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Jesse Helms Discusses the Conservative Agenda

Aired May 12, 2001 - 17:30   ET


ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: I'm Robert Novak.

Mark Shields and I will question the Senate's leading Republican voice on foreign policy.

MARK SHIELDS, CO-HOST: He is Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


SHIELDS (voice-over): The House of Representatives Thursday, in a lopsided bipartisan vote, retaliated against the United Nations for denying the U.S. a seat on the UN Human Rights Commission. It withheld a $244 million payment in U.S. back dues to the UN, despite the pleas of the State Department.

RICHARD BOUCHER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: We don't think that linking our obligations and payments to the United Nations to the outcome of that particular vote is a good idea.

REP. HENRY HYDE (R-IL), INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS CHAIRMAN: I don't like our diplomats at the UN walking around with a little sign on their back, "kick me." So we try to take that sign down.

SHIELDS: The $244 million final payment is part of an agreement with the United Nations negotiated last year by Senator Helms as Foreign Relations Committee chairman.

He's in his 29th year as a United States Senator and in his seventh year heading the Foreign Relations Committee. In the early '80s, he was Senate Agriculture Committee chairman for six years.


SHIELDS: Senator Jesse Helms, will you in the Senate pursue this House action for the Senate to follow suit on the United Nations dues?

SEN. JESSE HELMS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Well, it depends on what you mean by "pursue." We are certainly going to go into it ourselves.

As a matter of fact, I was thinking this morning, the average American doesn't know anything at all about the United Nations. They've been told over and over it's good and we ought to accept it. But I'm thinking about having a hearing, maybe two or three days, and have people educate the American people about the United Nations.

What do you think of that?

SHIELDS: Well, I mean, I think it would be an interesting hearing. I really do. I think it's worth public debate.

HELMS: Well, that's exactly what I have in mind.

SHIELDS: On this question of the U.S. being evicted from our seat we had held on the UN Human Rights Commission since the origin of the commission itself, who dropped the ball? I mean, something went wrong. There's no UN ambassador of this administration from the United States.

HELMS: Well, I think it's a bit of collusion over there among some of the European countries, and they installed themselves into it. And I think they're going to pay for it, and regret what they've done.

SHIELDS: But why did it happen? We seemed to be asleep at the switch when it happened.

HELMS: Holbrooke is no longer there. If he had been there, I think he would have known about it, but I'm not going...

NOVAK: The former ambassador.

HELMS: Yes. Richard Holbrooke.

But I'm not going to point any fingers at anybody because, you know, if they're temporary and have no real status, I wouldn't hold them responsible. I wish they had called it. They didn't.

NOVAK: Mr. Chairman, I didn't quite get your response on what you would do on holding back the back dues. I think those hearings are very interesting, but what is your personal feeling? Do you think you ought to completely cut off the funding? Or in the compromise in the House, just holding back the last payment of the back dues?

HELMS: Well, I think the House action is the minimum. I haven't made up my mind about what in fact the Senate position should be, or the position I should try to ask the Senate to take. But I think it's a perfect outrage.

NOVAK: We have now a situation where on the Human Rights Commission we have Sudan, where they have chattel slavery. They have Sierra Leone, where they're just holding a hearing on the mafia that has had such deprivations of the people in Sierra Leone. We have Libya, which is one of the world's worst dictatorships. These are all on the Human Rights Commission.

HELMS: It's an outrage.

NOVAK: Is this an organization that perhaps the United States are begin to distance itself from -- I mean, the United Nations?

HELMS: Well, I think it is, and I am inclined to believe that the American people feel the same way about it.

And that's the reason it's my intent to fully consider a good protracted hearing, maybe for several days, because I want the people who want to defend the United Nations to come and do it. And I want the people who question the United Nations to have their say, which they haven't had in any committee of Congress up to now.

NOVAK: Secretary of State Colin Powell has made the position that this is going to be corrected next year, and that is the position by former Ambassador Holbrooke. And if everybody just keeps cool, it will be corrected next year and we'll be back. It was an oversight. We'll be back on the Human Rights Commission. What do you think of that?

HELMS: Well, I like Colin Powell, and I supported him for secretary of state. But I don't think we ought to keep cool about this thing. Here we are, the heaviest contributor to the United Nations by far, and to be kicked around like this, this is an outrage in my opinion.

SHIELDS: Mr. Chairman, on the subject -- one follow up on the UN -- and that is, the last clear-cut American military victory since 1945 was 1991 in the Persian Gulf. And the United States went in there with the support not only of the Congress and the majority of Democrats in both the House and the Senate, but also with UN support.

You know, when we want to do something in the world, the UN is pretty convenient and helpful, isn't it?

HELMS: Well, that depends on how you describe the UN. We pay for it. We pay dearly for it. But that's not a thing that I think ought to be argumentative right now. I want to find out what the United Nations is really doing over a broad strata of things, for or against the United States and other countries.

