TOPICS > Politics

Brooks and Oliphant

October 21, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


JIM LEHRER: And finally tonight, the analysis of Brooks and Oliphant, New York Times columnist David Brooks, Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant. Mark Shields is off tonight.

JIM LEHRER: David, Harriet Miers, how would you describe the state of her nomination tonight?

DAVID BROOKS: It’s kind of an unimpressive object and an immovable force. Unimpressive object is the way she’s conducted herself over the past week. She has met with senators and the meetings have not gone well.

They have gone fine but none of the senators have come away impressed. And when you talk to senators about what they think of her so far, disappointed is the word that comes up — fine but not impressed. And so there is a lull about it. And the opponents are sure they are doing the right thing. And the people supporting her are not sure they are doing the right thing. So there is this momentum against her.

On the other hand, there are two things working in her favor: One is the president who I’m told is extremely committed to her, to the point where if she said hey, Mr. President this isn’t worth it, he would say no, you are sticking this out; we are going to get you through.

JIM LEHRER: He wouldn’t let her out even if she wanted to leave.

DAVID BROOKS: I believe that, yes. And secondly there is a great deal of pressure from the leadership in the Senate to get her to the hearings, under the supposition that the woman deserves a hearing.

JIM LEHRER: You are talking about the Republican leadership.


JIM LEHRER: How do you read it tonight?

TOM OLIPHANT: Well, in fact, so strong is that, that they kind of stepped in and stopped this process of the one-on-one visits with senators. I think –.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree that really didn’t go well?

TOM OLIPHANT: Well, the dustup with Arlen Specter, I think, was revealing.

JIM LEHRER: Explain that.

TOM OLIPHANT: In her meeting with — he asked one of the standard questions, which is exploring view on privacy, what do you think of the basic Supreme Court decision in 1965 Griswold versus Connecticut. And Specter came out afterward and said she basically supports the decision as settled law. She was back on the phone to him within an hour —

JIM LEHRER: And that is important because that is the basis on which —

TOM OLIPHANT: It is the intellectual foundation –

JIM LEHRER: Roe v. Wade and the privacy issue is a result —

TOM OLIPHANT: So she is on the phone to Specter within an hour in effect contradicting what “he said, she said”. And Specter, it takes a lot of work to make Arlen Specter mad at this stage of the process. He wants to get to the hearings. He has got no interest in being for or against her ahead of time. And he comes out and he actually yields to her version of what happened. But, in fact, he was quite angered by it. And her –.

JIM LEHRER: He yielded to her but he didn’t say, “I misheard her. I yield to her correction.” That is just interesting.

TOM OLIPHANT: And then the responses to the questionnaire I think compounded the problem because this unwillingness to show anything in the way of philosophy or ideology. Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter appeared together in public to express their displeasure, quite remarkable. I think the atmosphere right now the late comedian Shelley Berman summed it up perfectly, what you hear is the sound of one hand clapping. [Editor’s note: Comedian Shelley Berman is alive and well and starring in the HBO series, “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”]

And it needs — it is not so much suffering from the presence of opposition as it is the absence of advocacy.

JIM LEHRER: Well, David, remember last week Mark Shields spoke rather eloquently about how unfair this whole thing is to her as a person, as an individual.

Now you are saying that if she has had enough of this and she thinks that this is an embarrassment and she is going to go through this thing and she believes she isn’t going to make it, then you still don’t think the president would let her go?

DAVID BROOKS: I think the president is determined, apparently, according to meetings he has had. And you remember John Bolton at one point said hey, I’m not — the U.N. ambassador.


DAVID BROOKS: I’m not sure this is worth it. And once the president got in the fight, he said no, we’re going to get there. And the point is, nothing else matters except getting 51 votes. And I think there is a feeling that if she is C plus in the hearings, that is good enough to get her to 51.

JIM LEHRER: You agree with that?

TOM OLIPHANT: Yeah, you can’t — it is like flunking out of an Ivy League college, you really have to work at it for that to happen. And when the hearings unfold, remember there are three Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee who have the capacity to torpedo this thing: Jeff Sessions, Coburn of Oklahoma, and Brownback of Kansas –

JIM LEHRER: All of them very conservative and pro-life.

