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Senator Daschle on Meet the Press

05/26/2002

NBC News MEET THE PRESS Sunday, May 26, 2002

GUESTS: Senator TOM DASCHLE, (D-S.D.) Majority Leader

DAVID BRODER Washington Post

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN Presidential Historian

HOWARD KURTZ Washington Post

MODERATOR/PANELIST: Tim Russert - NBC News

This is a rush transcript provided for the information and convenience of the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed. In case of doubt, please check with MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS (202)805-4598 (Sundays: (202)885-4200)

MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: 10 days ago the highest-ranking Democrat in Washington said this:

(Videotape, May 16, 2002):

SEN. TOM DASCHLE, (D-SD): I’m gravely concerned about the information provided us just yesterday that the president received a warning in August about the threat of hijackers by Osama bin Laden. (End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: The vice president was not pleased.

(Videotape, May 16, 2002):

VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY: Such commentary is thoroughly irresponsible, and totally unworthy of national leaders in a time of war. (End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Where do we go from here?

Then, Iraq: Is the U.S. military prepared? Should we attempt to topple Saddam Hussein? And: How will Senate Democrats deal with the worsening budget and deficit situation? With us: The man who became majority leader of the United States Senate one year ago, Tom Daschle, Democrat from South Dakota. After Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the Kennedy assassination in 1963, the creation of national investigative commissions. Will there now be another for the events of September 11? How did all the charges and countercharges of last week resonate with the American people? Media and political analysis from David Broder and Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post, and presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. But, first: With us, the Democratic leader of the United States Senate, Senator Tom Daschle. Welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

SEN. DASCHLE: Thank you, Tim. Good to be back.

MR. RUSSERT: Let’s go right to it and show you and our viewers, again, your comments from May 16 and give you a chance to talk about it. Let’s watch: (Videotape, May 16, 2002): SEN. DASCHLE: I’m gravely concerned about the information provided us just yesterday that the president received a warning in August about the threat of hijackers by Osama bin Laden. (End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Why were you gravely concerned?

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, we’re concerned in part, Tim, because we don’t have the facts. We don’t have the information. We want to find ways of which to ensure that we never repeat what happened on September 11. And whether we can acquire the facts, whether we can acquire all of those issues leading up to what happened on September 11, is really the big question right now. I don’t think anyone implicates the president in this. The question is: Why didn’t he have the information? Why weren’t we able to make a better judgment about our vulnerability than we did in August, and then in the period since September 11?

MR. RUSSERT: Human Events has now come out with an interesting article, and I’ll show it to you and our viewers and put it on the screen right here. It says that: “Sen. Bob Graham (D.-Fla.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told Human Events May 21 that his committee had received all the same terrorism intelligence prior to September 11 as the Bush administration. ‘Yes, we had seen all the information,’ said Graham. ‘But we didn’t see it on a single piece of paper, the way the President did.’” He went on: “Human Events: Was the analysis that included the possibility of hijackings, specifically— was that something that came to the attention of the committees?” “Graham: We’ve had, we had the reports of hijackings. As to the particular report that was in the President’s Daily Briefing for that day was about three years old. It was not a contemporary piece of information.” Knowing that, Bob Graham, saying the Senate Intelligence Committee had the same information as the president of the United States, would you have still made your comments that you made on May 16?

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, Tim, the same information, I think, is the question. How do you define that? I think what I’ve heard Bob Gramm say is that they had summaries of that information. They had the same general information; they didn’t have the specifics. But that’s really not the issue. The issue is why didn’t the best information get to those at the very top? Why didn’t those in the executive branch have the information to make a better judgment? Why weren’t we better prepared, given what we know now about memos, about the warnings, about all of the information gathering within the FBI, why wasn’t that provided to the president, and in a more readable or understandable form to the Congress? It’s the administration that must make the ultimate decision, but I think the fact that that information was not shared, did not get to those at the very top of the decision-making ladder, is something we need to find out, and that’s really in part what this call for the commission is all about.

MR. RUSSERT: But that’s a different issue than you raised on the 16th. You said that you were gravely concerned that the president received a warning in August.

