TOPICS > Politics

Shields & Gigot

July 25, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: And we get that analysis from our NewsHour regulars, syndicated columnist Mark Shields & Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Well, Mark, this was supposed to be the week the Democrats got to turn the tables, make the case against the Republicans. How successful were they?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I think that Haley Barbour was a superb witness, no question about it. I mean, Haley Barbour did a couple of things. First of all, he reminded people of how much fun it is to be party chairman when your party’s out of power. I mean, nobody knows the current Republican Party chairman. He could be in the federal witness protection program. But Haley Barbour was a wonderful national chairman, and he was combative; he was witty; he was funny; he was irreverent; self-deprecating, all of those things.

And the only, I thought, shortcoming was Haley Barbour is too smart to make the case that he made about the loan; I mean, that he sat in Hong Kong, as Sen. Thompson, who’s become sort of the laser truth in these hearings–he’s sitting in the Hong Kong harbor, talking to a Hong Kong citizen about contributions. Don’t you think there might be a little curiosity if this is foreign money, especially Dick Richards, the former chairman who came in today and said that, that he should be aware that they were wiring money.

But I thought–I thought, quite frankly, if you start with the premise that people do not believe that political corruption is a partisan issue, it probably helped the Democrats’ case marginally. It was not the smoking gun. It was not the knockout punch that perhaps Democratic partisans had been hoping for.

PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Maybe Haley Barbour was distracted by the view of Hong Kong Harbor. I can tell you, it’s very nice. It–for all the effectiveness that Haley Barbour showed as party chairman, the Democrats did manage to show this week that he also could make mistakes and be stupid. He set up a National Policy Forum, which was kind of a third-rate think tank, that took money out of the part of the party apparatus that won elections, ran advertising–if anything, did nothing.

It soaked money out. It soaked money out. And so that was a mistake. What the Democrats didn’t do, I think, was made the case that they wanted to make, which is that everybody does it. There’s no question that Haley Barbour made a lot of the Democrats look–fumbling around to needle it, to get a point, and he knocked back all of their allegations. I don’t think they made the case, which they wanted to make, that the money somehow from overseas was funneled into campaigns. I don’t think they made that conclusively.

MARGARET WARNER: You mean, because they said, Haley Barbour said, no, it was soft money, it just went to the state party?

PAUL GIGOT: It’s legal for the National Policy Forum to raise this money from overseas, even if Barbour was wilfully negligent in sort of looking the other way about whether it was a foreign loan, which is arguable; it was–it didn’t go–it wasn’t an illegal entity. So I don’t think that the case–just doesn’t get anywhere close to measuring up to what the accusations are against John Huang.

MARK SHIELDS: No. I take exception to Paul on this one. I think that when you’ve got his former colleague as party chair saying we need this for–Haley Barbour said we need this for the 40 House races we can win; that we can win the House this time, you’re not talking about party building; you’re not talking about paying the county chairman’s gas bill. You’re talking about winning the House of Representatives; and you’re talking a straight–the other thing about that really bothered me–I was up there this weekend–was to hear Mr. Ambrose Young, the man who’s the source of this money, described by his attorney, that it was given as a patriotic act.

It was a patriotic act; that’s why he gave this $2.1 million. Mr. Ambrose Young has done pretty well in life. Mr. Ambrose Young, according to his attorney and others, loves freedom, loves democracy, loves it so much that he surrendered his U.S. citizenship to–to return–which makes him really one of the great sleaze balls of his time, but he still wants to play ball politically, having surrendered his U.S. citizenship. And so that just tells you about all you really want to know about politics and the way we raise money–

PAUL GIGOT: At least he didn’t take the Fifth or ask for immunity, which a lot of these witnesses–Haley Barbour–

MARK SHIELDS: Haley Barbour–I’m not talking about Haley.

PAUL GIGOT: No. I know you’re not.

MARK SHIELDS: I’m talking about Ambrose Young.

PAUL GIGOT: But Young gave a deposition on it. But I want to make one point about, Mark, about the ’94 election. Think about that time shortly–two weeks before the election. Republican polls were showing that they had a chance to take over the House. I mean, people were hand over fists trying to pass money to the Republican Party. It was flush at the time. A lot of money came in at the end. I don’t think they needed the Ambrose Young money.

MARGARET WARNER: But the other big political story this week was the next–the second week of the attempted coup against Newt Gingrich. And this was supposed to be the week they managed the fallout. Do you think they did, Mark, the House Republicans?

MARK SHIELDS: I think the speaker did. I think the speaker came out of it brilliantly. There’s no question about it. The speaker looked magnanimous. He looked large-spirited. And he did a very shrewd thing. He took four people who would–couldn’t organize a two-car funeral–the majority leader–the majority whip–the chairman of this conference–and his former chairman of the leadership, who had fouled up this coup, and got rid of the one that couldn’t beat him in the caucus, Bill Paxon, sent him to Siberia, and then the other three, who have demonstrated–confessed treachery and demonstrated incompetence–he said, you’re still on my team. So what he’s got now, right in close to him, is people who are no threat to him, either in ability or as a possible successor, so–

MARGARET WARNER: Totally behold–

MARK SHIELDS: –and is totally beholden. And at the same time, he looks enormously large-spirited.

