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Capital Gang

Rep. Barney Frank Discusses the Rising Price of Oil, the Rift in the Republican Party and the Fight Between Clinton and the NRA

Aired March 18, 2000 - 7:00 p.m. ET


ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, the CAPITAL GANG.

MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields with Al Hunt, Margaret Carlson, and from Minneapolis, Robert Novak.

Our guest is Democratic Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts.

Good to have you back, Barney.


SHIELDS: On the morning after Texas Governor George W. Bush officially clinched the Republican presidential nomination, "The New York Times" published a front-page interview with him. Governor Bush was characterized as passing up several opportunities to reach out to his defeated challenger, Senator John McCain, as in this exchange, quote, question: "Is there anything you need to do to win him over, any concessions you need to offer?" Answer: "No. I think what I need to do is explain to John that we agree a lot more than we disagree." Question: "Any change in your positions though?" "No. I campaign on what I believe," end quote.

Governor Bush's tone changed after "The New York Times" story appeared.


GOV. JOHN MCCAIN (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I appreciate the hard campaign that John McCain waged. He ran a good race. He highlighted the need for reform, and I appreciate the ideas that he brought forth in the campaign.

There is a story out today that, you know, that -- I didn't characterize how I feel. I want to show you a different newspaper, says, "Bush says he wants to work with McCain." That is the -- that's how I feel. I look forward to working with Senator McCain.


SHIELDS: Al Hunt, has George W. Bush made a serious mistake regarding John McCain and his supporters? AL HUNT, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Mark, the good news for George Bush is he has time to recover, and also he can think carefully the next time he gives an interview to "The New York Times." He appeared not ready for primetime. After a protracted struggle like this and you say you basically learned nothing from your opponent, it says you're either incredibly incurious, you're arrogant or most likely you're insecure. This reflects his campaign aide Karl Rove's tough guy approach, compromises, weakness. The problem with that, Mark, is the McCain vote is going to determine this election. Al Gore knows that. Witness his fervor now for campaign finance reform, which is someone said a little bit like O.J. looking for the real killer, after the 96 scandal,

And I'll tell you who else realize it: some of the congressional Republicans. Tom Davis, the head of the House GOP Campaign Committee, has been burning up the phone lines, talking to McCain people this weekend, and would like to have John McCain come and talk to the House Republicans when he gets back next week.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, has George Bush stumbled in his first big interview with "The New York Times?"

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": It wasn't his first interview with "The New York Times?" As a...

SHIELDS: No, I mean, as the nominee, as the nominee.

NOVAK: Yes, it was a rookie mistake. The question of whether he should even have given the interview is doubtful. You know, if you read the text of interview and how it was characterized in the story, there is a difference in tone. That's the problem with newspaper interviews as opposed to TV interviews, where what you say is what you have. There is no question, there is a lot of people, perhaps, on "The New York Times" and perhaps at this table, who would like George Bush to foul up his nomination by saying, I was wrong about everything, I learned so much from John McCain, I was wrong about taxes, and that would be, of course, absurd to do that.

The point of the matter is, when John McCain comes back off vacation on Monday to Washington, a lot of his supporters, not people who are against him, are going to sit down with him, they're going to say, this marriage has to be made, there is about 30 minutes to make a deal on campaign reform, you're not going to get everything you want, but what we have to agree on, though, tell him, is we have to stop Al Gore.

SHIELDS: Barney Frank, your reaction to George Bush's interview.

FRANK: Well, I agree with Bob on a couple of points. First, obviously, John McCain is a professional politician, although one is not supposed to note that, will engage in that marriage with George Bush if we have go to Vermont to do it. They will be able to make their peace.

The problem is not McCain, but McCain's supporters. And I think Bush did make terrible mistake, although from the -- I must say, I would agree with Bob, I hope as a Democrat, that George Bush does not back off one inch. I hope he stays where he is. I hope he goes back to Bob Jones University. I hope he continues to insist on a tax cut that's so large the House Republicans didn't even want to vote for it. I hope he's not conciliatory. I think, in fact, he will try to reach out to McCain, and McCain, personally, will be responsive, but a lot of McCain's people won't.

The one thing people leave out is this, I think: It's the personal factor. George Bush and John McCain clearly at this point very much dislike each other, as do Bill Bradley and Al Gore. And I must tell you as a guy who's campaigned some, whenever you hear a politician talk about the person who ran against him or her and how good friends they are, that is really not the moment at which they are being the most honest in their whole lives.


SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, I think it's a good bet, as Barney says, that George Bush will appear at Notre Dame University before he does Bob Jones University homecoming, again, this fall. But what about this? Do you think it's a permanent rupture for the McCain/Bush relationship?

