March 18, 1998
The manner in which women's groups have responded to the series of sexual allegations against President Clinton has lead some critics to charge them with holding a double standard. Following a background report, Margaret Warner and guests discuss how women's groups are dealing with the latest allegations against the president.
MARGARET WARNER: For some perspective now we turn to Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women; Anita Blair, executive vice president of the Independent Women's Forum; Marge Roukema, a Republican Congresswoman from New Jersey; and Patricia Schroeder, a former Democratic Congresswoman from Colorado, now president and chief executive officer of the Association of American Publishers. Anita Blair, what do you make of this apparent change of attitude or new attitude by some of these women's groups toward the Kathleen Willey allegations?
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
March 18, 1998:
A background report on women's groups reactions to the latest allegations against the president.
March 16, 1998:
A discussion of the latest allegations against the president.
March 13, 1998:
Shield's and Gigot discuss the Paula Jones case.
March 13, 1998:
Washington Post's Dan Balz talks about recent events in the Paula Jones case.
March 3, 1998:
A discussion of Clinton's sealed deposition and the second day of Vernon Jordan's testimony.
February 18, 1998:
The latest developmentsin the Clinton investigation.
February 10, 1998:
Reaction to Marcia Lewis'grand jury testimony.
The National Organization for Women's statements on the Kathleen Willey and Paul Jones situations.
Ms. Blair: "...the behavior of the establishment feminist groups has shown, I think, conclusively that they are dominantly political partisan organizations..."
ANITA BLAIR, Independent Women's Forum: Well, it's certainly too late, and it remains to be seen whether it's enough or too little. Definitely, if the behavior of the establishment feminist groups has shown, I think, conclusively that they are dominantly political partisan organizations and not necessarily involved in issues that are for women, they are for liberal causes, they are for liberal women perhaps, but they are not for every woman.
MARGARET WARNER: And why does the change or the support for Kathleen Willey--find her credible--what does that show to you?
ANITA BLAIR: Well, to me, it remains a political approach to what should be essentially an issue on which there is a right and wrong perhaps but not necessarily a left and right. It remains an attempt to salvage a constituency. We've seen recently that some chapters of the National Organization for Women have become very upset about the lack of any response by the National Organization. There's a real schism, apparently, between the national and local people, and in order to retain the political power, the political base, that the feminist groups have, clearly they've got to say something about this. But it would show an attachment to principle, as opposed to just politics, if they were instead calling for the truth, if instead it's simply admitting that the allegations are serious, they were saying, okay, speak up, let's have the truth, let's have the whole story.
MARGARET WARNER: A political response?
PATRICIA IRELAND, National Organization for Women: Well, I think history has been very clear that principle trumps politics every time. There's not been a time where we have looked President Clinton, for instance, and said we can't take him on because he's a Democrat, or because he's a moderate Democrat who on occasion has actually done some really good things of appointing strong women, helping with the Violence Against Women Act, Family Medical Leave Act, and the like.
And, in fact, during right in the middle of his re-election campaign in '96, we were organizing protests outside the White House at a hunger vigil that went on for three weeks over his willingness to sign the welfare repeal bill. So I don't think that we've had any history of hesitancy to take on even our erstwhile allies if we don't think they're doing the right thing. When Paula Jones--when we were contacted on behalf of Paula Jones by Operation spokesperson Pat Mahoney, despite that being brought from the right wing, we were very clear that we were willing to meet with her and talk with her. And I still stand behind the news release that we put out before she ever filed her charges, saying that we know sexual harassers are everywhere; that powerful men may even be more likely to harass women because they treat that as a fringe benefit of privilege of power, and that every Paula Jones deserves to be heard, no matter what her accent, her age, how much money she makes, or with whom she associates. So I think we've been pretty straightforward.
MARGARET WARNER: Congresswoman Roukema, how do you see the reactions of the establishment women's groups?
Rep. Roukema: "What we're talking about here are legal questions--suborning of perjury, obstruction of justice--in other words, were there lies under oath--and those were the legal questions that are being investigated. "
REP. MARGE ROUKEMA, (R) New Jersey: I'm sorry. It's not just this week, but goes back three or four weeks, that I publicly asked why the feminists and particularly the NOW organization was conspicuous by its absence, particularly in contrast to how they behaved in marching on the offices and the hearings with both Clarence Thomas and Senator Packwood. That's past history. What I really would like to see now is not only this now belated opening up of the question, but something even more direct, because I think they've lost total credibility as far as anything that's non-partisan, but more directly, they have got to do everything possible to ensure that we have a proper legal investigation and stop--stop trying to discredit Judge Starr and his legal investigation because what we're talking about here is, on the one hand, yes, there are questions of sexual harassment, but the fundamental question here is not the First Family's private life or any consensual sex. What we're talking about here are legal questions--suborning of perjury, obstruction of justice--in other words, were there lies under oath--and those were the legal questions that are being investigated. And I don't think that anyone yet in the NOW organization of so-called feminists are truly calling off the dogs on Judge Starr. Instead, they're trying to treat him as though he's on trial.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me--
REP. MARGE ROUKEMA: Let me just make one other point. And I think what has underscored it and surely will underscore it in the eyes of the American people who are paying any attention to it at all--and I think they are more than we think--is Ann Lewis's turnabout. I think that she really, really demeaned her position, particularly in light of what she said about Clarence Thomas.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Congresswoman Schroeder, do you see an inconsistency here?
