SHIELDS, GIGOT & KOHUT
FEBRUARY 28, 1997
Our pundits, syndicated colunmist Mark Shields, and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot, join pollster Andy Kohut to assess President Clinton's fund raising techniques. The verdict: inside the Beltway cares; outside D.C. doesn't. Also, is the Balanced Budget Amendment "toast"? And what will happen to Tony Lake?
JIM LEHRER: Now our Friday night political analysis by Shields & Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot, and joined tonight by pollster Andy Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Mark, the wrath of the pundits has come down on President Clinton on these White House sleep-over stories. Does he deserve what heís getting?
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
RECENT NEWSHOUR LINKS:
February 27, 1997:
Jim Lehrer leads a discussion with Clinton spokeswoman Ann Lewis about "renting" the White House to the "highest bidders."
February 25, 1997:
Elizabeth Farnsworth discusses the growing DNC fundraising scandal with White House Special Counsel Lanny Davis.
February 27, 1997:
Elizabeth Farnsworth reports on the controversy surrounding Anthony Lake's nomination for Director of Central Intelligence.
PREVIOUS NEWSHOUR LINKS:
November 28, 1996:
Margaret Warner discusses campaign finance reform with three members of Congress.
November 28, 1996:
The NewsHour's Kwame Holman reports on this year's efforts to reform campaign financing and how "soft money" may have been the biggest story of this election.
November 18, 1996:
House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO) discusses campaign finance reform and his party's role in the 105th Congress.
October 25, 1996:
Mark Shields and Paul Gigot discuss the role of money in this election year.
October 24, 1996:
Ross Perot blasts what he sees as President Clinton's corruption.
October 21, 1996:
Margaret Warner examines campaign money and its sources.
October 21, 1996:
A panel debates campaign finance reform and allegations of illegal foreign contributions and egregious misuse of lots of "soft money".
October 18, 1996:
Margaret Warner reports on the recent emergence of campaign finance issues on the campaign trail.
Oct. 18, 1996:
Ellen Miller, director of the Center for Responsive Politics, participates in an Online Forum on campaign finance reform.
Oct. 11, 1996:
Shields & Gigot debate the latest accusations of campaign finance abuses.
Oct. 6, 1996:
Bob Dole and Bill Clinton discuss campaign finance reform during the first presidential debate.
Sept. 29, 1996:
The leaders of Congress discuss reforming the system during the Debate Night: The Future Congress.
Aug. 16, 1996:
Margaret Warner looks at the corporate lobbying and sponsorship at the national conventions.
June 28, 1996:
Shields and Gigot look at the failed attempt to pass the McCain-Feingold reform.
June 28, 1996:
Ellen Miller participates in an Online Forum on the campaign finance reform efforts.
June 24, 1996:
Senator Feingold defends the McCain- Feingold campaign finance reform bill against an opponent
April 15, 1996:
NewsHour coverage of "soft" money contributions.
April 10, 1996:
NewsHour coverage of complaints against organized labor for millions of dollars in campaign spending.
June 24, 1996:
Senators John McCain of Arizona and Russ Feingold of Wisconsin tried, but failed, to pass campaign reform legislation.
Browse the Online NewsHour's Congressional coverage.
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I donít think thereís any question, Jim, that Bill Clintonís supporters are embarrassed and his--his foes and political adversaries are chortling and delighted, just enjoying every minute of it. There is something reverential the American people feel about the White House. You can see them lined up, tourists every day of the year, waiting to go in to walk to the public rooms. This is something I think people understand.
They understand it the same way they understood the House Bank scandal when House members without adequate funds for writing checks. Thereís something inappropriate. Thereís something wrong. Theyíre not sure itís illegal, but they are not made comfortable by it.
JIM LEHRER: Does it look illegal to you, Paul? I know youíre not a lawyer and youíre not a Justice of the Supreme Court. Okay.
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: We donít know if itís legal, if itís illegal. We do know that what these documents show is a White House that was so eager to get huge amounts of cash that they were willing to do just about anything, including skirting the edge of the law. This week the White House was hurt I think as much by its defense and explanation as by the documents because instead of saying we went too far, we wanted to win, and we overplayed it, and we apologize, they tried to use legal hair-splitting.
They said itís against the law to raise money on government property campaign money. But the White House hangs on the distinction. We didnít solicit it there. In other words, we didnít actually do the dunning right in the Roosevelt Room; we waited until they got out on, you know, Pennsylvania Avenue or something before he rang Ďem up. And I think that is the--that is--itís sleazy, and I think that that is what people are catching.
