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Parties to Share Power on Senate Committees

Aired January 5, 2001 - 4:23 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: We need to go right now to Washington to Capitol Hill; the statement being made by Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle and Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott.

Let's listen.

SEN. THOMAS DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: ... and, I must say, an equal amount of trust.

Senator Lott and I, on several occasions, have said this really comes down to two words: good faith. I hope, not only by our actions today but by our actions over the course of the next two years, we can demonstrate, without equivocation, that that good faith was warranted.

We face many, many challenges in the days and weeks ahead. We face many uncertainties. But as we face those challenges and those uncertainties, it is my hope that we can look back upon this moment and say, were it not for the fact that we demonstrated good faith today, we could not continue to demonstrate good faith when those challenges and uncertainties arise.

Do we have all the answers today? Certainly not. We're facing, as I noted, many uncharted waters here. But as we attempt to recognize perhaps even the shortcomings of what it was we did today, we both stand ready to correct, to reconfront and to address in whatever way may be required whatever concerns or problems we may not have anticipated as we have worked to reach the agreement to the best of our ability today.

I want to close -- there's a lot more I could say. You've all seen the agreement, and, so, I won't get into the details. Let me just simply close by saying publicly -- and I hope I don't get him in trouble in doing so -- how admiring I am of the courage and the leadership demonstrated by Senator Lott today.

I think it's fair to say that he had a harder time than I did in spite of the fact that I think I had a very difficult time at many junctures during this process. But as hard as my challenge was, I think his was even more difficult because they were in the majority in the last Congress. They had to come to a realization about the new circumstances far different than we did. And so, coming to that realization took leadership, it took courage, it took a wisdom, and it took that good faith that I referred to earlier. Senator Lott has demonstrated that in spades this afternoon and throughout this process. So on behalf of the Democratic Caucus, I commend him, and I thank him, and I look forward to working with him under this arrangement.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MINORITY LEADER: Thank you, Senator Daschle, for your comments. And once again we have sought common ground, and we've been able to find it.

When you serve as the leader of your party in the Senate, it's not always easy. In fact it's rarely easy. But Senator Daschle and I have already been through some historic events, and we found a way to make it work. And I think we've done that again today.

I must say I really didn't intend to spend Christmas and New Year's Eve with Tom. And while we weren't physically together, we were on the phone together. And we were exchanging fax numbers. I've got his fax number memorized now.

And we started off with a lot of ideas, a lot of suggestions, that went into probably numerous pages. My file probably is that thick now of items we've exchanged. And we worked through it, and we came to an agreement on an organization resolution that I think is the framework for getting some things done.

I just saw Senator Byrd in the hall today. He said, "You know, we may surprise ourselves." Maybe we will. Maybe we can get even more done than we could under different circumstances.

But I think this a reasonable agreement. But I want to speak about more than the details of this or, you know, hidden meanings and all the verbiage and all of that. It's more than that.

It means now we can move forward in a constructive way. We can get a resolution of how we're going to proceed for the next two weeks in terms not only of rules, but we'll have adjournment resolution that we agreed to. There'll be hearings going on.

The Democrats have been very good in saying, "We want to help; we want to have these hearings." Our chairman and our ranking members are working together, I think, very well.

And the hearings are already started and scheduled. And then the 20th and the 22nd we'll be ready to complete action on a number of the nominees and others soon right after that.

And then we'll begin to move to the agenda; the items that are already out that. I mean, obviously we're going to want to talk about education. Everyone agrees on that. We won't agree on exactly the details, but we will have an opportunity to process, to begin to work on that right out the gate with a committee that's organized, with a chairman in place, with a ranking member that has learned from being chairman some of the difficulties of being chairman.

And we'll get to the substance. We'll be able to find a way to get to the Patients' Bill of Rights. We were so close last year to completing that. So close. It could have happened at any moment, it just didn't quite get over the finish line.

I've already mentioned other substantive issues that we want to work on: obviously, Medicare, prescription drugs, Social Security, national defense, energy policy.

But instead of us being in a filibuster next week on the rules, with us arguing against what Senator Daschle would have offered, or conversely the 21st, us in a filibuster for days or weeks with the Democrats filibustering our resolution, we said, "We're not going to start off that way. We're going to give it a chance to work. We're going to be fair. We're going to have a good-faith effort here."

And so, I've enjoyed working with Tom. He's very generous in his remarks. It's never easy for either one of us, because we have very diverse conferences, both of us. And I can assure you, and I know for sure, some of his people not, you know, delighted with all the details of it.

And I think it's an important point that he made. We're going to find that we forget about some impact of what we did, or we didn't think about some other rule that maybe we should have address. As we go along, we'll have to work together to deal with those problems when they come up.

I think we've had a good discussion. It's been friendly in all ways. And I think that this is another step in a positive direction of how we're going to get our work done the balance of this Congress.

QUESTION: Could either of you address the changes in cloture that you envision? How it's different from the last Congress?

