January 22, 1999
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot discuss the possible conclusion of the Senate impeachment trial.
JIM LEHRER: And that brings us to Shields and Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, is this trial almost over or what?
|The end is near?|
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think Bob Byrd, the senator from West Virginia, it is a significant move, Jim, for a couple of reasons. First of all, Senator Byrd is known by most people as the senate historians, or the protector of senate traditions and senate virtue. But he's also a former majority leader who beat Ted Kennedy for the senate whip's job. It was rather ironic in Kwame's piece to see Ted Kennedy praising Bob Byrd; they're old enemies. He upset Ted Kennedy and took the whip's job away from him in 1971. I say that only because Bob Byrd can count and when he says there aren't 67 votes, there aren't 67 votes and I think that's significant.
And I think it's more significant that the Republicans were counting on Bob Byrd as somebody who might lead the defections from the Democrats and provide cover for those who came to the Republican side in support of conviction of the president, and he said I think in an interview with Margaret Warner about ten days ago, that he himself was opposed to that early move to dismiss. So I think it is significant.
JIM LEHRER: Significant, Paul? How significant?
PAUL GIGOT: It is significant. He was one of the-- and there weren't maybe, but maybe five, ten Democrats the Republicans thought they might be able to get even if they couldn't get sixty-seven, and this signals that they're almost certainly not going to get them. But I was struck by his logic. He said -- the logic of his statement was a little unusual. He said, "because there aren't 67 votes, therefore, we really don't need to have a complete trial." This doesn't necessarily fit with some -- I interpreted some of his earlier statements, that they need to be -- to show consistence -- to send a precedent for future senates and to keep faith with the Constitution. And the interesting thing, he never said in his statement what he thought of the evidence so far. So -
JIM LEHRER: What about Orrin Hatch's P. S. to that, which is don't have a vote on motion to dismiss, just adjourn this thing and move on?
PAUL GIGOT: An interesting idea that is going nowhere.
JIM LEHRER: Why?
PAUL GIGOT: Because I think that the overwhelming number of Republicans want to have votes on the articles. They want, at the end of the day to say we voted up or down. And frankly, they want Democrats to vote up or down for constitutional reasons and I think also for political reasons. They'd like everybody here to be on the record.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. Mark, is there any way to read - I mean, are there several steps here to go - there's some more Q & A tomorrow, like today. And then under the rules that were adopted originally, there has to be votes on motion to dismiss and on clearly now Senator Byrd's going to make it and there's also this witness issue. Do you think the momentum has changed on the witness issue?
|The witness issue.|
MARK SHIELDS : I really don't, Jim. I think the Republicans have an awful plight here, and just to outline it briefly, it goes this way: Bill Clinton is held in very negative repute by one quarter of the American people. But half the Republicans voters hold him in very negative feeling. That is the militant passionate anti-Clinton coalition. And if you're a Republican senator right now, you see this thing going nowhere. There aren't 67 votes on the horizon, you see it going further. The longer it goes, the more it's hurting your party. And so you'd kind of like to get out of it.
But the problem is nobody wants to say "hey, it's over," for a very important fear, that is, there are going to be recriminations when this is over. Who lost, who was the nervous Nelly who caved? We had Bill Clinton, a chance to get him to, bring him to justice, to bring him to his knees, to evict him from office, and son of a gun, because these nervous Nellies, these weak-kneed, weak sisters, caved on us, we didn't get it. It's going to be a little bit like who lost China 50 years ago in the Republican Party. So nobody really wants to be the person who cast that vote and makes that move to end this.
IM LEHRER: Do you agree with that analysis?
PAUL GIGOT: With a little less hyperbole.
JIM LEHRER: You wouldn't go all the who lost China bit?
PAUL GIGOT: No. Part of it is keeping faith with the House. Remember, keep in mind what the House managers did. I mean they had to walk over hot coals, they had to take abuse from everybody to do this. They did it anyway, and the one thing Trent Lott and his mates up there cannot be seen to be doing is a little wink and a nod to Tom Daschle saying, "boy, we'd sure like to get this done because it's uncomfortable for us" --
JIM LEHRER: "Us" meaning Republicans.
PAUL GIGOT: Senators, but especially US Senate Republicans.
JIM LEHRER: All right.
PAUL GIGOT: If it looks like it's a sham trial, if it looks like it was a cooked deal, we went through the oral argues arguments but then we just deep-sixed the thing for witnesses. A lot of Republicans are to include -- they looked out only for themselves and Trent Lott and his caucus up there will spend the next two years trying to get out of this and that won't help them in the election of 2000, and it won't help them pass any legislation.
JIM LEHRER: So you would agree then with what Mark is saying, that there are some Republicans who think it would be terrible for the Republican Party in the future if they caved too early?
PAUL GIGOT: Absolutely right.
JIM LEHRER: Right. But there are some other Republicans who feel it would be terrible for the Republican party in the future if they let this thing go beyond what is considered to be a reasonable length?
|The Republican view.|
PAUL GIGOT: I think that those are two factors influencing republicans. A third is the constitutional fealty. There are a lot of them up there who really do want to do right by history. And the interesting thing about the witness issue is it doesn't cut across normal ideological lines. There are Republican moderates who say, "you know, we probably should have witnesses," - John Chafee of -
JIM LEHRER: He's changed. He was on our program last night a little bit and he said, well, I'd be -- let's have the debate about witnesses. He wasn't - yes -- right, the same thing I guess, you're right.
PAUL GIGOT: I called at half time today up there to see how things were going, and some of the Republicans were saying that you know, the managers did pretty well today. Our ranks are being shored up a bit, so the movement you saw earlier in the week where you had the State of the Union and you had the White House defense, some of that was stemmed today. Particularly there was some real deterioration on the perjury issue among Republicans, and I think that Jim Rogan shored that up today.
