SHIELDS & GIGOT:
The NewsHour's regular pundits, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and Wall Street Journal reporter Paul Gigot talk about the return of Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and Dick Gephardt (D-MO) as their party's leaders in the House of Representatives, congressional ethics and campaign finance reform. .
MARGARET WARNER: And we get some end-of-the-week political analysis from syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Welcome back, both of you. Let's start with what happening at the beginning of this week, which was that congressional Democrats and Republicans elected their new leaders. And Paul, the Democrats, of course, re- elected Dick Gephardt as their Minority Leader and David Bonior as their Whip, two men from the liberal wing of the party. Do you think this tells us something about what's going to be the direction of this minority, this Democratic minority in Congress?
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
November 20, 1996:
Speaker Newt Gingrich discusses his agenda for the 105th Congress and the ethics charges against him.
November 18, 1996:
Minority Leader Richard Gephardt outlines the Democrats' plans for the upcoming Congress.
Browse the Online NewsHour's congressional converage.
Browse past Shields & Gigot sessions.
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: I do, Margaret. I think it's in a way truth in advertising. The leadership reflects, by and large, who the members are of the House Minority. These are members who when they lost the Congress in 1994 lost an awful lot of the marginal close seats, some of the southern seats, some of the swing suburban districts, and now the majority is urban seats, Northeast, California urban districts. They're liberals.
And, in fact, there was a study this week by Mark Penn, who is the--did a poll after the election. He's Bill Clinton's pollster, who said in his findings that President Clinton won the election in large part because he reminded voters and persuaded voters that he was the new Democrat again that he campaigned for in 1992, and one reason the House Democrats lost this time, didn't regain control, despite a pretty good top of the ticket, was because they didn't persuade the voters that they had learned enough. And so I think you're going to see some tension there between the President and his own party in Congress.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree, Mark, this is a pretty liberal bunch and it's going to have a pretty liberal bent?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I don't know if it's a liberal bunch, Margaret. I think that generally, leaders get re-elected on Capitol Hill. I mean, Dick Gephardt is an absolutely tireless leader anybody on either side will tell you. He will sit down, sit with anybody, listen to anybody, based upon Dave Bonior is indefatigable, and I think in the final analysis that's really-- there was no reason to evict them or to change them. There was no insurrection.
There was nobody taking the same shots that they were taking at the Republican leadership in the press, and I thought the appointments that came out of the caucus, which were the business of the Democrats this week, the appointments to the Ways & Means Committee, which is the most coveted position on Capitol Hill obviously not simply because it writes taxes but because it's a wonderful fund-raising position, uh, went to John Tanner, a moderate conservative from Tennessee, Karen Thurman, a moderate from Florida, to Appropriations, went to Ted Edwards, a moderate conservative from Texas, and, you know, I just thought in that sense and John Spratt of South Carolina, who was by anybody's judgment a Democrat, House Democrat, was chosen as the ranking Democrat, minority member on the House Budget Committee.
Those were plums, awards, leadership positions given to people who certainly aren't more than liberal California, liberal types.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, Mark, as you commented also, of course, the Republicans re- elected their own leadership.
MARK SHIELDS: They sure did.
MARGARET WARNER: Newt Gingrich. But all the commentary, in fact, Gingrich, himself, here on the show with Jim Lehrer on Wednesday essentially was saying he was going to be a different kind of speaker. Do you think that's true, and, if so, in what way?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, he is going to be a different kind of speaker. The times are different. Two years ago, the Republican majority arrived on Capitol Hill for the first time in 40 years burning with a sense of self-confidence, self-congratulatory invincibility. They were sure that the American voters--with laser-like insight--had sent them with a mandate to enact the agenda, the contract, the revolution. They were chastened. The speaker, himself, was chastened.
He felt--and understandably so--that many in his own ranks had lost confidence when his showdown with President Clinton--that President Clinton had bested him when the shutdown of the government over the budget last year--he had become in many districts of the country, the speaker had, a political liability for his own party. The third district of Massachusetts, Republican Peter Blute was defeated for re-election by an opponent, Jim McGovern, a Democrat, who ran "If you wouldn't vote for Newt, why vote for Blute," so it was more chastened--I think there's no question, and the speaker did save the majority--give him credit for that--by a period of a combination with the Democratic White House in the last four months of the Congress that took away the charge that the Republican Congress had been extremist and non-productive.
MARGARET WARNER: Paul, what is your assessment of where Newt Gingrich's leadership is heading and particularly how much authority or power he's going to exercise, even within his own party?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, he's still speaker, and that's a powerful position, but I think what you're going to see is that this year he's a more traditional modern speaker. I think two years ago he came in with a group of freshmen who thought that they owed their election in large part to Newt Gingrich. He was the military general who had brought them to power, and he had extraordinary authority. I think maybe no speaker in this century has had as much power.
Now, a lot of members this year came to--one, a lot of freshmen and sophomores will say that they won despite the ad campaigns run against Gingrich. So he's diminished in power, but he's still very powerful. I think the ultimate test for him probably to get over here--if he does that, he's going to be much better shape--is the ethics inquiry, which is ongoing and may be settled even before Congress convenes in January.
