May 28, 1999
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot discuss the Speaker of the House and reaction to the Cox Report this week.
MARGARET WARNER: Mark Shields is a syndicated columnist. Paul Gigot is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal. So, Mark, what's your take on Dennis Hastert? I mean, is he just in an untenable position, or do you think someone else with different skills would be able to lead, what did he call it, a committee of 222?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, as I was listening to Kwame's piece, as he interviewed Speaker Hastert, I was reminded election night 1998, when it became apparent the Democrats, instead of losing seats, as expected, were going to pick up House seats. I talked to one of Dick Gephardt's top political lieutenants. There were still enough races where it appeared the Democrats might have a chance - a real fighting chance -- of taking over control of the House. And I said you guys could have 220 by the end of the night, at which point he said, God, I hope not. Thus meaning we'd be in the impossible position of trying to organize the house in the seventh year of a President as well as their own party, but still, it's just a razor-thin margin. Newt Gingrich, Tip O'Neill, Sam Rayburn, it is tough and especially with the independents, and especially there are real profound and honest differences within the Republican Caucus on real issues.
MARGARET WARNER: Why doesn't the need for political survival make the Republicans, Paul, stick together and say we've got to get through this?
PAUL GIGOT: Because they each define their political survival differently. Chris Shayes in New England says what does the New York Times think about my position on campaign finance reform? A lot of other people don't care about that. The conservatives elected in '94 say well, we want to have spending controlling. The appropriators, you know, there are three parties in Congress, Democrats, Republicans, and the appropriators. Both parties, they say this is the year of surpluses. We don't want to meet these budget caps, it's party time. We're drunken sailors again, we can spend, spend, spend. That creates these natural clashes. And it's very hard for anybody - it would be, as Mark says - for anybody to control it. And Denny Hastert -- I think it's fair to say is moving slowly to exercise his leadership. One canard, I think, that is around Washington, that I think is not true, is that somehow he's a mere mouth piece for Tom DeLay. I don't think that's true at all. I think he's his own man, and he has a measure of respect quite apart from DeLay within the Republican Conference, a measure of goodwill. What Hastert has been slow to do, I think, is to exercise his clout, and he's going to have to do that on more and more issues.
MARGARET WARNER: The way he did with Byrd.
PAUL GIGOT: Exactly.
|The most powerful Republican...|
| MARK SHIELDS: Chris Shayes, a moderate from Connecticut,
leading Republican sponsor of campaign finance legislation, the McCain-Feingold
counterpart in the House with Marty Meehan of Massachusetts, said this
morning that Tom Delay was the most powerful member of Congress. It just
is saying that --
MARGARET WARNER: You mean some Republicans are even saying it.
PAUL GIGOT: It doesn't make Denny Hastert his mouth piece.
MARK SHIELDS: No, but acknowledging his respect for Denny Hastert and stating it quite openly, that he dealt with him honorably, and all the rest of it, but that Tom DeLay is the most powerful, which is rare. That's unique. We have had a Whip who's eclipsed Speaker in that sense. This can't be forgotten, this is a man who -- Newt Gingrich left the Speakership because he couldn't get reelected to Speaker. I mean, he had six or seven Republicans that weren't going to vote for him, for re-election, which meant Dick Gephardt could be the Speaker. Bob Livingston, the chairman of the appropriators, but a powerful inside player in the House, was going to be next, and except he had problems of a personal nature, which were exposed - and took a run away from him. So he's in an awful position. The person who caused him the most trouble this week, out of conviction, is Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Tom Coburn is a doctor from Oklahoma, a true conservative, a true believer, and he's upset with what he sees, this run away action of Congress, that they're not being consistent with the conservative philosophy that he believes the Republican Party stood for. And, Margaret, what are you going to do to Tom Coburn? Tom Coburn took the term limits pledge when he got elected and he's leaving. What are you going to do? Are you going to threaten him? Are you going to tell him he's not going to have a good office next time? He's not going to be here next time. So it's a really impossible position.
PAUL GIGOT: I want to talk about the Shayes example, because I think that does illustrate part of the problem. Hastert sat down with Shayes and said you can have a vote on campaign finance in September. And Shayes, you would think it's only three months away, it's a vote that he's going to get everybody on record, and Shayes said no. He said no, I want it before. Now, what can you do? Basically Shayes is saying I don't trust you, Speaker Hastert, to give me that vote, or I don't trust you somehow not to work this against my interest. That's the kind of problem he has. I guess you only build that trust over time. But when you have Congressmen like that, who have relatively safe seats, running off in that direction, it's very hard to exert leadership.
MARGARET WARNER: Mark, let's just shift to the Cox Commission.
