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Capital Gang

Vin Weber Discusses the Inaugural, President Clinton's Immunity Deal

Aired January 20, 2001 - 7:00 p.m. ET


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, THE CAPITAL GANG.

MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to a one-hour CAPITAL GANG on Inauguration Day. I'm Mark Shields, with Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Kate O'Beirne. Our guest is former Republican Congressman Vin Weber and present maitre d' of Minnesota. Great to have you back, Vin.

VIN WEBER (R), FRM. U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: I've got my Minnesota long underwear on underneath this tux. I'm ready to party.

SHIELDS: I appreciate it. Lake Woebegone (ph) is a long way in the past. In his inaugural address, President George Walker Bush called for reconciliation.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our unity, our union is the serious work of leaders and citizens in every generation. And this is my solemn pledge: I will work to build a single nation of justice and opportunity.


SHIELDS: He summed up all his campaign issues in a single paragraph.


BUSH: We will reform Social Security and Medicare, sparing your children from struggles we have the power to prevent. And we will reduce taxes to recover the momentum of our economy and reward the effort and enterprise of working Americans. We will build our defenses beyond challenge, lest weakness invite challenge.


SHIELDS: And while pledging to fight poverty, President Bush added government could not do it all.


BUSH: Compassion is the work of a nation, not just a government. And some needs and hurts are so deep they will only respond to a mentor's touch or a pastor's prayer.


SHIELDS: Al Hunt, how would you rate President George W. Bush's address?

AL HUNT, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Mark, it was very adequate. Great inaugural speeches occur only at critical junctures. Lincoln's in 1865 with the Civil War ending with malice toward none charity, toward all. FDR at the beginning of his term, the Depression: We have nothing to fear but fear itself or great communicators like JFK or Ronald Reagan.

George Bush has an exceptionally talented speech writer, Mr. Gerson, but he's not a great communicator. I don't think he pretends to be, and I think that was reflected today. So, I thought he did everything he had to do. He set a tone that was good. There is, however, something I think absolutely that's -- just there's majesty about transformation of power in America and that was also true today.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, you've heard a few. How does this one stack up?.

ROBERT NOVAK, "THE CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": I thought it was pretty good, and that's high praise from me. I thought it was much better than his father's 12 years ago or the two terrible Clinton inaugural addresses. Some people, some conservatives were disappointed he didn't give the conservative agenda.

But this was not a place for a conservative speech, particularly for somebody with a disputed election. I'm glad he didn't talk about the disputed election, but that was in the background. I thought it was quite a good speech, and I was delighted, too, that the good Americans out there were really rapturous, most rapturous when he did talk about tax cuts.

SHIELDS: It was. I think it's fair to say, if Republicans are going sit in the cold and wet for two hours, they want to cheer a tax cut. I mean, that's it. I mean, before they get back in the limos and start, you know, shaking their martinis, they want to be able to say, hey, we're going to get our taxes cut.

WEBER: I watched the Clinton inaugurals. They didn't come on motorcycles.

SHIELDS: Good point.

WEBER: There were a lot of limos there, too. It was a great speech. It is a testimonial to his great speech writer, Mike Gerson. I thought the interesting thing in it was his call to citizenship, which I think is an important concept; responsibility on the part of citizens, and it contrasted so much with Bill Clinton, who said I feel your pain. Nothing wrong with that, but President Bush said, you are citizens. You have responsibilities, too. I thought that was an interesting transition and I thought it was a good speech.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne?

KATE O'BEIRNE, "THE NATIONAL REVIEW": I agree. I think it was a good speech and I think it had a -- it matched nicely George W. Bush. I mean, these are things he's talked about all during the campaign. You know, his desire to touch every willing heart; leave no child behind. It's how he governed in Texas. He just mentioned his four top priority items, and in Texas he focused on what he promised to do when he first ran, and was determined to deliver on it.

He called all of us citizens to defend needed reforms against easy attacks. I think he's talking to me, Al, and you're going to be the easy attack guy. And I pledge to defend needed reforms, like his tax cut. He was very generous, I thought, in his opening to both President Clinton and Vice President Gore, but then there were times during the speech where I was just struck by the fact as simple a statement as he was making, our public interest prevents on private character, there are things Bill Clinton couldn't say without snickering and those days are behind us now.

SHIELDS: Before we get the chiselers and the sculptors out to Mount Rushmore, let me try to offer a more sobering perspective. I thought he did very well. I thought it was the George W. Bush of the pre-Bob Jones days, that is the South Carolina primary. Prior to that, he had a message very much like the one he delivered today and it was the one that scared Democrats and Democrats really thought he was going come in with 60 percent and long coattails.