FORMER REP. PATRICIA SCHROEDER, (D) Colorado: Absolutely, I do not. I mean, I am stunned by this whole debate. I must say I was in the center of marching on House/Senate, our Senate Democrats, insisting that they listen to Anita Hill, because they weren't going to listen to her. The Senate Judiciary Committee said, no, we're not even going to hear her. Every citizen has the right to be heard on that issue. And that's why we marched. We did the same when it came to the Packwood case. The Senate Ethics Committee said, there may be some 20 some odd women but we're not going to hear it. Well, finally they did. And one case they believed the people, the other one they didn't, but the issue was about making sure the women be heard. Where do people think that women are supposed to try these cases in the press?
I mean, I don't think anybody said we're going to try these cases now, we're going to sit here and put on our black robes, drop a gavel, and we, the women, are going to decide who's right and who's wrong. I mean, all women aren't angels, and all women aren't always guaranteed that they tell the truth, and all men don't lie, and, please, we have a process. But what leaders should be doing is make sure that women have the same access to the process as anyone else.
And that's what it's all been about, and I think it's just been amazing, all this other brouhaha, these groups screaming about where the feminists--well, what am I supposed to do--then stand there and say, well, where were they on the McKinney case. I mean, we'd have to look at something serious. The McKinney case is very serious too. All of these are serious charges. This is a society in transition, and we ought to be making sure that people are treated with respect. But I must say on the cases that we're being flogged about not running out there and jumping in on say Paula Jones's side or something, her case is being heard. No one is saying she's resource poor. For crying out loud, you know, the entire Treasury--could be thrown at this thing. I mean, yes--but why should we try her sitting here in front of television? I mean, I don't think that's what we're supposed to do.
ANITA BLAIR: I don't think that's what any of us are saying.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me let Anita Blair back in here.
ANITA BLAIR: The process in the past--and this is what everybody finds so hypocritical and so false--is that the process in the past has involved marches and chanting in the streets--
FORMER REP. PATRICIA SCHROEDER: To get hearings.
ANITA BLAIR: --and so forth and so on--
PATRICIA IRELAND: To make those men not sweep these under the rug.
ANITA BLAIR: --against Republican men.
FORMER REP. PATRICIA SCHROEDER: No. Not so.
ANITA BLAIR: Against Republican men. And we had Paula Jones, who was conspicuously denied support by the National Organization for Women, have to go to the Supreme Court to have a ruling of nine to nothing that our president is subject to the law, just like anybody else. She did not have anybody marching for her. She did not--you know--nobody was criticizing this--
MARGARET WARNER: All right.
FORMER REP. PATRICIA SCHROEDER: I was the leader of the march. I led the march on the Senate. Let me tell you, it was the Senate Democrats. That's who we were trying--
MARGARET WARNER: Why were--why were there no marches, no visible support for Paula Jones?
PATRICIA IRELAND: Well, I tried to support Paula Jones, and our Web site is clear, and it's been clear in the public record that we offered to meet with her. We had concerns about some inconsistencies in her story about her own family questioning her financial motivation and her associations with Operation Rescue and political conservative--Political Action Committee raising questions about her political motivation, and there were factual discrepancies in her story, when she says she was retaliated against, and the records in Arkansas show that she got promoted and got raises. So I wanted to talk with her. I'm not about to say that a charge made is a charge proven, and that we're going to jump on any case, no matter what the facts are. We don't check our judgment at the door when we become feminists, and not every case--you can't just broad brush. You have to judge them on their individual merits.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Congresswoman Roukema, how do you explain, from a distance, as you look at it, how do you explain the different reaction to Paula Jones versus Kathleen Willey?
REP. MARGE ROUKEMA: Well, I don't know if I can explain that, but I will say obviously in the case of Kathleen Willey there's no way that you could have charged a right wing conspiracy here. Okay? So that's for starters, but--and the Paula Jones--I don't know. I hear what Ms. Ireland has said, but I found no public record that would support what she is saying now.
PATRICIA IRELAND: Check our Web site.
REP. MARGE ROUKEMA: Excuse me.
PATRICIA IRELAND: The reasons are there on the Web site.
REP. MARGE ROUKEMA: Excuse me. You had your turn, and let me just say this: that for the public record, when everyone was coming out and judging Ken Starr as though he was on trial, the so-called "feminists," or the NOW organization did not speak out call for a complete and open and full legal investigation.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me let Ms. Ireland respond to that.