JIM LEHRER: And yet, Mark, Attorney General Janet Reno says thereís not enough evidence yet, in her judgment, to justify requesting that an independent counsel be employed. Is that going to last?
MARK SHIELDS: I donít know if it will last, Jim. I mean, I think that sheís--sheís certainly got a full court press on from the Justice Department, but I think thereís--
JIM LEHRER: That means their own investigation.
MARK SHIELDS: Their own investigation. We saw--theyíve got a grand jury. Theyíre working hard on it, but we saw Ďem breaking the ranks this week. Thatís why I think the political fallout is starting to come legislatively. You saw Sen. Moynihan call for them, Sen. Bradley said that it would be appropriate, former Sen. Bill Bradley, Sen. Russ Feingold, reformer from Wisconsin, said the same thing. Just one thing I did want to amend, Paul, my initial answer to Paul, and that is this is not the first time the White House has been used for fund-raising. I mean you look through the list of any state and any administration, and people are rewarded; theyíre expected; theyíre contributors.
They arenít chosen on the basis of table manners, that theyíre sparkling conversationalists; that theyíre good dancers; that theyíre flower arrangers. Theyíre chosen on the basis that they write checks. People get on Air Force One because they write checks. I mean, this is the feverish pursuit of money in American politics. Did--I stand by my original statement. The Democrats in support of the President are embarrassed by all of this, and I think--
PAUL GIGOT: Jim, not every White House invites a Chinese arms merchant for coffee. Not every White House--
MARK SHIELDS: Thatís true.
PAUL GIGOT: --has fund-raisers who take the fifth before congressional committees because they donít want to incriminate themselves, and not every White House rents out the upstairs third floor like an Ozarks bed and breakfast, which is what this looks like. I mean, George Bush released his list this week, and thereís no question, Markís right, that favors are done for people in politics who give money. Niceties in the Bush administration would have Ďem through for a cocktail party and a photo op twice a year, the big donors, that we know. But itís a different degree of--itís a matter of scale and degree, and there were no restraints we know in the Ď96 campaign.
JIM LEHRER: Andy Kohut, youíve just finished a poll that came out today. Is this issue resonating yet out in the country?
ANDY KOHUT, Pew Research Center: Well, itís being heard about, I mean, 66 percent in the Gallup Poll by the end of the week, so they had heard of this scandal, when we asked people earlier in the week, what news have you heard about Bill Clinton, on an open-ended basis, 71 percent of the people gave answers, and then some scandal. They either mentioned this--this--or Whitewater or Paula Jones, or some other wrongdoing in the White House.
But thereís no moral outrage. That Gallup Poll that I mentioned, we had 42 percent of the respondents saying he did something wrong and 42 percent saying it was okay, and the predominant reaction was I donít care very much. 13 percent said they were angry, 27 percent said they were disappointed, but the big answer was I donít care.
JIM LEHRER: Now, whatís your reading? I mean, youíve been studying polls for years. Is that thereís just that expectation now, that people do this sort of thing, itís not something to get exercised about?
ANDY KOHUT: Part of it. Itís expectation. 66 percent say this is typical of what Presidents do, and people--thereís no nerve endings with regard to scandal. Whitewaterís gone on forever, it seems. There is an--they all do it--factor with regard to campaign finance. But one of the interesting things that weíve been finding is that thereís a real generational difference; that generations, people under 50 years of age, Watergate generation, post Watergate generation have different standards. And Iíll read to you from the Gallup Poll.
The percent who think what Clinton has done is wrong, among the 18 to 29 year olds, 36 percent think itís wrong. Among the 30 to 49 year olds 40 percent think itís wrong. Among people over 50, 50 percent think itís wrong, and in all of our surveys about trust and about cynicism, there is a line in this country, post-war generations, pre-war generations, standards are different. People are cynical. They expect this, and theyíre arenít as critical.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Does that surprise you, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: It doesnít, Jim. I think people are affected, influenced, shaped, their political attitudes, I think Andy would agree, by when they come of age politically. I mean, youíre talking about people who came of age during the time of discredited presidencies, the Vietnam War, Watergate, and all the rest of it. Spiro, could I have the envelope, please, Agnew, I mean, a whole--you know, a whole bunch of wrenching disappointments as a people.
