THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP
HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN
JOINED BY: TONY BLANKLEY, PATRICK BUCHANAN, ELEANOR CLIFT
AND LAWRENCE O'DONNELL
TAPED FRIDAY, JANUARY 15, 1999
AIRED THE WEEKEND OF JANUARY 16-17, 1999
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ANNOUNCER: From the nation's capital, "The McLaughlin Group," an unrehearsed program presenting inside opinions and forecasts on major issues of the day.
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Here's the host, John McLaughlin.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: The trial; just begun or already over?
SERGEANT-AT-ARMS (U.S. Senate): (From videotape.) Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye! All persons are commanded to keep silent.
REP. HENRY HYDE (R-IL): (From videotape.) With your permission, we, the managers of the House, are here to set forth the evidence in support of two articles of impeachment against President William Jefferson Clinton.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So began the historic impeachment trial of President Clinton this week. But while it appeared the trial had just begun, many Democrats and one prominent Republican, Bob Dole, think the trial is already over.
ROBERT DOLE: (From videotape.) You are never going to have the votes to convict President Clinton. He is going to be acquitted.
SEN. RICHARD H. BRYAN (D-NV): (From videotape.) At this time, absent some new development, it's highly unlikely that the president is going to be convicted of either one of those two articles of impeachment. It is my sense, however, that if there is an acquittal, that we ought to go forward with a censure of some kind.
SEN. DON NICKLES (R-OK): (From videotape.) I am bothered by the fact that some colleagues have actually stated that their decision is already made or close to it, and calling why we can't convict; therefore, we should have censure or something.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The political Zeitgeist in Washington, as many read it, is that this trial will certainly lead to acquittal. The trial in fact is the run-up game to the big game; the big game is censure. The trial is the mid-field event. Censure is the goal line. The trial is a forerunner. The final act is censure. Everything that precedes censure is prologue and really doesn't matter.
Republicans may argue against censure.
SEN. MIKE DEWINE (R-OH): (From videotape.) I think that we should not censure any president. I think it is bad public policy. I think it weakens the institution of the presidency. I think it's a bad precedent.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But Democrats silently know that censure, not conviction, is inevitable. In fact, Democratic Senate Dianne Feinstein goes so far as to admit that she is drafting a censure resolution.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (R-CA): (From videotape.) Yes, I am preparing something, but I really don't think it's appropriate to discuss it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is censure bleeding this trial of its life, or is the performance of the House managers so robust that it is keeping the trial alive and advancing the case for conviction against the president? Pat Buchanan.
MR. BUCHANAN: I am glad you put that second clause in there, John, because you are exactly right. The House managers have put together a tremendously compelling case that witnesses have to be called and witnesses have to be heard. The Republican Party in the Senate, which controls it, will call those witnesses, I believe. When they come in there, the dynamic of this is going to point directly to a call to have William Jefferson Clinton come down and answer these charges and say why, in his brief, they are all dead false.
So I think the Republicans have done a tremendous job.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So you don't think the Zeitgeist, as it was rather brilliantly described a moment ago; you don't think that that Zeitgeist is the true Zeitgeist in Washington today?
MR. BUCHANAN: I would --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Namely, that it is an accepted fact that this trial will not end in a conviction?
MR. BUCHANAN: If I had to make a prediction, John, I would predict exactly that. But what I am saying is -- is the Republicans have changed this dynamic, and it is now moving toward witnesses and a genuine trial, and that opens a lot of possibilities up.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But you are predicting acquittal?
MR. BUCHANAN: As of now.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor?
MS. CLIFT: Look, the point is, you're both right. I mean, you could advance to having witnesses; you may just have them deposed and not actually be presented on the Senate floor; you'd probably have the trial extended, but it is almost inevitable that this will end in acquittal. I mean, I don't know -- you must have been watching a different performance than I watched. To me, Mr. Sensenbrenner -- it looked -- it was like a Republican convention without the balloons and just about as exciting. (Laughter.) And they built a circumstantial case where they put the most sinister explanation on every event and they don't have any better case than Ken Starr had.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony?
