Transcript of Leadership Press Conference
Senate Radio/TV Gallery
January 7, 2003



DASCHLE: Good afternoon, everyone. I know that a lot of you have questions about my future, but I'm here today with the new members of my leadership--some of the new members--to talk about America's future. In the next few weeks and months, America is going to make some decisions that will shape the nature of our country for years and possibly decades to come. Critical debates and votes on those questions will take place here in the Senate, and for that reason I feel privileged and I feel a strong sense of personal responsibility to remain the senator from South Dakota and a leader of the Democratic caucus. On one of those first debates, we're going to be talking about how we will move the economy again. President Bush just gave a speech in which he outlined a plan that he says will do that. He says it will give the economy a shot in the arm. I think it will give the economy a shot in the foot. It is a misguided plan reflective of this administration's misplaced priorities. Democrats will put forward an economic plan that is more equitable, more responsible and, above all, more effective. And this will be one of the first priorities of the new Congress. Now, I'd like to introduce you to the new leaders who will help guide our caucus in the 108th Congress and outline in broad terms what our agenda will be in the next two years. Let me start with the new members of our leadership team. We have created a new Leadership Executive Committee. It's four members will attend our weekly legislative meetings and provide legislative and strategic advice to the Democratic Caucus. They are Senators Patty Murray, Chuck Schumer, Tom Carper and Ben Nelson. Each is a leader in our caucus, and I'm looking forward to having them as part of the leadership team, and congratulate them this afternoon. Senator Hillary Clinton will take over as the chair of our Steering and Coordination Committee; the committee that works to maintain relations with leaders and organizations off the Hill, keep us up to date on their work and keep them informed of ours. Bill Nelson, who served us so well as the vice chair of the DSCC in the last Congress, will now become one of our deputy whips. Those are our leaders. Now, let me take a moment to talk about our priorities. Through tragic and historic events, and despite some of them, the Senate, under Democratic control, produced a number of important legislative accomplishments: aviation security and counterterrorism legislation, the toughest corporate accountability law since the SEC was created in 1934, the most far-reaching campaign finance reform since Watergate, and the most significant overhaul of federal election policies--I should say education polices since 1965; a new farm bill to replace the failed Freedom to Farm Act. However, other important legislation fell victim to special-interest arm-twisting and Republican unwillingness to compromise on their proposals or even consider ours. The proposals we introduce today recognize that the American people have real concerns about their security, and that the Republicans and the Bush administration have done little to address those concerns of consequence. They also recognize that security means more than national security and homeland security. It means economic security--retirement security, and the security of knowing that our children are getting a good education, and that if you get sick health care is available and affordable. It means giving people who work full-time the security of knowing that they can earn a decent wage, whether they can work on a farm, in a factory or a fast-food restaurant. It's the security of knowing that our air is safe to breath, and our water safe to drink, that America is living up to its commitment of civil rights, and that we are keeping our promise to our veterans. Our priorities touch on each of these issues. Today we are introducing bills to enhance protections for our critical homeland security infrastructure, by hiring and helping to train additional law enforcement agents and first responders, and by improving rail port and nuclear security; provide for a real prescription drug benefit under Medicare, and address the high cost of prescription drugs for all Americans; to ensure that more children have access to preschool, and show up at school ready to learn to improve education every step of the way from kindergarten to college to lifelong learning; to protect private pensions, and to crackdown on rogue corporations; and to increase health care coverage and quality. I know I speak for all of my colleagues, especially our leadership team, in saying that we are anxious to get started, we are excited about our prospects and we look forward to working with our Republican colleagues to see that this job gets done. Now it is my pleasure to call on our colleague Senator Hillary Clinton.

CLINTON: Well, I thank our leader, Senator Daschle, not only for what he has done, which he just briefly outlined, in terms of the accomplishments that have been brought about for not only the Congress but our country under his leadership, and I look forward to serving with and under him now as we move forward. I'm very honored to have been asked to take on this responsibility. I look forward to working with the entire Democratic caucus and to be part of the new leadership. There is a lot to be done in order to put our country back on the right track. The national security, homeland security, economic security issues are necessarily the ones that we have to address. And there are significant differences between the two parties that will be debated and outlined in the days and weeks ahead. But I think the Democratic Party, particularly here in the Senate, will demonstrate clearly that we have a vision of our country that we believe is in the best interest of all of our citizens, and we will work to, not only persuade our friends on the other side of the aisle, and those on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, but all the people that the Democratic Party has an idea of the future that will benefit them. And I thank Leader Daschle for this opportunity to serve.

