February 12, 1999
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot debate the final arguments and votes in the impeachment trial of President Clinton.
JIM LEHRER: Our closing words on the impeachment vote tonight come from Shields and Gigot: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, how would you judge the performance of the United States Senate during this trial and after the conclusion today?
MARK SHIELDS: I think the senate did well. I really could. I think the senate feels a lot better about itself as an institution.
JIM LEHRER: Should it?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it's deserved. I think the downside prospects were real. I think that Trent Lott emerged as a majority leader who led that body, who avoided the pitfalls, the acrimony, the bitterness. It never became a carnival. He worked closely with Tom Daschle, the Democratic leader, who not only worked closely with him but delivered his entire troops at any time there were not Democrats going off and objecting to unanimous consent agreements. So I really thought that it worked well. I can understand from the point of view of the Republican House managers, they felt they got short-shrift with only three witnesses and discouraged to bring in Betty Currie and so forth, but I certainly think that the stature of both Lott and Daschle has been enhanced by this experience.
JIM LEHRER: Paul, there have been a lot of dire predictions going into this that this would be a carnival or something similar to that, it would be a terrible moment in American history, et cetera, et cetera. Was it?
PAUL GIGOT: Oh, it was not that. I mean, I never believe those predictions because the senate is too much interested in its own reputations. I mean they're self-protective in that way and that's what I think was going on -- contrary to Mark -- I would give them a gentlemen's C at best as to how they handled this. In fact, I was in with a group of reporters talking to Senator Lott today and I asked him, "why didn't you give the House managers, ten days, two weeks, whatever they needed, or some time period to make their case, give the White House the same time then to rebut?" And he said, "well, there was a lot of worry about witnesses, there was worry about Monica Lewinsky being on the floor, the spectacle of it. There they were really thinking I think more about how it would all look and how they would look rather than facing up, confronting the evidence and letting the House managers make their case as best they could.
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I was up there at the hearing -- at the senate, not only today, but during the testimony, and the presentation made by both sides, and I'll tell you, I've never seen the senate be more serious, more conscientious. There was none of the schmoozing, there was none of the going desk to desk, none of the people sitting there doing their correspondence -- reading their correspondence, signing their mail. I mean, Strom Thurmond, you know, we kid about Strom Thurmond - waiting for Strom Thurmond to retire is like leaving the landing lights on for Amelia Earhart or whatever else. Every day he was there, he was alert, he was involved, he was interested. And I'll tell you, I mean, today you could hear a pin drop in that institution. So I think they stepped up to it. They were serious about it.
|A meaningless trial?|
JIM LEHRER: Senator Hatch said in the discussion earlier in the program that we taped this afternoon, he essentially said the trial was irrelevant, that there were 45 Democrats going in that were going to vote for acquittal no matter what and essentially the implication was that there were Republicans who were going to convict, but there weren't going to be enough to remove the president, so the trial really didn't matter that much.
PAUL GIGOT: I agree with that. Trent Lott said today, -- on January 7, he knew, he could have told you exactly how the vote on obstruction would go down to the senator, he said.
JIM LEHRER: And it went this way?
PAUL GIGOT: He said he had all 50 votes. I mean, he didn't of course tell us that on January 7th. But he said it today. And I think that is, more or less, the way it was. I mean, the surprising thing to me about the vote was that ultimately how political it turned out - not one Democrat voted to acquit -- and the Republicans who voted to acquit were those who were the most politically vulnerable from the Northeast. They were the ones with the highest -
JIM LEHRER: All moderate Republicans?
PAUL GIGOT: That's right. It went very much according to your -- your conscience was determined by your political positioning.
|Assessing the president's response.|
JIM LEHRER: Now, what did you think of what the Democratic senators said about -- I didn't ask the Republican senators about what their reaction was to the president's comments because he hadn't made them by the time I did the discussion with them. But you heard what Senator Dorgan said that, "he came up a bit short." That's what Senator Dorgan said about the president. What did you think about that?
MARK SHIELDS: And both Senator Dorgan and Senator Edwards of North Carolina weighed in the same way. I think it was true. I mean, I don't think the president has yet to -- each time he's addressed this, it has been inadequate. Can I just say one thing?
