the inspections of all luggage by the end of this year. They just voted as you revealed, to postpone it by a full year. They are not going to have the 429 commercial airports in the country covered by the 19th of November. And so the man that’s replaced John Magaw – Jim Loy, the former commandant in the Coast Guard, is a remarkably able and gifted public servant and has probably greater political ear and touch than John Magaw, who was a cop, did.
JIM LEHRER: Former head of the Secret Service.
MARK SHIELDS: Former head of the Secret Service, but I think you are seeing all those growing pains – all those difficulties — in a new agency will be compounded to David’s point.
JIM LEHRER: What do we need to know about the Magaw ouster?
DAVID BROOKS: He couldn’t play well with his boys and girls in the kindergarten. He wanted to spend a lot of money, he wanted to grow his agency by an incredible amount. To me though the interesting thing is are we in a war situation or are we not? If we are in a war, you want certain sorts of leaders, Ulysses Grant, Sherman, George S. Patton, which Magaw seems to have been. Rough guy, takes no prisoners, not particularly charming, not good in committee. If we are in war, we want that person. If we’re in peacetime, normal circumstances, we want the person who can interact, can interface, do the charming, the smiling stuff. We felt we were in a war so we had a guy like Magaw and he was praised for these virtues of being a tough arrogant guy.
JIM LEHRER: Where did he go wrong?
MARK SHIELDS: I think he went wrong, Jim, in the sense that the transportation industry, the airline industry in particular, yes, they want security; he is a cop, he comes out of the Secret Service with no risk. They want no risk, they don’t want any risk. They want zero risk for security purposes for the people they’re protecting. What he runs into is an airline agency, airline industry that wants customers to feel happy, contented, and at the same time, safe.
JIM LEHRER: And moving quickly through the lines.
MARK SHIELDS: Moving quickly through the lines. I think that was the tension point.
JIM LEHRER: On the corporate crime beat this week, Mark, the House came back and put some teeth in the legislation on accounting reform and all of that. Explain that. What happened?
MARK SHIELDS: The House basically is trying to cover its own tracks and its backside at the same time. Jim, this is a train that is moving politically and moving very fast.
JIM LEHRER: There are two trains: There’s one called homeland security and one called corporate…
MARK SHIELDS: This one is really big and it’s got Republicans scared. Probably what accelerated the momentum in support of the Sarbanes bill, the bill that passed the Senate 97-0, even though it had been opposed strenuously by large business interests, by a number of leading Republicans in the Senate, Phil Gramm of Texas, Rick Santorum, it passed unanimously because of the public outrage, the anger, the sense of fury that has mounted at all these sweetheart deals and the corruption. So the Republicans in the House who have said we’ll stall it a little bit. We’ll take some time, a cooling off period, look at some of these. They looked at it and they said wait a minute, they heard from their own members, who did not want to go home without having passed this reform bill.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?
DAVID BROOKS: A real change in psychology. Richard Gephardt privately predicted the Democrats could pick up 30 to 40 seats, which would be a Democratic landslide in the fall and suddenly that doesn’t look implausible. I don’t think it’s because of Halliburton and Harken and the corporate scandals. I think it’s the Dow. There’s a wave of anxiety going across the country. People don’t connect it to politics because it’s July. Nobody is thinking politically. Right now, Bush’s approval rating is high, Republican approval ratings are quite high… quite high, but come November when they have to make a connection to politics, they could take it out on the Republicans. There are plenty of cases where a party’s fortunes look good, good, good. Ten days before the election, bing.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of Halliburton, the president was asked about Dick Cheney’s– Vice President Cheney’s time when he was CEO of Halliburton, the SEC investigation under way. And the president predicted that Cheney would be exonerated. Well, The Washington Post among others, took him to task for doing that, and what do you think? Did he make a bad move?
DAVID BROOKS: No, he was absolutely right. Can you imagine how we would all react if President Bush had said “we’ll have to see how the Cheney investigation works out? I mean, who knows. He could have cheated. He likes the guy, he trusts the guy. He should say “I trust him.” I’m sure it will be fine. That’s what he should have said. It may not be legally right but you have to react as a human being.
MARK SHIELDS: Legally right, you express confidence in the guy without prejudging results of an investigation, especially an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, especially Jim by Chairman Harvey Pitt.
JIM LEHRER: An independent agency.
MARK SHIELDS: An independent agency, and Harvey Pitt, the president’s embattled chairman who has been accused of having the strength of a sedated sheep of pursuing irregularities and the last thing Chairman Pitt needs is pre-judged outcome of an investigation of the vice president by the president. If anything, it probably guarantees tougher scrutiny and fly specking for Dick Cheney and Halliburton.
JIM LEHRER: Why? Because Pitt has to prove himself.
MARK SHIELDS: He has to prove his bona fides – that I’m no pushover. I don’t just… I’m not a fetching dog for the White House. I’ll be a watchdog and tough guy on the beat.
JIM LEHRER: Pitt essentially said that today.
DAVID BROOKS: This is a guy getting a raw deal. He did work for the accounting agencies, the industry. But since he has come in, he has doubled the amount of the investigations. Some of these investigations have been taken with incredible speed. He has been lambasted by Tom Daschle, by John McCain, but if you look at the record, there was a good article in The Wall Street Journal, on some of the pros and cons of his management style, he seems to be doing a quite aggressive job.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with Mark that if he really has an instinct toward demonstrating his independence in a way that would make a point it’s going right down the center of home plate?
DAVID BROOKS: You take down the vice president, I think you’ve made your point.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah, yeah. Well, what about the Harken thing? The oil company – the long involved story but the president also said he did not believe that the record should be made public of his situation. That was 10 years ago; it involved some changing and some accounting things, SEC investigated and said, “no, nothing was there.” What do you think?
MARK SHIELDS: I think the president, what the president wants to do, should do is put it behind him and get it over with. I think making it public is the easiest thing in the world to do — kind of curious as to who wanted to buy 800,000 shares of this floundering company, there was an institutional investor. So there is a curiosity about it. But I don’t think it’s nearly as political a problem as Halliburton. The president can say, “we went into this 12 years ago, gone into campaigns” and so forth. There is a certain shop-worn quality to the Harken story. But Halliburton is a current investigation going on right now. The vice president got 18,000 people laid off. This is one that fits into what David is describing as the current economy.
JIM LEHRER: You may want to write this down, but time will tell. Thank you both.