December 20, 2000
A panel discusses President-elect Bush's latest Cabinet nominations.
JIM LEHRER: Now, four perspectives on today's appointments and the Bush Cabinet thus far. James Thomson is chief executive of RAND, a research organization; Treasury Secretary-designate O'Neill is currently chairman of the board of trustees of RAND; Gary Bauer is the former head of the Family Research Council; he was a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination; Congressman Chris Shays is a Republican of Connecticut, and we hope to be joined in a moment by Alan Murray, who is the Washington bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal.
Mr. Thomson, you know Paul O'Neill. What is it we should know about him tonight?
JAMES THOMSON: Well, we are trying to figure out how we are going to get a new chairman. He has been so terrific for us. And I think, as you saw today, the nation got a real quality individual. Paul O'Neill's interests in public policy really range over a lot of areas that we have work in. He -- he can get excited about the military supply chain. He is -- knows a lot about health policy and about education, so I think a person with this kind of breadth of knowledge in this post is a real plus for the country. Paul is also deeply committed to analysis. I call him a man who likes to find the truth, and I think he calls it as he sees it. And that will also be a real plus for us I think.
JIM LEHRER: What do you mean when you say he is a man who wants to find the truth? Give me an example what you mean.
JAMES THOMSON: Well, he tries to find out what the facts are behind any policy issue. He wants to know, for example, what is going on in the health care system -- why are there so many errors . What are the error rates -- and then move on to talk about what can be done. He has done the same thing, of course, with his own company with worker safety.
JIM LEHRER: Is he a man of ideology, political ideology?
JAMES THOMSON: My experience with Paul is almost entirely focused on his role as chairman in our work as analysis. I must say that's where I see him. I don't see a tremendous amount of ideology in my dealings with him on a day-to-day basis. He may have that, but that is not what not what I see.
|Moderate as a Republican|
JIM LEHRER: Much was made today or since his name surfaced that he was a moderate as a Republican and he was in favor of energy taxes, raising energy taxes in 1992. Can you shed any light on that?
JAMES THOMSON: I really can't. That is not the way we, he works with us.
JIM LEHRER: But as a treasury secretary, what is it you think that his main strength is? All the things that you said that he is and can bring to this, what specifically does he bring that is unique that will affect his ability to be treasury secretary?
JAMES THOMSON: Well, I think just the truth is this is a man with broad knowledge of public policy, with his private experience, with his knowledge of business and of the financial markets, which of course he participates in as the leader of a major corporation. So - you know -- I think he brings a public experience, private experience to this job. I think it's almost unique to find a person of this kind of background with leadership roles in both the public sector and the private sector. And I think that is going to be a real strength.
JIM LEHRER: Gary Bauer, on the political thing, what would you add or subtract to this idea that Paul O'Neill is a moderate, and is that what should be there under the George W. Bush administration?
GARY BAUER: I'm not as in detailed familiar with his record as the gentleman is. But you really hit on an important point here. You know, there has been a lot of talk about a bipartisan cabinet. I hope there is one, if that bipartisan means bringing in some conservatives. So far in the appointments that have been made, there has been a little nervousness around the country from conservative friends I've heard from. There really hasn't been anybody named so far that is known for a deep conservative philosophy and a record of having such a philosophy. And, Jim, as you know, this is a liberal town. The culture is liberal. Most of the publications are liberal. And if you are a Republican administration, you have got to have people with a conservative anchor or you find over time you get pulled to the left, so I'm looking forward to his appointments in education and HHS and Justice and hoping we'll see some strong conservative names there.
JIM LEHRER: Now when you say conservative, you mean -- does it matter, for instance, whether or not the designate for secretary of the treasury is pro-choice or pro life - does that matter to you?
GARY BAUER: Oh, I suspect it doesn't really matter very much for treasury. I think it does matter when you get into names that are sort of alarm bells for conservatives. For example, there is a lot of talk of Christi Todd Whitman.
JIM LEHRER: I was going to ask about it - but her job, supposedly, would be head of the Environmental Protection Agency.
GARY BAUER: Right, which doesn't directly deal with these issues but, look, Christi Todd Whitman is not just pro-choice, as she would put it, and have a lot of other liberal social ideas; she has been aggressive about it. If you go to the average person around the country that stuffed the envelopes and rang the doorbells and demonstrated for George Bush and hung in there during those 35 days and you mention Christi Todd Whitman to them, they'll throw up their hands in horror because their values, that conservative grassroots of the Republican Party is the exact opposite of where she is. I think the new president needs to send some strong signals soon that there will be some good conservatives in this Cabinet.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Shays, how do you see that? What kind of signals are you picking up from these appointees?
|The most competent people|
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: I'm absolutely convinced that he is appointing the most competent people that are going to implement his policies which are conservative, and that is the bottom line.
