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Capital Gang

Has George W. Bush Made the 'Right' Cabinet Picks?

Aired December 30, 2000 - 7:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.

MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to CAPITAL GANG, and happy New Year. I'm Mark Shields with Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne and Margaret Carlson. Our guest is former Democratic Congressman Vic Fazio of California.

It's good to have you back, Vic.

VIC FAZIO, FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Thank you, and happy New Year to everybody.

SHIELDS: Thank you very much, except Novak.

Continuing to fill out his Cabinet, President-elect Bush reached back to Republican elder statesman Donald Rumsfeld for a job Rumsfeld had held 25 years ago: secretary of defense. More recently, he headed a bipartisan commission on missile defense.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: I felt he did an extraordinary job with a delicate assignment. He brought people who -- together to understand the realities of the modern world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY NOMINEE: We are in a new national security environment. We do need to be arranged to deal with the new threats, not the old ones.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Among other Cabinet choices this week, Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson was asked whether as secretary of health and human services he would suspend fetal tissue research.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. TOMMY THOMPSON (R-WI), HHS SECRETARY NOMINEE: I am a pro- life governor, and everybody knows that I listen to everybody and will continue to do so.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Former Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton was asked about oil exploration in the Alaska reserve.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GALE NORTON, INTERIOR SECRETARY NOMINEE: That is an issue again that I cannot comment on in terms of my own actions on that, but I do support the president in the positions that he has taken during his campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, how would you describe, in glowing terms, this nearly completed Bush Cabinet?

KATE O'BEIRNE, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Mark, it seems to me so far it is a very well-built, carefully built Cabinet. It seems the president-elect, Bush, is selecting the kind of people with either federal or state experience who could get at least some things done in this tough environment. From a conservative perspective, there are conservatives where it matters to have conservatives: attorney general, secretary of defense, HHS. And there are nonconservatives where it doesn't much matter whether or not they're conservative.

I think Don Rumsfeld was a home run. He left government service 25 years ago, but most recently, his contribution a brilliant report on the threat of long-range missiles from antagonistic countries that directly contradicted the Clinton-ized joint chiefs of staff. I'm told it's already been well-received at the Pentagon. He's already boosted morale, because he's the kind of guy, a former Navy pilot and former secretary of defense, who deeply respects the military, and far too many Clinton-ites didn't.

SHIELDS: Do you agree, Margaret?

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME": Well, Rumsfeld should make Bob happy. I think he's even older than you.

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": No, he's a little younger.

CARLSON: A little younger? Oh, a spring chicken.

I mean, we're being spared the discomfort of having to get to know new faces since so many -- this is not the Bush restoration. It's the Ford restoration.

Rumsfeld is good for this reason, in that he can go toe to toe with Dick Cheney, who's held the job, and secretary of state to be Colin Powell, and you needed somebody with a lot of experience to be able to run the Defense Department in the -- in the company of those men.

And Bush made a big point that he can argue that Rumsfeld will not -- will rock the boat a little bit in that he will make himself heard. I think a main qualification for the job, however, was to be in favor of the "Star Wars" defense, and Rumsfeld is. Rumsfeld is even though there's been no evidence that what we have now works.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, it's tough to argue with Margaret, but I think somehow you'll manage it.

NOVAK: I'll manage it. You know, Margaret, I would take Secretary of the Treasury Mellon from the Coolidge administration if he were still alive. He's seriously dead...

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

CARLSON: That's right. Put some sunglasses on him, prop him up.

NOVAK: But you know, the danger -- this just shows the danger of making a judgment on Cabinet-making too early, after a few appointments, because I was a little disappointed in the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Cabinet. But this is a brilliant Cabinet.

It touches all the bases of the Republican Party, and it's very much in line with what George W. Bush campaigned on. He's got Dr. Paige from Houston, who is an African-American, but also very close to Bush's position on schools. They won't be able to rough him up in the hearings.

This Gale Norton from Colorado, she is going to be terrific on trying to get some oil out of the ANWR, which we need, and getting rid of some of the -- you know, not worrying about the fuzzy little animals up there too much.

But I really am excited about Rumsfeld coming back after 23 years, making a lot of money. He's probably a better-rounded person now that he's a millionaire.

