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Can Clint Eastwood Outshoot the Big Boys of Washington?

Aired May 18, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET


BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, Mr. Eastwood comes to Washington. Clint Eastwood usually appears on the Hollywood big screen, but today he appeared before the U.S. Congress, taking on trial lawyers.


CLINT EASTWOOD, ACTOR: What happens is these lawyers, they come along and they end up driving off in a big Mercedes, and the disabled person ends up driving off in a wheelchair.


PRESS: Can Dirty Harry outshoot the big boys of Washington?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE.

On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak.

In the CROSSFIRE, actor Clint Eastwood, former mayor of Carmel, California.

PRESS: Good evening, welcome to CROSSFIRE.

What's Clint Eastwood do when he's not fighting bad guys in the movies? He fights bad guys in real life. At least, he calls them bad guys. They call themselves trial lawyers, but Eastwood accuses them of being too quick on the trigger: filing expensive lawsuits against property owners, like him, owner of the Mission Ranch Hotel in Carmel, California, suing people whose properties aren't yet fully accessible to the disabled, instead of giving them more time to comply. And for them, Clint has this warning:


EASTWOOD: Go ahead, make my day.


PRESS: California hotel owner Clint Eastwood brought his battle to Capitol Hill today. But this isn't the famous actor's first foray into politics. He served as mayor of Carmel, California, and there was once even a buzz about his running for president, following in the footsteps of you know who. So tonight, from the man who considers the nickname "Dirty Harry" a badge of honor, we want to know: Is he being picked on by trial lawyers? Is there too much violence in Hollywood? And does he like this political stuff so much he might someday go for the brass ring?

Into the CROSSFIRE tonight, actor, director political activist and small-business man Clint Eastwood -- Bob.

NOVAK: Mr. Eastwood, what are the facts? Did you really keep disabled people out of your hotel?

EASTWOOD: No chance. What happened is when I bought this hotel in the mid '80s, I was trying to save it from being torn down and being -- and having condominiums replace it. So I thought I'd restore it, because it's very old by California standards -- it dates back to the late 1800s. And I thought I could refurbish it. Well, in the '80s, the first thing I did was put in handicapped bathrooms, even before the ADA act. But somebody came in and alleged that they came in and asked where the handicapped bathrooms were, and they allege -- a year, by the way, after they had been there -- that some employee told them there aren't any. And so they left.

Well, that wasn't true. In the first place, there's no employee that remembered seeing the person, and the person can't identify the particular employee. So it's kind of a little bit of a suspicious setup, but -- and especially in light of the fact that the same plaintiff has gone around with the same lawyer and done other places like the Heritage House in Mendocino and other restaurants.

NOVAK: Now they're trying to stick with you $576,000 in legal fees so far?

EASTWOOD: That's what they have so far, yes. Pretty soon, they're going to talk about real money.

NOVAK: And what do you want the Congress to do?

EASTWOOD: Well, Congressman Foley has a bill to...

NOVAK: That's Congressman Foley of Florida.

EASTWOOD: Of Florida, right. He has a bill to just add an amendment to the ADA act -- not subtract anything, just add an amendment. And this amendment would say that you have to give notice -- he has it at 90 days, but it could be any days, whatever is passed -- that to get in the process of fixing whatever it is that needs to be fixed.

In my case, we were fixing things anyway and moving ahead. But once these guys sue you, this small group of lawyers -- and it wasn't quite like bill said. He was making it like it was all trial lawyers. It's a small group that constantly does this kind of work. Once they sue you, then the clock starts, and they can -- any other improvements you make they can claim fees upon. So it's a...

NOVAK: It's a racket. EASTWOOD: ... catch-22. It's a racket. And there's people in prison all across this country for extortion and everything, but these guys get away with it legally.

PRESS: Clint, you and I have talked about this issue before, actually once in Monterey, California. I agree with you that there should be more flexibility in the law. Certainly, giving somebody 90 days is no big deal as far as I'm concerned. I mean, it just ought to be done. But I do have to ask you, this bill was signed into law by Governor -- by President Bush...


PRESS: ... back in July 1990...


PRESS: ... just about 10 years ago. Why did it take you so long to fully comply with it?