MURRAY: I, too, want to join my colleagues in congratulating Senator Daschle for the tremendous leadership he has brought, not only to our caucus, but to thousands and thousands of people across this country who are very concerned about our economy, and our health care and their own personal situations as we face an uncertain future. His leadership has been so important for all of us, and I am delighted to be a part of his leadership team going into the 108th Congress to bring a voice to those issues, and to bring a fight to the floor of the Senate to help make lives better across this country. In my home state of Washington, we still have one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, increasingly large numbers of people without any health care coverage at all. We have a very difficult situation, because we're the highest export state in the country, and we need to figure out how we're going to protect our ports in terms of homeland security. My state, like many, is facing a severe budget crisis, over $2.5 billion that they're trying to figure out how they're going to deal with that. So it is essential that we have strong leadership here in Washington, D.C. to address the issues of health care and education, the economy, and all of the tremendous issues that this caucus is going to move forward on in the coming session. So I'm delighted to be a part of this committee, and to be a part of this leadership, and to make sure that we have a strong voice and a strong face for many people across this country in the coming two years.

BILL NELSON: In times of war and a faltering economy the people should have the confidence that they have the leadership. With Tom and Harry, we have that leadership. It was a privilege for Patty and me to work on the campaigns this last time, and that was under very difficult circumstances, but--difficult circumstances of losing Paul Wellstone. And yet the Senate still remains razor thin in the division between the two caucuses. Now that they have asked me to assume this position of a deputy whip to bring a perspective of a moderate Democrat, a Southerner, I accept this with enormous gratitude, and especially the gratitude that we have the leadership in the persons of Tom Daschle and Harry Reid.

SCHUMER: Thank you. And I want to join everybody else in thanking both Tom Daschle and Harry Reid for this tremendous opportunity. And I look forward to working with my colleagues to shape our party's priority and message and strategy. And I just want to say to Tom particularly that, you know, we know you had to go through a real tough decision, and the nation would have loved you as a presidential candidate, but we love you staying here with us, and we thank you for that. We know we have a lot of work ahead of us. The cost of prescription drugs is too high, and we have a plan to lower them. Homeland security: We're spending a lot of money to fight a war overseas to make ourselves more secure, but somehow this administration doesn't want to spend a nickel to make our homeland more secure. That's something we intend to push as a caucus, because we think our responsibility as Americans and as legislators dictates it. The economy is weak and family budgets are stretched to the limit. We saw debate on the floor today. Our Republican colleagues would not let an amendment be debated for half an hour that would have added a million to the unemployment benefits. The president is in Chicago spending $650 billion, most of which goes to the highest-income people, and they say they can't afford a billion for unemployed.

 That's our job and our fight, to make sure that that happens. And we want to make sure there is tax relief to stimulate the economy, but we want to make sure that it just doesn't go to the wealthiest people. So the bottom line is, under Tom and Harry's leadership we have a whole lot of say. You're going to be hearing from us. We're invigorated. We're excited at the prospect of trying to make this country a better place. And I am honored by the prospect to be a small part of that.

BEN NELSON: Well, first of all, I'd like to thank our leader for showing some confidence in--showing really a lot of self-confidence in asking people with a lot of diverse ideas to serve on a committee. Very often leaders of lesser worth bring people on who share every view of theirs so that they don't have to work through diversity. Diversity of opinion, I think, is strengthening the party, will strengthen the caucus. It will help us, I think, better serve the American people, which is clearly our goal. I think bringing a couple of reforming governors to--recovering governors here... (LAUGHTER) ... to this group will benefit us, but I think it'll also benefit the Leadership Council because we'll have an opportunity to raise the issues of what's happening at the state level from a firsthand experience. Having some business experience I think perhaps will also contribute to the strengthening of the ideas and the reforms that will come from this group. So I really appreciate the opportunity to begin to take homeland security and make it home town security, to be able to address the issues that are right there on the streets in our communities, so that we can strengthen all of our security: Social Security, pension security, health security. This is going to be a 108th Congress focused on security. I hope we focus on every aspect of security. Thank you.