And I would say that the thing I remember Rumsfeld for, he was really a tough guy in the Ford administration, and he fought a quiet, behind-the-scenes fight against the arms controllers. I thought he was very good.

SHIELDS: Just one -- before I go to Vic Fazio, I want to understand one thing. Does being a millionaire make somebody a better person?

NOVAK: Usually.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BEIRNE: If they support tax cuts.

CARLSON: Rumsfeld's for tax cuts.

FAZIO: Well, certainly this is a pragmatic and experienced group of people. There are not too many who I think will come under heavy attack during their Senate confirmations.

Gale Norton may well be one given the fact that she is not just unacceptable to the environmental community. I think she could be perceived as anathema to them.

But in general, I think the Bush appointees really do mirror the kind of campaign he ran. They do, of course, turn their back on the movement conservatives with one exception. I mean, Lawrence Lindsey was supposed to be the secretary of treasury and he's not.

But the bottom line he has decided that he can take those folks for granted, and he can move forward with a moderate Republican image.

O'BEIRNE: Tax reform, as I've spoken to, like the Paul O'Neill pick at Treasury -- there's now a pro-life conservative in Governor Tommy Thompson at HHS, which is fitting, because Governor Bush is a pro-life conservative. So the conservatives aren't complaining about this Cabinet at all. In fact, they're quite enthused about an awful lot of these picks.

(CROSSTALK)

FAZIO: Where's the Democrat?

(CROSSTALK)

SHIELDS: Let me say a couple of good things about the Cabinet.

O'BEIRNE: We couldn't find anybody with enough experience.

FAZIO: Ah, that's right.

SHIELDS: Last week, last week, I heard Paul O'Neill excoriated in this very precinct, excoriated, I mean, as a terrible choice, an abysmal choice, and now it's a brilliant Cabinet. I don't know. But you told me last week that secretary of the treasury was the most important job in the Cabinet. But having failed the most important job...

NOVAK: Can I answer? Can I answer you? Are you attacking me?

SHIELDS: Of course, you can.

SHIELDS: No, I'm not attacking you...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Well, criticizing me. Can I answer?

SHIELDS: Criticizing you, Bob.

NOVAK: All right, I will say...

SHIELDS: Don't confuse them.

NOVAK: I will say the failing of the Cabinet is in a very important area, is economic policy. We got Mitch Daniels in at OMB, who's very inexperienced, very...

O'BEIRNE: I think it's a good pick.

NOVAK: Good politician, but inexperienced. Paul O'Neill, I'm very worried about him, whether he understands the economic crisis that we are about to enter globally. Then we have Don Evans, who's a good guy, but he's new to government, as secretary of commerce.

So I would say that is the weak spot of the Cabinet, in the economic area.

SHIELDS: Let me just say quickly I think Mitch Daniels is a brilliant pick. I don't know a more competent person I've known in Washington in 30 years than Mitch Daniels. I think Tommy Thompson is a superb choice in the sense that Tommy Thompson has the record George Bush wish he had had to run. I mean, Tommy Thompson...

O'BEIRNE: Well, he had longer to do it.

SHIELDS: ... he was the compassionate conservative. Well, I mean, but he really was the guy. And I think that at the same time Don Rumsfeld is a grownup, and he's a real grownup. I happen to think "Star Wars" is a little loony, but that's my judgment.

NOVAK: He's not doing Star Wars. He's doing national missile defense.

SHIELDS: Oh, OK...

CARLSON: Ah, a better name.

O'BEIRNE: And that's increasingly -- that's increasingly a minority view. His report with the security experts he had on it, that commission he did, was really well-received.

FAZIO: What may be missing at Defense, though, with the team in place -- and certainly Colin Powell and Dick Cheney are part of that team -- is the guy that can go against the grain, the guy that can do what Lawrence Korb did for Ronald Reagan. Now, you may not be popular. He's always going to be seen as the hair-shirt wearer in the group, but he's the guy that can say, hey, that's the weapons system we should cancel.

