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Senator Richard Durbin Discusses U.S.-China Standoff With Panel

Aired April 15, 2001 - 14:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: From Washington, the CAPITAL GANG.

MARK SHIELDS, HOST: Welcome to CAPITAL GANG; I'm Mark Shields with Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Kate O'Beirne.

Our guest is Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the assistant Democratic floor leader of the Senate; thanks for coming in, Dick.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Good to be with you.

SHIELDS: Good to have you here.

China released the 24 American crewmembers who they had detained for 11 days. The release came after the U.S. government said it was "very sorry" that a Chinese fighter pilot had lost his life and the U.S. damaged surveillance plane had landed on Hainan Island without permission.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know the American people join me in expressing sorrow for the loss of life of a Chinese pilot. Our prayers are with his wife and his child.


SHIELDS: But once the Americans left China, the president's tone hardened.


BUSH: The kind of incident we have just been through does not advance a constructive relationship between our two countries.


SHIELDS: The Pentagon released a video showing earlier harassment of the U.S. aircraft by that same Chinese pilot.


DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: It is clear that the pilot intended to harass the crew. It was not the first time, that our reconnaissance and surveillance flights in that area received that type of aggressive contact from interceptors.


SHIELDS: Al, why the overnight switch to a hard line by the Bush team?

AL HUNT, "WALL STREET JOURNAL": Domestic consumption, Mark. The administration handled this situation very well; the resolution was certainly a good one, and we most certainly did not capitulate. But China, as former UN chief, as Dick said, made a major political mistake. And by the actions, what they have done is energized the anti-China coalition.

The left is protectionist labor and human rights activists; on the right, it's some of the Christian conservatives and the pro-Taiwan lobby. And I think the administration worries that could go too far. Don Rumsfeld likes to look tough at a church social; but this time, the case was justified, he was absolutely right, and I think there is a fear that options will be limited.

Let me give you one example: I think if journalists really dig deeply, they will find out that these surveillance flights are basically worthless, we don't get very much out of them; but we don't dare stop them or (UNINTELLIGIBLE) right now.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak?

ROBERT NOVAK, "CHICAGO SUN-TIMES": I don't think, Al, you have to quote Clinton administration officials to say they made a major mistake; this is being said on and off the record by the Bush administration officials, and this is an important relationship. It is important diplomatic relationship, and Mark, we can talk about t- shirts being sold here, this is an important commercial relationship. You should not be denigrating that sense.

So, the reason he did it in my opinion, is they hardened the line, was not domestic conception, but it was a serious mistake by China and a worsening of the bilateral relationship, and I think it will be very difficult to put it back together the way it was -- and it is important to do that.

SHIELDS: Bob, since you spoke to me, I'd like to say something.

NOVAK: Sure.

SHIELDS: There are certain relationships in the world that are more important than Commerce, more important than money, Bob, I don't know what the United States' actions this week spoke to in saying we're very sorry to the defenders of democracy in Tiananmen Square, and their successes. And the people who fought for human rights in China. I mean, it was basically abandonment.

And I'll say to you very bluntly, that your argument and the argument of your kindred souls that trade itself is a substitution for human rights policy and democracy, has proven once again barren of not only idealism but ideas. Dick Durbin

DURBIN: I think it will be interesting a few years from now, for the Bush administration to look back. This may be one of the easiest chapters in the China-U.S. relationship. It's very simple and straightforward: 24 lives at stake, the United States said we need them back and China decided for a variety of reasons, they had to return them. I think it gets complicated from here.

And as Al said, there are a lot of different factions at work here on Capitol Hill. It was not that many years ago we were investigating the role of the Chinese in the 1996 presidential election and this has been going on a long time, ever since the end of the Cold War. Some of them looking for a new foe for the United States, but you cannot underestimate what China means.

In the next 20 years, the gross domestic product of China will quadruple. They are importing energy as its economy grows. Its major source: the Middle East, and as you take a look ahead a few years, and you see the role of China in the world and our role with China becoming more important and more complicated.

SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne.

