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Transcript: Interview with Sen. Tom Daschle

TONY SNOW, HOST:  Joining me now to discuss the war on terror, the anthrax scare and the stumbling economy, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle.  

Senator Daschle, on another broadcast it's being reported -- actually, U.S News and World Report is reporting that scientists now have cloned a human embryo for the purposes of stem cell research.  Do you support or oppose such research? 

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER:  Well, Tony, I support the cloning for research purposes, but we vehemently oppose any cloning for purposes of human replication.  I don't think there's any need to do that.  I think there is strong bipartisan overwhelming opposition in the Senate and the House to do that.  

SNOW:  What's your reaction to this story? 

DASCHLE:  Well, I guess I'd want to see more of the story to be able to react in a more informed way.  But it's disconcerting, frankly.  I think it's going in the wrong direction.  

What we've got to do is understand the importance of research for all of the purposes and medical needs that we have.  But to take it to the direction that this story suggests is one that I think we're going to want to look at very closely in the Congress.  

SNOW:  I have a feeling a lot of people will be talking about it in the weeks ahead.  

Let's turn to the war on terror.  There are reports now that the Northern Alliance may be taking Al Qaeda fighters and transferring them to the jurisdiction of the United Nations.  Is that what we want to have happen? 

DASCHLE:  Well, I think we want to take a closer look and see just exactly what that means.  What does it entail?  What would the United Nations do?  Under what circumstances would they have jurisdiction?  Would it be complete, partial?  What role would the United States have? 

These are all questions that I think we're going to have to look at very carefully before we come to any conclusion.  

SNOW:  After all, didn't they commit crimes against us? 

DASCHLE:  Well, that's the impression I think most people would have.  The question is whether or not, in addition to that, they've done other things that warrant the involvement of other countries. And clearly that's something we're going to have to look at much more closely.  

SNOW:  Do we want them in jail at a minimum? 

DASCHLE:  Well, I think certainly we're going to have to hold them.  We're going to have to make some decision about what we do in the longer term.  There has to be some accounting for their actions, some justice provided here.  

But I think, again, we need to know a lot more about the proposal and about just what the circumstances are before we come to any hard and fast, universally applicable solution.  

SNOW:  There's another solution that's being suggested in press reports today, which is that maybe we just take them and we put them on some sort of facility in Guam, not an easy place to escape.  Does that seem reasonable? 

SNOW:  Well, I think that's an innovative suggestion.  I'm not sure anybody's thought through it enough to know for sure.  I'd be concerned if I were some of the people living on Guam whether or not it's a great idea.  But clearly that is something we're going to have to look at.  

We have to come to a lot of decisions with regard to the judicial process, how we handle incarceration, how do we deal with other countries who are holding prospective terrorist cells, and how do we address that from an international point of view?  All of these questions are going to have to be addressed a lot more comprehensively.  

SNOW:  One of those was raised this week when Spain, which has been very helpful to us in the war on terror -- it has intercepted a cell of Al Qaeda terrorists, and it says it will not extradite them unless it gets absolute assurances that these people will not be subjected to the death penalty in America.  That's in part because of agreements signed by all the members of the European Union.  

Are we ready to say that we will not use the death penalty against Usama bin Laden and the people who work with him? 

DASCHLE:  Tony, I don't think we're ready to say that, certainly not the American people.  I doubt Congress would be willing to say that.  

We have a similar situation with Mexico as we work with them on drug issues.  

So clearly this is a matter of great import to other countries. We've got to find a way to resolve this impasse.  

Clearly, we can't ensure that justice will be served unless we are able to come to some agreement with countries that are withholding people that we're going to have to bring to justice one way or another.

SNOW:  The question often asked, Usama bin Laden, alive or dead? You got a preference? 

DASCHLE:  I don't.  I just think we've got to find him, we've got to break up the Al Qaeda network, we've got to do all that we can to bring him to justice.  I just think it has to be done soon.  

SNOW:  The president says this is going to be protracted, the war on terror, and it's going to go to a lot of other places than Afghanistan.  Do you agree? 

DASCHLE:  Well, I think the president is wise to warn us of all the ramifications down the road.  I understand there's a big story in Newsweek this week where he lays out exactly his concern, and I think it's appropriate that he and other leaders do that.  

This is not going to be easy.  It is going to be protracted.  We know that there are going to be a lot of twists and turns that we can't foresee.  So the more that the American people can be warned of the circumstances, the better, I think.  

SNOW:  A lot of people now think of the next step.  It's pretty clear that the Taliban has been broken as any kind of entity.  We're now focusing in on Al Qaeda.  It looks as if Kunduz has now fallen. So now you've got Al Qaeda in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.  