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, we were told on that particular morning that the president had received a particular set of facts that he may or may not have received. He’s denied having received that information, and we accept that. If he says he didn’t receive it, I’m not going to challenge that. What I am going to say is why didn’t he receive it, and why did it take so long after September 11 for all this information to be made public? There are some disconcerting questions here, Tim, that we’ve got to be able to figure out, to find out, so that at the bottom line, this never happens again, we don’t have this kind of a fouled-up information-sharing process, whether it’s within the administration or with the Congress itself.

MR. RUSSERT: As the Senate majority leader, you are an ex officio member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. You could have had access to the same information that Bob Gramm said he had and the president had.

SEN. DASCHLE: That’s correct.

MR. RUSSERT: Were you party to those briefings? Did you have that information?

SEN. DASCHLE: We have not been given any information. I wasn’t given any information last summer in this regard, and I didn’t have access to it, at least in terms of somebody volunteering the information with us. But again, it goes to the question, Tim, why? Why wasn’t I given it? Why wasn’t the Intelligence Committee given it in a way that would flag these issues? Why wasn’t a decision made within the FBI to do something about it? Why didn’t they give the information to the FBI? These are questions that I think are very valid, and I don’t think today have been answered satisfactorily.

MR. RUSSERT: But Gramm said he had—his committee had the information the president was given, and as an ex officio member of the Intelligence Committee, you could have access to that.

SEN. DASCHLE: That’s correct.

MR. RUSSERT: Did you have access?

SEN. DASCHLE: I did not.

MR. RUSSERT: The 19...

SEN. DASCHLE: The question is, did I have access? I’m sure I had access. Was it provided to me? The answer is no.

MR. RUSSERT: But it could have been if you chose to see it.

SEN. DASCHLE: If I’d been told about it, I would have chosen to see it, correct.

MR. RUSSERT: But if it was before the Intelligence Committee, you could have access to it.

SEN. DASCHLE: Correct.

MR. RUSSERT: And Gramm says it was before the Intelligence Committee.

SEN. DASCHLE: That’s correct.

MR. RUSSERT: Also, the 1999 Library of Congress report, which said that an event like this may happen, that’s available to the president, but also to all senators, correct?

SEN. DASCHLE: That’s correct. But we’re not—let me just emphasize something. The Congress isn’t responsible for taking the day-to-day actions within the FBI, within the CIA, within the executive branch. That isn’t our role. Our responsibility is oversight, our responsibility is, of course, legislative policy, so I think there is a difference between what it is we do and know and what it is the administration knows and then does. But I think it is important—again, I emphasize, that while this information may have been out there, it wasn’t presented in a form that allowed either the president or those at the very top of the decision-making infrastructure within the administration to do something about, and that’s what’s wrong. That’s what I fault, and that’s what I think we’ve got to look at to ensure it never happens again.

MR. RUSSERT: But that’s a long way away from suggesting the president had advance warning.

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, we were told that—when this news broke, we were told that he did have advanced warning. He has now denied that. And as I said before, we accept it. But the question is, if he wasn’t provided that information, why? Why has it taken this long for all these pieces of the puzzle to be put into place? These are questions that I think merit a lot more careful consideration than they’ve been given so far.

MR. RUSSERT: Sometimes cartoons have a way of cutting through these issues. Let me show you one that’s appeared in today’s New York Times: “What If Tom Daschle Were President In August 2001?” The name of the strip, by the way, is Tom the Dancing Bug, which is interesting. “OK, alert the media, and send a mailing to every American. Close the Empire State Building... ...and the World Trade Center! I want every passenger checked not just for bombs and guns, but also knives... even box cutters! And for God’s sake—check their shoes!” Suggesting that Tom Daschle would have been heroic in August 2001 if he had access to all that information. Now...

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, I...

MR. RUSSERT: Now, you understand the parody.

SEN. DASCHLE: I do. I do.

MR. RUSSERT: And...

SEN. DASCHLE: Unless you want to explain it to me.

MR. RUSSERT: But people suggesting that it’s so easy in hindsight to say, “You know what? We should have known all this,” the way people do on a Monday morning after a football game.