KATE O'BEIRNE, "NATIONAL REVIEW": This was not necessarily all that easy for a new president, who people had questioned whether or not he had the kind of experience and temperament to deal with some international problem. It seems to me, he took what could have been an international crisis and left it as an incident.

And you do not have to look for a foe in China. I think this really clarifies China for a lot of people, clarifies the nature of the regime we are dealing with. And I think the administration decided to do the minimal possible, to get China to back down on this outrageous request they had, but by the same token -- which is why we are seeing Secretary Rumsfeld now, and not Colin Powell, the administration's letting us know, they will not back down, from the assertion by the facts, as we're talking to this crew now, that it was the fault of the Chinese pilot that our plane was disabled and forced to land.

And they will not back down from our claim of our right to be in those international waters. To do so, of course, it would be recognizing an illicit territorial claim China is making, so they handled it deftly. Some conservatives are uneasy with the expression of regrets, but I think they will be reassured with foreign policy, in the policy front, with respect to China.

HUNT: Let me pick up on a couple of things. I do think that Bush handled it fine. But I think there's effort that the White House is engaged in the last couple days to depict him as this bold, tough leader -- and there was a story in the paper the other day that they tried to present this picture. And among other things, they said he asked questions -- tough questions like, how is their health? Are they getting exercise? I mean, they don't have to hype this like this. I mean, I'm sorry. And I also think that Colin Powell deserves enormous credit for the way he handled this. Dick I think will probably confirm this that once -- in the very beginning, he went up to Capitol Hill, sat down at a table, about 15 senators, green felt room, no table top, no aides, no notes, and I think that presentation was so dazzling. Even people like Bob's friend Jesse Helms said that's one of the reasons senators on both sides of the aisle held their fire.

NOVAK: I think the president has shown a great deal of calm, the country kept calm because he was, and the only people who are really upset with him, are the labor union people, who are -- this is strictly a commercial thing with them. They don't like any foreign competition or trade; they don't understand -- how the global markets work.

And the neo-conservatives like my friend Bill Kristol who had this hysterical piece in the "Washington Post" on what a great disaster this was for the United States diplomatically; it course, it was not. Do you think so?

DURBIN: No, I give the president and Secretary Powell, and the ambassador, Mr. Prueher, high marks. I think they came out of this using diplomacy, they achieved their objective in a short period. And they knew they had to do it before Congress came back to town.

O'BEIRNE: You know who else who showed great calm: Lieutenant Shane Osborn, who brought the plane down, and I must remind my friends who dream of a gender blind military, what we've now learned that Lt. Osborn had to use every ounce of his considerable strength to save that plane and crew, and I know I found myself grateful that there was not a female pilot at the controls who may not have been able to do it.

SHIELDS: Let me just say, as a point of personal privilege, because Mr. Novak's attacked me one more time...

NOVAK: I don't think...

SHIELDS: ...and you certainly did, and you know you did. And that is this, that the concern, has to be that the gulf, the awesome gulf in this country between popular opinion and lead opinion on China is closing. By 4 to 1, Americans considering the Chinese to be adversaries if not enemies. The only people who really endorse them are the elites in the academic, the intellectual, the press, and the financial communities.

I'm sorry, Bob, but that's you. Dick Durbin and the gang will be back with the next China problem: arms for Taiwan.


SHIELDS: Welcome back, the next collision between Washington and Beijing could be over President Bush's decision whether to sell destroyers equipped with aegis radar to Taiwan. Even after U.S. crew members were released by the Chinese, Bush administration officials remain silent about the sale of weapons to Taiwan, but many members of Congress were frankly outspoken.


SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: This only I think fortifies those of us who think Taiwan has a just cause and reason to be fearful of adventuristic and aggressive activity, for the People's Republic of China.


SHIELDS: A former secretary of state however, urged caution.


HENRY KISSINGER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: The decision on the arms to Taiwan should not be influenced by what happened to the surveillance plane. And that whatever decision the administration was on the verge of taking should proceed. In my view, we should defer the aegis weapons system, and however, to a considerable package of other weapons.


