SHIELDS & GIGOT
DECEMBER 6, 1996
The Clinton administration's new foreign policy and security team is the topic tackled by the NewsHour's political pundits. Is Madeleine Albright a good fit for the State Department? What's behind Republican William Cohen's appointment as Secretary of Defense? The political fur flies.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
December 5, 1996
President Clinton announces his choice of Madeleine Albright to be the next Secretary of State.
December 5, 1996
Jim Lehrer leads a discussion about President Clinton's choices for his national security team is available.
December 4, 1996
Paul Solman explores the issues surrounding altering the Consumer Price Index.
Browse past segments of Shields & Gigot.
MARGARET WARNER: We get political analysis of the events of this week now from syndicated columnist Mark Shields and ďWall Street JournalĒ columnist Paul Gigot. Mark, your thoughts first on the conversation we just heard about the importance of foreign policy to American Presidents. Do you think Bill Clinton is going to pay more, or should pay more attention to foreign affairs in his second term?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I think if heís to fulfill the responsibility Nancy Tucker spelled out, that of educating the American people, he has to. I mean, I donít think--weíve gone through two presidential elections, Margaret, since the end of the Cold War where Americaís role in the world, our responsibilities to other nations, to ourselves, to each other, had never even been debated seriously. I think itís been a failure by the--by Dole, by Clinton, by Bush, and by Clinton. So failing to do it, weíre going to be in a period of extended sustained drift, as weíre talking about.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: With Republicans running Congress, the President has maximum running room on foreign policy because of our constitutional divisions. He has a great deal of freedom; he ought to use it. He has the opportunity to use it. And I think foreign policy in the Presidentís first term is underestimated as one of the reasons he revived himself, because after that stumbling first two years, when he moved ahead, even if you disagreed with his Bosnia policy, you could not say that he didnít act decisively. And I think that did change a lot of the public perception of him as a leader. And you can do that as a foreign policy President.
MARGARET WARNER: In other words, even though the polls show the public isnít interested in foreign policy, per se, what youíre saying is it conveys a certain leadership quality to the President, himself, that has political benefit.
PAUL GIGOT: It says heís willing to take some risks, heís willing to put his credibility on the line, and heís willing to say this is something in our national interest, and if it succeeds, or at least doesnít cause trouble, people give him the credit for trying.
MARGARET WARNER: So, Mark, your assessment of this new team that he just chose yesterday to help him do this.
MARK SHIELDS: Was it worth waiting for?
MARGARET WARNER: You tell us.
MARK SHIELDS: Itís a month. I mean, this is a month in the making, and the only surprise really was Bill Cohen, the retiring Republican Senator from Maine, at Defense, which has confounded a lot of Democrats. John Kennedy, as President, a Democrat, appointed a registered Republican, Robert McNamara, as a secretary of defense. At the time, Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate. Now, they control only the Executive Branch, and Bill Clinton effectively gave away control of the largest agency, department in the Executive Branch, to a Republican, and Bill Cohen, understandably, legitimately, said, Iím not going to come over unless I bring my team with me. His team is going to be Republicans. These are important decisions, I mean, just as Paul was talking about in foreign policy, national security decisions.
MARGARET WARNER: Are you saying thatís a mistake?
MARK SHIELDS: Iím saying it mystifies people. And for the President then to say that neither gender nor partisanship or party affiliation had anything to do with his nominations I think is disingenuous, as George Bushís statement that Clarence Thomasís race had nothing to do with his nomination to the Supreme Court. I am saying that, and I think Madeleine Albright, whom Iíve known for 25 years, we worked together in President Muskieís campaign, and I have great respect for her, but I mean, was Bill Clinton mindful of the fact that heís appointing the first woman secretary of state--youíd better believe it. Was he mindful of the fact that Bill Cohen had been 24 years in the Congress and elected as Republican from Maine--youíd better believe it. Why canít he be candid?
MARGARET WARNER: So this was essentially domestic politics shaping this team?
PAUL GIGOT: Let me rise to the defense of Bill Clinton.
MARK SHIELDS: There you go.
MARGARET WARNER: Thereís a switch.
PAUL GIGOT: I think both are very capable people. I think they got on the merits, and if youíre dealing with the real word, as it exists, which is 55 votes in a Republican Senate, it probably is wise not to start out with a potential fight over one of your nominees. It didnít do George Bush any good that the Democratic Senate really nailed John Tower and made him spend an awful lot of political capital and he still lost the nomination. So Bill Cohen is going to make it an easy nomination fight. I think that Jesse Helms had great things to say about Madeleine Albright. George Mitchell, one other alternative, a Democrat, another Senator from Maine, a Democrat, former Senator from Maine, would have had more trouble, I think, getting through the Senate. He would have been confirmed, but it would have been a more difficult battle. So, yes, was it domestic politics, I think thatís absolutely right, but probably shrewd.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think, Mark, that in a positive sense, though, this brings this choice, these choices bring him political benefit? For instance, do you think Republicans on the Hill are going to see this as a serious commitment to bipartisanship by the President?
MARK SHIELDS: No. Paulís right. Bill Clinton--Bill Cohen will be confirmed.
MARGARET WARNER: Period?