MARGARET WARNER: Give us a quick update. What is the status of that, and what is this controversy about the membership of the Ethics Committee, briefly, and just explain that for us.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, it's now--the inquiry is going ahead with a special counsel, who's working with a subcommittee, four-member subcommittee of the ten-member Ethics Committee. The other six members don't know much more than we do, frankly, about what's going on there. They will have--those four members will have the first judgment on what, if any, rules were violated, what sanctions ought to be, and then the other six members serve as a kind of jury and decide if it should go to the House or what happens after that.
That's sort of where it stands now. I don't think the appointment of the Ethics Committee matters much at all at this point. Dick Armey, who was floating this idea, the majority leader of the House Republicans, he wasn't removing the four people who are now working--
MARGARET WARNER: Floating the idea of replacing some of these members.
PAUL GIGOT: That's right. You have to understand, Margaret, he was talking about the other six. And you're talking about House rules which say you should only serve six years, and most of the people in that other six have already served their tenure. You have to understand that serving on a House committee, the House Ethics Committee, is like a term in Siberia. I mean, you get nothing for it, except grief. Nobody likes it. They want to get off as fast as they can, so I don't think that there's really all that much to this flap at all.
MARGARET WARNER: What's your sense, Mark, of this?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think there's a little bit more flap, but you have to admire--in view of the White House dropping these unsubtle hints that they want Janet Reno out--leaking to the press--as attorney general, they'd like to replace her, but never directly confronted her--you have to admire, Margaret, the brazenness of Dick Armey, the House Majority Leader. I mean, he's got the nerve of a second story man. He just walks right in and says I want six people out of there. Paul says--Paul makes the point that the six don't know that much more than we do. They were the ones for 15 months who sat there and listened to 50 witnesses and hundreds of hours of testimony and then finally concluded that a special counsel should be appointed.
So they do--they have been more privileged observers and heard a lot more than certainly most of us. But I think--I think it is--there's no question that Paul's right, the assignment is not a happy assignment, but this is sort of a loophole or an oftentimes overlooked three-term limitation. Jim Hanson, Utah Republican, served six terms up to 1994 on the Ethics Committee, so it's not--you know-- honored in the breach.
MARGARET WARNER: And just to explain, the Democrats think that if you replace a lot of these members, then they have to start at square one and--
MARK SHIELDS: Exactly.
MARGARET WARNER: Paul, because we don't have a lot of time left, let's turn to campaign finance reform, because that's the other thing that happened this week on the Hill, a hundred-- many, many of the House Democrats wrote a letter to Gingrich saying, let's pass campaign finance reform in the first 100 days. Now you wrote a column last week saying very long shot. Why?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, because both sides have very different agendas here. I mean, the Democrats sent that letter because they want to get the monkey of the last campaign off their back. I mean, if they can change the subject from what happened in the last campaign and what rules were violated in raising funds from John Huang or what--everybody else they raised money from--to, oh, let's pass more rules, that's a better--that's a debate they want to have.
The Republicans, you know, want to put the focus back on the fund-raising rules that might have been broken this time and on big labor, which spent an awful lot of money on going after the Republicans. So I just think that there are two very different agendas, and this--I think campaign finance reform is a task. You're rolling the stone up the hill, and it always rolls back down, because it's very hard to do, and the particular reform that the President is behind--McCain and Feingold--I don't think has a chance--remote chance of passing this Congress.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree?
MARK SHIELDS: No, I don't agree, but let me just say, I'm struck by the fact that the emphasis on Asian money, the pernicious influence that's purchased from six-figure contributions from Asia, whereas the same six-figure contributions from Dallas or New York or Los Angeles don't have the same influence on politicians. I think, Margaret, the only way we're going to do it, Sen. Fred Thompson, Republican from Tennessee, who was a strong supporter of campaign finance reform in the last Congress, supporter of the McCain-Feingold bill, said the only way to have it is a crisis.
It would really take a major scandal. I think we have a major scandal; I don't think there's any question about it. I think Paul's right. There's enough on the Democrats. There's going to be enough on the Republicans. And I think people are going to have right up to their eyebrows--the only way we passed the civil rights law in this country was when the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham was blown up and four little girls were killed. I mean, we move by crisis, and I think there's a crisis and a scandal here brewing that is going to provoke action by the Congress.
MARGARET WARNER: So, Paul, what did you make of the President's comments in Australia this week about this whole fund-raising controversy?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, you mean the Richard Jewell comparison, where he compared himself to Richard Jewell, the accused and now absolved, exonerated man from Atlanta accused in the Olympic bombing? I mean, we all have our moments of self-pity, and you can say that that's--this was one of them and ignore it. I think, though, that if you combine it with the rest of the response we've seen from the administration on a variety of other things, including this, so far after the election, it's worrisome, and it's worrisome because it looks like the White House might be repeating the mistakes it made the first term.
David Gergen--Mark's former partner here--gave some very good advice in the first term, and now he's given some very good advice after the election, which is, get everything you know out on the table right now, clean house, invite whoever you have to have in, get it all out, take whatever political hit you've got--are going to take--and then move on, because you only have a short window here of a few months in your second term to make a big difference.
Otherwise, you have dwindling capital. And I'm afraid that if they hunker down and go back to what they did on Whitewater in the first term, it's going to hurt them, and it's not going to hurt them just because the Republicans are doing it but because the press is going to go after them. The "New York Times," the "Washington Post," both of whom endorsed Bill Clinton for a second term, wrote scorching editorials this week about the White House lack of candor.
MARGARET WARNER: And I'm afraid our short window has closed. So we'll have to leave it there. Thank you both. Sorry, Mark