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Capital Gang

Rep. Tom Davis Discusses the China Trade Vote, the President's Legal Troubles and Bush's Nuclear Weapons Policy

Aired May 27, 2000 - 7:00 p.m. ET



I'm Al Hunt, with Robert Novak, Kate O'Beirne and Margaret Carlson.

Our guest is Congressman Tom Davis of Virginia, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Glad to have you back, Tom.


HUNT: Thank for you being here.

The House, by a 40-vote margin, passed permanent trade relations with China. Republicans leaders supported the bill, Democratic leaders opposed it.


REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), HOUSE SPEAKER: China gets nothing from us they don't already have, and we get lower tariffs and easier access for our exports going to China.

REP. DAVID BONIOR (D-MI), MINORITY WHIP: The global economy we want isn't one where working families in China and Mexico and America compete in a hopeless race to the bottom. We have a better vision than that.


HUNT: The 73 Democrats and 164 Republicans who voted yes incurred the wrath of organized labor.


RICHARD TRUMKA, AFL-CIO SECRETARY TREASURER: There is no question that Democrats and Republicans who voted for PNTR will pay a price at the polls. The extent of that price is yet to be determined.

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: I feel a sense of either poor judgment or arrogance for anyone to take that position, whether it's the chamber of commerce, whether it's the administration or whether it's labor. And, quite frankly, I'm offended by it.


HUNT: Margaret, what's the political fallout here?

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME": Well, once again, Clinton gets what he wants, partly at the expense of Al Gore. As Mark Shields is fond of saying, if Clinton and Gore go through the car wash with top down, only Al Gore gets wet. He has to now deal with the AF of L-CIO, which is probably going to go along with him. I mean, Sweeney made a kind of side deal with Al Gore, we won't go after you. But they didn't go to the fund raiser on Wednesday night. And...

HUNT: They gave their money, though.

CARLSON: They did give their money, right. We're really mad at you, but here's $50 million. But the UAW this week threatened to support Ralph Nader. Now I don't know whether they'll go through with it, but in Washington and Michigan, that could really hurt Gore. If Nader gets 8 or 9 percent, this is a real problem for Al Gore.

The other thing that will happen is that finally, out of the words of -- out of the mouths of Republicans, we just now see that the hypocrisy towards Cuba on trade just cannot -- can no longer -- I mean, this is a moment to underscore that hypocrisy, and say Clinton's real legacy should be lifting the embargo on Cuba.

HUNT: Margaret makes a lot of sense, doesn't she, Bob?

CARLSON: Thanks, Al.

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": I tell you, that is the Democratic mantra. When Mr. Shields is sitting here, we below (ph) him -- he's with his wife in Normandy this weekend...

HUNT: And Paris.

NOVAK: And Paris, Normandy mostly. And he always says, oh, what about Cuba? Well, that's just nonsense. They're not comparable, and it's not the same situation.

What this will show is that the labor movement, which is the equivalent for the Democrats of the religious conservatives for the Republicans, are a much bigger problem. They're on the wrong side of history, putting the Democratic Party -- because they rely on labor -- on the wrong side of history. You didn't have a Republican -- a Democratic president, you'd only have about 30 votes instead of 73 votes. And this is a huge problem, not only for the UAW and the Teamsters as well, but in the future, when they are saying to world, you've got to stop. We're not going to abide by the globalization of the world.

HUNT: Kate.

KATE O'BEIRNE, "NATIONAL REVIEW": Yes, the labor movement continues to dominate the Democratic Party politically, but they can't deliver on some major policy initiatives, because I think to some degree on these big issues, when they so represent the past, they're just a spent force. In fact, Bill Clinton's policy legacy, I think it's fair to say, are essentially Republican ideas. It's these free trade agreements that have so helped the economy. It's welfare reform. The labor movement can't even elect governors in Michigan and Pennsylvania, their strongholds. And Al Gore, by trying to play it both ways, just looks again like he's stuck in the past.