And also, Senator Daschle, considering, what concessions did Democrats make? I've heard a lot this afternoon about Republicans saying that members of both parties are unhappy this, but mostly Republicans who are voicing concerns and not Democrats. Can you address that, too?

DASCHLE: Well, I think that we started with an array of expectations about the way we ought to proceed.

One had to do -- perhaps one of the most consequential was all of reconciliation. Senator Lott knows because we talked about this on countless occasions. Many of my colleagues were hoping that we could address the entire reconciliation process. But for many reasons, which we can go into at a later date, we have conceded that that is a matter that will be addressed later, addressed in a way that will accommodate, perhaps, a need for change in the reconciliation process, in the budget process. That was one.

We also felt that there was a significant desire on the part of some of our colleagues to have co-chairs on committees. We put that on the table right from the beginning. And there were some who had hoped that maybe they could serve as co-chairs. And we chose that at this point we'd recognize the Republican members as the legitimate chairs of the committees. And I'm prepared to embrace that and accept it. We talked a lot about how we ought to proceed on a number of issues for which we decided to remain silent. We could have gone through at some length how we specified conference committees and how other issues having to do with nominations are addressed. We chose not to do that. We felt that it was important that we work on that on a case-by-case basis and take these issues on as we have in this case, in good faith and in bipartisanship.

So those are some of the examples of areas where we felt it was a challenge.

QUESTION: Did many Democrats oppose this agreement, sir?

DASCHLE: I'm sorry?

QUESTION: Did any Democrats not support this agreement?

DASCHLE: Well, let me put it this way: This resolution passed by unanimous consent. Those who could have come to the floor to express their opposition on either side had an opportunity to do so. We have to assume that this resolution is supported unanimously because there was no objection on the Senate floor within the last hour.

LOTT: One other example: I'm sure that there were members on Senator Daschle's side, as they were on my side, that questioned the ability to discharge a committee...

DASCHLE: That was...

LOTT: Yes, that was the key. I mean, I think a lot of people are making too much of this resolution.

The colloquy we've had, you know, doesn't break a whole lot of new ground. We make a commitment to work with each other, have more communication. We're going to have consultation on scheduling. We've talked about how I'm not going to be moving to fill up the amendment tree. We do recognize that there's some second-degree opportunities that can be misused. But we couldn't get an agreement on how to change that, but so we talked about how what we're going to try to do here.

I could through a long list of things. Again, I think you're getting in esoteric, inside-the-ballpark type things. But the crux of it is the number on the committee and how do you deal with a tie.

And the, of course, somebody said, "Well, wait a minute, what about subcommittees?" I went back to Tom and said, "You know, Tom, this is something that could be a problem." We worked it out.

So there's no question that some of our people in the Republican conference, as I said earlier, would like to have 65 votes, or don't like this. But I also -- I was a whip in the House and a whip in the Senate, and if I can do anything, I can count. And I can tell you for sure the overwhelming majority of our conference felt like this was reasonable at this time. It was a recognition that we'd done the best we could. We're talking about two pages, four paragraphs and a commitment to work together. I think that was a pretty good achievement, frankly.

QUESTION: You have an informal understanding in the parties, between yourselves over how you're going to sign conferees and what the numbers should be on conference?

LOTT: We have some language on that in our colloquy. Basically, what we agreed to do is that Democrats would like to have had some things -- commitments on conferences we could not agree to. We would like to had a guarantee that they could not agree to.

So what we agreed to do is to go with the current situation, the current rules.

The appointment of conferees has always been a point of discussion. The majority leader, you know, can present the number and the names of the members. Actually, I guess, theoretically, I could even name the Republicans, but I don't do that -- I mean the Democrats. Tom does that.

They still have their rights, as they've always had them, to offer alternatives or to filibuster. We're not creating -- now, here's the crux of it, the key. I believe Tom and I have a commitment to work together to find a way to deal with that that is fair and it will not kill the legislative process.

For instance, you can't have a situation -- and I don't think he would want that or would accept that -- where, let's just say for an example, 58 or 59 senators just voted for a bill of national importance, and we don't appoint conferees. You can't -- or we appoint conferees in such a way that you're guaranteed there's no result.

At the same time, the Democrats have a right to expect that it be done in such a way that they're not going to be stuffed in a conference. It's tough. That is an area that's still gray, and we may have real difficulty.

But, again, I think what we did was say, "Look, we're going to go with the existing rules."

Do you think that it would work to have the Democrats filibustering an education bill over the appointment of the conferees? Or that we would be so obstreperous that we wouldn't work to come to an agreement on the number or who they would be? It's just -- it is a matter that we will have to deal with. It's never been easy.

By the way, we've had threats of filibusters on appointing conferees before. But since I've been the majority leader, and I don't think since Tom has been the leader of his party, has it ever actually happened.