This was a speech that he gave of a man who won with less than a plurality of the vote; who came with no coattails. He had a tank top on, as a matter of fact, with reduced priority membership in both Houses. So I think in that sense, his speech made sense today. There were a couple of phrases in there, a slave-holding society that became a servant of freedom. Now, that's something you don't get from those who read and appear before the "Southern Partisan Review" on a regular basis. That's a little different.

That was it, and a story of a power that went into the world to protest but not possess; to defend, but not conquer. I mean, I thought that the words were good but it gave us George Bush's view of the United States' history which I think tells us an awful lot about any president how he sees the country and he sees it in a different way.

NOVAK: I do believe that the question when he said that number one, the government can't do it all' there's a lot of people in this town who really do think government can do it all...


NOVAK: ... that was the philosophy of the Clinton administration, and secondly, he did say, at a time when religion in politics is under attack in this town, that religion and faith-based organization had to play a part in it. So, I thought it was an interesting speech. It was not a liberal speech. I think it was inherently a conservative speech, but it wasn't a partisan speech.

HUNT: I'm just not sure who's attacking religion and morality, but some day Bob will tell us that, I'm sure.

NOVAK: Do you want me to tell you?

HUNT: No, no, no. I said someday. Please, not today. Please, not today. But you know, I mean the one thing is that when I talked about the transformation of power, it is total and it abrupt. I'll just tell you a quick. In 1981, when Carter took over, spent three days trying to get the hostages -- I'm sorry, Reagan took over.

Hamilton Jordan was up all night. One o'clock in the afternoon, an hour after Jimmy Carter, Hamilton Jordan was out at Andrews Air Force Base, and he called the situation room at the White House to see if the hostages had gotten out yet, and the duty officer said, you know, I'm sorry. I can't talk to you. And Hamilton says, this is a secure phone. And he said, no Mr. Jordan, you don't understand. You don't work here anymore. So, it's total.


SHIELDS: I will say George Bush did not -- before too many conservatives start clicking they're heels, Brother Novak, in the quiet of the American conscience, we all know that deep persistent poverty is unworthy of this nation's promise. That is a national commitment.

O'BEIRNE: The conservatives agree, Mark

SHIELDS: That shows a national commitment. That isn't just gee, let's be nice to the little guy down the street. That's all of us.

NOVAK: But see, people like you, Mark, who really that government is going to change that, and he said not. So -- see, that is something you'll never understand. That's what the conservative idea is. The idea is if you cut the capital gains, tax you're fighting poverty.

SHIELDS: Oh, is that...

WEBER: His point is that we've been building the liberal welfare state for 70 years in this country. It's done some good things, but it hasn't solved this problem of persistent poverty, and we're going try other ways of doing it.

SHIELDS: The only thing it's got is reduced poverty by three- quarters among those over the age of 65 and given then health insurance for 99 percent of them. They had 47 percent had health insurance under the old private system. But that...

WEBER: Ruined the strongest economy in the world.

SHIELDS: But who am I to say? Vin Weber and the gang will be back with the Bush agenda.


SHIELDS: Welcome back. Addressing the Republican National Committee in this inaugural week, the new president gave an outline of his agenda.


BUSH: One of the reasons I stand here today is because we did set a new course for our party, what I called compassionate conservatism. That we stand on principle, but the conservative principles. But we're confident that those principles, when employed properly, will help people regardless of their party.


SHIELDS: In confirmation hearings, Bush Cabinet nominees were pressed on the president's policy positions taken during the campaign, including tax cuts.


PAUL O'NEILL, TREASURY SECRETARY: If we're going to have a tax reduction, which I'm hearing more and more people say they're in favor of a tax reduction, then I don't know why we wouldn't want it now; not because it's a major component to drive the economy, but because it won't hurt.


SHIELDS: President Bush's wife also departed from her husband's party line on abortion.


LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that we should do what we can to limit the number of abortions; to try to reduce the number of abortions in a lot of ways.

KATIE COURIC, NBC NEWS: Should Roe v. Wade, for example, be overturned?

L. BUSH: No, I don't think it should be overturned.


SHIELDS; Kate O'Beirne, is the Bush agenda somehow blurred even before this brand new administration begins?

O'BEIRNE: Well, not if you listen to President Bush. But some of the supporting players seem to have differences with him. You know, campaign aides will tell you that frequently at staff meetings, Governor Bush would be the most conservative person in the room, and I suspect around the Cabinet table that might be the case, too. Paul O'Neill does not seem to be inclined to sell this tax cut by saying, if it's going to happen...

