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Transcript: Tom Daschle on 'FOX News Sunday'

The following is a transcribed excerpt from FOX News Sunday, Nov. 16, 2003.

TONY SNOW, FOX NEWS: The U.S. Senate has become a tense place, with Democrats and Republicans locked in ferocious combat over virtually every key issue of the day, including the war, the economy and federal judges.

Joining me now to talk about these matters and about his new book, "Like No Other Time," the Senate minority leader, Tom Daschle.

Senator Daschle, welcome. I forgot to bring my book...

TOM DASCHLE, U.S. SENATOR (D-S.D.): Thank you, Tony.

SNOW: ... I'm going to have to get you to sign it some other time.

Let's talk first about the big debate this week on judges. The Republicans put together a 39-hour talkfest. It really didn't make much of a difference.

But now there have come to light a series of memos that were exchanged between members of the Judiciary Committee and some outside interest groups. I want to quote from one that was put together by Senator Dick Durbin's staff.

It says, "The primary focus will be on identifying the most controversial and/or vulnerable judicial nominees. The groups would like to postpone action on these nominees until next year, when presumably the public will be more tolerant of partisan dissent."

Now, reading that, it gives the impression that your party had a strategy as recently as the year 2001 to go ahead and resist certain nominees that the president was going to put forward.

DASCHLE: Tony, there's no strategy at all in that regard. I haven't seen the memo, so I'm not sure what that's all about.

But I will say this. We have said from the very beginning, we will work with our Republican colleagues to confirm as many judges as possible. Where there's going to be a disagreement, we'll take whatever action necessary to stop a judge that we don't think is qualified.

We've now confirmed more judges than Ronald Reagan was able to confirm in a Republican Congress during the entire first term, which was four years...

SNOW: But, as you...

DASCHLE: ... in three years of the Bush administration, so we've done pretty well.

SNOW: Well, one can use numbers in any way, but the real key here are U.S. district court of appeal judges. These are the people who are on the level right before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The president has nominated 29; only 12 have been confirmed. Six now have been filibustered. That is 20 percent, and that's a much higher percentage than any president has ever faced.

Again, it appears to critics that your party has decided you're going to dig in your heels, even on ideological grounds, even if somebody is judged competent and well-qualified by peers and by political opponents.

DASCHLE: Well, nothing could be farther from the truth, Tony. We have had good debates, and we have -- as I said, have worked with our Republican colleagues over and over again to confirm judges that we think are qualified. Those six -- and it is only six out of 172 -- 174, I guess now...

SNOW: Well, but six out of 29 is the relevant figure here.

DASCHLE: Well, I guess, as you say, there are...

SNOW: It's six out of 29 U.S. district court of appeal judges.

DASCHLE: ... all kinds of numbers that can be used here.

But the bottom line is, we've confirmed 168 judges, circuit court and district court judges, which is virtually a record, in any administration, and we stand by that.

SNOW: Well, again, the key for the White House, and certainly for Republicans, is, these are the people who are hearing all the key appeals, and there are a couple of appellate courts, including the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, they're down four judges right now. This is creating a problem for them, is it not?

DASCHLE: Well, we asked them to send us qualified judges, qualified judges that can attain the kind of support across the country, you know, with legal groups, with constituency groups, with those people who are directly affected by the decisions these people make.

SNOW: Well, but...

DASCHLE: And to nominate judges -- if I can -- simply that will not use their own interpretation of the law, will not create law but will interpret it as it was written, that's really what a judge's role is.

SNOW: So you believe, therefore, in strict constructionism, what the Constitution says is how it ought to be interpreted?

DASCHLE: I believe that judges shouldn't put their own views ahead of the law...

SNOW: Well...

DASCHLE: ... and, in six cases, that's exactly the problem we've had.

SNOW: It's interesting, because in the case of Miguel Estrada, here you had a man who may be personally opposed to abortion but argued on behalf of the Clinton administration for the pro-choice position. He said that that was settled law.

He answered every question that had been presented to him but one -- we'll get to that in a moment -- and, furthermore, asked every senator, "If you've got outstanding questions, send them to me." Only two senators, Senators Kennedy and Durbin, sent questions. You didn't. Why?

DASCHLE: Well, because I really believe that the process ought to take place in the committee, not with individual letters or not with individual conversations. That's what the committee is for, Tony, is to have a good opportunity to air publicly all of the questions, all of the concerns, to get a good response for the record. Mr. Estrada refused to do that. He refused to turn over a lot of the background information regarding his positions on issues.

SNOW: Senator...

DASCHLE: And that's a problem. And that's the essence of the controversy involving Mr. Estrada.

SNOW: The essence of Mr. Estrada is, you asked him to turn over work product from his time at the Justice Department. Every living solicitor general, Democrat and Republican, said this would be a disaster.

When Bill Clinton was asked to turn over such documents, he did not do so during the era of Kenneth Starr and Republicans controlling the Senate at that time. There wasn't a peep out of Democrats at that point about the position.