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME" MAGAZINE: It wasn't helped by the interview, but I disagree with Bob on one point, which is that, surprisingly, I read the whole transcript of the interview, and I thought that Bush was even more truculent at times than came across in the piece that the "Times" wrote. And the reporters were not particularly difficult or truculent with him.

He needs McCain more than McCain needs him, and you know, it's a basic commandment of politics that he's got to be the one to reach out, but he just can't bring himself to do it, and had to rub it in a little bit. And it shows, I agree with Al here, a kind of immaturity, and he seems to be too immature to know to hide it. Instead of coming out like this macho guy, he should restrain himself a little. And that was surprising, that he didn't have the grace to be graceful in victory.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, just one question -- one of the really wise men in Washington, a gray heard, bipartisan, said to me yesterday, he thought that it belied a certain attitude of entitlement on Governor Bush's approach to the nomination, that he, frankly, was personally miffed that McCain had entered and been such a complication. You're reaction?

NOVAK: That's lot of nonsense.

The point of the matter is, I think that George Bush was very full of himself. It was the day after he wins the nomination, and perhaps he'd like to change the words. But let's face it, there are two kinds of McCain supporters. There's a kind of McCain supporter -- and I have to say it again, the kind of people we have at this table, who have no -- they don't have a high regard for the Republican Party or the Republican principles; they saw McCain as really a provocateur, which he wasn't, but that's the way they saw him, and they're not interested in making a deal between Bush and McCain.

There's another kind of Bush supporter -- I mean, I'm sorry, McCain supporter, like Fred Thompson, like Lindsey Graham, like John Kyl, who say the most important thing is to get these people together, and they are not going to be parsing all the words in "The New York Times" interview and say, oh dear, he was just too full of himself.

SHIELDS: Barney Frank, last word.

FRANK: Bush's problem though is that the first group that he needs to win -- he's going to get John Kyl anyway. But I think Bob Novak illustrates part of Bush's problem. He's got Pat Buchanan hanging out there. He's got Bob Novak hanging out there. He cannot be he too conciliatory to McCain with a Pat Buchanan candidacy or he runs the risk of losing something on his right. He's not a free agent to make the kind of compromises with McCain that he might want to make to try to pick up some of the McCain voters in that first category.

SHIELDS: Last word, Barney Frank.

Barney Frank and the GANG will be back with the political war over gas prices.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

With gasoline prices rising, a convoy of truckers came to Washington to protest, while Republicans staged photo opportunities.


REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY WHIP: These gas prices are going up, and I think that is very, very sad.

This administration has done nothing to eliminate this problem.

GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm considering calling for a temporary decrease in the Clinton-Gore gas tax.


SHIELDS: But the House Republican leadership shelved any tax cut after opposition from the party's key committee chairman. And Democrats tried to take advantage.


REP, MARTIN FROST (D-TX), DEMOCRATIC CAUCUS CHAIRMAN: It's now you see it, now you don't. A day or two ago, they wanted to repeal the 4.3 gasoline tax. Now, they don't want to repeal the 4.3 gasoline excise tax.

BILL RICHARDSON, ENERGY SECRETARY: Here's my hope -- and I can't offer any assurances -- that if OPEC meets and they decide to increase production at a sizable level, late spring, early summer, you will see a gradual decrease in gasoline and diesel prices.


SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson, what is the political fallout of the gas tax war?

CARLSON: Well, Republicans thought they were going to be able to make hay out of this, but once it got in their hands they really saw that they could -- first of all, the four cent increase in the gas tax isn't going to do much for anybody. And Republicans have not done anything not to get to us this point. Remember Carter in the sweater? We made terrible fun of him...

SHIELDS: On conservation.

CARLSON: ... but all of the conservation measures and all of the idea of finding alternative means was dismantled when Reagan came in. And the Republican Congress has not wanted them. They're the party of the SUV. And, you know, unless there's less demand, you know, we're not going to get on with this.

SHIELDS: And Bill Clinton hasn't exactly been leader in that.

CARLSON: No, and he could have. He could have made this one of the hallmarks of his administration and simply didn't.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, on "EVANS NOVAK HUNT & SHIELDS," this weekend, Congressman Bud Shuster, the House chairman of the Transportation Committee, submarined and sabotaged the Republican effort to repeal that 4.3 percent -- cent a gallon tax by saying it was nothing but an attempt to embarrass Democrats and Bill Clinton and would in fact cost $18 billion in road-building, which is not music to the ears of most Congressmen.

NOVAK: Well, Bud Shuster's exactly correct on that, and of course another committee chairman, Bill Archer, chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, said this is out of sync with Republican attempts to cut taxes.

I think this was a kind of a cheap effort by Republicans. People are angry on raising gasoline -- on raising the price of gasoline to try to stake some advantage of it. And they fell on their face, as the House Republicans often do.

