February 19, 1999
At a joint news conference with President Jacques Chirac of France, President Clinton faced the press for the first time since his impeachment trial. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot discuss the event.
MARGARET WARNER: For analysis of the president's news conference and other political goings-on this week, we turn to Shields and Gigot. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Well, the president and the White House advisors must have thought a lot about this, Mark, how to handle his first press conference after the impeachment. How do you think he did?
|The president's press conference.|
MARK SHIELDS: Well, he did briefly. It was a short press conference.
MARGARET WARNER: Unusually, yes.
MARK SHIELDS: It's April 30th of 1998 since the President of the United States has had a press conference by himself in the United States of America. He's had a number of these joint events, and he had a single overseas in Hong Kong. But basically he's not -- still hasn't got his comfort level elevated to handling these questions. I thought he was a lot more interesting and a lot more revealing about Mrs. Clinton's candidacy than he was about the presidency and the experience he had just gone through. Just one item struck me as I was watching him and that is two American politicians faced with similar circumstances, Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, the vice presidential nominee, under great scrutiny any for her finances, her husband's finances; John McCain, the United States senator from Arizona, under enormous scrutiny at the time of the Keating Five scandal. Both of them had exhaustive press conferences, just said, ask anything you want, went four hours, I think in McCain's case, four and a half. You know, I think the president might have been better served to do that and just get all of them over because now there are going to be people who didn't get a chance to ask questions today who are going to continue to ask them.
PAUL GIGOT: He wanted to get out of there fast, it sounded like to me.
MARGARET WARNER: It was incredibly short for a Bill Clinton press conference.
PAUL GIGOT: No question about it. I thought it was revealing in a couple of ways. One is it's pretty clear he has absolute zero say in whether the First Lady runs for Senate in New York. I mean, this is her decision and he's going to be able to salute and that's it. The second thing he said is, "presidents are people, too," which was a curious comment. And I think coming on the answer about what he's learned from the whole impeachment saga struck me as somehow a little bit a sense that he still thinks he's a victim. The president still feels that this was somehow a completely illegitimate process and he's still -- and he doesn't much like it.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with Mark that he seemed subdued, he seemed -
PAUL GIGOT: Oh, sure, he did. I think -- I mean Bill Clinton has a - does something smart when he answers questions, he always thinks a bit before he does. But he took even more time this time, and it was clear that he was kind of rolling some of these answers around.
MARGARET WARNER: And certainly people-- we heard a lot from both Republicans and Democrats that they didn't want the president to be gloating or acting as if he felt vindicated. He certainly took every step to not appear that way.
MARK SHIELDS: No. There was none of that. And they avoided it in the New Hampshire visit. It was not a victory lap pep rally.
MARGARET WARNER: Yesterday.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right, yesterday. That that was to be avoided so there wouldn't will be any invidious comparisons to the post-House vote on the White House lawn.
|Comments on Congress.|
MARGARET WARNER: Now, Mark, what did you make of what he said about Congress and how he thought -- I think he said something like, they, meaning the American people, they expect us not to -- either not to have any destructive feelings, or if we do, not to let them get in the way of doing their business. How did you read that?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think that's a -- you know, it's sort of a plausible and reasonable answer to a question. You don't want to think of your president as vengeful, as vindictive. I don't think there's any question that Bill Clinton sees as part of his legacy the restoration of a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives. It's no accident, Margaret, that the Democrats held the -- the House of Representatives for 40 years, from '54 to '94, lost it on Bill Clinton's watch, and every great American president, and I'm not saying Bill Clinton's a great American president, but every successful American president has been a successful party leader -- whether it's Abraham Lincoln who was the first Republican president or FDR or Andy Jackson or Harry Truman. And so it's on Bill Clinton's mind, very much on his mind, to restore a Democratic majority to the House -- after this week's retirements, I think that becomes less likely in the Senate.
MARGARET WARNER: So then how are Republicans -- are they going to read that comment as an outstretched hand, or does that conflict with if Bill Clinton wants to elect a Democratic House in the year 2000?
PAUL GIGOT: I think Bill Clinton has a fundamental choice to make. Right now the thing that people -- his final act, if you will, the thing people remember about his presidency is the Lewinsky scandal. He has two years to somehow erase that or downplay it. He can do two things: One school of thought says go to Congress, do a deal, it happens to be run by Republicans, but do it on entitlements in particular, Medicare, Social Security, something big that he can say for a quarter of century he protected these programs. To do that, though, he that is to deal with Republicans and the Republicans philosophically would want him to come halfway. The other school of thought says erase these people, push them into the sea, drive them out, do what Mark said, not just take a Congress, but wipe them out because that would make -- allow the president to say, "impeachment was illegitimate." And if you want to do that, you really don't want to come to any big deals with a Republican Congress that they could then, along with the president, claim was part of their legacy. I think the bulk of the evidence right now leans to -- points to Bill Clinton saying, "I want to drive these Republicans into the sea." He's saying he wants to cooperate but he's doing it in terms that are going to be very hard for the Republicans philosophically to agree to.
