December 17, 1998
Following a background report, Elizabeth Farnsworth leads a discussion on the impeachment proceedings with Mark Shileds and Paul Gigot. The debate in the House is scheduled to continue despite military action in Iraq.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And that's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right, Mark. We just heard about both sides of what will happen tomorrow, whether there will be a debate. Explain what we're going to see in the morning so that we're clear just about the procedure tomorrow.
MARK SHIELDS: As of now.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Yes.
MARK SHIELDS: My understanding is the House will come in at 9 o'clock. There will be a move to adjourn after the prayer made by the Democratic House leader Dick Gephardt. That move is privileged because he wants to postpone the debate. You heard Congressman Marty Meehan make that point, as Congressman Lee Hamilton did. And that motion is not debatable; it will be voted upon; and the Republicans have the votes. They will defeat it, at which point up will come the privilege resolution delivered by Chairman Henry Hyde of the Judiciary Committee, which is the bill of impeachment.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So there could be a long debate even if there isn't the necessary vote for that; it could still go on if the Democrats don't try to stop it.
MARK SHIELDS: They - what they'd prefer is a unanimous consent agreement to say we agree that we'll debate for 18 hours or 12 hours or whatever it is. Under the rules of the House the privilege resolution that is introduced one hour of debate --
PAUL GIGOT: Gets one hour.
MARK SHIELDS: But it can be extended.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay.
PAUL GIGOT: And Republicans are quite confident that they'll be able to extend it on an hourly basis, but it would be able to extend it with a lot less mayhem if they had the cooperation of the other party.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right. Paul, assess for us on both sides the risks and the benefits in going ahead with this tomorrow while the bombing is going on.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, the benefits for the Republicans are that they get it over with. They believe they have the votes, and they can put this behind them, and a lot of their members, frankly, want to get it done. The leadership, I think, also fears that if it's delayed into next week, as Lee Hamilton suggested, just wait till Monday, there will be another objection on Monday. Why not do it after Christmas, and then why not after New Year's, so let's get it done. I think for the Democrats.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But there are some risks, aren't there?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, there is some that the Democrats are going to talk about process; they're going to talk about shackling the commander-in-chief. So this takes away from what the Republicans would like the debate to be about, which is the behavior of the president, and that's the advantage the Democrats have in this, which is they can change the subject and try to undermine this as a strictly partisan exercise pointing to the Senate down the road.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mark, how do you see the risks on both sides? And we should say that the actual debate on impeachment is not scheduled to begin till 10.
MARK SHIELDS: Till 10 o'clock tomorrow, that's right. The Republican caucus - House caucus last night was a pretty fractious group. The speaker-designate, Bob Livingston, who had tried to avoid being embroiled in this and had hoped that the process - that he could begin a new with a fresh start in January, work with the Democrats, work with both sides, whatever, is into it, and he wanted to postpone it. His inclination was to postpone it until Monday. But there is within the Republican House caucus a strong conservative group, and I think the only way to describe many of them is they're seized and animated by a phobia about Bill Clinton. I mean - and there's no question - they do have the votes; they want to do it; they want to get it over with; they want to get him; they don't want him to have another day without being impeached. And I'll tell you where it comes down to - you can see their attitude toward the president on foreign policy. I mean, they say is a diabolically shrewd fellow - oh, my goodness, he calibrates every move. The move to go into military action didn't change a single vote in the House on impeachment. There was no way it was going to change a vote. So there wasn't a shrewd, diabolical move. But I can tell you this - that Dick Armey thought it was. And Republican conservatives all lined up saying it was, I mean, that this was - this was obviously some sort of a - you know - a shrewd move by the president and he was trying to change the chemistry in the equation.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So you're saying the bombing hasn't made any big political difference.
MARK SHIELDS: It hasn't changed a single vote in the House on either side, and I defy anybody to tell whose vote has been changed by it.
