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Political Wrap with Mark Shields Paul Gigot

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot analyze this week's political developments.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Political analysis by Shields and Gigot. Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot. Paul, you said here a few nights ago, a great substitute for Linda Chavez would be Elaine Chao.

  • PAUL GIGOT:

    Did I say that?

  • JIM LEHRER:

    You did. And George W. Bush was clearly listening because he went out and did it. I suppose you still think it is a good idea.

  • PAUL GIGOT:

    Sure. I think she is a very good choice. It is interesting. John Sweeney, the head of the AFL-CIO, didn't object. That may be a strike against her but it turns out they have a personal relationship from her time, their time on the United Way of America where Elaine Chao worked.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    She was the head of it and he was on the board.

  • PAUL GIGOT:

    That's right. But she has worked at the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank, for a number of years. She is well known and well regarded in conservative circles. In terms of policy, she is probably a kinder and gentler Linda Chavez.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Their views were almost identical, were they not?

  • PAUL GIGOT:

    I couldn't tell the difference between them. There may be differences and maybe those will come out at the hearing, but Ed Fulner, the head of the Heritage Foundation, said it is a different of style more than substance and that's probably right.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    So, Mark, explain why then organized labor doesn't have a problem with Elaine Chao when they did with Linda Chavez long before there was the illegal immigrant problem.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Linda Chavez was somebody who had left labor. There is nothing like somebody who's left the church and then attacks the church. She worked for Al Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, and she had turned against it. There was a special enmity that she wore as a proud badge on her part and organized labor felt her sting. Elaine Chao proves that personal relations do matter in politics and in Washington. Paul mentioned the United Way. She took the United Way at a very tough time. It was littered with corruption scandal, probably in danger of going out. So when John Sweeney says that she did a good job then, she did a good job in very tough times. Morty Bar, the president of the Communications Workers of America, the most loyal union to Al Gore, I mean is committed early, hard, intense, he had nothing but good words to say about her. I think she is a conservative, make no mistake about it. But I think if someone had said to me, Jim, last June that the next president's cabinet would have six white males, three women, two Asian Americans, two African Americans and a Latino, I would have said Al Gore won. It is a big difference from the original Mr. Bush's cabinet.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    And yet it qualifies on conservative ground as well as diversity grounds, does it not?

  • PAUL GIGOT:

    That's right. I don't think… These choices, the reason a lot of conservatives are happy not just with Elaine Chao but very happy with Linda Chavez and others, they were not diversity picks per se. These are people of different ethnicity who also happen to have the ideas that agree with George W. Bush. I think it shows the expansion in the last 20 years since 1980, for example, when Reagan came in of the Republican conservative farm team. It just didn't have the breadth it does now.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    They show a certain increasing sensitivity because if I'm not mistaken, just eight years ago President-elect Bill Clinton was roundly roasted by conservatives for having picked a diverse cabinet that looked like America but they all thought the same. Now that's become a virtue in 2001 because there is a philosophical homogeneity.

  • PAUL GIGOT:

    If that's your only criteria that it looked like America, then you are picking it because they happen to be of a certain color as opposed to a certain qualification.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    But Linda Chavez, here she comes and now she's gone and nobody seems to have gotten hurt except her. Is that a correct reading?

  • PAUL GIGOT:

    Well, I think George W. Bush has taken a bit of a hit — in terms of the sense of how constant he will be when his nominees are challenged. Now, in this case, of course, because she didn't share all of the details of her immigrant house guest right from the start, they had a plausible reason, but there is some grumbling among conservatives, and I think justified that, well, you know, he was picking a cabinet that looked like it was really ready for the fight that he is going to face if you look at the challenge to his nominees and to his agenda. A little doubt set in this week and I think he is going to have to address that, particularly among the activist class because if you're a President, you get into trouble, you need that support. You need people to take policy risks for you, and those people who are willing to take those risks, put themselves on the line, need to know that when they take the incoming, the president stands with them. And I think there's a little bit of a sense that maybe there's some doubt about this after Linda Chavez.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Mark.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I think Paul is right. I mean, I really do. I think that's the problem that you have in this business is that is this somebody I want to get into a foxhole with? Is this somebody when the going gets tough is going to be with me? I can argue that gee, they did it surgically, got rid of her in a hurry.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Cut their losses.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    At one point they say wait a minute, what if that's me and I'm out there and politically exposed, are they going to cut their losses with me? That's a concern.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Robert Zoellick, the trade representative selection, how do you read that?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    The argument seemed to me, Jim, to be about whether it would retain the status cabinet level. It seemed that Mr. Zoellick was the odds on choice right from the beginning, little argument about any policy dispute with Governor Bush had been completely open about his commitment to free trade. And I think that's been resolved. He was announced before Elaine Chao, even.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Zoellick, of course, has a long history with, particularly with the elder Bush and worked for Jim Baker both at Treasury and the State Department. What is your reading on him?

