JIM LEHRER: Mike Barnicle is a columnist of the Boston Globe and a NewsHour regular. Ralph Hallow is senior national correspondent for the Washington Times. Mike Barnicle, does Weld think he can overcome Jesse Helms, or is something else at work here?
MIKE BARNICLE, Boston Globe: Oh, I think there's probably a couple of different ball games going on here. I think the ball game that he's playing with--the inner ball game with Jesse Helms, the Senate, and the President, but I also think he's probably talking a lot to people who live in Scranton, Pennsylvania; Concord, New Hampshire; Des Moines, Iowa--you know, Concord, New Hampshire, where the first presidential primary is going to be held in a couple of years. He's got ambitions I think beyond Mexico, far beyond Jesse Helms, so, yes, there's a lot going on here.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, Mr. Hallow?
RALPH HALLOW, Washington Times: Oh, yes. There are two--there's the real reason that he did this, not the reason he said. The reason he said, of course, was to campaign full-time in the United States Senate to get those folks to pressure Sen. Helms to schedule a hearing. The real reason behind that is that he wants his Lieutenant Governor, Paul Salucci, to have fourteen/sixteen months in office as the incumbent governor to give him an edge over Joe Kennedy or whoever the Democrats--
JIM LEHRER: Whoever the Democrats want.
RALPH HALLOW: But the real reason behind that is--was I think revealed by what the governor said. In attacking Sen. Helms, he said he doesn't represent what I represent in the Republican Party. This is--his objection is not my drug policy. This is about the future of the Republican Party. And I think what we saw here was the opening salvo in the upcoming fight of the liberals and centrists in the Republican Party to take that party--they would put it--take it back--I think they'd say. If not, in next year's--the 2000 election for the presidency--at least sometime later.
JIM LEHRER: So you believe too then, Mike Barnicle, that Bill Weld wants to be President of the United States.
MIKE BARNICLE: Sure. Yes, I think he does. And I think, you know, he looks around, and he saw Michael Dukakis run for President from the governorship of Massachusetts, and if he could, who couldn't, and I think he sees Bill Clinton, who he's known a long time as President of the United States and he's smart enough and arrogant enough, and self-assured enough to think why not me and why not now and why not start today?
JIM LEHRER: All right. Now, let's go to the other side of the equation, Mr. Hallow, and that's Jesse Helms. What's motivating him to hold this up like that and to refuse to have even a hearing on this nomination?
RALPH HALLOW: Senator Helms does not like what this governor stands for when it comes to drug policy doesn't think it's appropriate to have the United States ambassador to Mexico, where we have one of the biggest problems, that is, the importation of drugs from Mexico, a man who is more than soft on drugs. He is a libertarian on drug use, believes that drugs should be de-criminalized or legalized.
His record as a United States attorney ranked him, I think, in the bottom two or three when it came to drug prosecutions, so his personal philosophy on drugs carried over to his official duties, so it's argued. On top of that, conservatives in the Republican Party would be displeased to see a man like Governor Weld, who has been so in-your-face about his views compared to those of what Republicans like to think of as their mainstream conservative views.
JIM LEHRER: But that explains why you would be opposed. But why would he not--why would he not even allow a hearing on the nomination? Why is that big a thing to Jesse Helms?
RALPH HALLOW: The course of events were a slap in the face to Sen. Helms from the beginning. Before the White House--first of all, the governor shopped around a job with this administration--wanted the attorney general's job, Janet Reno's job. When it was decided that he was offered three ambassadorships, and they settled on Mexico. Before the administration had a chance, the White House had a chance to clear that with Sen. Helms, which is normally what's done behind the scenes. You go to the chairman of the committee, say, is this going to work, is this going to fly, is this okay? The governor leaked word that that was going to be his appointment from the Clinton administration. That was a calculated mistake, I believe, because I think he was less interested in the ambassadorship than, as I say, in leading the liberaling of the Republican Party in 2000 and beyond.
JIM LEHRER: Mike Barnicle, how do you read Jesse Helms's motivations?
MIKE BARNICLE: Well, I think it's, you know, hard for anyone other than Jesse Helms to read his actual motivation. I think part of it is pretty basic, much more basic than what has just been said, and it gets to the root of human nature. During the course of his campaign for the Senate last fall against John Kerrey during one of the debates Gov. Weld was asked whether or not as a sitting Republican member of the Senate, whether he would vote for Jesse Helms to retain the chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee, and he pretty much said no, went out of his way to say no, and indicated that why he wouldn't vote for him; that--as he did last week--that Jesse Helms didn't represent what Bill Weld represented. So now what goes around comes around. And I imagine Jesse Helms is sitting there, saying, fine, you wouldn't vote for me to retain the chairmanship, I'm the chairman; see you later.
JIM LEHRER: What about the issue? What do you think the viability of the issue that Weld is raising--he raised today--hey, look, I don't play by the Washington rules, the Washington rules--as Mr. Hallow just said--you're supposed to check with the committee. Nobody did that. He's playing it his rules, his way. Is that a winning selling point, do you think, for William Weld, out in the country?
MIKE BARNICLE: Well, just as an average television viewer and citizen all I can think of is what I saw on the television during the Republican Convention in Houston five years ago when Jesse Helms's wing of the Republican Party took the presidency away from George Bush, I think, and that they frightened a great deal of Americans, who were watching that convention. I think Weld is thinking of that, and I think he's thinking of the larger country beyond Washington, beyond this insider baseball, this inside Senate politics, this inside administration politics, and he's trying to tell people who are listening--if any are listening--that he's a moderate guy; that he's not Pat Buchanan; that he's not Newt Gingrich; that he's not Jesse Helms; and maybe the Republican Party--if they're ever to have a chance to win nationally across the board--they'd better start looking at people like him.
JIM LEHRER: Is there mileage in that, Mr. Hallow?
RALPH HALLOW: No, I don't think so. With all due respect to Mike Barnicle, the fact is that the Republican Party scored great successes when it had a conservative standard bearer, if not Jesse Helms, Ronald Reagan, for example. Nixon was thought to be a conservative, at least by liberals. It took over the Congress--on the conservative platform.
JIM LEHRER: But about the point--the original question I asked Mike--which is: do you think his argument, Weld's argument with the public that here's a United States Senator, won't even give me a hearing, is going to sell out in the country?
RALPH HALLOW: I think it'll sell, and he's got it calculated right--it'll sell enough with the people "he" wants it to sell to, to get his name known and remembered nationally.
JIM LEHRER: As somebody who made this case, you mean? He's out there fighting and--
RALPH HALLOW: Yes. I'm a rebel with a cause. Most people I think who know Weld say he's a rebel--a liberal without a cause, but the idea that I'm selling myself as a rebel with a cause--and I'm not your average Washington bureaucrat or conformist, and that's nice; that has a nice appeal. How far it will go, I don't know.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think he's going to be the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, in a word?
RALPH HALLOW: No.
JIM LEHRER: Do you, Mike Barnicle?
MIKE BARNICLE: No.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you, gentlemen, very much.
RALPH HALLOW: A pleasure.