MARK SHIELDS: He will be confirmed. He will be a very easy nomination, but the first time thereís a Pentagon screw-up, the first time thereís a bad mistake made by the administration, Bill Cohen, who is a very able guy, and I acknowledge that, I stipulate Madeleine Albright is as well, and they both have enormous credentials, but I mean, is that going to sustain him, is that going to win over some of the new freshman Republicans, say, well, Bill Cohen was a Republican--youíre kidding me. It works on confirmation--ends at confirmation. I mean, John Tower--I mean--speak well of the dead, but I mean, for goodness sakes, I mean, he was a walking baggage compartment. He had more problems, for goodness sakes, he really did, than the entire Reagan cabinet put together.
PAUL GIGOT: Kick dirt on the coffin.
MARK SHIELDS: No, but letís be blunt.
PAUL GIGOT: I think that he--Markís right. The President on Bosnia say is really without a net, I mean, politically. If things go wrong, heís going to be in trouble, regardless if his entire cabinet is made up of Republicans. I donít think thereís any doubt about that.
MARGARET WARNER: But is there--is there or is there not some partisan gulf on foreign policy that Bill Cohen helps the President bridge?
PAUL GIGOT: I donít think heís going to get a lot out of Bill Cohen. He might get some accommodation on missile defenses, for example, where the two parties are--I think the Cohen choice does symbolize, is--it ratifies what already exists, which is the fact that there arenít great ideological divisions now, the way there were in the Cold War. I mean, it was very hard to imagine a Republican being nominated as defense secretary under Jimmy Carter. It just didnít happen because you had a big gulf.
MARGARET WARNER: During the Cold War.
PAUL GIGOT: Now the biggest divisions, ideological divisions, on foreign policy are within the two parties, the isolationists versus the nationalists in either wing of either party. And so--the presidential campaign, there really wasnít a debate joined over foreign policy in a big way.
MARGARET WARNER: Letís go to a domestic issue, something else that happened this week. Mark.
MARK SHIELDS: Okay. Could I just make one quick point?
MARGARET WARNER: Certainly.
MARK SHIELDS: And that is Bill Perry, the retired secretary of defense, I think widely respected, widely regarded in town, said to me this week the most difficult, demanding, painful part of his job was to send Americans into combat, at risk to their lives. He said the only thing more painful and difficult was talking to their families afterwards. For the first time, in the United States of America, Margaret, in 1996, 37 percent of the American males over the age of 35 have served in the military. In Bill Clintonís White House, 4 percent have served in the military. Bill Clinton for the first time, a President who did not serve himself, has a national security team where nobody has ever worn the uniform of his country. I mean, I think thatís going to be a problem for this administration. And I donít--I just wonder if the idea of that came across the radar at the White House.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think itís a problem?
PAUL GIGOT: I wonít defend the President on that one. I agree with Mark that, well, it potentially is a problem in dealing with the Pentagon and the military, which has not had a great view of this presidency in the first term, although I think that Bill Cohenís been--Bill Cohenís credibility with the military--and I think he does have a lot--will help in some regard there.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Very briefly now on this one domestic issue, and that is that this board of economists said this week that the governmentís measure of inflation, the Consumer Price Index, was too inflated and that it should be calculated downward. What do you think of the politics, Mark, of actually having that be recalculated, how doable?
MARK SHIELDS: Enormous appeal immediately to the Democrats because you can balance the budget without cutting spending. Enormous appeal to the Republicans because youíve cut taxes. I mean, wow, what a great deal this is. I mean, itís just--itís absolutely terrific. So, you know, I donít think itíll happen for a very simple reason. Neither side wants to go first. And both sides live in absolute apprehension and mortal fear that the other side will demagogue it. The Republicans just went through a campaign where they felt Medicare killed them, and Trent Lott said, just today, that, you know, didnít think that this was going to happen, the President had to act first, and so forth. I think unless they come to a final moment in the budget deal where each side says, okay, weíre walking over the side together, arm in arm, and we swear in blood on our motherís honor that we will never use this in a campaign, I donít see it happening.
PAUL GIGOT: It has to be a political immaculate conception, where nobody knows who the father is. I mean, it really--it really does have to be that. They have to be locked arm in arm and do it together, but thereís a great incentive for them to do it. And letís face it. If itís true on the merits, I mean, if the numbers are really wrong, then maybe weíd ought to have a debate about having accurate numbers. I mean, letís forget about demagoging the politics for a second. Iím not saying you wouldnít do that, but Iím just saying--
MARK SHIELDS: Margaretís question was the political implications of it.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think we can have that kind of debate?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, it makes me wonder. Pete Stark, Congressman, Democrat, a powerful Democrat, wrote in the ďNew York TimesĒ today, basically sent out a warning to both parties and said to the President and to the Republicans and said, if you do this, weíre going to go at you on entitlements in Ď98, just like we did in Ď96. So theyíre only going to do it if everybody goes together.
MARGARET WARNER: Including the Democratic leaders.
MARK SHIELDS: And the thing we have to understand is the most vulnerable in our society are the ones who are most dependent upon the Consumer Price Index.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, gentlemen. We have to leave it there. Thanks