PAUL GIGOT: I think Mark's right there. It hasn't changed a single vote, but I disagree with Mark about the Republican motives there. He talks about a phobia. I think the problem is a little different. The problem is they don't trust him. They have a record of not trusting. Well, let me give you an example of somebody who is not a particularly partisan Republican. It's Porter Goss of Florida; I talked with him today. He's head of the Intelligence Committee. When the president bombed the Sudan and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan three days after his Monica Lewinsky testimony - and that turmoil - he got on television, Porter Goss did, and supported the president. He said, I don't think this is an attempt to change the subject; this is something we ought to do. You'd think that the White House would want to tell him in advance what would happen this week. Nobody even talked to him. He didn't know this was happening. The first time he found out about it was when he turned on the TV set. He had members of the Republican caucus coming up to him and saying, well, is this legitimate or not? You're somebody who's spoken up for the president. And he is very upset, and he wonders - he says - people are coming out and saying, when can you believe this president, when can you trust him? And he's suspicious of the timing too.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Although Sen. Lott did backtrack his criticism yesterday.
MARK SHIELDS: Backed off today and virtually everybody else did too - and last night at the - when Secretary Cohen and General Shelton did the briefing -- in the closed-door briefing - the Republicans were really quite accepting of it. I find it fascinating. I mean, Bill Clinton has faulted. Bill Clinton has faults - sorry. We stipulate that. Every Democratic speaker will stimulate that as well. But he's faulted for either being too timid in foreign policy, or too much, too interventionist, you can't have it both - it kind of gets knocked both ways. And I think General Schwarkopf put it pretty well today when he said these folks are Rambos; they want to talk about going in and taking out - taking out Saddam Hussein. I mean, this is silly talk, and you get a lot of this going on up on the hill, people saying, let's go in and take him out. This invariably comes from armchair commandos who have never risked their own neck and have nobody in their family risked, and, you know, I think - I think there's a strong case to be made that you'd move it till Monday. But they're going to go ahead because they've got the votes, and Bob Livingston has the pressure to go ahead.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But, Paul, was your point that part of the reason not to move it to Monday is this lack of trust, that they just want to move very quickly because they can't believe what's said?
PAUL GIGOT: I think they believe that if they wait until Monday, the Democrats will find a reason not to hold the debate on Monday too. And who knows what Saddam Hussein might do and what the president might do, and so if we're going to have the debate at all this Congress, let's do it now. And if the president can do his - undertake his constitutional responsibility as commander-in-chief on the eve of impeachment, then the House should be able to do its constitutional duties, while the president is pursuing his.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Quickly, Mark, because I have another question I want to ask you.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I just - I don't think that the Democrats now - we don't trust the president if we don't trust the Democrats. I think if Dick Gephardt, the House Democratic leader, who's a man of enormous integrity, said, we will vote on Monday, I agree that we will vote on Monday, they'd vote on Monday; it's as simple as that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay. Now, catch us up on some of the moderate Republicans that everybody was waiting to see how they'd go. What's happened with that?
MARK SHIELDS: They've all gone. And the White House made the mistake of putting an awful lot of trust and confidence --sure, I think that was the biggest shock to them, that they were going to pick up all these moderate Republicans, or pick up a large number of them, in an overwhelming -
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Several were announced today.
MARK SHIELDS: In overwhelming numbers.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: -- of New York -
MARK SHIELDS: They've backed - for impeachment - reminding me of Gene McCarthy's great formulation that the definition of a moderate Republican is someone whom you're drowning 15 feet off shore, throws you a 10-foot rope, and both - they went more than halfway. And I'm sure Paul will have a rebuttal for that.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So briefly, is it almost inevitable if there is a vote tomorrow or the next day that the president will be impeached on at least one of those counts?
PAUL GIGOT: I think so. In fact, I talked to one Republican who thinks that a least two or three might pass. The fourth one abuse of power is almost certain to go down, but I think the moderate Republicans have surprised all of the Republicans with the number of them that have really - that have really fallen on impeachment.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right. Mark and Paul, thank you.