SHIELDS & GIGOT
JUNE 6, 1997
Our pundits debate disaster relief snags, Paula Jones, double standards in military sexual conduct, and the possible nomination of Gov. Bill Weld (MA) as U.S. ambassador to Mexico.
MARGARET WARNER: We get our regular end-of-the-week political analysis from syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journalcolumnist Paul Gigot.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
June 5, 1997:
Kwame Holman backgrounds Congress' inability to pass a veto-proof disaster relief bill.
June 5, 1997:
Is the military creating a double standard regarding sexual misconduct? The NewsHour analyzes.
May 27, 1997:
Legal experts debate the Supreme Court's decision to allow Paula Jones to sue the President.
June 5, 1996:
The NewsHour examines Bill Weld's battle for the U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts.
For more segments with Shields and Gigot, browse the Shields and Gigot Index Page.
Mark, let's start with the disaster relief bill and this stand-off that we have between Congress and the White House over it. The President said he's going to veto the bill if Congress passes it because he doesn't like two riders that are attached. What is going on here?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, what you have, quite frankly, is the--is an institutional confrontation between the Congress and the President. The President wants--Congress always. I don't care if it's the same party or a different party; they wants to put their stamp on it, and they know that's where appropriations and spending bills begin.
They take the responsibility, and they take the power and the privilege of it. But in this case what you have is a political showdown, and quite frankly, in an institutional showdown between the Congress and the President, the President has an advantage, especially this President, this Congress. And I think that the Congress made an enormous tactical mistake by going home this weekend.
I think that puts them at a real disadvantage--the President's--whether it's Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Harry Truman, Bill Clinton--he's there twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week trying to get relief, and where are these guys, you know, there will be pictures of them all over the country.
MARGARET WARNER: But, Paul, these two riders the President objects to: one deals with census sampling techniques; one deals with a sort of anti-government shutdown provision. Why did the Republicans insist on putting them in the bill when the President had made it clear he would veto the bill if they were in there?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Well, because everyone wants disaster relief. The President wants disaster relief. The Democrats want disaster relief. So it's not nearly a partisan fight that the President could veto and go away. He wants this bill. Ultimately, this bill is going to pass. The Republicans pass disaster relief. That is going to get passed.
What the Republicans want is they want protection ultimately down the road against the showdowns on the budget that are sure to come. They think--probably correctly--the President is going to veto a tax bill once, maybe twice. They think the President is going to veto the spending bills to run the government. You know what happened the last time that happened?
The President could use the hammer of shutdown over the heads, and they're saying we don't want to get into that game again, so what we want to do is we want the President to say, I won't shut down the government. If for some reason we can't agree with the President on spending bills, let's just automatically fund the government 100 percent. We'll continue to debate the details, but we won't shut down the government. So the President says he's against shutdowns. Sign the bill, and we'll get disaster relief. That's really the kind of tactical maneuvering that's going on here. It is a showdown.
It's difficult when you don't have the bully pulpit, but it's probably worth the fight for the Republicans to do it if they can stick with it.
MARGARET WARNER: But do you agree with, Mark, that the President really has an advantage here, just as he did during the government shutdown?
PAUL GIGOT: He has the advantage of the bully pulpit, partly it depends on how the media frames this. But over time people understand that disaster relief is going to pass, and all this is a fight over the shutdown essentially. The President doesn't have as clean an argument as he did when he was invoking the shutdown, when he said, I don't want to shut down the government. The Republicans can make their argument. I think they might be able to win.
MARGARET WARNER: Mark.
MARK SHIELDS: The Republicans don't have a Bob Dole, so they miss a Bob Dole, and they--with all respect to Trent Lott--and he's known by 16 percent of the people, including the Wall Street Journal/ABC poll, Speaker Gingrich is not a uniformly popular spokesman. The two chairs of the Appropriations Committee, Bob Livingston and Ted Stevens, are not national figures. So I mean it's--the president just has an enormous advantage.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, Mark. Let's turn to the issue that seems to dominate all the headlines this week, which was sex and politics. Starting with the Paula Jones case, now, since we talked about it on the show last week, it took another turn. There was a firestorm over what Bill Clinton's lawyer, Bob Bennett, said, which was he was going to make Paul Jones' sexual history an issue in a trial. Then he backed off. What is going on here?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, what's going on here is a story that the White House wants put away, forgotten, was given legs, was given legs by the appearance of the President's lawyer on the Sunday shows. This thing forced the President's probably most loyal constituency into a politically publicly awkward and embarrassing position. The most loyal constituency has been the organized women movement, and they had been rather ducking, bobbing, weaving on this issue. They'd taken criticism from conservative sources and from non-conservative sources.
MARGARET WARNER: You mean, for not supporting Paul Jones?
MARK SHIELDS: For not supporting Paula Corbin Jones. And this forced them into the position of saying, hey, no way, you can't do this, this is too many echoes of past times when women who were victims of rape were--became the defendant themselves in legal actions, so it--in my judgment it just was a terrible, terrible situation. The one saving grace, you could say, is that because Bob Bennett had been so hard, Bill Clinton looked like the good cop by the middle of the week when he finally said, no, no, we're not going to do that, but you just don't want for this President--any President--but certainly with this President--to have past sexual history be part of the legal record.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you read it?
