|SEN. TOM DASCHLE|
December 18, 2000
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) discusses his meeting with George W. Bush and hopes for future bipartisanship in Congress.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Daschle, welcome.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Thank you, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: How would you describe your meeting with President-elect Bush today?
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: I thought it was a good meeting. He came in somewhat of an historic way, I think. I cant recall the last time a president has come to Capitol Hill in this manner and met with each of the four leaders separately, and then we all met together. But we had a very cordial discussion. We talked about the need for bipartisanship, about consensus building, reaching out, trying to build upon the agenda that we both shared. So I thought, given the half hour or whatever length of time we had together, it was a very good meeting.
JIM LEHRER: How -- what was his attitude toward you? Did you get the feeling he saw you as an adversary, somebody he was going to have to defeat once or twice, or many times, or somebody he could work with?
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: I thought it was really somebody that he could work with. I felt that that was the tone certainly. He was very willing to talk about concerns that I have, the interests that I have, the way we ought to try to work together. There was no adversarial tone at all. It was a very conciliatory one, and I thought exactly the kind of positive approach that youd expect for a first meeting between two people.
JIM LEHRER: What was your attitude toward him?
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: The same. I really feel that the only way were going to be able to make this work is if we do it as partners. Obviously, we are two separate branches of government, and weve got to find a way to work together. We know from the lessons of the past what works and what doesnt. I think its important that we try to set that tone and try to give each other a little bit of leg room here to move and try to accommodate each others agendas in a way that will allow us to try to find ways to work together. Thats my goal, and he said that was his as well.
JIM LEHRER: Do you bear any resentment toward him over how he finally was elected president?
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: No, I dont. I think he did what he had to do, and the Vice President did what he had to do. Obviously, Im still disappointed with the Supreme Court decision and with the way this all worked out, but I dont question the legitimacy of this presidency. I dont question his right to claim the office. Weve demonstrated today with the Electoral College that he has the electoral votes. Thats now behind us. Now weve got to work together, put politics behind us, and get on with really governing.
JIM LEHRER: Did the two of you talk about the last thirty-six or seven days at all?
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: We really didnt. No. We talked more about mutual acquaintances and our desire to try to find ways with which to accommodate each other as we try to work together. We talked about some issues. We wanted to talk especially about energy and the importance that we put on trying to find ways with which to deal with the energy problems were facing in this country. He talked as well about Social Security, Medicare, and of course taxes but nothing in any real depth, and well save that for another time.
|The $1.3 trillion tax cut|
JIM LEHRER: He said quite openly today, though, that he was still behind and was going to push strongly his $1.3 billion across-the-board tax cut proposal. Are you still opposed to that?
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: I am. I hope that theres a difference between advocating something and recognizing that theres -- theres got to be some give and take. I dont know of a Democrat who supports the $1.3 trillion of taxes --
JIM LEHRER: I said billion and its trillion; sorry about that.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Thats right. But I do believe that there is plenty of room for compromise. We both support marriage penalty relief. We both support estate tax relief. We both support ways with which to deal with college costs and child care costs. There have got to be ways with which to deal with this issue together. We can find a magnitude of the tax cut that I think we could both support as well. But weve got to go on with that willingness to find ways with which to reach that common ground.
JIM LEHRER: Did you detect any willingness on his part to compromise on his tax cut?
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Well, we didnt, as I say, talk in any depth today, Jim, about what we might be able to do to resolve our differences. We simply put them on the table, recognized that there are differences, recognized that its only in the give and take between the White House and the Congress that were going to be able to find that opportunity for center-out solutions; thats what weve got to do, is reach for the center and try to work in both directions.
JIM LEHRER: Former New York Governor Cuomo said on this program a few days ago that one of the sure results of the close election and also the split down the middle --near split down the middle in the House and as well as the Senate is that Roe v. Wade is safe, that you and the other Democrats in the Senate will make really sure that no pro-life nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court gets affirmed. Is he right?
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Oh, I dont know. I think thats -- its premature to come to any conclusion. My feeling is that any nominee who doesnt reflect the extremes on either side, right or left, is likely to get confirmed. An extremist is not going to make it. Somebody from the middle, somebody whos left of center or right of center is likely to be confirmed. Weve seen that in the past, and I think thats the way its going to be in the future. I dont know that Democrats are going to put any hard litmus test to it. I do feel that thats an important issue; and weve got to address it, debate it. But I think there has to be some evidence that this person has extreme views before he would be discounted or eliminated from consideration.
JIM LEHRER: Would an extreme view, in your opinion, be somebody who was very pro life and who wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade?
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Well, I guess it would depend on the degree to which youd overturn. I frankly would weigh that, along with a lot of other views, in making up my own mind. That alone would not probably be the ultimate decision for me. I would want to look at a lot of other factors as well. Thats a very important decision, one that well be looking at with great care and debating and deliberating and trying to assess how much a part of the ultimate decision that it would be for each of us.
JIM LEHRER: Is the closeness of the split in the Senate going to cause you to be more wary, more careful, more combative, so to speak, on nominees of this president that you might not be otherwise?