EASTWOOD: Well, first place, no -- the Justice Department, if you ask them today, they cannot say that there's a licensed person who is an expert in this field. So they're just kind of -- they've put out a certain amount of things that need doing. We put in handicapped bathrooms back in the '80s, we've put in parking spaces. You think you're doing the right thing, you're not starting a project from scratch. What you're doing is you're refurbishing an old building, so it's a little bit trickier than if you're starting from scratch. And it just takes time to do that.

Now you say 10 years, even when President Bush signed it into law, he anticipated that there would be problems and mentioned that he thought there may be abuses in this. He never quite, I don't think, anticipated the way it's coming out now, because people are getting screwed over all over the country.

PRESS: But not to mention a name that may not be too popular with you, but the villain in this piece may be the attorney who's suing you, Paul Rein, who makes a point about whether or not you're asking for some special consideration because it's the disabled here and not some other group that's being discriminated against.

Here's what Mr. Rein said, and I'd like to get your response:

"If a black person is not allowed to enter a business because of his race, he's not required to send a letter. If a woman is not allowed to, she's not required to send a letter. Why should disabled persons be the only class of persons required to send letters?"

EASTWOOD: Well, in the first place, you're not going to reconform a whole building based upon the entrance of a black person or a woman coming in. I can't think of a parallel situation.

He is -- will say anything, because he is the one who is billing me for the $576,000. And I think whatever he says is going to be based upon that motivation. I don't see any other parallel to that. In fact, Congressman Watts brought up this morning at the meeting that he had -- he thought in terms of a parallel in Louisiana if a black person was denied access. But if a black person is denied access, it would be out of meanness. Not necessarily...

NOVAK: But you don't...

PRESS: Do you support the ADA?

EASTWOOD: Yes, I do. I support the ADA act. And Congressman Foley's amendment certainly has nothing -- will not weaken the ADA act at all.

NOVAK: Did it -- did you deny anybody access?


NOVAK: Well that's the point is you never did deny...

EASTWOOD: We never denied anybody access, never would. It's just impossible.

NOVAK: I wonder, Mr. Eastwood, if you understand that you are flying in the teeth of one of the most influential and powerful lobby groups in America: the trial lawyers. According to Common Cause, which I think we can all agree is not a conservative front -- it's not, is it, Bill?

PRESS: I wouldn't call them a conservative front, no.

NOVAK: In soft money contributions last year, 1999, the -- it gave $2.7 million in soft money to the Democratic Party, $2,800 -- $2,800 -- to the Republican Party. That is just a vast disparity. This is a really -- one of the main engines of the Democratic Party. You're not going to get much sympathy from Democrats on the Hill or the Clinton administration, are you?

EASTWOOD: Well, it seems the Democrats I've talked to, it seems like it's a nonpartisan issue when you start talking about the warrant of this particular amendment. Nobody seems to make it in a partisan deal.

The trial -- I don't think the trial lawyers in general, the vast amount of them, particularly care about this group that is doing this. This is a very small group. In Florida, down there where there's over a thousand cases have gone on, it's one or two lawyers have done the whole act. So a lot of lawyers can make a living without having to do this.

NOVAK: So you think you are going to get some Democratic support on this?

EASTWOOD: Well, I'm hoping. I hope nobody puts it in the partisan level. I don't think it is a -- there are certain things that I think rise above partisan politics, and I think this is just a fairness issue and has nothing to do with that. PRESS: I want to mention another issue you hear politicians from both parties speaking out, and that is against violence in Hollywood in the movies and on television. When I think of films where there's been a lot of shooting, a lot of killing, a lot of violence, I think of Arnold Schwarzenegger, among others, and I think you. Are you guilty as charged?

EASTWOOD: I've done a lot of violent movies, especially in the early days. My recent efforts, like "Bridges of Madison County," wasn't too violent. In the -- in recent years I've done less, and, yes, I am concerned about violence in film. In '92, when I did "Unforgiven," which is a film that had a very anti-violence and anti- gun play -- anti-romanticizing of gun play theme, I remember that Gene Hackman was concerned about it, and we both discussed the issue of too much violence in films.

It's escalated 90 times since Dirty Harry and those films were made. Now it's become a whole deal, where instead of shooting somebody...

PRESS: What's the answer?

EASTWOOD: ... it's gone down to beheadings, you know?

PRESS: What's...

NOVAK: Do you think there's any ill effect of you in those Westerns where you shoot these guys up? You think people -- it really caused people to become homicidal killers?

