SHIELDS & GIGOT
NOVEMBER 15, 1996
The NewsHour's two political pundits, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot, discuss the decision to keep U.S. troops in Bosnia, Clinton's slow motion cabinet building and the consequences of Clinton's flirtation with the right.
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MARGARET WARNER: And that analysis comes from our team of Shields & Gigot, that's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Welcome back. Mark, after listening to this, do you think the President's likely to encounter any significant political opposition to going into either of these missions, Bosnia or Zaire?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Limited support and limited opposition right now, I think, Margaret. What's interesting to me is we've just gone through the second post Cold War presidential election without any serious discussion, let alone serious debate, of America's role in the world. What it is, what we ought to do, what our national interest is, what our global responsibilities and rights are--I mean, it was submerged. The only discussion of foreign policy is trade. I mean, China mean to their children, you know, do they play by the rules internationally, and that's it, and so the election's over, and now all of a sudden, well, what should we be doing?
MARGARET WARNER: So, Paul, why wouldn't the Republicans use this as an opportunity to have a major debate about the role, at least of the use of the military in the, you know, next four, five years.
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Well, I think they might. I wouldn't be at all surprised. I think the President's foreign policy for the last 18 months or so has been a single word--defer--put it off until after the election, so you've had an accumulation of--of things that are now going to be coming out, one of which is the Bosnian troop deployment. And I think the President's headed for trouble in Bosnia--may very well be headed for trouble in Bosnia--because he's changed his story. He said when he asked for the deployment and got the support of Bob Dole, that it would be a year. Republicans, including Bob Dole, said we doubt it. Now it turns out it isn't. And I think that the Republicans are going to exact a political price for that, and it means, I think, they're not going to cut off troop--funding for the troops or something like that because they're already there, but what it means, I think, is that the President from now on is flying solo on this politically. He has no reservoir of support, so that if there is trouble, it's going to go down to his detriment politically, and that's a dangerous place for a President to be.
MARGARET WARNER: You mean, as opposed to last year, the first deployment, where he really did have political cover from both sides of the aisle?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, in particular, Bob Dole, who chose risks and came out and said I'll back this. Now I think it's--this President--there's no parachute here.
MARK SHIELDS: I think--I don't argue with that--I think, Margaret, that the President's strong suit has never been foreign policy. He was not elected as a foreign policy President by any means. I think it's probably his strongest suit--we heard tonight--and that's Bill Perry--Secretary of Defense--he's going to lose him. Uh, I think he's a figure of enormous credibility and respect in this city on both sides of the aisle, on both sides of Congress.
PAUL GIGOT: I agree with that.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, in fact, as he's going into these two missions, or one old, one new mission, he--he's supposed to be putting together a new foreign policy team. He's seen Paul this week--hitches seem to have developed in putting that together as quickly as he led everyone to expect. What's happening there? What's really going on?
PAUL GIGOT: It's hard to know. He seems to have had second thoughts. We had a week ago--thought it would be George Mitchell--a former--
MARGARET WARNER: You're talking about Secretary of State--
PAUL GIGOT: Secretary of State would be George Mitchell now that seems to be in some doubt. Uh--what's striking to me is--is how little real thought the President seems to have given to what his second team lineup would be. The election was not really in jeopardy for very long, and he said--after his press conference last week, he's already read a book on second terms. Yet, the essence of that second term are the people you appoint, particularly in a foreign policy team, and that he hasn't seem to have thought out who he wants, how he wants the people arranged. I don't think that's a good sign for the President as he--as he sets his agenda for the second term.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, Mark, today, when he was asked this very question, he said, well, I've been told by Perry and Christopher that team work is the key and I'm just trying to make sure it works as a team. Is that what you're hearing?
MARK SHIELDS: That is what I'm hearing, and that is, I think, the President now may be aware of that he's had essentially in foreign policy with Christopher and Perry a friction-free--there haven't been the quirks. There haven't been the tantrums; there haven't been the personality disorders and conflicts. If they have been, they've been resolved in rather a grownup fashion. Uh, he's talking about putting together a new team, uh, which--with some quirky types. I mean, Dick Holbrooke has been mentioned, the negotiator of the Dayton Accords, and--
MARGARET WARNER: As secretary of state.
MARK SHIELDS: As secretary of state, a notorious turf-fighter, an internal elbows and knees guy, very sensitive to any, any treatment that was not him at the head of the table, and so you're not going to have a team player with him, if, in fact--now, it could be an acknowledgment the President then because of Dick Holbrooke's own work in the Bosnian peace accords wants to be--foreign policy to be his legacy, but the irony is that George Mitchell, the Democrat Senate Majority Leader who gave up a chance to serve on the Supreme Court--his lifetime ambition--to try and pass the President's ill-fated health care reform package as his last act in the United States Senate now finds himself sort of in competition in his home state with Bill Cohen, the retiring Republican Senator, who is being mentioned for Secretary of Defense, so his--his--Bill Clinton, a man not known or widely regarded for his sense of loyalty to those who have worked for him, if, in fact, he chooses Cohen and just jettisons George Mitchell, I don't know what that sends.
