MSNBC's Joe Scarborough - who when a Republican congressman voted to impeach President Clinton - seems to believe that a former President should be able to legally run for office again after taking "a term or two off." His comments followed a gushing slew of praise for former President Bill Clinton, and he noted that many viewers "are just sitting there thinking 'Why can't [Clinton] run for President in a couple of years?'"
"It seems so short-sighted, just because the Republicans were upset that FDR was President for four terms," Scarborough complained of the 22nd Amendment, ratified during Truman's second term but passed out of Congress four years earlier in March 1947. Republicans did control both houses of Congress then, but the amendment would have excluded then-President Harry Truman and was supported by some Democrats.
Co-hosts of MSNBC's "Morning Joe" Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski conducted a glowing interview of the former president at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City.
JOE SCARBOROUGH: You know, it's a unifying concept, too. Because you speak to the small-government conservative in me, because conservatives always complained that government can't do everything, that government can't - it's actually Kennedy-esque, "Ask not what your country can do for you." You're saying "We're minding the gap. We're not expecting the federal government to do everything. We're expecting you to help."
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: Well I actually think the formula that you just described - not left/right, not right/wrong, and bringing people together from both sides - could apply beyond the Clinton Global Initiative. It could apply in Washington.
BILL CLINTON: I think so, too. I think that what we ought to talk about - I urged my fellow Democrats to tell the American people that the country wasn't back to work, nobody was happy, but according to all the numbers, the recession bottomed out and it was job-time, showtime. So the only real issue in this election should be what is each party going to offer to get the country moving again, which idea is most likely to work. I think that ought to be the debate. What are we going to do, who's more likely to do it? And I think - I believe they should say "Give us two more years to do this. If it doesn't work, you can throw us all out. We've got another election in two years, throw us all out. We're in a deep hole, couldn't get going in time."
That's what I - I think we ought to all be willing to be judged by what ___ does not empower other people.
SCARBOROUGH: I've talked to you about this before. We go out and give speeches all across the country, and sometimes to progressive crowds, and I always start with when I ran in '94, I couldn't stand Bill Clinton's image on TV! And they'll all rustle out there. I'll say "I came up to Washington, DC," and I'll go through this, and as I explain the story away, well he didn't really like us that much, either. But look what we accomplished together. Look what we - we learned. I learned so much from those five years, and they were tough, tough years for you, and for Hillary, and for a lot of people. Balance - Terry was talking about this. We balanced the budget four years - for four years, the first time that happened since the 1920's, reformed welfare, created 22 million new jobs. And those were two sides that didn't exactly love each other. Could you explain to Washington, DC, on both sides - how did you do that? How did you rise above it? How did everybody learn to work together, even if they fought each other like hell?
BILL CLINTON: Well first of all, you've got to know the difference between something that's real and something that's show. I remember one day, Senator Lott - who was a Republican senator - was on one of these Sunday morning shows. And he called me a "spoiled brat," or something like that. And one of our guys in the staff called and said "You know what Trent Lott said?" I said, "Don't worry about that." He said, "How could you say that?" I said, "Let me tell you what happened. Trent Lott agreed to be on a Sunday morning show, before he thought about it. He was exhausted all weekend, because we had been working long hours. He got up early in a bad mood, and somebody goaded him, and he took the bait." That's all. And I called Lott, and he said 'Oh, my God you're calling me.' I said, "No, I'm calling to tell you I've already forgotten about this." He said, "Why?" I said, "Because you shouldn't have done this show, you were too tired. And you woke up exhausted, you were mad you did this show, somebody goaded you, and you took the bait." He said "That's exactly what happened."
That's what happens when you know somebody as a person, as well as a political opponent. When you cut people a little slack, and you realize that doesn't have anything to do with the job, and you just work on getting the job done. When we hung Lott's portrait in the Capitol, Newt Gingrich and I spoke for him. And we talked about the fights, but then we talked about what we achieved. That's what I think we have to do. We've got to get back into "We're all hired hands here." And we've got to - it's a good think to have a philosophy. I could give you - if you look at the stuff we're debating here, I could give you a more conservative and a more liberal position about how to deliver health care in Haiti, or re-set-up the schools, or promote economic growth. But in the end, what matters is half the kids have never been to school - do they go to school or not? They've never had a health care system at all - will they have one? They've never had a government that functions, 17 percent of the government was killed on earthquake day - are they going to have one? And that's - somehow we need to drive our political debate toward that.
SCARBOROUGH: But we seem to be losing ground. You brought up Newt Gingrich. I talked to your wife and you and others about what I learned - that you can disagree without being disagreeable - I made a lot of mistakes in the 1990's, I think a lot of people did. But you brought up Newt Gingrich. Here's a guy that should know better. And yet he's going out there comparing one of the great religions of the world to Nazism, Kathleen Sebelius to Stalin - it's really disappointing that in some ways we seem to be losing ground.
CLINTON: Well, but I think part of that is - you saw what happened in these Republican primaries, he might want to run for President, and frankly, it's a version of what he did in '94, as opposed to what he later came to do after we had the huge fight over the government shutting down and then we all calmed down and went to work. And I think, at least I know he knows better. And that's not a good thing.
SCARBOROUGH: Doesn't that make it worse?
MIKA BRZEZINSKI: I think that does make it worse.
SCARBOROUGH: I think that's what depresses me about it is, he's such a bright guy, and he's got so many gifts -
CLINTON: But he sees all these other people being rewarded for it, and so I think that's what -
BRZEZINSKI: He sees the payoff.
SCARBOROUGH: Let me ask you a Constitutional question. Because sitting here listening to you talk - I know there are a lot of people that are opinion leaders and shapers that watch this show, that are just sitting there thinking "Why can't he run for President in a couple of years?"
CLINTON: There's a little Constitutional -
SCARBOROUGH: I know. I was just going to say, does it make sense - because listening to you talk right now, you've always been known as the brightest, the first-class, however you want to put it - but you've had the ability the past decade to go all around the world, start this initiative, understand issues - you've understood issues better than anyone in Washington, when you were President. But to go around the world for a decade, all of this knowledge - and I'm just wondering, not for you, but doesn't it make sense for this country to say, "Okay, let a guy serve, or a woman serve for eight years, then they can take a term or two off. But then if they have something to give back to America in the terms of leadership, give them that opportunity. It seems so short-sighted, just because the Republicans were upset that FDR was President for four terms.
CLINTON: Well, that's what I believe the rules should be. But it isn't what it is. I think if I were writing - there's a very strong argument for telling - for saying you shouldn't serve three terms in a row. Because by the time you've appointed everybody, there's just - people get relaxed, there's too much opportunity for people, even if not for corruption, just for bad things happening for the taxpayers. (Unintelligible) But with life expectancy being so long, and people being alert until they're in their seventies, and sometimes in their eighties - look at Paul Volcker - he's mid-eighties, you know, he might as well be 40 years old, in some ways. I think there's an argument for that. But if we change the Constitution, it shouldn't apply to me. That is, it shouldn't apply to anybody that served, it should all be forward-looking, so no one would think it was personal. But, you know, that's kind of what I think it should be.
SCARBOROUGH: It makes so much sense.