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, Tim, you know, I think it’s more than just those of us in Congress who are questioning. Now, you have professional people within the FBI who look at this every day, whose business it is to understand this, who said they could have done a better job, even back then. This isn’t the Congress questioning alone. These are people within the FBI itself now, within, you know, the government who had access to this. We’ve got to find out why this information was not dealt with at the top levels of the FBI. We’ve got to find out why this information was shared and then not provided to the president and to the Congress in a way that we could have made some decisions. That isn’t second-guessing. I think we’ve just got to learn from our mistakes. If we don’t learn from our mistakes, we’re destined to repeat them. And God forbid we repeat another tragedy of September 11 magnitude. We can avoid that, maybe, in some cases if we do a better job of sharing information, of analyzing it and acting upon it. And that’s what we’re saying here.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you still have confidence in FBI director Robert Mueller?

SEN. DASCHLE: I have confidence in Mr. Mueller. I think he’s got to be given more opportunity to prove his leadership. I think he’s doing a good job of attempting to reorganize the FBI. But just shuffling the chairs isn’t going to do it. There’s got to be a change of attitude, a change of environment, a change in the way—the mentality, I think, of all of this. And as I said, it’s also a stovepipe problem, as I’ve noted before, Tim. You’ve got the FBI not sharing with the CIA, and the CIA not sharing with the Homeland Defense. It was amazing to me that Mr. Ridge only learned about ending the cap over New York through the news. I think it was even your—NBC. And that kind of information debacle, that lack of sharing is something we’ve got to address.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you what the vice president said the evening that you had made your original comments. Here’s Dick Cheney:

(Videotape, May 16, 2002):

VICE PRES. CHENEY: I want to say to my Democratic friends in the Congress, is they need to be very cautious not to seek political advantage by making incendiary suggestions as were made by some today that the White House had advanced information that would have prevented the tragic attacks of 9/11. Such commentary is thoroughly irresponsible and totally unworthy of national leaders in a time of war.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: “Incendiary,” “you’re responsible,” “totally unworthy of national leaders.” Do you feel that your patriotism is questioned?

SEN. DASCHLE: Sometimes I think the administration steps over the line when they press these issues and make these kinds of accusations, especially...

MR. RUSSERT: Was that over the line?

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, I’ll leave that to others. I think it’s getting close to the line. I think that we have a responsibility, Tim, to ask questions. As I’ve said on several occasions, even this morning, we’re not making any accusations against the president, but we know we’ve got to do a better job, and that’s all we’re suggesting. Let’s get the facts. Let’s make sure we have the information, and let’s do a better job the next time. That isn’t Republican, that isn’t Democratic, that is American, and it’s just—it’s what we’ve got to do if we’re going to perform the way the American people expect us to.

MR. RUSSERT: Tone is so important. This is what one of your Democratic colleagues said way back in March. “We know there were numerous warnings of the events to come on September 11. What did this administration know, and when did it know it, about the events of September 11? Who else knew, and why did they not warn the innocent people of New York who were needlessly murdered?” Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. Is that appropriate?

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, I think we’ve got to make sure that we don’t resort to incendiary rhetoric on either side. I think that isn’t necessary. But I do believe that it’s very, very important for us not to back off, for us not to say, “Well, because our patriotism is questioned, because we’re being accused of going too far, that we ought to lose our voice.” We can’t afford not to be asking these questions and asserting our authority as members of Congress, Tim, to ensure that we get the facts. In every other crisis in American history, Congress has done that, and I think we’ve got to do it, too.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Zell Miller of Georgia, your Democratic colleague, said those comments by Congresswoman McKinney are “looney, dangerous and irresponsible.” Do you agree with Senator Miller?

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, there are many, many characterizations of rhetoric—I mean, I should say of rhetorical statements that we all make, and I wouldn’t use those words. I just think we have to be careful. Let’s tone it down. Let’s make sure that on both sides, we say and do things that are responsible and that lead to a greater level of confidence among the American people. I see it all the time on the Republican side, too, Tim, and I think it has to be toned down.

MR. RUSSERT: There were a lot of comments made last week by the vice president, by the national security adviser, by the secretary of Defense, by the director of the FBI, about increasing chatter, intelligence picking up new warnings, new security risks to the United States. Some Democrats suggested that was a diversion, an attempt to change the story. Do you subscribe to that view?

