March 13, 1998
Paula Jones' attorneys filed 700 pages of what they called "compelling evidence" to back their sexual harassment case against President Clinton. Our pundits, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot, examine the impact of today's developments.
PHIL PONCE: Now, political analysis by Shields & Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Gentlemen, welcome.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
Dan Balz of the Washington Post reports on the Paula Jones' sexual harrassment case.
March 6, 1998
Mark Shields and Paul Gigot discuss President Clinton's deposition in the Jones sexual assault case.
March 5, 1998
The Washington Post's Dan Balz reports on the leaked contents of President Clinton's deposition in the Paula Jones case.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of The White House and pass discussions by Shields & Gigot.
Paul Gigot: "I think this is going to be an excruciating weekend for the President..."
Mark, did you hear anything in this recitation of what happened today in Little Rock, Arkansas, that you think is going to make things any tougher or any worse for President Clinton?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: It's not helpful for the President or his supporters. But I think probably that the most troubling at this point has to be Kathleen Willey's--not simply a deposition--but her reported interview, already-recorded interview, with 60 Minutes on CBS, which will be shown this Sunday. I recall it was six years ago that Governor Bill Clinton rescued his threatened presidential campaign by a very compelling interview that he held with Mrs. Clinton on 60 Minutes during the Super Bowl. Here we are in the NCAA's and Kathleen Willey and the same--in the same venue could deliver what would be a very serious blow.
PHIL PONCE: Paul, more information, more detail?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: I think this is going to be an excruciating weekend for the President, not just because of the deposition, which is going to have a lot of details that are going to get tabloid treatment on television, but the Kathleen Willey episode, her testimony, is--if she goes on the air in 60 Minutes, something big in this case is going to change, and that is what this case has had so far was a kind of abstract quality. It's been about newspaper leaks and grand jury testimony, secret testimony. Kathleen Willey is going to put a human face on it. And she's going to put a face that is somebody who's very difficult to link to the vast right-wing conspiracy, because she was a volunteer, as Dan Balz said, in the White House. And if her testimony directly contradicts the President, and if she is credible to an awful lot of Americans, I think the President is going to be in a very difficult spot, and he's going to have some explaining to do.
PHIL PONCE: Mark, the importance of a human face.
MARK SHIELDS: Human face, there's no question about it. I mean, all politics eventually comes to the face we--the persona and the issue merge. We'll recall that during Watergate the face of righteousness became that of John Sirica, night school graduate, judge of the fair-mindedness, of a Howard Baker, a Republican Senator from Tennessee, and the sort of judicious mindedness of a Sam Irvin, a country lawyer from North Carolina. There's been nobody yet--I mean, there's been Ken Starr coming out of his driveway, people going out of their grand jury rooms, but there has been no human face to talk about this in human terms. And that's because who it is.
A personal note: two weeks ago on this broadcast, while we're talking about this, I made a mistake, an error for which I want to apologize. Talking about an anti-Clinton video, Phil, that suggested involvement by the White House and maybe the President in the alleged murder, the suicide of Vince Foster, and I said that Reverend Pat Robertson, a 1998 Republican presidential candidate, had been promoting that on the air. I was wrong. Pat Robertson did not promote that. Reverend Jerry Falwell, who did not run for President as a Republican, has been promoting it--had been promoting it. So I want to apologize to Reverend Robertson and to our viewers.
A paralyzed government?
PHIL PONCE: Paul, moving on, this past week, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said that this whole scandal, the Lewinsky business, the Jones business, has basically paralyzed government in a sense, that it's impeding the legislative process and the ability of the executive branch to work with the legislative branch.
PAUL GIGOT: There's some truth to that in the sense that I think it's hurt the President's credibility in Congress, in this sense: Anything that is not easy to do, anything that's not 80 percent in the polls, anything that the Republicans aren't naturally skittish about anyway, the President has a very hard time persuading them to do, whether it be money for Bosnia, whether it be the International Monetary Fund money that he needs. They don't want to--a President with approval ratings like Bill Clinton usually can get this sort of thing, but this one can't. And he's going to have a very difficult time doing it. So in that sense, Lott is right, part of the story Trent Lott doesn't say is he doesn't want to do a lot anyway. The Republicans are running a run-out-the-clock strategy, four-corner Dean Smith of North Carolina stall. We don't have to do much. We're looking at 63 percent approval ratings. We're fat; we're happy. They're attributing it to their own good lucks and brilliance.
PHIL PONCE: Well, you know, the four-corner office is--
MARK SHIELDS: --clock--
PAUL GIGOT: It led to the shot clock, and I think the Republicans may be forgetting that. I want to come--November--but this is what they're thinking.
