FEBRUARY 14, 1997
In this week's review of the national political scene, Washington pundits Mark Shields and Paul Gigot take a look at Congressional term limits, campaign finance reform, Anthony Lake's rocky Senate confirmation hearings and a bipartisan effort to balance the budget.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
February 12, 1997:
A look at another failed effort to pass Congressional term limits.
February 7, 1997:
A look at the upcoming votes in both Houses of Congress on a balanced budget amendment
February 6, 1997:
A look at some of the President's budget proposal for 1998.
January 29, 1997:
A look at some of the successful Clinton cabinet confirmation?
December 5, 1996:
A look at the President's new national security team, including proposed CIA director Tony Lake.
October 18, 1996:
A look at the push for campaign finance reform.
Browse the Online NewsHour's Shields & Gigot index.
MARGARET WARNER: We get end-of-the-week political analysis now from syndicated columnist Mark Shields and "Wall Street Journal" columnist Paul Gigot. Good evening, gentlemen.
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Margaret. Happy Valentineís Day.
MARGARET WARNER: Happy Valentineís Day to you both. The news of the day first. The President faces a choice here on whether to intervene in the American Airlines strike. What are the risks for him, Mark, in one course or another?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I would hope the President would acknowledge that we have a free market in this country, that people do strike occasionally. We havenít had many for a long time. Itís an absolutely legitimate economic activity in a free market exercised by free people. And I donít see that thereís any compelling urgency. Itís not the only--itís not the only airline by any means. And Iíd just as soon watch Ďem try and work it out.
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Whenever Mark embraces the free market, Iím right there with him. I think the interesting twist in this case is that the unions, the pilot union wants him to stay out because they believe the strike, as it is, is a very powerful weapon. And I think that youíll see the President agree with them because he didnít give them the labor secretary they wanted. They wanted somebody else, other than his nominee, Alexis Herman. They fought hard for him in the campaign.
MARK SHIELDS: Labor.
PAUL GIGOT: Labor fought very hard for him in the campaign. And I think that youíll see him giving back here to labor and stay out.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, Mark. Letís turn to the news of the week, the political news of the week now, and the President going to Capitol Hill, having this meeting with House and Senate leaders, coming up with a list of priorities. What did you make of this meeting? I mean, do you think itís the beginning of serious consensus building, or not?
MARK SHIELDS: Margaret, when you talk about welfare to work and education being the lead items, those are not issues for which thereís great dissent. Those arenít cutting edge issues. You donít get a lot of really broken moods and explosive tempers in the room. What we have--weíve got the end of the revolution. The Republican Revolution is essentially over. The Republicans kind of like the status quo. They kind--it worked very well cooperating with Bill Clinton last summer, and it worked well for them in November. It worked well for Bill Clinton. So there just doesnít seem to be that, that sense of urgency, that sense of change, and I think it was a status quo meeting going in and a status quo agenda coming out.
MARGARET WARNER: I mean, do you think it means that they are going to agree but only on issues that there is no passion behind, or do you think it means theyíre going to really--I mean, the Republicans are going to give on a lot of other issues--because there are a lot of things not on that list?
MARK SHIELDS: There are things not on that list. I do not see the kind of intensity, loyalty, unanimity that we saw on the Republicansí part in the last two years, that we saw on the Democratsí part in the first two years of the Clinton administration when they passed his economic package by--with no Republican votes. No, I donít--I really donít. I think thereís a skittishness, a nervousness. Iíve never seen a time when each party lacked self-confidence the way it does right now.
MARGARET WARNER: What did you make of that meeting?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, the--in 1994, the Republicans yanked Bill Clinton over in their direction. In 1996, Bill Clinton yanked back and pulled them back. There isnít a lot of ideological drive. I mean, in a way, both sides, the liberals and the conservatives, the ones who have the ideas in the party over time, theyíre both looking at these people in the middle and saying, wow, theyíre going to agree on stuff, but weíve got to think about what comes next because this is almost a kind of compromise document. Itís almost an end game. Both parties collapsed after the election across the finish line and said, okay, we each control half the government. Weíre fated to deal with one another for at least two, maybe four years, so weíd better get something done in this first year. And thatís what I think they are seeing, is they are going to get some things done on education and taxes. There will be center left coalitions marginally and center right coalitions, depending upon the issue.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think that dynamic was at work already this week? For instance, there were a couple of big votes that the House Republican leadership loss like the funding for population control overseas, for instance, or term limits.
PAUL GIGOT: Thereís something like that on the funding one. I mean, you had--when the issue was framed as funding financing for abortion, Republicans won, and that was defeated. When itís family planning money for population control, or for family planning, then the Democrats managed to win. Republicans lost. Itís almost like a Congress where itís been Clintonized in a way, every man for himself. Party loyalty is a lot less important than my own district. And Iím going to play that district and try to work there and play my own political prospects more than I am going to try to march with Newt Gingrich like I did the last time.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you see that, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: I see, Margaret, that neither party has accepted the role that history has given it. The Republicans are now the majority party. Theyíre still acting like the minority party in many respects. The Democrats still are behaving like they think theyíre the majority and ought to be making policy, instead of enjoying the minority status which has been conferred upon them by the electorate in two successive elections. And by that I simply mean this: Term limits is a perfect example.
Term limits are great--1984--1986--1988--1990--three elections in the country--history, the most stable elections, the lowest turnover in the House of Representatives in the nationís history, and what happened was grew up a term limits movement, anger at Washington, all the rest of it, the imperial Congress, and the Republicans jumped on it, said, boy, this is our chance, wait till we get there, this will--weíll finally get rid of these Democrats, we canít beat Ďem in the polls, weíll term limit Ďem. All right. The Republicans won a majority in Ď94. The win, the zest, the zeal for term limits just dissipates because term limits are a minority issue. Theyíve still kind of got lip service. They pay lip service to it, and thatís what they were doing.
