AUGUST 8, 1997
This week Paul Gigot is joined by Tom Oliphant to discuss Bill Weld's nomination as ambassador to Mexico, the line item veto, and the new budget agreement.
MARGARET WARNER: Friday night analysis from NewsHour regular and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Joining Paul tonight, filling in for the vacationing Mark Shields, is columnist Tom Oliphant of the Boston Globe. Welcome, gentlemen.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
August 6, 1997:
President Clinton's latest press conference.
August 5, 1997:
Background on the budget deal.
July 28, 1997:
The fight between William Weld and Jesse Helms.
June 20, 1997:
The Online NewsHour Freshmen debate the line item veto.
April 11, 1997:
Shields & Gigot discuss discuss the Federal Court ruling striking down the Presidential line-item veto.
April 9, 1996:
The history of the line item veto.
Browse the Online NewsHour's campaign finance and Congressional coverage.
Bill Weld's nomination as Ambassador to Mexico
Well, Paul, there have been some new developments in the saga of President Clinton's nominee as ambassador to Mexico, Gov. William Weld, caused by Sen. Dick Lugar, who says he's going to take on Sen. Helms to get Bill Weld a hearing. Is this going to breathe new life in the nomination?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Well, what he said last Sunday was he was going to try to go around the committee chairmen to get him a hearing. He didn't seem to have many takers. There was a resounding lack of rallying to him on this issue. So what he said later this week was he was going to use his power on the agricultural committee, which he chairs, to maybe look into tobacco subsidies, which are near and dear to the heart of Jesse Helms from North Carolina. It probably doesn't make any difference at all.
MARGARET WARNER: Really?
PAUL GIGOT: I don't think it changes the balance of power one bit.
MARGARET WARNER: Why not?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, he can have all the hearings he wants on tobacco. Can he have the votes to get rid of them? I doubt it. The power of a chairman like Jesse Helms, a chairman--you have to understand--Jesse Helms is unique. He doesn't care what people think about him. He doesn't care what the New York Times writes about him. He doesn't care what Dick Lugar, what opinion Dick Lugar might have.
And the only way that Bill Weld is going to become ambassador to Mexico is if Jesse Helms moves for some reason--decides, okay, I'll just give up--or Trent Lott, the Senate Majority Leader, decides to overrule him, and that's the last thing that Trent Lott wants to do, having bigger fish to fry down the road. So I don't think--it's a good headline or two, but I don't think the facts on the ground change much.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree?
TOM OLIPHANT, Boston Globe: I think Paul is fundamentally correct for an additional reason. I think everyone in Washington knows that Lugar and Helms have been personally feuding for over a decade. And the result was that his-
MARGARET WARNER: Explain why first.
TOM OLIPHANT: Helms essentially blocked him from becoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And he did it after the 1986 election. In that case it was for a ranking minority member. And they've feuded ever since. And so having that in the backgrounder undercut the credibility of what Lugar had to say. And I think it's the reason that he found no takers.
But Paul mentioned something that I think I agree very strongly it holds the key to this--and this is not just Jesse Helms. It's Trent Lott. Paul said he doesn't--Lott doesn't want to have to--but he will if he has to. And that helps us understand that the key to all of this is whether individual Republican Senators come out for former Gov. Weld. And about that important matter, there are a couple of things. First of all, it's so important to former Gov. Weld that he went fishing this week in the Adirondacks. Secondly-
MARGARET WARNER: Confirming his image of a man who doesn't take these things too seriously.
TOM OLIPHANT: Some people would probably not want to be in a foxhole with the guy. But in addition, former Gov. Weld has made none of the trips you have to make on Capitol Hill to individual Republican Senators to ask for their support. My sense is that he needs about twenty to twenty-five before Majority Leader Lott would sit up, take notice, and go to Helms to work something out. And Weld is nowhere near that.
PAUL GIGOT: It was notable this week too that in the President's press conference there was a what I would describe as a pro forma endorsement of Bill Weld's candidacy. He said, we'll do everything we can; we've got a team working on it. I'd like to know where in the White House, you know, they're working on it.
MARGARET WARNER: Team's meeting right now.
PAUL GIGOT: How small the team is. Because the fact is that Bill Clinton has a lot he has to get through a Republican Senate. He has to get a NATO treaty through. He has to get a fast track trade negotiating treaty through. He has arms control treaties that he wants to get through. Bill Weld is fifth to sixth--twenty-fifth down the list.
TOM OLIPHANT: Absolutely. Clinton made one other thing clear too. And that is that he will have no part of the kind of thing that Senator Lugar briefly suggested last Sunday.
MARGARET WARNER: Just trying to go around Sen. Helms entirely, get it to the floor somehow.
TOM OLIPHANT: That's right. You know, you could imagine a couple of Republicans on that committee perhaps voting for something that would make Helms uncomfortable, but Clinton will have nothing to do with something like that, and that only makes it even more difficult.