SHIELDS: Secretary of the treasury.

O'BEIRNE: ... yes -- better sooner than later. Well, it's not going happen unless he's prepared to help sell it and help sell it, I think, the way President Bush himself has been selling it increasingly, as a remedy for a soft economy.

WEBER: And the way he tried to sell it today. In his speech today President Bush said we will cut taxes to recover momentum for our economy and to reward effort and enterprise. That's a simple, eloquent statement of what we believe about economics, and I'm glad it came from the president.

You know, they used to say when Ronald Reagan was president, conservatives would say we have a mole in the White House. His name is Ronald Reagan. And I think that's what Kate is saying. I hope that Secretary O'Neill is effective in pushing the tax cut in the Congress, but I think the president is going to be effective in selling it to the country.

SHIELDS: More conservative than Gale Norton and John Ashcroft?

WEBER: I don't know about that. I think that they're going to do their part.

SHIELDS: OK, all right -- Bob Novak.

NOVAK: Well, I've been saying on this program since the days of Nancy Reagan that I don't understand why first ladies have any role in making policy. The can talk about their husbands, but the idea of saying that Roe v. Wade should not be overturned is none of Laura Bush's business, and shouldn't be talking about it. Let her -- if her husband wants to say that, let him say it. He hasn't said it yet.

Now, the more important thing is the Paul O'Neill because I've been saying he is a problem. He is a brilliant man. He's a fabulous CEO at Alcoa, but he isn't on the reservation on tax cuts. You look -- you pull up his record for his whole life.

He loves tax increases and it's very hard for him to understand he's not supposed to go up there and say, gee, the tax cuts aren't going to do any harm. He is supposed to say they're going to do some good, and let me tell you this, there are people high in the Bush administration who agree with me.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, I guess -- apparently the message in the agenda isn't blurred, it's just Paul O'Neill.

HUNT: You know what one of the great treats of this show is: To hear Bob quote himself. I mean, I think that really is -- to hear him talk about some of the best of the old Novaks.

WEBER: That's what most of us want.

HUNT: Laura Bush, I thought, answered a question -- I thought Laura Bush answered a question. I thought she was quite graceful in that interview. She said -- she just simply said no, it shouldn't be overturned. I'll tell you something, the last thing in the world this administration wants right now is to have a fight over whether Roe v. Wade should be overturned.

As for Paul O'Neill, I must admit I'm baffled because I've been listening to Vin Weber and Bob Novak and Kate O'Beirne for years saying we're not Kansians (ph). We don't want to -- we just think taxes ought to be cut. These were during boom times. It didn't have anything to do with getting the economy, it had to do with -- and now, all of a sudden, they're born-again Kansians. It's wonderful to see. It's all -- to get the economy going,

O'BEIRNE: Especially now.

HUNT: It's really, really great to see.


HUNT: No, no. I don't want an explanation, Mark.

SHIELDS: The one constant is tax cuts. When we're in good times, tax cuts. Bad times, tax cuts.

HUNT: The is widespread acceptance of George W. Bush as president, but the country is not rallied to any George Bush agenda. This is still an evenly divided country. You do polls now and they say -- they also say they'd like a targeted tax cut, too, and a smaller tax cut if you ask that in polls. And this is going to be the result of compromise. They are already making a miscalculation. They are ignoring Tom Daschle too much. Nothing is going to be settled without Tom Daschle.

NOVAK: This president was elected on an agenda of tax cuts and protecting the unborn, among other things, and it doesn't help to have the secretary of the treasury and the first lady going in a different direction.

O'BEIRNE: Now, In the first Bush administration, there was a husband-wife slit on the abortion issue, too, and despite that the former President Bush did have his Justice Department solicitor general argue to overturn Roe v. Wade. So she apparently, Laura Bush, does not reflect President Bush, but it makes his pro-life supporters very nervous to see her make such a pronouncement.

WEBER: Remember, most of the battles on the abortion issue that are actually going come up this year in Congress, partial-birth abortion, funding abortion; there's nothing inconsistent about what President Bush has said and probably what Laura Bush believes. Yes, Roe v. Wade is important. It is central, but most of the things this Congress is going to deal with right now are different issues and they're not inconsistent at all.

SHIELDS: Let me say that we talk about a mandate; there's no mandate. There's nothing -- we've had three presidents in the past 70 years that had mandates. I mean, Reagan had a mandate. Johnson had a mandate. And FDR had a mandate, and that's -- a mandate, you come in with a sweep and you come in with members of your own party elected to Congress.