SHIELDS: We'll keep an eye open for that one, and that's the last work, Vic Fazio, because Vic Fazio and the gang will be right back, with storm clouds over John Ashcroft.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back. The political lightning rod of the Bush Cabinet appointments so far turns out to be defeated Senator John Ashcroft of Missouri, nominated for attorney general. No senators have come out in opposition to their former colleague, but the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee did promise a grilling.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Will he enforce the laws that protect a Planned Parenthood clinic from fire-bombers and others? Will he enforce the fair employment, the equal rights laws, whether he supports them or not as a legislator?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. JESSE JACKSON, PRESIDENT, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: It will be an uphill battle, that's all. This is a president who did not win the majority vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I think his appointment is a terrible one. He did accept an honorary degree from Bob Jones University. He didn't just vote against an African-American nominee. He led the fight to kill the appointment of, I believe, the first African-American judicial appointee from Missouri.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Congressman Frank referred to the Senate's rejection of Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ronnie White for a federal appellate judgeship.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OCTOBER 21, 1999)

SEN. JOHN ASHCROFT (R), MISSOURI: Ronnie White was not confirmed by the United States Senate because he was soft on crime. He had a poor record of voting to expand loopholes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, is Senator John Ashcroft in danger of being rejected by the Senate?

CARLSON: No, he's not in danger. As a former senator, he's not in that danger.

What Bush has done is to take the most sensitive Cabinet appointment and make an appointment that thrills the right, in particular the religious right. And this is in many ways the Justice Department means just that, and it addresses our most sensitive concerns, and it should be -- that post should be the secretary of uniting, not dividing.

And on those questions of race and immigration and the death penalty and violence against women and a abortion clinics, Senator Ashcroft is way to the right. He's not in the middle. And we have a history in this country of appointing moderates to that job. And I think there will be a discussion, and I think it -- I hope it isn't led by the Bork and Thomas brigade, but that there is a discussion about the concerns there. And maybe it will move Ashcroft back to the -- a little bit closer to the center.

SHIELDS: But Kate O'Beirne, up to now almost all the criticism has focused on abortion, abortion rights, choice. There's been very -- and some reference to the Ronnie White. But I mean, there hasn't been -- hasn't been really delving into other aspects of the job. And so for that reason, you don't think that the position is really galvanized to the point of being serious, (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

O'BEIRNE: Well, I think they're galvanizing, and I think the attack is going to be on race. Look, the game is this: Democrats can attack black conservatives in the most hateful terms, but you cannot oppose a liberal black, even on the merits, which is what John Ashcroft did when he opposed Ronnie White: 54 Republican senators opposed Ronnie White, including John McCain, Chuck Hagel, Arlen Specter. Are they all racist? No.

The Missouri law enforcement community was up in arms over his appointment. He was a lone dissent in a capital murder case where a cop killer killed a deputy sheriff, drove over to the sheriff's house, shot through the window, killed the sheriff's wife, stopped by the police station, killed two more sheriffs.

He was soft on crime. On the federal district bench, Ronnie White, he would have had a virtual veto over capital punishment cases.

This is not about John Ashcroft. He's an honorable, decent man. His former colleagues know that. They are going to use him to attack and weaken George Bush. That's what this game is all about.

SHIELDS: Vic Fazio, you've watched this confirmation contest for a long time.

FAZIO: Well, I don't think there's any question that as a recent member of the Senate establishment and somebody who frankly conducted himself quite well at the end of his campaign, when he was defeated by the late Governor Carnahan, he has some points stored up and he will use them. But there will be a lot of acrimony. I think people don't realize how deeply conservative he is.

I mean, he supported laws to legalize concealable weapons in Missouri, something that the voters have just rejected. He is somebody who opposed Bill Lan Lee at the civil rights office because of his opposition to the affirmative action proposition in California that would have in effect done away with what had been the law for many, many years out there.

He is going to be a lightning rod, and it is the beginning of the development of those issues that I think Democrats won on in congressional and Senate races, but which were not a major point of difference between Bush and Gore. It's the beginning of the next election two years hence.

NOVAK: Vic, most of the Republicans opposed Bill Lan Lee. He wasn't confirmed, and he was under the -- he was kept in office for two years under the recess appointment loophole. He is a concealed weapons -- George W. Bush, who was the president, supported concealed weapons legislation in Texas. Most Republicans do.

Margaret, I don't think Ed Meese was middle of the road. He was attorney general. I don't think Ramsey Clark, the Democrat, was in the middle of the road. He was attorney general. That's a lot of nonsense that only, you know, moderates should be attorney general.

