THE DEBATE CONTINUES...
October 7, 1997
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
September 26, 1997
A report on the first day's Senate debate and a discussion between Sens. Durbin and Bennett.
September 26, 1997
Shields and Gigot discuss the McCain-Feingold debate.
September 23, 1997
Sens. Daschle and Nickles debate the Democrats' move to shutdown the Senate unless campaign reform is scheduled.
September 19, 1997
Shields and Gigot discuss campaign finance reform hearings and the McCain-Feingold bill.
June 24, 1996:
A background report on introduction of the McCain-Feingold reform bill.
June 12, 1997:
Congress and the President request the FEC to amend laws concerning soft money.
March 11, 1997:
Senate expands campaign finance investigation to cover all "improper" actions.
Browse the past Shields & Gigot segments.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the campaign finance investigation.
From Sen. John McCain's Web site: The Campaign Finance Reform Bill
From Sen. Russ Feingold's Web site: The Campaign Finance Reform Bill
SEN. JOHN McCAIN, (R) Arizona: Well, obviously, I'm not happy, but I'm not happy about the fact that we are not allowed to vote on amendments, and the proper way that we should address issues today, especially important ones like this, but I want to assure you we're going to be back, and we will be amending bills that are on the floor until we do get an up or down vote, which we think is our right as Senators.
JIM LEHRER: Do you feel you were treated unfairly, Sen. McCain?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Oh, I wouldn't say that. The majority operated under the rules and I respect those rules. And we will operate under the rules as we attempt to attach amendments to pending legislation, so there's no reason for me to be resentful, except to say that as the rules were used against us in order to prevent a full airing of this issue will use the rules to attempt to gain that.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with what Sen. McCain just said, Sen. Feingold? Is that your reaction as well?
"The reports of the death of the McCain-Feingold bill are premature."
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD, (D) Wisconsin: No. I'm very upbeat about this. I think the dam is about to break on this issue. Today I think was progress. The reports of the death of the McCain-Feingold bill are premature. We have 49 solid votes to defeat this bill killer Lott amendment, and today 53 Senators voted for the McCain-Feingold bill, in effect; that's double the number of Republicans. We had four before. Now it's eight. We're moving in the right direction. And I think by the end of this week there will be some key votes on this bill that I think will yet lead to a victory, and I think it's going to be fairly soon.
JIM LEHRER: By the end of this week?
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD: Yes. There will be cloture votes on Thursday that could break this open again, and that's something that I think we ought to be clear about. There could be a very important vote on this on Thursday with regard to cloture and ultimately the success of the Lott poison pill amendment to kill the bill.
JIM LEHRER: How would that happen, Sen. Feingold?
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD: Well, Sen. Lott has already fired a cloture petition, and it may well be that the Senate would choose to take up that amendment at that time. That would bring the bill back up. So, again, the reports of the death are awfully premature because that could happen in just two days.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. McConnell, do you agree, the reports of the death of McCain-Feingold are premature.
SEN. MITCH McCONNELL, (R) Kentucky: No. I don't think so. The 47 votes today is the highest mark we've gotten on a cloture vote on this in 10 years. In fact, the opposition to McCain-Feingold is greater today than it's ever been. As you know, this bill has been around in one form or another for the last 10 years. So it was an important victory for the First Amendment and an important victory in the effort to keep the government from being in charge of the political speech of individuals, groups, candidates, and parties. So I feel very good about it. It's a great victory.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Nickels, how do you feel about what happened today?
SEN. DON NICKLES, Assistant Majority Leader: Well, I just wanted to mention I think one of the issues--I've heard the Lott amendment called a killer amendment and so on--I disagree with that. I hope everybody realizes what we're voting on, or what we had up. The amendment really said that campaign contributions should be voluntary for all employees. That is a critically important issue, and unfortunately, we find out that millions of Americans don't have the right to say whether or not they have campaign contributions taken out of their check every month. We want to make sure that everybody has that right, and so we're saying that's a fundamental case, and it needs to pass; it needs to become law. We need to make sure that no one's compelled to contribute to any political campaign organization without their consent.
JIM LEHRER: What about Sen. Thompson's point that we just had the clip from that he made on the floor that even if the Lott amendment had passed, you Republicans still wouldn't have supported McCain-Feingold, is he right about that?
A Democrats' bill?
