August 28, 1998
From the upcoming Moscow summit to the numerous investigations of the Clinton administration, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot and syndicated columnist Mark Shields discuss a hectic week in politics.
JIM LEHRER: And to our regular Friday political commentary from syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
August 26, 1998:
Why are the Russian market collapsing?
August 26, 1998:
Newspapers disagree over whether President Clinton should resign.
August 19, 1998:
A discussion of the latest coverage of the Starr investigation.
August 19, 1998:
Two members of Congress discuss whether President Clinton should resign.
Ask Terence Smith about the media's coverage of the Starr investigation.
August 18, 1998:
A look at the media's coverage of the Starr investigation.
August 17, 1998:
A special package of coverage on the president's testimony.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the White House, economic issues and Europe.
The White House Web site.
"Two wounded leaders" standing in Moscow.
Paul, should the President still go to Russia next week?
PAUL GIGOT: I think he should. He may be beleaguered here. But he’s still the President, still has to do his duties, and one of his duties is to be head of state and to act as a foreign policy president. This was scheduled long ago. And the message it would send to Boris Yeltsin and to the Russian people if because Yeltsin is in trouble and this president is in trouble. If he didn’t go, I think would be worse than not going.
JIM LEHRER: But, Mark, they were just talking about the need for leadership at the world level. Here you—what about the images next week of these two wounded presidents, these two wounded political leaders standing today in Moscow—Presidents Yeltsin and President Clinton?
MARK SHIELDS: They are two wounded leaders--I mean, the two leaders of very important countries—the most important and an important country—where recent politicians have called for their resignation, and they’ve refused. But still I agree totally with Paul. Anything that helps strengthen, preserve, keep alive democracy, a free economy, and Russia is important, and don’t forget, as Dan Yergin told Margaret Warner, 22,000 nuclear missiles—and if that economy spins out of control at some point those are going to be marketable items.
JIM LEHRER: But, Paul, would it be a mistake for anything, other than a symbolic assistance, that President Clinton could give to President Yeltsin and the Russian people?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, one would hope he’d go over there with a little bit better advice than he’s been—than his Treasury team has been giving Boris Yeltsin. I think when Vice President Gore went over there, he was—he said you need to impose a sales tax and get that sales tax to get those tax revenues up. I don’t know why you think it would work in Russia any better than it usually works here. The IMF is, as the gentleman said earlier, has been remarkably ineffective in all of this, so if they can come up with a plan to stabilize the currency, maybe you can do some good. But, other than that, I don’t think he’s going to be able to come over with a lot of cash at this time. He’s having a hard enough time just getting money for the International Monetary Fund through Congress.
Saying I am sorry.
JIM LEHRER: And speaking of the President’s problems, the calls continue, Mark, for the President to say something else or something more about the Monica Lewinsky matter. People are still talking about his speech on August 17th. He didn’t go far enough, et cetera. Today he talked about the need for forgiveness and whatever. Where do you come down on this?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think, Jim, the division between the elite opinion makers, politicians, political class, or whatever, and the public, I think, is now narrowing. Originally, there was sort of a public acceptance that the President had said it, and I think there’s a growing public restlessness, and that certainly that is among Democrats in Congress we saw this week great restlessness and dissatisfaction with the President—Charlie Stenholm, West Texas—I mean, a Blue Dog Democrat—no one’s ever accused him of being a liberal bomb thrower—just so that it wasn’t Bill Clinton’s finest hour. He seemed more mad at Ken Starr than he was sorry for what he had done. And I think that speaks for a lot of people, but I think you get one bite at the apple. I mean, at the—I didn’t think from what I saw of the President’s statement this afternoon it wasn’t helpful; he didn’t appear any more contrite, which was one of the problems that people had with the original statement.
JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about it, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: What’s he going to say? "This time, I mean it?" "This time Ken Starr is a good guy?" It—you can’t—you could have written beforehand the text of a genuine apology. You could think through it. I can’t think through what he says now before there’s a Ken Starr report that comes out when he has to answer all that again.
The resignation question.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Now, the resignation—Tom DeLay, who is the—what, the number 3 in the House leadership on the Republican side, is outwardly organizing an effort to encourage the President to resign. You’ve talked to DeLay. What can you tell us about that?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I can tell you Tom DeLay is sincere. He is genuinely offended. He’s genuinely angry, and he’s reflecting what is a sentiment—an awful lot of people that he says he sees and talks to when he goes out—he’s been out this week in the recess talking to audiences for the Republican candidates. He is sincere, and he is sincere, despite what a lot of his colleagues think is pretty bad politics because they think right now the Republicans ought to be quiet. And one of the things he told me, he said, you know, this afternoon I was—I had a Republican member call me up and say, look, I don’t want Al Gore to be President of the United States, we don’t want him to resign, why are you doing what you’re doing? I think DeLay feels somebody has to speak up, but I have to agree with some of his colleagues—I’m not so sure it is a good idea. I think you want at this stage to have a constitutional process go forward by which you can begin to educate the public. And so that if the President is—
JIM LEHRER: In other words, have the Starr report, have the House committee look at it and do decide, in other words, move it along but move it along slowly?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, if a president is going to leave office early, you have to have a public which sees it as a just outcome, and to do that, you have to educate them. And right now, as the polls show, they’re not there.
JIM LEHRER: Now, on the other side, you mentioned the Democrats, who are restless on this. The House Minority Leader, Dick Gephardt, has shown some restlessness, particularly only the impeachment question and whatever, and some—it’s been interpreted—you talk to him—what do you—what can you tell us about what he’s saying on this?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, first of all, Dick Gephardt, like a lot of Republicans, is not particularly interested in the President and Al Gore. I mean, I think that—
JIM LEHRER: Because he may want to run—
MARK SHIELDS: He may want to run—ran for office once before, and he’s got a certain hankering for it.
