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Newsmaker: Tom Daschle

December 3, 1996 at 12:00 AM EST
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JIM LEHRER: The top leadership of the 105th Congress became official and complete today. House Republicans and Democrats elected their leader, Speaker Gingrich, and Minority Leader Gephardt two weeks ago. The Senate did the same today. As expected, Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi, was chosen Majority Leader, Tom Daschle, Democrat of South Dakota, Minority Leader. We have in recent days done Newsmaker interviews with Sen. Lott and with Congressmen Gingrich and Gephardt. We complete the foursome tonight with Sen. Daschle, who joins us now from Capitol Hill. Senator Daschle, welcome.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE, Minority Leader: Thank you, Jim.

JIM LEHRER: And congratulations, sir.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Thank you very much.

JIM LEHRER: Both you and Sen. Lott spoke today about cooperation and bipartisanship. Define that in your terms.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Well, I think bipartisanship involves a partnership in legislating, partnership in communicating, a partnership in the management of the legislative process in the Senate on a day-to-day basis. That’s not easy, obviously. The philosophical differences are real encumbrances, but I think we both have come to the conclusion that to the degree we can do it together, the degree to which we can really move forward a legislative agenda involving Republicans and Democrats, it serves the country, and it serves both of the parties.

JIM LEHRER: Do you see this as a new thing? In other words, has there not been bipartisanship as you define it up to this point in the last several years in the Senate?

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: I think bipartisanship has been sporadic in the last several years, and for a lot of reasons. Two years ago, the Republicans, especially in the House, came with a Republican agenda that they called a revolution–The Contract With America. They felt very strongly that they could do it alone. Bob Dole was running for President of the United States from the floor of the United States Senate. And so the environment, the circumstances were such that it precluded a lot of bipartisanship. Now we have a different set of circumstances. No one’s running for President this year. Sen. Lott has expressed–

JIM LEHRER: You promise?

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: –a real interest in working together, as he has over the last several months. And so I think we have a new set of circumstances that allow for the potential of a lot more bipartisanship than we’ve seen in the past.

JIM LEHRER: Let’s take a specific that you’ve spoken about, and that’s campaign finance reform. What would you like to do about that, and when would you like to do it?

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Well, I believe that we ought to move campaign finance reform as the first order of business, and I say that for a couple of reasons: First of all, because unless we do that, those who are running in 1998 will still suffer the same consequences, and the American people will still be the victims of a process gone awry. So the sooner we do it, the sooner it can be enacted, so for that reason, first and foremost.

Secondly, I think it is one of the most serious legislative problems we face in this country. We’ve got to address this sooner or later. I think we need to deal with it immediately and deal with it incrementally, but in the longer-term, as I’ve indicated in the past, I would go so far as to support a constitutional amendment. That’s not something some of my colleagues support, but I do believe that it is essential that we deal with the extraordinary difficulties created now with the Supreme Court decision involving independent expenditures.

JIM LEHRER: The constitutional amendment would make it possible–it would remove the caps–or would it make it possible to put caps on various expenditures, which is not possible now, under the Supreme Court rulings, correct?

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: That’s correct.

JIM LEHRER: Now, Sen. Lott was asked about this today, and he said, that’s all fine and dandy, but he said, first the Congress must investigate the so-called “Indonesian connection” to President Clinton and to the Democratic Party. And what do you think about that as a priority?

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Well, I think it really depends on the degree to which that investigation or that inquiry deals with all of the campaign infractions that we’ve witnessed now over the last couple of years. There has been tremendous difficulty in raising, in tracking the contributions made to both parties. As you recall, several months ago, one of Bob Dole’s chief contributors paid $6 million, the largest fine in American history in politics, because of infractions that he pled guilty to. So clearly we have problems on both sides.

I think an inquiry on to be on campaign finance. In that context, obviously, Indonesian questions are going to be ones we’re going to have to deal with, but without a doubt, it has to be broader than that in order to be fair and complete and give us the kind of assessment we need if, indeed, we’re going to pass campaign finance reform sometime in the next Congress.

JIM LEHRER: Many Republicans in addition to many editorial writers on major newspapers say, though, that the Indonesian thing is a special case. Do you see it as a special thing? And they say it’s been made more special by Attorney General Janet Reno’s decision not to ask for an independent counsel to investigate the specifics in that one.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: I don’t know what makes it special, Jim. Frankly, there are so many problems and so many difficult questions that have been raised with regard to the–that the campaign financing in the last cycle–at every level, at the presidential level, the congressional level, even at levels involving state races, and so I think it’s very important for us to take a look at it all. Obviously, you could make the case that each one of these circumstances is unique, but the real issue is that we’ve got a unique problem, a problem involving an unbelievable amount of money, primarily provided by special interests in ways that I think are counterproductive to our democratic institutions. And we’ve got to face that reality and deal with it.

JIM LEHRER: Senator, David Broder wrote recently in the Washington Post that you have sent out strong signals of your intention to be independent from the White House. Do you intend to send out such signals?

