January 8, 1999
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot discuss the Senate's plan for the impeachment trial.
JIM LEHRER: Shields & Gigot and to Margaret Warner.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, political analysis of this remarkable week from syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.
Paul, we just heard representatives of both parties say they were really quite happy with this deal. Do they have reason to be? Did both parties in the Senate get enough of what they needed?
|The agreement .|
PAUL GIGOT: Well, they did for today. I think we’ll see later if, in fact, Trent Lott is borne out and got enough of what he needed, but I think for today it was a compromise. I mean, the losers were not the Senators, themselves, they were the White House and the House trial managers. And the White House wanted – would have preferred a partisan vote. They wanted to see the process blown up in the Senate the way it was in the House. It will tarnish it; the country might turn off, think it’s illegitimate. Instead, you got 100 Senators, 45 Democrats, saying this is a serious issue of impeachment that we’re going to take seriously. That’s something the White House didn’t want.
The House managers, on the other hand, wanted to call all the witnesses, they wanted to make their case the way they want to make it. And now a couple of big procedural hurdles have been put in the way of them calling witnesses. They’ll get to make their case based on the old record for 24 hours. But then they’re going to have to jump through two hoops – 51 votes to call a block of witnesses for depositions and then individual votes on witnesses to see if they come to the Senate at all in public. I don’t know if they have those votes and some of them are very worried. I’ve talked to some of the House managers, and they’re very upset, in fact, at this deal, and not very happy at all, because they think that there might not be – they might not – at the end of this they might not have a chance to call the witnesses.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you see it that way, that the Senate may have won, but both the White House and the House managers lost something here?
MARK SHIELDS: Yes. I think that there’s no question, Margaret, that the Senate – this is a process – this impeachment trial – that does not produce consensus and harmony and comity in the Senate. So if you don’t begin with it, you’re never going to achieve it in the process. And I think that sense of euphoria that both emanated from both Trent Lott, the Republican majority leader, and Tom Daschle, the Senate minority leader today, certainly suggested a non-partisan, bipartisan unity going in. And there’s no question that this process up to now has hurt the Republicans and by the very partisan nature of it, it has hurt it, so the degree that it is not partisan it’s probably not helpful to the White House. The White House would have preferred no witnesses. The White House would have preferred a censure vote. But in talking to them this afternoon they weren't wringing their hands and they were showing, I thought, uncharacteristic restraint in commenting. They were letting the Republican managers – some of whom have already alienated Republicans in the Senate by their own unfortunate comments like Bob Barr of Georgia, suggesting that the Senators had an attention span slightly shorter than that of a Tsetse fly, and therefore could not be – you know – could not be subjected to a process longer than 15 minutes of time.
MARGARET WARNER: It looked – it appeared as if, Paul, in this case the centers of both parties ended up carrying the day, rather than the extremes. How do you explain that? Or do you disagree with that?
PAUL GIGOT: I think what happened – I mean – there’s a high-minded and a low-minded explanation for what happened. The high-minded explanation is that people – they like the idea of sounding like statesmen. They don’t like it blowing up. They don’t want to sound – shout at one another. They like getting along. They have to deal with them – they have to walk in the hallways. The low-minded reason is neither leader – Tom Daschle or Trent Lott – were sure they had the votes for their proposal. They were a little jittery about – I mean, Tom Daschle –
MARGARET WARNER: You mean if they’d gone with a competing proposal –
PAUL GIGOT: If they’d gone with a competing proposal, Trent Lott had 55 Republicans, he thought he might lose some, and Tom Daschle thought that he wasn’t going – he wasn’t sure he could pick up any. So there – and neither side wanted to lose, so they decided yesterday one more time they’ll go in and try to work it out, and that’s what they did. But this isn’t over. I mean, in a way they punted on the most important decision, which is are there going to be witnesses? They just kicked it down the field. And for Trent Lott in particular this is – this is trouble because he cannot be seen as selling out the House Republicans prematurely; he just can’t be. It’s going to be very tough for him and very tough for some of the Senators, if that’s the case. So he’s going to have a tough – he’s going to have obligations – a lot of Republicans out in the hinterlands are going to say – to make sure that that vote after the two weeks of early hearings doesn’t end in a dismissal, and then try to keep his troops on board to be able to call witnesses.
MARK SHIELDS: In defense of Senator Lott –
PAUL GIGOT: I wasn’t attacking him.
|The Republican party's image.|
| MARK SHIELDS: I know you weren’t, but I mean in defense
of what he’s dealing with, we’re at a time right now, Margaret, where
unemployment in the country is at its lowest point in 30 years, where
the stock market just hit a new record today, where every public institution
is regarded positively, except the Republican Party. And the Republican
Party has suffered through this. Now, Trent Lott has to face the awesome
reality that if this continues to go downhill, that he’s facing the party
and going into the election year 2000, he’s the head of a party that has
the support of 25 percent of Americans. If that’s the case, any cohesiveness
within the institution is gone because Republican candidates in their
own self-interest, just as Democrats in the South did after the McGovern/Mondale
years, all of a sudden had to establish independence from the national
party, so he’s – he’s very mindful of that. And I think that that – that’s
awfully important. The other thing is this: The conventional wisdom in
Washington, which along with a quarter will buy you the Washington Post,
has that – or not the 2/3 – the Senate – necessary to convict Bill Clinton
so witnesses become crucial to that. Witnesses are necessary to change
the dynamic of the whole process. If they go with the stipulated thing,
I don’t think there’s anybody who believes that there’s anywhere near
67 Senators at this point.
MARGARET WARNER: So why did the Senate Republicans agree to so many hoops, as Paul was saying, that now the House managers are going to have to leap through to get any witnesses at all?
