SHIELDS & GIGOT
AUGUST 1, 1997
In this week's Political Wrap: Campaign financing and the Asia connection, the Budget Deal, tax cuts, the 1998 election, and William Weld's nomination as ambassador to Mexico.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Now, our regular political analysis by Shields & Gigot. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Paul, at the beginning of the hearings the Senate committee chairmen, the fund-raising hearings, Fred Thompson said he'd seen evidence of a Chinese government connection with the President's campaign fund-raising. Did that--I'm asking Paul this question--did the hearings so far shun it?
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
A RealAudio version of Friday's campaign investigation hearing is available.
July 31, 1997:
The committee hears testimony about Charlie Trie from investigators hired by the President's legal defense fund.
July 30, 1997:
The Senate examines Charlie Trie's role in the President's and First Lady's legal defense funds.
July 29, 1997:
The NewsHour analyzes the new budget deal.
July 28, 1997:
Opposition by Jesse Helms of William Weld's nomination as ambassador to Mexico.
Browse the Online NewsHour's campaign finance and Congressional coverage.
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: I don't think they have, Elizabeth. In fact, I think that that statement which the chairman made and which got a big splash and got a lot of attention was something of a diversion from what the hearings since have really uncovered, which is an awful lot of problems on our end, the American end, and the question that emerges, at least as I see it, is, was this an American shakedown by American political figures, people linked to the White House, of foreigners? We haven't seen an awful lot of evidence of the Chinese tie--especially the Chinese government ties--certainly not yet.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mark, what do you think?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I think Paul is right, that it was a great headline grabber at the outset, this idea that perhaps there was a master plot in Beijing to influence American politics, but I think that certainly hasn't been proved, but I think right now what we have in the case of Charlie Trie, for example, a man who in his federal personnel form they filled out at the White House declared an income of $101,000 for his wife and himself and there's $220,000 in contributions; I mean, there's a lot of laundering that's going on here. There's a lot of money. There's--there are I think questions. I don't think anybody could look at the testimony the last four weeks and say, boy, our political system really works well, doesn't it?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Paul, the Democrats have been harping on the need for systematic changes; that this is a systemic problem. Is that going to happen? Is there a drumbeat for reform?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, there will be votes for sure on campaign reform in various guises. There's no question about that. And this probably helps it marginally. But what you really need for something like that, I think is the--is hearings to galvanize the public a lot more than these have. There is a sense that a lot of these--the public has that is seamy as the things that have been uncovered are, they aren't seamy enough--seamier enough than what happens an awful lot in politics.
And so the public doesn't seem to be engaged in a way that I think will put a lot more pressure on the Senators and members of the House. I think actually one other point--one thing that's really happened here in the last two or three weeks is the hot seat has really been turned up on Janet Reno, the attorney general, because you've had evidence released of an awful lot of what seem to be illegal activities, yet, she refuses to name a special counsel. So I think the pressure is really going to be on her to show that this investigation is going to go ahead without fear of failure, and that it's not going to be a cover-up.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mark, what lies ahead now? Is there more whodunit, or talk about campaign finance reform?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think Fred Thompson is caught in a bind. I mean, he has Democrats on the committee who would prefer not to look at much--at the 1996 election and the Clinton-Gore Democratic Party activities, but would like to talk about reform. And a lot of Democrats would like to talk about it more perhaps than they'd like to vote for. That's a public position. He's got Republicans who want to talk about the 1996 campaign, the Clinton-Gore campaign, and yet are champions, stalwarts of the status quo when it comes to fund-raising, a system which has served them well.
So he's caught in this terrible bind because he wants to look at the '96 transgressions, but he also is somebody who's committed to reform and changing the system, Elizabeth. And I guess what you've got coming up possibly is Harold Ickes, who was the deputy chief of staff at the White House, provocative, combative, bright guy, very feisty, who was a nexus between the White House and the campaign, who knows what was going on.
Maybe Dick Morris, the President's former confidante and guru, who left under a cloud during the campaign, the Democratic National chairs, and then, of course, there's Fred Thompson, himself, who's saying they're going to have those groups through which money was laundered, or allegedly laundered, and soft money was dispensed--the campaign.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Moving on to the balanced budget and the tax cut deal, who stands to benefit most from this?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think both sides can claim and are claiming in no uncertain terms victory. Both sides got a little bit out of this that they wanted. They can say they got something out of it. The Republicans wanted, above all, Bill Clinton's signature on a tax cut and on the balanced budget. They wanted to rehabilitate themselves. They wanted to show they could govern. And they got that. But they had to pay an awfully big price together. It's a little bit like when you go buy a house.
If you decide that you want that house, that's the house you want, you're going to pay a little more for it, maybe a lot more for it than if you're willing to walk away. And int he last couple of months, in particular, the President was able to really drive this deal in his direction on policy in all kinds of ways, even a tax cut. He got a lot more out of this tax cut than I think a lot of Republicans would have thought he would two months ago.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mark, who--go ahead, Paul. Sorry.
