JIM LEHRER: And that brings us to some closing analysis by Shields and Ponnuru: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and National Review Senior Editor Ramesh Ponnuru. David Brooks is off.
Much to go through, gentlemen. First, Mark, Bill Frist's statement today on stem cell research, a statement of science or of politics?
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I will give him the benefit of the doubt in this case; that doing it politically it would have been consistent with his Terry Schiavo, really, when he endorsed essentially long-range diagnosis of her situation and was upbraided by not only members of politics but members of the medical profession.
So, but it is a key thing and I will say this, in a city where the press is decidedly pro-stem cell research, it will be regarded as an act of growth on Bill Frist's part, rather than an act of shrinking.
JIM LEHRER: What about among those at the White House and those of the conservative -- Republican conservatives, will it be seen as an act of growth?
RAMESH PONNURU: Well, you know, the interesting thing -- you were talking about it being possibly a political decision -- if it was a political decision it shows a bit of a tin ear; it's as though he was correcting for the ham-handedness of his intervention in the Schiavo case with a ham-handed intervention on the other side from the perspective of pro-lifers.
I think that Bill Frist's political identity is as George W. Bush's guy in the Senate. Now, if you want to dissent from Bush in a way to impress Republican primary voters, you might want to say I'm going to be more against big spending than this guy has been, but are you really going to win votes by saying I'm going to be less pro-life than President Bush has been?
JIM LEHRER: So what you are both saying is that this is, giving him the benefit of the doubt, this was a statement of belief, not a statement of politics?
MARK SHIELDS: And I think that if Bill Frist is going to run for president, that he wants to run as a physician rather than as a senator. And I think that's, that will be his credential.
JIM LEHRER: On CAFTA, the measure passed but it only passed by two votes in the House. First of all, why was it so close, why was this a difficult vote for members of Congress?
RAMESH PONNURU: Well, I think that the long-run trend that we are seeing is the collapse of the free-trading Democratic position. Bill Clinton was able to get 102 House Democrats to vote for NAFTA in 1993. And now there are only about 15 Democrats in the House who are willing to vote for CAFTA, against just one change of a letter to make a huge difference.
And what that means is that every Republican who may be representing a district with significant protectionist interests really sort of has to walk the plank and that is why the Republican leadership was sweating that vote.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with Ramesh's analysis that the Democratic position has changed dramatically since NAFTA?
MARK SHIELDS: I think the experience has changed.
JIM LEHRER: Experience --
MARK SHIELDS: I think the experience in NAFTA has had -- you will recall back when NAFTA was first proposed by Bill Clinton. It was guaranteed there was going to cut down illegal immigration in the United States. It was going to raise a middle class in Mexico.
It was going to do all sorts of things in terms of trade and growth that were -- no threat the American economy -- in fact it was a win-win situation. Well, 650,000 lost manufacturing jobs later, blame that on China, blame that on NAFTA, the point is -- illegal immigration has increased. The trade imbalance has grown.
JIM LEHRER: So that --
MARK SHIELDS: I think there was a sense that, wait a minute, you fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. I think there was some of that.
And I think, Jim, what has to have concerned the administration is this: When you have to pull out that many stops and offer that many favors to pass what is really a minor trade bill, what does it do for the rest of your trade agenda, which is far more ambitious.
And secondly, what does it do when you are trying to pass Social Security, which has got to be a lot tougher vote?
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree --
RAMESH PONNURU: If it even happens.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. If we ever get to the Social Security thing. Do you agree with Mark on that?
RAMESH PONNURU: Well, I do think it was a modestly -- a modest trade agreement. But for the same reason because we are not talking about huge consumer markets for business, there wasn't as much interest on the business side in this as there would be on, say, a global trade deal.
So I think that the president has actually gotten a modest boost in his ability to get global trade deal because our trading partners will see that the president can deliver when the crunch comes and maybe next time it'll be an easier fight.
JIM LEHRER: The energy bill that passed today, you heard our earlier discussion about winners and losers, what would you add to that, Ramesh, or subtract?
RAMESH PONNURU: Well, actually, the Wall Street Journal made this point that often what people object to in these kinds of bills is they pick winners and losers among industries, but this time they solved that problem by making everybody a winner. Everybody gets a subsidy.
The only people who lose are taxpayers. It seems to me that if there's been a crisis of not subsidizing enough energy producers and corporate America, well that crisis is now fully solved.
JIM LEHRER: Would you see it the same way?
MARK SHIELDS: I don't argue with. I'd just add this, Jim, that we saw this flurry of activity on the pre-August break, the district work period, I guess, not a break or a vacation.
And as Senator McConnell said and reassured the American people -- Congress is at its lowest point in public esteem in the past 13 years. And I think that the activity probably reassures people, well, at least they're doing something.
JIM LEHRER: That they can do something --
MARK SHIELDS: But with record gasoline prices and you pass this energy bill, and all of a sudden come the middle of August, and the bill's been signed and there's no change in my gas bill and gasoline price, you know, I don't know if there is going to be much, many applause for this one.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree --
RAMESH PONNURU: I'm a conservative. I'm reassured when Congress goes out of session, when they leave town, it's more reassuring to me.
No, I think that the politics of energy is entirely about the price of gas. And not even the biggest supporters of this bill would argue that it's going to change the price of gas in the short term.
JIM LEHRER: And of course, the expectation of the public is hey, we've got an energy problem, we've got an energy bill, so suddenly there is going to be a solution --
MARK SHIELDS: And instead forget it. Why subsidize oil companies that are having record profits? I think we want to give those folks a little encouragement.
