White House pressing ahead with agenda despite losing Senate
WASHINGTON (AP) – Losing control of the Senate to Democrats will not deter President Bush from pressing ahead with his agenda, his chief of staff said Sunday. While pledging to work with the White House, the incoming Senate majority leader said some items on the president’s wish list are dead.
”We’ll be able to get the president’s agenda put forward because it’s an agenda for America,” Bush aide Andrew Card said. ”This president wants to work toward future changes for America that are important to him. He campaigned on them, and he’s going to deliver them.”
Card said the president bears no responsibility for Sen. James Jeffords’ defection last week from the Republican Party to become an independent, putting what had been a 50-50 split Senate into Democratic control. Jeffords said he could not reconcile his moderate positions with the conservative agenda set by Bush and other GOP leaders.
”I think I’ve got to do a better job of communicating with people on Capitol Hill, but the president has done nothing wrong,” Card said on CBS’ ”Face the Nation.” He added that Bush has no plans to retaliate against Jeffords. ”He is not about political retribution or paybacks.”
Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., who will soon lead the Senate, said that the president, until now, had ”shut us out” of major decisions.
Daschle recounted a telephone conversation he had with Bush after Jeffords’ announcement last week: ”I said, ‘Look, if there’s ever been a time for us to begin working together, this is it. Now we’ve got to find a way with which to talk more effectively.”’
Daschle did pronounce ”dead” some of Bush’s initiatives, including the idea of drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He also told NBC’s ”Meet the Press,” he could not envision constructing more nuclear power plants, as Bush’s energy task force recommended, before figuring out how to dispose of nuclear waste.
Responded Card: ”It sounds to me like he doesn’t have an agenda other than an agenda of ‘no.’ … This should not be about just saying no to any agenda that the president puts forward.”
Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., the outgoing Senate majority leader, said on ABC’s ”This Week” that he believes some Senate Democrats may try to ”ram their agenda” through Congress and stymie Bush’s agenda with unwarranted investigations.
Other Republicans said Jeffords’ switch was a wake-up call. Some in the GOP ”have become a bit arrogant,” said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.
”You become arrogant, you get sloppy, you disconnect. Politics is about people; elections are about governance, and you can’t disconnect the two,” he told CBS. ”This is not catastrophic for us, but we should learn here.”
He said the president, who likes to delegate and is less involved in policy details than his predecessor, must take a more active role in legislative affairs. ”That means he’s going to have to understand issues better, more deeply, get himself immersed in this,” Hagel said.
”This is going to require leadership from him. It’s not just a matter of sending your chief of staff out for you, the chief of staff blaming himself for it.”
Lott’s deputy, GOP Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma, said Republicans must do a better job making sure that moderate Republicans, especially from the Northeast, feel comfortable in the party.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, on CNN’s ”Late Edition,” said, ”Maybe we haven’t brought everyone in to make them feel a part of our team and our effort. We’re going to do better.”
Although there has been some speculation that Hagel might challenge Lott in a GOP leadership fight, Hagel said he and his colleagues would stand by Lott.
Lott defended his leadership, saying Senate Republicans have already taken a personal inventory and have ”come out unified.” They also came out with a plan to expand or rotate leadership ”to make sure that we’re hearing every thought,” Lott said.
”Senator Lott’s in good shape,” Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on ”Fox News Sunday.” ”I don’t think there was any lack of effort on the part of the leadership to keep him (Jeffords) in the fold.”
Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said he would step aside as incoming chairman so Jeffords could take over. He denied that was part of a deal to persuade Jeffords to defect from the GOP.
Jeffords’ spokesman, Erik Smulson, said Sunday that Jeffords did not begin discussing committee assignments with Daschle and Reid, the Senate’s second-ranking Democrat, until Jeffords had already decided to switch parties.
”This is not about chairmanships,” Smulson said in an interview. ”His decision was based on his beliefs and his principles.”
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said he plans to introduce a rule change to prevent a single senator from changing the organization of the Senate from one party to another.
”With all respect to Arlen, I think the rule change is unconstitutional,” Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., told Fox. ”It’s a limitation on the political freedom of the members of the Senate and one man who, as a matter of conscience, changes opinion.”
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