September 4, 1998
Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), a longtime ally of President Clinton, publicly condemned the president's behavior on the Senate floor. Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot and syndicated columnist Mark Shields discuss the political impact of the senator's speech.
JIM LEHRER: Now political analysis from Shields and Gigot, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Mark, Sen. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, good friend of President Clinton, goes to the floor of the Senate yesterday and harshly criticizes the president's conduct in the Lewinsky matter. How important a development was that?
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
September 3, 1998:
The media continue to pursue the Lewinsky story, even in Russia.
September 2, 1998:
Presidential historians discuss leadership in the time of crisis and scandal.
September 3, 1998:
Four former senators discuss whether President Clinton should resign.
August 26, 1998:
Newspapers disagree over whether President Clinton should resign.
August 19, 1998:
A discussion of the latest coverage of the Starr investigation.
August 19, 1998:
Two members of Congress discuss whether President Clinton should resign.
Terence Smith on the media's coverage of the Starr investigation.
August 18, 1998:
A look at the media's coverage of the Starr investigation.
August 17, 1998:
A special package of coverage on the president's testimony.
Browse the Shields and Gigot index and NewsHour's coverage of the Starr Investigation.
The White House web site.
Sen. Lieberman's comments.
MARK SHIELDS: Important, Jim. Significant. Joe Lieberman is an independent voice in the Senate. He is - he was the sole Democratic senator on the Fred Thompson hearings in the 1996 campaign finance abuses, who strayed from the party line really, and was critical of the White House and critical of the Democrats, has a reputation for bipartisanship, old friend of Bill Clinton's. He occupied --
JIM LEHRER: Both of you commented on that at the time, that he was the one senator who seemed to be playing it right down the middle.
MARK SHIELDS: He played it down the middle, and he occupies a niche in the Senate that Sam Nunn of Georgia once held. He's every Republican's favorite Democrat, which gives him a legitimacy and a credibility on both sides of the aisle, not always the most popular guy on the Democratic side of the aisle, but it gives him legitimacy with the press. So it's an important message. It was so important that Bob Kerrey, Senator from Nebraska, who was sitting in his office, watching it on television, had no intention to speak, just jumped up and said, I'm going over and weigh in.
JIM LEHRER: And then Sen. Moynihan --
MARK SHIELDS: Sen. Moynihan, as well. In fairness, neither Sen. Kerrey nor Sen. Moynihan have been uncritical cheerleaders of the president at any point. I mean, Sen. Kerrey ran against him, said some pretty harsh things in '92, and Sen. Moynihan has been more than unsparing in his critical comments.
JIM LEHRER: Now, Paul, Senator Lieberman said that what the president did is deserving of public rebuke. How do you read that?
PAUL GIGOT: It was a terrific speech, but it lacked a punch line, you can say, because it didn't have, okay, now what do we do. Instead, he said, let's have the process go forward. And I think you can read that one of two ways for the president. I think --
JIM LEHRER: Just for the viewers' edification here, those of us - everybody was watching that - nobody knew - there had been no advance leak --
PAUL GIGOT: That's right.
JIM LEHRER: -- as to what Sen. Lieberman was going to say at the end. And he started out so harshly -- and he finally finished about 5:25 Eastern Time. And nobody knew was he going to call for resignation, was he going to call for impeachment, or what he was going to do. But go ahead. This was not one of those typical Washington deals where everybody knew in advance what was going to happen.
PAUL GIGOT: It was not typical in Washington. I don't think a speech writer spun it. I think this it was done on anything other than conviction and personal motive. I mean, I think that this is an orthodox Jew whose office shuts down on the Sabbath. He's a sincere guy. And that carries all the more moral potency. I think for the White House it means that they're at a minimum the best Bill Clinton can hope for is to come out of this with some kind of censure. That's the best outcome. But he also -- Joe Lieberman also left open the possibility, depending on the evidence and the president's response to that evidence, that he could embrace impeachment - endorse or go along with impeachment hearings if that is what was required. That was a clear insinuation - implication of what he said.