Having said that, the leadership desperately, of the unions, know they need Al Gore in the White House for the kind of protection and power he can exert on their behalf. However, it could demoralize the rank-and-file, especially if it's -- if the bill is delayed. The approval's assured in the Senate, but what if they delay it a while? What if there's a signing ceremony in October where the wounds have reopened just before the election?

HUNT: Helps Bill Clinton, hurts Al Gore, Tom?

DAVIS: Well, who cares about Clinton. he's not running again. For Republicans who voted for this trade agreement, how do you go to the Democratic constituency and say, support Al Gore. He was for it, but not the Republican who voted against it. This really conflicts them.

You know, Democrat after Democrat are coming up now and saying, we don't want Al Gore in our districts. He's becoming more of a liability, and no one knows where he stands. He's being zigged and zagged on this.

And on Cuba, when Cuba meets the criteria to join the World Trade Organization, then we'll address it. But I don't think Castro wants it. Then it would be a comparable situation.

NOVAK: One of your colleagues, Tom, was going -- who was for the bill -- was going to Republicans on the floor and saying, this is the last chance to pass this, because if there is a Republican president in 2001, you're not going to get enough Democratic votes, and you probably won't get all the Republican votes either.

DAVIS: You never would have had Charlie Rangel supporting it with a Republican president.

HUNT: Yes, I think that's interesting. It may well be that free trade does better under a Democratic administration because of that point.

Now let me just say this, I think it was very important this passed, because defeat would have been devastating. And a couple months ago, I wrote that Tom DeLay, because he so despised Clinton, might try to sabotage it. He didn't. He delivered. He deserves a lot of credit.

NOVAK: Whoa, just a minute.

HUNT: Tom DeLay deserves...

NOVAK: You're saying something good about Tom DeLay?

HUNT: Yes. Tom DeLay deserves a lot of credit in this thing. He really...

NOVAK: Oh, my goodness.

O'BEIRNE: Yes, he works very hard.

HUNT: And not only that, I was wrong. But also, I'll tell you who else deserves credit, besides Clinton -- he surely does -- Bill Daley the commerce secretary the Steve Brouchet (ph), the White House lobbyist both did a good job getting 73 Democrats, and they had a dozen or so to spare if they needed them.

NOVAK: They didn't need them.

CARLSON: And Congressman Sander Levin...

HUNT: Absolutely.

CARLSON: ... who came up with the side deals.

NOVAK: And they dis -- they dis -- organized labor disendorsed Sander Levin,

O'BEIRNE: Every one of these...

DAVIS: He doesn't have an opponent, I don't think, does he?

O'BEIRNE: Yes, yes.

CARLSON: I don't...

DAVIS: He has an opponent, but he's not high on the target list, right?

HUNT: Kate, you don't think the UAW's going to really endorse Al Gore, though, do you?

O'BEIRNE: I think they desperately...

HUNT: Excuse me, Ralph Nader -- I'm sorry.

O'BEIRNE: I think they desperately want Al Gore in the White House, and they desperately want Democrats to take the House.

HUNT: Labor does, but even the UAW will...

O'BEIRNE: Yes, yes, absolutely.

DAVIS: But they have a problem right now with their own people managing expectations. It's a real conflict to say vote for Al Gore...

O'BEIRNE: I agree -- I...

DAVIS: Forgive him, but don't forgive...

O'BEIRNE: I think the rank-and-file has a problem.

CARLSON: But it's going to be very hard to pull labor back from the energy that they put into this and say, OK, now we want you to switch and be for Al Gore and do the get out the vote and do the phone banks.

HUNT: One of my favorite...


HUNT: One of my favorite...

CARLSON: And somebody has to help labor, really. I mean, there are people left behind...

HUNT: Margaret...

CARLSON: ... by this trade agreement.

HUNT: Margaret Carlson got...

CARLSON: I mean, really, on the merit.

HUNT: Margaret Carlson got the last word, and a passionate one it was. Tom Davis and THE GANG will be back with the possible disbarment of William Jefferson Clinton.