CARPER: Let me just begin by saying what a privilege it is to serve in a caucus led by Tom Daschle and by Harry Reid. I had the pleasure of serving with them years ago in the House of Representatives, and I loved them then, and I love them now. I spoke last month with Tom Daschle as he was considering what path to take in his own future, and I said, ``Well, I suppose if I were in your shoes I'd probably think of running for president. This is as good a time as a guy'll ever have.'' For selfish reasons I said, ``I hope you stay right where you are.'' And I'm just delighted that you've done that and look forward to working with you. There's been a fair amount of speculation since the election as to which direction we're going to go as a party: Will we veer to the left, will we go to the right, will we attempt to find a place in the center? And I think, with the creation of this executive committee--and I thank the leader for the privilege of serving with Chuck and with Ben and Patty, three of my favorite people-- and I think the answer is we're fully intending to do what Bill Clinton tried to do with our party. That is to make sure that we stay in the mainstream of political thought and actions within this country. Ben and I, as old governors, we're really focused on what works. And what the message I'll be taking to our caucus is, we should be less concerned about liberal or conservative ideas. We should be focused on what works to raise student achievement, what works to reduce our reliance on foreign oil, what works to reduce global warming, what works to help ensure that people that are trying to get off of welfare get off of welfare and stay off of welfare. And that will be my approach and what I hope to bring to the table, and I'm just grateful to our leader for giving me a seat at that table. Thank you.

REID: Tom, I have one thing to say: It doesn't seem like 7:25 to me. (LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Senator Daschle, did you renege on a deal on unemployment benefits with Senator Frist? He was saying he had a deal with the Democrats and it all seemed to fall apart. Can you tell us whether it's going to get done today or not?

DASCHLE: It just got done, yes, while you were sitting up here we passed it. I'm surprised he would say that. There was no deal. In fact I just learned, I believe this morning, that it was the intention of the Republicans to--well, I'll take that back, Senator Nickles did call me last night to say that he was going to offer a resolution that would extend the benefits for those who are currently covered. But immediately I told him that there were many in our caucus, and I was one of them, who felt strongly about the need to cover the other million people who are left out. And as you know, all we attempted to do today was to find the mechanism whereby we could do both. Their argument was, ``Well, the House won't accept this additional group of benefits.'' Well, I find it incredibly ironic, as Senator Schumer noted, that at the same time the president is advocating now a $600 billion tax cut, largely dedicated to those at the very top, they can't even pass benefits for people at the very bottom with no jobs. I mean, that is outrageous. That is wrong. And I think that that, more than anything else, will be the topic of conversation until we get this job done right.

QUESTION: Senator Daschle, why have you decided not to run for president?

DASCHLE: I'm not going to run for president because my passion is right here. And I must say I feel as good about this decision as any I've ever made. This is my passion. I'm very honored and gratified to have the opportunity to be Democratic leader. And the fights, the important debates, the cause, the agenda, the things we believe in are going to be fought out every single day with the people behind me, and I'm proud to be one of them.

QUESTION: What changed you mind?

DASCHLE: I never changed my mind, I simply said all along that I was going to make up my mind prior to the session of Congress and prior to the end of January, I believe I said. And I've done that.

QUESTION: You did say as recently, I'm told, as yesterday, last night you were strongly leaning toward a run, so (inaudible) you were actually interviewing campaign staff last night. What caused the change since last night, and are you now saying you are going to run for re-election?

DASCHLE: Yes, I am going to run for re-election. (APPLAUSE) And I believe that what we had to do was to make a decision, and up until that decision we had to be prepared to take whatever course based upon that decision would follow. Obviously, if I had made the decision to run for president we wanted to be up and running and ready to go. But clearly, making the decision, as we are today, to stay as leader--and I'm honored that my colleagues are willing to have me as their leader--that, too, required action, which is what you see today.

