TERENCE SMITH: That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Gentlemen, welcome.
Mark, this president ran on an education platform. Now he has got an education bill -- big victory?
MARK SHIELDS: Big victory. Not only ran on it, I mean, he took an issue that the Democrats I don't say own politically but certainly had a very substantial advantage in the public's judgment as to which party was better. And he not only has closed that gap but it's a bipartisan bill. And if you want to prove how bipartisan it is, the most upset individuals with this bill today, the most disappointed, are conservatives, and it passed by a 91-8 vote. So it was a big victory for George Bush.
TERENCE SMITH: Paul, some conservatives are not that happy about the absence of school vouchers, as we've just heard in the discussion before. Looked at from a conservative point of view is this a victory, an achievement?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, it's a political victory in the sense Mark describes it. I don't think it is a policy victory in the sense it resembles when the president first proposed. I mean, Chester Finn who we saw is somebody who helped write the Bush plan. He is now denying paternity. He doesn't know it. Bob Chase of the NEA - a big ally of Ted Kennedy who also loves the bill, a big supporter of Al Gore, now says boy, I like this. This is something we can deal with. This is a National Education Association. He fought every single reform that George Bush proposed in Texas. He opposed him all the way and now says we like this. That tells you something about where the bill has gone. I think why this happened is because the president really believes he needs a signing ceremony in education. And he has been willing to give up a lot of the policy to get it.
TERENCE SMITH: Well, he will get that after the passage. It will be seen as another achievement?
MARK SHIELDS: No, I didn't know we were talking policy. I thought we were talking politics here. Okay. But it was a political victory. I mean, now Paul and a lot of folks on his side of the aisle are very upset because Ted Kennedy played a prominent role in it. And anything Ted Kennedy is for - including a Mother's Day resolution -- is probably by definition not in the public interest for these folks. But I think that George Bush gets his testing. He gets his stamp on tripling the reading budget. And the Democrats didn't get what they wanted. I mean, what were the Democrats cornerstones? They were school construction and more teachers. They didn't get it so Bush didn't get it. If I were a conservative I would be upset because the White House did go lukewarm on vouchers.
TERENCE SMITH: So it's a compromised, Paul, on both sides?
PAUL GIGOT: Sure, it's a compromise on both sides but I think a lot of conservatives are willing to tolerate a great role in education by the federal government, which they've always resisted, if, for example, the testing and the flexibility was something that could break up local education monopolies. But if you look at the provisions in this, I think a lot of them believe and I think rightly -- Bill Bennett, for example, agrees with Chester Finn that they've been so watered down that they're not going to be able to do it. And Amy Wilkins of the Education Trust is no conservative. She is not Bill Bennett, but she believes - she believes in tests, believes they should be important because the kids in poor schools that aren't getting lifted up, and she thinks it has been watered down too, so it's a question of just how deep these reforms go.
But politically Mark is right. There is going to be a signing ceremony. Bush is going to be able to say I changed the tone in this town. I got things done. In the short-term he will benefit from that. Four years from now if test scores aren't up, schools aren't improved, that benefit isn't going to be there.
TERENCE SMITH: Mark, the other big headline this week for President Bush, of course, has been his trip to Europe. He is still on it. He has a meeting with Vladimir Putin tomorrow. How has he handled himself? How has he looked to you politically this week?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, the president had an advantage. I mean, expectations were not high. I mean, this is a man who was born to considerable wealth and comfort and had great social advantages and somehow was not curious about traveling to Europe. I mean, most, you know college students kind of eat peanut butter sandwiches to get to Europe, and he hadn't been and there was still lingering doubts about the legitimacy of his election.
He has provided some material for the late-night writers with Africa as a nation and the mispronunciations but he has done I think adequately. I had a really conservative say to me, you know, without attribution, they say -- there are times when he doesn't seem adequate at the ceremony. That is not his strong suit. This is very obviously strong on ceremony; trips of this nature are. Senator Jay William Fulbright, the long time chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said to me, when John Kennedy was in the White House, I was always proud to go to state dinners, proud that he was my president. And I don't think a lot of people are having that sense of pride that he is in command or mastery of the material before him -- that he has studied hard and is making the statements but there is not a sense really that this a man in full command of the situation or the subject.
TERENCE SMITH: Paul, what do you think both in terms of style and substance on the trip?
PAUL GIGOT: I would give him a lot better marks on both of them. I thought he was quite well briefed apart from the inevitable muffs of language, which I think we're going to have for all four years of the Bush presidency. He did seem in command of the brief, and he didn't back down. And he went in there with an agenda on missile defense. He knew he was going to be beaten up on global warming by some of the European countries. And he came away - he went there and he didn't back down. He presented himself. He said this is my agenda -- made the case for it. He didn't win a lot of converts immediately, but he did get some movement.