SHIELDS: On the subject of foreign policy, President Bush on Taiwan seemed to kind of change a little emphasis there. He said he would do whatever was necessary to defend Taiwan against any Chinese aggression. At the same time, the administration restated the One China policy, which is that Taiwan is a part of China. Can you explain that policy?

HELMS: No, I cannot because I don't agree with it.

I admire the president of the United States. I supported him and continue to support him. But it's just not one China, as far as I'm concerned, shouldn't be.

SHIELDS: Well, on that very point, China, the mainland China is keeping the United States' plane that was downed, against our express will. What should be the U.S. retaliation at that kind of treatment? Should we think seriously about withdrawing most favored nation trading status for the Chinese?

HELMS: Well, you're looking at a guy who didn't favor giving them most favored nation treatment in the first place. It's perfectly outrageous the way China is pushing us around, and that some way, somehow it's got to stop.

SHIELDS: Well, what would you do?

HELMS: Well, that depends on what's available to do. There are a number of things we can do about the Olympics and various other things that would not be all that pleasant to them.

But right now we're just docile, mostly. We did a little firm stand when they shot down that plane, and that sort of thing. But we've got to straighten up and fly right about who's in charge of the United States' foreign policy, and I don't want it to be Beijing.

NOVAK: Mr. Chairman, there has been a lot of speculation in the press and by foreign policy experts that, one, behind our humiliation at the United Nations, there's a feeling around the world that we're pushing our way around too much, that by getting out of the Kyoto Treaty, by going on for national missile defense, we are thumbing our nose at the rest of the world and, therefore, the rest of the world is retaliating against us. What do you think of that theory?

HELMS: Well, if the rest of the world is going to retaliate against us for taking the positions that ought to be taken in defense of this country, well, they can go fly a kite. I haven't heard that much opposition to our opposition to ABM and the rest of it.

NOVAK: The ABM Treaty.


But I wouldn't be guided by what somebody else thinks. I want this nation to be protected. I want the American people to be protected. And I don't care what they think overseas. I think we ought to do that and do it quickly.

NOVAK: Are you concerned about our relations with Russia under President Putin and that they are the only other major nuclear power?

HELMS: Our relations with Russia are about that long. Whatever is good for them, they have relations with us. But they're selling missiles and all the rest of the things that I don't think a good friend of the United States would be willing to do.

NOVAK: So you don't consider them as a friend or ally, at this point?

HELMS: Well, I think they used us, and I don't like for my country to be used.


We're going to have to take a break. And when we come back, we'll ask Jesse Helms: What's wrong at the FBI?


SHIELDS: Senator Jesse Helms, President Bush this week named 11 nominees to the Court of Appeals, including Judge Terrence Boyle of the District Court of North Carolina, someone you had sponsored in the past, all the way back to 1991 and the first President Bush administration.

Now, your colleague from North Carolina, John Edwards, a Democrat, said that he's going to show a little resistance, unless and until there's a nominee from North Carolina, the Court of Appeals, that would have his backing and his blessing. Are we seeing a little bit turnabout being fair play here? Or tell us....

HELMS: Well, I don't think so. I don't know exactly what his moods are.

You know, he said at one time, and I'm not being critical of John, he's a nice fellow and my colleague, but he wanted equal representation. Well, do you know when the last Republican from North Carolina who served on the full circuit court was? John J. Parker of my hometown in Monroe, and he finished up his term in 1925. There has not been a North Carolina Republican on the full circuit court since that time.

And two or three people have said there ought to be some catching up and this and that and the other. I believe that. I believe they ought to catch up and let North Carolina Republicans have a few slots on the Fourth Circuit.

SHIELDS: Well, to speed...

HELMS: I'm asking for only one.

SHIELDS: OK. But in the interest of seeing Judge Boyle confirmed to the Court of Appeals, would you also back a nominee supported by Senator Edwards?

HELMS: Well, it depends on who the nominee is.

SHIELDS: But you're open to consideration?

HELMS: Well, I'm not aware that Senator Edwards or Jesse Helms either has the ability or the authority to nominate judges. I certainly don't seem to have that, and it depends on what the president of the United States does in that regard. And I will take a good look at the nominee, and I hope I can support it.

NOVAK: Mr. Chairman, quite apart from the judicial nominees, not many people are getting confirmed by the Senate. The secretary of agriculture is all by herself out there. She has nobody confirmed. At treasury, at justice, at the Pentagon, at state, below-the-Cabinet secretaries, there are very few people confirmed. What is the problem here? Is this an FBI clearance problem? Is it the administration? Is it the Senate? It's already in the middle of May now.

HELMS: I wish I can answer that, and I've heard other complaints, but I can speak only for my own committee. We have handled nominations right and left, as they came in. Now there's been some delay in terms of getting the papers from the FBI and others, but we have not had an awful lot of difficulty in that. But we have nobody on our agenda, that I know of, who is awaiting a hearing and therefore a report to the Senate on the Foreign Relations Committee.

NOVAK: But you can't pick who's responsible for this situation?

HELMS: Well, I think there'd be a little bit farfetched for me inasmuch as I don't know. I have my suspicions, just like you do.

