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Capital Gang

Ed Rendell Discusses the Return of John McCain, the Missing White House E-Mails and the Catholic Chaplain in the House

Aired March 25, 2000 - 7:00 p.m. ET




I'm Mark Shields with Al Hunt, Robert Novak, and Kate O'Beirne.

Our guest is Ed Rendell, general chairman of the Democratic Party.

Good to have you here, Ed.


SHIELDS: Senator John McCain returned to Capitol Hill and was asked whether he planned to get together with governor George W. Bush.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm sure we'll have discussions. My priority is our reform agenda.

I will support the nominee of the party, but I also will not abandon my reform agenda and those millions of people who are relying on me to pursue it.


SHIELDS: He won a standing ovation from House Republicans but got a mixed review from an old Senate critics.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: He ran great race. He did not, however, win the primaries. And the position that he had on campaign finance reform, in my opinion, actually hurt him a great deal among Republicans in those primaries.


SHIELDS: In a "Los Angeles Times" interview, Senator McCain said he and Governor Bush had made little progress toward reconciliation, and he complained about being denied delegates he won in Michigan and Massachusetts.

Al Hunt, is John McCain a problem now for the Bush candidacy?

AL HUNT, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": It depends on whether George W. Bush is an able, adult politician. Lately he's been acting more like a petulant boy. Mark, everybody knows that John McCain is going to endorse Governor Bush. That's a foregone conclusion. What Bush needs, however, is the enthusiastic support of the McCain followers. To do that, he's got to embrace at least some of that reform mantle.

He also has to show some guts. You cited Michigan earlier. John McCain won Michigan under rules set by John Engler, a Bush backer. Engler is now angry and bitter. He's trying to deny McCain delegates to the convention in Philadelphia. George Bush ought to pick up the phone and say, knock it off. I don't know if he's up to it.

SHIELDS: What about George Bush? Why doesn't he just pick up the phone and say, knock it of, John Engler?

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": I think it's a sign of the maturity of Senator McCain that after he has lost the nomination he is still worrying about delegates. It's irrelevant.

See, Senator McCain came in saying that the most important thing to me is my reform agenda -- and his reform agenda is the Democratic- sponsored campaign reform bill. The people he talked to are being nice to him not because they like his agenda, they want him to elect a Republican president. So they're priorities are very different.

And I think, Al, when it comes to petulance, the prize goes to our friend Senator McCain.

SHIELDS: John McCain has no more of a national following than any other losing Republican candidate. I mean, Phil Gramm or Dan Quayle or -- I mean, these are people that all kinds of candidates are saying come into my district.

Ed Rendell, John McCain: Is he a problem for George Bush?

RENDELL: Yes, I think he's a big problem. But I think it goes beyond just being nice to him, although it's easier to be a gracious winner, Bob, than it is a gracious loser. And if you're a leader, one of the things you've got to do is reach out and bring people together. And George Bush seems incapable of doing that.

But I think that there are two things -- that one of two things that the Bush camp has got to offer to John McCain if he's going to endorse with any credibility, and that's one, to go towards the McCain tax plan as opposed to the Bush tax plan or the Republican congressional tax plan -- and wasn't it wonderful to see the Republicans in Congress fleeing from the Bush tax plan? They wanted to do anything they could other than have to vote on it. So he has to either move towards the McCain tax plan -- I don't think he can do that, because he said, read my lips -- or he has to embrace real campaign reform. And that means the end of soft money. And not just soft money to the parties, but it means curbing the Wyly brothers and curbing that type of special interest soft money.

If George Bush is willing to reach out towards John McCain, than I think he can be the type of help to Bush that Al was talking about. Absent that, I think he's going to be a continuing problem.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, you talked to George Bush this week.

KATE O'BEIRNE, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Watching the media this week has been fascinating. They are so upset that the Straight Talk Express is up on blocks. They just loved John McCain on the campaign trail criticizing Republicans. Now that it's over, they can't stand the idea that he might make peace, so they're goading John McCain into fighting with George Bush, and they're goading John McCain into making the price of his enthusiastic support being embracing his campaign finance reform.

The problem with this is McCain's own followers did not embrace campaign reform. Only 16 percent of McCain voters were motivated by that issue.

The second problem is if George Bush were to embrace it, the media would be the first ones to say he abandoned principle because he has constitutional objections to the plan and is pandering.

And thirdly, John McCain keeps redefining what reform is. In 1996, wanted to outlaw -- his bill called for outlawing all PACs, completely illegal. And if you opposed that, you were against campaign finance reform. Now that he's setting up his own PAC, the definition of being a reformer is no longer banning PACs. So John McCain's campaign finance reform is a moving target.

