June 26, 1998
Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot and Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant discuss President Clinton's agenda in China and the Supreme Court's decision to strike down the line-item veto.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
NEWSHOUR LINKS: CHINA
Is the Clinton administration's China policy the right policy?
June 25, 1998:
A discussion on China's heartland.
June 24, 1998:
Three dissidents discuss U.S.-China Summit.
June 23, 1998:
NewsHour historians take a look at the rocky relationship between the U.S. and China.
NEWSHOUR LINKS: SUPREME COURT
June 24, 1998:
The Supreme Court rules on four major cases.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Asia, legal issues, and the Shields and Gigot index.
JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, some Friday political analysis by Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot and Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant, substituting for Mark Shields, who is off. On China, for most Americans, like it or not, China, this trip, has to do with human rights, is that right, Paul?
The China trip: Human rights most important?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I guess that that is the big headline. It's what gets a lot of attention in the press, but I think that most Americans do understand that we have other things that we have to care about, we have to do business with that big emerging, changing nation. But we don't know very much about China, and what we do know most about China was that 1989 Tiananmen Square incident, because that was in everybody's living room.
We don't know about the village elections that are breaking out, a kind of democracy. We don't know the rule of law that's changing over there, and we don't know about this great middle class prosperity that's been bubbling up from the bottom. What the President wants to do is to try to tell people about that, to educate Americans about that. But that case may be undermined by all the baggage that's going on on other issues.
JIM LEHRER: Amb. Holdridge has said-do you agree, Tom-that this is being driven by domestic politics too back here in terms of human rights?
TOM OLIPHANT: Absolutely, it is being driven by domestic politics. That always happens in a big foreign trip, but I think there's another aspect to domestic politics that is very important here, and that is economics, which often trumps everything. And right now we are involved with the Chinese in the most intimate and dangerous situation in Asia that still threatens the United States, what they have done to maintain the value of their currency to cut back on their state sector, to help us even deal with aspects of this involving Japan has really been quite something in recent months. It needs to continue, or some of this prosperity that buoys President Clinton so much could be threatened.
JIM LEHRER: But that point isn't being made, is it?
TOM OLIPHANT: Well, it's what we don't see. In other words, what we're going to see this evening, what we've seen already can certainly be ruined if there is a problem over there involving this sweep up of dissidents. What we may not see, though, until a few weeks have past, are the results of these ongoing discussions that the President, Treasury Sec. Bob Rubin and others will be having, and if we continue whistle past this graveyard of financial crisis, I think most Americans will look back on this trip and view it as a success.
JIM LEHRER: How do you feel about that?
"I think China has behaved responsibly."
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think China has behaved responsibly, very responsibly in not devaluing it. It's become a kind of fire break.
JIM LEHRER: They threatened to do it but haven't, they haven't done it.
PAUL GIGOT: And that's important, because I think that would create a new wave of potential competitive devaluations throughout Asia, and that would put Hong Kong in the soup and create more problems for Japan, so that is a very important issue here. But there are other issues too of national security, which are also things involving North Korea and involving the subcontinent that we also have-and Taiwan.
JIM LEHRER: Taiwan.
PAUL GIGOT: Absolutely.
JIM LEHRER: In fact, the Chinese say that's their number one issue. That's a big thing they want to talk to the President about.
Taiwan: The "number one issue?"
PAUL GIGOT: It's always their number one issue. And we almost came to blows, frankly, a couple of years ago over that.
TOM OLIPHANT: In the background here-I mean, there's no question that Americans support the idea of President Clinton doing this. I mean, the polls are overwhelming on this question, but behind those numbers is a very deep ambivalence about this relationship. I think in many respects because it hasn't really affected that many Americans directly yet in an economic sense, and until this ambivalence is dealt with in private, it could be a human rights summit, it could be nuclear weapons on the subcontinent, we don't always know, but it is never going to be sound and on a secure footing until we see a lot more results from our dealings with-
JIM LEHRER: Right now it's looked upon as we are witnesses to what the Chinese are doing to their own people, rather than what is affecting us, is that-
PAUL GIGOT: I think the ambivalence-I think Tom is right about the ambivalence, but I think it is as much do to Bill Clinton as it is to China and the behavior of China. And I say that because the way this President has behaved towards China has undermined a lot of the support for the China policy that I think he could get more support for. And I'm talking about the baggage of campaign contributions. I'm talking about the political scandal now or questions about whether satellite technology was traded.
I'm talking about the run up to this trip, where he wanted to go to other countries, Japan, Korea, on this trip over, and China said, no, you're going to go-we don't want you to do that-at a time when Japan and Korea could use a little presidential hand holding, because they're in trouble. We want you to go in Tiananmen Square, the President says, yes. We want you to make it a nine-day trip, the President says, yes. There's some question, I think, in a lot of people's minds about whether or not the President is willing to be tough on them.