HUNT: Welcome back.

A disciplinary committee of the Arkansas Supreme Court recommended that President Clinton be disbarred because of misleading testimony in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case.


QUESTION: At any time, were you and Monica Lewinsky together alone in the Oval Office?


QUESTION: Did you have an extramarital sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky?



HUNT: The president's attorney David Kendall responded, quote, "This recommendation is wrong and clearly contradicted by precedent. We will vigorously dispute it in a court of law," end quote.


CLINTON: It's not right. The only reason I agreed even to appeal it is that my lawyers looked at all the precedents, and they said there's no way in the world if they just treat you like everybody else has been treated, that this is even close to that kind of case.

MATT GLAVIN, PRESIDENT, SOUTHEASTERN LEGAL FOUNDATION: It sends a very strong message to lawyers all across America, that lawyers, indeed, will discipline themselves, even when the attorney being disciplined is president of the United States of America.


HUNT: Kate, is this just a continued assault by the Clinton haters?

O'BEIRNE: No, Al, it's not. For President Clinton, the chicks are coming home to roost -- finally, I think.

David Kendall is right. There is no direct precedent for this, because no such thing ever happened before to any of us. The president was found to have given intentionally false testimony in an attempt to obstruct the judicial process. He was found in civil contempt and fined $90,000 by a federal judge. His offense was against the court. We can't blame this on a vast right-wing conspiracy. And it's entirely appropriate, given the code of ethics for Arkansas Bar Association, that -- being a lawyer is a privilege not a right -- that he be disbarred for this behavior.

HUNT: Tom Davis, do you agree?

DAVIS: Well, I think he's a goner at this point. I think very, very rarely does the Supreme Court overturn a recommendation of this tribunal at this point. He continues to be in denial. He's not going to practice law when he leaves the White House. I think it's going to be very difficult him to hold his license at this point.

HUNT: Margaret, it's clear the Clinton lied, I don't care what kind of nuance he tries to come up with. But is -- but if everyone who lied about a -- in a civil deposition case, would we have fewer lawyers?

CARLSON: I think half the bar in most cities would be wiped out, you know, of lawyers who have been involved in their own divorce proceedings, because, you know, we know that happens. This is capital punishment disbarment, and there is suspension and reprimand that is possible. And there is no precedent for removing a lawyer for lying in a matter concerning sex. But -- and it is impeachment by other means. It's the Southeastern Legal Foundation, this very conservative group, which is a Clinton-hating group, which brought it.


CARLSON: And the impeachment -- it's impeachment by other means. But just because motives are bad, doesn't mean something shouldn't happen. But when you look at that deposition and you see him looking up to the heavens for the answer to the question, of was he ever alone with Monica? You say, this guy must be punished somehow. And we could restore lying to its rightful place among seven deadly sins.

HUNT: You don't, Bob, he maybe kind of forgot that he was alone?

NOVAK: I love it when he says, well, you know -- I just -- can't remember. Just -- you know, I have heard all week about this being the death penalty. It's death -- but Tom is right, he isn't going to practice law. He's going to be making so much money in a year it doesn't even count.

Now the thing I keep hearing -- I don't know whether he should be disbarred or not, and I don't really much care, to tell the truth. But I hear all week about you only get disbarred when you cheat a client, but I can tell you two guys who got disbarred who didn't cheat any clients: Richard Nixon and Spiro T. Agnew. They did other bad things. They didn't cheat clients. So the idea that the spin coming out of the Nixon -- the Clinton lovers that you have to cheat a client, that's just not so.

O'BEIRNE: Also, now he wants to -- well, he's so busy doing our business that he can't quite defend himself.

DAVIS: The people's business, right.

O'BEIRNE: Correct. Well, if he knocked off raising so much money every now and again or played a few less rounds of golf, of course he would be in a position to devote some time to it. He never challenged Judge Wright's finding of civil contempt. He could. And the fine, never challenged it. He could have. Now it is a little late. Basically, the Arkansas Bar Association is acting on her findings. Well, he didn't challenge them before, and what grounds is he challenging them now?