And I think also, Jim, I would add one other thing to it, and that is we had divided government for 25 years, and when you have divided government, the parties donít simply attack each other; they attack that branch of government which the other party controls. Democrats held hearings on Capitol Hill to expose the foibles and failings of the Republican administration, Sam Pierce, Jim Watt, Ann Gorsich. Republicans responded in kind, let by Mr. Gingrich attacking the House gym, the House post office, the House bank, and so people at home here, my gosh, theyíd all steal a hot stove and go back to the smoke.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read it?
PAUL GIGOT: I canít disagree with--you know, with Mark. Patrick Moynihan in a different context, a Senator from New York, has a phrase--weíve defined defiancy down, that he was talking about crime in particular, but in a sense weíve defined political deviancy down in this country, and people expect less. Watergate was a terrible event. I think in this case the campaign finance case, what we have too is I think helping the President, is the Presidentís defense, which is echoed by a lot of people, even some of his critics, which is everybody does it. If everyone is accountable, no one in particular is accountable, least of all the President. If the system is the problem, well, then no politicians are accountable.
JIM LEHRER: In fact, thatís what a lot of people are saying, hey, look, we want the rules changed, but until they change the rules, Iím going to continue to do it the way itís always been done. Thatís--
PAUL GIGOT: Thatís right.
JIM LEHRER: End quote.
PAUL GIGOT: But I think that what happened this week is that we found out that, in fact, everybody doesnít do it the way this White House did it.
JIM LEHRER: Is it hurting, Andy, is it hurting the way people think about President Clinton?
ANDY KOHUT: It hasnít. His approval ratings last weekend were 60 percent, by the end of the week they were 57 percent. Thatís not a statistically significant--
JIM LEHRER: Do you think--even that change might be caused by this?
ANDY KOHUT: It might be, but I remember after Iran-Contra, when that news broke, there was the largest single decline in the history of the Gallup Poll approval ratings, nothing approaching--
JIM LEHRER: President Reagan.
ANDY KOHUT: President Reagan. Nothing is approaching that. I think one of the things that also has to be said is that the public likes the other things that Bill Clinton says. They like what he is saying about education, and they hear him--
JIM LEHRER: Are they hearing him on education?
ANDY KOHUT: Oh, I think so. We did a poll right after the State of the Union address, and we found that 52 percent could correctly identify education as the number one issue for Clinton over the next four years. Thatís the good news. The bad news was that 85 percent could tell us that the--the right amount for the Ron Goldman settlement that came out the same night as--
JIM LEHRER: The O.J, case...
ANDY KOHUT: The O.J. case--so this is getting through. It doesnít get through the way sensational--substance always trails sensation.
JIM LEHRER: Letís go on to another thing that you took--youíve got some polling data on, Andy, and thatís the balanced budget amendment. Mark and Paul, would you agree, this thing is almost a dead dog, as we talk here on Friday night?
MARK SHIELDS: History, Jim. Itís toast.
JIM LEHRER: Toast, history?
PAUL GIGOT: Yeah.
MARK SHIELDS: Stick a fork in it.
JIM LEHRER: Stick a fork in it.
PAUL GIGOT: Itís not--
JIM LEHRER: He really talks great, doesnít he? Is this an issue, Andy, that the American public cares about?
ANDY KOHUT: Well, they say so in one way but they say not in another. 60 percent say this should be a top priority, but when we say to people, well, if the budget is actually balanced, do you think it will help your family, or hurt your family, only 33 percent think their family will be--finances will be hurt if the budget is actually balanced in the year 2002. And thatís less than the percentage who felt that way a year ago.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think thatís just because they donít know enough about the issue, or is there any way to know?
ANDY KOHUT: A combination of two things. I think theyíre afraid of whatís going to happen to balance that budget, and I also think that the budget balancers have done a terrible job of selling the up side of balancing the budget. The public doesnít see the dividend to them, the personal dividend to them in a balanced budget.
JIM LEHRER: How do you explain that? Paul, this argument about the--weíve been doing it on this program, and everybody else has been doing it on their programs now for four years. Balance the budget, balance the budget, this--itís been issue in so many campaigns.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, part of it is that Clinton says he agrees. I mean, he went over to the other side. He said, Iím for balancing the budget; Iíll just do it. And so itís taken some of the steam out of the Republican--
JIM LEHRER: You donít need the amendment to get it done.
PAUL GIGOT: Yeah, I think thatís right. And then the Republicans have done a very poor job of making the argument for it because they began to, I think, it became a substitute for thinking for a lot of Republicans. Theyíd just say balanced budget, great, CBO numbers. They got lost in the accounting stuff and didnít make the substantive point.
