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
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.
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
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
SEN. DASCHLE: That’s correct.
MR. RUSSERT: Were you party to those briefings? Did you have that
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
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
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
(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
MR. RUSSERT: “Incendiary,” “you’re responsible,” “totally
unworthy of national leaders.” Do you feel that your patriotism is
SEN. DASCHLE: Sometimes I think the administration steps over the
line when they press these issues and make these kinds of
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
SEN. RICK SANTORUM, (R-PA): ...budget resolution. We’re looking
for the anti-terrorism bill...
MR. RUSSERT: Trent Lott.
SEN. SANTORUM: ...judges, the defense authorization bill...
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.”
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
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
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
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Tom Daschle, as always, we thank you for
SEN. DASCHLE: Thank you, Tim.