Tiananmen Square: "An opportunity to make a gesture."
TOM OLIPHANT: We'll see what he does later this evening, but I tend to think that what the Chinese have done in the last couple of days is to give the President more of an opportunity to make a gesture in Tiananmen Square that he might have had had they not done something foolish, like round up these dissidents in the last couple of days. It is an opportunity for him tonight. It'd be very interesting to see if he can overcome some of the things-
JIM LEHRER: They gave him a ticket.
TOM OLIPHANT: It's a freebie. It's like we took our shot and now you get a free shot.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Look, the other issue I want to talk about is a line-item veto decision in the Supreme Court. So that issue is gone and done now and forever more?
Line-item veto: RIP?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, the supporters are going to try to resurrect it, but I think it's going to be extremely hard to do. I think that the line item veto was the product of a huge historic moment. It's extraordinary American history. Congress, a branch of government, gave up power to executive. That doesn't happen very often, and it happened when it did because you had a new Republican majority come in who had promised to do it; you had a public sense that-
JIM LEHRER: It was part of the Contract With America.
PAUL GIGOT: Right. The budget was out of control; we got to do something. Ronald Reagan, a Republican President, had made it popular, but now you have a balanced budget; you have a lot of Republican committee chairmen who are saying, you know, I rather like this power, and I don't like to give it up, and more and more it's amazing how this change happens, agreeing with Robert Byrd, you know-decision since the Magna Carta-for legislative rights, so I think it-
JIM LEHRER: He's the one that actually filed the lawsuit that brought it to the Supreme Court.
PAUL GIGOT: And I think it's going to be very difficult for the Republicans to get-certainly to pass a constitutional amendment that may even get a majority for a different kind of line-item veto.
TOM OLIPHANT: Well, have you seen the different kind of proposal that's been floated this week? It's to pass a separate appropriations bill for every line in the budget, which would produce something like 50,000 separate bills.
JIM LEHRER: And they argued they might be able to do it with a computer now, right?
TOM OLIPHANT: Perhaps, but on the other end, the news might be one night that the Senate has just passed the appropriation for the men's room in the Interior Department and the bill now goes to the House, which I just don't think is going to happen. I think what Ann Richards used to say-stick a fork in it, it's dead-it's done-and in a historical sense I'd add one thing to what Paul said-just at the moment the deficit reductions in 1990 and 1993 were kicking in, the economy was getting stronger, just at the moment the deficit was beginning to recede, Congress and Clinton did something that was no longer necessary. So I think it'll be in a display case at the Smithsonian, reminding us of an era we'd just as soon forget.
Don't cry for me, Washington D.C.
JIM LEHRER: Should we cry?
TOM OLIPHANT: Not at all.
PAUL GIGOT: Yes, we should. We should. And I'll tell you why, because I think that this era of balanced budgets is a product, more than anything else, of the strong economy. Congresses, as Ronald Reagan once said, spend like drunken sailors, except that that's unfair to drunken sailors. And that is their tendency and you need that President in there, in the mix, with some accountability.
JIM LEHRER: Why should we stay dry-eyed?
TOM OLIPHANT: I am glad to see that grown men can cry, but the reason we should stay dry-eyed is that you can never take the heat off one branch of our political system to do its duty. And the line- item veto might properly be seen as an attempt to make it a little too easier than life really is.
JIM LEHRER: In what way?
TOM OLIPHANT: Well, that you could have-you can-it's like the serial killer who says stop me before I do it again. You cede a piece of constitutional power down the street to the President and ask him to bail you out of your own responsibility.
JIM LEHRER: So you can pass all these things and say, well, it wasn't me, the President cut it out?
TOM OLIPHANT: Part of the Supreme Court's opinion has a lot of political relevance, as Justice Stevens wrote it, and that is you have a responsibility under this Constitution to do something, and you can't-you can't shirk it and you can't pass it off either.
PAUL GIGOT: I think that, in fact, what happens is that by increasing the President's negotiating authority, you make it easier for him to say to legislator X, Y, or Z, you want something, you're going to take that out, I'm going to veto that if you put it in.
JIM LEHRER: The whole thing?
PAUL GIGOT: Not just-I'm going to take your item out--
JIM LEHRER: Oh, I got you.
PAUL GIGOT: --unless you can do something for me. So I think, in fact, it reverses the process of logrolling.
TOM OLIPHANT: To support your point, President Clinton tended to think that's how the law really worked. On the other hand, he's still not without tools to do that.
JIM LEHRER: And this has worked really well. Thank you both very much.