SEN. DASCHLE: I don’t know what the motivation was. I think that there is a need to make sure people are aware of the level of threat. The real question, Tim, is: What are we going to do about it? It doesn’t do much good to put out those higher levels of threat reports and then not do anything about it, not follow up, not make sure that the American people know that we’ve got some response to these levels of threat. And I don’t know that the administration has done that satisfactorily.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you think the vice president or national security adviser would intentionally try to alarm the American people in order to change the story?

SEN. DASCHLE: I don’t think so. I would not expect that the administration—anybody in the administration would do that. That would be extraordinarily irresponsible, and I can’t imagine that the vice president or anybody else would do that.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me try to clarify a disagreement between you and the vice president. Last week, he was on this program, and I asked him the following question:

(Videotape, May 19, 2002):

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Tom Daschle said last week that you called him several times and urged him not to investigate the events of September 11.

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Tom’s wrong. He has, I think in this case—well, let’s say a misinterpretation. What I did do was work, at the direction of the president, with the leadership of the Intelligence committees to say, “We prefer to work with the Intelligence committees.”

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Did the vice president call you and urge you not to investigate the events of September 11?

SEN. DASCHLE: Yes, he did, Tim, on January 24, and then on January 28 the president himself at one of our breakfast meetings repeated the request. This is an honest disagreement over our own recollections, I suppose, and I’ll leave it at that.

MR. RUSSERT: So both the president and the vice president requested, urged you, not to have an investigation of the events of September 11?

SEN. DASCHLE: Correct.

MR. RUSSERT: You’re absolutely convinced of that?

SEN. DASCHLE: I can give you the dates. I have.

MR. RUSSERT: What words did they use?

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, I think—I don’t recall the exact words, but the motivation was that they didn’t want to take people off of the effort to try to win the war on terror. They were concerned about the diversion of resources, the diversion of manpower, in particular, and that was the reason given to me by both the president and the vice president about their concerns involving an investigation of any kind.

MR. RUSSERT: It wasn’t “Let’s not have a national commission, but let’s have the intelligence committees look into this,” it was “No investigation by anyone, period”?

SEN. DASCHLE: That’s correct.

MR. RUSSERT: And you’re absolutely insistent on that.

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, as I said, it’s an honest disagreement. I’m willing to accept the fact that they don’t believe that that was the right interpretation. But I can tell you on January 24, first, and then on January 28, second, and on other dates following, that request was made.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the issue of the national commission. Tom DeLay, Republican leader in the House, had this to say: “Another investigation into 9-11 would be duplicative and detrimental to our war on terrorism. The experts on the Intelligence Committee are months into an investigation and have already reviewed over 185 thousand pages of documents. This investigation is going to instruct us about how we can better prevent terrorist acts in the future. This commission would make waste out of months of work and resources. We must not be overzealous when the situation calls for thoughtfulness. And we must not allow the president to be undermined by those who want his job. It’s telling that this commission has been called for by those who aspire to be President of the United States.”

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, I don’t think Chuck Grassley aspires to be president of the United States. At least he hasn’t told me about it. Chuck Hagel, to my knowledge, hasn’t. John McCain once did. I don’t think he’s interested again. Those are all—you know, George Will isn’t looking for any presidential role, that I’m aware of. These are all supporters, Republican supporters, who have advocated a commission, Tim. This has nothing to do with presidential politics. This is a bipartisan look at what happened, to access the facts, to make our best judgment about what we ought to do in the future to assure that this never happens again. That ought not be partisan. And I’m disappointed that Tom DeLay and others are trying to make it so.

MR. RUSSERT: The idea of a commission in Pearl Harbor and the Kennedy assassination. Let me show you. Pearl Harbor happened December 7, ’41. A commission was appointed just 11 days later and reported within five weeks. The Kennedy assassination, November 22, ’63. Commission appointed within seven days and reported within 10 months. Why did you wait eight and a half months before beginning to push for a commission?

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, I felt that the most important thing initially was for us to follow through with all of the emergency needs that we had in the post-9/11 period. We had to pass an appropriations bill, a use of force resolution, a counterterrorism bill, airport security, and an array of other issues that were very, very problematic, and, again, as I said, I don’t know the first time I had the request from the administration, but there have been many occasions when the president has made it clear that this is not something they wanted to do. So, I think—and, frankly, I’ll be honest, I think that initially I thought maybe the Congress could do it in and of itself. But I do think it is important to follow history, to do what other situations have required, and that is to take a closer, analytical look by people that can devote full attention to it and come to us with their recommendations and conclusions.

