SHIELDS & GIGOT
November 14, 1997
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot discuss President Clinton's failure to secure "fast track", his fight to nominate Bill Lann Lee and his handling of the situation with Iraq.
PHIL PONCE: It comes from Shields & Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Welcome both of you. We just heard some Democrats talking about the status of their President. Paul, politically, how much did the yanking of fast track hurt the President's prestige.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
November 13, 1997
Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz defends his country's actions.
November 13, 1997
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) debate the staled nomination of Bill Lann Lee.
November 12, 1997
UN Ambassador Bill Richardson discusses the Security Council's vote to impose stricter sanctions on Iraq.
November 11, 1997
Four foreign policy experts debate how best to deal with Saddam Hussein.
November 10, 1997
U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky discusses the fast track derailment.
November 10, 1997
House Minority Whip David Bonior discusses the fast track derailment.
November 10, 1997
Defense Sec. Cohen discusses the situation with Iraq.
November 7, 1997
The chief UN arms inspector discusses Saddam's latest moves.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the Middle East.
The United Nations
International Atomic Energy Agency
The "fast track" issue.
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Well, I think it did hurt him substantially, Phil. Today the President met with the President of Mexico, President Zedillo, and he met without an ambassador because the Republicans had killed that nomination, and he met without a trade policy because the Democrats had made a shambles of that. That hurts his prestige when he's in the room with another chief of state. And I think what this vote suggested, this revolt among Democrats, was that the President has changed his party about as much as he's going to and a lot less than you would expect for a President who is really the most successful Democrat at the presidential level since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
He's changed it on welfare successfully. He's changed it on crime. He's moving to the center on a variety of issues. But I think he's changed it much less on economics. On trade and despite the support for the balanced budget, there's still a bedrock opposition of tax cuts in the Democratic Party, and there's still an inclination among a lot of Democrats, not the President, who spent an awful lot more on government. So I think whatever impact he's had among Democrats is probably done.
PHIL PONCE: Mark Shields, do you think he has achieved the status of lame duck at this point, as people were discussing earlier?
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: No, I don't think so at all. I think an awful lot of people have more than egg on their face from having prematurely written Bill Clinton's political obituaries. On this very broadcast on March 10, 1992, somebody named Shields said that Bill Clinton was carrying more baggage than the United Van Lines after the Gennifer Flowers and draft stories--the New Hampshire primary. He went on to win the presidency, topple George Bush. 1994 he was written off again after the Republicans swept the Congress, and he came back to win even bigger in 1996, tax increase, such esteemed precincts as the Wall Street Journal editorial page said it was--he was signing his political death warrant at that point. He came back to preside over the most bountiful economy this country has produced in more than a generation. I think there's a lot less there than meets the eye.
I think on the fast track--I think John Sweeney, of the AFL-CIO, are getting credit for a lot of work that is more deserved by Dick Morris. This is the final revenge on triangulation. In triangulation in 1995, after the President lost control of the Congress and Democrats lost control of the Congress, the President was commended by a number of conservative commentators for establishing a moral parity between the two parties, equidistant.
PHIL PONCE: He put himself between the Democrats and Republicans.
MARK SHIELDS: I'm not the Democrats on the Hill; I'm not the Republicans on the Hill. I'm equidistant between them. They're brain dead, are the Democrats and the Republicans are dreaded and so forth, and so when crunch time came, I mean, these were people who between 1993 and 1994, let it be noted, gave Bill Clinton, House Democrats gave Bill Clinton more support than House Democrats had given Lyndon Johnson than the Great Society.
PHIL PONCE: Let's talk about how the respective parties did in this closing session. Paul Gigot, did one party make out better politically than the other?
PAUL GIGOT: I think Congress gave the country what it seemed to want from it, which wasn't very much. I mean, the last time you had a--the last election you had the Republicans on Capitol Hill re-elected with a narrow majority. You had the President re-elected but with less than 50 percent. And I think that that probably is what you get out of it--is a comprising, cautious, incremental Congress. That's what we've got. Ideologically, I'd say it was probably a draw. I mean, the Republicans got a tax cut; they got the President's signature on a budget, which they wanted.
On the other hand, they had to give up any pretense that they were really cutting the government or changing the nature of government, or reforming the government. I mean, one of the programs they targeted, the National Endowment for the Arts, they cut by a billion dollars to $98 billion. As one wag on the Hill said, we're now in a 98-year glide past phasing out the National Endowment for the Arts. So ideologically the Republicans didn't get everything that they wanted. Politically, though, they seemed to help themselves. Their approval rating went up 10 points. The public seems to like this situation where neither side is trying to do very much in Washington.
The nomination of Bill Lann Lee.