JIM LEHRER: But you heard what Gary Bauer says. They are not his kind of conservative apparently up till now. Are they your kind of conservative?
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: What matters to me is whether they are conservative or moderate if they implement George Bush's conservative policies and are confident and able to do it. These are experienced people. O'Neill was formally of OMB. He knows how to do it. Mr. Card was -
JIM LEHRER: White House chief of staff.
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: And the deputy formerly and now knows how to run an office to make sure the conservative policies that Gary wants and others want are implemented.
GARY BAUER: Jim, I was just going to say that the congressman knows these positions don't implement policy; they help make it. Those folks are all around the table. And when these opportunities or problems or crises inevitably arise -- as they will in every administration -- those voices are going to be saying to the president, you ought to do this; you ought to do that. And I think we need some more solid voices at that table to reflect the values of the people that elected him.
JIM LEHRER: Alan Murray has joined us. Alan, we've been discussing first of all Mr. O'Neill's political ideology -- and your paper and others reported this vote in 1992. He is considered a moderate. What does that mean?
ALAN MURRAY: Well, I think what we reported was that at the economic summit, that President Clinton or then President-elect Clinton called back in 1992, he spoke out in favor of a gasoline tax, which is something that a lot of conservatives don't particularly like. I think Paul O'Neill is a, is a fiscal conservative. He was part of budget cutting efforts in the Nixon and Ford administration. But he is not an ideologue; he is not really a partisan. He actually got his start in government not through a political job but through a civil service job.
JIM LEHRER: Explain that.
ALAN MURRAY: He was a standard government employee working on budget issues, very smart, very competent and some of the political appointees saw him, took notice and moved him up to the deputy OMB job. He is a very, very smart man. But you know, if you remember Michael Dukakis who once said competence over ideology, I think that is what we are talking about here.
JIM LEHRER: Gary Bauer.
GARY BAUER: Well, I think you can have both competence and ideology. I think the gas tax question is really a perfect example of a problem we've got here. We just lambasted Al Gore during this campaign because in his book he endorsed high gasoline taxes. President-elect Bush brought that up in every presidential debate. I have no doubt that it cost the vice president votes; the last thing the American people want are higher gas taxes. And now they turn around and put somebody in the cabinet that in the past has supported higher gas taxes. I think this is the sort of thing that builds public cynicism.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, Congressman Shays?
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: Absolutely not. I mean, Governor Bush, now President-elect Bush, learned a big lesson about what happened to his father and Pat Buchanan. Pat Buchanan tried to intimidate him. And he simply is not going to allow himself to be intimidated or bullied. He is going to make the kind of decision he wants to make, and ultimately he wants some of the very things that Gary wants. He just wants the best people to implement them.
JIM LEHRER: But what about his specific point that it doesn't make sense to put a man in as secretary of the treasury who was in favor of higher gasoline taxes when the candidate himself has said he is opposed to them?
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: Well, see, I think that's silly because on so many other things he was a fiscal conservative. There is always going to be something that a conservative or moderate can find that they don't like about someone and then use that as the litmus test and out go a lot of good people.
JAMES THOMSON: If I could just add -
JIM LEHRER: Yes, sir, Mr. Thomson.
JAMES THOMSON: I mean, one of the things about Paul is - in my experience -- he is a deeply ethical person. One of those ethics is loyalty. And it has been my experience that when he gets involved with a place like ours at RAND, he is deeply loyal to it and he does what he can to help. He has made a commitment to this president and I think everybody should sort of be able to realize that this president is going to be able to count on Paul O'Neill as loyal to what the president wants to do.
JIM LEHRER: In other words, he will come in there and work for George W. Bush, not for himself?
JAMES THOMSON: That is what he said he is going to do.
JIM LEHRER: How should people take this gas tax thing? How would you take it?
JAMES THOMSON: A long time ago, and frankly I didn't know it until I saw it in the Journal this morning that he had even said that. I haven't heard any more about that issue from him.
JIM LEHRER: Doesn't bother you to hear about it?
JAMES THOMSON: No. No, I think he is now working for, he will soon be working for --
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: We are going to be cutting taxes not raising taxes. I mean, that's a fact.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Alan.
|Ties to Greenspan|
ALAN MURRAY: I don't think there will be any question about his devotion to that. One of the things, one of the reasons I believe they did this and one of the smart things about it is this is a man who has very close ties to the Federal Reserve Board Chairman, Alan Greenspan.