  • PAUL GIGOT:

    One of the higher IQ people who has worked in this city, a good choice, committed to free trade, very good European ties because of his work on German unification when he was at the State Department. So he will be able to knock heads with the European Union over some very tough trade issues. But I think his big job and the big challenge that George W. Bush has on trade is a coalition on the Hill. Democrats and Republicans, to get trading authority and negotiating authority again which Bill Clinton, despite his trade record was not able to get in his final years.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    All right. Now the John Ashcroft nomination, Mark, for Attorney General, former Senator, former Governor of Missouri — where does that stand tonight?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Jim, it's all up to the hearings. We get fibbed to a lot in this business.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Come on.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    No, we do. We do. You only remember the really brassy and bold ones. I remember for example President Bush saying when he named the only Republican President in our history to pick an African American to the Supreme Court, saying Clarence Thomas' race never entered into his consideration; that was a fib — and Bill Clinton saying during this big brouhaha about his draft status he had gotten a draft notice but he'd forgotten it. You may forget your first kiss or your first beer but you don't forget when the full majesty and force of the United States says we want you. And John Ashcroft lied — John Ashcroft lied when he said in March of 2000 that he had been unaware of the teachings and principles of Bob Jones University. Now this was after his candidate for President, George W. Bush, had publicly apologized to the cardinal archbishop of New York, John O'Connor for failing to criticize the teachings of Bob Jones when he was there, the teachings including the Catholic Church is a satanic cult. Pope John Paul II was the antichrist. So I mean for Ashcroft to kind of try to pretend he didn't know what was going on when he in fact was the Christian Coalition endorsed candidate for President speaking at the commencement at Bob Jones in May of '99, that was an important place, an important event for John Ashcroft. I mean I don't think he probably… All he said was he thought that God had really done a wonderful job with this institution. He thanked God for this institution.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    What does that say?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    What it says is the hearings are going to be crucial.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    They're going to be about things like that.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Asked about his own integrity, his own honesty, his own directness, and most important of all, ask about Ronnie White, the state Supreme Court, the African American judge in Missouri whom Ashcroft single-handedly stopped after Kit Bond his colleague endorsed him, introduced him, all of it, got a favorable vote out of the Judiciary Committee and John Ashcroft went to the Republicans in the Senate and said this man is a bad man, pro-criminal and the rest of it. I don't think it is a charge that is going to stand up to the later day.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    How do you read it?

  • PAUL GIGOT:

    I don't think going to Bob Jones University is going to be a disqualification. I mean, he didn't lie under oath, didn't lie before a grand jury. The problem with John Ashcroft right now is that a lot of people in the interest groups really think that George Bush is illegitimate. They don't think his presidency is legitimate. You can see it in subtle ways picking up here and there. Bill Clinton has sort of raised the point twice this week saying they didn't count the votes in Florida. If they had, Gore would have won. Members of the House of Representatives standing up and reobjecting to the electoral count. I think therefore they feel it can be open season on anybody who is a real conservative and Ashcroft is. There is no question about it. I mean he's further to the right probably than George W. Bush on some issues. And they think this is somebody they can mobilize their base with, that they can raise some money with and basically say to the Democrats in the Senate, you know, he shouldn't be the nominee. Don't put somebody like that, Mr. Bush, up for the Supreme Court.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    But the specifics of the Judge White issue. For instance Stuart Taylor who is often on this program — writes for the "National Journal" wrote a stinging thing today. He said that Ashcroft descended into demagoguery, dishonesty and character assassination and he smeared Judge Ronnie White for partisan political purposes, not having anything to do with race, but had to do he was in a tight race for the Senate and he wanted to show he was really strong against crime. Have you looked into this?

  • PAUL GIGOT:

    I have. I covered it at the time. I remember talking to some of Ashcroft's strategists, why were they doing this. And demagoguery, sure. Calling him pro-criminal I think is demagoguery. Some of the things they are saying about him now, being that this was a racial issue is also demagoguery. There is no question. In my view what he was doing he was trying to… He knew he was going to be in a race with Mel Carnahan and he knew that Mel Carnahan was opposed to the death penalty and he was trying to make the Ronnie White decision part of a case against Mel Carnahan on the death penalty. And that's why he drew this. And there was a criminal… It was a crime issue.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Is there enough there to get Ashcroft, to be straight about it?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    I think, Jim, what we're saying is he is not a racist and no one is saying that. But he was an opportunist of the worst rank order. This is an important… this is a man who was nominated to the federal bench, who got the support of Orrin Hatch and Strom Thurmond….

  • JIM LEHRER:

    You're talking about Ronnie White.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    In the committee, and came to the floor and introduced this story about him, made these charges, which now say are hyperbole, overkill, inaccurate, unfair.

  • PAUL GIGOT:

    I don't agree with that on the facts. I mean look….

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    He's pro-criminal.

  • PAUL GIGOT:

    That phrase, yes, but the specifics of the case, he did have dissents in.

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    Dissents in three cases, Paul.

  • PAUL GIGOT:

    The specifics of which were rather telling and his colleague from Missouri Kit Bond who was inclined to vote for Judge White, came around and decided no, he was not going to do that and Arlen Specter, Olympia Snowe.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Judge White is actually going to testify. There are going to be three days of hearings, we should tell everybody, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and Judge White is to testify on Thursday. These could be really, really interesting hearings, to put it… Is this early showdown time, do you think?

  • PAUL GIGOT:

    I think it goes to show you what the mood of the early part of this administration is. There is not much of a honeymoon for George W. Bush or any of his nominees. I can't remember when a President, three of them, came under such attack as they're doing now.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    The third being Gale Norton.

  • PAUL GIGOT:

    Gale Norton. He has to perform well. There is no question about it. He is still an odds on favorite to be confirmed.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    Still odds on favorite to be confirmed?

  • MARK SHIELDS:

    One republican senator said he thought there were 30 democratic votes against it. Barbara Boxer is the only Democrat out against it. That's the way it should be. You wait until the hearings until he can answer the questions. Jim, this is a fellow who said he did not know anything about Bob Jones University when he went there to give a commencement address, which on its face is hard to believe. But I just point out that Bob Jones tax exempt status which was lost in 1983, the Supreme Court case, the attorney general of Missouri at the time was John Ashcroft. Of course me knew about it.

  • JIM LEHRER:

    All right. We'll see what happens Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Thank you both.

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