REP. MARGE ROUKEMA: With proper subpoenas, et cetera. They were totally silent. And if we're trying to compare their previous experience, Pat Schroeder and I are personal friends, but I saw the Packwood/Thomas thing a little differently. But let's put that aside now. Let's just say that if, indeed, that was the case, then somebody should have been out there calling for fairness in supporting a fair, proper legal investigation of everybody's charges, including--including Lewinsky and Paula Jones.
PATRICIA IRELAND: We did speak up about Lewinsky, and, in particular, if we were looking at who she needed defense against it, it was Ken Starr and the FBI. They ambushed her, held her for eight or nine hours without letting her call her attorney, threatened she and her mother with indictments. I think that he was being the one coercing her. She, nor anyone else, has ever alleged that President Clinton coerced her to do anything. And she and President Clinton have both denied that there was a relationship.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. I'd like to go to one other topic that Congresswoman Roukema introduced, which is the way the White House has responded to Kathleen Willey, what Ann Lewis has said about questioning her credibility because of coming for her job, continuing to write the president. How do you explain that? Does it--I mean, what do you think, Congresswoman Schroeder, about that defense?
Former Rep. Schroeder: "I think that the President of the United States is a citizen of this country, and he's entitled to defend himself also. "
FORMER REP. PATRICIA SCHROEDER: I think that the President of the United States is a citizen of this country, and he's entitled to defend himself also. I mean, again, if you have somebody on national television where the whole country takes a pause and watches it and they attack you, if you don't respond, then people assume it's true. I mean, people are saying, well, so what's his side? Now, you also know--I mean, from human nature--it's a he said/she said. You don't have a third party witness in the room; it would have been a lot easier.
MARGARET WARNER: So you think it's valid to question Willey's credibility by her subsequent behavior?
FORMER REP. PATRICIA SCHROEDER: I think everybody would prefer this would have been tried in court. I certainly would have. But once this thing starts, you can't let something fester and bubble and fester and bubble and then, you know, 18 months from now you try it in court. It's all over by then.
MARGARET WARNER: All right.
ANITA BLAIR: But it started 20 years ago when the personal became political. It started 10 years ago when the discovery of the neutron bomb of politics--the sex bombshell used to achieve a political aim, such as with the Clarence Thomas nomination--you know, we're going to accuse him of sexual impropriety because we disagree with him about his politics--
FORMER REP. PATRICIA SCHROEDER: No. No.
ANITA BLAIR: And this has continued. It is now being turned on the other side. I think nobody in the world would more devoutly wish that we could get back to issues; that we could bring these things into--than conservatives, and also that we could define sexual harassment in a way that it isn't just a label slapped onto things that, you know, makes everybody upset but doesn't--doesn't inform us about what the behavior was. Certainly, anybody getting due process has to involve--has to include getting a response from the other side. What we've had from the White House is denial, denigration, delay. We have not had any kind of factual response. And I think that the women who are accusing are owed that.
PATRICIA IRELAND: Let me jump in here because I think--
MARGARET WARNER: Briefly, because I want to get to Congresswoman Roukema too.
PATRICIA IRELAND: --we have to make a distinction between what the White House has done, which is put some context to this, and to say, contrary to what she says, which is that she was distraught and upset, we thought she was enthusiastic and still supportive. Contrast that with Mitsubishi, which is now facing the largest sexual harassment suit ever by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In an earlier case they said they were going to prove these women weren't harassed, that, in fact, they were promiscuous; they had had abortions. That's the kind of irrelevant personal attack that Bob Bennett originally was directing toward Paula Jones, another place where we spoke up, contrary to the allegations of silence, and made him back down. But it's a difference. I mean, this is--this is relevant information that they have released, not vicious, unwarranted, irrelevant personal attacks.
MARGARET WARNER: Congresswoman Roukema, you introduced this topic about what the White House has said about Kathleen Willey. What do you think--what do you make of that? You said it was inconsistent--
REP. MARGE ROUKEMA: I don't know--well--
MARGARET WARNER: Ann Lewis's comments.
REP. MARGE ROUKEMA: Ann Lewis's comment certainly was inconsistent, the complete reverse of the way she attacked the--the basis on which she attacked Clarence Thomas and supported Anita Hill, but let me--let me make another observation here. It just seems to me that this kind of partisan division here that you're seeing here is unfortunately feeding the cynicism in the American people and which is the reason why many of them are saying, hey, wait a minute, wake me up when you have real hard evidence, and when you're going through a legal process.
We really feel as though all you people down there in Washington are kind of the same, you know; it's your political bickering; you're making it a partisan issue; we want you to conduct this in a completely rational and totally professional, legal way. There are enough questions now out there that have to be answered. Let the law take its course, and frankly, I agree with them.
MARGARET WARNER: That does raise an interesting point. The polls and--and they can change--show that women are still tending to believe the president. How do you explain that?
FORMER REP. PATRICIA SCHROEDER: I think exactly what Congresswoman Roukema said. People would just as soon this would be tried in a court, and they're understanding now that this--under this constant yap, yap, yap, yap, every day with their opinion