April 30, 1999
Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot and syndicated columnist Mark Shields discuss the House vote on the NATO air strikes.
JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, Shields and Gigot: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. First, Mark, Kosovo and Congress. What do you make of the vote in the House Wednesday on supporting the air war in Kosovo?
MARK SHIELDS: Not one of the great moments in House history, Jim. The House on Wednesday voted not to send in ground troops, voted not to declare war, voted not to bring troops home, and at the same time voted against an air war. Now, you figure it out. You got to vote any way you want. You can cover yourself. I thought that --it was hypocrisy on this vote, especially the last one on preserving the United States and NATO air cover and air attacks that are going on in support, as the Senate did, was particularly outrageous in view of the fact that J.C. Watts, the House Republican chairman, Conference chairman, Chris Cox, the Republican House Policy Chairman, and Dick Armey, the House Majority Leader all voted against bringing our troops home, and voted against air support. Now, what are our troops supposed to do if there isn't any air support, if there isn't any air effort? I mean, are they just supposed to sit there to be picked off Serbian troops or withdrawn somewhere back north of Rome? It was a bad, bad day for the House.
|A bad day for the House?|
JIM LEHRER: Bad day for the House?
PAUL GIGOT: It was a bad day for the House. It was also a bad day for the president. It was a no confidence vote in his conduct during the war, Jim. I can't think of a time or my memory is not as good as it used to be, but I can't remember when there was a vote like this, basically a no confidence vote in the president's conduct during the war while the war is going on, probably Vietnam is the last time. But it goes deeper than just the House. It's almost as if the political class here in Washington is having a kind of collective nervous breakdown over Kosovo. The president isn't leading. He's not trusted. He doesn't have any credibility. We're running out of ammo. And the Congress's response is not to say, "all right. We're going to help you." It's to say, "we're not going to help you. If you're not going to take responsibility, we can be just as irresponsible." And they weren't responsible. That vote this week was one of the worst moments for the Republican Congress since they took over, maybe the worst.
JIM LEHRER: Now, why did it happen, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: I think this what I would call Clintonism coming home to roost. It's the political culture of - everything is spin; everything is the next news cycle. We're not going to take responsibility. I'm not going to lead; I'm not going to fight for something and tell you what I want to do. And that's been kind of inbred into the Congress. And the Congress has become little Clintons. They're responding just like that. And so the president gets the Congress he deserves. When the House made that vote and it was a bad vote, the president didn't say, well, I'm in trouble, I think I need to reclaim it, bring people in, let's try to repair the collision. Instead he sent Joe Lockhart, his spokesman, to come out like Jim Carville, James Carville without the charm, and attack them. That's just -- it's tit for tat. Even in war, this is war; this is serious stuff.
MARK SHIELDS: Serious stuff, Jim. I think that the president has failed to make the case persuasively, compellingly to the country. I don't think there's any question about it. I mean, we can't make the case. And I agree with Paul up to that point. We can't argue as Democrats did on the House floor on Wednesday that this man is using rape as an instrument of terror, Milosevic; that they're burning village after village, they're destroying families, murdering young men and boys, and at the same time, he's going to be the architect of post-war peace, he's going to be the enforcer, the guarantor; that is an absolutely contradictory message to send to the American people. And the American people, for good reason, can't accept that. But at the same time, let's be very blunt about this.
Tom DeLay, the House Whip, and a member of House Republicans, this actual impeachment. That's exactly what it is. They're going to make it Clinton/Gore's war and they're going to guarantee that it doesn't work. Paul can say they're emulating, they're simulating. What that was - you had the House Republican Whip whipping members on the floor to vote against air cover that had been supported by president George Bush, supported by Bob Dole, the last Republican nominee, supported by Dick Lugar, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee and John Warner, the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Dick Shelby, Richard Shelby, the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. And he whipped them to the point where they were contradictory. They're saying we're against bringing our troops home. We're just going to leave them there.
JIM LEHRER: Paul, does it also kind of -- for instance the war today, they passed this thing on Wednesday.
PAUL GIGOT: Right.
JIM LEHRER: The bombing war was more intense today than it has been since it began. Does that make kind of the House of Representatives almost irrelevant in this? Have they made themselves irrelevant?
|An irrelevant House?|
PAUL GIGOT: I doubt it was irrelevant to Slobodan Milosevic. What message do you think he took with a 213 to 213 vote? Do you think he thinks Bill Clinton is leading a unified country? I don't think so. It probably isn't a very good message to the Greeks and the Italians about American resolve either to. Two caveats to Mark's points: If this was an act of impeachment, it didn't have the head of impeachment, Henry Hyde. He voted for.
MARK SHIELDS: Henry Hyde - he's a grown-up.
PAUL GIGOT: The second thing is -
MARK SHIELDS: So is Ben Gillman.