PAUL GIGOT: Bob Bennett did what I thought was impossible, which was to drive Paula Corbin Jones into the arms of Patricia Ireland and the National Organization of Women. I mean, they had not been running to her rescue or her cause. I put a little broader context, though, too, which I think that the administration this week--not just in the Paul Jones case--but also in the military promotions and the adultery problems in the military--ran into--it was kind of hoist on its own petard of gender politics. This is an administration that has played gender politics very hard ever since the First Lady went to an award ceremony for Anita Hill in 1992.
The attorney general and cabinet officers--a certain number had to be women. 1996, well, we heard the gender gap all the time. It was an explicit and very successful policy to get women voters, and when it came down to it, now the President is saying, wait a minute, his own constituency, the own people he wants to support him had to come back and say, Mr. President, you can't--your lawyer can't use those tactics. So it redounded to hurt him.
MARGARET WARNER: And in the case involving Ralston, the--his--not nominee yet but possible nominee to be head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff--
PAUL GIGOT: Where Sec. Cohen said--made a distinction between what happened to this--in this case of adultery to Kelly Flinn, and immediately Democratic liberal women in the House--the President's supporters--said, wait a minute, double standard. And it's going to be very hard, I think, even if--I happen to agree that Sec. Cohen is doing the right thing in calling a halt to some of this stuff, but it's going to be very hard for the President to go ahead with this nomination of General Ralston if he wants to.
MARGARET WARNER: What do you think the administration should do to extricate itself from the furor over this Ralston issue?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think they've got to make the case on the distinction, the differences between the two. I mean, in the case of Kelly Flinn the Secretary of the Air Force received a letter from the wife whose husband was performing adulterously with the commanding officer, Lt. Flinn. Now, the Secretary of the Air Force has no--absolutely no course. This is a violation of chain of command. It's a violation of a whole host of military traditions and values.
In the case of General Ralston, from what we know, in 1983, he had an affair, an adulterous relationship with a woman not in his chain of command, not in the military, a CIA employee. I think Sec. Cohen is right--we're not going to go into sexual histories of everybody; otherwise, we'll go back to Paul Solman's last piece, and we'll get geldings. I mean, we'll just get geldings everywhere. I don't know--maybe athletic geldings, I guess, based upon the description by Mr. Hogue--in that last piece. (laughter) But I really do think there is a distinction. I think it becomes more difficult to promote General Ralston now. I think to drum him out of the military becomes absolutely extraordinarily unfair and--and totally disproportionate 14 years after an offense.
MARGARET WARNER: But you agree, he's not going to get this job?
PAUL GIGOT: I don't know if he will. That depends on how much the President is willing to stand down the members of his own party who are right now making the most noise about this double standard.
MARK SHIELDS: And point out that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs has to be confirmed.
MARGARET WARNER: Right.
MARK SHIELDS: I mean, that's different.
PAUL GIGOT: That's true, absolutely.
MARK SHIELDS: That is not just Sec. Cohen's decision, so there's going to be political pressure from the very kind Paul was talking about.
MARGARET WARNER: Before we go, let's do one--quickly one other issue that involves confirming someone. The President said he wants to nominate Bill Weld, Republican governor of Massachusetts, to be ambassador to Mexico. The Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee--Jesse Helms--is now saying no way. What--what's going on here?
PAUL GIGOT: The fights in feuds in politics are within the--within parties--within families. Bill Weld is a maverick Republican. He is--he runs--he opposes the Christian right. He doesn't really just oppose the Christian right. He often sticks a thumb in their eye. I mean--and a lot of Republicans remember--I think Jesse Helms is probably one of them--when he--when Bill Weld was at the Justice Department, Ed Meese, the attorney general under Ronald Reagan, was in trouble, and he resigned and made a big news story and went off, and it was very good for him to run for governor, but it was--it hurt his standing within the Republican Party.
PAUL GIGOT: Ten years ago, the Democrats controlled the Senate. Ten years ago in the eleven states of the old Confederacy there were sixteen Democratic Senators in those eleven states and six Republicans. Today it's fourteen, eight Republicans. It's Jesse Helms who's emerged from the Republican Party. That's where the strength of the Republican Party is. That's why they control the Senate today. And the Democrats don't.
The other factor is that since the end of the Cold War, the Republicans have not had a nemesis. They haven't had a villain. They haven't had an enemy since the fall of Communism. Welfare moms didn't work. Immigration didn't work for Pete Wilson. I think drugs is going to be the issue in 1998, in the year 2000 for Republicans. They want to run against drug lords and the failure of the Clinton administration and their assessment--respond with a force and robustness necessary, and they don't want a Republican ambassador from the United States--Mexico--if that's going to be an issue in 1998.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thanks, gentlemen. See you next week.
PAUL GIGOT: Thanks, Margaret.