Senators Tom Daschle and Harry Reid, the Senate’s Democratic leader and whip respectively, were both bad-mouthing Rockefeller, and let it be known in a meeting of all Democratic press secretaries that they, along with Sen.Bob Graham, were to be the only conduits for official Senate Democratic statements on either issue.
“This is the first time this White House has made a misstep we can capitalize on, and Rockefeller is out there soft-peddling the stuff like it is no big deal,” says a Senate leadership staffer. “If Bush emerges from this unscathed, Rockefeller deserves a lot of the blame from our end.”
Daschle and Reid had both told party caucus members that the past ten days have given them the best chance at wounding the White House. They asked for a coordinated communications effort, in line with their House counterparts and the Democratic National Committee. But then Rockefeller, who serves as ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, went off the reservation and told reporters that before there was any serious finger-pointing, the committee had to take in all the information. That was not the spin Daschle and company wanted.
Rockefeller’s comments, however, were nothing next to those from former President Bill Clinton’s on Tuesday’s “Larry King Live,” which left the Democrats on Capitol Hill almost speechless. Clinton, who said he had bombed Iraq in 1998, in part because of the threat of Saddam’s nuclear program, took virtually all the air out of the Democrats’ plans to continue attacking the White House’s handling of uranium purchase intelligence used in the State of the Union Address.
“He had to have done it for Hillary. They are up to something,” says a Howie Dean presidential campaign staffer in New Hampshire. “We can’t believe our party’s leader would stab us in the back unless there was something more to it. Maybe he’s setting us all up for something else. Or he thinks by clearing the field of a national security topic, it will be easier for Hillary to enter the race and focus on domestic policy. Whatever, we can’t believe he did it.”
As for Rockefeller, a leadership staffer for Republicans said the word on the Hill was that Rockefeller was aware of what his party was trying to do to the White House, but chafed at taking orders from Daschle and Reid, particularly when the senator from West Virginia was basically told to steer all interview requests to higher-ups in the party.p> CHEESY CHUCK br> Sen.