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
MARK SHIELDS: To me the biggest surprise was the Democratic lilt. I mean the Democratic unity on this was remarkable. I think Henry Hyde said it early -- you can't impeach anybody unless it's bipartisan. It didn't come over bipartisan.
JIM LEHRER: And it never got bipartisan.
MARK SHIELDS: It never got bipartisan, but the Democrats -
JIM LEHRER: Just on the surface you mean.
MARK SHIELDS: But the Democrats were loyal to Bill Clinton, whose presidency has not been particularly loyal to them. I mean when Bill Clinton was elected president, Jim, there were 102 more Democrats than Republicans in the House of Representatives. There were 57 Democratic senators.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Then why did they hang with him?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, they hung with him -- Mitch Daniels, who used to be Ronald Reagan's White House political director, a very smart Republican, said to me, he said that he thought the Democrats grasped a central truth and that is when your party owns the White House, your party is defined by your president.
JIM LEHRER: Like it or not.
MARK SHIELDS: Like it or not. And they decided that it was important to hang together, and that -- and the other thing that you cannot ignore, it was enemy of my enemies, the face of the --
PAUL GIGOT: Yes.
MARK SHIELDS: The face of the impeachment opposition, whether it was Newt Gingrich, whether it was Reverend Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell or Bob Barr of Georgia, I mean they were the people that if Bill Clinton has those enemies, then I'll swallow my difficulties with him and support him.
JIM LEHRER: All right, reverse the question, Paul. Why is it that every conservative Republican hung tough against the president?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, a combination of things. I mean I think that they just, a lot of them just believed the case. A lot of them believe that he ought to be removed. They don't believe a word he says. One of the most striking -- there are two presidents in my lifetime, only two presidents who have inspired the sense of deep profound distrust where people actually use words like evil and amoral, seriously -- Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. And Bill Clinton inspires that kind of sentiment on people. And a lot of people looked at the facts of this case and really didn't like it. Now, there were certainly partisan reasons, as well, for them to do it, their base and that sort of thing. But there are a lot of people, Republicans I talked to who just in the senate and elsewhere, who just think this president should not be president.
|"An open meeting of closed minds."|
JIM LEHRER: What do you make now, before we go, of the talk that we heard from the senators on both sides? We heard it from everybody except some of the House managers, that now we must move on and that government -- we can have good government again, et cetera. ? Do you think that's going to happen?
MARK SHIELDS: No, I don't. But I just want to say -
JIM LEHRER: All right, okay.
MARK SHIELDS: If Trent Lott was so clairvoyant and so prescient on the 7th of January, he knew then that every Republican that was going to vote to convict, so the Republicans had closed minds, is that what you're suggesting, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: He conceded on perjury. He conceded on perjury. He didn't know everything.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
PAUL GIGOT: I agree but a couple of them had closed minds, too. I agree with that.
MARK SHIELDS: A couple of them. All the democrats and a couple of the Republicans.
PAUL GIGOT: No, they both-
JIM LEHRER: I was a meeting - I've got a great line. It was a meeting of closed minds.
MARK SHIELDS: Very good, an open meeting of closed minds.
JIM LEHRER: Open meeting of closed minds.
MARK SHIELDS: I like that.
JIM LEHRER: Go ahead.
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, the irony is this: The Republicans don't want to work with Bill Clinton, all right?
JIM LEHRER: But will they?
MARK SHIELDS: But the problem is they have to because, in order to put together a record going into the year 2000, the model on which they have to build is the 1996 Republicans when the House was in devastating shape in the summer of 1996, and they cooperated with the president to pass -
JIM LEHRER: Quick.
PAUL GIGOT: They want to very much, but Bill Clinton doesn't want to work with them because he wants to elect a Democratic congress to repudiate impeachment in 2000.
JIM LEHRER: Unfortunately, we'll be here every Friday night to follow this and see exactly which one of you is right. Thank you both.
MARK SHIELDS: He's a great party leader.
JIM LEHRER: Right, right, right.