JIM LEHRER: They made a big thing of that today, didn't they?
ALAN MURRAY: Absolutely. Alan Greenspan served on the board with him at Alcoa; they worked together in the Ford administration. And that is going to be very important to President Bush's success here for a couple of reasons. One is the economy is slowing down and it's Alan Greenspan who you have to rely on to get it going again with interest rate cuts. And the other is I think to get tax cuts through, which is something the conservatives want, they're going to need the support of Alan Greenspan, because right now it's Alan Greenspan that the Democrats are using on the Hill saying he doesn't favor tax cuts. He thinks you should do deficit reduction first.
JIM LEHRER: Because he said that in testimony sometime ago, right?
ALAN MURRAY: That's right. They need to bring Greenspan over to their side in order to build the political support on Capitol Hill for tax cuts. So in that sense I think this could prove to be a very smart move.
JIM LEHRER: Let's go to the other appointments today, Congressman Shays. Evans at Commerce, Martinez for HUD, and Veneman for Agriculture, what is your assessment of them?
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: How can you not but be thrilled with their appointments? Mr. Evans, an accomplished businessman, and knows the president well; people who have worked for former administrations in this case, President Bush and I think in one case President Reagan - they're experienced, they are dedicated to helping this president-elect accomplish his goals.
JIM LEHRER: Gary Bauer, do they meet your criteria?
GARY BAUER: Look, I'm not the gatekeeper and President-elect Bush has ever right to appoint who ever he wants. They all sound like certainly competent people. But at the risk of sounding like a broken record, I do want to get back to this basic point: The folks that worked so hard probably wouldn't recognize any of these names that are in the news today. It's not a --.
JIM LEHRER: Conservatives who were in the trenches for the Republican Party?
GARY BAUER: Absolutely, and the Republican Party depends on them and will have to depend on them in the inevitable partisan wars that will come up during the next four years and hopefully during the next eight years for George Bush.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. Go ahead.
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: I think Gary makes an assumption that moderates -- which are the majority of the Republicans -- weren't out there working for this president. We were working as hard as could be for him. So, you know, they had a role, conservatives had a role, moderates had a role. And in the end you are going to see both moderates and conservatives in very high profile positions in this administration.
GARY BAUER: Congressman, that is fine. I'm just saying that we are waiting to see those conservatives. We haven't seen them yet.
JIM LEHRER: There aren't any so far?
GARY BAUER: There aren't any recognizable conservatives now. In the next week or so if we hear that John Ashcroft or Governor Keating has been named attorney general, that would sound -
JIM LEHRER: What about Governor Racicot of Montana, who is supposed to be the leading candidate for attorney general -- he is a moderate, he's like Christopher Shays, isn't he, one of them?
GARY BAUER: Well, Christopher Shays is a very nice guy. And I don't know all that much about the governor but --.
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: Racicot is a conservative.
JIM LEHRER: Yes, go ahead, Congressman.
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: I just want to say he is a conservative. He is a conservative governor from Montana, but maybe he is not the conservative that Gary wants. But he's still a conservative.
GARY BAUER: Congressman, he is not a conservative that believes in the same things that Governor Bush campaigned on and that brought to Governor Bush millions of votes. So far, we do not have an appointment to this administration that is strongly pro-life, that has a record of being pro-life. That is a big part of the Republican constituency. I just think it's odd. It would be like Bill Clinton coming into office, or more actively let's say Al Gore winning the battle of the pregnant chads and coming into office and not appointing anybody that was pro-choice, or pro-gay rights or had Al Gore's liberal social views. Everybody would think that is odd.
JIM LEHRER: Alan Murray, what does your reporting reflect about how important a problem this is that Gary Bauer is talking about?
ALAN MURRAY: Well, I think Gary Bauer's comments reflect the views of a lot of conservatives. And I think what we are seeing right now is a test of the degree to which President-elect Bush is going to bow to those kinds of pressures. So far --
GARY BAUER: Alan, excuse me. He is not bowing to me. What we are suggesting is he ought to reflect the values of the people that voted for him. That is not bowing to Gary Bauer. That is just telling the people that voted for you yes, I understand what you believe and I am going to try to have a government that represents your values.
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS: I think the key is to have people who are going to implement his policies, the very things he campaigned for. That is going to be the bottom line test.
JIM LEHRER: All right. And we have reached our bottom line. Thank you, all four, very much.