PHIL PONCE: How about the Democratic charge, that this is a "do nothing" Congress?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think it is. I mean, I think the Republicans have turned risk averse. There's no question about it. This was a revolution just as recently as three years ago, and we're not talking about revolution, we're talking about re-election now. This is--to use a sports analogy, this is no runs, no hits, no errors. They don't even want to go out to bat. But they have taken on some tough ones. I think Paul is being a little unfair. There's the Ronald Reagan National Airport, Puerto Rican statehood, you know, a couple just really major, significant, but it's a lot easier to have unity when you're in the minority in the legislative body. Democrats are a lot more unified right now in the minority than they were when they were in the majority and Bill Clinton has been elected. And Republicans are proving the same thing. They would rather investigate than legislate. And I think that's going to be their mantra from here on in. They don't want to be in business. They should turn back half their salary because they're only going to be in a third of less time than average.
PHIL PONCE: So, Paul, a holding pattern until the election?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, this is what their thinking is now. You know, approval rating of the Republicans' internal party poll has been at 63 percent. That's higher than ever for Congress. I mean, usually Congress is down 30 percent, and they think, okay, that's fine, we hate Congress, but at least we like our guy, our congressman. This is for all of Congress as an institution. Now, I think that a lot of that has to do with the general sense of good feeling in the country. Everybody gets past these days, maybe even journalists. But--so the Republicans are saying, we don't need to do much, we don't want to take much risk. I think that's a little bit of a risky policy because politics right now there is a shot clock, and the cycle moves so fast that it affords a vacuum. So if they don't have anything to run on, I think the Republicans could find themselves in the summer with a president or the Democrats saying why aren't you passing our agenda, minimum wage, why aren't you passing health care regulation? And the Republicans have nothing else to say, and in particular, what astonishes me, astounds me, they don't even have the nerve to pass tax cuts or promote tax cuts, which ought to be the signature difference in the era of surplus, but they're saying we can't do it because we don't want to take on the president, he might accuse us of not giving that surplus to Social Security. If they're not going to have an agenda, the Democrats are going to fill it.
A special election win for the Democrats.
PHIL PONCE: Mark, this past week one of the big political stories was the selection in California where the widow of Representative Walter Capps, a Democrat, beat a conservative Republican. Is this a harbinger of the election this fall when the whole House is up for grabs?
MARK SHIELDS: This was an important race for Democrats. Democrats were nervous going into this race, so nervous that they did the unprecedented. House Democratic members out of their own campaign treasuries wrote checks for $1,000 to Lois Capps. They gave $1/4 million, did House Democrats, to her campaign because they were concerned about it. Understand one thing. This is a district that has had one Democrat elected to the House of Representatives from it since Adolf Hitler was running Germany, and this is a pretty solidly Republican, and Bill Clinton never got over 44 percent in the district, and yet, Lois Capps had 53 percent, so Democrats did feel good. Now, the key is it was not a national race. Democrats did not have a single outsider come in, no House leaders, no national figures.
PHIL PONCE: Why was that?
MARK SHIELDS: Because Lois Capps, (a) was--ran it on local issues. She was running--she was running as an enormously popular figure in her own right. She was the more natural politician of the two, including her husband, Walter, who was beloved but sort of professorial religion professor, and what--the Republicans did bring in--they brought in Jack Kemp, they brought in Steve Forbes, they brought in Dick Armey, they brought in Dan Quayle, and so to the degree that the race was nationalized, it was the Republicans who nationalized it. She won it--I think it's really a strong personal victory for her.
PHIL PONCE: Paul, how concerned are Republicans about the results of that election, that special election?
PAUL GIGOT: I don't think they're concerned enough. You know, in this era of, you know, don't worry, be happy, that the Republicans are in, bad news is not bad news. You can explain it, well, widows typically win those seats 36 out of the last 38 times. That's true, but, nonetheless, this is a district that Bob Dole, while losing the rest of California in a landslide, carried in 1996. It's the kind of seat that Republicans should hold if and when--if they were going to gain seats in 1998, because it's an upscale district, it's--San Luis Obispo is a very Republican area, and the two danger signs for the Republicans--one, the Democrats could compete on cash, Republicans have had to concede that they didn't--that they'd have a big money advantage this year. On the key races I don't think that's going to hold. And second is factionalism broke out in the Republican Party. Abortion--anti-abortion people really played big, term limits people came in and really hit the Republicans very hard. That's the kind of thing that happens when you don't have a bigger cause, a bigger idea to rally behind. Republicans don't have that idea right now.
PHIL PONCE: Mark, in the short time that we have left, what do you make of the fact that so much money was poured into this race, that outside groups came in and both candidates claim that the local voters didn't like that?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, both candidates asked that they not come in. I think there are two factors: one, we've reached a point now where there's so much money in politics that these groups want to make their case, so they can enlarge their own importance in politics, go back to the legislative body, maybe even exercise a--threat to enlarge their membership by doing it. But the sad part of all this is that the candidates in this become wall paper; they become background music to the campaign. You know, I happen to have the bias for candidates. It's the candidates who put their name, their record, their reputation, their fate and future on the line, and it's not some Political Action Committee out of Washington, D.C., with a mailing list.
PHIL PONCE: Gentlemen, thank you both.