SHIELDS & GIGOT
MAY 30, 1997
This week: Are Dick Gephardt's differences with the President signaling a split in the Democratic party, and what is the impact of the Supreme Court's ruling in the Paula Jones case?
MARGARET WARNER:Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Mark, let's start with the Supreme Court decision in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case this week saying that, in fact, it can go ahead. What are the political ramifications of that, do you think, for the President?
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
May 29, 1997:
In a Newsmaker interview Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-MO) discusses his policy differences with the President.
May 27, 1997:
Legal experts debate the Supreme Court's decision to allow Paula Jones to sue the President.
May 2, 1997:
The NewsHour reports on the budget deal Congress has made with the President.
For more segments with Shields and Gigot, browse the Shields and Gigot Index Page.
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Bad.
MARGARET WARNER: In a word?
MARK SHIELDS: Bad. It's a shadow that hangs over his presidency right now. It will be there. It's not going to go away. As an example of that, Margaret, look at this week. The President goes to Europe; what can only be called a triumphal visit, NATO expansion, the cooperation with Russia on European security, the visit to Great Britain where the labor leader welcomes him as his model, having taken power after 18 years of Tory rule in that country, welcomes Bill Clinton as sort of his inspiration.
The Marshall Plan, 50 years American success celebrated in rescuing Europe, plans for helping Eastern Europe, and it's all eclipsed; it's all back in the truss ads and the "I will not be responsibles," and the personal notices because of the story. And I just think that is symptomatic of the problem that this represents.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you read it?
PAUL GIGOT: I guess I don't think it's potentially as bad. I mean, obviously, it is not good news but I think it's containable with one caveat--if the President settles. The one thing that he can't allow to happen, I think, is to have what the lawyers call discovery in this case, which is the case goes ahead of the lawyers for Paula Jones, get to interview the troopers who say, yes, I did invite her up tot he room at the behest of the governor, the women she told at the time about this, that would be a disaster because all that would be public, and if it weren't public, it would be--that they have to avoid.
So the--all the politics, it seemed to me, argue for settlement. The problem is the price of settlement just went up with the Supreme Court decision. They could have settled last year, but they wanted to kick it out beyond the election. They did that successfully but now it troops back in the second term, but all of the logic seems to me that they have to come to some settlement even if it means some qualified apology and admission by the President.
MARGARET WARNER: But you don't think that just having this kind of case with the President of the United States does political damage to him?
PAUL GIGOT: Not by itself, because I think that a lot of the voters--I mean, knew what they were getting in Bill Clinton. They knew his reputation. They knew some of the troubles he had had--the stories had been out. They still voted for him twice, and, in particular this last time almost 50 percent of the public did. I don't know that this case brings up a lot of new information that would tell voters they don't know about the President.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with, Paul, Mark, on what the President needs to do to contain this, to go ahead and try to settle it?
MARK SHIELDS: I don't think it can be done that easily, Margaret. I think this is damaging in a way, first of all, that none of the other stories is because the other stories suggested straying, flirting, seduction, a brief dalliance or whatever. The story, as described to us here, Stuart Taylor's piece in the American Lawyer, suggests something a lot cruder, a lot more base, the powerful versus the powerless, a lot of elements.
MARGARET WARNER: Because she was a temporary state employee.
MARK SHIELDS: A temporary state employee. He's the governor.
MARGARET WARNER: He's the governor.
MARK SHIELDS: This is--there are class overtones since Evan Thomas of Newsweek, the Newsweek bureau chief, having done a very disparaging piece of her earlier, did a mea culpa afterwards, class terms and so she's become a sympathetic figure. I think that's a problem. The other problem is that this--this is not like a land deal or a joint venture or an Arkansas real estate thing. This is laying where people's eyes glaze over.
MARGARET WARNER: Whitewater.
MARK SHIELDS: Right. I mean, this is something that people understand, and words like proposition and expose and words like that, that are really, I think, terribly, terribly harmful. I think that there's going to be a tension point, and it's probably been reached already, on the part of the people who are backing and supporting Paula Jones, who have bankrolled the case, who don't want a settlement.
And I think Paul Corbin Jones may have been very interested earlier in a settlement that included an apology; that she conducted herself in a ladylike way, that the rumors are totally unfounded against her. Remember how this originally came up. But I think that those people who are-who have been behind her now are not going to be satisfied with that and they're going to put a lot of pressure on her.
PAUL GIGOT: I would say--let me add one thing--I think there are a couple of people here who have not served the President well in the way they've handled this. Whether they did it on their own or at White House instructions; one of those is the President's and that's the way they described Paula Jones. I'm talking about Bob Bennett, the president's lawyers said it was tabloid trash, and James Carville, who's sort of the all-purpose presidential defender who said, you know, we could drag a hundred dollar bill through a trailer park and who knows what we'll find.
