April 7, 2000
|Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot and Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant recap the week in politics and discuss the politics of the Elian Gonzalez case.|
JIM LEHRER: And that brings us to Gigot and Oliphant. Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot, Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant, substituting tonight for Mark Shields. Paul, the budget story. Put what we witnessed from Kwame into the context of the presidential election.
|Budget battles on the Hill|
PAUL GIGOT: Well, that's just sort of sparring back and forth. I mean, the big questions on budget and spending are going to be set by both of the presidential candidates. This is an attempt by Senators to have amendments on votes that will try to cut against the other party's Senators and so on. I think the big picture frankly is both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are proving that George Bush is right about one thing: If the money is left in Washington, if the surplus is left in Washington, it is going to be spent because the Republicans...
JIM LEHRER: On both sides.
PAUL GIGOT: By both sides. Trent Lott did a couple of things. He was at war with Republicans in the House who have a $13 billion emergency supplemental that is becoming a Christmas tree. He is trying to stop that and he is getting rolled. He is at war with his appropriators, the spending committees; he is getting rolled on that. He tried to cut the gas tax by 4 cents a gallon; he can't do that, and it's because these politicians see the surplus of both parties, and they say it's time to spend -- no more austerity; let's do it. And both parties are doing it.
JIM LEHRER: So when Pete Domenici said just now this really showed the differences and political philosophy, not so?
PAUL GIGOT: I don't think nearly as much as it would have four or five years ago. I'm sure on some votes, and there is no question that the Democrats are trying to... would spend a heck of a lot more, particularly in expanding the entitlement programs. There is no question there is a fundamental philosophical dispute about reforming Medicare first before you give a drug benefit. But by and large in these spending decisions, it's let's party like it's 1969.
JIM LEHRER: You see it the same way, Tom?
TOM OLIPHANT: Not quite because I think the politics of this issue shows that whether you call something spending or whether you call it investment, whether you're a Democrat or Republican depends on whether you like what's on the table. And the problem right now, of course, when it comes to these investments, everybody seems to like -
JIM LEHRER: No, what is an investment?
TOM OLIPHANT: Well, I mean...
PAUL GIGOT: Democratic programs.
JIM LEHRER: Democratic programs?
TOM OLIPHANT: Not always, because the military increases that many people favor are, of course, investments in the preparedness of our country to face enemies around the world.
JIM LEHRER: All right. I got you.
TOM OLIPHANT: But the best way to look at budget resolutions, I think, especially over the last 26 years that we've had them, is they're much more like opinion polls than they are like legislation. It's a snapshot of congressional opinion, which itself mirrors public opinion to a certain extent. But the actual work of appropriating money or raising or lowering taxes still has to happen. And I think the votes this week show how gridlock remains in Washington. There's a consensus to setting surpluses mount, but not any consensus on what to do with the money that is coming in over and above the surpluses within the Social Security system. But some of the votes were, nonetheless, interesting. A majority of the Senate feels that there should be a prescription drug benefit in Medicare before Medicare, before there's any tax cut. There's a majority for a pure dollar an hour increase in the minimum wage over two years -- no sentiment as Paul said for cutting the gasoline tax; no interest in opening up lands in Alaska for additional oil drilling. You do get a sense of opinion that seems on its surface to run counter to many of the things Governor Bush has proposed.
JIM LEHRER: Do you see it the same way? Is this a problem for Bush, what's happened on the Senate budget resolution?
PAUL GIGOT: I think it's reinforcing one of his arguments, one of his big arguments - which is if the money is kept here, it will be spent. And that's one of the reasons you have to take it out of Washington because both parties are going to do it. And the other argument Bush is saying...
JIM LEHRER: In other words, tax cuts.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, part of it is tax cuts, yeah. Keep it out of Washington. The other point he is making is, you need some adult supervision here. You need somebody to come in from outside. And the way both parties right now are acting, I think that reinforces that argument.
|Elian Gonzalez: shaping the presidential race?|
JIM LEHRER: All right. Let's go to the presidential race itself, Tom. What do you see that happened this week that was the most important thing between Bush and Gore?
TOM OLIPHANT: Well, keeping in mind the most important word about the presidential campaign right now is hiatus. At the public's request there is less of a presidential campaign than there was in February and in January. But I don't think anything comes close to helping form people's impression of the two likely nominees than this mess in South Florida right now.
JIM LEHRER: The Elian Gonzalez story.
TOM OLIPHANT: Absolutely. I don't think it is a voting issue outside of Florida, or even an opinion issue forming outside of Florida, but in the days since Vice President Gore sort of broke with the Clinton administration, and Bush called him on it, I don't think anything comes close to that in terms of impression on the public. Though it is interesting this week, I thought, that Governor Bush is continuing his effort to present himself as a more compassionate, moderate Republican figure. We spent a couple of weeks discussing education. He attempted this week to make a move in an area where he really does need to play a lot of defense, and that is the environment. Health care is just ahead of him. So there are things going on behind the scenes, but there's a hiatus.
JIM LEHRER: A hiatus?
PAUL GIGOT: Yeah, but I think the Florida politics is very important in what is going in the Elian Gonzalez case. I think that...
JIM LEHRER: Important in what way?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think Florida is at stake here. It is important how this thing plays out -- whether or not a state that George Bush obviously needs to win, but if Al Gore can make it competitive, then he has a big chance to win this election. And I think his chances of carrying Florida have been dramatically hurt here -- even though he tried last week to break with the administration I thought -- I defended it.
