DECEMBER 1, 1995
Friday night political analysis with "Wall Street Journal" columnist Paul Gigot and Washington columnist Elizabeth Drew talking with Jim Lehrer. In a discussion about the week's events, they talk about Bosnia - whether the U.S. will get involved in "nation building" , moving refugees and arming Bosnians - and Newt Gingrich's problems with GOPAC.
JIM LEHRER: Paul, how important is Sen. Dole's decision to go along with the Bosnia troop deployment?
PAUL GIGOT: (Tempe) Well, it's absolutely decisive in terms of what the U.S. Congress is going to do. It means that the President is going to get his way. He's going--the Congress is certainly not going to cut off funds. But it also means that he's going to have the implicit agreement of the Senate Majority Leader, and I would assume a fairly good portion of the Republicans in the Senate, including, for example, John McCain, who is supporting Phil Gramm for President, and has a great authority on military issues. He's cooperating with Sen. Dole in this effort, so it means an awful lot politically, and Bob Dole is doing this, let it be said, at some political risk to him because this is not an easy vote. The popular thing to do among Republicans out in the primary states is to just say no to this. It's not very popular. So Dole is taking some risks to do this.
JIM LEHRER: How do you assess the risks for this politically, Elizabeth?
ELIZABETH DREW, Author/Journalist: It is a risk for Dole. The--it's not all politics, but the political up-side for him is it's a calculated way of showing him as the statesman, as the more mature leader than his rivals. It is risky, as Paul said, because it's not where the body of opinion lies among Republicans, but it could very much redound to his benefit. What we're seeing is we're seeing Dole, the statesman. This is the--and he's very good at it. This is the Dole that many people came to admire over the years, who's been somewhat disappointed with his campaign thus far. I think this could do him a lot of good in the general election if he's the nominee.
JIM LEHRER: Is he tied to this operation now? John McCain was on this program last night. He said it on the floor of the Senate. He told Elizabeth Farnsworth last night, I--he thinks that people should take responsibility in the Senate, along with the President. Does this mean Bob Dole is doing the same thing?
MS. DREW: Very much so. One of the things that's interesting, Dole, not unlike other politicians, is saying, well, I'm going to have a resolution of support, but I'm going to specify some very important things, almost all of which are already specified, but they have to put their fingerprints on it and say, I changed this and I made it better. But in the end, yes, he is sharing responsibility. One of the things that has struck me is even in the House where there is probably majority, definitely majority Republican opposition, no one is saying the President doesn't have the authority to do this. They say the only way they could block it would be to vote to cut off the funds, and there's no move to do that.
JIM LEHRER: Is it too early to call what might happen in the House on this, Paul?
MR. GIGOT: Oh, I think it is. I do know that I talked to Sen. McCain today actually. He had mentioned that he was trying to get some cooperation from the, from the House Republicans. Newt Gingrich was, was interested, but I'm not so sure that Newt Gingrich, who is like Dole in many respects an internationalist, and somebody very mindful of presidential authority on foreign policy, I'm not so sure he speaks for his troops on this one. There is a deep-seated feeling in the House that this is--that this is a bad idea. So I'm not so sure that they're even going to step up to the plate and vote. A lot of them feel that they already voted. You know, they voted a couple of weeks ago not to allow funds for this. Of course, that'll never become law. But a lot of them want to just have a resolution that says we hope it works, God bless the troops, but this is the President's idea.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read, Paul, the presidential politics on the Republican side? I mean, Dole and Lugar are now the only two Republican candidates who, who are supporting what the President or they don't support exactly what--but anyhow, they're going along with it. What does this do to Phil Gramm? What does this do to the others?
MR. GIGOT: Well, the others clearly believe that this is a good opportunity for them to have an issue against Bob Dole. What it's hard to judge--and I think only time will tell--is how popular-- how powerful this is as a issue at the grassroots. You saw back in the 1970's, for example, the way Ronald Reagan used opposition to the Panama Canal Treaty, that it was very powerful, that that sense of nationalism was very strong, and worked against the other people who supported giving away--giving back the Panama Canal to Panama. I think there's some calculation like that going on here as Phil--on Phil Gramm's part and on Pat Buchanan's part. But Elizabeth is right about the statesman calculation too. People, I think Americans are willing to give very wide berth to Presidents who say something is in our national interest, and they're going--they want to have a debate, they want to make sure that Congress plays a role. I think what Dole--what's interesting about what Dole is doing here is he's not just giving the blanket endorsement. He's giving a qualified endorsement with conditions. And I disagree with Elizabeth a little. I think some of those conditions are actually very important, in particular, the one of arming the Bosnians so that if we get out at the end of a year, there's going to be a Bosnian-Muslim state that has some chance of surviving, so we can get out with, with some kind of honor and some sense that the mission succeeded. I think Bob Dole is going to say Bill Clinton is getting us into Bosnia, Bob Dole has a strategy to get us out.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Dole also said yesterday, Elizabeth, that okay, the public--he said in his case the calls and the letters and everything were 80 percent opposed, that he said by the time this thing moves a little further, he believes after the debate that public opinion will swing. Does he know something?