MARK SHIELDS: Looking at it from the other perspective, what do the Republicans do at this point -- Peter Hart, the Democratic pollster, pollster for the Wall Street Journal, said there's not going to be a single Republican in the country who's going to mention impeachment in the year 2000. You know, boy I was great on impeachment, wasn't I? Rod Graham, senator from Minnesota, ardent conservative -- up for re-election - in danger -- impeachment's not going to be an issue. I say this because the Republicans have to come up with something between now and 20,000. And so Dick Gephardt, the House Democratic leader, said that Denny Hastert, the new Republican speaker, had talked to him more in the last 30 days than Newt Gingrich did in the last four years, okay? That shows, in my mind, a willingness on the part of the Republicans to accommodate, to get along. They want to be able to go in 2000 and say, "this is what we've accomplished." So I mean the president has options here, as do the Democrats in the House, and Democrats in the House interest may not be the same as the president's and the House Republicans who do want to get something written. They may want the issues going in the 2000 campaign to say the Republicans were a do-nothing Congress.
PAUL GIGOT: But, Margaret, you know, since 1994, that dichotomy between the Democrats and Bill Clinton in the House and the Congress and Bill Clinton has existed. I don't sense it existing now. I sense the Democrats in Congress being quite comfortable with where Bill Clinton is. The anxiety is on the Republican side because the Republicans -- Bill Clinton has -- I don't -- the State of the Union was a move to the left, and Democrats feel that Bill Clinton owes them now. They stuck by him. He owes them. I don't think you're going to see any more welfare deals where 100 Democrats in the House voted against the welfare reform bill that the president signed in 1996. The Republicans -- Mark is right -- the Republicans really feel they need to get something. The problem is, in order to get something, is Bill Clinton going to make them come all the way over where they're going to have to be abandoning their principles?
MARGARET WARNER: Let's talk -
MARK SHIELDS: Only the Wall Street Journal could have schools and Social Security as a move to the left.
PAUL GIGOT: No. The schools -
MARK SHIELDS: A move to the left? I mean, it wasn't exactly Karl Marx, for goodness sakes.
PAUL GIGOT: Investing -
MARK SHIELDS: Investing in America's future.
PAUL GIGOT: The government investing in the stock market? I mean that's a pretty extreme idea. It's certainly not going to have a lot of Republicans behind it.
|Senator Hillary Clinton?|
MARGARET WARNER: Let's talk about another startling --
MARK SHIELDS: Sure.
MARGARET WARNER: -- or what was a startling idea. Hillary Clinton running for Senate.
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I was hoping I goes to get a question on that. Hillary Clinton, roller coaster popularity, all right? Irony: Hillary Clinton is now more popular than her husband, first time. I mean, she is more favorable. Why? Hillary Clinton is more popular as a loyal but mis -- publicly mistreated wife than she was as a strong architect of national health. She is now on schools and children. Those are more acceptable issues. I thought the president made great sense today when he says, "it's tough to keep a pot boiling for two years," and maybe this is a little premature, but I think Paul is right, I think this is the First Lady's -- I think she's enjoying it enormously. I think she's enjoying the fact that they've come to her, that there's a certain flattery here. She could clear the field and all the rest of it. But I have to say, I mean it's going to be tough. I mean the -- you think the Washington press corps's a pain in the neck. The New York press corps, they proved Dale Carnegie was wrong. I mean, they are the most abrasive, contentious, combative people in the world. They'll be asking her, "what's the name of the Buffalo professional football team? Where did the New York Jets play their home a game -- which is New Jersey. I mean, and she'll be - I mean, it's not going to be any picnic.
MARGARET WARNER: And what's your recipe for polenta?
MARK SHIELDS: Yes, that's right, exactly.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think it's good for her to run, do you think it's good for the Democrats?
PAUL GIGOT: It's good for her to run if she wants to be president of the United States. I think that if she wants to get the political experience in her own right-- remember, she's never put herself before the voters-- if that's something -- that's her goal, then I think it's good for her to run. She needs to do that. Otherwise, why would you want to be a senator after being First Lady? I mean First Lady's a great job. Being senator, I don't know, you got to put up with all the things of a campaign, you've got to do all that constituent service. I'm not so sure that that would be a promotion. She could have as much influence in policy being a former First Lady.
MARGARET WARNER: I think Mark's dying to answer that question.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think Bob Dole of course is the only person we know who's interested in following her, going from the Senate to being first spouse. But -- no. I think there's a question of autonomy, there's a question of independence, there's a question of being her own person. But I think Paul does raise an interesting point: Does she run for the Senate from New York to come back to Washington, which is hardly been the scene of her happiest moments and greatest memories?
PAUL GIGOT: And there's somebody else I don't think really is thrilled if she would run and that's Al Gore.
MARGARET WARNER: Why?
PAUL GIGOT: Because when Al Gore runs in the year 2000, he is going to want to run as the heir to the best things about the Clinton presidency, but he's going to try to put some distance between himself and some of the controversial things. I don't think that -- and the First Lady running would be in New York, there'll be such a media story that it would inevitably mean that the 2000 election, part of the story was about the Clinton presidency and about the Clinton scandals. And she would have to answer some of those questions. Remember, she was part of the whole Whitewater investigation, not that that would be necessarily an issue, but it would be part of the whole dialogue and memory people would think about when they're -
MARGARET WARNER: Of what the Clinton/Gore presidency was about.
PAUL GIGOT: That's right.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think sure, it would certainly be raised and I think Rudy Giuliani, whom no one has accused of being any sort of a pantywaist when it comes to races as the mayor of New York would be tough, there's no doubt about it. But, I mean, a Giuliani-Hillary Clinton race, I mean, is something to dream about to cover, let's be frank.
MARGARET WARNER: And you can already see it on all the talk shows now.
PAUL GIGOT: We should be so lucky.
MARGARET WARNER: Thank you both very much.
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