Other leading Democrats voice their concern.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think, Mark, that this is going to - you already said that Kerrey, Bob Kerrey, came and Pat Moynihan came - are there -- are we going to hear the sound of other Democrats saying, me too, yes, Joe Lieberman spoke for me?
MARK SHIELDS: Well, perhaps. I mean, he certainly opened the gate, and Marcy Kaptur, Democratic congresswoman from Toledo yesterday spoke - said that the president's resignation would not be satisfaction enough for her -- she said before the Veterans of Foreign Wars, so, I mean, there are more voices like that. Jim, the problem for the Democrats is a very simple one. Every day that this story is the headline, whether it's Joe Lieberman's speech or the White House leaking something to inoculate the president against a potential disclosure, is a day that Democrats who are running in November are hurting. Today every Democrat in shoe leather who's running in November had to answer the question: What did you think about Joe Lieberman's speech? He didn't have a chance - she didn't have a chance to talk about health bill -- patients' bill of rights, or saving Social Security, or anything of the sort. They're talking about what do you think the president ought to say, sorry, apologize, should he go in sack cloth and ashes down Pennsylvania Avenue, hot coals in his bare feet up and down in front of the White House? I mean - that's -- the campaign kicks off officially on Labor Day. And this has dominated the entire dialogue for the Democrats.
PAUL GIGOT: But I think actually Joe Lieberman did a great favor for the Democratic Party this week, and what he did was it was a declaration of moral independence in a way from President Clinton. The problem that the Democrat have had in their response so far is that there have been really two: silence, or we're deeply disappointed, we're disappointed, but let's get it behind us. And both of those can be made to look like complicity or apologizing - we're not going to really face up to the fact. Joe Lieberman said no. There are standards of behavior that are expected of public officials that go beyond partisanship. The Democratic Party now has a spokesman who said I am not going to tolerate this; I don't care if he is my party leader. And that can give him enormous moral authority going into the rest of these hearings. That could help Bill Clinton if Joe Lieberman decides later that, looking at the evidence, it doesn't rise up to the level of impeachment. But, for now, it gives a lot of Democrats the ability to get behind that and say that's right; that's something that I agree with.
JIM LEHRER: What about that idea that this gives Joe Lieberman power that could be exercised on Clinton's behalf - on President Clinton's behalf if he decides, hey, I've looked at the Starr report, I've looked at all of this, hey, wait a minute, let's do a little censure, forget it?
MARK SHIELDS: That's fine, Jim. But I mean, there's an election in this country. There's an election in November eight weeks away. Democrats in 1996 thought they had a real shot at winning back the House, and they did, until the last three weeks. What happened in the last three weeks? The entire debate was dominated by the stories and the White House stonewalling on illegal foreign contributions of soft money. All right? And with it - if this is going to dominate - I mean, just take this week, for example. We had - we've had a continuing debate in this country about privatizing Social Security. All right? Most of the people who want to privatize it are Republicans. Most of the people who don't are Democrats.
PAUL GIGOT: Including Bob Kerrey - those well-known Republicans.
MARK SHIELDS: Most of the people want to do it - it's an article of conservative faith endorsed by Paul's newspaper. Now, this week we saw the stock market fall by hundreds of points, hundreds of points. What a great week to be out there for privatizing Social Security. Wouldn't you love to be running against a Republican who says, we ought to privatize Social Security? Want to sell that to gramps, who's sitting there scared out of his jeans that there's not going to be money for the rent next month? But that's totally off, because this dominating. Joe Lieberman made a good speech yesterday. I'm sure it was good for Joe Lieberman in the sense of he bared his soul; he was candid; he did lay down a marker, as Paul said. But I'll tell you, I mean, if each Democratic senator from here on in makes a speech on it every day, it's going to be a killer for the Democrats.
