SHIELDS & GIGOT
October 10, 1997
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot review a week that saw the delay of final action on McCain-Feingold and the emergence of tapes of President Clinton's White House coffees.
JIM LEHRER: Our regular political analysis now by syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Mark, what are the politics of reforming the IRS?
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
September 26, 1997
A report on the first day's Senate debate and a discussion between Sens. Durbin and Bennett.
September 26, 1997
Shields and Gigot discuss the McCain-Feingold debate.
September 23, 1997
Sens. Daschle and Nickles debate the Democrats' move to shutdown the Senate unless campaign reform is scheduled.
September 19, 1997
Shields and Gigot discuss campaign finance reform hearings and the McCain-Feingold bill.
June 24, 1996:
A background report on introduction of the McCain-Feingold reform bill.
June 12, 1997:
Congress and the President request the FEC to amend laws concerning soft money.
March 11, 1997:
Senate expands campaign finance investigation to cover all "improper" actions.
Browse the past Shields & Gigot segments.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the campaign finance investigation.
MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: The politics weíre seeing right now, Jim, have a striking parallel to 15 years ago in this city when the Democrats were in the Congress and they hated defense spending. So they would hold hearings regularly, bring up people about $5,000 toilet seats and $3,000 coffee makers and say itís a way of discrediting--I know Democrats will argue this--but discrediting in large part what the functions and the mission is of the agency youíre exposing. Republicans donít like taxes. They donít like tax collectors, and they want--I think they want to get going a debate but technically the IRS is great politics on both sides, but certainly on the Republican. So they want to get going the debate on taxes and cutting them.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read it?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Thereís a precedence going back to St. Matthew and not liking tax collectors. But itís a little bit more than that to it, setting the ground work, I think, for tax reform.
JIM LEHRER: Changing the whole system, not just the--
PAUL GIGOT: Changing the whole system.
JIM LEHRER: --operation of the IRS.
PAUL GIGOT: Thatís right, because if you can make the argument that the current system is failing and the current tax code and tax management system is failing, then you can begin to make the argument for fairly dramatic tax reform of the kind that unites most Republicans.
McCain-Feingold: "It keeps coming back like Freddy Kruger."
JIM LEHRER: Yes. Okay. Campaign fund-raising, many developments this week... Big votes in the Senate, McCain-Feingold dead, is it dead for good?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, you know, it keeps coming back like Freddy Kruger and Friday the 13th. I mean, the McCain-Feingold one was--
JIM LEHRER: I think youíre going to have to explain that to our viewers. What comes back on--
PAUL GIGOT: Well, that was the horror show series, the killer who kept coming back from the dead.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Itís a generational thing. Go ahead.
PAUL GIGOT: It goes to show my taste in--
JIM LEHRER: Go ahead.
PAUL GIGOT: The first generation failed that had campaign spending limits, and now the second generation, which tried to limit express advocacy. But theyíre going to keep coming back, and keep coming back, and the reason theyíre going to is because Democrats and President Clinton realize that this is the best way they can to change the subject, change the subject from what happened in 1996. And theyíre going to bring this up every single time right up to every time you see something happen interestingly on the campaign finance fund from 1996; theyíre going to say, wait a minute, letís ban soft money.
MARK SHIELDS: I thought Paulís choice of Freddy Kruger was revealing, and belying from Paul feels about campaign finance reform--
PAUL GIGOT: I agree with it.
MARK SHIELDS: You didnít talk about--the reality is a little bit different. The reality is that Sen. Trent Lott this week lost control of the majority of the Senate. He thought he had it greased for his poison pill amendment, which is going to pass the Senate and kill the campaign finance bill, and at the same time force Democrats then to filibuster against it. He found out he didnít have a majority. And so he had to quickly back-pedal and go to cloture vote to try and cut off the date--he wants it to go--Iíll tell you, itís more than a tactic.
This is real. This is very real. Itís real all the way over to the House. I spent some time on the House side this week, and youíve got people as responsible as Mike Castle, the former Republican governor of Delaware, saying heís opposing adjournment until the House acts on campaign finance reform. In addition to that, Jim, I think what you have here is an opportunity, and itís John McCain--it isnít simply Democrats--itís Jerry Ford, the former President of the United States; itís George Bush, the former President of the United States, both Republicans; Alan Simpson, the former Republican Senate Whip; Bob Michel, the former Minority Leader of the House--saying we got to get rid of soft money. And I think that if thereís going to be continuing up or down votes on soft money and the rubric of the McCain-Feingold bill, itís going to become political disadvantageous, if not disabling, for Republicans to come in here and vote against it.
JIM LEHRER: You donít see it that way. You donít think that the Democrats are winning the PR, the hearts and minds argument at this point?
PAUL GIGOT: I donít. I donít at all. I donít think that when you--
JIM LEHRER: --Democrats--there are some Republicans involved as well--sorry--go ahead.