There's no mandate here for anything. He's got an agenda. He's got a very short time to get anything done. He's got a window of about 100 days; three months, four months. He's just go to -- he'd better concentrate. He'd better sing with one voice, and if he listens to you, Novak -- I mean, Helen Taft, God bless her -- William Howard Taft's wife insisted on being in the inauguration. Prior to that first lady's have been excluded.

NOVAK: She didn't open her mouth, though.

SHIELDS: She sure did open her, and so did Eleanor Roosevelt and America's a better country for it.

Next on CAPITAL GANG, Texas comes to Washington, D.C.


SHIELDS: Welcome back. Two nights ago, the president-elect greeted supporters at a candlelit dinner. Candlelit?


BUSH: Thank you all for that gracious welcome. I suspect there's a few Texans in this hotel. Management better check the silverware.


SHIELDS: The president-elect was among 11,000 Republicans who jammed another hotel last night for the Texas State Society's Black Tie & Boots party. Earlier at the Lincoln Memorial, George W. Bush boogied with Ricky Martin.

Bob Novak, a boogying Bush? What do you think of the tone of these inaugural festivities compared to those you've seen in the past? And let's just skip the late 19th century.

NOVAK: Forty years ago, John F. Kennedy killed the men's hat industry in America by refusing to wear a hat. There's a lot of speculation whether George W. Bush will bring it back. Everybody will be walking around New York with Stetsons. I don't think so. I don't think you're going see much of Texas after the inaugural. It's been a lot of fun having them here.

The difference of this inaugural -- this is my 11th inaugural I've been to, and I think the big -- there's two big differences. It gets glitzier every year. More razzmatazz. Ricky -- can you imagine Ricky Martin and Dwight D. Eisenhower boogying together? I can't quite imagine that. And secondly, the security is just terrific. It is just -- it's almost like a police state. I know there's demonstrators, but I think it's excessive.

SHIELDS: I have to agree with you -- Al.

HUNT: You know, during Jimmy Carter's inaugural, nothing cost more than $25. You can't buy a drink for 25 bucks today. There is something that bothersome, there is this -- and it was true of the Clinton gatherings, too, this pernicious influence of money. I mean, Microsoft and Phillip Morris and everybody putting up a hundred grand to buy this or buy that and as I say, it was equally true for the Democrats.

I think that's really offensive, and I'll tell you, I think there's one concern. There are some of these Texans who imbibe in excess and as the great Catholic writer and theologian Michael Novak said in defending democratic capitalism, that excess produces envy and capitalists ought to beware when that takes place.

SHIELDS: Is that the right? Michael Novak. I'd like to quote one Novak.

O'BEIRNE: ... So excessive. There's a whole lot less Hollywood this weekend than there is Houston, and it's not a boomer -- baby boomer inaugural, despite the fact that George W. qualifies as a baby boomer.

The grownups are back in charge. Dick Cheney is even fooling around about the close election by saying, you know, I told you Wyoming's three votes would count. But it seems like the adults are back in charge and the Texas thing really works.

SHIELDS: I have to say, just to contradict Kate -- or disagree with Kate, the money was just exactly the same. The glitz is a different glitz, but it -- this is not a proletariat event nor was either of the Clinton events.

WEBER: It's a proletariat event, but culturally, Bill Clinton was not Arkansas. Bill Clinton was the two coasts. He was Hollywood and he was maybe Manhattan. This is the rest of the country in- between. You know, I'm from the other end of I-35 W from Texas

SHIELDS: Oh, that's how they dress out there?

WEBER: That is how we dress. Only if there are thermal insulated.

O'BEIRNE: It's rented. It makes all the difference, Mark. It's rented, right; Vin?

WEBER: This president can do well at Patrick's Restaurant in Longville, Minnesota just as well as he can do in Texas.

SHIELDS: And that ought to get you a good table at Patrick's. We'll return with what the CAPITAL GANG had to say about inaugural addressed of years past.



SHIELDS: Welcome back. Twelve years ago today at the 1989 inaugural, the senior George Bush called for national reconciliation.

And this is how your CAPITAL GANG reacted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HUNT: An A-minus. I thought it was thoughtful. I thought it was refreshing. I thought it was perfectly tailored to George Bush's political situation.


SHIELDS: Pat, I'd give George Bush an A-minus on content, a B- plus on delivery. He plays very well with the other children. George Bush yesterday set a tone that he was comfortable with, and most important of all, he looked forward and not back.

BUCHANAN: We're going to come back to that -- Bob.

NOVAK: I'd give it a C-minus. I think this is supposed to be an inspirational address. This was the most understated inaugural address I have ever heard.

