April 24, 1998
From the tobacco bill to the rebirth of campaign finance reform, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot and syndicated columnist Mark Shields review the week in politics.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
April 23, 1998
Sen. Daschle presents the Democrats' view of issues facing Congress.
April 22, 1998
Sen. Lott provides the Republicans' view of issues facing Congress.
April 22, 1998
An update on campaign finance reform.
April 21, 1998
Sen. McCain discusses the tobacco bill.
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The U.S. Senate.
The U.S. House of Representatives.
JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, some Shields & Gigot. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Mark, political war broke out this week between the Republicans and the Democrats over the tobacco bill. Who's winning?
The tobacco bill.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think that the Republicans are in a bind, Jim, because if there's a tough bill that does pass, Bill Clinton will get credit for it. If there's no bill that passes, they're going to get blamed. And the 19 to 1 vote by which it came out of the Senate Republican Committee headed by John McCain is, is enough, quite frankly, to give it a strong bipartisan flavor, and he's now being attacked, and that bill is being attacked by the Speaker of the House, and I think the Speaker for the first time made a political misstep by echoing the essential arguments of the tobacco lobby, namely, Stephen Goldstone of Philip Morris made before the National Press Club, calling it--
JIM LEHRER: RJR.
MARK SHIELDS: RJR, excuse me--calling it a big tax, big liberal, big bureaucracy bill. And I just think that that was a mistake by Newt Gingrich.
JIM LEHRER: Bad mistake?
PAUL GIGOT: Only Newt's first mistake. That's a concession.
JIM LEHRER: The new Newt.
MARK SHIELDS: The new improved Newt.
JIM LEHRER: The new Newt.
"I think the Democrats were all set to morph Newt Gingrich into the Marlboro Man...."
PAUL GIGOT: I think the Democrats were all set to morph Newt Gingrich into the Marlboro Man, and they started out with that attack, and they had second thoughts about it later in the week because I don't think it's going to fly. First of all, it's--it's not plausible to say that Newt Gingrich is aping the tobacco companies on this. He wants to give them less liability protection than John McCain's bill gives them. The McCain bill has a cap on liability protection. Newt said we're not going to do that at all. And what he was saying with Joe Camel, it turns out, was really--
JIM LEHRER: Refresh our memory with what he said that caused all the trouble.
PAUL GIGOT: What he said is that youth smoking cannot be mainly attributed to Joe Camel. There are other things. For example, the way Hollywood portrays smoking, now that happened to be the same subject that the First Lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton, used as a column not too long ago last August, and Gingrich was really making a very similar point. There are a lot of Republicans who wish Newt Gingrich were sticking up more with the tobacco companies, but he simply--I don't think it's plausible--and if you look at the polling data on this, a lot of Americans aren't as thrilled with the tobacco bill as a lot of people in Washington have thought. It's 47/46 percent for it, so it's a split in the NBC-Wall Street Journal poll.
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Lott said on this program the other night that nobody cares about this tobacco bill, at least out in Mississippi. Sen. Daschle said the next night, well, in South Dakota, they care about it. Who's right?
MARK SHIELDS: When you're for it, people care about it, and you're against it, nobody cares at all. They argue here on campaign finance all the time--but I think I didn't hear the speaker or any other Republican applaud Mrs. Clinton's column from last August to this April until the bill was pending, and at which point she became a source to be quoted--a primary source--and upset an ibid to be testimonial to--I would say that as long as people do see the tobacco bill as a tax bill, then I think that people who are fighting that legislation have the upper hand. There's no question about it.
JIM LEHRER: Mainly Republicans.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right.
JIM LEHRER: In fact, that is really the Gingrich approach. He said it's a tax that would increase the federal bureaucracy and that sort of thing.
PAUL GIGOT: And a big regulatory thing. In that same Wall Street Journal poll people asked, what do you think it is, is it for kids, teen smoking? 20 percent said that. Is it revenue grab versus spending? 70 percent.