JIM LEHRER: CBO numbers out of this Congressional Budget Office, thatís when the veil came down, was it not, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: The Sominex sales were killed. I mean, all over America people went to sleep on that one, Jim. They just had one--on the fund-raising, and that is, lest anybody think that only bad people give to Democrats and only altruistic, sensitive, caring people give to Republicans--
PAUL GIGOT: Who said that?
MARK SHIELDS: I donít want that--we learned this week everybody doesnít do it. I just looked at the top soft money contributors to the Republican Party. Philip Morris, RJR Nabisco, Golden Roll Insurance, who has--they have that little plan, ARCO, Atlantic Richfield, Brown & Williamson Tobacco. Now, thereís a people that probably have a legislative interest and a policy interest and gave in rather sizeable amounts.
The key here, Jim, quite frankly, is if hypocrisy were sand, Capitol Hill this week would be the Sahara Desert all by itself because what theyíre trying to do, every Republican in shoe leather up there, Rick Santorum, Mitch McConnell, is to keep the focus only on presidential politics because we know that nobody in Congress would ever take a buck or raise money or do anything like that, thatís all presidential.
PAUL GIGOT: Look, we know that everybody in politics takes money. We know that. Letís stipulate that. Everybody takes money from a lot of people. The Brown & Williamson stuff, whoever takes money from those people is accountable for that in a campaign. I mean, that is well known. Thatís reported--
MARK SHIELDS: Republican Party.
PAUL GIGOT: And the Republican Party wants to pay it and do that. The Democrats can use that as an issue. The difference here--and what the Republicans I think justifiably worried about is that innocent citizens who legally gave money, thereís nothing wrong with making--
JIM LEHRER: What Brown & Williams or Philip Morris--
PAUL GIGOT: Thatís right. Are going to be up there, while Jon Huang and Middleton and these other fund-raisers are taking the fifth and not testifying, and who gets caught up in the sleaze and is made to look sleazy, the people who did it legally.
MARK SHIELDS: What you are suggesting then is someone should come up, testify, whether itís Jon Huang or anybody else, and say, okay, we gave this much to the President, why did you give that much to the President, I was hoping to do this, hoping to change the policy in China. Now, he gave this much to three members of the Ways & Means Committee.
Well, canít ask about that. Weíre only interested in presidential. Thatís exactly where they want to do it. Jim, the whole system has a stench to it. What Bill Clinton and the Democrats did in Ď96 was unprecedented, in my judgment, but does it affect anybody? Ask anybody whoís been in politics in Congress who leaves, and without exception, Republican, Democrat, liberal, or conservative, they say the same thing: It is lousy; itís distasteful; itís corrosive; and itís corrupting, without exception.
JIM LEHRER: Is that stench being smelt out in the country?
ANDY KOHUT: People are smelling it but theyíve become accustomed to it. After a while you get accustomed to it, and theyíre very cynical that you can change it. Thatís why campaign finance gets low priority; not because the public doesnít want it; they just are doubtful that itís going to happen here.
JIM LEHRER: Quick thing before we go. The Anthony Lake nomination, CIA, director of Central Intelligence, is that, to use Mr. Shieldsí phrase, Paul, is he history?
PAUL GIGOT: I donít think so. I think he still has a real shot. There are a couple of Republicans whoíve endorsed him, Richard Lugar, and John Chafee, and John McCain, and thatís pretty good cover on foreign policy for enough Republicans who might vote for him. I would say there are other Republicans, though, who are very serious about defeating him and want the White House to pay a price for getting him through.
MARK SHIELDS: Theyíd love to take on Alexis Herman, the nominee for the Secretary of Labor, but sheís an African-American woman, and theyíve got the echoes of Anita Hill and the gender gap from Andyís 1996 poll. Theyíve got to go after somebody. So theyíve come up with a really bad idea. They want the raw FBI files. Now, raw FBI files, Jim, are right out of the Twilight Zone. I mean, this is what the next-door neighbor said about you in 1957 when you had that noisy party.
I mean, itís just lousy stuff, and itís really unprecedented. The only time itís ever been done before was when the Bush White House offered them in defense of John Tower because Paul Wyrick, a conservative critic of Tower, had charged that the FBI files showed terrible things about him. And they used them to prove that the FBI files did not contain it. This is bad policy.
PAUL GIGOT: I agree. They shouldnít have to do the FBI files, but it wasnít--heís letting George Mitchell off the hook when it comes to John Tower.
JIM LEHRER: Paul, Mark, Andy, thank you. Keep talking, guys. Weíre going.