January 16, 1998
Will the Republican National Committee deny funds to any party candidates who refuse to ban the controversial "partial-birth" abortion technique? Will the Paula Jones case really go to trial? Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot discuss the week's issues.
MARGARET WARNER: And we get that analysis from syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Mark, even as we sit here, the Republican National Committee is out in Palm Springs debating whether to deny any party funds to any Republican candidate that doesnít support a partial-birth abortion ban. Is this a significant dispute within the party, a significant fight, do you think?
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
January 15, 1998
Two Republican National Committee members debate the "partial birth" abortion resolution.
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The case of William Jefferson Clinton versus Paul Corbin Jones goes the Supreme Court.
March 18, 1997
Congress moves to confirm Alexis Herman as Sec. of Labor.
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The Republican partial-birth abortion debate: a significant issue?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I donít think itís a significant fight. I think itís an important fight. I think that, quite frankly, the Republicans are a lot less divided on the question of partial birth abortion, late-term abortion being outlawed, than are the Democrats. In the last Congress only eight Republican House members and four Republican Senators voted against outlawing the procedure. Democratic leadership in the Congress voted with the Republicans and against the Democratic President. So this is an issue I think that there are those within the party who care passionately and want this litmus test applied. I donít think their position will prevail, but I donít think thereís any question Republicans are united in their opposition to the late-term abortion procedure.
MARGARET WARNER: So why are we seeing this very public dispute in Palm Springs?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: A couple of reasons. One is there are some elements within the party who are the cultural conservatives and the anti-abortion Republicans who wanted to send a message to the Republican National Committee chairman Jim Nicholson, who, himself, is ardently pro-life but had spent more than a million dollars on behalf of Christine Todd Whitman, the--in her re-election in New Jersey--it was very controversial in the party because she opposed the ban on partial-birth abortions, and so they wanted to go, I think too far now in setting this litmus test standard, which reminds me an awful lot of the kind of thing Democrats used to do in the McGovern and Dukakis eras, where if you disagreed on missile throwaways in the Soviet Union, you were thrown out of the party, or you couldnít get the nomination. And they gave-- projected a party that really was not tolerant of any dissent at all. And I think it would be a mistake for Republicans to fall into that now. And so I think thatís why youíre seeing this fight.
MARGARET WARNER: Does it remind you at all of Democrats, 20, 15 years ago in terms of litmus tests?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, the Democrats did apply a litmus test in 1980 in their platform on the equal rights amendment, which seems kind of silly in retrospect. Any Democrat who did not support the equal rights amendment was denied party funds, couldnít use the Xerox at party headquarters, or whatever else--have anything out of the coke machine. But I think beyond this meeting, whatís important about this issue is it works for Republicans and against Democrats in the campaign of 1998. If they come out--if Democrats think, gee, this is a divisive issue, itís really a fault line within Republicans, and weíre okay, I think they make a serious mistake. Weíre talking about a procedure right now which is considered reprehensible by most Americans and is probably the political equivalent for the pro-choice side but defending the Uzi machine gun ones for the National Rifle Association. In other words, you make a legal argument that, yes, the Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear firearms, but that is a firearm. The Americans donít want to outlaw abortion, but they donít like partial birth. And I think thatís--I think thatís what Democrats have to grasp and grab from this debate right now.
A source of resentment for party members: some of the Republican establishment would rather not discuss the issue of abortion at all.
PAUL GIGOT: There is another motivation here which I think touches on what Mark got at of the people who are supporting this initiative, this resolution, and that is they feel a certain resentment, justifiable in many cases, at some of the party establishment, Republican establishment, who would just as soon never really talk about abortion at all, and that includes partial-birth abortion, which is a tremendous issue for the Republican Party, has the potential to be. It divides Democrats. Seventy-seven House Democrats crossed lines this year to vote for the ban against their President. Yet, some Republicans in 1996, including the chairman of the Senate Republican Election Committee, Al DíAmato, advised Republican candidates stay away from partial birth--and almost elected--almost defeated, rather, Tom Harkin, the Democratic incumbent in Ohio--came within--that close--and heís advised that in Iowa--heís advised his Democratic colleagues now to do something about this. And thatís why I think youíve seen the Democratic leader in the Senate, Tom Daschle, try to make some accommodation.