Vaclav Havel, for example, the former Czech leader, said, this is something we have to look at on missile defense. The Spanish prime minister, the Italians seem to be moving. France and Germany aren't but he made his case. The condescension that some in Europe showed to him is comparable to something that happened here at first - still does in some quarters - and that isn't always bad to have an American president be able to stand up over there and we don't mind if our president stands up to the Europeans.
TERENCE SMITH: Do you see some political benefit to that?
MARK SHIELDS: I really don't. I do -- I'm fascinated by the flexibility of my good friends on the right. When Bill Clinton made a mistake and was criticized overseas, it was obviously Bill Clinton's bumbling and ineptitude and he wasn't ready for prime time. Now when George Bush gets criticism, it somehow reflects of -- anti-Americanism is what we are seeing. That is fine. You can always use a little jingoism. It's good short-term politics. But I don't think anybody could play short-term politics - in layman - X and Y when we are talking about things like global warming which is real.
TERENCE SMITH: The big day, maybe the biggest day of the trip is tomorrow. When he sits down with Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, and now we get, now the stakes go up, what do you expect?
PAUL GIGOT: I don't expect anything major to come out of that particular meeting but that is the sort of thing that may have long-term consequences because we know that foreign leaders size each other up when they first see each them and this is an important relationship and the president today in Warsaw said, look, we want NATO expansion; we're going to seek any democracy that he wants it and is willing to help with the defense burden to go in. That is going to be a big issue in dealing with Russia. So it has those important consequences. I don't think it has any immediate political consequences.
TERENCE SMITH: All right. Mark, during his trip, the administration announced a change on the live fire exercises and military exercises in the Puerto Rican Island of Vieques. How did this one come off politically?
MARK SHIELDS: There were three things involved in this. Politics, politics, politics, this is it totally. It's an indefensible move strategically, militarily. He has alienated the uniforms. He is supposed to be the candidate - Mr. Bush -- the military. They were thrilled at his election. He has let them down badly here. He did what Bill Clinton refused to do. Bill Clinton being importuned by his wife and her supporters running in a state in New York with a large number of Puerto Rican voters refused to back off of Vieques and George Bush absolutely terrified as Karl Rove is obsessed with the Latino vote.
TERENCE SMITH: Karl Rove is his political advisor.
MARK SHIELDS: Political adviser. I was talking yesterday to a fellow named Bob Moore, a Republican pollster in California and Oregon. He pointed out to me the terrifying reality for Republicans, which is Michael Dukakis in 1988 lost California to George Bush by - George Bush Sr. by 350,000 votes, Bush got a majority of the vote. If the same vote were held today, the fact that tripling - more than tripling of the Latino vote and the tripling of the Asian vote and the decrease of the Anglo vote in California, Dukakis would carry that state. This is what drove the decision.
TERENCE SMITH: Big stakes.
MARK SHIELDS: I would just ask my friends what would they say if James Carville had been involved in a decision about Bosnia?
TERENCE SMITH: As Karl Rove was.
MARK SHIELDS: As Karl Rove was. It's unpardonable when the Secretary of the Navy meets with the political advisor to the president .
PAUL GIGOT: I would say it was a Clintonesque decision, which it was. I admire Mark for trying to - President Clinton on this one but he set this up for a referendum - for a local referendum which is a fait accompli, essentially is going to be overturned, but I think this is an indefensible decision, very badly handled, and I'm not so sure that it has the political benefits they think it does.
TERENCE SMITH: Well, exactly, because many in Puerto Rico are not very happy with this. They say you are promising to end this by 2003. We want you to end it now.
PAUL GIGOT: George Pataki, the governor of New York, up for reelection in 2002, wanted this removed. He criticized the decision and said -- thank you very much department. No question about it. As far as the Hispanic vote goes it makes no distinction between the kinds of Hispanic Americans we have. This is a preoccupation of Puerto Rican Americans who very rarely vote Republican anyway. I don't think that this is a great concern -- a passionate concern of Mexican Americans in Los Angeles. I just don't think it is.
MARK SHIELDS: One other thing, that is the president said this was, these are our friends and neighbors. They are also our fellow Americans. They didn't want us there - now that is a dangerous precedent, Terry. If you are talking about Okinawa where the Japanese government has had to resist indigenous, local opposition to the United States Marines being stationed there had and they say it comes to the decision of friends and neighbors whether you are going to be there, that is tough, and it is bad policy.
TERENCE SMITH: Okay. Gentlemen, thank you both.