BUCHANAN: I'd give it a B. I think it was in character with George Bush. It was representative of his patriotism; family, country, and all the rest of it.


SHIELDS: Four years later at the 1999 inauguration, Bill Clinton called for Americans to sacrifice. The gang responded this way:


SHIELDS: The introduction of sacrifice was welcome. I mean, this was something that he had ducked and avoided, quite frankly, during the primaries and during the general election.

NOVAK: I am very suspicious when any politician talks about sacrifice. What is the sacrifice? Is it going to mean that they're going to take more money from the ordinary people and put it in the hands of the government?

HUNT: I thought it was a pretty darn good speech. I thought he -- and I think the one thing that was here this week that Bob Novak notwithstanding, a lot of Americans are ready to sacrifice if they think it's fair and equitable.


SHIELDS: Al, would you like to amend what you said about any or either of those past inaugural speeches?

HUNT: You bet, Mark. I'd also like for us to be as old as we were when we did those. Each one of us.

SHIELDS: I looked like I'd been in the federal witness protection program.

HUNT: I am going to limit my grading to a course I'm teaching at Penn this semester. No more grades on the CAPITAL GANG. If my kids education depended on it, I couldn't cite you one phrase from that George Herbert Walker speech that I praised. As for Bill Clinton's speech, Mark, I would say this: He backtracked on a lot of his promises, but one he didn't backtrack on, he did ask for sacrifices. He asked rich people like Bob Novak to make sacrifices, and it turned record deficits into record surpluses and produced the greatest economic boom we've ever seen in America.

SHIELDS: And the greatest economic boom for Bob Novak.

NOVAK: I tell what was wrong with both those speeches is that they both the senior Bush and Clinton, they pulled up stuff they had never said in their campaign. I mean it was all new. There was no talk about sacrifice in the Clinton campaign. There was no talk about all this getting together in the very nasty senior Bush campaign of '88, and one thing I'll say about George W. today is that it was consistent with his campaign.

SHIELDS: Quick 10 seconds on what your reaction to.


WEBER: I thought you all looked great.


WEBER: I forgot how much you used to look just like Pat Buchanan.

SHIELDS: Kate, did you miss the gang?

O'BEIRNE: I admired the fact that Bob spotted those tax cuts hidden in Bill Clinton's inaugural address...

NOVAK: Tax increases.

O'BEIRNE: ... they were coming -- increases, right. They were there.

SHIELDS: He's amazing that way. We'll be back to continue this Inauguration Day one-hour edition of CAPITAL GANG with John Ashcroft under fire; Bill Clinton off the hook, and our "Outrages of the Week."


SHIELDS: Welcome back to CAPITAL GANG. I'm still Mark Shields, with Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Kate O'Beirne. Our guest is former Republican Congressman Vin Weber of Minnesota.

It's good to have you here.

WEBER: Nice to be with you.

SHIELDS: Thank you. Former Senator John Ashcroft, under heavy fire in his confirmation hearings to be attorney general, made a promise to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: I understand that being attorney general means enforcing the laws as they are written, not enforcing my own personal preference. It means advancing the national interest, not advocating my personal interest.


SHIELDS: Missouri Supreme Court Judge Ronnie White, whose confirmation to be a federal judge was blocked by Senator Ashcroft, gave highly critical testimony about the nominee for attorney general.

OK, in that he said he believed that Senator Ashcroft had distorted his record severely, unfairly by accusing him of being pro- criminal.

And, so, I turn to Kate O'Beirne, I say, Kate what have the Ashcroft hearings accomplished to this point? Have they changed anything?.

O'BEIRNE: Well, we first have to look what they hoped to accomplish. I think the Senate was pretty reconciled, Senate Democrats, to the fact that John Ashcroft was going to be confirmed. But they hoped, I think, to run this destructive race baiting campaign to intimidate President Bush from sending up any other conservatives and to discredit in advance, delegitimize John Ashcroft as attorney general.

From here on in, it will be the Ashcroft Justice Department. Today, the Ashcroft Justice Department. We don't know if that will have any kind of long-term impact. John Ashcroft, himself, I think was awfully defensive during these hearings and played into the notion that a conservative can only be attorney general if he's not going to be a conservative attorney general. I hope that's not the case. I hope it was only a tactical retreat and not a substantive retreat.

SHIELDS: And it's good point Kate raised. I mean, I went back and checked -- Nicky Anderson of "The Los Angeles Times" had a wonderful piece about senators nominated. There's been one senator rejected from this day all the way back to 1868, and...