QUESTION: When did you make the decision?

DASCHLE: I made the decision over the last 24 hours, the final decision. I've been coming to a point where I could make a decision now for several weeks, but my family and I made the decision in the last 24 hours.

QUESTION: What's your key concern with the Bush stimulus plan?

DASCHLE: My key concern is really two-fold. First, there is no stimulus in the Bush stimulus plan. And secondly, it is grossly unfair.

 Under the dividend tax reduction that you have seen the president's proposed, those making $1 million will get a $24,000 tax deduction. They will pay $24,000 less. If you're in the $40,000 to $50,000 income bracket, you're going to get $76. That is a disparity that I can't imagine anyone could support, I can't imagine anyone could be proud of. And yet that's the disparity. And it would be one thing, I suppose, if you could argue, ``Well, that's good stimulus.'' As virtually every economist has noted there is no stimulus in that approach. So there are two concerns, and I hope that, as we go through this debate, those concerns will be recognized.

QUESTION: Senator Daschle, part of the president's package was to speed up the scheduled phase-in of some of the tax cuts that were included in the big 2001 tax bill. Will it be the position of the majority of Democrats to simply oppose that speed-up, or will you go farther and actually call for these scheduled tax cuts to be frozen and not take effect?

DASCHLE: Well, we will decide as we go through this debate just what specific actions. We're going to be discussing this matter in the caucus, we'll be talking with our House colleagues, and we'll be coming to some conclusions. But clearly what the president laid out today is wrong. It's the wrong time, it's the wrong place, it's certainly affecting the wrong people.

QUESTION: Senator Daschle, you'll be a super delegate; you get a vote at the convention in Boston. I was wondering if you would state your preference now. And there are a lot of people who say that senators are not qualified to be president, you know, there's a, kind of, a trend for governors. You've got some colleagues, Kerry, Edwards, Lieberman, Graham--who am I leaving out?--Dodd; do you have a preference and would you like to state it now?

DASCHLE: We've got some fantastic candidates. We will be excited about our nominee, and until that time, may the best person win.

QUESTION: Does a senator disqualify himself? Is a governor more qualified to be president?

DASCHLE: Hardly. We've got some good candidates, as you know. And they will present their case and make their campaigns, and we'll make that judgment down the road.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) concerns do you have about going against President Bush again in your state, only this time it's your name on the ballot?

DASCHLE: Well, he ought to be the one that has concerns. We won the debate--won the election in the last cycle, and we're going to win the next one.

QUESTION: Senator, is there anything specific about the nature of this (OFF-MIKE) that makes you think that this is the better place for you to (OFF-MIKE)

DASCHLE: Right now this is where my heart is, where my passions lie. As I think about where I want to be, what fights I want to fight, I want to fight the fights on the Senate floor. I want to fight for the people of my state. I want to continue to do what I have been doing. That is where my passion is, that's where I feel the most strongly and that's why I made the decision I did.

QUESTION: I have a non-presidential question. This executive committee you set up, how is this going to function any differently from the way it used to function in the last session?

DASCHLE: Well, I don't know that it's a question of how differently it'll function. What we want it to do is to function pretty much the same, but include the people that you have behind us. Each one of these extraordinary senators bring talent and experience and a perspective to leadership that I think is extraordinarily important. As we make the decisions on strategy, as we make the decisions on the legislative priorities that we will have as a caucus, I will turn to the people behind me. And I am extraordinarily grateful to them for their willingness to serve.


DASCHLE: Absolutely. We will have an energy bill, as well.

QUESTION: Will it look like what was agreed to last year (OFF-MIKE)

DASCHLE: Well, I can't be specific because I think it will include a lot more conversation and deliberation by members of the caucus, including the leadership. But we will certainly put great emphasis on moving energy legislation again this year.

QUESTION: Senator Daschle, on the subject of the Senate being your passion, I have a couple of questions about your decision. Number one, did you not look forward to going on the--going through what a presidential campaign entails? And number two, did you think it would be too hard to win?

