SHIELDS & GIGOT
September 26, 1997
In a surprise move, Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) announced Thursday that the Senate would debate the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform proposal. The Senate began debate Friday and votes are expected to begin early next week. Our regular political commentators, Mark Shields and Paul Gigot, discuss the debate and what the likely outcome may be.
MARGARET WARNER: And now for our weekly political analysis with our NewsHour regulars: syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Mark, as you listened to these Senators, whereís this thing headed?
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
A RealAudio version of today's Senate debate and a discussion.
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: Well, I think itís headed exactly where they say it is. There are 49 votes now, if you count Sen. Arlen Specter, the Republican of Pennsylvania, thereís forty-five Democrats and four Republicans who are committed to this bill and to its passage. And I think Senator McConnell of Kentucky has been pretty clear, and as we saw in the opening piece, heís willing to lead a filibuster to stop its ever getting to a vote. I think, quite frankly, that puts the Republicans in a difficult position.
"This is a miracle..."
I think we have to pause right now and say this is a miracle, a miracle. McCain-Feingold declared dead nine times, the hearings got no interest, everybody said, and all of a sudden hereís the Senator of the United States taking up the McCain-Feingold bill and talking about campaign finance reform, and Bob Bennett from Utah and Dick Durbin from Illinois are on our broadcast doing it. I mean, I just think--I think thereís something serious here happening, and I would not rule it out. I think itís impossible to say right now that Jim Jeffords of Vermont, a Republican, Olympia Snowe of Maine, a Republican, John Chafee of Rhode Island, would not vote for this in the crunch, and I think at that point, Margaret, youíre awfully hard pressed to say weíre going to stop it with a filibuster, weíre going to stop campaign finance reform.
MARGARET WARNER: Is that going to be hard for the Republicans to do?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Markís threshold for miracles is a lot lower than mine apparently, or a lot--I donít think itís a miracle. I think when the President of the United States gets out and says I want this bill, even if heís trying to divert attention from the Ď96 campaign investigations that gets some attention. The media--most of the press--loves the idea of reform, reform has a nice sound to it, even if the problem is in the details of the reform. There had to be a vote. The Republicans had to have a vote. They couldnít be seen to be even denying that, but that doesnít mean thereís going to be--this is going to pass. I think itís going to fail. I think the supporters might get the 50 votes, they might get the 50 votes if they have 49 now, but there is no way unless the Republicans decide that they want to attempt suicide--and theyíre not above that. I mean, they might do it. Theyíve done it in the past, but if they--unless they want to really hurt themselves, they want to pass this bill.
MARK SHIELDS: Margaret, if you want--thereís an old line about if you want candor in Washington, only talk to somebody whoís over 70, whoís been a public official, or given up all hopes of the presidency. I think itís revealing that you talk to anybody, virtually anybody whoís served in public office, whoís been through this, and they are absolutely fully candid about what a lousy system this is, how corrosive and how corrupting it is. Weíve had three living presidents, who are not ill. Jerry Ford, George Bush, and Jimmy Carter, three disparate figures, all call for the abolition of soft money. We had leading CEOís--I mean R. J. Miller--of Ford, Warren Buffet, I mean, captains of American industry, successful capitalists all say the same things. Weíve had Monsanto Chemical saying weíre not going to give any more soft money. I mean, it is a lousy, corrupt, corrupting system.
Choking on Poison Pills.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Paul, both Senator Durbin--and also today Sen. Daschle kept talking about poison pill amendments. What are they talking about? Whatís going to be the Republican strategy with this?
PAUL GIGOT: Theyíre talking about amendments the Democrats donít like. Thatís how you define a poison pill in this context. Itís--to get back to Markís point before I take yours, the difference here is not the question between--the problem is not this system and nothing. Thereís a philosophical difference. And thereís a practical political difference about how you define reform. And if you want to define it as McCain-Feingold, itís--Republicans canít go along with that because it does almost nothing, virtually nothing about unions. And thatís one of the things that the Democrats--that--one of the first amendments Sen. Lott is going to put on. He would like to make a positive check-off, so that if you happen to be either a corporate employee or a union employee that portion of your dues that would go into political campaigns you could say, yes, I want that, or no, I donít, much like the federal election checkoff works on your tax reform. Right now itís automatically whisked away if youíre in the union and they could spend it any way they want.
MARGARET WARNER: So youíre saying the Republicans would try to attach that to the bill--
PAUL GIGOT: Thatís going to be the first amendment, my guess.
MARGARET WARNER: And that makes it very unappealing to Democrats.
PAUL GIGOT: Thatís correct.
MARGARET WARNER: So what do the Democrats do then? Donít they have to filibuster?
MARK SHIELDS: I think thatís going to be part of the game, playing chicken as to who--whose bill--how the bill is changed so that who leads the filibuster, because filibusters are going to be seen in the final analysis, and I think this is the mistake that Mitch McConnell, the Republican from Kentucky, has made, is we are for the status quo. We really are. And thatís the mistake, and I think Trent Lott is a sufficiently sophisticated and shrewd enough politician to understand Republicans cannot be. After these revelations, after disclosure upon disclosure, after the latest Wall Street Journal reporting today and the grand jury investigating Haley Barbour, the former Republican national chairman, in illegal foreign contributions, that this--being for the status quo is an unacceptable political position.