JIM LEHRER: If that stays--
MARK SHIELDS: It's a problem. But Peter Hart, who did the poll, I spoke with him today, he said, if it's seen as an effort, a serious effort to cut down teen smoking, it gains great political momentum and popular support.
JIM LEHRER: Now, the politics of this, both Lott and Daschle denied that there were politics involved in this--let the politics fall where they may--are there politics in this for either side?
MARK SHIELDS: I think the politics are on the Democrats' side in this one. I mean, I don't think there's any--there's no--
JIM LEHRER: If the Democrats are successful at painting them--
MARK SHIELDS: That's right.
JIM LEHRER: --in this pro-tobacco company corner.
MARK SHIELDS: Exactly. There's no real--Republicans could stop it on a tax basis and not hurt themselves. If the Republicans are seen as stopping a bill, it's going to cut--cut kids from smoking--limit kids' smoking, then I think it hurts Republicans.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that basically? Mark said that a moment ago, that if this thing goes down the tubes for any reason, it's going to be the Republicans who are going to catch the blame.
PAUL GIGOT: I think it depends on how it goes down, why it is seen as going down. I think most of the potential advantage is for the Democrats in this, but I think it's much less of an advantage than a lot of people thought if you look at the way the public perceives this. They are perceiving it as a big regulatory, big taxing bill right now, and if the Republicans pass something that is aimed precisely at teen smoking, but it's not the McCain bill, it's going to be hard for the president to veto it.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Campaign finance reform, it's going to get its moment--it's moments, I guess, in the House after all. What happened?
Campaign finance reform.
PAUL GIGOT: It has nothing but moments, I mean, it's all moments. What happened is the Democrats did a very skillful job of using something called a discharge petition, which says if you get 218 votes for something, a majority--signatures, rather, on something, you can control the floor. And they were approaching that number, and the Republicans said, wait a minute, we don't want to lose the floor, so they said, we're going to give--have a debate and a vote on this. There's no question that they were outmaneuvered on this, the Republicans were by--
JIM LEHRER: The Republican leadership.
PAUL GIGOT: Leadership was, and now they're going to get a debate that they may regret having to have.
MARK SHIELDS: We were also told--Sen. Lott said that about tobacco--we were told on this broadcast and elsewhere that nobody cares about this issue. Well, what this shows--when you get 218 people willing to go on discharge petition is that a lot of people do care about it, and there's enough people, when there's only 11-seat turnaround that would give the Democrats control of the House, if this is just an issue in 10 percent of the districts, and 44 districts in the country, in 1998, it becomes a problem. It becomes a voting problem for Republicans. And I think there's a question here, Jim, of the Republicans not simply losing control of the House, as the speaker was apprehensive about, but losing the majority in the House, and that's a concern in the suburban districts like the Montgomery County District here, represented by Republican Connie Morella--
JIM LEHRER: Montgomery County--
MARK SHIELDS: A district that's overwhelmingly Democratic, it's presidential voting--districts like that. I think there's two other factors that can't be ignored. First of all, ethics in this climate in 1998 with the grand jury sitting, all the rest of it, could be a major issue in the fall of 1998. People don't want to be on the wrong side of that. And secondly is just the tidal wave of money into campaigns has given incumbents a sense that they've lost control of their own destiny. Incumbents were never worried in the past because they always knew they could raise more money than their challengers. Democrats or Republicans, it didn't make any difference. Now, with the influx of all this money and the kind was spent out in California--where both--
JIM LEHRER: Special election a couple of weeks ago.
MARK SHIELDS: A special election. Both candidates just really felt that they had lost control of the dialogue in the terms of the debate of the campaign.
PAUL GIGOT: If they members really think they've lost control, wait till they pass McCain-Feingold and ban soft money. All that money is going to go right in--a lot of it's going to go right into independent expenditures, where the outside groups that will play in the races and set the terms of the debate even more than they have been lately and--
MARK SHIELDS: That money will not be barred, and I mean, it will--
PAUL GIGOT: This is the philosophical difference between Mark and me when he dons his Sir Gallahad--
JIM LEHRER: I've noticed this through the last couple of several years.