DASCHLE: Not at all. In fact, if anything, I relish the idea of a campaign. But I have one at home, and I'm looking forward to that. It really is a question. There may come a time in my future when a national campaign, a campaign for the presidency, is one that I will, again, entertain. I am certainly not discounting that at some point in the future. But right now this is where my heart is, this is what moves me and excites me and this is what brings me to the conclusion that I belong here and I want to stay here for now.

QUESTION: Might there come a time in this campaign cycle?

DASCHLE: No, not in this campaign cycle, but at some point in the future.

QUESTION: Senator Daschle, does it feel a little bit strange to be a prominent Democratic senator who's announcing that he's not running for president? (LAUGHTER) The way this story has a kind of a man bites dog... (LAUGHTER)

DASCHLE: Well, all I can say is it feels very good.

QUESTION: And on a more serious note, what affects will all the announced or probably to be announced candidacies of your peers in the Democratic caucus have on the ongoing debate in the Senate? So many are jumping in or probably going to jump in, what affect will that have on the ongoing legislative debate?

DASCHLE: I actually think it helps us. As you cover them, as you report their speeches and their positions, I think it enhances and provides even greater opportunity for the Democratic message to be heard. And so, I see no downside to having those messengers and those articulators of the Democratic agenda. You will hear them. They will be covered. And I think that's good for us, as well as for them. QUESTION: Senator Daschle, what progress, if any, have you made on committee funding ratio issue?

DASCHLE: Senator Frist and I had a good conversation a couple of days ago, and we haven't come to any final conclusion. But I think it's fair to say, we're making progress. We still have budgetary decisions we have to make. I think it is clear that the ratio will be a one-vote majority for the Republicans in committee. But I will object to any significant departure from the budget accommodations that we have made in the past Congress for committee staff. I think it should be comparable to what it was before, and I'm confident that it will be.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) saying though that you want a, sort of, Senate-wide or one-size-fits-all committee funding formula for every committee, or are you happy to have it worked out between committee chairmen and ranking members?

DASCHLE: Well, I think it's important for us to set some parameters, as we did before. But clearly, we want to give the committees ample opportunity to have flexibility to accommodate whatever special needs they may have. I'm confident we can do it in this Congress, as we did in the last one.

QUESTION: Senator, you've been frustrated during the fall, the difficulty you had getting the message out. But a lot of you saw this morning and a little bit more this afternoon, a little bit more (inaudible) about the prospects for doing that now. What's changed?

DASCHLE: I'll just say I think we're really energized. You can feel it. It's in our caucus. You can feel it with the comments made by our colleagues. We are energized by policy. We are energized in a belief in what it is we stand for. We're energized in many of the developments that have occurred with the election of Senator Landrieu. And so, as we start this new year, we're energized in the belief that we have very, very critical battles to fight and important positions to take on the Senate floor. And I think that, probably more than anything else, unites us, energizes us and gives us the optimism that you witness this afternoon.

QUESTION: Senator, after the Lott episode, the Republican Party is reporting to be more amenable and open to civil rights measures. Do you have some suggestions for their agenda to prove their sincerity?

DASCHLE: Well, I would have two right off the top. I think it's important we pass hate crimes quickly. And I will give them the opportunity to vote on hate crimes in the not-too-distant future.

 We also think that it's going to be all the more important that we look carefully at the judicial nominations. And we will fight those that we think are out of the mainstream and certainly not in keeping with the commitments that they are making.

QUESTION: Have you forgotten one?

 (UNKNOWN): D.C. statehood.

DASCHLE: Oh, D.C. statehood, of course.

QUESTION: (inaudible) representation, representation.

DASCHLE: Thank you for the prompt. D.C. representation was at the tip of my lips, and I just... (LAUGHTER)


DASCHLE: Well, I would hope that one is not coming. I would hope that...


DASCHLE: Well, I think that as long as we work in a multilateral fashion, pressing Iraq to comply, pressing Iraq to cooperate in all the manner and respect to provided for in the U.N. resolution, that we ought to be very careful about committing American troops. I would hope that we could send that message as clearly as possible and as strongly as possible to the president and to others. Thank you all very much.