PHIL PONCE: Politically, did the Republicans help themselves with the Bill Lann Lee matter in which the President--in which the President basically had the nomination yanked, rather than have it go down?
MARK SHIELDS: I don't think they did. I don't think the Republicans did help themselves in that. I do agree with Paul that campaigns matter, elections matter. We had three elections in the 1990's--'90, ‘92, and ‘94--all of which were big change elections, where the voters were saying we want change. The Perot election in ‘92, the Republican takeover in ‘94. ‘96 was a status quo election.
PHIL PONCE: How about 1998? What might the impact of the Bill Lann Lee nomination have on the 1998 election? Is this going to hurt Republicans? Will this come back and haunt them?
MARK SHIELDS: Could I just finish that? I do think the ‘96 election was a status quo election, and we saw that when the budget was the central--centerpiece of this election. I don't think that Bill Lann Lee is going to be decisive in 1998. I think that, quite frankly, the Republicans picked on somebody who is a model of the American dream, I mean, the son of a laundry operator, a Phi Beta Kappa, himself. This is a man who's not a beneficiary by any means of any affirmative action. He's not a product--
PHIL PONCE: Democrats said he was perfect for the role of the attorney general for civil rights.
MARK SHIELDS: Enormously qualified individual.
PAUL GIGOT: But the President picked an individual who said that the law of the land, Proposition 209, is unconstitutional, and in a job as assistant secretary for civil rights he is responsible for enforcing that law. That's the Republican justification for not approving him. He's supposed to enforce the law. He said this part of it he'd have to enforce is unconstitutional. Politically, it seems to me that Bill Lann Lee's fate is not going to play itself a big role in the election. What it might herald, though, is a big debate over affirmative action, racial preferences, and that could be a very big issue next year because this vote shows in the Senate, broken down by parties, polarized by parties, that there's a huge gulf, there's a huge gulf on civil rights in this country, and the big dividing line right now is this issue of how much should government be able to apportion jobs and set-asides and contracts by race.
PHIL PONCE: So in a sense, the parties are playing to the respective constituencies.
MARK SHIELDS: Playing to the respective constituencies you could say, but there's a question whether, in fact, you talk about affirmative action, you talk about racial preferences. Americans are opposed to racial preferences. Americans endorse affirmative action. Americans don't think that colleges are better places because all people of a certain race are there and that people have been systematically excluded in the past. They think there is a strength in diversity and quite frankly, most Americans endorse affirmative action. It isn't a very, very debatable, controversial issue in this country, but I mean, as Janet Reno said, nominees by a President are not expected to renounce and repudiate the positions and views of the President who nominates them.
The situation in Iraq.
PHIL PONCE: Let's move on to Iraq in the time we have left. Paul Gigot, how is the administration handling the Iraq crisis?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, considering that the crisis itself is a failure in a way of five years of the policy, the breakdown of the coalition, and its support for the sanctions of Saddam Hussein, it hasn't done very well. It starts with a very difficult situation in trying to achieve that policy. As far as this crisis goes, I think the President actually is handling it pretty well. He's trying to gather up the coalition together, reinforce that. Domestically at home he has--he has, I think, a lot of leeway, a lot of running room. If any pressure--if he's getting any pressure at all from Capitol Hill and from the Republicans or Democrats, it's to do more. It's not to say wait a minute, we can't do anything about Saddam Hussein; it's to move ahead and make sure that he--Saddam Hussein does not get away with being able to build weapons of mass destruction. So I think the President right now is in a fairly strong position at home if he wants to do anything about Saddam Hussein.
PHIL PONCE: Mark, does the President have the same amount of political credibility that George Bush had in terms of mounting--potentially mounting a military campaign?
MARK SHIELDS: No. I mean, the President doesn't personally, any more than does Speaker Gingrich or Senate Majority Leader Lott. I mean, I think anybody who has probably spent a good part of his adolescence and young manhood avoiding putting himself in harm's way probably has less standing to advocate putting others in harm's way. Certainly as the youngest combat pilot in World War II President Bush had not done that. But I think in Bill Clinton's case Bill Clinton has not hesitated to use force. He's used force three times in Iraq, itself. He's used force in Haiti; he's used force in Bosnia, without congressional approval. I would say, if anything, the coalition that was forged by George Bush skillfully in 1991 was made possible by the invasion of Kuwait. I mean, Saddam Hussein has not done anything comparable to the invasion of Kuwait, and let's be very blunt about it. I mean, the Arab countries are not supporting the United States here. France and Russia--and I can't fault Bill Clinton for that--are cutting their own deals on oil with Iraq. They're ready as soon as the sanctions are lifted to go in there and get oil.
PHIL PONCE: And that'll have to be our last point for today. Gentlemen, thank you both.