PAUL GIGOT: But let me tell you–for all of that surface magnanimity he made ‘em sweat. I mean, these guys were calling the members all over the place this week to try to say, look, try to keep their jobs.

MARGARET WARNER: Armey sent out that letter.

PAUL GIGOT: That’s right. Tom Delay didn’t talk to the public, but he talked to the members constantly. He was spending all of his time. I wonder if he got any sleep this week. And it worked. They held onto their jobs. But I’ll tell you–Newt Gingrich had to give up some authority too, because in order to get this and coalesce his power, he had to tell a lot of the committee chairmen, you’re on my side, I need your loyalty, and those people are going to be more powerful than they’ve been since the Republicans took over. And I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if you see those chairmen begin to become barons in the same way that they were under Democratic Congresses.

MARK SHIELDS: I think Paul is right there, but understand this. Newt Gingrich was saved by the institutional Republican Party in the House.

PAUL GIGOT: Yes, he was.

MARK SHIELDS: And the people who came to his support were the Jerry Lewises and the–Bill Archer, chairman of the–and Tom Blyley, people like that, and Bob Livingston, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, these were the people who really bailed him out while the insurgents and the radicals, or however you want to call them, were going after him. So I think–I think that was inevitable. But I do think you could see, Margaret, a fallout in the budget and tax bill out of this, because the first call that Newt Gingrich got, I was told–my reporting–was from Bill Archer, chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee.

PAUL GIGOT: That’s right, he did.

MARK SHIELDS: When he was in trouble. And Bill Archer is a fellow who’s writing probably the one great tax cut bill of his career. You know, this is his one opportunity of it. And he’s got some pretty strong ideas. And those ideas aren’t terribly close to Bill Clinton’s or certainly very few House Democrats. And I think Newt Gingrich, out of a sense of loyalty, may find himself in the negotiations, backing up Bill Archer more, and perhaps even to the point where there could be a vertebrae transplant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and you see the President say, uh, uh, I’m not going to go for those tax cuts. And I think if that’s the case, that the chances of its not going through are increased dramatically.

PAUL GIGOT: Well, the President has a big decision to make. When you have your foot on the neck of your opponent, do you push, do you really kick sand in his face, do you hit him when he’s down, or do you say?

MARK SHIELDS: Now, who–

PAUL GIGOT: I’m talking about the President with the weak Republicans in Congress. They’re in a time of turmoil. They’re at a time of weakness. The speaker is, as Mark says, relying–may have to move back to Bill Archer and some other people. The problem is if Bill Clinton gets in a showdown with Newt Gingrich, I mean, he may end up toppling Newt Gingrich. He may end up damaging him again, damaging the institution, and can he–would he poison the well enough for months on end for other things that the President needs–spending bills, trade treaties, that’s a real choice the President has to make.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now, what did you make of the signals the White House was sending–they appeared in the paper today–that maybe they don’t really need a tax and budget deal anytime soon?

PAUL GIGOT: I think the President is listening to Dick Gephardt in the House. He’s listening to Tom Daschle in the Senate, who want this thing to drag out. The Republicans want a bill. They want it before the August recess, so they can go home and say this is what we achieved, get it behind ‘em, and move on. The Democrats, they’d love to drag this out for weeks on end because they think the longer it drags out, the more conceptions they can pull out of the Republicans. And if they pull more concessions, the more chaos you have on the Republican side, and the chances are this whole thing falls apart.

MARGARET WARNER: So the White House is playing hard ball?

MARK SHIELDS: Playing hard ball, but I think it’s a straight political decision. I mean, public opinion is against the Wall Street Journal/NBC Poll, very much against the Republican position by a two to one margin. They endorse the Clinton position of the Democrats’ position, so why rush to early judgment on it? Why not let that build and weaken the position that Paul just set out? I think before we go, we ought to give credit–the Los Angeles Times today reported that in the Republican House Caucus, the man who really saved the day was Congressman Sonny Bono.

There was a lot of tension. Seriously, Sonny Bono, in the Caucus–you know, what are we going to do–and should there be recriminations–and he said, look, in the twilight of his own career as a performer he said he was going from one bad show to another, and he ended up on Fantasy Island, and he did a guest shot on Fantasy Island, he flubbed the line, and he was chewed out by the director.

And he said he realized then, he said, that it was God’s way of saying, “Sonny, it’s time to put this behind you. ”

And he said that’s what the message was to the Republican House; it’s time to put this behind you. And it actually broke up the room–and I think Sonny Bono deserves some credit to–

PAUL GIGOT: Who’s the Ricardo Montalbon role?

MARK SHIELDS: I could see–

MARGARET WARNER: All right. On that note, we’ll leave it there. Thank you both very much.