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, I don't disagree with the premise that the conventional wisdom is acquittal. That seems to be where it's going. It could change based on the dynamics of witnesses actually testifying. My guess is that witnesses will actually testify.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And then what'll happen?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, of course, that's the nature of unknown elements being thrown in.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's called terra incognita -- unknown land, right? (Laughter.)
MR. BLANKLEY: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If the witnesses come out, anything can happen. All bets are off, right? That's why they're trying to create, the Democrats, a firewall against witnesses.
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, sure. I mean, because as the status quo maintains itself, Clinton wins. So any change in the status quo increases the likelihood that he loses just by definition of changing. But I would say -- you've obviously never been to a Republican convention -- (Laughter.)
MS. CLIFT: I've watched them on TV.
MR. BLANKLEY: Because they're not that much fun as you saw yesterday.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Some people get arrested at those conventions, don't they? (Laughter.) Let me ask you this. What accounts for the lock-step Democratic support for Clinton?
MR. O'DONNELL: It's not support for Clinton in the Senate. There are no more than a dozen senators, Democrats, who really like Bill Clinton the person. There is a tremendous amount of support for the concept that these crimes, if they are crimes, do not rise to the level that deserve removal from office, and that is how he will escape removal from office. He will not escape removal from office because Democrats believe his story.
MR. BUCHANAN: The presentation has been extraordinarily powerful of the -- this is perjury and obstruction of justice and how grave and serious, and we have not heard from people like Byrd and Bob Kerrey and others. It's Torricelli and Schumer who are out on TV.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah, now I want --
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but, Pat, it's still -- the Democratic case, basically, is assume everything is true that's said about the president.
MR. BUCHANAN: Well --
MS. CLIFT: Are these events really -- (inaudible due to cross talk) -- impeach him?
MR. BUCHANAN: See, I think that's why you better hear from Kerrey and Byrd --
MS. CLIFT: And if you want to punish the president, choose another forum other than impeachment.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, we want to make one small point here and that is that bipartisanship right now is taking a beating, and that leads to my exit question, which is, Is the spirit of bipartisanship, which had existed a few weeks ago in the Senate, already evaporating and destined to vanish?
MR. BUCHANAN: No, there's no doubt it is crumbling a little bit, but it has not reached anything like that, you know, Chicago Seven "days of rage" routine -- (laughter) -- some of the Democrats put on in the House Judiciary Committee.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, we're talking -- they're talking about clandestine meetings --
MR. BUCHANAN: Oh, those are -- that's Mickey Mouse.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mickey Mouse!
MR. BUCHANAN: Sure. That's not serious.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I feel better now, Pat. (Laughter.)
MS. CLIFT: Right. They're not going to act out all their partisan impulses, but when the vote comes, you're going to see a largely partisan vote, Republicans voting one way, Democrats another.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?
MR. O'DONNELL: It was always an ersatz bipartisanship.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Ersatz?
MR. O'DONNELL: Yes -- fake. Phony. Counterfeit.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Ah. (Laughter.) But --
MR. O'DONNELL: But what it was was a genuine search for their own dignity which this time around came in the form of the appearance of bipartisanship. The senators love dignity more than they love justice, and right now they find dignity in seeming to be bipartisan.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I like your threads this week, but not quite as cheerful as the lime shirt of last week.
MR. O'DONNELL: We have a grim file --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And I like your threads, too. I notice the peak lapel.
MS. CLIFT: Actually, there are so many stripes on this set I feel like I'm behind bars. (Laughter.)
MR. O'DONNELL: John, bipartisanship is still in very good shape in the Senate and it will stay that way.
The people to watch are Democrats who used to serve in the House, where there is no bipartisanship at any time. Tom Daschle is one of those, and he has been knocking at the edges of bipartisanship here, and he is the one who has it within his power to blow the bipartisan thing apart or to keep it together.
MR. BUCHANAN: Mm-hmm. But the Republicans have a vested interest, frankly, because they got blamed for the House, in being very decorous and stately, and I think they've done that. The presenters have done that. And certainly Republican senators are not being partisan all over the networks.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I would point out that Daschle has already said, "No witnesses." I think that this bipartisanship is cyclical, and we're now going into a trough. (Laughter.)
Last week on mclaughlin.com we asked, "Which word better characterizes the Senate trial of President Clinton, traumatic or cathartic?" Get this: 85 percent believe that the trial is cathartic.