SHIELDS: Kate, have the odds tilted in favor of selling aegis to Taiwan?

O'BEIRNE: Maybe somewhat on Capitol Hill, mark. Henry Hyde, the new Chamber of International Relations Committee expects the opinions of his colleagues have been hardened by this episode, but I suspect not within the administration. The U.S. policy, of course, is to arm Taiwan in the interest of them having deterrent to aggression, on the part of China, and in turn, have stability in the region. And if any package of anything we give to Taiwan, sell to Taiwan, would destabilize, clearly, to be counter- productive.

And the fact that this is in Secretary Rumsfeld's portfolio, what this package looks like, I think he will have a lot of credibility with conservatives, who, in the absence of that kind of credibility, may respond negatively to whatever shopping list the administration approves, so I think they probably would, I'll go along with whatever the administration decides.

SHIELDS: Dick Durbin, do you think that the odds are greater that the aegis sale will be forward to China?

DURBIN: Yes, I do.

SHIELDS: You do.

DURBIN: I think that China has lost ground here in this debate. We tried to maintain this stable situation, saying that Taiwan's defense is our national interest. Where do you draw the line?

Some argue that it means giving them anti-missile defense, improved patriot system, perhaps some submarines that they need to protect straights, and the aegis is a step beyond that. I think that the administration, if it holds fast to being opposed to aegis, will prevail. But it will be a lot tougher because of this incident.

SHIELDS: Bob Novak?

NOVAK: I think it is a dilemma for the administration, I really do. I think they were not going to give it to them. Don't forget the aegis won't be ready for about ten years, so there is no emergency at all. It is all a symbolic question. And the symbol, if you sell it to them, it looks like you are being -- it looks like you are being provocative to the Chinese and saying OK, in your eye.

And if you don't sell it to them, it looks like you're kowtowing to the Chinese. So, it is another case for the Chinese making life much more difficult for them, because I think they were not going to make the sale; I think they were going to, as Doctor Kissinger said, defer the sale. And I really don't know, Kate, what the decision will be.

SHIELDS: Al Hunt, the Chinese regard Taiwan as a renegade province. The United States -- statements, but at the same time, the United States regards it as an important strategic entity in Asia. I mean...


HUNT: We have sold Taiwan $90 billion worth of weapons during the last decade, and other than Saudi Arabia, I think Dick, it's probably the second largest recipient in American sales, or buyer of American arms. So, they have gotten a lots.

And I think there will be pressure, I agree with Dick and Bob on that, but I think Kate is right, that ultimately, this would be very de-stabilizing. China would clearly escalate, and in that sense, it will be counter productive, and let's face it, no matter what we think about Taiwan, would we really want to go to war with Taiwan? The fact of the matter is, we don't.

SHIELDS: That's the last word, Al Hunt. Next on CAPITAL GANG, Bush's first budget, dead or alive on arrival?


SHIELDS: Welcome back. President Bush presented to Congress an annual budget which proposed federal spending of 1.9 trillion dollars for the next fiscal year, that's a 4 percent increase, with higher spending for health, education, and defense, but reductions in agriculture, commerce, and many categories of social spending.


BUSH: Washington is known for its pork. This budget funds our needs without the fat.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: This is a budget that is being paid for by reducing our commitment in areas of education and in health, so that we can afford an excessive tax, a program...


SHIELDS: Bob Novak, is the Bush budget dead on arrival?

NOVAK: Certainly not. It is an interesting budget, I am glad Senator Kennedy got the line right -- I don't think Senator Durbin will repeat it; it's a budget that cuts everything, so that we can have tax cuts. What it really does, is it cuts the terrible pork that is becoming an addiction bipartisan in the Congress.

In the last year, there were 6,000 earmarked items that your favorite senator McCain campaigned against with $17 billion, and this is the first president, the very first president, who is going after these earmarked pork items where the no authorization, the Congressman and senator, getting the pork barrel project for his home district.

