Here’s an actual interchange of “informed” punditry from NBC’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday:

Tim Russert (moderator): “Elizabeth Drew … you’ve been doing some reporting on Capitol Hill. What is Speaker Gingrich saying to his closest intimates?”

Drew (author): “Speaker Gingrich has been talking to his closest associates about the idea of impeaching President Clinton and Vice President Gore. His thinking — yes, you heard me.”

Russert: “Impeaching …”

Drew: “Both of them. His thinking goes that the Starr report will be very tough, and there will have to be a proceeding to impeach Clinton. That leaves Gore in place as the incumbent vice president — as incumbent president, rather. Then, according to his thinking, Gore will pardon Clinton, and then the Congress will impeach Gore for pardoning Clinton for things for which they impeached Clinton. This gives the idea — deals with the problem that they have if they impeach Clinton, Gore is the incumbent president. As one of these associates said to me, ‘There’s no point in having a Clinton strategy without a Gore strategy.'”

Russert: “If I remember my civics lessons correctly. If the president and the vice president are removed from office …”

Drew: “Right.”

Russert: “… next in line is the speaker of the House.”

Drew: “You got it. But — when I asked one of these …”

Stuart Taylor (National Journal): “Ooh, that’s hot.”

Drew: “… associates about this, they said, ‘Oh, no, they’d probably’ — by that time, the House would pick a successor to Gore, just as they picked Ford to be the successor to Agnew.”

Russert: “So, when Al Gore became president, the House would select his vice president.”

Drew: “Right.”

Russert: “They would select someone other than Newt Gingrich.”

Drew: “Apparently, yes.”

Russert: “A healer, a unifier.”

Drew: “Right.”

Russert: “How serious is Newt Gingrich about this?”

Drew: “Apparently very. These have been ongoing discussions with serious people with whom he confides. And all I can say is, that’s what he thinks.”

Lisa Myers (NBC News): “I have heard an unbelievable number of bizarre scenarios in covering this story, and this may be the most bizarre of them all. I mean, I have not heard a single Republican who believes that President Clinton at this point will be impeached. I mean, they have no appetite for even holding hearings at this point.”

“Meet the Press” is a television journalism institution in America. The people involved, from anchor Tim Russert to the producers to the guests, are generally well-compensated for their expertise and reporting skills.

Yet, this little episode illustrates why the American people are so ill-informed about what is happening in government and politics today.

When a president is impeached, the vice president becomes president. It is the new president, not the House of Representatives, who gets to select the new vice president. Both Houses of Congress must approve the selection.

That’s what happened when Nixon chose Ford to replace Agnew.

Lisa Myers, bless her heart, got it exactly right. There is little serious discussion on Capitol Hill today about impeaching Clinton. Congress is afraid — afraid of the polls, afraid of retribution by a ruthless administration, and afraid of the Washington Post and the beltway media establishment.

Members of Congress are waiting around — hoping Kenneth Starr will do their job for them. Meanwhile, Kenneth Starr can’t wait to hand off this hot potato to Congress. Don’t expect either the president or first lady Hillary Clinton to be indicted by the independent counsel, despite a preponderance of evidence demanding such charges.

One of the reasons this won’t happen is because the press is comprised of both incompetents and ideological slaves to the kind of statist ideas put forth by this administration. President Nixon was forced from office only because of pressure from a combination of three institutions — the press, the special prosecutor’s office and the Congress. In Clinton’s case, there is no will to remove him from any of those three quarters.

Elizabeth Drew should be embarrassed for her obviously sourceless posturing on a national news show. Tim Russert should be even more embarrassed for not challenging the obvious mistake she made in explaining the line of succession.

Russert needs to go re-read his civics lessons. And Elizabeth Drew better go back and check her congressional sources.

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