We all know what this is. This is an attempt to send up a warning to George W. Bush about Supreme Court nominations: You better not send anybody up there who shares your views or we'll kill them.

SHIELDS: Speaking of loopholes, as you just were, John Ashcroft exploited one in the last campaign, where he took large unregulated sums, soft money, and converted it into his campaign in total violation of the spirit of the federal election law. And this is the very thing that you and other conservatives, Bob, including Kate, criticize Bill Clinton for doing, and rightly so, in 1996. And somehow he's going to now prosecute people who have done the same thing, because Janet Reno did not appoint anybody to investigate that.

And I would add to that the fact that this is a man who took corporate contributions from Microsoft. Now, I mean, is that a central element at the Justice Department? No?

NOVAK: Well, I -- in the first place, I hope he changes the policy on Microsoft the first day he gets in.

SHIELDS: $5,000 would be a great investment by Microsoft then, wouldn't it?

NOVAK: $5,000 -- yes, you can buy somebody.

CARLSON: For a $5 billion payoff.

O'BEIRNE: To succeed the incompetent Janet Reno, I mean, it's going to be very difficult for Democrats to worry about enforcing the law when Janet Reno has been attorney general for eight years. And John Ashcroft does oppose race quotas, which Bill Lan Lee does not, as do the majority of voters in California who approved that initiative and referendum.

On issue after issue you named, he's frankly more in tune with the American public on those issues than is...

NOVAK: But there is a conspiracy -- there is a conspiracy to attack him.

O'BEIRNE: Yes.

NOVAK: He is -- they've all gathered around and said, well, this is the guy we're going to go after.

O'BEIRNE: He'll be the pinata in order to scare off George Bush.

SHIELDS: This isn't conspiracy. I mean, there is legitimate opposition to John Ashcroft. John Ashcroft, as John Breaux -- John Breaux, the most loved, beloved... NOVAK: Not by me.

SHIELDS: ... Democrat by Republicans...

FAZIO: Certainly by (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

SHIELDS: Certainly by George W. Bush. He's all over him like a cheap suit.

NOVAK: Well, he doesn't know him.

SHIELDS: He says he's to the right of 95 senators.

O'BEIRNE: Not a single one -- not a single one of his colleagues believes he's a racist, and yet watch what they accuse him of.

SHIELDS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) we're talking about...

O'BEIRNE: That's what he's going to be accused of.

SHIELDS: There's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) question of racist. The question, Kate, of whether somebody's is insensitive. He chose Judge Ronnie White to oppose. All right? Ronnie White had a tougher record than the three appointees of John Ashcroft.

NOVAK: Oh, that's not -- that's not true.

O'BEIRNE: That's not true.

SHIELDS: Ask "The St. Louis Post-Dispatch." Ask "The St. Louis Post-Dispatch."

O'BEIRNE: During his tenure, that's not true. During his tenure, he voted to overturn more cases than any other judge on the bench.

CARLSON: You can pick one case for any judge in this country and go after him. And...

NOVAK: He had a bad record on several cases.

CARLSON: And Senator John Breaux, brought down to the ranch, beloved of George Bush, says that 95 senators are to the left of this guy. This is not a man in the center, and the Justice Department should have a man in the center.

NOVAK: Margaret, let me just tell you one thing that George W. Bush doesn't know much about the Senate. He's going find that he wishes he had John Ashcroft instead of John Breaux.

SHIELDS: I'll tell you this, he'd be better off listening to John Breaux than Robert Novak. That's the last word.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, 17 Democratic days that could shake Washington.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back. On Wednesday, January 3, the 107th Congress will convene with a 50-50 party division in the Senate. Vice president Al Gore, presiding over the Senate, will break the tie to give the Democrats control of the Senate for the first time since 1994. But it will last only 17 days, until January 20th, when Dick Cheney is sworn in as vice president and returns the Senate to Republican control.

What will happen in those 17 days?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: Well, that depends on what Senator Lott and I can work out. Ideally, what I'd like to do is to go to the Senate on the 3rd of January and say, Senator Lott and I have worked out an agreement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, surely the Democrats will be tempted to do more than that during those 17 days that could shake Washington?