PAUL GIGOT: And some big Republicans. If you talk about--when I go out in the country, I donít see anybody--never had anybody raise their hand and say, you know, what are you going to do, or whatís going to be done in Washington about that soft money problem? Itís not something that affects people in their daily lives. Thereís a certain appeal to the notion of reform, as there always is, because the system isnít that savory. The problem is itís the details of reform. And a lot of these--Gerald Ford and some of the other people--if they delved into the system the way a lot of other people who have to practice it now do, I think they understand that you canít just ban soft money. What happens, the same--the money that went to the parties, which was what happens in soft money, is going to be spent independently. Itís going to be spent by the businesses and unions.
The Coffee tapes.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Then another--speaking of Ď96--talking about Ď96--the videotapes of the coffees at the White House, one theory is they just may--there was simple incompetence because it took them a while to find them--months to find them. Another theory is cover up. Do you have a theory?
MARK SHIELDS: The theory, Jim, that the pattern that emerges of forever taking to find the legal billing records of Mrs. Clintonís law firm, of finding records requested by Sen. DíAmatoís committee is a pattern. It ends up embarrassing your supporters. I mean, every single Senator on the Thompson committee, Democrat, this week was embarrassed by these. It infuriated the attorney general, who, of course, had issued her report to--
JIM LEHRER: The day before.
MARK SHIELDS: The day before, without benefit of it. And then to have the lame excuse that the reason the White House didnít get Ďem was because it was Roshashana, a Jewish holiday, and that had held things up. It was just--it was indefensible, and it unifies Republicans who are divided. I mean, so I donít know, you know, whatever its intention was, boy, I got to tell you, it was a boomerang nine ways.
PAUL GIGOT: As the Jewish columnist, Charles Krauthamer, said, she didnít look Jewish. Roshashana just doesnít make any sense. Itís very, very embarrassing, and you have to admire Democrats this week managed to be able to delve into the Reagan archives and find a 10-year-old videotape of Ronald Reagan saying something or other to campaign--they canít find videotapes of their own White House a year ago, and it really damages the credibility of the attorney general.
JIM LEHRER: But does it hurt on the issue of whether or not the laws were violated at the White House? Is it just an incompetence about the tapes?
MARK SHIELDS: I think itís--the question about whether money was raised at the White House, whether the Reagan people brought the contributors in after theyíd written the checks, or the Clinton people brought them in before they wrote the checks, I mean, this is subterfuge, Jim, that weíre talking about, whether phone calls were made or whether they werenít made. I mean, the real scandal here, not to berate it--is that in 1996 Bill Clinton and Bob Dole both accepted $62 million in public funding for their fall campaigns. To do so they had to solemnly vow, each of them, publicly sign a document that said we will abide by all law. That law said how much you could spend, how much you were limited to spending, and each of them, each of them raised millions of dollars in soft money, which was then an illegal fiction used by the parties. I mean, it was just--thatís the real scandal, and thatís for some reason the Thompson committee doesnít want to go near it.
"No one can shout loud enough or write a headline big enough or use words shrill enough to keep me from doing what I think is the right thing on this investigation."
JIM LEHRER: Janet Reno--this is Janet Reno talking--"No one can shout loud enough or write a headline big enough or use words shrill enough to keep me from doing what I think is the right thing on this investigation." Sheís talking about an independent counsel. She said this two days ago, and she said it before. And sheís going to continue to say it. What are they going to do with Janet Reno?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think, first of all, there some talks the Republicans and Democrats may--the Republicans in the House and the Senate may put together a bicameral body to look into how sheís managing the Justice Department and the management of this investigation.
JIM LEHRER: You mean, really go after her?
PAUL GIGOT: I think they are. Orrin Hatch, whoís been very, very overly respectful almost to the attorney general in deferential to her--
JIM LEHRER: Heís chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
PAUL GIGOT: Senate Judiciary Committee--has even gotten off his seat and said, look, weíre going to do something here and maybe look into this. I think that what you see developing here, Jim, is real concern that she is not independent and she is not credible. And that is damaging to the Justice Department, which, the Justice Department has said here, weíll not name an attorney general--weíll not name a special counsel--this our opportunity to show we can do it. In the nine months theyíve had to go after this they have not shown any evidence that theyíre doing that.
JIM LEHRER: Do you have a view on Janet Reno?
MARK SHIELDS: I think I have a different view. Janet Renoís independence and integrity are unsurpassed in this town. She never looks better than when Republican critics--and cheap shot artists is what they are--both in the Senate and the House--say weíre going to impeach her, and she never looks better than when sheís got a Democratic White House that makes her legitimately and authentically mad as they did by making--I think up to now--and I do think that the Justice Department has had a golden opportunity to redeem itself to discredit the independent counsel root by this investigation and up to now it hasnít produced, thereís no question about it. But as far as her own independence and integrity are concerned, they are unquestioned.
PAUL GIGOT: Well, then itís a question of competence. I mean, something--if you give the opportunity, and you donít take it--
MARK SHIELDS: You can raise a question about--
PAUL GIGOT: --then thereís something wrong. I mean--
MARK SHIELDS: Those are not the questions being raised by the Republicans in the Senate, Thompson Committee.
PAUL GIGOT: I think theyíre raising both.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. I got to go. We got to go. Bye.