September 25, 1998
The major political news this week was the broadcast of President Clinton's grand jury testimony. The NewsHour's political analysts, syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot assess the fallout.
JIM LEHRER: And to Shields & Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Mark, Paul, I want to come back to the Omaha series in a minute, but first some basics here. The House is going to conduct an impeachment inquiry. There's no question about that at this point, is there?
A realaudio version of this segment is available.
September 22-24, 1998:
Omaha's view of President Clinton's troubles.
September 23, 1998:
Pollsters discuss the public's reaction.
September 22, 1998:
Four members of the House Judiciary Committee evaluate President Clinton's grand jury testimony.
September 21, 1998:
NewsHour historians discuss the president's testimony.
September 21, 1998:
Two former federal prosecutor's discuss how the testimony looked to them.
September 18, 1998:
Shield and Gigot analyze the partisan struggle over the release of grand jury evidence.
September 18, 1998:
How is the world media covering the Lewinsky matter?
September 17, 1998:
A discussion on the videotape debate.
September 16, 1998:
Senator Daschle discusses President Clinton's problems.
September 15, 1998:
Two members of the House Judiciary Committee debate releasing President Clinton's videotaped testimony.
September 14, 1998:
A discussion on the media's coverage of the Starr report.
September 11, 1998:
The Starr report and White House rebuttal.
September 11, 1998:
Mark Shields and Paul Gigot debate the potential impact of Kenneth Starr's referral to Congress.
September 11, 1998:
Two former federal prosecutors examine the legal issues presented in the Starr report.
September 10, 1998:
What is the constitutional basis for impeaching a president?
September 9, 1998:
Kenneth Starr drops off his case to the House.
September 3, 1998:
Four former senators discuss whether the president should step down.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Omaha road trip, Starr investigation, the White House and Congress.
The White House homepage.
The House Judiciary Committee.
MARK SHIELDS: There's none in my mind. I think the Democrats will try and put some heat on Republicans. They feel they're back on the offensive. But I think we will have hearings.
JIM LEHRER: And the vote of the House, I mean, the House Judiciary Committee is the fifth and sixth, and then the full House on the ninth or tenth. Do you have any question it's going to go onward?
PAUL GIGOT: No. Not a bit. I think that, in fact, the vote will include an awful lot of Democratic votes as well on the House floor, maybe even seventy, a hundred, something like that.
What happened to the censure deal?
JIM LEHRER: What happened to the effort, Mark, to head this off, with some kind of deal, censure? The president goes to the well or something and admits he did something, he's fined, censured, or whatever, that deal's not going anywhere?
MARK SHIELDS: No. I don't think it was ever realistic, Jim. I think the idea that there would not be hearings with unrealistic. I think if you have the president and he's a forceful advocate for his own case, then you don't want to spend 'em early in this process, even if you thought you had a chance. I don't think they have a chance of ending the House inquiry. If you're going to use President Clinton in his own defense, you're using him in the Senate and I think it would be on national television. I think it would be a riveting.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, no deals?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, having delayed the process, it's a little much to ask that the Republicans demand that they get rid of it in two weeks or three weeks. And then think about it just realistically - all the people have to agree to something like that. I mean, it's just not the Republicans in Congress. Ken Starr would have to agree, the appellate court hearing, the Webster Hubbell appeal, and that case would have to agree. The three judge panel that appointed Starr would have to agree. This could all be set aside and done. You have all of these judicial processes in motion that will have to go along, and I'm not too sure that it's not realistic.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Let's get at the politics of this now. Every day this week and every day last week but particularly this week after the showing of the videotape, the Democrats have kept up and intensified the course. This process is unfair to the president; it's unfair to the president; it's partisan, et cetera. Is that sticking?
MARK SHIELDS: It's working. Something is working, Jim. It's the old line - a day is a lifetime in politics and a week is an eternity. A week ago, Bill Clinton was on the ropes. I mean, the Democrats were forlorn; they were despairing about his fate, their on future and both group's fortunes. But the videotape release was a disaster for those who released it. Alan Simpson, old Republican Senate Whip from Wyoming, said, you should know if you're going to show the guy for four hours on television, he's going to persuade people; that's what he's been doing. And I remember, we sat here on the night of the State of the Union Address - I remember right after the Lewinsky --
JIM LEHRER: That was three days after -
MARK SHIELDS: Three days.
JIM LEHRER: -- the story broke - or four days, something like that.
