THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ROGER COSSACK, "BURDEN OF PROOF": Let's go up to Capitol Hill and join Senator Tom Daschle.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: Good afternoon, everyone.
As you know, Senator Jeffords has now decided to make "independent" not just his hallmark, but his official party designation as well.
For 26 years in Congress, Senator Jeffords has been an independent voice for the people of Vermont and a champion for the environment, for education and children, especially children of special needs.
His passion for these issues and his courage in seeking bipartisan consensus on them has earned him great respect on both sides of the aisle. We know that he will continue that work, and it is clear that he will continue to enjoy that abiding respect.
Senator Jeffords' decision obviously produces some changes. The historic 50-50 Senate now becomes history itself. This will be America's first 50-49-1 Senate.
What does not change with this new balance of power is the need for principled compromise. This is still one of the most closely divided Senates in all of our history. We still face the same challenges. Bipartisan, or I guess I should now say tripartisanship, is still a requirement.
With his eloquent words this morning, Senator Jeffords spoke for many members of this Senate. This Senate will be called upon to resolve fundamental questions about education, about energy, the environment, about choice, possibly about the future of the Supreme Court, and many other issues.
The American people have different and passionate opinions on all of these questions. They deserve a Senate in which their opinions can be honestly expressed and openly debated through their elected representatives.
We haven't had enough of that sort of debate lately. We hope and trust that Senator Jeffords' courageous decision will advance that spirit. If it does, both parties will benefit from Senator Jeffords' move. More importantly, the American people will benefit.
We had a trial run as the majority party back in January. During those 17 days, we held hearings and expedited the confirmation of President Bush's Cabinet choices.
Some of the president's nominations, like many of the issues that we deal with in the Senate, were controversial, but we conducted the hearings efficiently, and I believe fairly. As long as we are in the majority, we intend to govern in that same spirit.
One of the first things that I did after I was elected Democratic leader more than six years ago was to go home to South Dakota and call on an old friend, a farmer who was deeply involved in serving his community. His name was Dick Reiners (ph). I asked Dick on a cold December day what advice he had for me in my new job.
He told me two things. First, he said, "Never forget where you came from, remember the land that made you who you are." And secondly, and now pointing to his grandchildren on the kitchen wall, he said, "Give them hope. Give them hope."
Dick Reiners (ph) passed away that very evening. That was the last advice he ever gave me. It was the best advice I could ever have.
For more than six years, I have attempted to follow Dick's advice, and I will continue to do so as the Senate majority leader.
I believe in the most heartfelt way that I can express today that we can make this closely divided Senate work for the American people. My colleagues in leadership, Senator Reid and Senator Mikulski, and all of my caucus who have now just met, are determined to work with the president, with Senator Lott, and with every member of this body -- Democrat, Republican and independent -- to see that it does.
DASCHLE: I'll take a few questions.
QUESTION: Senator, when you become the majority leader, life won't exactly be a bowl of cherries. It will be a lot sweeter, no doubt. But the Republicans can still make your life difficult, as you on occasion have made their lives difficult. Do you expect them to use some of the same tactics that you've used to try to get their way, as you did to get your way?
DASCHLE: I think it's too early to talk about my expectations. I will simply say that the tone that I've attempted to create, I believe will hopefully help set an environment within which we can get things done.
We know that we have a divided government -- Republicans in the White House and now Democrats leading the Senate, Republicans in the House. The only way we can accomplish our agenda, the only way that the administration will be able to accomplish their agenda, is if we truly work together in now, I guess, what we would call a tripartisan manner. And that's my intention.
QUESTION: Senator, would you expect President Bush now to soften his thorough-going conservative agenda?
DASCHLE: Well, I will leave his decisions to the president. Obviously, I stand ready to work with him. I intend to make a call to the president this afternoon in the hope that I can reach out and express my hope that we can work closely together on issues for which there is agreement, resolve those differences in those areas for which there is not.
QUESTION: As Senate majority leader, which changes do you expect, if any, when you revisit the education bill?
DASCHLE: I think it's too early to talk about specific legislative approaches at this point. It will be my expectation when we come back, assuming that we will be in the majority, beginning the work period upon the conclusion of the Memorial Day recess, to complete the education bill.
DASCHLE: Obviously, we will be unable to complete it this week. But my sincere hope is that we will complete it as soon as we get back.
QUESTION: Do you think that President Bush is now going to have to compromise with you more than he has done in the past?
DASCHLE: Well, I think it's important that we all recognize the value of compromise, the urgency of compromise, and the real practicality of compromise. We can't dictate to them, nor can they dictate to us. This must be bipartisan or tripartisan spirit, or it can't be achieved.
QUESTION: Are there any items that you would like to see on the agenda now that you have this control (OFF-MIKE)?
DASCHLE: Well, we will certainly talk a lot more about our agenda as soon as we come back. Again, as I said, my expectation is that the first important issue to be taken up will be education. We'll complete that bill.
The second bill will be the Patients' Bill of Rights.
QUESTION: You've already criticized the budget resolution as a, quote, "nuclear bomb," and on virtually every issue on the Bush agenda, you've ticked off a variety of criticisms while you were in the minority. As the majority now, don't you have an obligation to try to moderate that Bush agenda?
DASCHLE: Well, we have always had an obligation to do what we think is right. That's what we've done in the past, and we're going to continue to do so. Now, I think we have more tools at our disposal to ensure that that happens.
QUESTION: Senator Daschle, will Senator Jeffords be offered a committee chairmanship? And, if so, which?
DASCHLE: We're not in a position to talk about committee chairmanships. Obviously, as most of you know, the power-sharing organizational resolution will be null and void with this decision. Senator Lott and I will have to negotiate a new organizational resolution. And it would be my hope and expectation that we will do that in the coming days.
QUESTION: How important is it to take care of your membership?
QUESTION: ... campaign finance reform, is that a top priority for you?
DASCHLE: Campaign finance reform has always been a top priority, and it would be my hope and, again, my expectation that we could finish campaign finance reform this year.
Senator Lott had already indicated that he will send the campaign finance reform bill to the House. Obviously, if it hasn't been done when I become majority leader, that will be one of the first things I do.
DASCHLE: We were just given a report by some of the members of the Finance Committee. They are beginning negotiations again this afternoon, as I understand it, at 2 o'clock.
I have expressed the hope that we can continue these negotiations fruitfully. I have no desire to bring some artificial or expeditious close to these discussions. We should stay here as long as it takes to get a good bill.
I don't know how long that will take. I have no desire to leave, necessarily, until we finish our work.
Thank you all very much.
COSSACK: That was Senator Tom Daschle speaking from Capitol Hill.
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