The line item veto and the budget package
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Tom, staying with the President now, he also said at the Wednesday news conference, he indicated that he might veto--use his new line-item veto authority to veto some items in either the tax cut or the budget package. What are the calculations going on inside the White House right now? He had five days from Wednesday to decide.
TOM OLIPHANT: Every indication at this hour is that the President made a big mistake in that press conference. And that was a two-fold mistake. First of all, he made a big deal out of a little deal. The line-item veto is not the answer to psoriasis, bad breath, and all our other national problems. It is a small scalpel that can help in certain situations to enforce order on the fiscal matters. But secondly, he, in effect, made a promise to find something in the budget and tax deal to line-item veto before he had studied the bill in question, before he had any idea of what some of the choices are.
And as the week went on, it was very interesting, the more they looked at this bill, the more they discovered that by and large you could find a reason in logic or even sound policy for most of the stuff in it. Now, I still think he will find something, but this very unseemly scramble at the end of the week has in a sense undercut some of the presidential-like significance with this authority that he supposedly believes in so much.
MARGARET WARNER: Why did this happen? Are they looking for a test?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, it's a significant increase in presidential authority. I mean, he now gets to delve into the real bowels of the bill, pick things out, and it enhances negotiating authority across a variety of problems. As Tom says, these items are not virgin births. I mean, they're in these bills because somebody wants them. Usually somebody wants them, usually somebody powerful, committee chairmen, often Democrats, often friends of the President, often people you want to vote for. You need their vote on a treaty.
MARGARET WARNER: Or it was a trade-off for something else.
PAUL GIGOT: So you have to be careful. On the other hand, the political downside of this, other than making one or two Senators mad--is not--I mean--is not great. I mean, he gets to veto something, say a spending bill, say a special interest tax, but I guess a stand-up for the national interests against special interests. He has to say I don't want that spending going on; it enhances his reputation for fiscal integrity. I think he's looking for something for precisely that reason, and one other one. A presidential power that's not exercised is not really a power. You have to instill some fear.
TOM OLIPHANT: There is, though, a timing problem here. I think most of us envisage this coming to a head, being used the first time in one of the appropriations bills that Congress must pass every year. Now, along comes this monster budget and tax bill, and picking out what amounts to a tax expenditure to be line-item vetoed for the first time could complicate the absolutely inevitable constitutional test of this authority that will follow its first use. And so there has even been the argument made to the President leave this all alone and wait for one of the appropriation bills in the fall before you-
MARGARET WARNER: Yes. We should point out--I mean, this will be--in fact, it's in the legislation--on a fast track directly to the Supreme Court.
PAUL GIGOT: There are a lot of people, especially the people who would have their items vetoed, who will send this directly to court. So he should pick something that is both politically strong and legally strong.
MARGARET WARNER: All right.
TOM OLIPHANT: It's just you can't find one.
Republican reaction to using the line item veto
MARGARET WARNER: All right. But explain something else, Paul. Congressional Republicans, I gather, are divided over whether they would support the President on this or not.
PAUL GIGOT: Well-
MARGARET WARNER: Some Republicans think it's a good idea. Explain that.
PAUL GIGOT: Republicans gave it--this power to them. It was part of the Contract With America. They say he wants it so they can't turn around very easily and say oh, my God, he's used it. On the other hand, it might be something that's very near and dear to their hearts, so this is a rare thing in American history, if you ask me. A branch of government- the Congress--ceding authority to another branch voluntarily, and the bad luck the Republicans have is that Bob Dole lost. And so Bill Clinton gets to be the first to exercise it against them.
TOM OLIPHANT: So there is some indication in the crafting, particularly of this tax bill, that the line item veto is having an effect that perhaps nobody thought of at the time it was proposed, and that is as a kind of a deterrent. Nobody wants to be the congressman who is singled out for having authored the provision that is, you know, a narrow, little special interest, and so to an extent I think some things ended up on the cutting room floor that might otherwise have gone into a tax bill in the past.
MARGARET WARNER: But some Republicans are warning the President that there's also a good faith issue here that they negotiated this whole deal together, and if he vetoes one of them, they're going to regard that as bad faith. Do you think that's legit? I mean, that that's a real danger he faces?
PAUL GIGOT: It may be--it is legitimate on some items--it is not legitimate on 79 specific elements of the tax code. I can tell you that those--all of those items were not negotiated.
MARGARET WARNER: Give an example.
PAUL GIGOT: There was one for a big contributor by the name of Harold Simmons. I forget the precise details of it-
TOM OLIPHANT: Sale of a piece of land to a farmer's cooperative that I think grows sugar beets.
PAUL GIGOT: It just so happens that I think Tom Daschle, the Senate Minority Leader, a Democrat, also is in favor of it. So that gets to be difficult, but I agree with Tom, that the better option for him is to do it on a spending bill.
MARGARET WARNER: Got to go, gentlemen. Thanks.