NOVAK: John Tower.

SHIELDS: John Tower, that's right and 89 had been confirmed. But John Ashcroft, I mean, he really neutered himself, it seemed, ideologically, Bob, to the committee saying, you know, whatever the president says I'll do and you know, I'm not an advocate; I'm not a champion. I'm just sort of an administrator.

NOVAK: Well, that was the intent of the Democrats. See, things have changed in the Senate. I mean the idea of pulling up this Ronnie White nomination and going into the details of that as the reason for not confirming him when it was a unanimous Republican vote against him.

But I don't know if he's neutered himself, but in many ways he didn't just say I'll do what the president did. He sort of preempted the president's position, and that was of some upset inside the Bush operation that he was saying what the president's position would be.

Regrettably, because we had a little technical glitch, we didn't have the wonderful sound bite from Senator Ted Kennedy who said this was the nastiest confirmation fight he had seen. You know, Senator Kennedy, I love you, but Bob Bork was the nastiest and you were the guy who was the nastiest in destroying him.

SHIELDS: But he -- but whatever you say about John Ashcroft, he was not Bob Bork. Bob Bork was a combative witness. When he was seeking confirmation, he took on -- he was thanking his tormentors, was John Ashcroft.

NOVAK: But I -- I may not have made that clear. Kennedy was saying that the Ronnie White fight was the nastiest he'd ever seen.

SHIELDS: No, I was thinking of the two. OK, OK. Go ahead.

WEBER: Both Republicans and Democrats actually are getting what they want out of this, but they're playing different games. The Republicans just want to get John Ashcroft confirmed, and he's going to get confirmed. The Democrats that I talk to never really wanted to defeat John Ashcroft.

This is about 2002 politics, and in an off-year election even more than a presidential election, the only thing that matters is turn-out and we saw in this last campaign the Democrats very successfully turned out the black vote, labor vote, feminists, environmentalist to a little bit lesser extent, and this confirmation fight is all about an ongoing campaign to keep the black community agitated, to keep organize labor agitated, Linda Chavez is the same thing. And I don't like it, but I'm hard pressed to say it's not going to be effective for them in those off-year elections in two years.


O'BEIRNE: It might well be. They're paying a heavy price. I think, Vin, it's so destructive. They're defining racism down. I mean, you're no longer a racist, but you may show some insensitivity somehow. How do you define that? How do you fight against those charges?

And we have to be terribly careful, and I think John Ashcroft could have done a better job here, not falling into conservatism as per se racism, because you've offended the left wing of the Democratic Party.

SHIELDS: I have to say that what John Ashcroft did on Ronnie White, in my judgment, was reprehensible and truly disgraceful. I mean, accusing somebody of being pro-criminal, having a criminal bent; 53 out of 59 times he voted with the majority. He voted the minority -- dissented three times by himself.

This is a man who represented police; who had police support and in the one case that Ashcroft cited, Antonin Scalia and the Supreme Court, for goodness' sakes, backed him up and validated his position. I just add, he is getting a break that Ronnie White didn't. He never asked Ronnie White these question, any of the questions that he raised against him on the Senate floor; he never asked him whether he had him before him in committee -- Al.

HUNT: Mark, I agree with Kate he will be confirmed and I agree with Vin there's a lot of 2002 politics in this. And it was, you know, it was great for John Ashcroft to present himself as the Branch Rickey of Missouri and to cite Robert F. Kennedy, but I think what these hearings revealed was something very disturbing; that this is a guy when under political pressure simply doesn't tell the truth sometimes. I think he lied to his Republican colleagues about Ronnie White being pro-criminal and voting against the death penalty more than any other judge in the Missouri State Supreme Court.

I think his argument that he didn't know that Bob Jones was racist and a anti-Catholic when he went there to get an honorary degree. That's inconceivable. And the other day, in response to questions when he said he did not vote against James Hormel to be ambassador to Luxembourg because he was gay but because of the totality of his record, Mark that was untrue. He know that. The whole issue was whether you should appoint a gay ambassador or not. He just didn't tell the truth. That's a alarming about an attorney general.

NOVAK: Al, we're about out of time in this segment and you've made so many misstatements yourself that I can't even begin. But I'll just say one, on James Hormel. James Hormel, the documentary record of his anti-Catholic comments when they were having these nuns in the gay parade in San Francisco.


NOVAK: That's right and he was laughing at it and thinking what a nice thing that was. He was not just a gay. He was a gay activist and that's what that was about. Should he have been confirmed or not, I'm not sure. But it wasn't just a prejudice and this is an attack by the left wing community against John Ashcroft, and you've been part of it, Al. You said you were against him two week ago.