MARK SHIELDS: I remember talking about whether he'd go through with it. And we just couldn't believe, and he walked into that House, the well of the House, and stood up there and absolutely captivated that party. And they just stood in awe, these professional politicians did. And you just had a whole bunch of other good news. I mean, you had his job rating bounced back into the mid-60s. The American people aren't going to fire anybody if they're giving him 65 percent job rating. He goes to the UN. The Republicans have said that he's crippled as a world leader -- he gets a standing ovation, which most American leaders don't get. Then Nelson Mandela comes to town, an unqualified hero, and says that meant something. So he's had nothing but good news.
PAUL GIGOT: I said in the State of the Union Address that I thought the President put on a very impressive performance. I said on Monday night I didn't think it was an impressive performance. And I guess I was na´ve. I thought that the sight of a president looking the American people or grand jury in the eye and so clearly not telling the truth would not be something that would please 'em. But so much of the coverage about it was almost style, not substance. It was almost as if we said people were so -- in the press, were so - we so expected the president not to tell the truth that instead of the fact that he wasn't, the coverage was stylistic. It was -- well, he was really particularly good with that. It was a somersault and a twist. And I think that that kind of played to the public.
Did the release of the President Clinton's videotaped testimony backfire on the Republicans?
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with Mark, that in retrospect whoever made the decision finally - and it could have been a group of people, it could have been one - I don't know - that made the decision to release that tape so quickly to the public - made a terrible mistake - from a Republican point of view?
PAUL GIGOT: I think that's 20/20 hindsight. I was in favor of it in advance. I was in favor of it because that's the sort of thing that would have gotten out anyway and should have gotten out. I mean, if the president testifies on something like this, why not? The public deserves to see it. I didn't know if in advance it would help or hurt him. Last week the Democrats were saying it was a Republican attempt to skewer, it was unfair. This week it's vindication.
JIM LEHRER: Well, but we'll talk about this CBS-New York Times poll, which was a stunner in many ways -- had something like 75 percent of the people - I think the number is right - correct me if I'm wrong on this - but something - over 70 percent said that the Republicans did it solely to embarrass the president.
MARK SHIELDS: That's right. I think there's no question. The Republicans had a couple of other setbacks this week. First of all, the level of expectation was the problem with the tape, rather than I think the artistic or stylistic critiques of it. I mean, we were supposed to see the president explode, lose his temper, be out of control, we're supposed to see the mean Bill Clinton that his staff has kept out of public sight through all these six years. And it didn't happen that way. So I think that worked. But the other thing that happened, Jim, it cannot be ignored, is Newt Gingrich got back into it. I mean, you know, I mean, let's forget the good bouquet we threw at Newt two weeks ago.
JIM LEHRER: What's this "we?" I think you did that.
MARK SHIELDS: I think.
JIM LEHRER: Paul didn't say a word.
MARK SHIELDS: He didn't. To his credit. I have to say this about -- House Democrats and Senate Democrats are not united, they're not unanimous in their backing of Bill Clinton. I mean, they felt betrayed. They feel lied to. They feel that he's robbed them of issues that were cutting their way. They are united, and they're disliking of Newt Gingrich. And the more Newt Gingrich is the face of the Republican Party, with it - and that New York Times poll - an 18 percent personal favorable today - I mean, it's a killer.
JIM LEHRER: Compared to 67 percent for the president.
MARK SHIELDS: That's the president's job rating.
JIM LEHRER: Job rating.
Newt Gingrich's role.
MARK SHIELDS: The president's favorable is like three to two or - but it was considerably better. My point is the best thing the Republicans have going for a sense of fairness in the country and committee is Henry Hyde. And Henry Hyde had a bad week. He was eclipsed by Gingrich. He was eclipsed by his own committee, which is out of control.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read the Gingrich thing?
PAUL GIGOT: He can't help himself. He loves to be in the middle of it and talking. Look, James Rogan, who was asked by Henry Hyde - Congressman from California - was asked by Henry Hyde and Newt Gingrich, look into the history of impeachment. And he did. They spent some time, talked to Chairman Rodino, who headed up the Watergate Judiciary Committee. Chairman Rodino told him something. He said, one thing that really helped me when I was chairing the committee is every time the press went to Speaker of the House Carl Albert and said what about impeachment, Carl Albert said, talk to Chairman Rodino. He gave that advice to Newt Gingrich and every other day Newt Gingrich takes it. Every other day - every other day he doesn't take it. And he ran out this week on Wednesday and said, I rejected this deal. So CNN says Gingrich rejects deal. Newspapers say Gingrich rejects deal. Well, Gingrich isn't in a position to reject deal. He is not in control of this, and I - look, every Republican you will talk to on the Judiciary Committee says leave it to us, leave it to Hyde, it's regular order; Gingrich has a constitutional role here as speaker; stay out of it, because James Carville is going to be saying, Starr-Gingrich, Starr-Gingrich, all the time from here to November 3rd.