PAUL GIGOT: Go ahead.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think it was an Incumbent's Protection and Reelection Act for 1998, very simply. The Democrats came back, if you recall, from the brink of annihilation after 1994, Elizabeth, by charging that the Republicans' plan in 1995 was to cut Medicare spending in order to give a capital gains tax cut, break to their wealthy backers. So in 1997, the Democrats sponsor a cut in Medicare spending, which leads to provide the funds for a cut in the capital gains tax cut. The Democrats went into this election, as they had in every election since 1980, with the brand that they were a tax-and-spend party.
Now, with a Democrat in the White House, you've got a balanced budget and Democrats can vote for a tax cut. So that helps them going into 1998. The Republicans, by contrast, deliver on their pledge of 1994, the crown jewel of a capital gains tax cut, a $500 child--per child tax credit, and the Republicans now are neutralized on that charge that they are tough on Medicare, because this was a policy and a plan approved and endorsed and advocated by a Democratic presidential White House.
So I think what you've got is an election in 1998 that's going to be about continuity, not change. That helps the party in power and hurts the party challenging, therefore, I think it's--the advantage is to the Republicans.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: That's interesting. Paul, just very briefly, does this finally sideline the debate that's consumed politics for so many years about balancing the budget and tax cuts?
PAUL GIGOT: What it does, assuming that the deficit actually does go down--and, you know, with this deal it actually goes up next year because of the additional spending that's in it--but if, in fact, the deficit is going to be slowly declining till it's--it doesn't exist anymore, it does. It ends really almost 20 years of deficit subject politics in this country.
And I think just to disagree with Mark a little bit on the way the debate will change, Bill Clinton gets a big victory here, and if other Democrats recognize it, I think they can be helped as well in this sense. The Democrats have been the party of tax-and-spend liberalism, according to the Republican label, for a long time.
It's hurt them an awful lot. Bill Clinton is trying to turn the tables on that and make this the party of balanced budget liberalism. Once you have--if you're a Democrat--you can say, I'm going to balance the budget, we're not spendthrifts, you have an awful lot of leeway to be able to do more activist government. And what Bill Clinton is doing is trying to say to the--to get the middle class to once again trust the Democratic Party with their checkbooks. And I think he's done a lot to help that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mark, I want to move on to the nomination of the Massachusetts Republican Governor Weld to be ambassador to Mexico and on his confrontation with the Senate Foreign Relations chairman--committee chairman, Sen. Helms. What do you--how do you--tell me about the different motivations of the parties here, the governor, Senator Helms, and the President.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think this is a situation where truly everybody is a winner. First of all, Bill Weld is a winner because he's--all he's asking for is a fair hearing, which in the great American tradition, it seems altogether reasonable. He's taken on the status quo in Washington. He has broken with--shown independence, which Americans prize and politicians. It helps Democrats like Ted Kennedy and John Kelly, Senators from this state, Massachusetts, who are standing with Bill Weld and showing bipartisanship.
It's helped Bill Clinton in the White House, who walked away from--was accused of walking away from the nominations of Lani Guiniere and Kimba Wood and Zoe Baird. He's sticking with Bill Weld. It helps--it helps, as well, Jesse Helms, who's standing up to a maverick Republican, who quit the Justice Department, did Bill Weld in 1988, with a blast at the ethics of his boss, Ed Meese, the attorney general, who's a libertarian on a lot of social issues, which most of Sen. Helms and a lot of Republicans based on cultural issues don't like, so I think it probably--it serves just about everybody--except former Governor Weld, now citizen Weld, who's going to have to find some employment at some point. I don't think he's worried about the next meal or paying the rent, but he's not going to be ambassador to Mexico.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Paul, whose interest do you think it serves?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I want Mark to tell us what they're drinking in the water up there in Boston because Massachusetts is replacing California as the entertainment capital of American politics. You have a governor, who two and a half years early, decides to leave a job that he campaigned for and presumably wanted of real power to campaign and fight for a job in Washington, that he probably can't get. That doesn't happen every day. Then you have him declaring air war and land war against the Senate that has to confirm him in order to get a diplomatic job. You don't see that every day.
I don't know what Bill Weld's motive is in this. It doesn't seem to be really aimed at becoming the ambassador to Mexico, because he's certainly not winning any friends. He's certainly not done anything to help his cause with the one person who's not helped by all of this, and that's the majority leader of the Senate, Trent Lott, who is going to have some pressure put on him by the Northeasterners of his caucus, some of the Northeastern Senators who feel they need to back Gov. Weld, and yet, he's caught in-between them and Jesse Helms, a committee chairman of foreign relations, who doesn't want this to go ahead and who he had to disagree with earlier this year to back the president on the chemical weapons treaty. So if there's a man in the middle caught in all this, it probably is Trent Lott.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right. Paul and Mark, that's all the time we've got. Thank you very much.