When we come back, beyond the Articles of Impeachment, are there other extra-criminal reasons, compelling reasons, for convicting Clinton?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: Extra-criminal bases for removal.
SEN. ROBERT BYRD (D-WV): (From videotape.) A senator doesn't have to explain his vote, but it's within his own judgment, his own heart, and his own soul as to whatever standard he wishes to apply.
It doesn't have to be a crime that's indictable in a court of law.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are there reasons to remove Bill Clinton from office beyond the felonies detailed in the Articles of Impeachment, if that's what they are? Should senators consider the collateral damage stemming from Clinton's criminal conduct?
Okay. Let us move beyond the criminal predicate to the collateral fallout.
One, disgrace. "On January the 20th, 1993, William Jefferson Clinton took the oath prescribed by the Constitution of the United States 'faithfully to execute the office of president.' Implicit in that oath is the obligation that the president set an example of high moral standards and conduct himself in a manner that fosters respect for the truth, and William Jefferson Clinton has egregiously failed in this obligation and, through his actions, violated the trust of the American people, lessened their esteem for the office of president, and dishonored the office which they have entrusted to him."
These are not the words of Republicans, the loyal opposition; these are the words of Clinton's friends -- the exact words, indeed, of the House Democrats in their proposed resolution of censure against Mr. Clinton. This is the judgment of the president's most ardent backers.
The question that the Senate jurors may wish to ask themselves is: Should a president who has disgraced himself, his family, and the nation's citizens, and who has become a laughingstock throughout the world, be judged to be too flawed to govern?
Number two, Robo-Starr, a second extra-criminal basis for conviction. "There's a palpable sense in the United States that we are nearing the end of the Monica matter. It's not going to happen. The president intends to stay in office until the last hour of the last day of his term. There's every reason to believe that Starr intends to dog him to that very hour. Starr has refused to rule out the possibility that he will seek to indict Clinton for perjury, false statements, or obstruction of justice, perhaps even while the president is still in office." So reports journalist Marianne Lavelle, writing in the Washington Post.
Even if he is acquitted, the president faces potential legal entanglements from Lewinsky, from Whitewater, from Filegate, et cetera, for the remainder of his term. In other words, if Clinton is acquitted, the nightmare will not end.
The question that Senate jurors may wish to ask is: Which will cause more damage to the republic, the trauma of Clinton going or the trauma of Clinton staying?
Number three, and the last one: national security recklessness. On March 29th, 1997, protracted sexual interaction between Lewinsky and Clinton took place that yielded the blue dress DNA. And if her testimony is to be believed, it gives the lie to Clinton's defense about the nature of the intimacy between them. After the dalliance, according to Ms. Lewinsky, she and the president had a lengthy conversation that day. He told her that he suspected that a foreign embassy -- he did not specify which one -- was tapping his telephones, and he proposed cover stories. If ever questioned, she should say that the two of them were just friends. If anyone ever asked about their phone sex, she should say that they knew their calls were being monitored all along and the phone sex was just a put-on.
Foreign affairs columnist Jim Hoagland, who writes for the Washington Post, in this instance last Wednesday (sic), he calls this sexual affair reckless and irresponsible. It made our commander in chief, he says, a target for blackmail by foreign powers, which was a betrayal of his oath to protect the national security.
So the question that Senate jurors may wish to ask themselves is: Has Mr. Clinton, in his national security vigilance, exhibited such irresponsibility, such recklessness, as to render him unfit for office?
Question to the panel: Assuming the Articles of Impeachment are proven, doubt may still remain, as you correctly point out, in Senate jurors' minds, as to whether the Articles of Impeachment alone justify removal. But if these criminal articles themselves do not meet the removal threshold, does the collateral damage stemming from Clinton's criminal behavior -- disgrace, Robo-Starr, national security recklessness -- do they warrant conviction and push the senators across the threshold of that decision? I ask you, Eleanor Clift.
MS. CLIFT: John, did you just get sworn in as the 14th House manager? (Laughter.) Frankly, that was the biggest pile of baloney I've heard in quite a long time. And in fact, once this trial is over -- and I believe, as everybody -- most everybody -- does, it will end in acquittal -- the Republican Congress's ratings will be so low, they will be eager to do penance and work with this president and get some legislation. They may even increase the minimum wage.
