Our pundits discuss the Patient's Bill of Rights and the possiblity of a presidential subpoena in the Monica Lewinsky matter.
JIM LEHRER: Now, Shields & Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. First, Paul, the House voted down the President's Patients Bill of Rights bill today and enacted the Republican version. What happened?
PAUL GIGOT: Both parties got exactly what they wanted, Jim, which was not a bill, or the prospect of a bill. The Democrats got what they hope is a good issue for them in November. The Republicans got inoculation against that issue in November. But the President of the United States in this case issued his veto threat against the Republican bill on Thursday night before the Republicans were going to have their vote. When you do that and you're doing that to keep Democrats in line, basically, saying, don't vote for that Republican bill, that's not a president who wants a bill. I think we've got an issue joined for November.
JIM LEHRER: Is that how you see it, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it's a little bit more complex than that, Jim, in this sense, that the Republicans-Paul's right-they're trying to inoculate themselves on an issue where they're dead. By a two to one margin in Paul's own Wall Street Journal poll, the Washington Post poll, Americans believe as far as the Patients Bill of Rights stand up to HMO's, insurance companies, the Democrats are better than the Republicans. So the Republicans are in the position very much of where the Democrats were when the country was building up its defenses and were committed to enlarging the Pentagon budget. At that time the Democrats always said they were for weapons systems as well but it was always for a smaller, cleaner, cheaper missile that was going to be ready sometime next spring.
And the Republicans say, well, give me a dozen of them, and when it came down to which party was more credible-believable-the Republicans were. On this one the Democrats. Any time you see the doctors and the trial lawyers on the same side of an issue it does make you say, hey, there's something going on here, and I think Paul's right. The Republicans were trying to inoculate themselves. I think a lot of Democrats would like to run on this issue in November, and I think a lot of Republicans would.
JIM LEHRER: And now it goes to the Senate. What's going to happen there?
PAUL GIGOT: I think something similar. The Republican Senate would like to vote on something like the House bill, not exactly the same-and try to maneuver the Senate Democrats so they have to filibuster that. If they don't, they'll probably lose on a narrow vote.
JIM LEHRER: What about the Democrats, does it make sense for the Democrats to avoid a vote on this in the Senate so they can get the issue really alive in November?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, as long as the President promises to veto it-
JIM LEHRER: Our report in the News Summary at least-that he issued a written statement, didn't quite threaten a veto, just said that he hoped that the Senate did a better job than the House. What does that mean?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, that means there's some ambiguity there about what his intentions are. I still think most-I think by issuing that statement last night to keep Democrats in line, he was doing what congressional leadership wanted him to do. And I think they more than the President want the issue. My guess is that the Democrats will find one way or another to run on this rather than have a bill. If you want the bill, frankly, they could have one, because on strictly policy grounds, they have the Republicans on the run. But they also would like to run Congress next year.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read the Senate?
MARK SHIELDS: I don't think the Senate will act, I really don't. I mean, there was a lot more sense of urgency in the House than there is in the Senate. And I think that the chances of the Senate's passing legislation are pretty remote.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Another development this very day, McCurry, Mike McCurry, the President's press secretary, said that the President's lawyers-or private lawyer-Mr. David Kendall-is talking with Kenneth Starr about-to work out a way for the President to give information to the Monica Lewinsky grand jury. How do you read that? What's going on?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, for a long time, Jim, there's been a continuing debate within President Clinton's camp as to whether he ought to testify first or wait for Monica Lewinsky to testify, and, quite frankly, the argument that's prevailed has been wait until Monica Lewinsky and the President keeps his powder dry.
Whether it was the threat of the subpoena and the fear that a political disaster and debacle would follow and the President contesting that subpoena to testify, or even a constitutional crisis, I think that this was a preemptive move on the part of the Clinton folks in anticipation that a subpoena was coming, that there was less political damage. The argument on the inside has been let's testify. Whatever she says, I mean, she's going to say or not say, and let the President get his story out.
JIM LEHRER: But there was never anybody arguing, oh, Mr. President, you do not have to testify before this grand jury?
MARK SHIELDS: Not that I know of. I mean, I know the two camps, the positions they took.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, Jack Quinn, who was the former legal counsel for the President, has been all over television laying out the argument that the President need not respond to a subpoena, that, in fact, as president he isn't obliged to. And I think that was a trial balloon that was floated on behalf of some people in the White House who think that we've done extremely well by not telling our story so far. It's Ken Starr who has fallen in the polls. Maybe we can get away with not testifying at all. I think I agree from what Mark says-I agree with what I think Mark's view, that that's a mistake, politically and legally.
JIM LEHRER: Well, McCurry was asked straightforwardly does this mean the President is going to testify, and he said, no-I'm paraphrasing all over the lot here about what he said-he said, no, they're trying to figure out a way for the information to get there and so we'll see what happens.