MARGARET WARNER: Sen. Bennett sounded completely unembarrassed. He said he would be proud to--
MARK SHIELDS: I think Sen. Bennett would be. I think Sen. Bennettís one of those small group of people Iím talking about when it comes down to a difficult political decision. Letís understand one thing, Margaret. Soft money includes labor money. I mean, thatís the--the abolition of soft money says labor canít do it anymore, itís labor, itís business, and itís rich individuals. Youíre not talking about people who make $35,000 a year when youíre talking about soft money. Youíre talking about a few institutions, corporations, labor unions, and very, very wealthy individuals who give six-figure contributions.
PAUL GIGOT: Hereís the problem.
MARGARET WARNER: But that isnít enough for the Republicans.
PAUL GIGOT: If you ban soft money, what happens, what is going to happen, whatís going to happen is what happened this week, John Sweeney, the head of the AFL-CIO, at their convention said, weíre not going to give soft money to the Democratic Party. What are they going to do? Theyíre going to spend it themselves, where it is outside the system, where it is outside most of what McCain-Feingold wants to do, so that itís going to be even worse, and if thereís no control over that, then how can--then why would you be a Republican and sacrifice something like soft money, which then you can use through your party to counteract? Itís politically nuts.
Headed Towards an Independent Counsel?
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Letís--before we close let me move on to one other topic, which was the attorney general, itís now become clear, has opened a preliminary inquiry into whether the President made fund-raising calls from the White House. Now, Mark, how serious is this for the President?
MARK SHIELDS: Oh, itís serious. I mean, in spite of the ridiculous calls for Janet Renoís impeachment and charges that sheís somehow a puppet, no one really believes that whoís a serious person in Washington, that she is a puppet of this White House or a puppet of anybody; therefore, sheís an independent person. Sheís been embarrassed by the failure of her original task force to uncover what Bob Woodward and a couple of reporters of the Washington Post uncovered without the subpoena power.
MARGARET WARNER: Which was that a lot of this soft money raised--
MARK SHIELDS: Was being converted--
MARGARET WARNER: --really went to--
MARK SHIELDS: That the--the calls of the Vice President was being converted to hard money without the donorís knowledge in some cases, and so itís a serious matter. I mean, Janet Renoís a serious person, and this is not a step Iím sure she took lightly.
MARGARET WARNER: Where do you think itís headed?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, weíre not going to indict a President, I donít care--no one is--for making phone calls from the Oval Office.
MARK SHIELDS: No.
PAUL GIGOT: The whole game here is: Does this trigger the independent counsel statute, which might trigger a broader investigation of what happened in campaign finance? And thatís what the White House wants to head off.
MARK SHIELDS: I would say anybody who holds high public office ought to want to head it off because it isnít going to stop. Iíd just say three words, Margaret, about independent counsels: Jim Guy Tucker. Jim Guy Tucker was the governor of Arkansas. He was a political nemesis of Bill Clinton. He had fought him for the governorship. They started an investigation of Whitewater, a real estate deal involving Jim, Bill Clinton, involving the McDougals, and who ends up in the slammer--Jim Guy Tucker. Itís going to go to the Republican National Committee; itís going to go to the Democratic National Committee, both campaign committees of the House. Itís going to go everywhere if youíve got an aggressive, energetic independent counsel with any kind of a mandate.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, your column this morning, Paul, argued that Republicans stopped wishing for an independent counsel. Why?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, Iím in the minority among my conservative colleagues and the like. I just think that there is a problem because just look what happened to Ken Starr. I mean, three years ago Ken Starr--
MARGARET WARNER: Whitewater special counsel.
PAUL GIGOT: Whitewater special counsel. The White House was petrified of it. It turns out, I think, that in the 1996 campaign it gave the President a kind of immunity, political immunity. Anything came up. FBI files, heís looking into it, the special counsel, looking into it. Meanwhile, you can--you can not cooperate very much. You can delay, you can stonewall, and once a special counselís named in this case I think it gives the press a chance to stand back and say, we donít have to look into it, it gives Congress a chance to absolve itself of responsibility of oversight, and this is the problem I had with the Republicans. They really donít want to do too much oversight here because itís politically very difficult and somebody might call you names. And they want to throw this all in the lap of some special counsel. And I think they ought to do their jobs before they give it to somebody else.
MARK SHIELDS: That--I would add one other thing to it--that is their experience that the Congress went through in the Iran-Contra hearings, where Ollie North was convicted, and then the conviction was overturned because of the witnesses being bathed in the testimony, as the court put it, bathed in the immunity testimony, that they, therefore, the jurors were aware of the charges and what North himself had said, my point being very simply that I think thereís a lot of Republicans who donít want any legislation in campaign finance, and one way of saying, I donít want any campaign finance reform is to have an independent counsel.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Thatís the end for us. Thank you both.