SHIELDS & GIGOT: CLINTON'S NEXT MOVES
NOVEMBER 8, 1996
Mark Shields and Paul Gigot reflect on the end of a momentous week in politics by considering the resignations from the President's cabinet and Clinton's outreach to a Congress still controlled by the GOP.
JIM LEHRER: Now some analysis of the changes at the White House and other matters by Shields & Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. First, Mark, what do you think of Erskine Bowles in for Leon Panetta?
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
Secretary of State Warren Christopher announces his resignation from the Clinton cabinet. Nov. 6:
Shields & Gigot summarize the messages that came out of the Presidential election.
Browse the Online NewsHour's complete Election Night coverage.
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Well, Jim, in a town renowned sadly, unfortunately, back-biting, and even occasional well poisoning. Erskine Bowles is one of those rare people who has worked and gets good reviews from all sorts of different people. He really is sort of remarkable in that sense and particularly conservatives, who are going to be important to Bill Clintonís second administration, give him high marks. So I think itís a good choice.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. What do you think, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: One of those conservatives happens to be Jesse Helms--uh--who--
JIM LEHRER: North Carolina.
MR. GIGOT: North Carolinian, but--
JIM LEHRER: Bowles is also from--
MR. GIGOT: Not somebody whoís always easy to please if you happen to be a Democrat in a Democratic administration. The best thing Iíve heard about him so far talking to people in the White House is that--is that Erskine Bowles wouldnít take the job unless he had the power to appoint some of his own deputies. And that suggests to me that he wants to be a strong chief of staff, that he was coming in as somebody whoís not merely going to be another cog in the wheel but really does want to have the authority that Leon Panetta had. And I think thatís very important for this President, who tends to have--well, had problems in the early years, early couple of years, with freelancing and different power centers, and has had much more discipline in the last two years with one--under Panetta--thatís right.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think thereís a special importance--the White House chief of staff has a special importance under Bill Clinton, Mark, than he might not have under other presidents?
MR. SHIELDS: I do, Jim. I think the President is a person of enormous curiosity. Everything is interesting to Bill Clinton. Take Ronald Reagan--I think Ronald Reagan came to the office -he needed--had different needs from Bill Clinton. He had things that he thought were important, uh, but he didnít have some of that far-ranging curiosity on policy matters, and I think what Leon Panetta has brought to this White House is a discipline, as well as the personal gifts of gravitas and good humor, and the ability to be a very effective spokesman on television and other places for the administration.
But I think Bill Clinton really clearly needs that because he is a guy, a man who--uh--has the spokes of the wheel all went to him in the early days, and his presidency reflected it.
JIM LEHRER: All right, now, there has been one cabinet change. Yesterday, Secretary of State Warren Christopher--Secretary Perry, Defense Secretary Perry said heís going--uh--Labor Secretary Reich has said that he--he is going--um, Secretary OíLeary, energy, is supposed to be going. Uh, Transportation Secretary Pena is going.
MR. GIGOT: Cisneros.
JIM LEHRER: Cisneros of--of HUD. What do you make of all this--routine?
MR. GIGOT: Whoís staying? (laughter)
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Fourteen of six, I think--six or seven names.
MR. GIGOT: Itís a big change. Most second-term presidents do want to have some kind of reshuffling, uh, but this is bigger certainly than Ronald Reaganís change. He had Cap Weinberger and George Shultz, for example, stay at Defense and State for almost the whole eight years. Um, this--and this is also something thatís being engineered from the White House. I mean, not all of these people want to go. They like their jobs, so the White House really does want to seem--does seem to want to set a new tone, a new direction. Itís interesting. They also--the word is that also--the President also would like the attorney general, uh, to change, but she kind of said this week I think Iíd like to stay in public--
JIM LEHRER: But nobodyís criticized what she said.
MR. GIGOT: And nobodyís criticized her, so she might have a harder time if he wants her to go. But I think it probably is good. You--you can shake things up and--
JIM LEHRER: Healthy thing--
MR. GIGOT: --new face--yes.
JIM LEHRER: A healthy thing, Mark?
MR. SHIELDS: I think itís healthy, Jim. I mean Democrats--letís be frank about it--havenít had much experience with second terms. I mean, I donít know what Woodrow Wilson did between 1960 and 1920--um--but--I think--I think it--fresh blood is good. I think itís important, Jim, that the very first move was the chief of staff at the White House. That reflects the learning curve of Bill Clinton because the first time out almost all the attention, effort, and energy was devoted to putting a cabinet together, and it was the White House staff where the problems were most obvious and most damaging really. I think, uh, heís got his priorities straight this time.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. Paul, what do you make of at the news conference--in fact, we ran the clip pf this particular part where he was asked about whether or not he was going to put a Republican in his cabinet, and he said, yeah, you know, stand by, Iím going to do that, and is that--he said--well, he said that it would be important to show the country that, you know, we have unified government, etcetera. Whatís your reading of that?