And also going after some of the corporate welfare for the oil industry and the steel industry, very courageous budget, and I think that some of the things will see the light of day in this budget fight. And the people who are condemning it as a right wing budget will have a hard time opposing some of those things.

SHIELDS: Dick Durbin, I'll give you a chance to defend yourself, but before do, what ever happened to the plan -- the Republican plan to abolish three cabinet levels? To eliminate 200 federal programs? The National Endowment For the Arts? And...

DURBIN: The platform of '96 or 2000? I lost track. But the Federal Aviation Administration was on alert that Washington Reagan National Airport to make certain that they would not release the budget until the very last Congressman caught flight out of town, and as soon as they were all gone, there was no one left to observe and comment; they release the budget, which ought to tell you something.

We went through a week or more of debate on tax cuts, with the administration saying, we are not going to tell you what the budget is going to do, they're joined at the hip. The amount of tax cuts, the amount you can spend, it's all joined at the hip. And I think that point has been made by many.

And if you look at the budget, the reason why President Bush waited until we left, there are substantial cuts in areas that just will not stand. It is not pork barrel when we're talking about agriculture, it isn't pork barrel when we're talking about transportation, at least if you are from Illinois.

NOVAK: Pork barrel?

DURBIN: Absolutely not. If you are talking about whether or not these farmers will survive in this day and age, I can tell you, it's going to be a strong, bipartisan vote for support for agriculture, much more than what the president is. SHIELDS: And Kate, let's be frank, the training, the money for funding of pediatric positions will be restored?

O'BEIRNE: Oh please, oh please, oh please. I fear much of this. Many of the modest, modest cutbacks that the president proposed will be restored on a bipartisan basis, which is a shame.

On the other hand, Dick Cheney has announced that the administration is "eager" to veto appropriations bills that are over budget. I hope that -- and they might well have to do it, because, in a bipartisan basis Congress has been on such a spending spree. When the Republicans took the House in 1995, the federal government was spending 1.4 trillion. They are now 600 billion over that; somebody has to get a handle on the federal spending, and the president is trying modestly to do so.

They wanted to avoid big spending fights, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and they even postponed their tax cut in order not to have a big fight. Well, you are going to have one anyway, so you may as well have their tax cuts sooner, and bigger, and take it head-on, because components of the tax bill are very popular. The child tax credit being doubled, marriage penalty being relieved. Put it up against these programs.

HUNT: I would love to put it up against these programs. Kate may say, oh please, but George Bush goes to Atlanta last month and he gets teary-eyed, he cries because he's at a cancer ward with kids, and then he cuts the program.

O'BEIRNE: Oh, stop!

HUNT: Just a second, Kate, let me finish. He cut it by $55 million and at the same time, and gives hundreds and millions of dollars to tax cuts to his cabinet. I mean, I will tell you, that is a matter of priority. Let's debate that priority.

Bob saying that this is a gutsy budget. Bob, I do not know who gave you that line, but you ought to tell them not to give you those kinds of talking points, because it's not true. He goes after a small part of the pork, which should be gone after.

On corporate welfare, he doesn't begin to touch it. The 1872 mining issue he doesn't touch; the oil and gas stuff, it is left largely untouched. That is so tokenism, and the whole thing -- this is not a 4 percent increase, there's discretionary domestic spending increases only 1 1/2 percent, which means, after inflation, it is a cut in order to get a tax cut to Bob...

NOVAK: Let me responds, that I have seen what the cuts are, and you have not, because it the -- will...


NOVAK: I didn't get talking points; I got the document, I know it would be harder for you to read the document, but I read it -- you need talking points, I can go document. I read it, and what they have done, is for the first time -- Reagan never did it -- they have gone into the meat of these things. Of course, the pork was not as bad at that time, 20 years ago.

And I will say this, that your favorite, your idol, Senator McCain, says it is a terrific start and I wish you would be as fair minded as he is.

HUNT: I am for going after the ear marks! Do not misrepresent me! I'm for going after the ear marks!


NOVAK: Senator McCain said it was a very good start. You didn't say that.

HUNT: I said that.

NOVAK: You didn't say that.