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, this raises an interesting question, because if the reason is motive or the reason is legal justification, this is the old Al Capone question. The prosecutors wanted to get Al Capone in prison, not because he'd evaded taxes, but because they thought but couldn't quite prove --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That was the only thing he was charged with.
MR. BLANKLEY: He was only charged with tax --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Evading taxes.
MR. BLANKLEY: But they knew -- they knew but couldn't prove that he committed 142 murders, or whatever it was. Here you -- I think you've gone to the heart of why there's a chance that Clinton could yet be convicted, because many members and many people in this town believe he has done many things that make him unfit for office, even if it doesn't quite fit the legal qualifications.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Criminal? Criminal?
MS. CLIFT: (Inaudible due to cross talk.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Felonious behavior?
MR. BLANKLEY: Not necessarily criminal.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. Would you call what I described here -- just a moment now -- would you just call what I described here "serious misbehavior," the -- causing the disgrace, et cetera?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, misbehaving and "mal-behaving" are sort of two different things. I mean, some of it is inappropriate. Others --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, take, for example, the recklessness of the national security matter, where he's talking to a woman on an open phone at her end --
MR. BUCHANAN: John --
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, that's sort of incompetence and goes --
MR. BUCHANAN: John --
MR. O'DONNELL: Alone among presidents, he cannot be blackmailed for sexual behavior.
MR. BUCHANAN: You know --
MR. O'DONNELL: He has a pass from the public to do whatever it wants --
MR. BLANKLEY: Of course he could be, and -- (inaudible due to cross talk).
MR. BUCHANAN: John, John -- but John, this --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But we're not talking sexual behavior; we're talking about his perjury. You see, there is a legal predicate now in place. And that may be -- not be enough, some may think, as you point out that you think that way. Others think that perjury alone, obstruction of justice can do it --
MR. BUCHANAN: John --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- but there may be the need for an extra lever, and the extra lever is the collateral damage, which is overwhelming --
MR. BUCHANAN: John! (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and worldwide that has come from this --
MR. BUCHANAN: Here's your case. Let me respond here. Look, if you talk about recklessness, John F. Kennedy was even more reckless than Bill Clinton in that White House with women and with --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But it was not public! It was not public!
MR. BUCHANAN: He was subject to -- he was subject to --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The Founding Fathers said if it becomes public then you must go.
MR. BUCHANAN: John! John, he was subject to blackmail because everybody in the city knew it, and I'll bet every embassy knew it. And he was involved with -- I just reread Seymour Hersh's book. It was appalling.
You've got to go by the Constitution. If he is not guilty of "high crimes and misdemeanors," I don't believe you should vote to remove the man from office. If you don't go by the Constitution, I think you will establish a horrendous precedent.
MS. CLIFT: Well, collateral damage --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think that both Kennedy, and particularly Clinton, since this instance is before us, exhibited the kind of recklessness that Hoagland describes?
MR. BUCHANAN: I think it is as reckless as it can be, but you can't impeach him if it's not high crimes --
MS. CLIFT: It came to naught. It came to naught.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You have other things that make you unfit for office. Did you hear what Byrd said as far as the standards are concerned? You do not need an indictable offense!
MR. BUCHANAN: Exactly. But what does the Constitution say? "Treason, high crimes and misdemeanors."
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, but --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Just a moment! A misdemeanor is defined as "serious misbehavior."
MS. CLIFT: No, but you're citing collateral damage. What about the stock market? What about a world at peace? What about all the social measurements, from teenage births -- they're all doing well!
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exactly. You're making my point! Clinton is causing all that too!
MS. CLIFT: They're all doing well! (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm glad she's come over! (Laughter.)
Exit question. Are we ready for exit? Do you want to add anything?
MR. BLANKLEY: I've said all I have to say.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You've said it all?
MR. BUCHANAN: Would you like to add something, John? (Laughter.)
MS. CLIFT: No! (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I'll put a question -- I will put a question that I think is -- would possibly be interpreted by Eleanor to reflect her point of view. If we start removing presidents for grounds outside criminal conduct, aren't we veering dangerously close to a vote of no confidence in a parliamentary system?