MS. DREW: No. But I think that that debate could be a very, very important debate, you know, an exciting debate, perhaps an historic debate. On Paul's point about the conditions that Dole is setting, one is that the troops won't get involved in nation-building, the administration said they're not going to do that. One is that they won't get involved in moving refugees; they said they won't do that. On the one point about arming the Bosnians, they've been quite clear up to a point. They've said, we want equal arms, we want them to be armed sufficiently when we leave; we do not want the United States or NATO to do this if they can remain neutrals in this peacekeeping effort, but they have assured the Bosnians that we will see to it that it will happen, and that is why the Bosnians went along with the agreement.
JIM LEHRER: Let's go to some other things quickly here. The budget negotiations, are they really as broken down as they appear to be, Elizabeth?
MS. DREW: No, they're not. They are in a--actually in a recess, in a deliberate recess. We could call this "Waiting for CBO." This awful business about the numbers, the CBO numbers--
JIM LEHRER: Great title for a play.
MS. DREW: Exactly.
JIM LEHRER: All right.
MS. DREW: Congressional Budget Office, they are arguing, as you know, over what economic assumptions to use, and they are arguing over when they will decide what are the economic assumptions. It's not great up there, but there's a lot of sort of pre-mating dancing going along, pre-negotiation dancing, and I don't think they intend to get serious for a little while. The Republicans are trying to lay a trap for Clinton of which he's completely aware, and that is, well, just tell us how much more you want to spend, just tell us how much less you want to cut taxes. Well, he's not going to do that. And at some point, you have a split within these negotiators. Some are more interested in a deal than others. But there will be some negotiating, I would say, as we get towards December 15th, when the--
JIM LEHRER: The temporary continuing resolution expires.
MS. DREW: Expires, and there's talk of a shutdown, but I don't think anybody can afford a shutdown.
JIM LEHRER: What's your reading, Mr. Gigot?
MR. GIGOT: Well, she wasn't waiting for Gigot, I guess. I think--I am glad to have somebody else join me on the Pollyanna side of this occasion or the optimist side. I've been thinking that there was going to be a deal for a long time.
JIM LEHRER: And you've been wrong so far.
MR. GIGOT: Exactly. And I'm beginning to think that I might be wrong at the end of it. The White House did something this week that makes me wonder how much they really do want to deal. They proposed to the Republicans that they cut a deal on these separate appropriations bills which fund the government for this oncoming year. And meantime, let's get a deal on that, and then we'll start the hard negotiations over Medicare and Medicaid and welfare and the taxes, which the Republicans consider to be the meat of their budget. Now, the Republicans weren't going to take that deal, and they rejected it, but it makes me wonder if this administration is beginning to think we have the upper hand politically, we maybe ought to fight this thing if we can just get a truce on that funding for this coming year. Let's fight it right through November. There's an awful lot of people in the Democratic Party right now who are telling their President that that's the kind of fight that they went to go for.
JIM LEHRER: Okay, another, another quick thing. Gingrich and the GOPAC problem. How serious is that for him? He says it's a phony issue.
MS. DREW: Well, it's not welcome news. Gingrich is more bothered by the various ethics charges that have been filed and that get brought up again and again than he lets on. This is a potentially serious filing. A new ethics filing has been made on the Hill because of the report from the Federal Election Commission saying that in the 1990 election which Gingrich very barely won--that's not material but it's interesting--
JIM LEHRER: Less than a thousand votes.
MS. DREW: Less than a thousand votes.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah.
MS. DREW: That GOPAC--I'll explain GOPAC in a second--which is supposed to only be handling state races, local races. It's not supposed to be--it was not supposed to be involved in federal races, supported--that's the word they use--supported Gingrich in that race to the tune of $250,000. Now, there's a big stack of documents that the FTC put out that show soliciting of funds, that show donors asking Gingrich to do some things with federal agencies. They don't show the quid pro quo, but they do suggest that this was not just a state and local set of races. And there are earlier GOPAC issues that have already been filed and they're a little bit dangerous for him because it could sort of explode into questions of a whole network of funding and interrelationships of the groups that he's been involved with.
JIM LEHRER: Do you see it as a serious matter, Paul?
MR. GIGOT: Well, I think it would become a more serious matter if you do--if you are able to prove that in return for a donation something was done politically. That gets you into the old Keating Five problem where in return for donations something was--pressure was applied to get a fix or to get something like that. Without that, I think you have a, some ethic, some election technical violations that are alleged that, in fact, the FEC was the Federal Election Commission, which monitors elections, had been willing to settle for a $150,000 fine, and Gingrich and his PAC, GOPAC, his former PAC, GOPAC, decided to fight because they thought that they could win. So what you had with this filing was the FEC's filing this in court and it's going to be adjudicated. So on that stuff by itself I think that certainly these headlines are bad for the Speaker at this time. There's no question about it. The last thing he needs is another headline like this, but I think that that by itself is a fairly discreet problem unless you get to the, to the other side of what happened as a result of the donations.
JIM LEHRER: Okay, speaking of what happened, is happening here is we have to go. Thank you both very much.