JANUARY 24, 1997
The NewsHour's regulars discuss the vote to discipline Speaker Newt Gingrich, its affect on the Republican party, and campaign finance reform.
MARGARET WARNER: Thatís syndicated columnist and Boston native Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist and Green Bay native Paul Gigot.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
January 21, 1997:
The House of Representatives votes formally to require Speaker Gingrich pay $300,000 to cover bills it incurred as a result of his ethics violations, and to reprimand his conduct.
November 28, 1996:
Money Games: In the wake of record-breaking spending on congressional and presidential races the NewsHour looks at measures to resurrect campaign finance reform.
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: And let me be the first to offer condolences to Mark in advance.
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Thank you, President Dole.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Letís talk about the guys up on the Hill. Paul, the Republican leadership just came back from this three-day retreat. How are the congressional Republicans feeling now in the wake of the Newt Gingrich reprimand?
PAUL GIGOT: Thrilled. No. I think I talked to somebody who was at the retreat, and he said that, the leadership retreat this week, and he said that you realize this was our first planning meeting in three months. Theyíd been preoccupied with the Gingrich problems. They sort of crossed the finish line after the election and say, we got it. And now I think theyíre really trying to regroup. Thereís a certain defensiveness, a lack of confidence on their part.
I think you saw that in part in their House reaction, House Republican reaction to the Presidentís Medicare proposal this week. The Senate Republicans whipped it. They said itís inadequate; they took apart the substance; they went right at it, and deservedly so. The House Republicans said, well, thank God, the Presidentís moved our way, all of $14 billion, I mean, almost nothing over five years. But I think that suggests their real timidity and the fact theyíre feeling their way.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you see that, Mark, a lack--do you think weíre going to see that, a lack of confidence among the House Republicans with the Senate Republicans taking the lead?
MARK SHIELDS: There will be a lack of confidence in contrast to what there had been, Margaret. I mean, even critics of Speaker Newt Gingrich in whose ranks I occasionally found myself had to admire and mostly did the strong accountability--it brought to the speakership, the committee chairman. He had term limits for committee chairmen, he had, in fact, the agenda set centrally. There was a sense of purpose and confidence about the Republicans when they did take over in 1995. That is gone.
I mean, you can see--you can feel the power slipping from the Speakerís office and two of the committee chairmen, who are happy to have it. I mean, thereís going to be more autonomy and more independence among the committee chairmen, and I think it will come down to the chemistry of the committees in large part, whether thereís collegiality. I mean, Tom Bliley, for example, of Virginia, on the Commerce Committee, I think youíll see a productive session, maybe even with Bill Archer there will be a lot of action in Ways & Means, but there will be--there will be less central direction and authority.
MARGARET WARNER: Then who will supply the agenda? Who will create the agenda?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think itíll be less centrally directed. The committee chairmen will set an awful lot of it. If you look at the Senate agenda, the Senate Republicans issued their 10-point agenda this week. And it looked an awful lot like the Contract with America leftover.
MARGARET WARNER: This was Trent Lottís announcement this week.
PAUL GIGOT: There were about six of the ten of them, in fact, were Contract with America items, more or less, things that the President vetoed. So thereís not a whole lot of new agendas. Thereís a lot of unfinished business, a lot of--the Republicans I think wanted to achieve incrementally those things that the President vetoed when they tried to achieve them all at once. And thatís going to be a large part of what the Republicans try to do this year, finish the business of the balanced budget, cut taxes. Itís astonishing, but the first Republican Congress in 40 years, it doesnít cut taxes. I mean, Republicans were put on this earth to cut taxes.
MARK SHIELDS: Yeah. Thatís why we built that memorial.
MARGARET WARNER: Mark, do you think Trent Lott is going to emerge as the Republican leader who sets the agenda?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, thereís no question, he is the most prominent and has the strongest position right now of any Republican in Washington. I mean, thereís only two really major figures. Newt Gingrich was the central player in 1995-1996. He has fallen on hard times, and Trent Lott has a Senate that is more Republican and more conservative. So, yes, and heís a very formidable legislative player. I mean, he really is. I donít think anybody underestimates that. They do it--they do so at their own peril, Margaret. Thereís one other thing thatís going on, though, and itís surreptitious. Itís discreet. Itís almost furtive. And thereís a little angling for the post-Gingrich era.