You knew that was an offer he simply would not be able to meet.

DASCHLE: No. Well, Mr. Bork met it. Mr. Cibiletti met it. There were all kinds of precedents, Tony, for this request. This is done normally, routinely, oftentimes.

And so, this is something -- how else can one judge if there is no public record, if there is no decision-making basis upon which to make our decision, how do we make a judgment?

That was really it. We needed to have not spin, not some sort of a new context within which a lot of his positions could be described, but we wanted the hard information, the hard facts...

SNOW: So, you need to know how he was going to vote in the cases...

DASCHLE: That goes into the job application.

SNOW: You want to know how his...

DASCHLE: No, no, no, no. No, we just wanted to know...

SNOW: That was part of the complaint.

DASCHLE: ... what his background was, as it relates to the many legal issues that he had to work on.

SNOW: All right. I want to play for you a quote that Senator Edward Kennedy made the other day about the qualifications of some of the nominees in question and get your reaction.

Well, maybe it's coming here. Let's see.

All right, well let me just tell you. Senator Kennedy described the nominees that the president put forward as, quote, "Neanderthals." Do you believe that's the case?

DASCHLE: Well, I think that there are a lot of nominees who are on the far, far right of the political and philosophical spectrum, Tony. I think that's what Senator Kennedy was referring to...

SNOW: But why did he use the term "Neanderthal"?

DASCHLE: ... they're out of the mainstream. Well, you'd have to invite him onto the show and ask him. That's really a question for him and not for me.

SNOW: Well, Senator Kennedy (inaudible) unfortunately, you accept our invitations; Senator Kennedy does not.

But you're the leader of the party. You have been concerned about the tone in the Senate. Certainly, this is not the kind of thing that contributes to comity in the world's greatest legislative body.

DASCHLE: Well, we need to bring the level of comity on both sides back. A lot of the speeches, I must say, Tony, made on the floor there during that 48-hour period were hyperbolic, were totally inaccurate, were not based on fact.

And that's the thing. I think the Republicans would like to have, not only their own opinions, but their own facts. And they can't run from the facts.

The facts are, this administration's record on judges and their confirmations is awfully good. The facts are, 63 nominees were filibustered during the Clinton administration -- filibustered in committee, if not on the floor.

So there is no question that, as we look at this, we've got to find ways in which to work together. But in those cases, where judges are not qualified, we no choice but to oppose them.

SNOW: Let me ask you a question. Do you believe any observant Catholic can be put through as a U.S. District Court judge by the United States Senate? Somebody who's opposed to abortion -- would your party go ahead and give that person a nod and the chance to sit on the bench?

DASCHLE: Well, Tony, we already have. I'll bet you, out of the 168 judges that have been confirmed...

SNOW: I'm talking about the Circuit Court of Appeals.

DASCHLE: I'm talking about the circuit court. Whether it's circuit court or district court, there is absolutely no question that people with a position in opposition to abortion will be confirmed. That's happened -- as I say, I wouldn't be surprised if it's 168 out of 168 cases.

SNOW: All right. Let's talk about the war. There has now been an announcement that sovereignty will be transferred, starting in May, completing in June. The occupation will end. What's your reaction?

DASCHLE: Well, Tony, my feeling, first and foremost, is -- I just came from Walter Reed, and I have to say, I think it's really important we continue to emphasize our support for our troops and our commitment for veterans when they come back. And I'm troubled that sometimes the administration hasn't done that.

I think it's fair to say that the situation continues to worsen. We've now lost 67 troops this month alone. About 61, I think, have been wounded. The situation continues to deteriorate, and I'm very concerned about that.

SNOW: When you say deteriorates, what do you mean? Do you think that we are losing? Do you think the opposition's expressing itself? Exactly what does that mean?

DASCHLE: I don't know that we can say we're losing. We're simply not gaining the kind of ground. I'm not sure we're winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people today, and that's of a real concern.

I think the president needs, first and foremost, a plan for success, not an exit strategy. I think they're putting too much emphasis on exit and not enough emphasis on success.

And I think, of all things, security has to be job number one. We've got to make the whole country, especially the triangle, far more secure...

SNOW: So what would you do?

DASCHLE: ... than it is today.

Well, I would I do three things. First and foremost, it's essential that they bring in the international community more effectively. We haven't done that.

SNOW: OK, this is an...

DASCHLE: The U.N. hasn't been involved. And I think that's a critical failure of the administration. Somehow we've got to involve the...

SNOW: OK.

DASCHLE: ... community in more than just nominal ways.

SNOW: Well, let's take a look at that. The United Nations itself has cut and run. It's gotten out of Dodge. We have, as you heard Ambassador Bremer saying, 73 nations are already involved.

What we don't have is the French and Germans. They're opposed to it. But other nations are in.

Do you think the United Nations seriously is going to provide security help when it packs up and runs?

