TERENCE SMITH: That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and Weekly Standard Editor David Brooks. Paul Gigot is on vacation. Welcome to you both. Mark, this 107th Congress is going to be a different breed of cat. I think we got a sense of that from Chairman Thomas right now.
MARK SHIELDS: Absolutely. Bill Thomas of California replaces Bill Archer, sort of an avuncular chairman, not known as fiery, or combative. Bill Thomas has a deserved reputation for being very bright, volatile. I think it's fair to say that self-doubt and Bill Thomas are strangers. They have never met. But he will make things very interesting. I'd say this about him. Don't underestimate him. He is very product driven as a legislator. He is somebody who is not interested in taking positions. He is interested in producing a product.
TERENCE SMITH: David, the chairman is talking about these 13 new chairmen, he is one of them, as veteran legislators even though they're new people. When you look at them as a group what do you draw?
DAVID BROOKS: I think that's true. They're not the most veteran. One of the most dramatic things today is all these old King Lears wandering around the wilderness, feeling a little betrayed, Henry Hyde a little angry, Bud Schuster, the transportation, leaving the Congress entirely; wants to go home and spend more time with his highways. But I think the lesson is that these are technocrats. These are people who drive legislation. There was this story around -- the theory around that Tom DeLay, who was really good, and all these Republican crazies were going to make life incredibly difficult for Bush. But I think the main story out of these 13 new chairmen is that they're work horses not show horses. They are not the most ideological members in the races for their chairmanships. They are the ones who are good at crafting legislation.
TERENCE SMITH: Is there an ideological bent that you can discern?
MARK SHIELDS: You know, Bill Thomas was criticized for not being... the chairman of the Ways and Means… for not being ardently conservative enough, and perhaps being too accommodationist, too consensus-seeking. I think consensus seeking, is realistic I'd say is probably the best description. But Terry, we shouldn't talk about the new chairmen without a mention of Newt Gingrich. Talk about the Gingrich revolution and certainly he has become the object of derision in many monologues around town, but this is a man who came to town and said, I'm going to break the iron triangle -- the iron triangle that existed under Democratic governance consisted of a committee chairman with specific responsibility and control over a particular area -- trucks, for example.So the trucks and the Teamsters were under that committee chairman's aegis. And the agencies downtown in the federal government that ran it had to respond to that chairman because that chairman was there in perpetuity. And the industries themselves were very respectful and almost deferential to that chairman. So that you got this iron triangle of the industry, the regulators and the legislators just running everything and the public sort of being excluded. Newt Gingrich, by limiting six-year terms, has guaranteed this turnover. And we're not seeing that again. It's certainly a legacy of which I think he can certainly be proud.
TERENCE SMITH: So it's a big change.
MARK SHIELDS: It's a major change.
TERENCE SMITH: There is a big change as well in the Senate -- this 50-50 split on the committees. That's a different breed of cat as well.
DAVID BROOKS: It certainly is a change and in some ways similar. We used to have these kings who ran the hill. Now who is king of the Senate? There is no king. Where does the buck stop? My personal opinion is that Tom Daschle got Christmas a little late. He picked Trent Lott's pocket. It was a move for bipartisanship but the Republicans gave up all the control. They had a small majority but they had some majority to control the committees, to control the agenda on the floor. My view is that Trent Lott gave that away.
TERENCE SMITH: Is it a move for bipartisanship or prescription for gridlock?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, think it's a hope anyway that gridlock will be broken. It means -- David's right, that the leadership, the majority leadership had to recognize the reality. They couldn't control the process the way they had in the past -- that now the committees have become king. As a result, Terry, what is going to happen is consensus and coalition will be formed and built within the committees, away from the leadership of both parties.
TERENCE SMITH: But will anything get done?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think the only way anything gets done is if it comes out of the committee with strong support, bipartisan support, then it comes to the floor with greater momentum both political and had to some degree moral in the sense that gee this, committee has worked on it, they've thought about it, they've wrestled with it. That's what they've come up with as a suggestion.
TERENCE SMITH: Is that what you see, David?
DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I think that's why Trent Lott must have had to do it -- there must have been an alliance between the Republican committee chairman, who wanted more power vis-à-vis the Senate leadership and the Democrats, and those two forces forced Trent Lott's hand.
MARK SHIELDS: And two chairmen, John McCain of Arizona and chairman of the Commerce Committee and Ted Stevens of Alaska, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, had already indicated they were willing even absent, and before this agreement, to divide up the membership of their two committees 50-50. So it somewhat weakened Lott's bargaining position.
TERENCE SMITH: Speaking of John McCain, the Senate had barely been sworn in which he said it would bring up his campaign finance reform bill. And, in fact, today he got some important support.