EASTWOOD: Well, when I was a kid and when you were a kid, we watched Randolph Scott and Gary Cooper and everybody shoot the bad guy down. I don't think it made any of us go bananas out there.

PRESS: Well let me mention something that was measured. In "Dirty Harry," you said, quote, "This is a 44 magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world," and went on to say you can blow your head off with it. And right after that -- that gun had hardly ever been heard of in this country before then. After that movie, you couldn't find one. All the gun stores were sold out. So it does have an impact, doesn't it?

EASTWOOD: Well, I guess maybe it did, as far as the gun sales and the romanticizing of that thing. And maybe that caused me in the '90s to try to de-romanticize gun play. But I'm not saying it's the -- I'm certainly not, what's been going on in the country with kids and firearms and stuff, has not excited me one bit. And I think it does cause you to have a lot of thought. But we were all raised with Bogart and all of the stars of yesterday firing weapons and stuff, and nobody went out and got in trouble. But in those days, people also obeyed the law. And we also assumed they'd enforce the law.

NOVAK: And they better families.

EASTWOOD: Exactly. I think that's the secret right there is that the families were a lot stronger, and people weren't just having kids to be having them, they were having them because they wanted them.

NOVAK: OK, we're going to take a break. And when we come back, we'll ask Clint Eastwood whether he has a political future?


NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Clint Eastwood was in Washington today, like an ordinary citizen -- well, almost like an ordinary citizen, asking Congress to get a little relief from the trial lawyers. He's a little bit of a politician himself, used to be mayor of Carmel, California. Could he possibly be interested in higher office? We'll ask him -- Bill.

PRESS: Clint Eastwood, we're going to jump into politics, but first I want to come back here for just a second on guns. It's going to be a big issue in this campaign year. Big difference between Bush and Gore on this issue. I just want to ask you about -- there are three things in front of the Congress: background check at gun shows, mandatory trigger locks and licensing handguns. Would you support those three measures?

EASTWOOD: Yes, I've always supported a certain amount of gun control. I don't -- I think California has always had a mandatory waiting period, so we were never concerned about it like the rest of the country. Some states didn't have any at all. So I've always supported that. I think it's very important that guns don't get in the wrong hands, and, yes, I would support most of that. I don't know too much about trigger locks. I've never really discussed that with anyone. But I do feel that guns -- it's very important to keep them out of the hands of felons or anyone who might be crazy with it.

PRESS: So what do you say -- I don't know whether you're a member of the NRA or not. But what do you say to your friend Charlton Heston, who opposes all three, opposes any gun control measures?

EASTWOOD: Well, I don't agree with him on that, if that's his position. I haven't talk to him about it. When he first became one of the spokesmans for the NRA, I thought it was a good thing. I thought at least, well, if the guy's maybe putting his money where his mouth is, then he's going to go in there and enact some reform. And that would be a good thing, rather than just talk like most people do. But so far, they still seem to be stuck on one position of anti-any reform.

Unfortunately, what happens is they get pressured. They don't want to be pressured. Both sides get their heels dug in the mud because they don't want to be pressured on their stance there. I think that both sides have a point. When you say that there's a lot of laws that aren't even...

PRESS: Enforced.

EASTWOOD: ... enforced in this country, and then you -- and then the NRA says they want those done prior to gun control, or at least simultaneous with. Whether that will happen or not, I don't know, because both sides are kind of dogmatic.

NOVAK: Clint Eastwood, "Newsweek" magazine in 1995 took a poll. What movie star would make the best president. And the top four -- and I'll read them from the bottom up -- Denzel Washington 10 percent, Robert Redford 13 percent, Harrison Ford 14 percent. Clint Eastwood 27 percent. Man, you're rolling. Have you ever been tempted?

EASTWOOD: Not a chance. I never -- when I got into politics in Carmel, it was strictly for local issues and strictly because of my community. It's a small town. It's one square mile. There was a constituency of less than 4,000 -- or 4,000 people approximately. But it was local issues. Now I realize the venue was small, the problems are about the same, but I had never had any ideas of going further, and I was approached by -- on several occasions to talk about state politics...

NOVAK: By whom?

EASTWOOD: ... and some...

NOVAK: Who approached you.