DASCHLE: That's right. Could I just add one -- there's one other point that I -- because this is such a critical issue, and I don't want my silence to be misinterpreted, and so I won't be silent. This issue is based on a premise. In fact, this whole agreement is based on a premise.

And the premise is that both parties are going to be invested in this legislative process and in this Congress; that we both will have ownership in this process; that we both will have a reason to want to move the legislative agenda forward. And it's that realization, that premise that really gives me the confidence that we are going to be able to work together and find agreement on conferees and find agreement on the legislative agenda and all of the other issues that this premise is based on.

QUESTION: Senator Lott, you mentioned the scenario of having a filibuster of a Democratic organizational package or a filibuster of Republican organizational package if you had not reached an agreement. Some of your colleagues argued that the status quo is not that bad; that given the current state of affairs, Republicans enjoy a majority on most of the committees and therefore status quo would not be that bad.

What is the rebuttal to that?

LOTT: Well, first of all at some point you have to have an organizational resolution. You have committees now that don't have a full complement. There's some committees probably even have -- may even have a Democratic majority just by absentee -- by change in membership.

At some point you have to pass the organizational resolution. And, unless we did that -- now, we could have had a debate here. We could have just strung it out for the next two weeks, and then we'd have had 51 votes, and then maybe we could have won. Nobody can win on this with 51 votes -- not us now and not them then.

But what if we were here in the middle of February arguing over the rules of the Senate? I don't want to diminish the importance of the rules affecting substance, but I don't think the American people -- I mean, you all are around. You understand Rule 25, maybe Rule 14 -- all of that stuff. I don't think so. I think the people would say, "What? I thought we were telling you guys to work together, and you there and can't even agree how to get organized."

There's some legitimacy to that argument. Let me assure you -- I heard it in the conference, you know. In fact some people would say, "Well wait a minute; we don't have to change a thing. We'll just keep the same chairman. We'll keep the same committee make-up. We'll keep the same rules."

How do you get a new member on the committee? How does George Allen know what his committee's going to be, or John Ensign or Debbie Stabenow or his people?

And by the way, one of the reasons why on the first day, when we were sworn in, that we got the chairmen named to the committees was because Tom trusted me to act in good faith.

There was a proposal by some people that we just approve Senator Baucus to be chairman of the Finance Committee and not approve Senator Grassley to be chairman after the 20th. There was a proposal that neither of them be approved. Tom and I talked and said, "That is bull; we're going to do them both now."

That is a committee that would not have even had a chairman. And I could have used that to double-dip him. I could have said, "Wait, we've got our chairman now. We're going to just go with that."

Yes, we could have strung it out. But I just don't think that's what the American people expect of us. And besides that, I've got to live with myself, and I just didn't think that would have been fair.

DASCHLE: Why don't we just take one more question?

QUESTION: With Republican chairmen, can ranking members bring up their own bills? Or can they just merely offer substituting amendments?

DASCHLE: Well, Senator Lott and I talked about how we ought to tell committees to run their business. And we both decided that would be the last thing that we ought to get in the business of doing.

So what we have decided to do is to leave it to the committees to decide.

I have absolute confidence that it'll take 10 minutes for Senator Stevens and Senator Byrd to answer that question for their committee. And I would say there's an overwhelming belief that on most committees, if not all of them, it isn't going to take that long for the ranking member and the chair to work out whatever arrangement they find to be the most productive.

But that's what we decided to do: Leave it to the committees, let them make up their own minds. And that's what we will do.

Thank you all very much.

QUESTION: When will senators know their committee slots?

LOTT: We'll be working on it beginning this afternoon.

CHEN: Senators Daschle and Lott sounding a conciliatory note as they talk about the vote on a power-sharing deal in the Senate -- see how long that conciliatory sound lasts.

What's happened here in the course of this afternoon is that there was a voice vote taken on the floor of the Senate. And so an agreement has been reached on how things will run now that the Senate will be 50-50 in terms of its makeup between Democrats and Republicans on the Senate floor. Again, though, bearing in mind that the Republicans will have the advantage once Vice President-elect Dick Cheney becomes the vice president in full name. At that point, he would be able to break any votes -- cast the tie-breaking vote, if there are any, in the Senate.

So they have been discussing this, as Senator Lott noted, since before Thanksgiving; really, since right after the November elections as the possibility came up that it would be an evenly split Senate. And among the things they have worked out is that the membership of the Senate committees will be split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats.

Many Republicans had been concerned about that, feeling that they should have the advantage, since they would have the advantage on the floor with Dick Cheney as the vice president there. The Republicans will retain the chairmanships of each committee.

One important note that has not been worked out is the membership of the conference committees; those are the committees that would work out legislation with the House -- and that has not been worked out, still up in the air on that.

So, the Senate leaders, the Republican and democratic leader, Mr. Daschle, Mr. Lott, speaking before reporters today, saying that things have been worked out and they will move ahead with their power-sharing agreement.

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