MARK SHIELDS: He produced half the Mississippi delegation. Thad Cochran, senior United States Senator from Mississippi, endorsed McCain-Feingold. And that's showing that the movement is in McCain's direction, in Feingold's direction, and John McCain told Jim Lehrer on this broadcast at the Republican convention last August that he was going to bring it up first, make no mistake about it, and if necessary there would be blood on the Senate floor. Jim said blood -- blood on the Senate floor. And whatever one says about John McCain, he is somebody who's known for keeping his word.
TERENCE SMITH: What do you think?
DAVID BROOKS: He's going to take that straight talk express bus, drive it right up through the White House gate, right into the Oval Office. I think it is a little problematic actually. I think the world of John McCain -- and he is not competing on the floor for George Bush's attention but in the media. It means in the first few weeks of the administration, there's going to be an intra-Republican fight and he could actually lose votes, I think, for the campaign finance -- a lot of Republicans could say -- a few could say I would vote for you otherwise but you stuck your finger in the eye of our president. I don't want to be with you on this.
TERENCE SMITH: Indeed, it presents the new President Bush with something he hadn't counted on.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean this... This is not a surprise. He has been saying this ever since his campaign for president. I would point out that during the fall of 2000, no fewer than 77 candidates for the Republican candidates for the House and Senate, requested John McCain to do television and radio spots endorsing their candidacies. I traveled the country pretty extensively. I didn't see that many of George Bush or Al Gore endorsing Congressional candidates. I mean there's an awful lot of people that could argue today, including Tom Davis is one of them, the chairman of the Republican Souse Senate campaign Committee, that John McCain was key to Republicans keeping control of the House. I mean, his message of reform and independence, maverick tell it like it is, candor, whatever, certainly struck a responsive cord with voters and helped a number of Republican candidates.
TERENCE SMITH: And now it comes home to roost.
MARK SHIELDS: It does come home to roost. I mean, he can't have run that way through the primaries and the fall and then say well, I was just kidding with a wink and nudge and whatever the president wants.
TERENCE SMITH: The other thing, of course this week, President Bush rounded out his cabinet, David. Added a Democrat, and a possibly controversial appointment at Labor, and another at Energy. Take them one at a time. The Democrat Norm Mineta, the current Secretary of Commerce in the Clinton administration.
DAVID BROOKS: I frankly don't think it is a big step. Bill Clinton had a Republican, I don't think it helps that much. I think the overall message of the Bush White House is that he has taken governing competent conservatives. Conservatives had this march through the institutions and are now at a reasonably high level. You have guys like Spence Abraham who started the Federalist Society -- a very ideological society. Then he works for Dan Quayle and then he goes to work as a Michigan party chief. Then he goes and gets in the US Senate. So you take a guy who was an ideological guy who didn't really know how to work Washington, run him through the institutions and now he is nominated to be energy secretary and he actually knows Washington. He comes in at a senior level. He is supple and polished. This sort of thing has happened throughout the administration -- so, whereas Ronald Reagan and George Bush had conservatives like Jim Laud, who thought the Beach Boys were evil -- had guys like Pat Robertson -- moving hurricanes -- George Bush can pick among conservatives who are quite polished, quite knowledgeable about Washington. It's allowed him to make a really impressive cabinet.
TERENCE SMITH: How do you see them, including the sole Democrat?
MARK SHIELDS: I like the phrase competent conservatives. We went through a bitter campaign and we went through a recount and found out that Gerry Ford won in 1976. The Ford alumni is very big in this administration, and rightly so. I think Gerry Ford is an enormously underrated man publicly. I think Norm Mineta brings to it something to it that is an enormous Democrat. He was a leader of his party in the House. He came as a Watergate baby in 1974 out of San Jose, out of the Silicon Valley. This isn't somebody, just a Democrat in name. This isn't bringing in Griffin Bell's son by a former marriage or something, former Democratic attorney general who consistently endorses Republican candidates for president every four years. So I mean this is quite frankly a real Democrat.
As far as the rest of the cabinet, the surprise to me is Ashcroft. I mean there's a building, still low level, but building resistance to John Ashcroft. He is not John Tower. John tower was rejected as secretary of defense in the first Bush administration in 1989, John Tower was a prickly unpleasant man who had a lot of natural enemies in the Senate. I mean, a perfect example -- at one point he tried to get fired a Senate page who made the mistake of growing six inches over the summer to the point where he was taller than John Tower. Ashcroft doesn't have that problem. The Democrats don't have a Sam Nunn to lead the fight against him. If Joe Lieberman took him on, it would be a different fight.
TERENCE SMITH: Very quickly, David. Ashcroft a big fight?
DAVID BROOKS: Moderate fight but I think he will come through. He is being attacked like he's George Wallace, but he has got a lot of Democrats on his side and I think they'll stick with him.
TERENCE SMITH: Okay. David, Mark, thank you both very much.