SHIELDS: Let me just say...

RENDELL: He's not going away, Mark. As much as they'd love to see him go away...

O'BEIRNE: I don't want him to go away...

RENDELL: ... and stay in Bora Bora...

O'BEIRNE: Ed, I don't him to go away.

RENDELL: ... he's not going away.

O'BEIRNE: You know what he ought to be doing this week -- and this is how he can, it seems to me, re-establish himself as a loyal Republican -- he ought to be beating Al Gore like a drum, as he pledged to do during the primaries, from now to November, and Republicans will be enormously grateful to him.

RENDELL: But Al Gore is embracing the heart of the McCain agenda. McCain-Feingold was what John McCain was all about. Even those 16 percent of the voters said they were interested in it, it was what got voters, interested in him as somebody new.

SHIELDS: Let's just get this in some position, unlike Brother Novak, and Kate. And that is that there are Republicans who are deeply concerned about winning elections, foremost among them Tom Davis, the chairman of the House Republican Committee, said John McCain's the hottest Republican property in the country, has 40 Republicans requesting him to come in.

I mean, this -- you don't want him in if he's going to be a compromise candidate. John McCain's importance to the Republicans is in the fall. And if George W. Bush doesn't understand this, doesn't understand this, and let's a John Engler in a fit of pique deny him delegates -- Bob, Bob, you're absolutely wrong. I mean, he won those delegates. He's entitled to them. Why...

NOVAK: I mean -- I mean...

HUNT: There's something else here...

SHIELDS: Why does Bush want to run...

HUNT: I mean, basically, what McConnell and Bob and Kate want is a different John McCain. The John McCain that is attractive to Tom Davis and those other Republicans...

SHIELDS: Because he's a reformer.

HUNT: ... is the one who wore that reform mantle.

Kate says 16 percent. Mitch McConnell last week said three. We're at least getting closer now, Kate.

NOVAK: I get...

HUNT: Mitch McConnell commenting on why people voted for John McCain is a little bit like Bob Jones analyzing the Catholic vote...

NOVAK: I can -- I can...

HUNT: ... He has no credibility at all. And I want to tell you, if the Republicans want to pretend that there's no such thing as a McCain reform agenda, fine...

NOVAK: I can -- I can -- I can...

HUNT: ... Al Gore will be the beneficiary.

SHIELDS: Go ahead.

NOVAK: I can barely stand the stuff I'm hearing now. All these crocodile tears by partisan Democrats on what it's going to take for the Republicans to win this election. Partisan Democrats like my friend Ed Rendell say, what Bush should do is abandon the tax plan adopt...

RENDELL: The tax plan doesn't even make sense anyway.

NOVAK: ... adopt -- well, it is a very good tax plan -- and to take on the Feingold campaign reform plan. Let me tell you a little antidote. In the House Republican caucus, somebody up there -- of course they want him to campaign for them...

RENDELL: Why do they want him?

NOVAK: Because...

O'BEIRNE: Because he's a celebrity politician...

NOVAK: Because he's a celebrity and they...

O'BEIRNE: ,,, and crowds love him.

NOVAK: Wait a minute. Wait a minute.

O'BEIRNE: The crowds enjoy a (OFF-MIKE)

NOVAK: Wait, let me just tell this story.

HUNT: Yes, OK, where's Kevin Spacey at?

NOVAK: They don't -- they don't -- they don't have any principles anyway. So somebody finally got up and said, Senator, if you go to our districts, are you going to campaign on the campaign finance reform plan that we oppose? And McCain gave the real McCain answer. He said, hey, you're asking me to come in, I'm not asking you to come in. That is the real mean-spirited John McCain.

RENDELL: What about it is mean spirited?

SHIELDS: Mean spirited? Bob, the other fellow is constantly saying that politicians don't stand for something. Here's somebody that stands for something and you attack him.

HUNT: Can I ask you a favor? Would you give Bob a copy of his book? He's for campaign finance reform.

NOVAK: Not Feingold. Read what it is.

HUNT: Bob has simply forgotten. When Linda Smith was for Republican, he was basically for Gore. He's now switched for reasons of convenience.

NOVAK: Read the book.

Wait a minute. I've got to handle a personal privilege..

SHIELDS: He's left Linda Smith a personal...

HUNT: Absolutely, absolutely, a 180.

NOVAK: Wait a minute, wait a minute. I've got to have a...

SHIELDS: Go ahead. Let's hear it.

NOVAK: That is the most demagogic thing I've ever heard here, because...