But I'll tell you this. When Margaret talks about the business of trying to get people to use less gas, she is giving that elitist sound of Al Gore saying let's get rid of the internal combustion engine. The last thing a politician should do, Margaret, is to tell the American people to drive his car less. Americans are in love with cars, and I'm one of them. And, we'll survive a little higher gas tax price.

CARLSON: And you're such a great American, Bob. We all want to follow you.

NOVAK: Thank you, thank you. SHIELDS: Barney Frank, no one has accused you of being an elitist.

FRANK: No, and I leave off the affair of Bob Novak and his car. I don't want to get into that aspect. But...

HUNT: It's a story unto itself.

FRANK: I think it's very clear -- and here I do agree with Bob in the substance of the tax cut. The notion that cutting the gasoline tax would at this point lower the price is very bad economics. The fact is what we've got is, with OPEC in control of supply, a supply/demand issue. I think it's very clear. If you did cut taxes, the major beneficiary would be OPEC, not the American motorist. You would lose highway building, and until and unless we can force OPEC to cut back, you wouldn't get any relief from it. Of course, it's also a four-cent increase when we talk about 40 or 50.

I have been disappointed in the administration for not being willing some time ago to start releasing oil from the strategic petroleum reserve, They said to us early on, well, don't -- we can't do that because it wouldn't help heating crisis. And many of us said, yes, that's right. It can't help with the heating crisis, but it may anticipate the gasoline crisis.

Bill Richardson now has a lot riding. On May -- March, 27, OPEC will either increase production or not. If they do, the administration will look pretty good. But if they don't, then there's going to be a serious political problem for them.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, a serious political problem?

HUNT: Well, first of all, Mark, I've met Bob Novak's car, and I can see why he has such a love affair with it. I'm not sure if it's reciprocated, however.

Look, I don't think either the congressional Republicans or the administration, frankly, has looked very, very good in this whole thing. Barney is absolutely right on his analysis of it. If you cut it by a nickel, it will only go into OPEC and Texas oil producers. That's what a cartel is. And, I agree with Barney also that that meeting in a couple weeks is critical.

But I must say, I think the problem is exaggerated. You know, gasoline here, energy here, still a lot cheaper than it is in most places in the world. And that's why I think to use this as a -- to use this as an excuse to tap into the emergency reserve would be a mistake.

SHIELDS: Last word, Al Hunt.

Next on "CAPITAL GANG," Bill Clinton versus Wayne LaPierre, 15 rounds.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

The shooting death of a 6-year-old led to President Clinton's demand for gun control legislation and a bitter retort from the National Rifle Association.


WAYNE LAPIERRE, EXEC. VICE PRESIDENT, NRA: I have come to believe he needs a certain level of violence in this country. He's willing to accept a certain level of killing to further his political agenda -- and the vice president, too.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The clock is ticking, and America is waiting to see whether Congress can really produce a bill that responds to the interests of our children and not the intimidation of the NRA.

AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe that Mr. LaPierre's comment reveals a kind of sickness at the very heart of the NRA.

BUSH: I would hope that we could who have an open and honest discussion about gun enforcement without calling names.


SHIELDS: At week's end, Smith & Wesson, the biggest gunmaker, agreed with the government on safety locks.


ANDREW CUOMO, HUD SECRETARY: After many false starts and after much gridlock, we're finally on the road to a safer, more peaceful America.


SHIELDS: The NRA, which denounced the agreement as blackmail, has launched a television ad campaign.


CHARLTON HESTON, PRESIDENT, NRA: Mr. Clinton says, let's license guns like we license cars. The only reason to license guns is to confiscate them. And that, Mr. Clinton, is what you're really driving at.


SHIELDS: Bob Novak, is Wayne LaPierre speaking for the Republicans a dream come true for the Democrats?

NOVAK: Well, that's the conventional wisdom in Washington, but I think Charlton Heston gives a little more friendly face of the NRA. You know, the Democrats have suffered at the hands of the NRA. They were a major contributor in the 1994 takeover of Congress. There are certain districts where being against the NRA is not good politics. And I think President -- I think Governor Bush has, in the presidential campaign, has handled it correctly.

The interesting thing that I'm -- that I saw, though, Mark, is the fact that President Clinton decided that was the topic of the week after the 6-year-old was killed. He was just relentless in coming over on it. And the thing frightens me a little bit is when they start putting the heat and the pressure on the gun makers like they did on the tobacco makers, that extra-Constitutional, extra-legal pressure by the federal government -- that's something, I think, all of us, as civil libertarians, should worry about.

SHIELDS: Barney Frank, does Bob Novak make sense?