MR. RUSSERT: You have often said you need 60 votes in order to pass something in the Senate to avoid a filibuster. Do you have 60 votes for a national commission?

SEN. DASCHLE: Tim, I don’t know, but I’m encouraged by the growing number of Republicans in the Senate who have come forth to say they now support it. I think if we don’t have, we will have by the time the vote occurs. I’m reasonably confident that we picked up 10 or 12 Republicans as well, and I think we have—I haven’t checked, but I would think we’d have near unanimity on our side.

MR. RUSSERT: When will the vote occur?

SEN. DASCHLE: Sometime in June.

MR. RUSSERT: There were three terrorist attacks during the Clinton administration. I’ll review them for you on our board here: The World Trade Center garage in ’93, the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in ’98, USS Cole bombing in 2000. Because they were carried out by al-Qaeda, should they be part of a national commission investigation?

SEN. DASCHLE: I think that might be appropriate. I don’t know that we ought to limit it necessarily to 9/11, to September 11, and I might say the anthrax attack in my office. I think that there are ways of which to expand this investigation to look at other matters, and I don’t think we ought to preclude that. I don’t think we ought to dictate it, either, but one or the other.

MR. RUSSERT: You’ve called for the president’s daily briefing of August 6 to be sent to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Should President Clinton’s daily briefings surrounding those terrorist events also be included?

SEN. DASCHLE: Absolutely. I mean, I don’t see any reason to withhold any information. The more information provided, the more it’s shared, the better judgment we can make. I think that’s fairly straightforward, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: The embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, there were 12 killed and 24 injured, and also the attack in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh, several hundred people died. There are now efforts to include those victims from those embassies and from Oklahoma City, in the victims’ fund which was set up to help the families of September 11. Would you support that legislation?

SEN. DASCHLE: I haven’t been briefed entirely on it. I don’t know what downside there would be to doing that. If there’s some reason not to, nobody has expressed it to me, so based on what I know today, I would not have any difficulty including those victims as well.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you the Pew Center’s poll on the party with better ideas on the war on terrorism. Republicans, 56, Democrats 19; Republicans are 88 to 2. Even Democrats, 37 to 33, say the Republicans have better ideas for the war on terrorism; Independents, overwhelming. Why do you think that is?

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, I think because you’ve got a president who’s been very aggressive, very visible. He’s had an opportunity to lay out his agenda, and people generally agree with it. I think they assume, in part, in the poll, that Democrats would have an alternative strategy and we don’t. We are every bit as supportive of the war on terrorism as the president has, and in large measure been quite supportive all the way through. So I think that’s primarily it. They have a much more visible articulator of the effort on the war on terrorism than we do.

MR. RUSSERT: Iraq: The U.S. military, according to numerous reports on NBC and newspapers throughout the country, suggesting that the military is concerned about whether we are prepared to launch a significant and successful attack on Iraq. Would President Daschle—how would he deal with that?

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, first of all, there isn’t a President Daschle, so Senator Daschle believes that there ought to be a regime change, number one. I think that this is just a question of how do you do it. I think many people have expressed publicly the concern about an invasion at this time, until we’ve consulted more carefully with our allies, and most importantly, taking first things first. We’ve got a war in Afghanistan. We’ve got a very complex situation in the Middle East. I think what the generals and the hierarchy in the Pentagon seem to be saying is let’s make sure we do this right, and we’re not prepared to do it right, at least for the time being.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you concur with that, that we are not prepared at this time?

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, I have to assume that the Pentagon and that the reports about the Pentagon’s judgment about this is accurate, and as I say, we strongly support a regime change. I think it’s just a matter of time. I think the real question is: Can we do the other things and complete our work there prior to the time we move to this important project as well?

MR. RUSSERT: Cuba: Should the United States lift its trade embargo on Cuba?