HUNT: It's in the book.

NOVAK: Just a minute -- If you would read the book -- and I know you have trouble understanding what you read...

HUNT: You wrote about it, not me.

NOVAK: I have never supported the Feingold thing. I said you have to have paycheck -- payroll protection against the unions. It is not the that Feingold bill.

SHIELDS: He's done a 179,

HUNT: A 179.

That's the last word. Novak's had the last word in his self- defense.

Ed Rendell and THE GANG will be back with a new Justice Department investigation of the White House, and later a Catholic chaplain in Congress.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

The Justice Department launched an investigation into alleged White House suppression of e-mail messages that have subpoenaed in connection with Clinton-Gore campaign fund raising. This move was revealed as a House committee heard the private contractor for the e- mails claim pressure from the White House.


PATTY LAMBUTH, NORTHROP GRUMMAN MANAGER: They did tell me that if any of us did talk about this, they basically threatened us that my staff would be fired, would go to jail -- would be arrested and go to jail.

LAURA CALLAHAN, WHITE HOUSE PROJECT DIRECTOR: I did not threaten them with any sense of jail.


SHIELDS: The Justice Department asked that a civil suit on the e-mail case be delayed. But a federal judge yesterday called on the government to support this request.

Bob Novak, has Attorney General Janet Reno, in taking criminal action, finally lost patience with the White House?

NOVAK: That's the sham that this White House and the Justice Department want you to believe. Matter of fact, the Justice Department had no interest in this scandal until the Judicial Watch private organization filed suit, starting getting depositions, until Congressman Burton's committee started doing hearings. And then suddenly they come in to the judge and say, delay all these other things. We're going to delay them through the end of the election.

Judge Royce Lamberth, however, is the guy they're talking to, and he is a tough judge. He said the administration has a bad track record, the Justice Department has a bad track record, that they've been bogus and it would be an uphill track to get him to call off the Judicial Watch investigation and the House investigation. So this little scam isn't going to work with Judge Lamberth.

SHIELDS: Ed Rendell, it does seem just a little bit suspicious that the e-mail messages on the subject of fund raising -- gone. What happened?

RENDELL: Well, first of all, everyone, including the woman you saw testify, everyone agrees that it was an inadvertent computer glitch that caused all of these messages to be knocked off. Nobody believes that that was done intentionally. If there's any gavum (ph) in here to a criminal investigation -- and as former D.A., let me tell you, we began 50 investigations for every one that concluded in any charges.

And let's hold on here. Remember the FBI file investigation? You were all fulminating at the mouth. Bob was probably foaming at the mouth. I didn't see.

NOVAK: I still am.

RENDELL: That resulted in no charges against anybody.

SHIELDS: I know it.

RENDELL: So let's hold on here before we determine there's anything wrong here. There are two people who said that they were in the meeting and there were no threats made. So this all has to be hashed out before we decide that there's anything wrong and whether it has any implications. And, by the way, who knows -- there's no evidence as to what was in the e-mails that were lost because of the computer glitch.

SHIELDS: Well, no, but Al Hunt, you look at this and you've got to say this is a problem for Gore. If he tries to be the campaign finance reformer and this kind of stuff is till there, it's going to dog him through the campaign, isn't it?

HUNT: Well, it may. As one who's lost more than a few columns on computer glitches, I think it's -- that is something that one cannot just dismiss out of hand. Maybe it is a big deal. I don't know. Or maybe it's like what Ed said, like the FBI files and other miniscams. I'll tell you one thing that Al Gore has to hope for, and that is that Bob's friend Danny Burton holds big hearings. That's the best...

SHIELDS: Congressman Dan Burton, chairman...

HUNT: That's the best thing that could happen to Al Gore. Bob this week asked Congressman John Kasich on "EVANS, NOVAK, HUNT & SHIELDS" whether Congressman -- he is a House Republican leader -- whether Dan Burton should hold hearings. And you know what John Kasich said?


HUNT: Absolutely not. He says the people are tired of this. Partisan witch hunts help those people who are being hunted.

SHIELDS: Kate, you have to confess, I mean, there are certain Republicans -- one of whom is sitting next to me -- who have this sense of, if we could just get him. The next thing, we're going to get him. They've tried -- I was sure the FBI files would get Clinton on. I was sure the travel office -- I mean, there's be fingerprints all over it.

NOVAK: They're not over yet. They're not.

SHIELDS: No, but what's the story?

O'BEIRNE: The point that Bob made, there are formidable obstacles given that the Justice Department actively helps this administration avoid scrutiny. So it might well have been an innocent computer glitch, but this administration acts so guilty. They did...