Nobody wants his fingerprints on it. Nobody wants his footprints on it, but thereís a sense that--I can remember this happening, quite frankly, when Jim Wright was in trouble in 1989, that sense of look, I donít want to be--before the body gets cold, I donít want to be showing up at the wake, but I donít want Armey or Delay or somebody else or Kasich or somebody else to beat me to it. And so thereís a little bit of that going on right now as well, which is--
MARGARET WARNER: Thereís also one little bit of unfinished business from the Gingrich reprimand, Paul, which is how will Newt Gingrich pay his $300,000 fine. Whatís the thinking among House Republicans now about how he should do that?
PAUL GIGOT: Overwhelmingly among House Republicans is that he should pay out of his own pocket just to avoid the political problem. Now, let me say something about Newt Gingrich, though, in this--on this point. Newt Gingrich is motivated by a lot of things. Heís motivated by ideas. Heís motivated by power. Heís motivated by the desire to put an imprint on history. Heís never been motivated by money. I mean, heís an assistant professor from a small Georgia town, and heís not rich, and to make him pay $300,000 out of his own pocket is a hardship for a man in his 50's. And I donít think thereís any question about it. So itís not going to be easy for him to do that, but I think in the end he will see that this is the best political option.
MARGARET WARNER: Mark, what was your--letís turn to the President for a couple of minutes. He did make this offer on Medicare, which the White House said went halfway to meeting the Republicansí final figure from last year. What was your reading of that?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think instead of a shot across the bow, Margaret, it was sort of a white hankie. What we have right now are two political parties in this town that if it were a football game, if this were the Super Bowl, and either team won the coin toss, that both picked to kick off, and he became once the ball. Theyíre waiting for the team to fumble, to stumble, whatever. And the Republicans wanted some action, some initiative on the Presidentís part. He took it, Paul said, with mixed reviews, but thereís no question that something is going to have to be done, and this was just the first step in a long minuet of a long evening. As far as just one point on the Speakerís predicament, the Speaker canít have a legal defense fund.
He canít have a legal defense fund because there goes the last small piece of turf of high moral ground that they had. I mean, the White House has one of those, and theyíve taken a lot of shots at that, and I think the--you can see the independence of the Republicans, John Boehner, for example, of Ohio, chairman of the House Republican Conference, was right, very vocal, very unequivocal, the Speaker had to pay it out of his own pocket, so there is a certain symmetry in poetic justice of the Speaker paying it out of his political funds because the Ethics Committee found it to be a political course. It was--maybe thatís the way it should be paid, but I think Paulís right. I think he will end up having to pay it. There may be some way of doing it, of reissuing the book, something like that, for sales, but I think itíll eventually come out of the Speakerís--or a good portion of it will come out of the Speakerís own funds.
MARGARET WARNER: And finally, Paul, what was your reading of the Presidentís moves this week to try to defuse the political fund-raising scandal having his new Commerce Secretary say heíd de-politicize the Commerce Department, and announcing new restrictions on the DNC money raising?
PAUL GIGOT: They struck me, Margaret, as token. The election is--the election is over. We won, and now weíll pay a little bit of amends. Weíve got to get Bill Daley confirmed, so letís throw the Republicans something. I think if you really want to look at the--size up their mind set, the Presidentís mind set--just listen to him. Heís been remarkably unapologetic about this. He gave a speech to the Democratic National Committee on Tuesday, a day after his inaugural where he was reaching out to Republicans, and he just ripped the Republicans. And he challenged them on this. He said, they do everything as bad as we do.
MARGARET WARNER: And they raised more money than we did.
PAUL GIGOT: And they raised more money and they raised more money from--I mean, I donít think it was Haley Barbour who was subletting the Lincoln Bedroom, and this is an issue on which heís just going right back at them in a very partisan fashion. He attacked them, and then he brings in the next day John McCain and says the Senator, Republican from Arizona, weíll do a deal. I donít think heís got his bipartisan act together on this one if he really wants to accomplish something.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with that?
MARK SHIELDS: I think the speech at the DNC--I canít argue with what Paul says about that. I think the President--this is the third time the Presidentís dealt with the issue--í92 campaign--he was very strong on campaign finance reform, wins in Ď93, is cautioned by the elders on the Hill, youíd better not do it because you wonít get your economic plan through, you wonít get your health plan through, so he backed off, handshake with Newt Gingrich up in New Hampshire. They both backed off. I think this is the third time. I think this is a play for history. I think heís serious about it, and weíll find out within three months.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Weíll find out. Thank you both very much. Have a good weekend.