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, Tim, I think many of us have already stated emphatically that the time has come to reassess our relationship with the people of Cuba. I have voted on several occasions to begin that new relationship with a trading opportunity, at least with agricultural products, with medicine, with cultural exchanges. The Congress—the Senate has voted overwhelmingly, bipartisan, about a two-thirds vote, if I recall, in the Senate in support of that kind of an effort. I think the time has come for us to do it.

MR. RUSSERT: And travel, also?

SEN. DASCHLE: Some travel. I think it can be restricted initially. I think we need to take this a step at a time, but I applaud President Carter in the role that he played and the message that he articulated in calling for this continued progress.

MR. RUSSERT: Arafat: Would President Daschle negotiate with Yasser Arafat?

SEN. DASCHLE: You’re kind of hung up on this President Daschle thing, Tim. Let me just...

MR. RUSSERT: Well, I think it’s important that you put yourself in someone’s position in order to find out how you feel about things.

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, but I’m the majority leader of the United States Senate and very proud to be that. And as majority leader, I can tell you that I think that Mr. Arafat’s been a grave disappointment, just a profound disappointment. He’s failed the test of leadership over and over and over again. And I’m appreciative of what the moderate Arab countries have done in trying to force Arafat to make some tough decisions with regard to the corruption, with regard to the graft and the inefficiency within his government. I think now we’ve got to reach out to moderate Arabs and try to work ways with which to ensure that we can see some sort of a transition. But nonetheless, he is the chosen leader and we’ve got to deal with it.

MR. RUSSERT: So you would negotiate with him?

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, I think that until some other leader is chosen, there isn’t much choice. I think that it is important, though, for us to reach out to other moderate Arab elements and make sure that we can find a way that ultimately allows us to go to more reliable and stronger leaders than we’ve got in Arafat today.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the domestic front. As you well know, on Wednesday, the Republicans had a news conference where they introduced bloodhounds into the United States Senate. Here’s a picture of bloodhounds being led in:

(Videotape, Wednesday):

SEN. RICK SANTORUM, (R-PA): ...budget resolution. We’re looking for the anti-terrorism bill...

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Trent Lott.

(Videotape, Wednesday):

SEN. SANTORUM: ...judges, the defense authorization bill...

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Santorum reading all the bills that they say Tom Daschle, the obstructionist, has blocked as majority leader.

Let me ask you a very serious question about this, because as you well know, the House passed a budget on March 20. The Senate Budget Committee passed a budget on March 21. By law, the Senate should have completed its work on a budget by April 15, and yet here it is May 26 and the Senate has not passed a budget.

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, Tim, first of all, let me just say this obstructionist charge is getting pretty old and even less and less credible. We just passed the president’s trade bill this week with a strong trade adjustment assistance package. We’ve passed the energy bill, the farm bill. We’ve passed 50—we’ve confirmed 57 judicial nominations, more than the Republicans did with Ronald Reagan and more than the Democrats did with Bill Clinton.

MR. RUSSERT: But why no budget?

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, we’re going to have a budget plan that constrains spending. That will happen. But obviously we’re in a divided Senate and a very, very close membership count. And this has not been easy. We’ve also had a lot of other work we’ve had to do. But we are going to get to it. That is going to be something that will happen. And I just hope we’ll do a better job than what the Republicans have done, which is a five-year budget plan, totally ignored the entire tax cut, used OMB numbers. I mean, violated virtually every budget rule there is to pass what they called...

MR. RUSSERT: But you will pass a budget?

SEN. DASCHLE: We will pass a budget plan that constrains spending, yes.

MR. RUSSERT: Both parties during the 2000 campaign said they would not violate the Social Security surplus lockbox. Both parties are now spending the Social Security surplus. No one can question it. Joe Lieberman, the Democratic senator from Connecticut, said, “We have to find the money someplace or we’re going to keep running up these deficits.” And this is what Lieberman suggested: Eliminate future reductions scheduled to drop the top income tax rate from 38.6 percent to 33 percent; abandon the repeal of the estate tax; and thirdly, repeal provisions meant to make personal exemptions and itemized deductions more valuable for upper-income taxpayers. In other words, postpone the Bush tax cut. Everyone would get a tax cut, no one would pay higher taxes, but in future years, it would be stopped. Do you agree with Senator Lieberman?