Your colleague, Senate Joseph Lieberman, said next stop, Iraq. Do you agree? 

DASCHLE:  I think it's premature to come to that conclusion.  

What I do think we have to appreciate is that this goes beyond the borders of Afghanistan, this war on terrorism.  

What I do think we have to be balanced about, however, is the reaction of all of our Arab allies, and keeping that coalition together has to be a priority as we consider our next moves.  

So that balance is one that we have to strike very carefully, and I'm not sure we're prepared yet to make that decision about Iraq.  

SNOW:  Do you think military success has made our Arab allies more or less supportive of us?  

DASCHLE:  I think, overall, probably more supportive.  I think that generally they -- they have seen the reaction of the Afghan people.  They've seen the reaction of other people in the region.  I think they're encouraged by the stability that apparently is being created in Afghanistan.  They think that that could be extended elsewhere.  

But overall, this has been an extraordinary success.  And I think any time you have successes of this kind, you're going to get allies that are more supportive.  

SNOW:  A number of people have told me, including some Arab diplomats, that one of the reasons why moderate Arab states have been a little less willing to embrace this operation fully, at least up until now, is because we didn't go ahead and deal with Saddam Hussein a decade ago.  

Do we have to finish the job this time? 

DASCHLE:  Well, Tony, again, that's not something that I think we can negotiate or that we can pass a bill or a law to do.  I think this is something they're going to have to be weighed very carefully.  

That's going to be hard to do.  There are many complications. This is not something that involves just the United States.  It would have to involve other countries, especially countries in the region.  

So I think we have to be very circumspect.  I think we have to be concerned about all the repercussions.  And before we make any public declaration, I think it has to be done with great care.  

SNOW:  Israel took out a leader of Hamas, Mahmoud Abu Hannoud, in a pretty ferocious fashion this week.  Helicopters came in, swooped in and shot at with rockets a car in which he was traveling.  

Do we support that move? 

DASCHLE:  Well, I don't know that any of us have all the circumstances.  

Clearly, we support the effort to eliminate terrorism wherever it may exist.  Hamas has been known for its terrorism in Israel and in the region.  The elimination of those threats to society is something that we all support.  

I'm not -- I don't think the United States would have a position per se on the method or the actual individual involved.  But clearly, eliminating the possibility of greater terror in the region, especially in Israel, is something the United States would support.  

SNOW:  Your office received an anthrax-laced letter.  This week a 94-year-old woman in Connecticut died mysteriously of anthrax, of pulmonary anthrax.  

First, to the American people, do you think the mails are safe? 

DASCHLE:  I don't think the mails are entirely safe.  Clearly, we have to be cautious.  I would be very skeptical about opening envelopes that aren't recognizable, that look suspicious.  And we can't possibly protect every single one of our citizens from the possibility of another attack.  

Having said that, I think generally with some precaution the mail is safe.  

SNOW:  Do you think the FBI's done a good job of investigating? 

DASCHLE:  Based on what I know, I'd have to say they have.  This is a very difficult set of circumstances.  This is not easily resolved.  I think, given what little evidence they have, given what massive ramifications this has, clearly, they've done as good a job as I think their circumstances allow.  

SNOW:  Earlier in the broadcast, Lawrence Lindsey was on.  We asked him if he thought we were in a recession.  He dodged the question, so I'll throw it to you.  Are we in a recession? 

DASCHLE:  Well, technically we're not yet.  I mean, we've seen a slowdown in the economy.  It is possible that we could see a recession at some point in the future but we don't have one right now.  

SNOW:  He also argued that you've got to cut tax rates, that you don't do government spending.  And he accused Democratic leaders, of which you are one, of trying to spend too much.  

First, is it important to cut tax rates? 

DASCHLE:  Well, Tony, I think it is important to cut taxes, but I do believe that it has to be done in balance.  Providing retroactive help to corporations in the billion-dollar range going all the way back to 1988 doesn't make a lot of sense to many of us when it comes to economic stimulus.  

SNOW:  Now, what you're talking about there -- what you're talking about there is the corporate minimum, alternative minimum tax.

DASCHLE:  That's right.

SNOW:  That was a tax that was imposed in that year.  

DASCHLE:  Telling corporations they don't have to pay any tax at all, going all the way back to 1988, when we've got people who are unemployed -- we have 7.5 million people unemployed.  Our Republican colleagues so far have been opposed to providing them with a comprehensive unemployment assistance in both health as well as unemployment that is so critical.  