DASCHLE: We've got to make sure that it does. We've got to find a way to ensure that they come back.

SNOW: But is that not up to the United Nations?

DASCHLE: It's up to both the administration, to make it possible to work with them and negotiate a way with which they can come back with a real presence -- but again, as I say, they would be back if the administration remembered what their first and foremost priority is. It's got to be security. That has to be the most important emphasis.

SNOW: And you don't think that's the important thing...

DASCHLE: No. Obviously not. We're not seeing the emphasis on security we need.

I think -- you asked what we ought to do -- the second thing is we've got to continue to build the constitutional infrastructure that they need.

And then, third, we've got to put more emphasis on training -- training for political leaders, training for the military, training for the police. Without that training, we can't leave anytime in the near future with the confidence that there's going to be the kind of stability and security that we all want.

SNOW: Are we spending too little money there?

DASCHLE: Well, I don't -- we're certainly not committing the kind of resources -- and I think, in part, because we've not had the success in getting international cooperation for those resources. I don't think it ought to all fall on the shoulders of the American taxpayer, Tony.

I think that that was what the debate was all about: Can we involve the international community more effectively, not only with regard to presence, but with regard to resources?

SNOW: And if the international...

DASCHLE: That will be a determinant in our success to a certain extent, as well.

SNOW: If the international community says no, we're still on our own.

DASCHLE: That's right. And that would be a disaster for us.

SNOW: OK. Senator, there has been an announcement of some sort of deal on Medicare. The details aren't fully available, but it appears there will be a prescription-drug benefit and also some sort of demonstration plan to permit some kind of private insurance competition with Medicare to take place in six cities over six years beginning in the year 2010.

You for it or against it?

DASCHLE: Well, Tony, we haven't seen the draft yet. Nobody has seen it, actually.

SNOW: Well, Senators Breaux and Baucus are right in the thick of things. They've seen it.

DASCHLE: And I have great respect for them. They've done an amazing job, really. They deserve the iron man award, which we're now starting to give out to certain senators.

But I've got three major concerns. One is that it doesn't appear that this bill does anything to control drug prices. In fact, there may be even a prohibition against government involving itself with regard to bringing the prices down.

SNOW: So you think we need price controls?

DASCHLE: Well, I think we need to do more to leverage lower prices, and I think government can play a role in that regard.

SNOW: So you're for drug reimportation?

DASCHLE: Drug reimportation would be a good start. Generic drugs would be another one.

The second is that I'm very concerned about the 2 to 3 million people who could lose their retiree drug benefits under this plan.

And then, finally, as you noted, we may actually be coercing up to 10 million people into an HMO system that could mean dramatically higher costs for -- in premiums for Medicare.

SNOW: Well, they have the option. They can -- that's purely optional.

DASCHLE: Well, at a cost. The option -- it's technically optional. But if you're forced, if you're penalized for staying in Medicare, you're actually being coerced into an HMO. And that's not good.

SNOW: If the bill is as you understand it, would you filibuster it?

DASCHLE: Too early to say. We want to have a chance, first, to look at it, talk with our caucus and come up with some plan for our own strategy.

SNOW: Energy bill -- filibuster or vote?

DASCHLE: Same way. We haven't seen the language. In fact, all of the language still hasn't been written.

But here again, I want to -- there are several things it does well. I am pleased with the ethanol work that was done. But I must say...

(LAUGHTER)

SNOW: Your part of the country will sell a fair amount of corn, that's right.

DASCHLE: But I am very troubled with the fact that it really doesn't do a whole lot to create energy independence, it doesn't protect consumers, and it weakens environmental laws. So we've got some real concerns about that, as well.

But again, we want to take a look at the details. It's 1,000, maybe even a...

SNOW: Sixteen hundred pages, we're told.

DASCHLE: ... 1,600-page bill.

SNOW: OK. Well, good luck in reading that.

Finally, in your book, you talk about your relationship with President George W. Bush. I want to read a quote and discuss it here for a moment.

You say, "What was fascinating was to watch President Bush's ability to be such an affable individual one moment and turn so strident the next. He was beyond strident when it came to people who displeased him, such as Paul Wellstone or Jim Jeffords or, as time passed, me."

Now, a number of people say that you have also become very bitter toward the president. Have you?

DASCHLE: Not at all, not at all. I still have a good relationship with him personally as we meet. We have deep differences of opinion. But I -- he is a likable person, and I enjoy my work with him.

SNOW: Do you think he's capable?

DASCHLE: Sure I do. Of course I do.

SNOW: And when you say that he gets strident, do you ever get similarly strident about people? Do you ever get mad about people behind closed doors and maybe say a thing or two?

DASCHLE: Oh, once in a while. You wouldn't be human if you didn't.

SNOW: All right, Senator Tom Daschle, thanks for joining us.

DASCHLE: Thanks, Tony. Thanks for having me.