HUNT: It is. It is a good start.


NOVAK: And Senator Durbin talks about agriculture. All of the cutting in agriculture are the ear marks, the pork barrel, that I know the senators like, and also the emergency spending from the last budget. Why are going to put in emergency spending?

SHIELDS: That is it. That is it for you. Dick, ten seconds.

DURBIN: You talk about a program that reduced crime, and cut in the Bush budget time. Time and again, he's going to have to defend this against a tax cut, that's frankly unpopular even in his own party.

SHIELDS: That's it, Dick Durbin, the last word. Coming up, the CAPITAL GANG looks at Holy Saturday a year ago, seems funny. That is the seizure of Elian Gonzalez.


SHIELDS: Kate O'Beirne, any new thoughts of Elian and Holy Week a year later?

O'BEIRNE: Just my regret that Janet Reno is free and Elian is not. Janet Reno responded emotionally to the appeal of his father, the same father who was willing to risk the little boy's life by backing an armed assault when in fact, the Miami relatives were negotiating for a turnover of the child.

SHIELDS: Dick Durbin?

DURBIN: I am glad Elian is back with his father, but I'll tell you, I hope that Congress will change this failed foreign policy with Cuba that we had for the past four decades.

SHIELDS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Bob Novak. NOVAK: Well, I was sorry that this Easter, Elian is in a anti- Christian, anti-Catholic country in the arms of Fidel Castro and the people, that say he should go back to his father had it out of conscience, but that morning raid lost Florida, and the presidency for Al Gore.

SHIELDS: I would like to say, maybe Cardinal Bernard Law (ph) of Boston, who I think sided with Elian and his father, and I do not think it was gut less...

HUNT: Mark, I have no new thoughts on Elian, none whatsoever.

SHIELDS: Happy Easter, Al. Thanks for being with us, Dick Durbin. We'll be back with the news maker of the week, the Catholic archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick, our look beyond the beltway at the midpoint of Jesse Ventura's term of governor of Minnesota, and our outrages of the week; all after the check of the hour's top news.


SHIELDS: Welcome back to the second half of CAPITAL GANG. I'm Mark Shields with Al Hunt, Robert Novak and Kate O'Beirne.

Our news maker of the week is Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick, the new Catholic archbishop of Washington. Theodore Edgar McCarrick, age 70, Ph.D. in sociology, Catholic priest since 1958, archbishop of New Jersey for 15 years and elevated to cardinal, 2001.

Early this week, Al Hunt sat down with Cardinal McCarrick at his residence in northeast Washington.


HUNT: Your Eminence, on Easter weekend, how would you assess spirituality in America?

CARDINAL THEODORE EDGAR MCCARRICK: Very positively. I think it's coming back. I think we have never lost -- the United States never lost a sense of God, a sense of spirituality. So many of our people still will say we believe in God, we believe in an afterlife, we believe in a goodness, and a need to be good.

HUNT: Catholicism is the largest denomination in America, but do you believe there's still some residual anti-Catholicism in popular culture in the media?

MCCARRICK: I really do. And you see it in museum exhibitions from time to time; you see it in some of the plays that we see. You see it maybe more subtlety sometimes, in the scripts that are presented in serials and sitcoms and things like that.

HUNT: Why is it, do you think?

MCCARRICK: Well, I think a very brilliant man once said, "anti- Catholicism is the last respectable bias that somebody can have." I don't know why. Maybe because there are so many of us.

HUNT: Since you are head of the church in the nation's capital, you have also been very active in human rights, you have traveled to China several times. Human rights in the Middle Kingdom getting better or worse?

MCCARRICK: I think in the long run getting better. In the short run not getting better. In the short run, I think the concern that the Chinese government had with Falun Gong has really caused them to get a tighter attempt to control of religion. And that has spread out from Falun Gong to the Christian churches, the Catholic churches, the Muslims and every organized religion.

I think they really are concerned about anything that looks like it's taking control away from the central government. I think they will get out of that. I think they will learn to see that that is not a threat to the government. It's important that you let people believe in God.