SEN. DON NICKLES: Well, he's right when he says we wouldn't support "the" bill. That's the bill that McCain and Feingold and they're good friends and they're good colleagues and they work hard. But that's a Democrat bill that has all the Democrats supporting and maybe a handful of Republicans. A lot of us will support some campaign reform. We will support a bill but not necessarily the bill, not one that they've crafted that we think would be very much to, as Mitch McConnell said, to the detriment of the First Amendment, take away some rights, but we're willing to pass some campaign reform. It doesn't have to be "the" bill that most of all the Democrats support. So we're willing to do it but we want to make sure that all campaign contributions are voluntary as a first step towards real reform.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Let me just say--could I real quick--if--in all due respect--my friend, Don--if he feels so strongly and feels that he has so much moral sway on his side why don't we have a vote on that amendment? Instead, we were precluded from having a vote on it. We really had a vote on a cloture motion, so I would urge Sen. McConnell and Sen. Nickles, who claimed to such high ground here, that he would have a vote on this particular amendment. Instead, they don't want to have a vote on it, and there must be some reason for that.
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD: As a matter of fact, Sen. Daschle offered just this week to have Senate Bill 9, the Nickles amendment, come up as its own bill, and, in fact, he offered to have the Democrats guarantee there would be no filibuster on it. So if their concern is passing this piece of legislation, getting it through the Senate, they've been given a golden opportunity. The truth is they just want to use it to kill campaign finance reform. That's really what's going on here, and they're not going to get away with this.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. McConnell.
SEN. MITCH McCONNELL: Well, as you know, the President would veto paycheck protection, if it were sent to him freestanding. So it's a pretty easy offer for the Democrats to make to say, oh, we'll give you a freestanding up or down 51-vote majority vote on paycheck protection. They know it'll never become law. The point we're making is this is inextricably intertwined with the campaign finance debate reform. And every time they bring up campaign finance reform, they're going to get paycheck protection.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. McConnell, was Sen. Nickles speaking for you when he said that he--that the Republicans want campaign finance reform? You don't want campaign finance reform, do you?
SEN. MITCH McCONNELL: Well, it depends on what it looks like. If we were going to index contributions so that we could bring them up to what they ought to be, they were set back in 1974, when a Mustang cost $2700, if we do an inflation adjustment for that, I'd certainly be for that. If we could pass paycheck protection, I'd certainly be for that. That would be an important step in the right direction to provide genuine democracy for workers all across America. That would be very good campaign finance reform.
"Is that the way the Senate should do business?"
JIM LEHRER: Now, Sen. Nickles, I'm going to start with you and I'm going to go back to Sen. Feingold on this one point. You all--you Republicans who were opposed to McCain-Feingold would not allow a vote on McCain-Feingold. The Democrats, who were opposed to the Lott amendment would not allow a vote on that. What's going on? Is that the way the Senate should do business?
SEN. DON NICKLES: Well, we both know that it's going to take 60 votes to pass anything. And so we need to work together. What I've been saying is that I'm willing to work with my colleagues, John McCain, Russ Feingold, I'll work with anybody trying to pass legitimate reform, but I am saying--just think about this, Jim--I am saying that let's make sure if we're going to pass campaign reform, let's make sure that all contributions are voluntary. That's American. An to say that people should be compelled to contribute to somebody's political campaign they don't agree with is just wrong. And so we're saying if we start with that basis we can find some other things that we can agree with, Democrats and Republicans.
JIM LEHRER: All right.
SEN. DON NICKLES: Mitch McConnell mentioned one, indexing, increasing what individuals can do, and there are some other things we can put in I think that would help reform the system, improve the system, and really move us towards I think real positive reform.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Let me ask Sen. Feingold, why would Democrats not permit the Republicans to have a vote on the merits of the Lott amendment today?
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD: Because the whole reason this was set up the way it was, was to destroy campaign finance reform. The Lott amendment was set up to allow no other amendments. All these ideas that Sen. McConnell and Sen. Nickles are bringing up couldn't even be brought up until this Lott amendment was resolved because it's set up to not allow free amendments. No other Senator can offer any amendment till it's resolved. So even their ideas can come up. That's not a real debate. Not even having one vote on any amendment is a mockery of having a real debate on campaign finance reform, and we are determined to get it before this is done.
JIM LEHRER: A mockery, Sen. McConnell?
SEN. MITCH McCONNELL: Not at all. If you're going to draft a bill that affects the First Amendment and both parties deeply, you're going to have to have a negotiation. And that negotiation has really not occurred. And until you do that, I think it's clear this bill is not going to be written on the floor of the Senate with an amendment after amendment after amendment procedure.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. McCain, both Sen. Nickles and Sen. McConnell have said they were willing to negotiate. Are you willing to--what is your reading of the history of the willingness to negotiate?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Well, we have, and there's been a good faith effort under the leadership of Sen. Nickles. The problem is that the solution that they've come up with as a Republican solution and not balanced and this favors Republicans. We all know that the provisions that were just articulated favor the Republican Party.
JIM LEHRER: Explain why.
