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GOP Shake-up

November 9, 1998 at 12:00 AM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: As of today, Republican Bob Livingston of Louisiana appears to face no opposition in his quest to become Speaker of the House. Though he’s served in Congress more than 20 years and is chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, he’s not a well-known national figure. During a television appearance yesterday he was asked why so many congressional conservatives were unhappy with Speaker Gingrich’s leadership.

REP. BOB LIVINGSTON: Congress had lost its ability to deliver the message and deliver the legislation to back up the message. What we want to do under my speakership – if my friends will elect me speaker – is not only articulate the message but to provide the legislative machinery that it takes to back it up and put it through Congress and write it into law, yes, with a Democrat president, yes, with a Democrat minority in both Houses. I intend to reach out and bring anybody who wants to, together to formulate the legislation that we need that will enhance the quality of life for all American citizens but under Republican guidelines.

COKIE ROBERTS: Now, they say that’s exactly what worries them, that you will go across the aisle too much and put together coalitions with Democrats. Is there any danger that they would vote against you come January, not in this election in November, but when the full House meets in January, vote with the Democrats?

REP. BOB LIVINGSTON: Sure, if they want to be the minority party, I suppose some people could vote against me, and some Republicans could. But the point is that we are going to be the majority party this year with a margin of only six votes. The last two years we had a margin of only 12 votes. I know George Will is going to just about to nail me in about a minute, and he’s going to say we haven’t been purist enough. But when you have slim margins at twelve or six votes, you can’t do everything that you want. We are not a monolithic society. Our forefathers wrote a Constitution that gave us the opportunity to settle our differences by compromise, not by dictate.

MARGARET WARNER: Later in that program Livingston was asked about a major piece of pending congressional business, the impeachment inquiry.

SAM DONALDSON: Was this last election a referendum on impeachment, and, if so, is the President now home free?

REP. BOB LIVINGSTON: Well, I don’t know if he’s home free or not. I haven’t been part of the Judiciary Committee’s deliberations and Henry Hyde will have a lot to say about that in coming weeks. And as a person who believes in the system, who believes in the committee process, I intend to rely heavily on Henry, Henry’s recommendations and the recommendations of the Judiciary Committee. But I would have to say that the President has still to answer to the American people for the charges. And the charges are that he lied and that he lied under oath. And I think that’s very serious when one considers that it is a felony to lie under oath.

I think that the American people have certainly indicated in the polls that they don’t see it as an impeachable or dismissible offense. And that would have to be considered in the political arena. But still in all we cannot simply disregard the fact that there are other people in our society in the military and in various other walks of life – as CEO’s or principals of schools – who have been likewise charged, who have lost their jobs.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, four Republican views on the leadership overhaul in the House. Joining us are three current representatives: Matt Salmon of Arizona; Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; and Michael Castle of Delaware; and one former Congressman, Vin Weber, friend and adviser to Speaker Newt Gingrich. Congressman Graham, beginning with you, Congressman Chris Cox dropped out – the last main challenger to Mr. Livingston. He dropped out of the race today. Why are so many members, including many conservatives like yourself, rallying to Mr. Livingston at this point?

REP. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) South Carolina: Well, I was for Bob before Chris dropped out. When we were thinking about succession politics after Newt – and that’s been going on a while – the idea of constructing a Republican House post Newt Gingrich has been going on for quite a while. A lot of us have been thinking about running for quite a while if Newt stepped down later to run for President. The thing that drew me, I guess, to Bob was he was willing to offer his services. He’s got a very good conservative voting record as an individual. The American Conservative Union rates him high. He’s very good on social issues. He’s had the toughest job in the House, and that’s managing the Appropriations Committee. And we spent less money up here for four years, and we’re able to balance the budget ahead of schedule, so Bob’s proved to me that he’s fiscally tight when he – when he has the votes to be fiscally tight. That’s where his heart’s at. And he’s got an ability to argue with you and still be your friend when the day’s over. I’ve had some knockdown dragouts with Bob Livingston and I’m still supporting him. Passion is a good thing in politics if you can be effective. He’s passionate and effective, and I think that’s why conservatives are getting behind Bob, because I think he can deliver. And if we don’t deliver, we’re going to lose.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Castle, you just heard Congressman Graham say that he considers Livingston a conservative. The “New York Times” and “Wall Street Journal” both said today that rallying around Livingston means Republicans are returning to some sort of pragmatism. How do you see it?