I'll put that to you.
MR. BLANKLEY: Yes we are, if we did it routinely. On the other hand, I do believe that the misdemeanor component of the constitutional provision permits non-criminal conduct to be a grounds for impeachment, but it should be done rarely and only when the evidence is overwhelming.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The impeachment procedure in the Constitution is such cumbersome machinery, it is so onerous, it is so complicated that the notion of comparing a parliamentary democracy, as we're hearing from the White House and Eleanor as a reason, that it is just total sophistry.
Okay, exit. Multiple choice. Compared to the House impeachment charges -- perjury, obstruction of justice -- are these extra criminal reasons for removal (A) less compelling; (B) equally compelling; (C) more compelling; (D) totally controlling; (E) irrelevant?
MR. BUCHANAN: As they are not constitutional, they are irrelevant.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Pat, you'd better take out that Constitution. (Laughter.) Go up and be tutored by Senator Byrd.
MR. BUCHANAN: Treason, bribery, other high crimes and misdemeanors.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let him wave that finger at you, Pat.
MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, Pat and I do read the same Constitution. E for irrelevant. He's right.
MR. BLANKLEY: C; on a moral level, compelling.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Moral level? You mean almost a subconscious level?
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, as a motive -- jurors often vote for reasons that are not specifically instructed by the judge, and these would fit that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Moral and legitimate, right?
MR. O'DONNELL: Pat Buchanan's constitutional scholarship is, as usual, unarguable.
MR. BUCHANAN: (Chuckles.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is they are compelling, but for none of the reasons given. They're compelling on the subconscious level, but legitimately so.
MR. BUCHANAN: (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue three: Governance, alive and well. Just watch me.
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: (From videotape.) The State of our Union is strong. (Applause.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: President Clinton will deliver his State of the Union message to Congress and to the nation on Tuesday night, and his performance will surely be commanding, and what he says will be less important, under current circumstances, than the very fact of his saying it, especially in combination with the setting. That reality will speak for itself:
"You say that I cannot govern because of the ongoing unpleasantness? What would call what I am doing now?
"And has anyone else in government offered this nation the range of initiatives and successes that my administration has brought to you, pressing forward with the nation's business, as opposed to what's now going on in the Senate, the Kabuki dance?
"You say that I cannot perform as your president in the international community? What do you think took place a few weeks ago in Iraq, a few months ago in Khartoum, last year with Netanyahu and Arafat at the Wye Plantation?"
That was the scene speaking for itself. You understand?
MR. O'DONNELL: Mm-hmm. (In agreement.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You understand what we are doing here?
MR. O'DONNELL: I do.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Question: Will the president's State of the Union address, will it fatally undercut the notion that he is unable or unfit to govern? And will it further cement an acquittal for William J. Clinton? I ask you, Lawrence --
MR. O'DONNELL: It doesn't have to do that because he is going to be acquitted and because the public already believes he is able to govern. But, yes, it will help, as it did last year.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How will it score on the public?
MR. O'DONNELL: It will score very well. Last year's was a grand-slam; this one will be a grand-slam. But he has nowhere to go in the opinion polls; he can't go higher. It will maybe go up two points.
MR. BUCHANAN: John?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will it be a transient phenomenon, a flash in the pan? He will get a lift from it, but will it be like Chinese food?
MR. BLANKLEY: He got --
MR. BUCHANAN: He is unique, John.
MR. BLANKLEY: -- a full year's lift out of last year's State of the Union.
MR. BUCHANAN: John, he is really unique; I mean, the way he goes through this. He is able to govern. The problem is I don't believe he is fit to govern because of what he has done.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that the senators will be somewhat sedate and the House Democrats at the State of the Union will behave like the Bulls who just hear that Michael Jordan is back? (Laughter.) Is that what the phenomenon is going to be for Tuesday night? Can you predict?
MR. BLANKLEY: I suspect that the House Democrats will be more vibrant than the Senate Democrats.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A quick yes or no answer, Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: A Bob Barr faction may think about boycotting. That would make Clinton's day. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit, a simple yes or no: Will the State of the Union demolish arguments that Clinton cannot govern effectively? Yes or no?