PAUL GIGOT: But I'll tell you, each Democratic candidate from here on in is going to have to make a statement about it.
JIM LEHRER: And Lieberman forced them to do that, is that what you're saying?
PAUL GIGOT: They were going to be forced -
JIM LEHRER: Anyhow?
PAUL GIGOT: -- if Ken Starr reports. But I think - I think Joe Lieberman gives them a lot firmer ground. He created a fire break basically between the president's behavior and Democratic Party standards, and saying they're not the same thing, and I'm going to say so.
JIM LEHRER: What about this apology watch that goes on every day? Here today - we just ran it in the News Summary - the president was standing next to the Irish prime minister - says, well, I said it -- I mean, I've said it once, I've said it again, and it just keeps going on, doesn't it?
The "apology watch."
PAUL GIGOT: It does. And the fascinating thing is it's a Democrat again who had to do everything but put the president on the rack to say, Mr. President, please. Roy Romer, the Democratic Party chairman, says, we have to do more. Bob Graham, the senator from Florida said, inadequate, please more. And it's a fruitless exercise at this stage, I think, because he's not sorry. I mean, it's so manifestly obvious. The Bill Clinton that we saw on August 17th was authentic; that was the way he really feels. And asking him now to tell - to say something that is an untrue in order to apologize for something that he said that wasn't true before -- it doesn't make much sense.
MARK SHIELDS: I'm going to ask Paul then to tell me when the real Newt Gingrich steps up, whether it's the one that says these people are criminals, I'm never going to discuss it again, or whatever else. And I don't know what the authentic Bill Clinton is. I will say this, Paul's right on one count. Democratic candidates who are running in 1998 do urge the president - I mean, it's been Patty Murray. It's been Chris Dodd, senators from Washington and Connecticut, both who are in races. Bob Graham, who's in a race in Florida. He's about 80 points ahead, and he's still nervous enough that he'd like to have him say something else. Jim, there are 25 percent of the people that wouldn't care what Bill Clinton did. I mean, Bill Clinton could literally stand in the snow in his bare feet, and they wouldn't. But there are people who still on his own, who are disappointed. There's no point in him saying anything, in my judgment, until the Starr report comes out.
PAUL GIGOT: I agree with that.
JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that?
PAUL GIGOT: I do agree with that.
MARK SHIELDS: And at that point he'd better have a pretty thoughtful, open, continuing conversation with the American people about what it's in it.
JIM LEHRER: And meanwhile, comes the attorney general about to possibly appoint an independent counsel to investigate campaign fund-raising by the president's campaign in 1996.
PAUL GIGOT: Yes, although I have a feeling that next week will see the attorney general trigger the latest 90-day probe, which has the practical effect of putting the final decision beyond the election in eight weeks or sixty days that Mark talks about, so she has rather brilliantly kicked this can down the road, I think, so that it takes herself out of the picture as an issue for not naming; she can say, look, I've got the legal process going. It's astute politics.
JIM LEHRER: Astute politics?
MARK SHIELDS: Both parties in 1996 - the Democrats more than the Republicans -- stretched and broke the law on soft money and using it. When you take matching public funds as a presidential nominee, you swear that you'll use no other money in your campaign. I think you can make the case irrefutably that the Dole campaign, but more so the Clinton campaign used money in their campaigns that was not from the public treasuries in violation of that pledge. And I think an independent counsel should have been appointed then, and I think her delay, quite frankly, which I think has been legitimate and sincere on her part, nevertheless, has made the trail cold. Two years later, there's a lot of witnesses and a lot of evidence that may very well have disappeared.
JIM LEHRER: And there's also a weariness factor to it, isn't there?
PAUL GIGOT: Yes. There is a weariness factor. But if an independent counsel is named, ultimately, it is not good news in particular for the Gore campaign, because some of the same fund-raisers and officials who help the president want to help the Vice president this time.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Gentlemen, thank you both.