FRANK: Not on this one, no. But he makes more than Charlton Heston. I was particularly struck by Charlton Heston. I think he was trying to give a demonstration of illogic, when said, oh, they want to license guns like licensing cars. That must mean they want to confiscate guns. Now everyone who has a car which has licensed for some time and has not been confiscated must be wondering what in the world this man is talking about. I mean, the notion -- the new (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in politics; it's called self-refutation: say something, and immediately show how silly it is. Of course licensing -- we license a whole range of things. We license you to fish. We license your car. The notion that that leads to confiscation is dead wrong.

Bob Novak is right about the history. In 1994, it hurt the Democrats. But what's happened since then has been this terrible outbreak of shooting. Suburbanites, middle-class people, did not seven years ago, six years ago feel threatened. Now, tragically, a number of Americans feel threatened even if they don't live in bad neighborhoods, even if they're not living near open-air drug markets. And I think this issue has greatly changed.

And George Bush, in fact, unlike Bob Novak, is backing away from the NRA and Wayne LaPierre.

SHIELDS: Well, Margaret, guns have become, to some degree, a school-, child-safety issue for a lot of people.

CARLSON: Right. Wayne LaPierre is way off target here, you know. Not only is he not a dream for the Democrats, he's a nightmare for the country. He went way too far. He went on to say that the president has blood on his hands. Even in our debase debate, I think the crude way we argue these days, that's way below the line.

And the NRA is losing, and in fact, he -- Wayne LaPierre helped, and Moses, helped George Bush, because he got to seem reasonable, because in light of these 6-year-olds killing 6-year-olds, the NRA is losing the battle. And George Bush has a problem, because he's the governor of concealed weapons. I mean, there are metal detectors in stadiums and parks in Texas because of Bush.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt. HUNT: I think the only question is, are Wayne LaPierre and Charlton Heston really Democrat moles? I think they're helping the Democrats, they're helping the Democrats so much on this issue.

Look, the NRA, says, the problem is we don't own force the laws, we've got to be more for law enforcement, and when it comes to chief federal law enforcement, the AFT Firearms and Tobacco, they say they're jack-booted thugs.

John Zogby does a poll last week, where 2.5-1, the public sides with Clinton as opposed to the NRA. I think it's an issue. Barney is right, the politics have switched. Look at the way George Bush is running to the center.

SHIELDS: Last word, Al Hunt.

Barney Thank, thanks for being with us.

The GANG will be back with outrage of the week.

ANNOUNCER: Our viewer outrage of the week is from James Alexander from Beverly, Massachusetts. He writes, "Thousands of World War II veterans are passing away daily, and the fund for the veterans memorial is passing the hat to try to get enough donations to build a memorial in Washington. I am appalled that the federal government does not fund its memorial instead of private donations. Approximately 500,000 Americans died in that war. If we can spend $2 billion on a B-2 bomber, why can't we honor those who made the sacrifices that made our freedom possible?"


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

And now for the outrage of the week.

In order to qualify to contribute in the U.S. to any federal political campaign, a contributor ought to be eligible to vote in U.S. elections. That makes simple sense. The Federal Election Commission has urged the U.S. Congress to close the loophole that now permits foreign interests and individuals to make six-figure soft money contributions in the U.S. The outrage will be if this Congress does not unanimously enact that ban.

Bob Novak.

NOVAK: The Justice Department last week asked for a short postponement in the scheduled April criminal trial of Gore-Clinton fund raiser Pauline Canchaterlak (ph). District federal Judge Paul Friedman (ph) agreed, but he told prosecutors that trial could not be held until mid-November, after the presidential elections. Why? It's too hard, said the judge, to get a jury in Washington in the summer. Friedman is a liberal Washington lawyer named to the federal bench by President Clinton in 1994. Do you wonder why Republicans senators are reluctant to confirm Clinton judges?

SHIELDS: Margaret Carlson.

CARLSON: Mark, there is a simple way to help Africa, a country where income less than $1 day and which is ravaged by AIDS spread by prostitutes. Remove the 17 percent import tax on clothing, but labor and its allies in Congress are shamefully blocking such a bill. Why? Not because it would hurt U.S. workers. They no longer make cheap jeans or T-shirts, no, simple, knee-jerk protectionism. Too bad Africa isn't China, abusing human rights and its neighbors. Then they'd get a break.


HUNT: There have been some phony, politically inspired scandal charges against the Clinton administration, but no allegation was more serious than whether the White House elicitly obtained and used FBI files for political purposes. This week, however, Ken Starr's recent replacement as independent counsel issued a conclusion following a four-year investigation: There was no wrongdoing. This raises a question: Why did it take Starr and his cronies so long to clear the Clinton White House? Could it be politics?

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

Next on CNN, "SPORTS TONIGHT" reports on the NCAA, college basketball second round of March Madness.



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