PAUL GIGOT: He dons his Sir Gallahad suit and pursues that Holy Grail of campaign finance reform, and he's sincere about it, and he's done it for years, but I'll tell you--the problem is that as long as this city has so much power, money is going to pursue the city to try to influence it. You can't stop it. You can try to plug it up here and plug it up there, but it's always going to find a way. And that's the fundamental problem with trying to pass something. You can try with all your good intentions in the world, but ultimately it finds a way.
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, when we've had three consecutive presidential elections under the reform laws passed after Watergate, that were totally clean, without soft money, without big money in them, we had Ronald Reagan elected in 1980, we had Jimmy Carter elected in 1976, we had Ronald Reagan re-elected in 1984, it didn't change until '88. To say that we can't change it back I think is an admission of failure, and it's sort of the sense of futility, oh, gosh, we'll just let the money guys run it over. All you have to say is those individuals, labor unions, and corporations that give six and seven figure amounts, you can't do it anymore, folks, you're just the same as Sam and Sally Citizen, you're limited to giving a thousand bucks, and that changes it.
PAUL GIGOT: Go ahead.
JIM LEHRER: A practical matter. If the House does, in fact, pass a campaign finance reform bill as a result of this, what then can the Senate do? Here again Sen. Lott, Sen. Daschle had different views. Sen. Lott said it's not going to may any difference probably; Sen. Daschle said that's wishful thinking on Sen. Lott's part. What do you think?
PAUL GIGOT: There will be more pressure to have a vote, no question about it. I think they will successfully resist that pressure. It--there are two races in 1996 where campaign finance reform was a very big issue. One was in the Senate against Mark's favorite Republican, Mitch McConnell, the arch enemy of campaign finance reform, by Mark's definition. They used it against him in TV ads; he won in a landslide. The Republican patron saint of campaign finance reform, Linda Smith, in Washington State, almost lost her seat, despite being for it. Now, there were other issues at play in those races, but those lessons suggest to an awful lot of Republicans that it's not going to be that big an issue in the end.
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of issues, quickly, finally, the Senate passed an education bill last night. The president says he's going to veto it. What's going on there? Why education? That's suddenly out of nowhere.
The education bill.
MARK SHIELDS: Education--the most important issue Americans say that they want addressed in the country. Democrats have a major edge in people's judgment as to which party is better on the issue. Republicans had to come up with something. 1996, Jim, the only thing they wanted to do was abolish the Department of Education. That was all their presidential candidates--again, their litany--so they've come up with a program; they've come up with some ideas. It boils down to this: The Democrats want to test students but they don't want to test teachers. The Republicans want to test teachers but they don't want to test students, and both cases it shows the ideology and the politics of the two parties and I'm afraid it's going to be an issue, rather than a result.
PAUL GIGOT: I think I'd put it a little differently. If it's a question about the money you spend and the inputs into education, Democrats have had an advantage. But if it's a question about what you get for your money, the outputs, accountability, grades, that sort of thing, that's where Republicans and other schools succeeding with that money, Republicans can get back in the game, and they have been getting back in the game with this bill, which I think does have a positive agenda--that way to talk about education.
JIM LEHRER: And another part of it--in addition to the testing issue was the Republican bill makes it possible for take tax deductions and whatever for private school, tuitions, and things like that, and that--and the Democrats argued that that would destroy the public school system.
"I don't think anybody would say that the American public school system is in healthy tip-top condition."
MARK SHIELDS: That's right. There's no question there's a deep philosophical difference there. Jim, I don't think anybody would say that the American public school system is in healthy tip-top condition. There's no question about it. And there are deep divisions within the party. And this is a real issue. I'm not simply saying it's a political issue or a political smoke screen. But I think the Republicans, quite frankly, are scrambling to catch up.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that?
PAUL GIGOT: They are, but they're doing quite well at catching up.
JIM LEHRER: And getting on the playing field on education where they hadn't been.
PAUL GIGOT: Five Democrats voted for this bill, including Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who said, you know, I voted for all these spending bills; we've got to do something differently within the schools.
JIM LEHRER: And we've got to go. Thank you both.