JIM LEHRER: Right.
MARK SHIELDS: Dick Gephardt has been working for 18 months to change history. In the sixth year of a president they really thought they had a chance of winning back the House. They thought there were a bunch of issues that were working their way—the Democrats did on HMO patients reform—and campaign finance reform—and saving Social Security with a surplus—they really—and they thought the Republicans were very much on the defensive, and this, of course, has just blown everything, all those plans asunder, and the 18 months of hard work. So I think there’s a certain frustration. The thing about Gephardt is—not unlike Tom DeLay in this sense—he talks to a lot of people—he’s a great listener. And he’s reflecting, in my judgment, the attitude of so many Democrats in the House who are going to be on the ballot in November. When he used the word "reprehensible"—
JIM LEHRER: In terms of what the President did.
MARK SHIELDS: Of what the President did.
JIM LEHRER: The conduct of the President.
MARK SHIELDS: That was not a contrived word. And Dick Gephardt, if Al Gore is a straight arrow, Dick Gephardt’s an eagle scout in personal behavior, and I think his sense of rectitude and his sense of right and wrong was really offended by what the president did.
JIM LEHRER: Now he has not talked about resignation, has he?
MARK SHIELDS: No. He has not talked about resignation, and I think to some degree the resignation is sort of an easy way out. It’s sort of the Dr. Kevorkian way—the painless way politically of handling this. The constitutional process, which I happen to think is the wisest and the best in the long run for the country for everybody involved of going through the impeachment hearings, the resignation kind of allows us to get it behind us, which most people want to do. But it puts all the burden on the President to do that.
PAUL GIGOT: I doubt the President thinks it’s painless.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. Right. Painless for everybody, right? Former Senator Sam Nunn weighed in with an op/ed page piece this week. He didn’t call for the President’s resignation. He just thought that it might somewhere down the line be an honorable way to resolve that. How do you read that in terms of its import?
PAUL GIGOT: As a former member of some stature, he has more freedom to say that sort of thing. He’s not up for re-election, so I take it as a very serious signal to the President and to other Democrats of how they really feel. And the frustration level, as Mark suggests, is very, very high. You have a—you have all the old questions about the Democratic Party coming back from the 60’s morality and that sort of thing. We thought they’d put that to rest. And these kinds of things come back. You have the issues that they’d hoped to bring blown right out of the water because the President is in danger of becoming "the" main national issue. And if he’s the main national issue, that’s something that would motivate or his behaviors motivate Republicans and not Democrats.
Trouble on the line for Vice President Gore?
JIM LEHRER: Now we were talking about Vice President Gore a moment ago. There was a development involving him directly this week, of course, Attorney General Reno again restarting the investigation of those telephone—fund-raising telephone calls he made in ’96 from the White House. How significant is that?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I mean, you’d prefer—if you’re Al Gore—that it didn’t happen, but the 30-day, 90-day—that triggers the 90-day investigation—is almost automatic. It’s rare that it doesn’t, and I think—let’s be quite blunt about it—the attorney general is under great scrutiny, if not pressure, right now with a contempt citation hanging over her head from the Republican Congress. So I think she might have been—
JIM LEHRER: Having to do with not Gore specifically—
MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.
JIM LEHRER: But with campaign finance—
MARK SHIELDS: Campaign finance in the 1996 campaign, that’s right. So—but the Vice President ironically is "the" voice to carry on the Democratic message in the view of—in lieu of the President’s problems right now. And to have him hampered really puts the Democrats at an even more serious advantage if, in fact, he is hampered by it.
JIM LEHRER: Is he, in fact, hampered by this?
PAUL GIGOT: I don’t think so by the phone calls, Jim. I think even if the special counsel is named, it’s at worst a technical violation of the campaign finance laws, and the new bit of evidence about the vice president’s alleged lack of honesty are notes scribbled by an aide. It’s hard to make an issue of intent—
JIM LEHRER: We need to explain that.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, it’s—there are some notes on a page about whether or not the phone—
MARK SHIELDS: The phone calls.
PAUL GIGOT: --the phone calls the President made were really what—
JIM LEHRER: The Vice President—
PAUL GIGOT: The Vice President said they were—which was to raise soft money, as opposed to hard money.
JIM LEHRER: Right.
PAUL GIGOT: And it’s these technical distinctions that—
JIM LEHRER: Soft money can be used for general party purposes, hard money for a particular campaign.
PAUL GIGOT: And just in explaining it, you can see why it’s not going to be prosecuted—
JIM LEHRER: I’m really sorry—I’m sorry I brought it up. No, No. I’m just kidding. (laughter among group)
PAUL GIGOT: The real issue here is the pressure on Janet Reno to name a special counsel—
JIM LEHRER: For the whole thing.
PAUL GIGOT: --for the whole thing. Was there a conspiracy to violate the campaign laws overall? And that does threaten the Vice President because it could run right up to 2000.
MARK SHIELDS: Every measure of public opinion the Vice President gets very, very high marks for—in public confidence—integrity and his honesty. He’s almost the mirror image—opposite of the President in this regard, and that had been seen by Democrats as an asset going into the campaign of 1998, and I still—I agree with Paul—I don’t think he’s tarnished or diminished, but if he’s inhibited, it becomes a problem.
JIM LEHRER: And who needs it?
MARK SHIELDS: No. Exactly.
JIM LEHRER: Gentlemen, thank you both very much.