REP. MICHAEL CASTLE, (R) Delaware: Well, I see it as both those things. I think he’s a pragmatic conservative. I’m a moderate. There’s perhaps 50 moderates in the Republican caucus of 223 now. We believe very strongly that Bob Livingston is an excellent manager. We feel that he can take the process and move legislation forward. I also feel that Bob Livingston is the kind of person who can go to the Democrats in the House of Representatives and go to the Senate and go to the White House and sit down and say, what is the best way to resolve a problem? I think we realize that our majority is so slight now that we’re going to have to do more of that, and I can’t imagine a better person to do it. He did it on the appropriations process for a number of years now and is the head of the Appropriations Committee, more significantly in recent years, and I think he’s done an outstanding job. My view is that Bob Livingston brings a different skill altogether than Newt, who was a charismatic and brilliant leader and a great revolutionary, but now we need that management style. Bob brings it to us. And I think that most of the moderates on the House Republican side are very enthused about Bob becoming the speaker.

MARGARET WARNER: And Congressman Salmon, how are most of the harder conservatives feeling, such as yourself? Just to explain to our audience, you were one of the so-called “firebrands” that Speaker Gingrich blames, in a way, for his demise because you threatened to not even vote for him when the speakership came up for a vote in January.

REP. MATT SALMON, (R) Arizona: Let me also set the record straight, because there are some unsubstantiated rumors out there that say that there are Republicans that were going to vote for Dick Gephardt. Let me just say emphatically not one Republican I know was going to vote for Dick Gephardt.

MARGARET WARNER: And back to my question, if you would, how do you see Congressman Livingston?

REP. MATT SALMON: I see a man of courage. He stepped out on a limb when nobody else was willing to step out on a limb and declared his candidacy against the speaker. I think courage goes a long way with me in moving toward a Republican agenda.

MARGARET WARNER: Vin Weber, what difference will it make for Republicans in the House then if Bob Livingston is speaker instead of Newt Gingrich?

FORMER REP. VIN WEBER, (R) Minnesota: It will make a big difference, but let’s talk about some similarities. First of all, Bob Livingston and Newt Gingrich are friends and ideological soul brothers. The difference is while Newt Gingrich aspired first and foremost to be a national articulator of the Republican agenda, Bob Livingston aspires first and foremost to be a legislator, to lead the Republican Party in the House of Representatives. And that skill set is exactly what’s needed with the razor-thin margins that Republicans have in the House.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Graham, what do you see as the differences, more in style or in substance or both?

REP. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Well, one difference is that he hasn’t had about $600 million of ads run against him and he hasn’t been demagogued for four years, so he gets a fresh start. And Bob is a pragmatic guy in the sense that he had to pass the legislation to run the government, the 13 appropriation bills. He hasn’t been out there talking about a vision. He’s been executing a vision. Let me just say this to my colleagues that are listening here: Mike Castle is a moderate but he’s a fiscal conservative, I believe. I’ve joined up with Mike on a bunch of issues about not – you know – avoiding pork barrel spending and trying to keep the purse strings tight. He wa’s the governor of Delaware. I think he’s a fiscal conservative. That unites us. The spending of money up here in a wise way unites us, but we’ve got to produce. And one of the areas I think we can produce in that Bob will be very capable of leading us to is HMO reform. We’ve got to prove to the American people that Republicans and Democrats can effect legislation that affect their lives in a positive way and we’re just yards apart on that issue, not miles apart. And I hope we’ll get Bob trying to guide us into producing a bill that will help us regulate HMO’s to protect consumers without socializing medicine. Bob has the ability to do that. He’s – I think – a very complete package.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Salmon, are you behind that kind of an agenda? In other words, would Bob Livingston be able to bring you and people who feel as you do to that kind of agenda?

REP. MATT SALMON: I think we have a clear agenda and that is to get back to the principles that won us the majority in the first place, and that is a smaller, more limited federal government, tax relief, going forward to fix the health care dilemma in our country. There are a lot of things that we can unite on, and we need to focus on the things that unite us, rather than the things that divide us. We did it with the Contract With America. In fact, 60 to 70 percent of that was passed not only with every Republican vote but with most of the Democrats. We’ve proven we can do it before. We could do it again.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Castle, do you agree that that kind of unity is possible?

REP. MICHAEL CASTLE: Not only do I agree but I’m delighted with this conversation. You know, Matt and Lindsey are great guys. I wish Vin was back in Congress; he’s wonderful too. These are people who are speaking the same agenda I am. This business of being conservative, moderate and Republicans being different is perhaps exaggerated at certain times. We absolutely need to have a good fiscal process. That’s what we did not have last year. It led to the highway bill. It led to that terrible omnibus bill at the end of the year. We need to get rid of that. Bob Livingston is convinced he has to do that as well, so that’s important. He will also manage the legislation as we go along. This business of getting HMO changes made and other health care expansions made in the United States of America is a tremendously difficult, even tedious job. And a guy like Bob Livingston can do that if he has the right leadership team. We haven’t talked about the other leadership positions; there’s a lot of them. And I think we have some very important decisions to make on who else will fill in, because it’s not just one person who makes that decision. It’s about nine or ten people who are very key to the functioning of the Republican Party. Who we choose is important next week is of great significance to the entire future of the Republican Party.