HUNT: Margaret, what punishment would you mete out short of disbarment?

CARLSON: This is all symbolic anyway. As you say, he's not going to practice law. Suspend him for five years, or one year two years. Hey, lynching would be a good idea, wouldn't it, Bob? Flog the guy.

DAVIS: If it's symbolic, disbar him. He's not going to practice law. You need to send a message to ever lawyer and every politician, when you raise your right hand and promise to tell the truth, there is no compromise on it.

NOVAK: Let me just say that I think a lot of things that happened this week on the scandal front. I'd like to say that Linda Tripp got off the hook, which I think is just outrageous. Somebody gets federal immunity and this cockamamie Maryland state prosecutor goes after her. So I'm very happy for Miss Tripp.

O'BEIRNE: Good for you.

CARLSON: Good. Maybe you two could go out and have a drink. O'BEIRNE: Well, there was no justification for that prosecution, there really wasn't. I mean, she clearly was against her constitutional rights.

HUNT: I don't find Linda Tripp a very sympathetic figure, but I must say, I agree with all you, I think that was case that was best not brought,

And we will back in just a minute to talk about George W. auditioning as commander-in-chief.


HUNT: Welcome back.

George W. Bush came to Washington with a missile defense system and criticism of President Clinton's new arms initiative with Russia.


GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The administration is driving toward a hasty decision on a political timetable. No decision would be better than a flawed agreement that ties the hands of the next president and prevents America from defending itself.



JOE LOCKHART, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Listen, you know, it's -- he is the governor of Texas, not someone who's setting our national policy.


HUNT: Bob, is Governor Bush out of his depth?

NOVAK: No, I don't think so, but Joe Lockhart may be because someone ought to tell Joe that a presidential candidate is qualified -- it's OK to talk about national policy when you're a presidential candidate of a major party. I think he looked like he was very mastered. He had mastered the material in the press conference. I thought he was very good on that. But I also thought he had a point, that the -- President Clinton coming in with Russian President Putin at the very end of his administration, making a deal which is maybe not in the best interests of the United States and really would hamper the next president. I don't think this administration really cares about missile defense. So I thought he made good point there. Is it a big political issue in this country today? No. But I think that Governor Bush had to show he was able to handle these kind of questions.

HUNT: Margaret, you want to concur with your colleague, Bob.

CARLSON: Well, when he has a prepared text, he's not bad, and he kind of stuck to that in the press conference.



CARLSON: Bob, I'm never adequately prepared.

O'BEIRNE: Bob's strength is ad libbing, wouldn't you say?

CARLSON: Yes, right. The -- and the best part about it was the picture, because he surrounded himself with foreign policy experts, and the best supporting actor of course is Colin Powell. So that was a very good picture. But to, you know, to -- it makes you look presidential to say, I want to tie the hands of the current president, you know, because I'm the one who is going to be making these decisions, but it's a stunt. It doesn't -- it fades away, and now, he's got to go along with his trying to get to messy center here, which is we want this panacea of "Star Wars," and we're going to unilaterally bring down nuclear warheads. You know, it's -- they're partly incongruous, because nobody thinks rosy predictions about "Star Wars" working are true.

HUNT: Kate.

O'BEIRNE: I think he benefits on the merits, as evidenced by the fact that this administration is playing catchup now on missile defense. They have cut funding for seven years, they're being overtaken by events now, and they're trying to pretend they're in favor of it. So I think the merits do favor him.

But he also benefits because it's only the latest example of Governor Bush laying out substantive position reflecting some new thinking on an important issue. I believe he's getting real credit here for leadership. He's using all the verbs that connote leadership -- reform strengthen.

HUNT: He's using verbs.

O'BEIRNE: Well, it doesn't matter -- reform, strengthen preserve. And you've got Al Gore stuck with all the nouns that have him stuck in the polls, you know -- risky, smug, dangerous.