They are also opposed, even though now you've even got the director of homeland security saying we need additional commitment in investment to homeland security, they're opposed to providing that kind of assistance as well.  

The economists tell us a couple of things:  It should be temporary, it should be immediate, and it should be cost-contained. We're providing that.  The Republicans so far have been in opposition to our proposal.  

SNOW:  Now, you seem to be saying corporations, they're trying to get away with not paying taxes.  Don't they employ people? 

DASCHLE:  Well, they do employ people, but they're letting people off in numbers that we've got to be concerned about.  

SNOW:  So when they're letting people off, should we be lightening their tax burden so they can hire more people? 

DASCHLE:  Well, I think the question is, how do you spur the economy?  And what economists tell us, Tony, is that the way you spur the economy the most in the fastest amount of time is to spur consumption, to demand more.  

We have an excess capacity within our economy today, 30 percent. A General Motors executive the other day was saying, even all these tax breaks won't cause us to invest more.  

What will cause them to invest more is if somebody's buying more cars.  So that's exactly what we want to do:  spur consumption, try to create additional demand.  And that is probably as fundamental a difference between our parties right now as we try to resolve this economic stimulus question.  

SNOW:  Cars are pretty expensive.  You must be talking about a pretty big jolt for the average taxpayer.

DASCHLE:  Well...

SNOW:  How much stimulus are we talking about?  

DASCHLE:  Well, we're talking about the $65 to $75 billion range. But we're also talking about helping people buy things a lot less expensive -- shirts and suits and pay their bills, try to improve their house.  Christmas time is coming, buy some Christmas presents for the family.  The kinds of things that really would spur the economy.  

In addition -- let me emphasize -- in addition to making the investment in homeland security, so people feel more confident, more able to go out and do the kinds of things that would allow us to get back to normal.

SNOW:  Is the Senate going to vote on the bill before Christmas?  

DASCHLE:  We have to.  It's our strong desire to do that.  The Republicans, so far, have filibustered.  We had a cloture vote.  It was defeated.  We're going to offer another cloture vote.  We're going to try to get this thing done, this job done.  

SNOW:  There was also talk of insurance reform again.  Mr. Lindsey said, you know, a lot of people are afraid that -- everybody from homeowners to businesses are afraid that their insurance is going to go away.  

And he pointed a finger at tort lawyers.  He said the biggest problem right now is that there's a lot of pressure, and he said, again, he pointed a finger at Democratic leaders, saying that you guys are trying to help out tort lawyers.  Is he right or wrong?  

DASCHLE:  He's wrong.  There's no desire to help out anybody. What I simply want to do is to finish this bill prior to the end of the month.  

There is no question, if you get into tort reform, you're going to have a filibuster.  What I have said to all sides who really are interested in resolving this matter is, let's get a bill to the floor that isn't going to generate a filibuster.  It's probably the only way we're going to get it done before the first of January, and my strong desire is to get it done.

SNOW:  So you don't think there ought to be a limit on how much people can sue?

DASCHLE:  Well, I think that there ought to be a way to look at all of these questions.  

But if we're going to be -- and I, frankly, don't think we ought to violate fundamental constitutional rights.  That's first and foremost.  

But let me also say, Tony, that I think it would be a tragedy if we left this session of Congress without helping the unemployed at all.  If we -- you know, we've helped the industries that have come to the Congress, looking for help.  The insurance industry is the latest in their legitimate request for help.  Well, we've got to help those unemployed people, people with no health insurance, people with no incomes at all, especially as they go into the Christmas season.  

SNOW:  You talked about fundamental constitutional rights.  A lot of people complain that the attorney general, by establishing new rules, or actually asking to have voluntary question sessions with non-American citizens of Arab descent, and also by saying that the administration may want to listen to attorney-client conversations of people in prison and, in addition, the president laying forth the possibility of military tribunals for terrorists, that those three acts constitute an assault on the Constitution.  Do they?  

DASCHLE:  Well, I don't know that anybody's going to give you a definitive answer.  I will say that I think there is overwhelming support to give the attorney general all the help, all the power he needs to get the job done.  

We are all very concerned about the spread of terrorism.  But we have to ask ourselves what the balance is, how do you do that and ensure that we don't trample on the constitutional rights that we have fought to protect for over 200 years.  That is the balance that all of us are striving to achieve.  

And frankly, I think we've got to be very concerned about some of the suggestions made.  We haven't seen the rules yet.  We don't know exactly how they're going to do this.  So until we see exactly how they will promulgate this new concept, I think it's pretty hard for us to come to any conclusions.  

SNOW:  All right.  Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, thanks for joining us.  

DASCHLE:  My pleasure, Tony.