MARGARET WARNER: Now on the domestic side too, a lot of resignations, no new appointments. What's happening there?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, they're cleaning--cleaning the decks out. I mean, the President seems to want a new team. A lot of the cabinet are being pushed, not--uh--not leaping on their own. I think the big event this week was the President's--the reporting about how the President did not inform Harold Ickes, the deputy chief of staff, and a longtime Clinton loyalist, and he's not going to get the chief of staff job. He was--he was--he read about it in the papers--that's right--and that was widely commented upon. Um, I, uh--I think, in part, probably the President wants to--anybody associated with Whitewater or any potential ethical problems, he wants to distance himself from him, and Ickes is somebody who could get wrapped up in that.
MARGARET WARNER: In part because from the White House he was supposed to be handling the response to the Whitewater.
PAUL GIGOT: That's right.
MARGARET WARNER: At a certain stage.
MARK SHIELDS: There was never a suggestion that he was involved.
PAUL GIGOT: No, no, no. This is a damage control side of it.
MARGARET WARNER: Yeah.
PAUL GIGOT: And then the President's embrace and rejection of the balanced budget. I tend to think that this is--campaigns have consequences. And when you run to the center and when you embrace a balanced budget and when you then have to deal with a Republican Congress, one of the consequences is that people like Harold Ickes, who are masters of the Democratic coalition, who are really union people, they're not going to help you in putting together those kinds of coalitions. And that's one of the consequences of the way the President campaigned. You get a lot of people on the left of the Democratic Party who are upset about that, but that's what happens, and the liberals conspire with their silence during the campaign on some of these things, they're going to pay a price for that now.
MARGARET WARNER: And now they are very upset--I mean, I read today that women's groups are upset that Madeleine Albright, the UN Ambassador, seems to being passed over for a big job, and African-American leaders are complaining--I mean, can President Clinton--should he withstand pressure from those groups? Should he--
MARK SHIELDS: He did the cabinet that looks like America in the first term. I mean, that was--you know, it had a nice demographic surface look to it, and I mean, they all came from the elite schools. They all came from very privileged backgrounds, with rare exceptions, and, whether it was Middlebury or whether it was Yale, you know, there weren't many people coming out of Oklahoma A&M, not that there were in the Reagan cabinet either, come to think of it. But I think--I think the President--Paul touched on something very sensitive here on Harold Ickes. Harold Ickes, for those who don't know him, and most people don't obviously, he's intense, he's passionate; he's abrasive; he's contentious; he's profane, he can be obscene in speech. He's terribly difficult to get along with. He is fiercely loyal. He has been fiercely loyal. He was Bill Clinton--he was as key to Bill Clinton not being challenged for renomination in 1996 as anybody, Margaret, and when a message like that gets around that a man who's given total loyalty to him, irrespective of ideology--that the loyalty only goes up and doesn't come down. That just sends the dispiriting message throughout the entire White House, throughout the entire administration, and I mean--he turned--the President's actions, indifference, turned Harold Ickes into a sympathetic figure, almost a figure of, of enormous respect. People who didn't like Harold, didn't get along with him, really felt that the treatment of him was quite shabby.
PAUL GIGOT: This is not a new revelation. I mean, if you were from Arkansas in the first term, uh, you didn't exactly have a good experience, and, uh, the President, you know, would happily distance himself from them.
MARGARET WARNER: Isn't it difficult, though, to put together a whole new team in this kind of full glare of public attention?
MARK SHIELDS: Absolutely. It really is. I mean, see, I think in the absence of defined policy, personnel becomes policy, so all the fights are not about policy, they're about personnel, and we had a--we just had a campaign, I mean, Bob Dole ran a substance-free campaign. Bill Clinton ran a substance-free campaign, so there was very little resolve in the sense that it was, well, this is what the next administration is going to be about, now let's put the people in place to do it, and I think that's--so now what they're fighting about is who's going to get the job, because that will define the policy.
PAUL GIGOT: It's interesting. Here's a President who can be so disciplined as a campaigner; he never breaks off message; he always is delivering it, where, you know, Bob Dole is rambling around and doing asides. And he can be so chaotic in governing. And what you see in the papers now is a jump off for every position--the leaks--the counter-leaks, the elbows. Everybody's trying to subvert somebody else. It's unseemly.
MARGARET WARNER: And, Mark, I didn't--what was your view on--Paul mentioned it--the flip-flop on the balanced budget amendment?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, what it does, it just sends an awful message, Margaret. It's an acknowledgment, if you want to change it, you say you want to change it, to limit it, to modify it, you're tossing in your hat before the vote is even taken. There were some Democrats who voted for it in 1994, in 1996, who in that session of Congress would--were re-elected, might have taken a different look at it, having been re-elected. I mean, the President just conceded--he was given some sense of courage for having opposed it originally--uh--and all of a sudden, uh, to just kind of roll over, uh, and to abandon not only his position but those who are on his side, without informing anybody, again, is not--is not the kind of message that encourages people to stand with you.
MARGARET WARNER: We have to leave it there.
MARK SHIELDS: Okay.
MARGARET WARNER: I'm sorry. Gentlemen, see you next week.
PAUL GIGOT: Thanks, Margaret.