HUNT: Here at home is the faith-based initiative that seeks to have religious affiliated groups play a larger role in providing social services. Is it a good idea?

MCCARRICK: Well, I think generally, yes it is. It's a good idea on the one hand if it avoids discrimination against religious affiliated groups. And secondly a good idea if allows tremendous experience of so many fate-based initiatives by so many religious groups in the United States to do their thing, to really use the expertise and experience and wisdom they have gained over the years.

But it's a bad thing if it means that the government will say oh, good faith-based people, you do it; the government doesn't have to do it any more. We don't have the resources to do that.

HUNT: You watched the current debates in Congress over taxes and spending and the like. What is your sense of what America's priorities are today?

MCCARRICK: Well, I really think our priorities are rather good, and I really think that basically, both of our major parties agreed to that. I think our priorities are family, our priorities are education, I even think that our priorities are the sense that we have got to take care of the poor. We have got to raise up those who don't have good education, don't have good housing, who don't get good nutrition.

HUNT: Several months ago, new president of the United States came to have dinner over here with an about to be cardinal. What was it like?

MCCARRICK: It was a wonderful experience. Let me tell you a story about it: I have a portrait in my residence up here of the third floor -- I live above the grocery store -- of my mother. My mother was an artist; she's a very, very beautiful woman. And we have that portrait hanging in the hall. When the president and Mrs. Bush came in, I stopped them and said, one thing you have to do, you have to admire my mother's picture -- and they stopped and they did. I sure mom is in heaven. I can imagine that that was one of the great things; she must have been telling all the angels, the president of the United States just looked at my picture and said how good it was.


SHIELDS: Al Hunt, are we seeing in Cardinal McCarick, a major new figure in the American Catholic church?

HUNT: Well, Mark, we really may be. He has such a sparkling humor and charm as well as intellect and compassion. He told me a funny story. Right after he got here, about three months ago, a magazine did a survey, he was the 36th Most Important Figure in Washington. He said, the only problem was, I didn't know the 35 people ahead of me.

I'll tell you, he is one person who can you make the pope laugh. The pontiff loves to be around him, I'm told by others. And there are several pictures of the pope cracking up over (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

Let me just say one other thing, as the "house Protestant" on this show, I think stereotypes of Catholics in this country are so ill considered -- just witness the panel on the CAPITAL GANG -- but you know, the church is certainly conservative on views on abortion and women in the priesthood.

But it is on the forefront of the fight for the poor and dispossessed in America, and when Cardinal McCarrick talks about priorities, he talks about the poor and the hungry and the ill-housed and I think he will make a major contribution to America.

SHIELDS: Robert Novak.

NOVAK: I think his positivism is just very refreshing, particularly in this town where so many people are negative; and so many people at this table are negative...


HUNT: As opposed to you.


NOVAK: I think -- if I could make a policy point, I thought he was even positive about China, because I think there's an arrangement to be made between the Vatican and the People's Republic of China. And I think it is the place of the prince of the church to be positive about the most populous country in the world, and the chances for religious freedom there.

SHIELDS: He did point out, however, that the immediate impression; he said he had long-term hope and optimism, but immediately, he was not pleased. O'BEIRNE: Right. And he speaks with authority, as Al pointed out. He will certainly have a higher profile now, because he's cardinal in the nation's capital. Al is right to say, he's always been very influential; he's very close to our holy father; he's well known and widely respected by his fellow bishops, and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a broader international community owing that kind of work over the years.

Witness, the president went to have dinner with him on his 5th day in office; he's been a very influential figure. And his mother is very lovely looking. To the envy of traditional Irish mothers everywhere, got to say my son, the cardinal.

SHIELDS: That's right. I'd just say in final closing, his sense of the common good, the communitarianism, as opposed to the individualism so heavily celebrated by some, not at this table of course.

Next on CAPITAL GANG beyond the beltway looks at Jesse Ventura of Minnesota.