TOM OLIPHANT: Yes, very much so, particularly Brownback and Coburn in this context. At the moment I don’t see any signs that one of them wants to oppose her. And without that, this is — 51 is a possibility.

DAVID BROOKS: But then this goes to Mark’s point, which is that she has to spend her life thinking about these issues. And she is going to be thrown and asked these questions. And I guess she was asked at one of the meetings, who is your favorite Supreme Court justice and she said Warren, and people were debating –.

JIM LEHRER: She said that to Sen. Leahy –

DAVID BROOKS: And so, you know, there are going to be a million questions and believe me, every day if there is one miscue in the hearings, that will be a big story of the day. And that will have its own dynamic.

JIM LEHRER: Quickly, the folks you talked to, in other words, the conservatives were really up set about this and are mounting a campaign against her. Have you seen any waning of that any weariness, any dampening of their enthusiasm – whatever that word is – dampening of their enthusiasm against her?

DAVID BROOKS: No, and I wouldn’t even say it is enthusiasm. People like her, and they feel sorry for her. They like the president. They just don’t – you know — they’ve been waiting a long time for this. And this is not the thing that excites them.

JIM LEHRER: Tom DeLay was in court today in Austin, Tom — charged — having to do with the money laundering charge, State of Texas charge. Are there any signs that his absence in the Republican leadership of the House has had any impact at all?

TOM OLIPHANT: Not really. I watched very carefully about ten days okay. They had another one of these energy bills, they are really tax bills, on the floor. And it took a great deal of arm twisting over the time limit again to get to win by a couple of votes. DeLay was on the floor.

JIM LEHRER: Over the time limit means they have a certain time for the vote and they don’t have the votes so they just keep extending the time until they twist some more arms and whatever —

TOM OLIPHANT: Yeah. And DeLay was on the floor breaking legs and twisting arms.

JIM LEHRER: Just like old times.

TOM OLIPHANT: Just like nothing had happened. And also I don’t believe in the great man theory of history. And life really does go on. And Dennis Hastert has had to be speaker in fact, a little bit more than he has been recently. And the substitute leadership, I think, has also performed rather well.

They have a terrible dilemma to resolve on whether to cut the budget and if so by how much but those decisions will be made by people without him to the extent it is necessary.

JIM LEHRER: What’s your –

DAVID BROOKS: What I have heard is that he is still around but he has no staff. And if you have no staff, there is a limit to how much one person can do. When you have a staff you have a whole barrage of people. So a lot of House Republicans have said now is the time we can cut spending because DeLay was also against spending cuts. He is an institutionalist; he believes in appropriations and he believes in buying votes.

JIM LEHRER: That is where the power is.

DAVID BROOKS: Right, so now you have this coalition, people like Mike Pence, who’s quite a conservative member from Indiana, other people who are more moderate and now they think, you know this budget is just out of control; because DeLay is gone, we’ve got a chance to really cut spending.

I must say also in the House it is a roiling sea of unhappiness right now because of the polls, because they are facing election and because the Republicans especially know they have really about six, seven months to redefine themselves, and in some places define themselves against President Bush so they can win in the Northeast.

TOM OLIPHANT: Though again, Speaker Hastert has been one of those bulwarks against the kind of conservative revolution that some of these guys are advocating. And I still do not see the route whereby the House Republicans get from here — which is no proposal — to there — which is a full round of deep budget cuts.

JIM LEHRER: New subject. What are you expecting next week on the CIA leak case, David?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, if I knew I would be — I mean –.

JIM LEHRER: What are you expecting?

DAVID BROOKS: There is an ocean of anticipation here. My liberal friends are in a frenzy. They can barely think. They’re waiting for the great fall of Karl Rove.

JIM LEHRER: Are you?

DAVID BROOKS: I mean, if I had to bet, I would think there is, you know, the man was asked to testify four times. That’s not a good sign. There is apparently no report; that is not a good sign that he is going to issue an report without indictments. So you know, now the buzz centers on “Scooter” Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff, primarily, but also on Rove and you would expect there would be some indictments, I guess I would bet that.