They did the same thing with the line item veto. The line item veto was you strengthened the Presidentís hand, even though conservatives have never meant to strengthen a Presidentís hand. They wanted to strengthen the Presidentís hand when the President was Ronald Reagan; understandably, George Bush, less understandably but still understandably. Now, theyíve got the term limits, the line item veto passed, and theyíve got Bill Clinton in the White House. So now theyíre trying to figure out a way how could we somehow neutralize the line item veto weíve given him? The Democrats havenít figured out exactly what their role is. Theyíre still kind of waiting for their white papers to come in, so they can offer their initiatives. And I just honestly think that itís a--itís a time--Paulís right--there is a real concern about my own skin, probably more so than most times. But I also think that itís a time where the Republicans havenít accepted the fact they are the majority party. They donít need a balanced budget amendment. They can pass a balanced budget. They are the majority party.
MARGARET WARNER: Why do you think the term limits went down again this week?
PAUL GIGOT: I think--first of all, let me disagree with Mark on the line item veto. I mean, the Republicans, give them credit, they ceded a lot of power by giving it to Bill Clinton. They followed through on that one. They gave him that power when they had the Congress the last time to begin January 1st after the election, but, well, it was a roll of the dice; they lost.
MARK SHIELDS: What do they try to do now?
PAUL GIGOT: They care too much about that. Theyíre not going to water it down. Thatís not happened. The term limits lost because the term limits supporters canít agree. Both sides, some want six years; some want twelve years. Some of the Congress are a little cynical; they want to be able to vote for term limits; they just donít want Ďem to pass. Some of the term limits movement outside want to--want something that the members probably can never take. Remember, itís hard to get incumbents to vote against incumbency. Itís like asking chickens to vote for Col. Sanders. I mean, it doesnít happen very easily. But itís still a powerful issue.
You know how many members of Congress voted for one of these term limits measures, 285--five short of the 2/3. Now any one bill didnít do that--didnít do nearly as well, and some of that reflects some of the members trying to cover themselves for the election. But it still can work politically. I mean, just ask Sheila Frahm, who was nominated to succeed Bob Dole as a Kansas Republican Senator and lost, in part, to Sam Brownback on that very populist issue of term limits.
MARGARET WARNER: So you donít think itís dead as an issue?
PAUL GIGOT: I donít think itís dead as an issue. I think itís still going to be very powerful in some elections.
MARK SHIELDS: Dead. Cleta Deathridge, director of the term limits movement, a former Democratic state representative from Oklahoma whoís devoted time, effort, and energy, said itís gone. I mean, it really is. The six years, twelve years business is silly. I mean, itís--this is letting the perfect be enemy of the good. If you really--if you care about term limits, you vote--you vote for whatever can pass. I mean, itís like saying, gee, Iím for a seven-day waiting period on assault weapons before anybody can get one. Well, weíve only got six days. No. No. I mean, my goodness, I wonít vote for that because itís only six days. Thatís the rigidity. Itís become a very narrow movement of a United States term limit group, and theyíre suicidal and kamikaze. Theyíre going after every single Republican who didnít tow their line.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Letís talk briefly about Tony Lake, the nominee to become head of the CIA. Again, the Senate, Paul, this week put off the votes at a committee on his nomination. The President defended him yesterday. Where do you think this is heading? Why is he having so much trouble?
PAUL GIGOT: Heís in real trouble. I donít think itís fatal yet, but thereís an awful lot of doubts on the Republican side, and they say itís because in a post which requires trust, intelligence service, they donít trust him. And they donít trust him because of the problems. They believe his lack of candor in talking toó in talking to him about the arming, winking at the Iranians who are arming the Bosnian Muslims for example, and now thereís a question about--
MARGARET WARNER: Which he never shared with the Senate Intelligence Committee.
PAUL GIGOT: Thatís right.
MARGARET WARNER: At the time.
PAUL GIGOT: Itís not that he was obliged to do it. I mean, he did not break any laws. He was not obliged to do that. But, you know, the prerogatives of Congress, what they care about more than ideology is being in on the action. I mean, they really want to be told. And so they feel that thatís a problem. Itís--thereís also a little bit of Cold War payback here. They view Tony Lake as somebody who is on the wrong side in the post Vietnam era of the Cold War debate, said Alger Hiss might not have been guilty, and thereís some of that involved here too.
MARK SHIELDS: I think that Tony Lake, he had a whole raft of questions which he answered that people I talked to on the Intelligence Committee thought the answers were complete, but I think that thereís those undercurrents that Paul described. Thereís also the velocity of this campaign finance thing. It is starting to take off at a momentum that people I donít think anticipated in this town five weeks ago. Whoever would have thought that the Intelligence Committee would be caught up in this and in campaign finance? We had the story in the "Washington Post." Bob Woodward of the Chinese embassy discussing the Chinese government, making contributions to the Democratic National Committee, there are going to be all kinds of questions, Margaret, about if, in fact, this is verified, who knew, when did they know, they knew before election, whom did they tell, why didnít they act, and I just--I see this--
MARGARET WARNER: And Tony Lake in his job as NSC adviser--
MARK SHIELDS: National Security--I mean, heíll at least have to say he didnít know, wasnít told, didnít do anything, or whatever, but thatís--thatís why this story I think has a life of its own.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. Well, thank you both very much.