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Former President Clinton Remains Hot Topic of Debate

Aired January 25, 2001 - 2:33 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Let's chat more about this uproar over the Clintons with Amy Walters. She is with the "Cook Political Report," which describes itself as a nonpartisan and independent newsletter.

First of all, the gifts, Amy: Every departing president and first lady receive gifts. What is different about this gift regime?

AMY WALTER, "COOK POLITICAL REPORT": Well, I think it's just one last poke in the eye that the Clintons gave to their enemies and the people whose job it has been for all these years now to follow and to make a business almost out of hating the Clinton administration and the Clintons personally.

So whether it's china or golf clubs really is irrelevant. I think it was the fact that it was this largess. And it was from these big holiday stars and other folks who are in the limelight constantly. And it just, I think, was one more on top of everything that the Clintons did to those folks who just say: Oh, we can't take it anymore. Please let them leave.

WATERS: What about the pardon situation, specifically Marc Rich, which seems to be more than poking in the eye because of the many different directions the criticism over this pardon is taking?

WALTER: Absolutely. I mean, it's impossible to look at this and say that this was not political. And, you know, it was interesting to hear President Clinton's explanation that a pardon simply means you are pardoning someone who has already paid their price. Clearly I think what makes this so difficult for either side to justify is that he didn't really pay a price. Mr. Rich didn't, that is.

And it's one thing talking about somebody who maybe has spent years in prisons and now they're being pardoned, as opposed to somebody who squirreled away to a foreign country, embezzling millions of dollars.

WATERS: Well, the Bush team doesn't want to talk about it. But there are some people talking about pardon reform. Do you think an incident like this might lead to something like presidential pardon reform?

WALTER: Well, I think it's a very interesting idea. And, in fact, you know what might be interesting as well is to discuss -- not simply to get rid of pardons -- obviously that's part of the Constitution -- but maybe limit the time when you can pardon somebody. Rather it being a middle-of-the-night sort of affair right before a president leaves office, that it has to -- there has to be some sunshine on this process. Maybe do it within a certain time window during a presidency so that there will be some repercussions -- some political repercussions, rather than something that you can actually literally sign the day you are leaving the White House.

WATERS: Let's get up to Capitol Hill for a minute, Amy, where it may not be exactly morning in America when we hear Trent Lott saying there are extremists on the Judiciary Committee holding up the nomination of John Ashcroft, whom he says must get in and clean up -- to use his word -- the cesspool at the Justice Department. What is that all about?


WALTER: Right. Well, I think we have seen the patina wiped off this talk of bipartisanship. Remember, just a couple of months ago, everybody was holding hands and talking about how they couldn't wait to work together in this bipartisan fashion. And: Aren't we -- we are in a 50-50 Senate. We're going to work together to make sure that this looks more like America and we work together.

Obviously, you can see when the rubber really hits the road, and when sparks begin to fly, that talk of this bipartisanship really does start to fade away. And, look, you have got a body made up of 100 people with 100 different agendas. Certainly, there are a lot of Democrats sitting in the Senate right now who are interested in 2004 and what they are going to be doing for presidential, as well as folks who are up in 2002. So I think we are going to see more of this rather than less as we move on through the process.

WATERS: Well, that said, the first priority of the president is education, which, on the top of all the voter priority lists, it also is the number-one choice for getting things done. Is the president making good moves?

WALTER: Oh, absolutely. I mean, nobody is going to be anti- education. And that's the beauty of putting something like this forward first. And also, nobody can really be anti-tax-cut. The question is, once the specifics really start to hit -- we have already seen from both sides that there is some hesitation about what the tax package would look like, about what the education package would look like. Once the stuff really gets out and is spelled out specifically, let's see how well the Bush administration can handle some of those issues, when they are not just -- they are not broad brush strokes, but they're real specifics.

WATERS: And what about the distractions, the principal distraction being John McCain, I guess -- over at the White House yesterday getting a leg up on campaign-finance reform. Is he going to be a thorn in the side of the Bush administration on this?

WALTER: There's no question that this issue is not going away. And whether it passes in the form that -- the Feingold-McCain form that we had seen in the last Congress -- or whether it gets tweaked around, there is no way that this issue can't be brought up. It's something that will happen. Now, he becomes a thorn in the side of Bush, absolutely, but also on the side of Democrats.

Look, both sides are very nervous about what is going to be an exceedingly expensive 2002. And neither side wants to lose its advantage. I have been reading recently that both the Democratic Campaign Committee and the Senate committee are already focusing these next few weeks on fund-raising, making sure that they get in under the wire here and at least stock their coffers before there is any change in the law. So, you know, it's little bit like trying to get your IRA deduction done right before the filing for the IRS. You know, we all try to sneak that in at the end.

WATERS: Yes, we do, don't we?


WATERS: Well, it's going to be fascinating.

WALTER: Absolutely.

WATERS: We'll talk again, Amy Walter, with the "Cook Political Report."

WALTER: Thank you.



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