MARK SHIELDS: I think in the sense of unity, I think there is a confidence that at that point they also want to control over the witnesses; they really do. I mean, in case there are – some move to bring in some sort of witnesses who might be in the ether zone somewhere – and there certainly have been some suggestions.
MARGARET WARNER: Why don’t you explain a little more –
MARK SHIELDS: I mean, there’s a question of bringing in people who are not even referenced in the House hearings, and alleged consorts of the president, up to 15, 20, 25 years ago, some against their will allegedly and all the rest of it, but who weren’t brought up, who aren’t part of the record, and now to bring them into the Senate, and there was strong resistance, vehement resistance on the part of a number of Republican Senators against soiling and staining their rug when the House had not even broached that subject themselves.
PAUL GIGOT: They want to bring in people like Kathy Willey, for example, but they don’t want to bring her in and other people in for the sex. They want to bring him in as part of an obstruction of justice case. The allegation is that some of these people were intimidated not to come forward, and that’s the case that they want to make.
MARK SHIELDS: That was – Kathy Willey – but there are others—
PAUL GIGOT: There are others, for the same reason, the obstruction reason. Mark is right about a lot of the Republicans – some of the Republican Senators are desperately afraid. They look at the polls, and they look at their approval rating, and they say, we’ve got to get out of this. But Trent Lott has an obligation to the House. Those members took a risk. They walked the plank, in a sense, for – out of conviction. And the Republican Senators cannot be seen as sawing off that limb, and – without giving them a real chance to make their case. And that’s going to be a very difficult line for the majority leader to walk.
MARGARET WARNER: Can I ask you about the White House? What does this do now to the White House defense? We saw Greg Craig, one of the White House lawyers, come out and promise – I think he said – a vigorous, successful, and complete defense. What does that mean?
|The White House defense|
MARK SHIELDS: I think those are three adjectives that came to mind – vigorous –
MARGARET WARNER: You mean they’re going to contest the facts, or not –
MARK SHIELDS: I honestly don’t know. I think the White House is – understands the arithmetic, that there are 55 Republicans in the Senate and 45 Democrats. My conversations with them this afternoon were that they had been pleased with Sen. Daschle, they understand he’s not the illegal defense captain, that he is leading the Senate Democrats; they felt that Lott had – Senator Lott had dealt with them fairly and openly, and they’ve decided to go mute basically, and that’s the only – in the – which probably I think is very much in their self-interest.
PAUL GIGOT: It’s a rare show of sense here – in the – can I say something about Tom Daschle? He has a dilemma of his own here. He can’t – I don’t think the Senate Democrats feel all that good about identifying themselves very closely with this White House and this president. There are a lot of them for political reasons who desperately want to vote on censure and there are a lot of them on principled reasons -- they want to separate themselves from the president’s behavior. They want to vote on censure. If Tom Daschle ends up with a partisan process here, he could end up upsetting enough Republicans so that they don’t even get that – enough people to vote for a censure.
MARGARET WARNER: Which some of the Democrats really need, you mean?
PAUL GIGOT: They would like to see that kind of vote, and they’d like to see a bipartisan agreement on the writing of it, which they might not get if the well was poisoned.
MARK SHIELDS: The other thing is it was intriguing to watch the dynamic within the Senate today. The authors given credit were Ted Kennedy and Phil Gramm – Ted Kennedy, the liberal lion from Massachusetts, Phil Gramm, the man whom there is nobody more conservative from Texas. So that in the Senate, in the dynamic of the Senate, there is nobody on the left of Kennedy criticizing this agreement; and there’s nobody on the right of Gramm. I mean, you recall that Joe – Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, a centrist Democrat, and Slade Gorton of Washington, a moderate Republican, were widely criticized, mostly from the right of the Republican Party, but some from the left sniping from the Democrats, and I found that intriguing that there’s nobody up there saying Ted Kennedy sold us out, or Phil Gramm sold us out.
PAUL GIGOT: I will say this, that there are a lot of Republicans who look at the fact that Ted Kennedy is one of the two Democrats, along with Joe Lieberman, on the – the bipartisan committee to look at the evidence or look at the witnesses, and they say – that doesn’t thrill them – or fill them with real confidence that there’s going to be a bipartisan exercise.
MARGARET WARNER: Very quickly before we go. Both of you, do you think the president should give a State of the Union on the 19th?
|The State of the Union Address.|
PAUL GIGOT: I don’t think there’s any chance he won’t. I mean – he just—he wants to get up there because he thinks – I mean, just to have the Congress there while he’s being impeached is an act of legitimacy in his –
MARK SHIELDS: Tough to resist that, but what do the Republicans do? Do they stand and applaud? Do they sit on their hands? And we saw it last year under even – if anything – more enormous pressure when Bill Clinton came in and dazzled them as the whole presidency was swirling in crisis. I don’t think he’ll stop in ’99.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. We got to sit on our hands here. Thanks both very much.