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, let me start by saying that Democrats strongly support tax cuts. We always have. And we had a very strong plan that would have avoided, Tim, the use of Social Security trust funds. If you had passed the Democratic plan last year, we would not be in Social Security today. That’s a fact. And no one can challenge it. Now, I will say this, we had this fight. We’ve had an incredible debate about this, and we’re paying the results now. We’re seeing the results, and we’re paying the price of an administration plan that just went amok. And so the real question is: What do we do about it? What I have said consistently is let’s not dig the hole any deeper. We have an opportunity this year to stave off another $400 billion of reduction and use of Social Security trust funds if we don’t make the tax cut permanent. Five trillion in the next 10 years. I hope we do that. I hope we say no.

MR. RUSSERT: But you agree with Senator Lieberman?

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, let me just say, and secondly, I agree completely with Senator Lieberman on the estate tax. We’ll have an opportunity to vote on that, and I’m hopeful that we can make our position clearer on that.

MR. RUSSERT: How about the top bracket? Postpone the tax cut for the very top 1 percent?

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, you know that the votes aren’t there for that. The president said he’s going to oppose it. And so, you know, some day, we may have to have another debate about that. But let’s take first thing’s first. The first thing we can do is that $400 billion; the second is the estate tax. And I’m willing to go there right now.

MR. RUSSERT: But on the national commission, you said, “Let’s have a debate. Maybe we can change minds.” Why not debate the tax cut honestly, if you’re against it...

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, we are.

MR. RUSSERT: ...and...

SEN. DASCHLE: Tim, we are. We’re going to take up the $400—why would you leapfrog before we take the first things that are out there? We have an opportunity this year to stop another $400 billion drain on Social Security. Why not do that? We have an opportunity to stop the estate tax, total repeal, which only benefits the multimillionaires now if you’re a couple. That’s the only way you’re affected by the estate tax. Why not do that? Those two things, we can do. And let’s do those, and then let’s take a look at other things. But right now...

MR. RUSSERT: Including the Bush tax cut?

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, we’re going—as I said, there may be a time when we’re going to have that debate again. But I want to take first thing’s first, and I think that the Democrats and some Republicans are going to take a lot closer look now that we know the results, and we’re going to hold off on that $400 billion repeal.

MR. RUSSERT: Here’s the concern many people have. The Republicans, with 12 Democratic votes, pass the tax cut and the Democrats keep going along and spending money on programs and—well, take the farm bill. And this is the way one analyst looked at it: “Fourteen members of Congress, and some of the wealthiest American companies...will continue to rake in huge federal crop subsidies under the $248.6 billion farm bill...Conservative free-market advocates and liberal conservationists were aghast at the pork-barrel spending bill...‘Why should multimillionaire hobby farmers and large, well-heeled corporations get lavish federal handouts while most family farms get nothing but a tax bill?’ Heritage Foundation president Edwin J. Feulner said...‘The top 10 percent of farm-subsidy recipients collect two- thirds of the money...’ Leading corporate farm-aid recipients were billionaire David Rockefeller of Chase Manhattan Bank ($352,187); Ted Turner, top Time-Warner entertainment executive ($176,077); NBA player Scottie Pippen ($131,575); and five Fortune 500 firms—Westvaco Corp. ($268,740), Chevron ($260,223), John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. ($211,368), DuPont ($188,732) and Caterpillar ($171,698).” This is John McCain, your colleague, who you respect, who you visited this last summer. McCain says, “The farm bill is an appalling breach of federal spending responsibility.” And The Washington Post—and I’ll give you a chance to respond to this: “The House Republican leadership claims to believe in limited government. The Senate Democratic leadership claims to believe in balancing the budget. Yet the two have conspired to produce a shockingly awful farm bill that will weaken the nation’s finances. ...This display of greed tarnishes the reputation of all implicated—notably Tom Daschle, the Senate Democratic leader, who should have balanced his parochial farm-state interests against his declared belief in fiscal sanity.”