CARLSON: Adverbs.

NOVAK: Adjectives.

HUNT: Tom, do you see this as a winning issue for George Bush?

DAVIS: Well, I think he's got to do it. He's got to close the stature gap. You have an incumbent vice president that's been around to a lot of countries, and to surround himself with a lot of recognized foreign policy experts is a good thing, to pronounce his own policies, make him a little different. This was certainly within the bounds of reason, even if you may disagree with it. Foreign policy generally doesn't dictate how these elections go, but you need to close that stature gap. But what thought was interesting was once again Gore saying this is risky, and they're saying that on everything, without any new ideas coming out of this camp. I mean, that is what continues to haunt the Gore campaign, that no new ideas out there.

NOVAK: The "Washington Post" editorial said that criticism is not enough; you've got to start coming up with things.

HUNT: Let me ask you about something else Governor Bush said this week, Bob. He criticized the Clinton administration for siding with labor in Israel, and called for moving capital. Was that politics, or does this mean the pro-Likud forces, like Paul, Wilfred Woods (ph) and Richard Pearl have the upper hand now?

NOVAK: I'm afraid of the latter as the case. I don't think it was just politics. I just fear the worse on Governor Bush's Israel policy, because I believe he is -- I think the Likud-nics are advising him on it.

HUNT: It would certainly be quite a different policy than his father had, no question of that.

Tom Davis, thank you for being with us.

DAVIS: Al, thank you.

HUNT: And a happy Memorial Day to you and to everybody out there. And the GANG will back with "The Outrage of the Week.

ANNOUNCER: Our viewer outrage of the week is from Terry Black from Littleton Colorado. He writes, "Senator Boxer from California recently compared the NRA's 'Eddie the Eagle' gun safety program to Joe Camel. That is like saying McGruff the Crime Dog causes robbery and murder. I can't believe the Democrats have sunk so low in the fight for gun control. I will be voting Republican this year, and I wish news shows like your yours would report instances where our elected officials trade in honesty and integrity for soundbites."


HUNT: and now for "The Outrage of the Week." The Federal Election Commission long has been a partisan-dominated travesty, and it's going to get worse. The Senate voted 64 to 35 to confirm for the FEC an Ohio law professor Brad Smith, who doesn't believe in Federal Election Laws. That, John McCain noted, is like tapping a pacifist for secretary of defense -- Bob.

NOVAK: At the big Democratic fund-raiser here this week, Vice President Gore read this joke.


AL GORE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I remember my bible correctly, the last time that Moses listened to a Bush, his people wandered in the desert for 40 years.



NOVAK: The vice president, who attended Vanderbilt University Divinity School, with one lame joke, managed to offend Christians and Jews alike. But did you hear that applause?

HUNT: Margaret.

CARLSON: As you grill hamburgers this Memorial Day, consider whether you want the meat to be from Texas. Around Dallas, they don't like pesky USDA regulators in their slaughterhouses, and a judge last week threw out them and their the tests for salmonella and E.coli bacteria, this even though use of the test has reduced beef contamination by 50 percent. Now it's back to poke and sniff to see if Texas meat is adulterated. You'd think that no matter how antigovernment you are, you'd want to be able to order your burger rare.

HUNT: Kate.

O'BEIRNE: Good thing we have that tofu.

The Pentagon's inspector general concluded that its top spokesman, Kenneth Bacon, and an aide violated the Privacy Act by releasing information from Linda Tripp's confidential personnel file. Defense Secretary Bill Cohen responded by sending the two lawbreakers letters of reprimand expressing his "disappointment" with them. Mr. Secretary, it's disappointing when it rains on Memorial Day weekend. The illegal violation of an employee's privacy is outrageous, and in an ethical administration, a firing offense.

HUNT: This is Al Hunt saying happy Memorial Day and good night for THE CAPITAL GANG.

Next on CNN, "SPORTS TONIGHT" reports on the New York Knicks trying to stay alive against the Indiana Pacers.



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