Washington Prowler

Terminating Tom

A year from now Senate Democrats will need to find themselves a new minority leader -- could it be Ms. HRC?

By 12.2.03

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Sen. Tom Daschle took heat for his failure to marshal any kind of opposition or reasonable push-back on the Medicare reform drive of the Republicans. More troubling to Democrats outside of the Senate was the party's inability to counter GOP legislation with any ideas beyond threats of a filibuster. Either way, Daschle has to be looking at the situation and wondering what he got himself into.

"He said he's running for re-election, but probably just to lose his leadership position when he comes back in 2005 after the election," says a DNC staffer. "Everyone wants to move Hillary [Clinton] up the leadership ladder, but they doubt she can step in as minority leader. People are assuming someone like [Christopher] Dodd will take the top slot for at least some period of time, with Clinton as assistant leader."

No one is touting Daschle's No. 2, Sen. Harry Reid, given what some in the caucus believe was a mishandling of the Iraq intelligence debate, in which Reid figured front and center. Some caucus members also blame Reid for the embarrassing memos that have been leaked out of the Senate Intelligence and Senate Judiciary Committees. Both memos were written by Democratic staffers at the behest of Democratic Senators.

The Senate Intelligence Committee memo examined ways Democrats could use the Iraq situation to their political advantage. The Judiciary memo laid out Democratic options to continue to defeat Bush nominees to the federal courts. Both memos were written after Democratic Senators came out of caucus meetings in which Reid and Daschle made a point of asking members for strategies to take the fight to the Republicans.

"They didn't ask for these memos explicitly, but they told us they wanted us to put the Democratic committee staffers to work, to begin mapping out strategies that would allow us to notch some wins, or at least to appear to be doing something. They said that it didn't appear that they were going to have a bad economy to hang around Bush and the Republicans. They said they needed other issues," says a Democratic Senator. "That they are shocked these memos were made public is as embarrassing as the content of the memos. I mean, this is Washington. This is politics."

Daschle, according to leadership staffers, is committed to running for re-election to the Senate. "I can't see him stepping aside now," says a staffer. "That would just screw things up for the party even more than things already are." But he seems resigned to losing his leadership post after the next election, which might see Republicans actually gain two or three seats.

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