SEN. DASCHLE: Tim, I am amazed. I am just amazed at the inaccurate reporting about the farm bill from top to bottom. If you take all that was spent in the last six years by the federal government, on agriculture, you would exceed by some measure what we are committing to now in this current farm bill. The farm bill is actually going to be reduced in overall federal commitment, the level of spending, compared to the last six years, but what they’re doing is comparing it to the bill that we passed six years ago, and, of course, that called for a phasing out of subsidies. What they didn’t take into account is that every year we passed $6 billion, $9 billion, $10 billion, $12 billion in supplemental farm assistance, that, when taken together, actually exceeds what this bill will do. We’re getting rid of those ad hoc disaster payment approaches. We’re actually bringing down the cost of the federal program and very few journalists and very few commentators report on that. I might also say we put a cap in place that is lower han it’s ever been before, at $350 million.

MR. RUSSERT: But, Senator, but the problem is if the Democratic position is “We’re going to keep the Bush tax cut in place, and we’re going to keep voting for programs like the farm bill,” the deficit is back up to $100 billion and no one seems to care.

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, listen, we’re going to work on—as I said, we’re bringing down the cost of agriculture, not increasing it. And that $350,000 limitation is a step in the right direction—$100,000 lower than it was in the last farm bill. That’s an improvement. There’s a lot more that we can do, but I think you’re letting the Republicans off the hook a little too easy. This tax bill cost a bundle, and we’re going to pay the price until we start putting the pieces back together.

MR. RUSSERT: Then repeal it.

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, that’s what I said. We’re going to take the 400 billion, we’re going to take the estate tax, and you’re going to see the first installments of that this year.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you a survey from your hometown of Sioux Falls.

SEN. DASCHLE: No, my hometown is Aberdeen.

MR. RUSSERT: Aberdeen. One of your—an important town in the state of South Dakota.

SEN. DASCHLE: That’s right.

MR. RUSSERT: KELO-TV, Sioux Falls. Should Daschle run for president: 29, yes; 51, no.

SEN. DASCHLE: I’m very honored that they would think I should stay in the Senate and serve them as I have.

MR. RUSSERT: That’s your interpretation.

SEN. DASCHLE: That’s exactly right. I’m appreciative. That’s right.

MR. RUSSERT: The people who know you best, they want to keep you.

SEN. DASCHLE: Exactly.

MR. RUSSERT: Why not—why don’t they want to vote for you for president?

SEN. DASCHLE: Ask them. I don’t know. It wasn’t my poll.

MR. RUSSERT: What do you think?

SEN. DASCHLE: Oh, I don’t—I’m not going to pay any attention to polls that may or may not matter at that point.

MR. RUSSERT: If you lose control of the Senate and become minority leader, won’t you be more inclined to run for president in 2004?

SEN. DASCHLE: You just don’t give up, do you, Tim?

MR. RUSSERT: That’s part of my job.

SEN. DASCHLE: That’s—I—you know what? I love my job, and I love being the majority leader, in particular. I’m honored to serve the people of my state. They’ve been so good to me, and we’ll make that decision down the road. I like what I’m doing.

MR. RUSSERT: Including retirement.

SEN. DASCHLE: Absolutely. That’s a possibility as well.

MR. RUSSERT: Really?

SEN. DASCHLE: Yes.

MR. RUSSERT: Before you go, this is what you told Charlie Rose two weeks ago: “I think that people underestimate George Bush.” Explain that.

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, I think that when George Bush came on the scene nationally people had a different impression of him, and I think slowly they’re beginning to realize that he is effective. He’s very political. He has shown leadership in the post-September 11 tragedy. And I think it would be a big, big mistake to underestimate him.

MR. RUSSERT: Very political.

SEN. DASCHLE: Very political.

MR. RUSSERT: What does that mean?

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, I think he makes a lot of decisions for political reasons like all politicians do, but he makes them very well.

MR. RUSSERT: Is he partisan?

SEN. DASCHLE: He is. Of course.

MR. RUSSERT: Overly?

SEN. DASCHLE: Sometimes.

MR. RUSSERT: On what issues?

SEN. DASCHLE: Well, he’s made more trips around the country on behalf of candidates than Bill Clinton did and he was roundly criticized for his trips around the country so—including my state of South Dakota, I might add, a couple of times. But that’s the nature of politics. I’m not complaining. I’m just warning people not to underestimate him.

MR. RUSSERT: Senator Tom Daschle, as always, we thank you for your views.

SEN. DASCHLE: Thank you, Tim.