EASTWOOD: ... prominent Republicans. But I just said, no thanks, I'm here on this issue and that's it. And after serving two years as mayor, I said, I'm definitely here on this issue, and that's it.

NOVAK: Are you enrolled Republican?

EASTWOOD: Yes, I am. I started -- I enrolled as a Republican in 1951 when Dwight Eisenhower was running. And I was in the military. I was a fan of his. And that's how I got started off. I was never -- my parents were mixed, I think one Republican, one Democrat, so I didn't have any grandpappies to influence me.

NOVAK: What's your take on George W. Bush versus Al Gore?

EASTWOOD: They're -- it's an interesting thing. That enthusiasm has been very low on both people at the present time. I think what's going to happen is one of them is going to have to build up a lot of enthusiasm between now and November. And I think -- within some segment of the public in order to get this thing rolling.

NOVAK: Who do you like?

EASTWOOD: You know, I haven't thought about this yet. I sound like a politician. I don't know George W. Bush and I don't know Al Gore, except that whichever one -- I mentioned the other night, whichever one steps on the wrong part of his body first is going to be the loser.

PRESS: You as a California Republican have to know that the California Republican Party is in disarray. I mean, you know, Lungren lost by 20-some points, there are only two statewide officials who are Republican today, and one of them, the insurance commissioner, is in a lot of trouble. So you've got the secretary of state, Bill Jones, as the only one left. That leaves a huge vacuum.


PRESS: Quickly, do you blame that on Pete Wilson and Prop 187?

EASTWOOD: No, I don't. I blame it on Lungren himself. I think the Republican Party in general, not just in California, is so divided on these issues and this pro-choice, anti-choice kind of thing. They get off into -- he allowed himself to be dragged into a debate he shouldn't even have been dragged in on. He should have said, look, I'm going to abide by the laws of the United States and stick with that instead of getting dragged in on this anti-choice issue, and it killed him.

PRESS: Just one quick question, and I'll get back to Bob. You talked earlier about doing "Bridges of Madison County." I read today in the "Daily News," "The New York Daily News" back in November of '96, you were quoted as saying, quote, "When I was doing 'Bridges of Madison County,' I said to myself, this romantic stuff is really tough. I can't wait to get back to shooting and killing."

EASTWOOD: Well, you know that there's a slight amount of facetious in that statement.

PRESS: Is it a man thing?

EASTWOOD: I was just...

PRESS: Is it a man thing, Clint?

EASTWOOD: I was just -- what I was trying to state in an offhanded way was that the shooting and killing is certainly easier stuff as far as enacting it on the screen. It isn't really, but, you know, you've got to have some laughs anyway.

NOVAK: I like it better. But anyway. Clint Eastwood, the latest data figures available through March 31st, political contributions from actors: $250,000 to the Democrats, $44,900 to the Republicans. That's, what? Four to one? Five to one? Something like that?

PRESS: Got it right.

NOVAK: Why is that?

EASTWOOD: I have no idea. The Hollywood community has notoriously favored the more liberal side, at least in the vast majority over the years, even when Ronald Reagan was president, and he was a former member of the Screen...

NOVAK: Did you like Reagan?

EASTWOOD: Yes, I liked him very much. When he was a former president of the Screen Actors Guild, I don't think he had the vast support that a lot of other presidents have had. So I don't know why that is, it's just the nature of things. PRESS: I'd love to recite for you the list of Republicans -- all the Hollywood people who have given money to Republicans, but we don't have time. Clint Eastwood...

EASTWOOD: We don't have a list.

PRESS: ... thank you so much for coming to CROSSFIRE.


PRESS: See you again.

EASTWOOD: My pleasure. Thank you, Bob.

NOVAK: Thank you.

NOVAK: Actor Bob Novak and I will be back with closing comments, coming up.


PRESS: Bob, I don't see any problem with giving people 90-day notice. I think there should be flexibility in the ADA law. But I got to tell you, no matter how bad it gets, life is never miserable in Carmel, California. It's a pretty good life.

NOVAK: Well, the trial lawyers ought to be trying to get $500,000 out of you. Of course, they, knowing that you're a former Democratic state chairman, they wouldn't touch you. But I'm sorry that Clint Eastwood didn't go for a political career. I think he'd be very refreshing. He's not very ideological, very attractive. You might even be able to support a Republican like that.

PRESS: Bob, a Republican? McCain's the only Republican I supported.

From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.



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