MR. BUCHANAN: No.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes or no?
MS. CLIFT: Nobody is arguing that except you and Pat Buchanan.
MR. BLANKLEY: No.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes or no?
MR. BLANKLEY: No.
MR. O'DONNELL: Yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes or no?
MR. O'DONNELL: Yes, it will.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It will?
MR. O'DONNELL: Yes. (Laughter.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is --
MR. O'DONNELL: He needed a "yes."
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- no, it will not -- what?
MR. O'DONNELL: You needed a "yes" in this thing. (Laughter.) It's a clear "yes." (Laughter.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, he is overplaying the game. (Laughter.) We'll be right -- the answer is no -- what was the question? (Laughter.)
MR. BLANKLEY: "Will it destroy his" --
MR. BLANKLEY: "Will it destroy his" --
MS. CLIFT: "Can Clinton govern?" (Cross talk, laughter.) (Inaudible) -- argued he can.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. Well, to eliminate that notion, the answer is no, it will not. We'll be right back with predictions.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A forced prediction: Will any Democrats vote for conviction? Pat.
MR. BUCHANAN: Too close to call.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor?
MS. CLIFT: No. And they will be joined by six to eight Republicans.
MR. BLANKLEY: Possibly but two -- and we can't see them yet.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Two?
MR. BLANKLEY: We can't see any yet.
MR. O'DONNELL: Eleanor is exactly right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is Pat's right, too close to call. Bye-bye.
®FC¯END OF REGULAR SEGMENT
PBS SEGMENT FOLLOWS
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue four: Playing ball with Cuba.
SECRETARY OF STATE MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: (From videotape.) Our goal is to encourage the development in Cuba of peaceful civic activities that are independent of the government.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The controversial U.S. trade embargo against Cuba has been in place for 37 years. Last week, Secretary of State Albright opened five areas of very limited U.S. involvement with Cuba: financial assistance to individual Cuban nationals, not the government; travel access; postal services; agriculture sales; cultural exchanges. As an example of cultural exchange, the Baltimore Orioles may face the National Cuban Baseball Team this spring for two exhibition games.
Surprisingly, the Castro government has criticized these relaxations. It calls them "deceptive maneuvers." "It is an attack on an ideological plane, on a political plane. In reality, it gives nothing and tries to confuse and trick. I'm sure all of our people will reject this new face put on the war against Cuba." So says Ricardo Alarcon, Castro's head negotiator with the U.S.
That is the government of Cuba. The people of Cuba think differently. They welcome the changes. In Washington, many echoed, however, Alarcon's criticism, though for a different reason: the changes don't go far enough. Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner has called for a complete overhaul of the current Cuba policy.
SEN. JOHN WARNER (R-VA): (From videotape.) It's a missed opportunity, Mr. President, to have done, I think, a great deal more. Cuba is the only nation in the world that we are denying such basic things as food and medicine.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Are the Albright relaxations the beginning of the end of the trade embargo against Cuba? Lawrence?
MR. O'DONNELL: No, they are just a token. And the policy is so outrageous, the idea that we would treat this, the most irrelevant, the tiniest communist dictatorship in the world as being so important that we can't even talk to them, and we deal with China completely openly all day long.
MR. BLANKLEY: And there's something sort of noble about this ancient policy of ours, even if it's not functional, too. (Laughter.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean it's hoary with age?
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, but there's a certain magnificence to it, and grandeur. But I think the time, I think increasingly in the Cuban community in Florida, there's a split as to which way to go. Clearly, we're moving in the direction of some preparation for the day after Castro leaves, and this is part of that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is it a trial balloon? I ask you.
MS. CLIFT: Well, I don't think the policy is magnificent at all. And Clinton was headed towards normalization with Cuba, but they shot down that plane with the Florida Cubans in it. The next president will wipe out the embargo.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The president meets with the pope on the 26th. Do you think they cut a deal?
MR. BUCHANAN: No, I don't think the pope cut a deal with Clinton.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't?
MR. BUCHANAN: No. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He's going to meet with him.
MR. BUCHANAN: That's all right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't think the pope said, "Look, I'll see you providing you lift the Cuban sanctions, which I deplore"?
MR. BUCHANAN: I do not believe that's happened.