SHIELDS: Welcome back. Our look beyond the beltway goes to Minnesota, with former professional wrestler to governor, Jesse Ventura has passed the half way point of his first four-year term. On LARRY KING LIVE recently, Governor Ventura was asked about moonlighting as a TV commentator on XFL football.


GOV. JESSE VENTURA (I), MINNESOTA: I'm a citizen governor and if I so choose to want to hold a second job, I don't think I lose my rights just because I'm elected.

I think now I have proven that yes, I can govern, because really, I think just about anyone can, if you truly go into this job and you have an open mind and you work hard.

If I go run for reelection, I'm not going to go out and raise money to campaign. I'm not going to go to any fundraisers.


SHIELDS: Joining us now from Minneapolis is former Democratic Congressman Tim Penny, who's now the codirector of the Humphrey Institute Policy Forum at the University of Minnesota.

Tim, thanks for coming in.


SHIELDS: Tim, Jesse Ventura's governorship, two years in. Success or failure?

PENNY: So far, so good. The governor's approval rating, as evidenced by a poll published this morning, at 57 percent. That's as high as the average approval ratings of his two predecessors. I would say, given the controversy of the mammoth budget that he submitted to us, challenges us to do a lot of things differently. And he doesn't have a lot of allies in this go around. His public approval ratings demonstrate he is doing quite well under these circumstances.

SHIELDS: Does he show, Tim, that an independent without a party base in the legislature, really can succeed, and prevail, any way?

PENNY: Well, he prevailed in his first time by getting his legislature to go along -- along with a rebate; something that was talked about, but not in quite the same way that he wanted it done. He was able to put some emphasis on education funding.

Then he came up with a cabinet that, by all accounts, is the best cabinet assembled by any recent governor, so day in and day out, the management of government is getting high praise from all concerned, even those who don't consider themselves friends of the governor.

And now, in the midst of this session, he's doing reasonably well. He's holding his own, the legislature is not exactly following in lock step with the governor's budget, but they know at the end of the day, they can't leave town unless they move in his direction.

SHIELDS: Tim, if you had to write Jesse Ventura's epitaph right now after two years in office, what would it be?

PENNY: He promised to shake up the world, and I think he has done do.

SHIELDS: Robert Novak?

NOVAK: You know, sometimes Governor Ventura looks like a clown when he's -- he was quoted talking with a conservation writer for the Minneapolis paper, saying -- he's an ex-Navy SEAL, you've never really hunted until you have hunted after men, which is really a stupid thing to say.

But most politicians are clowns anyway. He just doesn't hide it as well as they do. So, I'm a great Ventura fan; I think he has done a terrific job; he's a tax-cutter, he's taken on the education lobby. And unlike a lot of the posers in Washington, he's a real campaign finance reformer. He said he won't raise any money at all! So, I'm -- I started off very negative towards Jesse Ventura, and if he wants to moonlight on the job, fine, they can lower the salary of the governor. And that would be a good thing, too.

SHIELDS: Bob, you just talked about being positive, and you started off negative -- Kate O'Beirne?

O'BEIRNE: Apparently, Ventura just plays better back home, given his popularity ratings. I do think on -- I sort of stopped paying much attention, due to the overexposure on the national scene. I was interested to see though, Tim, it amends in his latest budget that the governor taking on teacher's union and argue that they have an insatiable appetite for more spending (UNINTELLIGIBLE). And I wondered, might this be a harbinger of things to come? Might we in Washington be able to find more politicians that are able to say no to those who just want to spend endlessly, with no result in education?

PENNY: Well, I think that's the point the governor is trying to make. He has said repeatedly that he's the only figure here in Minnesota politics that can hold the line on spending, because of a second session that entertained all sorts of spending over and above the budget that had been established in the first year. It ended up at a 16 percent increase.

This time around, the governor is saying, yes, I'm a friend of public education. I demonstrated that in my very first budget. But I want to see results. I think the taxpayers are demanding better results for the dollars we spend. And for that reason, I'm trying to reform our funding formula. But I'm going to hold the line until and unless you can prove to me that we'll get results for the extra money.