And to me the crucial thing about the indictments will be are they indicted for something that happened before the investigation, which is the violation of the Intelligence Act. Or are they indicted for something that happened during the course of investigation, which is perjury.

And if it is just about something that happened within the course of the investigation, they will be a big fight. The Republicans will defend it. If it’s not, people will hang back and wait for the trial.

TOM OLIPHANT: Well, I’m not sure because perjury and obstruction of justice are very serious offenses in and of themselves. And it’s always a very stark atmosphere when crimes like that are alleged. The information that we are all gossiping about is primarily –.

JIM LEHRER: We are not gossiping. We are analyzing, Tom.

TOM OLIPHANT: Well, actually, I do stand corrected because that’s true. It is coming from lawyers involved in the case more than it is –.

JIM LEHRER: There have been more leaks about this leak story –

TOM OLIPHANT: There are two kinds of lawyers as near as I can figure. One wouldn’t tell you if your coat was on fire, the kind I tend to respect more. But there is another kind. And I am just struck by how universal is the assumption that there are going to be criminal charges.

JIM LEHRER: Every story today, a slightly different angle on some of the stories but whether it’s going to be conspiracy, whether it’s going to be perjury, whether it’s going to be this, that or whatever but everybody — the consensus of the leaks was that it was going to be some kind of indictment.

TOM OLIPHANT: Well, I can say that that is true. I mean this is — the lawyers who are willing to talk about it universally expect that.

JIM LEHRER: Yeah, back to things we know about. The constitution vote in Iraq, how important an event was that?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think as many people have said, it is not — you don’t have events to turn the corner in Iraq but you have a process. And this was part of the process. It was tremendously important. The Sunnis were voting, and it was tremendously important that people were looking beyond this election to the actual assembly elections later on.

And then the other thing that happened this week was that Condi Rice went to Capitol Hill and actually laid out an anti-insurgency strategy. This is the first time the administration has done it. And it happened now because it took a long time to crush Donald Rumsfeld; the Defense Department was running the strategy. And they were sort of let’s get out of there; let’s have a withdrawal strategy. Finally the secretary of state and the State Department have said no, let’s have a victory strategy. That is another important step forward.

JIM LEHRER: We had, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Walter Mead on the night of that and both of them said that same thing, that they interpreted it that the State Department is finally taking over the Iraq policy.

TOM OLIPHANT: To an extent I agree. There is no question that — I mean I believe Dr. Brzezinski made this point also, a terribly important one, and that is that there is a tremendous difference in tone and in substance between Secretary Rice’s presentations on Capitol Hill this week and President Bush’s speech at the beginning of the month. This was an anti-insurgency strategy.

And however, what keeps happening is the violence and the deaths, the uncertainty about what the cost is, and there is an element of Secretary Rice’s presentation that is important to bring up here. And that is it comes with an open-ended commitment. And it’s not clear to me politically that this country can sustain an open-ended commitment at this level of violence and cost.

JIM LEHRER: Finally, there is an event beginning tomorrow called the World Series, Chicago White Sox versus the Houston Astros, do you have a position on that?

DAVID BROOKS: I have a political position.

JIM LEHRER: What is your position?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, first I’m in favor of the World Series because the big money teams are not in it. But secondly —

JIM LEHRER: But everybody else says nobody will care because it’s the Chicago White Sox and Houston Astros.

DAVID BROOKS: Well, that is not true. Roger Clemens is pitching. People will care. One always has to support the industrial city over the Sunbelt city; that is very important because the industrial cities have suffered. And secondly you have to support the White Sox because they are not the lakefront cubbies who are the wine bar team, the White Sox are the tavern and bar team.

TOM OLIPHANT: The Mayor Daley team on the south side of the city. I totally agree, it has been 88 years and so all progressives are behind the White Sox for justice reasons and also because we want forgiveness at last for shoeless Joe Jackson.

JIM LEHRER: Oh my goodness. Gentlemen, thank you so much.