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Majority Leader Daschle Comments About His Statements on War on Terrorism

Aired March 1, 2002 - 11:16   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We're getting word now that Senate majority leader Tom Daschle's got some comments we want to listen to.


SEN. THOMAS DASCHLE (D-SD), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: ... and that's unfortunate.

We've been negotiating all day long yesterday, late last night, again this morning. And it looks like there is the possibility that it could be resolved, but we're not there yet. And of course, there are still a number of other amendments pending.

I'm going to try to get a unanimous consent request, if we can get this agreement, to complete our work on it either Monday night or Tuesday morning at the very latest. This is a bill that I was told would take a day and a half on the floor, and it's taken -- feels like a month and a half.

But as Senator Dodd has noted, this is a very important piece of legislation. We don't want to give it up. If the Republicans kill it, they'll have to explain to the American people why they don't support meaningful election reform.

So, one of two things will happen: Either we'll get an agreement procedurally and substantively on the so-called photo ID amendment, the Schumer amendment, and we will complete our work. Or we will have another vote on cloture on Monday night. And if we fail to acquire the sufficient votes, 60 votes, we will then pronounce, unfortunately, the death of the bill, at least for the foreseeable future.

Make sure that the American people understand that our Republican colleagues have not been willing to pass this legislation. They voted against cloture twice. And we will then move onto energy.

So, one or the other scenario will unfold next week, early next week, Monday and Tuesday.

As you have reported, Senator McCain and Senator McConnell continue to talk along with Senator Hagel. And they will be continuing their efforts to come to some resolution on campaign finance reform.

I have, at the request of Senator McCain, held off of making any unanimous consent requests on campaign reform this week.

I'm very hopeful that we can reach an agreement, but we will make that request next week, as well. And at some point move, procedurally, move to the bill once we have had the opportunity to debate energy. So we will make that decision as time goes on, as well.

Other than that, it's been kind of an uneventful week at Lake Woebegone, I guess.


Just not a whole lot of additional information to share with you.

I've been asked about the so-called shadow government, and I really can't say much about it, because we have not been informed at all about the role of the shadow government or its whereabouts or what particular responsibilities they have and when they would kick in. But we look forward to working with the administration to get additional information on that, as well.

So I'll stop with that and take your questions.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) equivalent of a shadow government (OFF- MIKE) survival plan for the Congress?

DASCHLE: I don't know if I'd call it a survival plan, but there is a plan that would be implemented were we to be in any jeopardy. Precautions have been taken and arrangements have been made to move the work of the Congress to another location. And that has been in place for some time and refined over time.


DASCHLE: We didn't agree. What we said is that, we will take the bill to the floor with an understanding that there would be amendments.

They had an amendment they felt very strongly about. It was offered by Judd Gregg. And they asked, in fact they demanded, that the Gregg amendment be passed by a voice-vote.

And the quid pro quo with that understanding was that we would take up the Schumer amendment, have a vote on it, even though it wouldn't be a voice-vote, and then move to final passage. That was the deal on the floor.

That was the deal on the floor.

And I've heard comments now where some senators have backed away from that understanding, but there was no misunderstanding when the Gregg amendment passed. That was very clear. And so, it's a lesson, I guess, about deals on the floor, in words and not in writing. But that was the deal.

QUESTION: Senator, were you surprised by the Republican reaction to your comments yesterday about the president's war on terrorism? And do you think that they interpreted the way you meant them to come across?

DASCHLE: I think the Republicans' reaction is nothing short of hysterical. I'm amused, frankly.

I'd ask them to look at what I said, because I stand by what I said. The Congress has a constitutional responsibility to ask questions. We are not a rubber stamp to this president or to anybody else. We must do what the Constitution and what our best judgment requires, and we'll continue to do this.

QUESTION: Senator, do you acknowledge that this is -- you haven't really heard from Democrats anything except total support across the board for the president and what he's decided to do, step by step, since September 11, and this is the first time when it kind of seems as though people in Congress are speaking up, even to acknowledge the basic checks and balances?

DASCHLE: Well, I'd like somebody to point out what it was I said that didn't indicate support. I asked Senator Lott that yesterday. I've asked others to show me what it is I said that would cause them to believe that somehow we have not been supportive.

What I said is, you can't overstate the success we have made so far. I don't how much more unequivocal you can be than that.

What I did say, though, is that there ought to be some criteria by which we judge future success, and we ought to lay out those criteria, and we ought to be asking tough questions.

If this administration believes as strongly as I know it does about its conduct in the war thus far, I would think they would look forward to answering the questions that the Congress necessarily must ask.

QUESTION: What did Senator Lott say when you challenged him to point out...

DASCHLE: You'll have to ask Senator Lott. I'd rather not speak for him.

QUESTION: Well, Senator, Senator Lott said that you expressed surprise at him, that your comments were taken the way they were. And Senator Lott said he read you the different lines, or you...