JIM LEHRER: How do you read, Paul, of the - getting to the CBS - a lot of polls have come out with the - the latest one was one today - CBS-New York Times poll - that showed not only that the president had a 67 percent job approval rating but it had gone up 7 points since the videotape?
PAUL GIGOT: The public must have responded in the sense that maybe there was a piling on. I give the White House credit for spinning it. They're the ones who said it was going to make the president look terrible. No Republican came up to me and said, you know, this is going to make him look terrible, that's why we're doing it, not a single one. But that poll, well, it should give some comfort to the Democrats, because their base is coming back, it is still some troubling things in there, and particularly when it comes to the urgency to vote this year. Republicans and those people who disapprove of the president are much more likely to vote and say so than those who favor the president and the two issues that are listed as the most dominant issues in the debate are Number 1, scandal itself, and Number 2, the - Number 2 is the decline in moral values. When those are the main things on people's minds, that shouldn't make Democrats feel great.
How the President's problems could affect voter turnout this fall.
JIM LEHRER: And another thing that shouldn't make Democrats feel great is that same poll showed the generic question, would you be more likely to vote for a Democratic congress person or a Republican, overwhelmingly they said Republican.
MARK SHIELDS: When you did break it down to those most likely to vote - just among all voters - it was for the Democrats - this is the problem. The problem is the Republicans now - and that's what Gingrich is doing this week - are playing to the base of their party. They're just trying to make sure that these folks get out. They are not playing to the broad public that says 67 percent approval, 70 percent says we know enough, want the thing over with. They want to make sure that on the 3rd of November those people who are most upset about those issues do vote. The Democrats were given a gift this week with Newt Gingrich because Newt Gingrich is the best get-out-the-vote tool the Democrats have. So I mean, you're talking about it, Jim. This isn't an electorate like 1994 or 1992 or the - to Ross Perot - this is a disgusted, turned off electorate, and that's what both parties worry about, is turnout.
JIM LEHRER: Back from the election back just to this question of impeachment and the process and all of that, how important are these polls? How do you think they may influence individual members of the Judiciary Committee, individual members of the House, and eventually individual members of the Senate, if it goes that far?
MARK SHIELDS: I think last week there was a potential stampede from Bill Clinton - from the Democrats - who are really concerned about this election and look at somebody like Senator Harry Reid, who's in a tough race in Nevada - there's a question whether he was going to call the president leave or whatever else. The president turned it around this week and all of a sudden Harry Reid is not calling for the president's resignation or anything of the sort. I think at the margins it has a tactical influence, rather than a strategic change in how somebody's going to vote.
JIM LEHRER: How do you think?
PAUL GIGOT: In the short-term the most important impact is on the Democrats, because it gives them - the White House something important to point to and says, see, you can do all right in this election.
JIM LEHRER: Hang with us.
PAUL GIGOT: Hang with us. In the longer run I think it's less important, because once the process of impeachment gets underway, a lot of the members in the committee are going to have to decide on the fundamental questions like is perjury an impeachable offense, and that comes down to not simply a question of polling data, but a real question of judgment and they're - the people in their district, their constituents are want to know what they think of that, not what the national polls are.
The disconnect between Washington and the rest of the nation.
JIM LEHRER: The national polls - our series in Omaha this week - much is being said. We've even said it on this program many times - the disconnect between those of us who are in Washington in one capacity or another and the folks out in the country, is it real, do you think, Mark?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think it is. I mean, there's no question. Probably the wisest aphorism I've ever heard is never underestimate the intelligence of the American people and never overestimate the information of the American people and I think at the end of this process there will be a lot of information, whether that alters their feelings, their judgment, or whether, in fact, the American people have already come to a judgment on this, and what we're doing is just spinning our wheels here.
JIM LEHRER: Just kind of playing games. What do you think?
PAUL GIGOT: I don't know if they've reached that judgment or not. My guess is that it's a work in progress. It's certainly what Andy Kohut has said, and it depends on the degree of information and the kind of information they get. So I think the polls three months from now are more important on this than they are today.
JIM LEHRER: We have to leave it there, gentlemen, thank you both.