HUNT: Well, I think Tim Penny is absolutely right, that Jesse Ventura is so much better than the caricature. I disagree with Bob, in the sense that he shouldn't do those silly, XFL football games. It's just something the governor shouldn't do. I'd like to wonder, will there be Venturaism after Jesse?

I look at your state legislature, for instance; there's only one independent member. It seems to me, he's really only a one-man show up there and really has, in that sensed, permanently changed politics.

PENNY: Well, he has shaken things up, as I said earlier. But there is no evidence we are building a party movement around the governor. Nonetheless, in this position in particular, an individual who is very much an outsider can come in and make a difference. He's picked talented people, he's put new ideas on the table that would not be put forward by a Democrat or Republican governor.

He has challenged the system to approach issues differently. He's focused on the administration of government and tried to make our departments and agencies more cost effective in the delivery of services. He's done things in a remarkable way to the surprise of a lot of doubters when he was first elected, who thought he would come in and stumble badly, and he has just not done so.

SHIELDS: Tim Penny, let me disagree with my good friend Al Hunt on the XFL commentary. I mean, we in Washington, we were here long enough to know that the system where we do not any votes in the Congress on Monday or Tuesday night until six, because of the fund- raisers.

We do not have any votes on Thursday, Friday, because of the fund-raisers. Jesse Ventura is moonlighting on weekends, and so, in that sense, I do not think -- maybe it lacks dignity, but it certainly does not lack integrity. PENNY: The governor was lamenting yesterday on his radio show that the legislature complaining that they don't have enough time to finish their work. He said, looked, I have a part-time job on the side, and I am getting my work done.


So, I think there's something to be said about the governor's approach. Clearly, this governor will not allow any part-time commitments to interfere with his fundamental responsibility to be the governor of this state, that will come first with him.

But I think he's demonstrated that, you know, this is a job that does not have to be all consuming and you have to have balance in your life, that politics and public policies are important. But you have to have a family life, and you can have other interests, except for many politicians, other public interest is golfing. So, that's why we have such short work weeks in Washington D.C., because many of them like that long golf weekend.


SHIELDS: Tim Penny, thank you for being with us. The GANG will be back with the outrage of the week.


SHIELDS: Now for the outrage of the week. The 24 American servicemen and women received a hero's welcome, fans and balloons, and rhetoric about the appreciation of a grateful nation, for their patriotism and their courage. If the nation in it's leadership were truly grateful, then how do you explain, one out of four American high schools, more than 5,000 of them, forbidding military recruiters from even setting foot in the schoolyard and having any access to the school directory, for profit companies, selling class rings, caps and gowns, even credit cards.

(UNINTELLIGIBLE) high schools that shut the doors to the Army, Navy, the Marine Corp and Air Force. That is truly an outrage. Robert Novak.

NOVAK: The "New York Times" reported this week that the Internal Revenue Service has all but ended prosecution of tax cheats. Tax payers who don't pay and employers who don't withhold are untaxed. The IRS says its budget has been cut so sharply, that it concentrates on help for honest taxpayers. So, could the IRS be copying the old collective bargaining trick of unions? Of a slow down during negotiations? In any event, the IRS needs corporate direction and badly.

SHIELDS: And you need Kate O'Beirne.

O'BEIRNE: Thank you, he does. Our obligation to the tax snatchers does not end on Monday when our returns are due. According to this years analysis by The Tax Foundation, until May 3rd, the average taxpayer is working just to pay the demands of the government in state and federal and local taxes. So, do not celebrate when that return is post-marked on time, tax freedom day, when our income is finally our own, is two weeks away.

HUNT: Mark, I wanted to rise to Bob's challenge to positivism, but I just cannot, I'm afraid. Social right leaders insist, they he are not anti-gay, they claim they are just opposed to special rights. So, why are they in a rage over Donald Rumsfeld's appointment of Steven Herbis (ph) as special assistant to the secretary? Because he is gay. He is also a very qualified, and his critics, his pious, self-styled moralists, like the Reverend Lou Sheldon, are hypocrites.

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




4:30pm ET, 4/16

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