But maybe it's a new crowd working at the game, but I get along with them fine. And I wish, in some cases, that they could act a little more properly, but I understand that they've got a big job to do.

NOVAK: You're talking about the Bush administration?

HELMS: Yes, sir.

NOVAK: Speaking of the FBI, they have had a startling disclosure that in the case of Timothy McVeigh, they failed to turn over to the defense a tremendous amount of documentary material. They believe it's a mistake.

Is there something wrong, basically, at the FBI? They've had a lot of little problems with the FBI over the last eight years.

HELMS: Well, one can only speculate, and I'm not qualified to speculate about it, but that was a grievous error. Surely, they have enough lawyers to look and see if all the papers have been delivered that ought to have been delivered. But I'm like you, I don't understand how it happened.

SHIELDS: Senator Helms, Thursday in a Rose Garden ceremony, President Bush with Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the UN, announced a $200 million U.S. commitment to the UN -- United Nations -- AIDS fund to fight AIDS in Africa.

Seventy percent of the people with HIV and 36 million in the world live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Will you support this effort by the president?

HELMS: Well, I presume that the president has followed through on his faith-based activity in that regard. But I'm going to have to hear the details of who does what with that $200 million.

But I don't think there's a soul on earth who doesn't want to help those poor people in Africa. That's an awful situation.

SHIELDS: And Senator Helms, just one final question on the judges, and that is, that you've been a staunch critic of racial quotas and gender quotas and quotas at large. Yet, when the White House announced these 11 judges, they gave us a briefing paper pointing out that six of the 11 nominees to the Court of Appeals were women and minorities. Are they playing a little quota politics at this White House? HELMS: Well, there's a lady named Rice who works for the president, and she is checking the competence of people. And as long as she's there, that's when I -- race doesn't matter to me or gender or whatever. I want to know whether they're competent to do the job or whether they are political appointees. And I don't like political appointees on the bench.

NOVAK: Mr. Chairman, quick question before we take another break. The situation with the president is that conservatives are trying to criticize him for some things on the environment. The education bill came under attack by a lot of conservatives.

Are you concerned that this conservative Republican president is starting to drift away and drift toward the left?

HELMS: Well, I remember when the conservatives, some of them and some of me didn't agree with Ronald Reagan. And my support of Ronald Reagan bordered on affection. I admired him, and I always will think that he's one of the truly great presidents of the United States.

No, I don't think that people ought to withhold their criticism because he's Bush, but I think the president ought to do what he thinks is right. And he ought to listen to both sides, and I think he's doing that.

SHIELDS: OK. We're going to take another break, and when we come back we'll have "The Big Question" for Jesse Helms of North Carolina.


NOVAK: "The Big Question" for Senator Jesse Helms.

Mr. Chairman, people in North Carolina, in the country, around the world, are waiting to hear whether you are going to run for an unprecedented-in-North-Carolina sixth term. When are you going to announce your decision?

HELMS: The best I'd say I can give you is, in due time.


HELMS: My best friend of 59 years almost, Dot Helms, is going to make that decision. We're going to make it together, but this comes up every time. And so far she has been willing to continue to live with me if I was going to be a senator. But we haven't made up our minds. It's too early.

SHIELDS: "Too early," Senator Helms, in the sense of -- how about raising money? There's speculation that the Helms campaign treasury had gone pretty meager and modest.

HELMS: Well, we don't need the money because we don't have a campaign going. But I assume that our friends will help us if asked, when we announce a new campaign, but that remains to be seen. SHIELDS: Senator Jesse Helms, thank you so much for being with us. My partner, Robert Novak, and I will be back in a moment with a comment.


SHIELDS: Bob, the House's action in withholding funds for the UN in retaliation for the U.S. losing its seat on the UN Human Rights Commission isn't going to end in the House. We've heard from Senator Helms that it's going forward, and he said that would be a minimum measure in the Senate.

NOVAK: Yes, he said he was going to have strong hearings on the UN, and that must make them happy at the UN.

And he also indicated he's the same Jesse Helms as the Republican president, hasn't changed his positions, still is opposed to a one- China policy, for example.

SHIELDS: On that One China policy he was pretty direct on Beijing. He said he didn't want Beijing calling the shots.

The other thing, Bob, on AIDS and the U.S. support for UN initiative on AIDS, he showed sympathy, if not support for George Bush.

NOVAK: Jesse Helms, as a leading conservative, says that when George W. Bush gets off the conservative reservation it's OK to criticize him, but still support him. But I don't think he's going to give any leeway to him because he's the president. I think Jesse Helms speaks his mind, and that's why a lot of people would like to see him run again next year.

I'm Robert Novak.

SHIELDS: I'm Mark Shields.

Coming up in one half hour on "RELIABLE SOURCES": the media and the McVeigh execution, how much coverage is too much?

And at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, the Capital Gang talks about President Bush's judicial nominees and the U.S. debt to the United Nations, plus an interview with House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas.

SHIELDS: That's all for now. Thanks for joining us.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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