JIM LEHRER: Yes, Mark, you wanted to -
MARK SHIELDS: Jim, I just think that the Republican House managers -- I thought they did a good job last week. The problem was, as the Wall Street Journal poll showed, that was taken after their presentation and before the White House presentation, they didn't move a needle. The needle didn't move just an iota in public support of their position. And that's a problem. And that's what people are facing. And now the question becomes: Well, just give us witnesses.
Now, the problem for the Republicans is this: The longer it goes, the more it hurts Republicans. Then the question becomes: Well, let's just end it. The American people want Bill Clinton censured, and there's a lot of Republicans who don't want to have that vote. It gives Democrats political cover, the ones who've said that Clinton's behavior has been reckless and wrong. But that's where the majority of the American people are. They want the president censured. They doesn't want him to walk scot-free. So the Republicans have two options as I see it right now: One, they can let the president walk scot-free if this thing ends with simply a vote to terminate; or, they can extend the process indefinitely with no realistic expectation of success, barring an Alexander Butterfield disclosure, which I don't think anybody anticipates at this point.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read the Republican feel right now for censure as a way out of this? Has that changed any?
PAUL GIGOT: I'd say enthusiasm is ebbing fast, Jim. No. They view it a little differently than Mark. They view it as the Democrats -- as Mark said, the Democrats want cover , but they don't think they're going to be blamed if they happen to vote to impeach -- to remove Bill Clinton from office, but then somehow he isn't censured -- that's the Democrats' problem. If they vote to acquit, then it's up to them to find something else to -- in the middle to censure the president. The Republicans can say, well -
JIM LEHRER: We did our thing.
PAUL GIGOT: We did our constitutional duty, we voted for, it and gentlemen, it's your turn.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. You know, Mark, Paul mentioned the State of the Union. How does this look three days later to you?
|The State of the Union address.|
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think among House Democrats, Jim, they were really energized by it; in part they saw the president get a good reception, but they also saw their colleagues across the aisle on the republican side overtly and openly discomforted by the president's performance. I mean they didn't know whether to sit there quite quietly, to applaud to, jump up, to stay down or whatever. And they came in for a lot of criticism. But I think the White House was smart in following it up with the sort of public rallies, which gave a sense of movement that the president is about the job and so forth. And I think it has worked for him in the short run politically certainly, and his numbers are up.
JIM LEHRER: Did it work for him?
PAUL GIGOT: Short-term politically, no question about it. But I think it had an ironic effect and that is it's unified Republicans again. It's achieved that very difficult thing to do. For four years, Republicans since 1994 have been sitting around moping and they've been saying, you know, Bill Clinton's stole every issue we have; he's dominated the middle. And what Republicans -- reflecting on what the president said this week -- are concluding that he recreated some real openings for us. Trillions of dollars of surplus are coming in the budget and not one penny the president left for tax increases. They think there's an opening on the tax-cut issue. And the surplus, he said, last year he said just 100 percent of it for Social Security. This year he said 60 percent of it and 40 percent for my spending priorities. What Republicans see as an opportunity is now the debate won't be like last year's where it was Social Security versus tax cuts, a very tough thing that divides them. This year it's going to be spending versus tax cuts. Even Republicans might be able to win that debate.
JIM LEHRER: But then move back to impeachment. Can any of those issues be joined until this impeachment issue is resolved?
PAUL GIGOT: No, I don't think so. I think it really has -- the trial has to be done first. There can be some little background discussions, and there are still some of those going on, little feelers, but no, -- the trial has to be done.
JIM LEHRER: What do you think about this that, Mark, that all these things that he put out there and there's been particularly this tax cut -- I remember Dale Bumpers, in his speech to the senators yesterday -- he said, you know, bring this to an end so you can do it, and he rattled off a couple of the Republican issues, as well as the Democratic issues.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, Jim, whether out of convenience or conviction, Bill Clinton, you know, it was a master at the politics of the state of the union. The first thing he did was salute Denny Hastert, the new speaker, saying he wanted to work in a bipartisan way, and then embrace and endorse what had long been a Denny Hastert initiative to cap the taxes on people on Social Security, their earnings. So you know, that was sort of an overt reach out and at the same time a little bit of a preemption. But add to that, Jim, the issues that the Republicans had ridden for so long, crime, which had always been a great Republican issue, balanced budget, which had been a great Republican issue; welfare reform, Bill Clinton, while the Republicans were in swimming, stole their philosophical clothes, and now he's either neutralized them completely or even seen as better on them -- add to it the principal issues of concern to the voters right now: Education is first; Social Security second; and a distant third is tax cuts. So I mean Bill Clinton owns the landscape on political initiatives right now.
JIM LEHRER: You don't see it that way?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, education is a priority; Social Security is important; and Republicans can't be seen as not caring about either of those. But one of the reasons tax cuts is down, in my view, is that nobody's been talking about them. Republicans have been too intimidated to keep it up there as an issue. And if they spend the next year talking about that every day, or as one of their main issues, there is going to be some resonance and there is going to be some reaction. And I think that -- look, Republicans need an issue, and they need an issue they can unite around. And the president opened the door for them in a big way with that State of the Union speech. It was a significant move to the left for him because he is now talking about an awful lot of new spending that they can go toe to toe at and say, you want to spend that money you're saving on taxes or do you want to return it?
JIM LEHRER: And as you've said many times on this program, up till now their issue has been Bill Clinton.
MARK SHIELDS: Well, and they need another one.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. All right. Thank you both very much.