DASCHLE: No, I read him the lines.

QUESTION: You read him the different line. So you expressed surprise to Senator Lott when you encountered him?

DASCHLE: Well, I expressed surprise to Senator Lott that -- I expressed surprise at the reaction that Senator Lott was quoted as having made to my comments.

And then I went line by line and asked him which part of those particular questions did he object to.

QUESTION: And what was his answer?

DASCHLE: Well, you have to ask him. I'm not going to reply.

QUESTION: How much do you think this flap has to do with the congressional elections, if anything? Are you guys trying to position yourself, trying to cut into a little bit of that Bush popularity? Are they trying to make sure it doesn't dim?

DASCHLE: I was asked a question -- if you recall, I didn't make those comments in my opening remarks. As profound as those remarks were, I hadn't thought about them until I was asked.


I was asked the question -- I think, if I recall, Jonathan asked me the question and I just responded. So there isn't any...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Republican reaction, their hysterical reaction, if you will, is that -- how do you -- could that be politically motivated?

DASCHLE: Who knows? I'm not going to...


DASCHLE: Well, again, I'd rather you ask Senator Lott.

HARRIS: We've been listening to what's been known as the Daschle dugout this morning, as Senator Daschle -- we expected him to get some questions about some comments that he made yesterday, comments that he made about the war in Afghanistan, and the wider war against terrorism. He said yesterday that the war in Afghanistan could not be called a success. He said we will have failed if we have not located Mullah Mohammed Omar or Osama bin Laden, and he further to say that he and the Congress needed more information before he would consent to going along with the expansion of the war against terror.

And he said, here you heard him just here now, says he thinks the reaction he heard to those comments he made, most Republicans, said in his words, "hysterical."

Let's check in now with our Candy Crowley, who's been watching all of this from Washington.

Candy, good to see you again. What do you make of this?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think a couple of things are going on here. I think what's perfectly clear is that Congress doesn't feel as though it's in the information loop at this point. You know, this kind of started with Senator Robert Byrd, who is chairman of the Senate Appropriation Committee, when he was talking to some military folks who had come up to talk to him about the budget. Senator Byrd guards very carefully the Senate priority on appropriations, and so what he said was look, we're not going to give out all this money. We need to know what this -- where we're going in this war.

There's all this talk about, you know, sending advisers to this place or that place, and the axis of evil, and all that, and we're just not going to rubber stamp all of this. Then comes Daschle, who says, well, I agree with Senator Byrd, we can't just go off and go along with everything in the future, although I support him in the past. Well, this was a ratcheting up of what had seamed to be previously off-bounds, which is criticism of the president, and then you heard this from Senator Lott yesterday.


SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Any crack in the -- or perceived crack in the support and unity of the American people and our leaders in Washington is not helpful. And I think it's important that we not be critical of the commander in chief at a time when we are at war against terrorism.


CROWLEY: So what you have here, again, Leon, I think is some jurisdictional criticism going on from the Democrats, but you can't take the politics out of it. This is an election year. We all know that the Senate and the House control of both those bodies will be up this November. And so that's a tight race. The White House also pounced on this, seeing this as unwarranted criticism. But you heard Daschle, go through this line by line and tell me what's criticism here. I stand by what I said. He thought the Republicans, of course, were juicing up their reply.

HARRIS: He did say also that he hadn't been informed about this shadow government that we'd been reporting about today as well. So if he's making the assertion here that there's a problem with the information it seems as though it's not just a matter with the overseas war against terrorism.

CROWLEY: Right, and there's nothing that Congress hates more than not being consulted. I mean, you know, this is a branch of government, supposed to be equal branches of government. This comes up a lot in every administration that I've covered. There's always been some time when Congress has complained that they weren't properly consulted, and this is pretty -- seems to be pretty widespread up there. There are Republicans as well complaining that they haven't been informed about what's going on, so I think that's what you're seeing.

HARRIS: Do you expect to hear more and more of this, and this is the kind of thing that's going to have any traction, this idea of now finally perhaps the election dynamic is now going to start creeping in here? And we're going to see and hear more and more of this?

CROWLEY: Inevitably. I think you do. And inevitably, even when they don't mean it, even when either side doesn't mean it to be taken as criticism, it's going to be viewed in that light, because obviously, everyday we get closer and closer to those very important November elections, so yes, we're going to hear more of this. But everybody has to be really careful. I mean, the Bush administration and Republicans cannot be seen to be politicking on the war, like look what a great job we're doing. On the other hand, Democrats can't be seen as trying to undercut a commander in chief who's trying to conduct a war, so they're all walking some fine lines here, and they're all testing out the territory.

HARRIS: Yes, we'll hear more of that and we sure do want to hear more from you.

CROWLEY: Good to see you again, Candy. Been a long time.

HARRIS: Good to have you.


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