MR. GIGOT: Well, you know, heís already appointed a Republican. And heís appointed a Republican to the most important job in this administration, and he did it reluctantly, but Alan Greenspan, chairman of the Federal Reserve, who he appointed to a second term shortly before the end of--of Bill Clintonís third term for Greenspan.
JIM LEHRER: Thatís a point that people donít tend to remember.
MR. GIGOT: And thatís a very meaningful position because it has so much independent power. Um, I--it would have--if he appointed a Republican to another job in this--as he is now reappointing the--rearranging the chairs, it might have a symbolic signal, but I donít think it would mean that much unless this is a Republican for the right job, meaning that heís appointing somebody to send a policy message.
When John Kennedy appointed Douglas Dillon at Treasury, for example, Republican, that was because he wanted to send a message that, um, you can--to the financial markets--Iím not going to go off into a tax and spend direction. Um, if he just picks somebody who nobody really knows and puts him at CIA, or something, I donít know that it makes much difference. But if you would name somebody, say Tom Keane, the former governor of New Jersey, at education, and give him a mandate to go out and--and really pursue charter schools or some of these other reform ideas, that would make a big difference.
JIM LEHRER: Mark, Jesse Jackson said today, hey, wait a minute, it was the Democrats who elected this man, why is he worried about appointing a Republican to his cabinet, what do you think?
MR. SHIELDS: Well, I think Jesse Jackson has a point, Jim. Four years ago, there were very few Democrats with executive branch experience, except those like Jack Watson, who had served under Jimmy Carter almost a generation earlier. Now, after four years, there are Democrats who have those credentials and add to it, Jim, a certain political problem Bill Clinton has. He is not known as somebody who is fiercely loyal to those who have helped him get to where he is.
In fact, he has not demonstrated that sort of gratitude in the past, so there is a certain restlessness and restiveness among Democrats who have worked long and hard for him. They see what--appointment plums going to those who didnít work--or even actively opposed. I think Paul makes a good point about Tom Keane. I think the big tuna would be Colin Powell, thereís no question about it, but I think Nancy Kassebaum, the retiring Senator from Kansas, made a very good point when she said, the President perhaps instead of a figure head Republican appointment needs more than anything else to consult because letís be frank, the difference this time, Jim, is that this is a re-elected President with a Republican Senate and a Senate thatís going to be scrutinizing confirmation for some of these nominees.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. What do you make, Paul, at the end of this week now? Weíve had--the Presidentís news conference today--the various leaders--the Republican Congress have said some things--uh, what do you think? What have we got ahead of us?
MR. GIGOT: Well, I thought the most interesting thing at the press conference was the President talking about inviting the members--the leaders of the Congress over to the White House next week to try to put together the budget deal that they left behind last time. I can tell you the reaction among Republicans is, are we hearing correctly? You just savaged us on Medicare to win re-election, and now you want us to come in and do a deal and give you cover, political cover, to do the very same Medicare cuts that you attacked us for?
I think theyíre going to be a lot warier and going to say, Mr. President, youíre suddenly relevant, sir. You won. The price of victory is producing a budget. The law says you have to, and I think weíll take a rest and let you produce for a while. That is certainly what Iím hearing from Republicans. Maybe the President with his powers of persuasion can get them to do something else, but thatís the--thatís the dance that I think is going on now.
JIM LEHRER: What dance do you see, Mark?
MR. SHIELDS: Jim, I think the President holds the cards on this one. I--Iím sure Republicans will be reminded that some of those Medicare reductions were there to finance their proposed tax cuts. That was the purpose for them. I think that the--the Republicans will remember after taking a bath in 1982 on Social Security that going for that commission served them politically as well. I took the issue off the--off the table. I think there is some resistance.
There was demagoguery on the part of Democrats. They did exploit the issue--thereís no doubt about it--but the problem for Republicans is that still by a margin of two, three to one, the American voters think the Democrats are better on the issue--care more about it--are more committed to it--than are Republicans. Itís an issue on which Republicans find themselves on the defensive, and a president just re-elected as big as Bill Clinton was really has a little bit of a bully pulpit and a leverage over those Republicans.
I think the advantage of a commission politically is pretty apparent. The difference, Jim, is that everybodyís fingerprints are on the gun. Then nobody can point to one after the resolution and say, gee, this was a Republican or Democratic thing. That was the advantage in 1983 with Alan Greenspan, as the chairman of the Social Security Commission that saved it with Bob Doleís plan and Dan Rostenkowski, the former chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, a Democrat, playing the central role.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Well, weíll see which one of you all is right. Thank you both.