JIM LEHRER: Okay, gun liability. How do you read that one, Mark? We just saw it in Kwame's piece. Senator Frist pulled off the defense thing because he didn't want the thing on the detainees, I guess. But whatever, he put the gun liability thing in there and it's quickly passed and is about to become law.
MARK SHIELDS: The votes were there, Jim. I don't think there's any question that the combination of the political clout of the gun owners and the gun manufacturers was very much in evidence.
There was the -- that fear or at least an apprehension among some Democrats and others that Tom Daschle, who lost his Senate seat last year when George Bush carried the state by 21 percent, he lost by only two, but the reason that tipped him out of office was the fact that as majority leader, Senate Democratic leader, he had held up a vote on a final passage of this by loading up amendments that the gun owners and gun manufacturers felt unacceptable.
So I think with Harry Reid backing it, there was no question it was going to sail.
JIM LEHRER: That's the big change, of course, the man who replaced Tom Daschle, Harry Reid, supported this bill.
RAMESH PONNURU: That's right, and it's not just that Daschle lost his race. Democrats have gotten burned multiple times by going too far in the direction of gun control --1994 the assault weapons ban Bill Clinton said it was part of the reason why the Democrats lost the House; 2000, there were a lot of people who say Al Gore could have picked up three states that he ended up losing but for the gun control issue.
So I think a lot of Democrats have been pulling back on this issue, and when you talk about these lawsuits against gun manufacturers, which is what, that is an issue.
JIM LEHRER: Explain what that is.
RAMESH PONNURU: Yeah, the idea would be can you hold gun manufacturers liable in a court for crimes committed by -- committed using the guns that the manufacturers made? And those actually -- those kinds of lawsuits have never been popular.
They've never pulled well from the moment this became a national political issue. So when you look at the way the gun issue's hurt the Democrats, you look at the polls, a lot of the Democrats said we're not going to fight this fight.
JIM LEHRER: John Bolton, it looks like at least if -- you'd have to be an idiot not to figure out the signals that are coming from everybody, Condoleezza Rice yesterday, Scott McClellan today, the president is going to do an interim appointment of John Bolton, U.N. ambassador. What do you think, wise move?
MARK SHIELDS: I don't think it is a wise move. I think Pat Roberts, the Republican senator from Kansas, put it --
JIM LEHRER: Republican senator --
MARK SHIELDS: Yes. Chairman of the Intelligence Committee said that you go there, if not hobbled then at least incomplete without the Senate confirmation -- we added fuel today on the resistance to him when it turns out that he, in fact, did speak and was interviewed by the inspector general of the State Department on the Niger-Iranian business.
But the form as submitted was inaccurate. That was the classiest Washington statement I've seen. Not that he was inaccurate but the form was inaccurate.
JIM LEHRER: Why is this so important to the president, that John Bolton be the U.N. ambassador? What is your reading on that?
RAMESH PONNURU: Well, I think it's a number of things. I think that the president likes the Bolton approach to international diplomacy.
JIM LEHRER: Rough them up a little bit.
RAMESH PONNURU: Well, he thinks that the role of an ambassador of the United States to the U.N. should be to represent American interests. And he feels that there is too much in our diplomatic culture, too much of a tendency to represent the U.N. to the U.S.
And then I think he has been offended by what he regards as some of the unfair raising of the bar that each time some documents are supplied, more documents are demanded.
So you know, I think that one thing the people underestimate is the degree to which this president takes personal offense at the way a lot of his appointees or his nominees have been treated.
JIM LEHRER: And in this particular case the votes are clearly in the Senate to confirm him, it's just that the Democrats have blocked the votes. They have essentially filibustered this appointment.
RAMESH PONNURU: That's right. And then you have to wonder, given the way the Roberts nomination in the Supreme Court is going to consume the Senate's time for the rest of this year, do you have the time to force a series of votes when you have a lot of other business to try to break that filibuster?
JIM LEHRER: New subject, Mark. The AFL-CIO split this week. How serious an event is that particularly for Democrats?
MARK SHIELDS: I think potentially it's quite serious, Jim. I think the champagne corks were probably being popped at the Wall Street Journal editorial board and the Bush White House.
I mean there's no question that labor has been a crucial part -- just as an example, in the state of Oregon last year which John Kerry carried narrowly by 75,000 votes, labor -- union labor households where there was a union member there had a voter turnout of 91 percent, 91 percent. I mean, that's off the board.
I mean that's like some European country or -- democracy. I mean -- and that was just because there was a joint effort involving the two of the unions that just left, the Service Employees Union and the Teamsters as well as United Food and Commercial Workers.
And as a consequence of that departure and the split, they can no longer work together legally. I mean the constitution of the AFL-CIO -- is the full federal law, so it is potential -- it is a big, big issue.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree?
RAMESH PONNURU: I do agree. I mean, I think to some extent John Sweeney, the head of the AFL-CIO since 1995, is being blamed for events beyond his control. The decline in organized labor has been going on for a long, long time. I don't know if you can really blame John Sweeney or his leadership for that.
But they have punched above their weight politically because of the kind of amazing degree of organization they've achieved. And that may now be in jeopardy. If they are going to put more money into organizing, which is what the dissidents, the leaving unions want to do, that means they're going to put less money into politics.
JIM LEHRER: We just have a few seconds left. Have either of you picked up anything this week that makes you believe that John Roberts' nomination is in jeopardy? Ramesh?
RAMESH PONNURU: No, I don't think an arroyo toad and membership director of the Federal Society and a French fry are going to keep him from being on the Supreme Court.
JIM LEHRER: Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: I don't think a single Democratic senator has come out against him.
JIM LEHRER: You haven't seen any signs.
MARK SHIELDS: No.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. I have this long list, and you guys get "A's" on everything, because we got through there, thank you both very much. Good to see you again, Ramesh.