JIM LEHRER: I remember.
PAUL GIGOT: And, you know, it wasn't the most popular thing, in my community, but I think he hurt himself a little bit this week, particularly today. What I don't understand is that he was down there in Florida.
JIM LEHRER: In Fort Lauderdale, 60 miles from Miami.
PAUL GIGOT: Sixty miles. And he never talked about it. He said last week that this was a matter of conviction. I believed him. But he didn't prove it when he doesn't talk about it now when it's so hot and say look... and he hasn't really tried to work hard within the administration to change any minds. So the train that was moving down the station to have him, Elian, repatriated still continues.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think he's hurt himself on this?
TOM OLIPHANT: Not yet, with a bow in the direction of what Paul did that got him in trouble on the right, let me see if I can get myself in trouble on the left in that I happen to be, I think a minority of one who thinks Gore did exactly the right thing from the liberal perspective by having a way to have this decision made so that people, including Cubans in Miami, could live with it. And I thought getting a green card not just in the kid's hands but the father's hands was the way to do it. But today, to not talk about it is the essence of leadership because it's crunch time, and the atmosphere, at least in South Florida, is extremely tense. And the best thing any politician can do for from here on out is to shut up.
PAUL GIGOT: Boy, I don't think so. Leadership is speaking up and saying, look, we don't want any violence. We want everybody to be controlled but this is something that I really think, you know, we could do to calm nerves and to make sure that this thing is settled without any violence.
TOM OLIPHANT: The reason I'm not sure that's called for in this case is just because the enforcement of a federal court order may be necessary in the next couple of days, and that to, in any way, undermine the enforcement of the law at crunch time, would not make sense. I do believe still that Vice President Gore pointed to a way that this could have been resolved in a way that would have been accepted more by particularly the Floridians.
|The New York senate race|
JIM LEHRER: And avoid what may happen the first of next week. Okay. Let's talk for the final couple of moments here about the Senate race in New York. Hillary Clinton versus Rudolph Gilliani. There was a dramatic new poll out. What is going on? It's flipped everything. Suddenly Hillary Clinton has got a pretty good lead over Rudolph Gilliani?
PAUL GIGOT: For the first time in a year.
JIM LEHRER: What is going on?
PAUL GIGOT: It seems to be the reaction to the mayor's attack on this... the victim of a police shooting. He had questioned the guy's police record, and he seemed to jump on it a little too fast.
JIM LEHRER: And released some sealed juvenile records of the dead man.
PAUL GIGOT: That's right. What it did was play right into the critique that Hillary Clinton had been trying to make and the Democrats have been trying to make that he has a temperament problem, not the sort of fellow you want to send to the Senate because he has an executive mentality, perhaps -- and that's great if you're trying to shake up the streets of New York and deal with taxi drivers - but it's not very good if you've got to deal with a hundred prima donnas down in the Senate that you have to get along with. He fell into their trap really. They had been trying to make the argument about the case for a long time. Didn't work in the Diallo case because the police were acquitted and Gilliani should have left well enough alone and stayed quiet. Increasingly this race is beginning to look like if this race is about her in the end, she's going to lose; if it's about him, he's going to lose, because both of them are so polarizing and disliked by so many people.
JIM LEHRER: Tom.
TOM OLIPHANT: I think what Paul is talking about goes to the margin at least in one of the polls published, in fact today by the New York Times and CBS. I don't think it adequately explained what has been happening for the last few months. Mrs. Clinton has been gradually establishing, after a lot of missteps, the basic structure for a Democratic statewide candidate in New York; the listening tour, so-called, that she went on may have been unbelievably boring for the rest of us but I think it gradually took the edge of this soap opera aspect of her candidacy. And in the polls that were showing this race essentially deadlocked in late January and February, you could see that she had narrowed the mayor's advantage upstate, narrowed the mayor's advantage in the suburbs -- Westchester as well as Long Island -- and built a much larger margin for herself in New York City. And I think that's a sign of consolidating base.
JIM LEHRER: So you think it's more pro-Hillary than negative Gilliani.
TOM OLIPHANT: Initially. The margin that you see today -- which might be ten points if you push leaners -- I think comes from the mayor's handling of the Durisman shooting and that is something that could change two weeks from now if the facts in the case were to be different or if people...
JIM LEHRER: Something else happened...
TOM OLIPHANT: .. will gradually get over their anger at him. The fundamental structure of the race because of her taking the edge off her own candidacy in recent months is to make it a really close horse race.
JIM LEHRER: Is it going to be the interesting race that everybody predicted it's going to be?
PAUL GIGOT: I would think so. You can't turn on television on the cable networks without it being on. I think it's going to be the second most important race in the country after the presidential race after the presidential race.
JIM LEHRER: Not necessarily important - you mean, interesting, or you mean important?
PAUL GIGOT: I think it's important because it's the First Lady. I mean it's so directly tied into the legacy of the Clintons and whether the voters want to endorse that. The President went up there last weekend and just -- at a fund-raiser for her and tore into Rudy Gilliani tying in the Bob Jones University and right-wing venom machine. This is a mayor who has not been tied to the right-wing anything.
TOM OLIPHANT: I sense a lot of public dissatisfaction. People want this race to be about them. The two candidates make it too much about each other.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Thank you both very much.