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Daschle: Congress won't 'rubber-stamp' Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Declaring it was not the job of Congress to "rubber-stamp" the president's priorities, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle insisted Sunday that the Bush administration must keep Congress better informed of its plans for the war on terrorism.

"We need to support our troops," Daschle said on NBC's "Meet the Press" in a joint appearance with Minority Leader Trent Lott. "They've done an outstanding job, but we also have to ask the right questions.

"That is the role of Congress. We're a co-equal branch of government, and I don't think we ought to rubber-stamp any president."

Similar comments from Daschle last week raised the ire of several Republicans. He was defended Sunday by fellow Democrats and one prominent Republican, Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

"I think, with all respect, the Republican reaction was a lot of hyperventilation," Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Connecticut, said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Lott -- who last week issued a blistering condemnation of Daschle's earlier comments -- said Sunday he was not questioning Daschle's patriotism.

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But he said the timing and tone of the majority leader's criticism could cause the United States difficulties internationally.

"Any sign that we are losing that unity or cracking that support will be, I think, used against us overseas," the Mississippi Republican said as he sat side by side with Daschle.

Daschle did not back down. He said members of Congress have not been adequately briefed on plans to send U.S. forces to the Philippines, Yemen and the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

And with the administration requesting $4.7 trillion on defense spending over the next 10 years, Daschle told NBC he thinks "the time has come for us to be asking a lot more questions."

"We have a constitutional obligation to ask those questions," he said. "The right questions are, 'How do you define success? How do you ensure that what it is we're doing is ultimately going to lead to success? What will Phase Two require, and how many troops are going to be there? Will our allies be involved? How do we define success in the out years? How much is it going to cost? How long will they stay?' "

Appearing on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer," McCain defended Daschle's right to pose questions and said the administration could have done a better job of informing congressional leaders about plans for a stand-by government in case of a catastrophic attack on Washington.

"I think that they probably should have informed the leadership of that and any other activities that are going on," McCain said.

He noted, however, there needs to be a "careful balance" and that Congress has sometimes leaked information to the news media.

Daschle said he was "surprised" by last week's media reports that the executive branch has been sending officials to secure locations outside of Washington as part of a contingency plan to keep the government operating in the event of an attack on the capital.

The majority leader said that while lawmakers knew there were contingency plans in place to deal with emergencies, no one in Congress knew the plans had been put into effect.

He told "Fox News Sunday" the revelations were a "profound illustration of the chasm that exists sometimes with information."

"I do believe that it is important for the leadership of Congress to be made aware of matters of that import and also to insist that there be some recognition that we've got three branches of government," he said on Fox.

Lott said he also was not aware the executive branch was rotating officials to and from secure locations. But he said offers had been made to brief key members of Congress about the plans and noted that Congress had authorized and appropriated money for such plans.

Lott also said Congress itself should put similar plans in place to ensure lawmakers can continue to function in the event of a disaster.

"We shouldn't expect the administration to do it for us," he said.

Lieberman said the administration "should consult" with Congress, but he said the president was entitled to some leeway, especially as it relates to any potential attack against Iraq, which the lawmaker supports as a target in the war on terrorism.

"I think you've got to give the commander in chief the right to employ surprise in attacking or going against the leadership of Iraq," Lieberman said.

"And therefore, consultation -- but it may be that we will not have an actual congressional resolution until after activities or actions have begun in Iraq."




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