NOVAK: I think what Senator Daschle is trying to do is trying to be nice, trying to be fair, trying to be collegial in saying, look, we're going to be collegial with you in 17 days and you be collegial with us for another two years. Now, the real test is the thing that Republicans were terrified was that he would bring up the McCain- Feingold campaign reform bill. He is not going to do it he says. He's a man of his word and I trust him. So I think it's going to be a less exciting 17 days than you can imagine.

SHIELDS: Vic, what do you think?

FAZIO: Well, Tom is not going to be confrontational. I think they are going to cooperate with the administration and give the Bush appointees their hearings for confirmation purposes. But I do think that while a deal is still possible before the third, it's going to have to split pretty much the resources of the Senate right down the middle.

SHIELDS: Bigger staff, bigger budget for the minority?

FAZIO: Bigger staff, bigger budgets, and I think more importantly than control of committees where Republicans hang tough for a one-vote majority, Tom Daschle wants the ability to bring issues to the floor and not have Trent Lott do what he did last Congress, and that is keep the Senate from having votes on most tough issues.

SHIELDS: Vic Fazio makes sense.

CARLSON: Yes. Since most of these appointees are known to us and have been vetted before, there's not going take much time to get them through and Ashcroft was a senator, so while that will be controversial, it will not give the Senate a chance to vote against anybody. You know, the best thing they could do would be to push Hillary-care through, push it through the Senate and have Clinton sign the bill. We'll have mandatory health care.

NOVAK: But that's what they're not going to do.

CARLSON: I know it's not what they're going to do, but boredom will reign. There will be no mischief. It will be as if, you know, they were never in charge.

SHIELDS: Quickly, Kate, what 17 days?

O'BEIRNE: Well, the Bush camp hopes the week of January 15th they'll have hearings on all of their Cabinet nominees selected so far. You'll have Senator Kennedy chairing, Senator Leahy chairing, Senator Joe Biden chairing, but there'll be a lot of competition and not much attention paid to any one of them.

SHIELDS: OK, Kate O'Beirne, last words. Vic Fazio, thanks so much for joining us.

FAZIO: I enjoyed it.

SHIELDS: Happy New Year to Judy.

FAZIO: Thanks.

SHIELDS: Thanks for being with us. The gang will be back with the outrage of the week.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: And now for the outrage of the week. In 1962, after he lost the California governorship to Democrat Pat Brown, Richard Nixon had this to say at what he called his last press conference.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD M. NIXON, GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: But as I leave you, I want you to know, just think about how much you're going to be missing. You don't have Nixon to kick around anymore.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHIELDS: Nixon's anger was specifically directed at the tough, even-handed coverage of the campaign by "The Los Angeles Times'" Dick Bergholz, a fair-minded and respected professional who covered California politics awfully well for four decades. Dick Bergholz died this week at 85 -- Bob Novak

NOVAK: President Clinton is spinning to the last, saying an estimated $5 trillion surplus over the next decade shows that Americans don't need a tax cut. All it really shows is that Americans are terribly overtaxed. The real danger is that a massive corporate cash crunch threatens the global economy and a tax cut, while vital, is but part of the solution. Bill Clinton will never understand. We can only hope George W. Bush sees the danger.

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson. CARLSON: You're going to miss having Bill Clinton to kick around

Just eight years ago, Bill Clinton, talking tough, vowed to have the most ethical administration in history. But yesterday he went back on that vow by rescinding the executive order that barred top- level officials from lobbying for five years. By reverting to the one-year rule, Clinton gives the revolving door a vigorous, cynical spin on his way out. Yes, he'll be remembered for creating 22 million jobs. But now he'll also be remembered for creating a few lucrative ones for his friends.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: And a Clinton sweep, Mark. In what will hopefully be one of his final outrages as president, Bill Clinton has again abused longstanding tradition, this time by making a recess appointment to the federal bench. This cheap political trick is designed to embarrass Republicans if they fail to allow this black candidate to remain the in the lifetime appellate post. Bill Clinton has had eight years to integrate the 4th Circuit Court, but waited until now in order to fuel racial tensions and play politics with the federal judiciary.

SHIELDS: This is Mark Shields saying good night for the CAPITAL GANG. Next on CNN, "SPORTS NIGHT" reports on the opening NFL playoff games.

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