PAUL GIGOT: -- 26 Democrats voted against the air war, as well. And this was a miscalculation on the part of Dick Gephardt. Dick Gephardt and David Bonior thought they could embarrass the Republicans -
JIM LEHRER: By having this vote.
PAUL GIGOT: -- by having this vote because the Republican leadership didn't want it. They insisted upon it. And 26 Democrats also went over. I think -- I agree completely, this was a demonstration of irresponsibility on the part of the Republicans, but you can't let Gephardt and Bonior off the hook.
MARK SHIELDS: Listen, 26 Democrats did, and they can answer for themselves or not answer for themselves. There was nobody whipping them. 90 percent of the Democrats did stand where they had stood. You cannot sit here intellectually and say I am against bringing American troops home. I want American troops to stay there to be involved, and at the same time, the Americans getting into flights tonight. They're getting into F-15's, F-16's, A-6's. They're putting their life on the line, and these Jamocas are saying, we're not with you. Now they have a comeback position, Jim. They have a great fallback position -- the ultimate act of hypocrisy. We're against the war, we're going to. -- the Joint Chiefs of Staff requested emergency funds to run it. We're going to double the ante. That shows how good we are.
JIM LEHRER: What is that all about?
PAUL GIGOT: I mean, there's a substantive case to be made for adding to the military. We've got 70 air launch Cruise missiles left. The Air Force general just said, we're running out of smart weapons. So there's a serious argument to be made for replenishing those stocks. But the truth is, a lot of Republicans, I mean, Pat Buchanan's theme is, retrench and rearm. Rearm for what? They want to have a strong military, but they don't ever want to use it, even in the heart of Europe, even with a bunch of allies in an alliance that's been successful for 50 years.
JIM LEHRER: How would you answer the question I asked Paul? Does this make the House -- in other words, the United States Government and the people apparently are behind this, except for -- is there going to be a little asterisk for now on -- everybody except from the House of Representatives is supporting what's going on?
MARK SHIELDS: You're absolutely right. I mean, Jim -
JIM LEHRER: Like Roger Maris's home run.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right. And it comes at a week when the vice leader or the vice prime minister of Serbia quits, Yugoslavia quits or is fired because he says that Milosevic is misleading his people, when peace is coming and we send this message from the House of Representatives. I would just point out on this emergency funding, 38 construction projects that were not even on the Joint Chiefs of Staffs or the Pentagon's five-year plan are being funded, including, Jim, a parking lot in Germany that we want to turn from gravel to McAdam for $7 million -- a car washing, a large vehicle washing device and facility in Germany. I mean, that's an emergency funding? PAUL GIGOT: But that's for NATO. I mean, these are NATO forces, and those seem to -
MARK SHIELDS: These weren't even on the list, Paul, for the next five years.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, fine, get them now. I don't think you can begrudge the military that. We've pared down the military for ten years.
MARK SHIELDS: The military is not complaining about car washes.
JIM LEHRER: Question. The speaker, Mr. Hastert, voted with the president on this.
PAUL GIGOT: Yes, he did.
JIM LEHRER: Now, he's the Speaker of the House. He's the leader of the Republicans. So what does that say about his leadership?
|The House Speaker's leadership.|
PAUL GIGOT: He's weak, flat out weak. He's not in a position of having kind of come to the speakership, pushed up in a time of crisis when Newt Gingrich had gone, Bob Livingston had gone. He's not in a position to be able to lead his conference, and the heart and soul of the conference, Republican conference right now is against this war. And I think they're misreading what it means to be an opposition party. An opposition party in Congress, your duty is not to say to the president, "Hey, hands off. It's all yours, kid." It's to say if he's making a mistake and pursuing the wrong policy, "here's the right one. Here's the one you ought to pursuing."
JIM LEHRER: To be part of the government.
PAUL GIGOT: And that's what John McCain is asking the Congress and the rest of his colleagues to do. Let's say to the president, if you're going to fight a war and get us into a war, do it the right way and use all practical means, all appropriate means. And, instead, the Republicans don't seem to want to do that because they want to wash their hands of it. It's just not -
JIM LEHRER: Does it matter? In the final analysis what the House did on Wednesday?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it does. I think it certainly says what we're going to have for the next two years here. I think it was more than Paul, I think it was at the core an act of contempt.
JIM LEHRER: Anti-Clintonism?
MARK SHIELDS: Anti-Clintonism. And I would say, there was one member of the House that stood out; Gene Taylor, a conservative Democrat from Mississippi, a man who tried to draft Colin Powell to run as a Democrat with Ron Dellums in 1996 and at the same time voted to impeach Bill Clinton stood up and made the speech to declare war. And he said, you don't ask Americans to put their lives on the line when you guys aren't willing to put your neck on the line politically. He said that right to his colleagues. And a grand total of one followed him. But, I mean, there's a man who can sleep tonight.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Speaking of tonight, thank you both very much.