RENDELL: I agree with you.

O'BEIRNE: This is how these nice liberals treat the little people. They did apparently intimidate these contract employees, pain of jail, to be quiet about it. And once they learned of it, they never informed any of the investigatory bodies that had subpoenas out. So, as I said, they always act guilty. And then they claim, like they are in this case, incompetence. We didn't know what the ramifications were of the missing e-mails. At least that's a little better than Al Gore, whose lately been calling it incontinence....

NOVAK: Can I correct...

O'BEIRNE: ... I was drinking ice tea and I had to leave the room.

SHIELDS: That's right.

O'BEIRNE: But it's either incompetence or incontinence. And you know what the public might decide -- and this is the problem for the Gore campaign -- They might decide, we want it all to go away, and the way to do that is to make sure Al Gore is not elected.

SHIELDS: Any discussion...

NOVAK: Let me just...

SHIELDS: Just one second -- any discussion on incontinence, I think we have to go to the Depends.

NOVAK: Let me just correct Ed on something, that the five people that all swore under oath that they were pressured. Three of them remembered jail, two didn't, but all five said they were pressured.

SHIELDS: Now I have to say, quite frankly, it is not helpful, but I agree with Al. If Dan Burton does it after...

NOVAK: That's right, slam Burton. That's really...

SHIELDS: No, after Elian Gonzalez...

NOVAK: That's really...

SHIELDS: Hey, Bob, Bob, he is not a credible figure.

NOVAK: Not to you. He is to me.

HUNT: Bob, have you forgotten...

SHIELDS: He's a source to you.

HUNT: Bob, have you forgotten your Kasich interview? I guess you have. Go ahead, Mark.

SHIELDS: Next on CAPITAL GANG, choosing a Catholic as chaplain -- belatedly.


SHIELDS: Welcome back.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert ended a four-month controversy by shelving his previous selection of a Protestant to be House chaplain. The speaker unilaterally selected the first Catholic chaplain in the history of the House.


REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), HOUSE SPEAKER: My friends, in all my years in this Congress, I have never seen a more cynical and more destructive political campaign. That such a campaign should be waged in connection with that selection of the House chaplain brings shame on this House.

REP. ANNA ESHOO (D), CALIFORNIA: To say that, as a Catholic, that my raising questions about these things is somehow political, partisan, and has torn the House asunder, I have to tell you, I resent that.


SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, what is the political fallout here -- not the theological, what's the political?

O'BEIRNE: Maybe not what the Democrats intended. They were really disappointed when Speaker Hastert went to the floor this week and decisively countered this charge, if belatedly. And I think he made the Democrats look foolish and maybe a little ashamed of themselves for having leveled this ugly charge. Immediately, Dick Gephardt, who was blindsided by the strong defense by Speaker Hastert said, you know, I never accused them of that. I never believed that was true. And then by having a Catholic chaplain ready to swear in right away, the Republicans hope he has put this four-month thing that the Democrats have been exploiting to an end.

And what he did in the course of his speech, which I think is potentially a problem for the Democrats, is he said, hey look, he defended his own conference against this ugly charge. And then he said, but do you know where it does exist? Anti-Catholicism? Hollywood, the arts community, the radical gay right activists, feminists who want to toss the Vatican out of the U.N. What do they all have in common besides their propensity to both mock the church and attack the church? They're all in the Democratic base. So now that the Democrats are sensitive to anti-Catholicism, maybe they ought to talk to some of their political friends about it.

SHIELDS: The guarantee that there would be a Catholic chaplain in the House of Representatives was established when George W. Bush apologized for his visit to Bob Jones University. At that point, it became too heavy a political burden for the Republicans to carry.

RENDELL: Kate is absolutely dreaming. I mean, this is wishful thinking to the "nth" degree. There has been serious damage -- you have seen the movement among Catholic voters already -- and there should be serious damage. The shame was that the speaker and Mr. Armey overruled the search committee. And I'd like to know what happened. I'd like to know what happened. Just like Kate says that...

O'BEIRNE: I told you what happened.

RENDELL: They told us what happened -- Kate says that it's going to be problems for Al Gore, all this campaign stuff. Well they've got the wrong candidate, because I would submit to the American people, I'd like to know what happened with the Wyly brothers campaign ad against McCain. Do you think that there was no contact between the Wyly brothers and the Bush campaign? How about a special prosecutor to look into that?

SHIELDS: Bob Novak, special prosecutor?