HUNT: If I may answer your question, Bob, you on this show said, and I'll find you the citation, that James Hormel was being denied a vote in the Senate because he was gay. That's what the whole issue was about. You said it. I'll bring the citation.

NOVAK: Gay activist.

HUNT: I will. Fine, that's not what Ashcroft said this week. He said that was not the reason. It was the totality of his record going back to he cited when he recruited him at University of Chicago. I mean, that was a misrepresentation, Mark. A blatant one.

O'BEIRNE: Patrick Leahy opening the hearings by saying this is not about John Ashcroft's religious beliefs, and that's not true either, because it is about his conservative beliefs.

(CROSSTALK) HUNT: It has nothing to do with his religious beliefs.

O'BEIRNE: Yes, it is.

SHIELDS: Just come out and say, I don't think a gay should be ambassador. That's all he had to do.


O'BEIRNE: Why not say a conservative Christian can't be attorney general?

SHIELDS: Not at all. Not on your life. Mark Racicot is a very conservative Catholic who would have sailed through. Vin Weber and the gang will be back with Bill Clinton's last week as president.


SHIELDS: Welcome back. In his last full day as president, Bill Clinton made a deal with the independent counsel who agreed not to seek a criminal indictment against him. The White House Press Secretary read a statement by President Clinton in which he went further than ever before in admitting false testimony under oath.


JAKE SIEWART, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I tried to walk a fine line between and acting lawfully and testifying falsely, but I now recognize that I did not fully accomplish this goal and that certain of my responses to questions about Miss Lewinsky were false.



ROBERT RAY, INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: President Clinton has acknowledged responsibility for his actions. He has admitted that he knowingly gave evasive and misleading answers to questions in the Jones deposition, and that his conduct was prejudicial to the administration of justice. He has acknowledged that some of his answers were false.


SHIELDS: In his closing hours in office, the president pardoned Whitewater figure Susan McDougal, and several other figures including his brother, but not Webster Hubbell.

Meanwhile, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who had given President Clinton spiritual advice in the Lewinsky affair, was revealed to have fathered an illegitimate child during that same period. Jesse Jackson issued this statement, quote: "This is no time for evasion, denials or alibis. I fully accept responsibility. I am truly sorry for my actions," end quote.

Earlier this week, President Clinton's farewell address challenged his successor.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The expansion of trade hasn't fully closed the gap between those of us who live on the cutting edge of the global economy, and billions around the world who live on the knife's edge of survival. This global gap requires more than compassion.


SHIELDS: Bob Novak, did President Clinton bow out on the note that he wanted?

NOVAK: No and it's his own fault because he couldn't come to the deal. He couldn't bite the bullet that he was saying he did not tell the truth. He gave false testimony, which as I read my dictionary is lying, that he lied under oath.

And finally, to avoid getting indicted because they couldn't have made this deal after he left office, on his last day in office he makes an admission; an incredible admission by a president -- I'm just amazed the way the media has carried this thing as if, you know, it's not really a shame for the president of the United States. So, I think he bows out on a very false note and not the one he intended.


WEBER: I think it's bad. I mean, he pardoned a couple of Whitewater related figures and I think he's going out having had to cut a deal for himself to prevent difficulty in his next life. He didn't particularly care about the difficulty he put the country through a couple of years ago with this problem.

But, you know what it also says to me with the farewell speech, which was not graceful but did lay out a challenge of the Bush administration and other agenda, he's never going to go away. I mean, he's going to be here tomorrow morning. We're going to have news about him next weekend I'm sure. He's never going to go away.

SHIELDS: Say what you want about the pardon, it certainly saved George W. Bush a headache. I mean, George W. Bush didn't this on his...

NOVAK: You mean the immunity deal?

SHIELDS: The immunity deal, I'm sorry. The immunity deal, excuse me. He did not want this on his plate. He didn't the first thing -- Bill Clinton being tried and him having to pardon.

O'BEIRNE: I think it's rough justice that works. He's a disgraced evidence former president who needed to plea bargain. There were, I think, grounds to indict him on the grounds of witness tampering and lying under oath; and obstruction of justice, but I wouldn't have welcomed the spectacle of seeing the legal system pursuing a former president. So, now he gets out. The public, despite his own parsing of words, the public knows who he is and what he did and now we can move on and tarnish the ex-presidency.

SHIELDS: And yet, Al, he has a higher favorable personal rating than George W. Bush does. Yes, he does than George W. Bush.


HUNT: Yes, he does. In our poll he does.