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Well, I dont look to be combative as my first line of approach here -- strategy. I think that what weve got to do is go in with the belief that we can try to find ways with which to resolve our differences before we reach a combative stage. Obviously, if we have no other recourse, we go into combat. That happened before; it will happen again, Im sure, on occasion, but, by and large, my first and far more preferable approach would be to try to find ways to work things through. I think we can do that based on a conversation I had this morning with the president-elect, and Im hopeful that that will happen a lot more often than we will find ourselves in combat.
JIM LEHRER: Did you get the impression from him that -- that say the Supreme Court nominee -- I know you didnt discuss that -- I assume you didnt discuss that specifically, did you, with him?
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: No. We did not.
JIM LEHRER: But lets use that as an example -- that before that would -- that nominee would be sent up there, that you would know about it, that they might even run these things by you, not necessarily to clear them with you, but to inform you ahead of time -- did you get the feeling he's going to operate that way?
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Well, I guess I didn't get the feeling that we'd necessarily get any kind of a preliminary heads-up on something like that. We didn't talk about it, so it's hard for me to make that assessment, Jim. But I did... I honestly felt that there was a desire on his part to ensure that we are included, to ensure that to whatever extent we can work things through prior to the time we reach hard and fast decisions on issues or on personalities or individuals, that there would be an opportunity to talk. But he was giving... he certainly didn't give me any initial promise or commitment that we would know ahead of time before he made a decision.
JIM LEHRER: Did you get the feeling from him that -- or any acknowledgment, either body language or real language -- that he believes in order to get things done, he's got to have your cooperation?
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Well, yes, I did. I think in the body language, as well as the words themselves, he indicated to me that he understood that the only way we were going to get things done were if we were able to accommodate each other's positions and begin working through these matters as best we can. He... Obviously, there were no commitments made, but a general recognition that that's the lay of the land here. We're 50-50 in the Senate; we're almost 50-50 in the House. The only way you're going to accomplish something is if we can reach bipartisan consensus.
JIM LEHRER: In the Senate itself, where do you stand on your desire to get more of the power and the leadership of the Senate?
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Well, Senator Lott and I have had some very productive discussions. We've met again just this morning. I don't know that we're able to come to any conclusion until we've reached a conclusion on everything about how satisfied our colleagues are going to be, but I think we're moving in the right direction. We both agreed not to be any more specific than that until we have reached some kind of a conclusion, but I'm encouraged and I'm hopeful that by the 3rd of January we're going to have something that we can live with.
JIM LEHRER: But you... are you still desirous of having 50-50 splits on the committees?
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: I am, yes.
JIM LEHRER: And Senator... You've talked to Senator Lott about that?
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: I have.
JIM LEHRER: And he, of course, says he doesn't want that.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: That's correct.
JIM LEHRER: So you're still talking.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: That's correct.
JIM LEHRER: What about sharing the committee chairmanships?
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Well, what I have said from the very beginning is that we ought to explore everything without necessarily acknowledging that any one of these has a priority. I think in some cases that might work. We don't have any problem in the Senate Ethics Committee with a split, 50-50. We have a chairman and a vice chairman there; that works quite well. We can take a lot of examples from state legislatures over the past several years, Jim, and find that things have worked well with a split membership. We've got to do the same here. We've got to break the mold and recognize these are historic circumstances that really require us to think innovatively and out-of-the-box. Senator Lott has expressed a willingness and an interest in doing that. I hope I can, too.
|A shifting majority|
JIM LEHRER: What if, in the final analysis, though, they stiff you and say, "hey, wait a minute. We have the vice president, it's Dick Cheney; he's a Republican, he can cast any kind of tie-breaking vote; sorry, Democrats, but we're going to run the United States Senate our way?"
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Well, we have a little bit of a tactical advantage, Jim, in that I'll be the majority leader for those 17 days -- from the third to the 20th -- and our vice president will be in the chair as the tie-breaking vote. That will be when we lay down the authorizing resolution, the organizing resolution. So they would have to oppose whatever it is that we were offering. But I hope we never get to that; that isn't my desire. Senator Lott and I both have indicated a strong determination, a willingness to try to avoid that kind of a confrontational setting right off the bat. I think we can, but clearly, if all else fails, I do think that we've got a slight advantage as we look to the future. I'm not going to rely upon it, because I do want to get that commitment to a consensus before we reach the 3rd of January.
JIM LEHRER: But if you don't have a consensus, isn't this kind of a recipe for a really, really tough time in the United States Senate?
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Oh, it is. It is. If we can't resolve this, I doubt that we can resolve much else. So it's very important that we set the example, that we set the standard, that we show a willingness to give and take. And that's why we're working so hard at doing it.
JIM LEHRER: Did you mention this to President-elect Bush -- "hey, we need some help here. You want me to help you, you help me with Lott and company?"
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: No, I dont think I need help from the president-elect at this point. I think I can handle it on my own, and Im sure that Senator Lott feels the same way. This is between us and our caucuses, and I dont know that we need any special intervention from the White House in organizing the Senate. That's something we'll get into when we get into legislation.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Senator Daschle, have a good holiday, and thank you very much.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE: Thank you, Jim. My pleasure.