NOVAK: No, we're getting the general chairman of the Democratic Party playing the Catholic card, which has been played by all these -- by these liberal Catholics on the Hill. We're having the Wyly brothers being used as a campaign issues, which makes...

RENDELL: You think there was no contact, Bob?

NOVAK: Who cares?

RENDELL: Who cares? That's against the law.

NOVAK: ... which makes me laugh. I don't think there was any contact, but I don't care either. Let me...

RENDELL: You don't think there was any contact? You think the Wyly brothers did it out of thin air?

NOVAK: Let me tell you this. Speaker Hastert was advised four months ago by prominent Catholics, including Bill Paxon, former member of the House of Representatives, to pull the plug on this liberal Catholic priest that the Democrats were pushing...

RENDELL: Liberal?

NOVAK: Yes -- and to put in his own -- you hate to hear that said -- and to put in his own Catholic priest. The speaker did the right thing. the speaker had a good week this past week, Mark. He passed a couple bills, he's feeling the job. He should have done it four months ago, because Ed's right on one thing. They did -- the Republicans did...

SHIELDS: I want to establish one thing. Tom Bliley, the conservative Catholic Republican from Richmond, who was chairman of this, supported Father O'Brien. He would not -- he's no liberal, left-winger.

Go ahead, Al.

HUNT: You're absolutely right, Mark.

A couple of things: Father Coughlin has served as pastor to Chicago's priests, which I don't think is the best training for, you know, his new job. But his mother, 85-year-old mother, is a usher at Chicago Cubs games. So at least the family has experience with losers. So maybe that will help in his new thing.

I think Denny Hastert deserves great credit for this. I think he mishandled the situation, but he is emphatically not a bigot. I think after 200 years, it's about time that there's a Catholic chaplain. I think the issue should have been raised, and the person who first raised it and deserves credit for this is our moderator, Mark Shields.

SHIELDS: Hey, thank you very much, Al. And thanks for being with us, Ed Rendell.

RENDELL: Thank you.

SHIELDS: THE GANG will be back with the "Outrage of the Week."

ANNOUNCER: Our viewer "Outrage of the Week" is Hannah Tannenbaum from Manlius, New York. She writes:

"We have come to the aid of several Middle East OPEC nations and still have defense advisers in many of these countries. We also maintain huge military forces on a standby basis for their protection and integrity. Why, instead of begging them with hat in hand to pump a little more oil, don't we simply say, pump it or we're out of here."

If you have an "Outrage" for next week, our e-mail address id or call the toll free number at 1-888-847-8660. We will choose one "Outrage" to air at this same time next week on THE CAPITAL GANG. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHIELDS: Welcome back.

Now for THE "Outrage of the Week."

Texas Governor George W. Bush has one major problem in trying to be the education standards candidate. He turns out to be terminally ungrammatical. Asked about his relations with John McCain, Bush said to "The Washington Post," quote, "There will be an appropriate time for John and I to talk," end quote. You don't have to be Bill Buckley to know that "me" not "I" is used when it is the object of a preposition or the subject of an infinitive, such as "to talk."

Until he masters English as a first language, Mr. Bush, a graduate of pricy private schools, cannot run as the champion of education standards -- Bob Novak.

NOVAK: That's a valid point, between you and I.

Attorney General Reno usually moves at a very leisurely pace, but now she insists that Elian Gonzalez be sent back to communist Cuba immediately. Why so aggressive? Madam Reno cannot see the difference between the little boy living with loving relatives in the freedom of America or being sent to Castro's tyranny and a father who had not come to visit him for four months. Vice president Gore knows the difference, but what will he do about it?

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: This week, a majority of the members of a congressional advisory committee on electronic commerce voted to extend the moratorium on state and local taxes on the Internet. Under the leadership of the commission's chairman, Governor Gilmore of Virginia, the vote recognized that the commerce clause prohibits states from forcing out-of-state businesses from collecting their taxes. The outrage is that other politicians on the commission, like Governor Leavitt of Utah, are so anxious to get their greedy tax- collecting hands on e-commerce, they're willing to violate the Constitution.


HUNT: The Supreme Court, in an unfortunate five-four decision, ruled the Food and Drug Administration does not have the authority to regulate tobacco. Every major health organization has concluded that tobacco is an addictive drug. Those tobacco executives who swore under oath before Congress that it was not were lying. Senator Bill Frist, a conservative Republican and a heart surgeon who knows teen smoking is America's top health problem, is expected to offer legislation to give FDA the authority. It will be an outrage if Congress doesn't pass this expeditiously.

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

Next on CNN, "SPORTS TONIGHT" reports on the rocky road to the Final Four of college basketball.



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