MARGARET WARNER: And you’re talking, of course, about the majority leader and other posts for which there are still many contenders.

REP. MICHAEL CASTLE: There are many contenders. I am indeed talking about those positions. There are many contenders. And sometimes those lesser positions, which are viewed as not being that important, are important, because it puts those people in the room, helping to make the fundamental guiding decisions for the party. So each of those positions is very important before it’s all said and done.

REP. LINDSEY GRAHAM: Can I give you a quick scoop? Sue Myrick is winning for vice chairman. I just heard that. So you’ve got a lot of quality people there.

MARGARET WARNER: Thank you, Congressman. Vin Weber, we’re hearing this talk of, you know, conservatives and the moderates can really work together. But now your friend, Speaker Gingrich, really found this conflict, really bedeviled him, did it not?

FORMER REP. VIN WEBER: Well, I think he that achieved it for a while. Let’s be candid. What bedeviled us as Republicans and former House Republicans was really the man in the White House. We found that we had a president with whom we disagreed profoundly but who was very skillful politically. And that can’t be overstated. And I think that Newt did battle with him every day for four years, and finally the conference has decided this was – they were going to decide this — that they need a different kind of leadership in coping with this White House. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I think that the election has had a chilling effect on Republicans and the unity that you’ve seen on this program today is an example of that. Republicans know that they have to hang together with this razor thin majority. They’re going to elect an excellent legislator. I served with Bob Livingston on the Appropriations Committee. He’s been a good chairman. He’s got $125 billion out of Clinton’s spending requests since he became chairman of the Appropriations Committee. They’re going to get a lot done, but it’s going to be a balancing act every day holding that majority together, every single day.

MARGARET WARNER: And, Congressman Graham, of course, one of the issues that he’ll have to deal with is the impeachment inquiry. Do you think that these leadership changes are going to affect how Republicans deal with the whole impeachment question? You are, of course, a member of the Judiciary Committee.

REP. LINDSEY GRAHAM: It’s going to be a defining moment, I think for Bob Livingston and every member of this Congress – how we handled the allegations against the President. I’ve been saying for months now let’s slow down and let the evidence do the talking. The charge against the President about grand jury perjury is tremendously serious. I’ve set a standard in my own mind to make sure that the sexual nature of this doesn’t override what needs to happen. If you go before a federal grand jury and you give false testimony in a material element, regardless of the subject matter, you’re a very good candidate to go to jail in this country. The President of the United States, if he committed grand jury perjury, there are people in jail for that same event, is in very – I think — has committed a serious offense. Proportionality – what to do with the President – and when to do it – comes in later down the road. Let’s get the facts right. Let’s make sure we know what we’re talking about factually. If he did commit a serious offense, let’s make sure the rule of law is upheld, but at the end of the day, let’s make sure that there’s a balance, that every felony in the country doesn’t allow the death penalty to occur. Impeachment is the political death penalty. Let’s makes sure that crime and the punishment fit together. That comes later. And I think Bob is very open-minded about what to do then.

MARGARET WARNER: And do you think – staying with you for a minute though – that the results of the election and this leadership change that we’re about to see is going to affect the way say your committee even does its work?

REP. LINDSEY GRAHAM: I can only tell you this about myself. If we picked up 50 seats, I’d be very insistent we hear the evidence before we took action against the President. The presidency is at stake, not just Bill Clinton. Let’s not engage in conduct that will jeopardize the presidency by making him a key. He’s certainly not above the law or she’s not above the law as President. But also let’s make sure that we don’t take conduct that is inappropriate and embarrassing and allow it to be readily impeachable. Let’s don’t lower the bar to impeachment. The reality, of the election, I think, is that people are going to look very hard about proportionality. At the end of the day, what’s the right disposition for the sake of history and the rule of law? It has had a chilling effect, I think, for the Senate for sure. But let’s don’t just live for the political moment on this matter. Let’s do something that will stand historical scrutiny, a hundred years from now they can look back and say that was a fair result for Bill Clinton; it made some sense in light of the facts. And that’s what I’m trying to do. Before the election, after the election, if we’ll use that standard, we will get it right.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, gentlemen. I’m sorry to say we have to leave it there. But thank you all four very much.