SHIELDS: Fifty-three percent.

HUNT: He has a higher personal rating than George -- than the incoming president. Look, this was a good deal for both sides. For Clinton, it brings closure. Bob is right. He lied. You know, you can parse the word any way you want. He did lie. But the newspapers didn't play it down. Banner headlines in "The Washington Post." Banner headlines in "The New York Times." It got the kind of play it deserved.

For Robert Ray, who -- the prosecutor who engaged in an ill-fated prosecution of former Agriculture Secretary Michael Espy when the -- who was acquitted, this was also a good deal because if he could have gotten a grand jury to indict Clinton, and I don't think that's a certainty if you talk to some lawyers here in Washington, he never would have gotten a conviction and it would have been a public revulsion. So, I think it was a good deal for everybody.


NOVAK: Just say one thing, that I think the president, President Clinton has lived on the edge all his life. All the scandals that they had, including the Whitewater scandals, people have died; witnesses that they had thought were going to be star witnesses were put in a position where they couldn't testify. You had the travel office question. The Monica Lewinsky question was maybe the least important. The idea that this president has avoided all of these scandals, but he didn't avoid the program of history which he got.

SHIELDS: Just clear up one thing. You're not suggesting that there was foul play in the death of people?.

NOVAK: No, I'm not. I'm just saying...

SHIELDS: Because that would have been a videotape of the right wing.

NOVAK: No, I don't want to make that -- I'm saying that James McDougal died. Other people died. Witnesses died, and he's a very lucky guy because the idea he escaped the original Whitewater scandal with nothing -- it sent a governor of Arkansas to jail.

HUNT: Because it was a phony scandal; it never really was a scandal. Look, the American people know this guy as a guy with a lot of moral defects and they also know he was a very good president. They will continue to think that. I'll tell you this much, though Mark, I would have paid the price of admission to hear the Jesse Jackson-Bill Clinton counsel sessions. SHIELDS: I'll have to say this. I have to say two things quickly. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then you can say George W. Bush ran a campaign in 1999-2000 that was based on Bill Clinton's. It was a middle campaign. It was compassionate conservatism. It was keep your wing quiet...

NOVAK: Oh, no.

SHIELDS: Yes, it was. It certainly was. He ran that kind of a campaign to win the presidency. It was that kind of a speech he gave today.

Second, as Mark Russell observed when looking at Bill Rehnquist, the Supreme Court Justice weird stripes, he said he got that -- designed that damned thing after he went to see a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. Mark Russell said I'm just grateful he didn't see Lakeisal Fall (ph). And Jesse Jackson, all I can say is when push comes to love, it's a different world.

That it's. Thanks for being with us, Vin Weber. The gang will be back with the "Outrage of the Week."


SHIELDS: Now for the "Outrage of the Week." When Democrats in the 1990's solicited and accepted political contributions from foreign officials in violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the U.S. law, many of us in the press, including here on the CAPITAL GANG, were justifiably outraged.

So, when George W. Bush's inaugural committee seeks and cashes a $100,000 check from a wealthy Lebanese businessman who is Lebanon's deputy prime minister, why do my conservative colleagues go mute, and lose their sense outrage? Does somehow the fat cat have their tongue?

Bob Novak.

NOVAK: All 18 left wing organizations attacking John Ashcroft as attorney general received federal funds worth $150 million the last four years. Planned Parenthood received $27 million followed by the NAACP and the National Education Association. The same is true of groups attacking Gale Norton as secretary of the interior, with Friends of the Earth and the Sierra Club on the federal dole. George W. Bush should consider that old conservative slogan, defund the left.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: Good idea, Bob. What would happen if they counted every vote, even the ones that weren't really votes, and George W. Bush still won? That would be a blow to Democrats poised for four years of Republican illegitimacy. But it appears increasingly likely to happen. The first media recount in Miami-Dade gave George Bush a net gain. But don't expect these recounts to be front page news.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt. HUNT: Mark, you're outrage is absolutely right, and to give him his credit, one of the few conservatives who's been outraged by the fat cats has been Robert Novak. He's taken them on and he deserves credit for that.

But my outrage deals with Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, who this morning claimed that she had erected, quote "a firewall," end quote, between her office and the Republican Party to appear impartial during the effort to get an honest presidential vote count in Florida. What about the phone calls now on record between Ms. Harris and Austin or her intimate contacts with Governor Jeb Bush's office, his political and legal advisers during this controversial period?

The only firewall that Katherine Harris has established is between her office and a decent voting system in the state of Florida.

SHIELDS: This is Mark Shields saying good night for the CAPITAL GANG.



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