Those kinds of statements make it--increase the incentive of Paula Jones to want to stick this thing out because it damaged her reputation and what she wants is to get some of her reputation back, and by doing that, they really hurt the President.
MARGARET WARNER: Which we heard her lawyer say this very week. All right. Mark, let's turn to the problems that the President's having with his own party and Dick Gephardt, minority leader. Now, you all and Jim talked about this last week in connection with the budget deal for which they split. This week was over trade relations with China. But is there something larger going on here? Is this--are we seeing emerging some kind of real battle for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party?
MARK SHIELDS: It's not the heart and soul of the Democratic--I think Dick Gephardt is the Democratic leader, he'd like to be Speaker of the House. You'll usually find that most minority leaders in a legislative forum would like to be in the majority, and he's looking at 1998, and he's looking at--it's within--within possibility, mathematically, arithmetically. History is against them, but arithmetic is very much in their favor as they look in 1998.
And he's looking, how do we run against Republicans, and what the President is doing is the President is going after that elusive place in history and saying, Trent, Newt, the three of us together, we'll bring in a balanced budget for this country; aren't we something? We're kind of co-captains of American prosperity. And this really unnerves, unsettles, and ultimately undermines the Democrats' case as they run against Republicans for 1998. They think that is at the core of it, rather than 2000. Dick Gephardt's position on China goes back a lot further than Bill Clinton's does.
MARGARET WARNER: And he discounted the 2000 last night in an interview with him.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right. Here on this broadcast.
MARGARET WARNER: But is there an ideological fault line that's reemerging, or--
PAUL GIGOT: I think there really is. Mark's right about the motives. There is 1998, but there's also something bigger going on here. Bill Clinton--before Bill Clinton came to office and became the first Democratic president reelected since FDR, Democrats have lost five out of six elections. They had a congress, congressional bastion, which was increasingly unpopular.
Bill Clinton has come and really saved the Democratic Party in some fundamental respect from a unified Republican takeover. He has won the argument in many ways, and to redefine the Democratic Party, to try to strip the "tax and spend" label, to redefine the values issues, to turn gun control from a kind of liberal hobby horse into an anti-crime issue with the police back there, saying this is important, he's helped the Democrats enormously.
He's won the argument in the country. He hasn't won it in the party. A large part of the party wants to--likes the fact that Bill Clinton wins but doesn't like where he's taking them on substantive policy. And that's what you see not just in Dick Gephardt but Paul Wellstone is out there stumbling and trying to revive the great society notion.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator.
PAUL GIGOT: John Kerry voted against the budget agreement, the Massachusetts Senator. He's thinking of running. There is a fundamental split on government spending, on trade, increasingly on the environment. These issues have not been settled in the Democratic Party, and I think they're going to be fought out over the next four years.
MARGARET WARNER: The President was asked this this week on his trip, Mark. Who does he think really speaks for people in the country who call themselves Democrats? Is it themself or Dick Gephardt? What do you think the answer to that question is? Who's really closer to the soul of people who say, yeah, I'm a Democrat?
MARK SHIELDS: Sure. I think there are visions of the Democratic Party, just as there are the Republican Party. I wish Paul loved moderates in the Republican Party as apparently he loves them in the Democratic Party. When you--the action in both our parties is on the wings of the party. That's the people who go door to door. Those are the people who ring doorbells.
Those are the people who work the polls on election day. It's the conservatives, social cultural conservatives, less than economic conservatives on the Republican side, and on the Democratic side it's the passionate environmentalist. It's labor union people. It's women's groups. That's where the action is. And I just--I really think that what the President--I mean the President has done a superb job on neutralizing those issues. The Cold War--the end of the Cold War helped enormously--Communism--anti-Communism had been the Republicans' trump card; they lost that. But I think in the final analysis the President was benefitted from the Republicans' excesses on gun control. The Republicans became the NRA Party.
They became an annex of the NRA, especially on assault weapons. The police had no place to go, and the President was shrewd enough with a hundred thousand cops on the street and smart enough and wise enough to grab that issue. But I think in the final analysis the President is counting--he has lost under his leadership--the Democrats lost the House, lost the Senate, and lost nine of the ten big governorships. And that is a problem going into 1998. And so I think that is really the fight.
The problem is that you can win a presidency in the middle; you can't govern the nation from the middle because each party, the Republicans have become a more conservative party in the Congress; the Democrats have become a more liberal party. There are fewer Northeast moderate Republicans; there are fewer Southern Democrat conservatives. And the two parties--I think--have really gone farther apart, rather than in the middle.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. We have to leave it there. Sorry. Have a good weekend.