MARK SHIELDS: One correction. Chris Shayes on campaign finance reform is deeply concerned about one thing, and so is everybody else who's for campaign finance reform. It goes to September, Margaret, then they're in appropriation bills, and it dies in the Senate. That is Mitch McConnell's plan, it is the plan of Tom DeLay, it's the plan of Trent Lott. Okay. They want to kill campaign finance. His point is that the only way the Senate is going to deal with it is if they get it early enough. And that was the reason - that's why 26 Republicans --
|The Cox Report.|
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. Shift to the Cox Commission report. Chinese spying, because that was the big thing that the Republicans were waiting for this week. What do you make of the way the Hill responded to this? What are Republicans on the Hill going to do with this?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think they're going to have some continuing oversight. They're going to pass the recommendations, which will probably pass on a bipartisan basis to improve the export controls. They're going to have some continuing investigation, I think, of the way this was -- the espionage charges, the espionage news was pursued by the administration. For example, Janet Reno was up defending her Department's failure to issue a wiretap on one of the alleged spies once they had word of it. I think news of it. That's the way they're going to go. I think the bigger meaning of this, though, is not in Congress so much, it's in the presidential campaign, and it's going to be - I think the Cox Report really blew a whole through the strategic partnership policy of the Clinton administration, and you're going to see the Republican candidates make China and US relations with China, and the security issue with China, a centerpiece of their foreign policy attack on the Clinton-Gore administration.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you see it that way in terms of the political fallout?
MARK SHIELDS: I think there's more immediate political fallout. I think you can say so long to the World Trade Organization, I don't think anybody is going to vote for that right now, and I think fast track is trade authority is very much on the back of all back burners.
MARGARET WARNER: But what about in terms of China's most favored status?
MARK SHIELDS: That will go through. It will just be a year. I mean, it won't get the permanent extension, because nobody wants to vote for China route now. Paul's right, it's moved to a political issue in this sense, but it's a problem for the Republicans. It's a problem for the Republicans because two things: In the report itself there was no connection made on the campaign money that was given by the Chinese to the Democrats in 1996, they couldn't establish this connection in the Cox Report, that disappoint a lot of Republicans. And a lot of Republicans were disappointed that there wasn't more raw meat in there. And Chris Cox did some grumbling on this, the chairman for that matter. The problem is this: As it moves into a public political issue, the basic money in China doesn't come from China, it comes from multinational corporations who want total engagement, who want total trade, who want total openness to the Chinese markets and all of that, and want basically an administration that is uncritical of China and what China is doing to its own people or it might not be doing in the trade business. So that is -- that's where it's going to be, the tension point is going to be between the backers, benefactors, contributors to the Republican Party, and to the Democrats, make no mistake about it. They were lined up on Democratic Commerce Secretary's planes to go over there as well - rather than the voters -- the Republican voters, Paul is absolutely right, they're angry and they're upset.
PAUL GIGOT: My turn to issue a correction. I think Chris Cox, the reason he didn't get to the campaign finance link, was that was the concession he had to make to the Democrats to make it bipartisan. He said we're going to focus on the security aspects. That doesn't mean that the Republicans elsewhere aren't going to be making those connections or trying to make those connections, and drawing inferences. The other thing on the business community -- Bill Clinton has had a benefit in this China policy for I think six years, because he's been able to separate the business community from the security issue and the security hawks in the Republican Party. What I think the Cox Report does and the failure of the president -- when the President walked away from the world trade agreement a month ago, this shows a lot of the business people that if you're not credible on security, you can't sell a trade agreement. I think that's going to reunite a lot of the criticism the business community with some of the security people and give even George Bush and some of the moderates on China, if you will, a chance to make a case against the administration.
|Administration job sercurity.|
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think anyone, Mark, in the administration is going to lose their job over this? I mean, there have been a lot of members of Congress calling for Attorney General Reno to resign or to be fired, to have Sandy Berger resign or fired, he said on the show last night to Jim he didn't plan to do that. (phone ringing) Is that you?
MARK SHIELDS: I think it's Sandy Berger right now. He's staying, and that's Janet Reno on the other line. I don't think right now -- that's certainly been a pattern or a tradition in this administration of people leaving either over principle or under a cloud. But I think one of the surprises, Margaret, has been that there hasn't been a greater fallout on this China -- on the Cox Report. There really hasn't been that sense of fire and outrage and uproar. It really is -- it is surprising when it comes back.
MARGARET WARNER: It's a serious report.
MARK SHIELDS: It's a serious report, and one Democrat said to me this week, he said we've had an awful week. He said the President's poll numbers are down, Kosovo is not going well, I mean, you name it, things aren't -- the China Report comes out and what's the bad story going into the holiday weekend and the recess of all next week, the Republicans are in disarray, they couldn't pass an appropriations bill for legislative appropriations, they had to adjourn the House early and the Speaker is giving interviews saying I'm in charge, and Tom DeLay isn't. So, I mean, in a strange way, the story is -- it wasn't a bigger story.
PAUL GIGOT: Inside baseball mostly on appropriations. But the reason there's not a bigger story, and people in the administration -- is the incredible, astonishing discipline of the Democrats. If only Republicans are calling for people to resign, it's not going to happen. When Bob Torricelli said on one of the Sunday shows that he thought Janet Reno should think about resigning, he went back to the Democratic Caucus on Tuesday and I'm told he had a very rough time of it. They said you can't do that, you can't open this up to Republicans attack, that just validates the Republican themes. He said wait a minute, sometimes you have to tell the truth. And-
MARK SHIELDS: Torricelli said that?
PAUL GIGOT: Yes. If you haven't done your job, then that's - you know - then we have to speak up. So, I mean, it's the Democrats who are sticking by the administration in this one, as they have on so many others.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. We have to leave it there. Have a great weekend.
MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.