MARK SHIELDS: Just one quick point, and that is Paulís point. Charlie Cooke, whoís one of the two most respected political authorities in Washington on congressional elections, said, he thought the Democrats had learned their lesson from their Harkin and Mary Landrieu experiences in Louisiana and Iowa, where both had comfortable leads in the middle of October of 1996 only to see them melt away under opponentsí attacks because their support for legalizing and keeping legal partial-birth abortion. Steve Forbes, watch him--Steve Forbes, the representative of the economic wing, the flat tax, supply-side wing of the party, endorsed the litmus test among the Republican National Committee, and itís an attempt on his part, a bold attempt, I think, to try and marry the two wings of the party. I donít know if itíll work, but it certainly puts people like Dan Quayle in a real bind.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, Paul, there was also a special congressional primary this week in California that pitted these same two wings of the party against each other. Explain briefly what happened and whether you think thatís particularly significant.
PAUL GIGOT: Partial-birth abortion is only part of this story. This was a case where the Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, and some of the party, Washington members of the party, advised a candidate by the name of Brooks Firestone, who is--I think he called himself a fanatic centrist--
MARGARET WARNER: Passionate centrist.
PAUL GIGOT: Passionate centrist.
MARK SHIELDS: Itís possible.
PAUL GIGOT: It is possible. Neither of us managed to achieve it. It--to run--and he did. But that advice did not set well with the party in that district, which is North of Los Angeles. And a young man ran, a 30-year-old, Tom Bordenaro, got support from about 20 members of Congress who didnít like what the Speaker had done, and, in fact, he won, and I think you saw--in fact, the way this abortion issue and some issues ought to be settled, which is during primaries at the ballot box, they fought it out, and it looks like partial-birth abortion in that primary helped him quite a bit, and I think probably will also help him in the general election against the Democrat.
MARK SHIELDS: He was outspent four to one, Bordenaro, the winner, by Firestone, whoís an heir to the tire fortune, and Vintner made a winery of his own and has been pretty successful at it, and pretty good wine, I understand, among people who drink wine. But the hundred thousand dollars was dropped in on Bordenaroís behalf by the Campaign for Working Families, which is a political action committee headed by Gary Bauer, which raised the partial-birth abortion issue against both the Democrat Lois Capps, whoís the widow of the late congressman who held that seat, first Democrat to hold that seat in 50 years, Walter Capps won it in 1996. Bob Dole carried the district in 1996, even though he only got 37 percent in California. So itís a Republican district, and it should be a Republican pick-up, and if the Democrats hold onto it, then I think it probably improves their prospects for the fall.
The Paula Jones case: Will it go to trial? Should it?
MARGARET WARNER: Finally, the Paula Jones deposition is tomorrow. That is, the President is going to be deposed by lawyers for Paula Jones. Do you think, Paul, this means that this thing is going to trial and should it be going to trial?
PAUL GIGOT: The smart money in Washington, if there is such a thing, says that itís going to go to trial now, and the president kind of acknowledged that himself. Iím not convinced of that yet. These things tend to be where both sides really go right up to the end in hard negotiating and trying to stake out a position of strength in negotiation, so that when they settle, they get the better agreement. The incentives, especially for the president, are still to settle. The spectacle that this would be, it would be tabloid nirvana. They would go through every deposition; there would be troopers from Arkansas; there would be a horrible spectacle for him, frankly, bad for the country. I have to believe that somehow this thing will be settled before that time, but maybe--maybe both sides just figure that only--it has to go to a jury. If thatís the case, it is not going to help the president.
"This is diminishing the office of the presidency, thereís no doubt about it."
MARK SHIELDS: Once it goes to a deposition, I donít care if the deposition is sealed, itís going to get out eventually. I mean, there are going to be people who say what they said, or what others said in there. And I donít care who you are, as you look at this, thereís a sense of uncomfort, discomfort, embarrassment. Bill Clinton, I think, strengthened the office of president when he took on the Congress over the closing in the government. This is diminishing the office of the presidency, thereís no doubt about it, and itís the kind of thing that people are talking about tonight in their neighborhood tavern, theyíre talking about at coffee break, and theyíre talking about in their car pool. So it is significant.
MARGARET WARNER: But, as I understand, from what Iíve read, that Paula Jones and her attorneys have made a settlement offer. Should the president just take that?
MARK SHIELDS: I donít know what the president ought to do. I donít know what went on in the hotel room. I just--I just know that it is, Paul said, a spectacle, that you really want to avert, you glance and you wish would go away.
PAUL GIGOT: The most interesting thing the president said this week, I thought, was he called it someone elseís politics. You know, this presidency is as if itís somebody elseís doing. He has a wonderful gift for compartmentalizing kind of the policy presidency and then sort of the ethics presidency. Yet, theyíre both intertwined and will both be part of his legacy.
MARGARET WARNER: All right.
MARK SHIELDS: This was 1991. Remember that.
MARGARET WARNER: Have to leave it there. Thank you both.