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: It really wasn’t my intention to send out signals. We had a wonderful breakfast, and I expounded on a number of issues. I think if you go back and look, there is very little difference between what the administration’s position has been on many of these matters and what my position is. I believe we’ve got to find ways with which to work together. I will say this: I think it’s important as a United States Senate that we are viewed as partners, that we work with the White House, with the President, not for them, but I’ve said that for many months and years now, and that is no different. Obviously, we’re going to find a mutual agenda. I look forward to the next couple of years in partnership with this President.

JIM LEHRER: But so the average American, when he or she thinks Democrat, Washington, government, should he or she think of the President and you Democrats in the Senate as one?

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: I would hope so. I would hope that certainly as we present ourselves and our position, we had one platform, we had one candidate for President, we had one candidate for the United States Senate from the state of South Dakota, my state. Obviously, we present ourselves as a party. That doesn’t mean that–as any party there will be differences, but clearly, our large agenda, our mutual agenda, is one that has been developed by White House and by Senate leaders, and that will be presented as such in the months and years ahead.

JIM LEHRER: So there’s no Daschle agenda that the President has to contend with.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Not that I know of.

JIM LEHRER: All right. Has the President talked to you about his considerations, his deliberations on cabinet appointments for the second term?

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: We have had a good discussion on a number of these points, but I’ll leave that to him to make as far as pronouncements go. I think that it’s a very crucial time for him, and obviously, he wants the very best people, the most compatible people around him, and that’s a deliberative process that takes some time, and I–given the names that I’ve heard–I am quite sure that I’ll be quite supportive when the time comes.

JIM LEHRER: Has he run any of these names by you?

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Well, he hasn’t personally, but I’ve had the opportunity to discuss them with other White House officials, and we’ll continue to do that on an ongoing basis.

JIM LEHRER: And the nature of the questions are, hey, can this guy–this person get confirmed, is that the way they’re run by you, or just generally, what do you think of this person?

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: I think it’s more what do you think, what kind of a reaction do you think there would be to this individual or not, what do you know about their contribution legislatively or their record, what–you know, just basically some information with regard to feedback that you’d expect from a White House that is interested in making sure that they have a great receptivity to the cabinet level appointments that they’ll be making.

JIM LEHRER: Just for the record then and for future reference, when the President does announce these cabinet officers, should we assume that you’ve approved of them?

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Well, I don’t think you can make that assumption. I think that by and large, I have every expectation that I will have greeted them with great enthusiasm, but they don’t need my approval to make these appointments, and that isn’t implied. I intend to be supportive. I expect that there will be plenty of communication that will allow us to ensure that there are no surprises here, and I think by and large, it’s going to be a cabinet that will enjoy broad-based, if not unanimous, support from Democrats and hopefully Republicans.

JIM LEHRER: Senator, you were given much credit for your ability in these past three years since you’ve been the Minority Leader to use the 60-vote rule to cut off debate as a way to stop legislation that you and your fellow Democrats do not approve of. Are you–is there more of the same of that, more of the same coming?

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Well, Jim, you started out with I think the best question involving the next Congress, and that is how much bipartisanship will there be, and my hope is–and I expressed it a moment ago–I hope that there is a good deal of bipartisanship, and I must say the degree to which there is strong bipartisanship as we consider the agenda is related inversely to the degree that we need to use filibuster and other tools that are given us in the United States Senate. So it is my hope and right now my expectation that we will use the filibuster minimally, because we will have the kind of bipartisanship that you heard Sen. Lott and I talk about earlier today.

JIM LEHRER: But you still see it as your function, do you not, to stop legislation that you find reprehensible?

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Absolutely. And we will do that, and I’ve indicated to Sen. Lott on a number of occasions that clearly it is without–without question, our right and our responsibility to use the tools available to us to stop legislation that we don’t think are in our country’s best interests. But we can avoid all of that if we can work together right from the start in the committees, and in the rooms of the House and Senate in a way that will allow us to accommodate needs and priorities on both sides and come to the floor with a bipartisan package to begin with. We can avoid the confrontation you saw so much of in the 104th Congress.

JIM LEHRER: Are you confident that one of the reasons you were so effective, it said, that the Democrats stood with you as one, and you got 45, you got two less than you had last time, are you confident that 45 Democrats will stand with you together when the chips are down?

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Well, we had our organization caucus today, and I was extraordinarily encouraged by the tremendous professions of unity that I heard from so many of our colleagues, our new members, the members who have been with us for a long time. There is a desire on the part of all members of our caucus to be as unified and cohesive as we can because it’s in doing so that we can be equal partners with our Republican colleagues, and that was my message, and that was the response I got from my colleagues, that that unity, that cohesion brings about the bipartisanship that we want.

JIM LEHRER: Do you enjoy being the Minority Leader?

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: You know, I really do. I’ve enjoyed it a good deal.

JIM LEHRER: All right. Senator, thank you very much, and, again, congratulations.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Thank you very much, Jim.