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Because the more money that--the more you lift the spending limits, the more money comes to Republicans than Democrats for example. We all know that. The other point and the Paycheck Protection Act would put severe constraints on labor and there would not be commensurate restraints on corporate donations and business donations. So that favors Republicans. You've got to have a balanced and unbiased proposal that meets frankly the referee's view that it is balanced between both parties. I have urged that we continue to sit down and negotiate, but we also have to bring in Republicans, as well as Democrats, if we want to have true and meaningful negotiations. Finally, I'll tell you--I look forward to debating the First Amendment rights that people have when we bring up an amendment that just bans soft money. We know it's out of control. We know it's egregious. We know when someone says next time I'm going to give $600,000 instead of $300,000, we've got big problems, and we're going to have a vote on that one way or another.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Now, Sen. Nickles, let's go back to Sen. Feingold's point right at the beginning. He said there's going to be a vote--there could be a vote as early as Thursday, another cloture vote on that. Is that how you read the possibilities?
SEN. DON NICKLES: Well, I think we have actually a couple of cloture votes that are still in the works, and my guess is we'll probably have those before the week's out. My guess is also both cloture votes will not get to 60.
JIM LEHRER: So there will be no change.
SEN. DON NICKLES: I don't see a change now. Unless--some of us are always willing. We're adults, and John McCain said that he thought that having voluntary contributions favored Republicans. I think it favors Americans. I also think it favors union workers. A lot of union workers came to me and said, hey, I want to have voluntary contributions. But I will also tell you, I think the McCain-Feingold certainly--the proposal it is right now certainly favors the Democrats. That's why you have every Democrat supporting it, and you have a handful of Republicans. Well, we're not going to pass that, and so if we're going to pass anything, we're going to have to get together and see if we can work out what is mutually agreeable, and it's going to have to be agreeable between Democrats and Republicans and come up with more significant bipartisan support.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Feingold, Sen. Nickles just said they're not going to pass that.
"No bill has been declared dead more often than McCain-Feingold... but it's still kicking."
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD: Well, that's what they said about the gift ban too--but we did--98 to nothing. And the fact is there are some Republican Senators who aren't with us yet that are negotiating with us right now. All we need is one more vote to crack this poison pill of a Lott vote. We have 49 solid votes, and they have some squishy votes, so I feel very good that this whole thing can turn around in a couple of days. No bill has been declared dead more often than McCain-Feingold... but it's still kicking.
JIM LEHRER: Now, Sen. McCain, Sen. Daschle said today--I think you even said earlier--that you were prepared to put this bill in some form as an amendment on all kinds of legislation until you get to your vote. Do you still feel that way?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: Yes, I am, because I think that the American people deserve an up or down vote on these issues. I'm willing to go before the American people and vote on Sen. Nickles' amendment, Sen. McConnell's proposals that you just heard, and we'd like to have a vote on some of our proposals. That's the way I think the American people expect the system to work but also Sen. Nickles is correct. If at the end of the day it's going to require bipartisan negotiations to come up with a package that is acceptable to both sides, but it may require some tough votes between now and then.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. McConnell, I assume you're prepared--no matter how many times they bring it up--to fight, is that right?
SEN. MITCH McCONNELL: Well, I think the First Amendment is worth fighting for. And it's important to remember, Jim, that it's not unusual for controversial measures in the Senate to require 60 votes. The Democrats have even made us get 60 votes for comp time for American workers. A 60-vote requirement in the Senate is very common. This is not at all unusual.
JIM LEHRER: What about--Sen. Daschle said that it was unusual because this was such an important measure. You disagree with that, that an exception shouldn't have been made in this case.
SEN. MITCH McCONNELL: Oh, I think it is very, very important to protect the First Amendment, absolutely important. I couldn't agree with him more.
JIM LEHRER: No. But I mean--rather than to use a filibuster, to go ahead and have the vote was the point he was making.
SEN. MITCH McCONNELL: A filibuster to save the First Amendment is well worth engaging in.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Okay. So we'll see what happens, gentlemen Thursday. Would you agree, Sen. Nickles, a big day, Sen. McConnell, a big day, Sen. McCain, Sen. Feingold, this thing is not over even this week?
SEN. DON NICKLES: I don't see any change made in the next couple of days. I'm always willing to work with my colleagues to see if we can't come up with something that we can get a strong vote both with Republicans and Democrats. And part of that will be making sure that all Americans make voluntary contributions to campaigns.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. McCain, do you feel any squishiness on the part of the Republicans, any other Republicans that could come to your side in the next few days?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN: I think there's a desire on a number of Republicans to negotiate out a package, and I think there's a desire on the part of a number of Democrats as well because I think they think this issue has now become one that's important--as I said before, we should vote on these issues if the First Amendment is that critical, which I agree that it is, why don't we vote on these issues, rather than not allow votes on it, and I don't quite understand the logic, but I look forward to the opportunity.
JIM LEHRER: All right, gentlemen, thank you all four very much.