Tom Daschle's blunder

Robert Novak
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Posted: Mar 22, 2003 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle received poor reviews from all but the toughest anti-war Democrats for saying that President Bush had "failed so miserably at diplomacy" to provoke combat with Iraq.

Two leading Democratic presidential hopefuls -- Sen. Joseph Lieberman and Rep. Richard Gephardt -- were quick to disassociate themselves from Daschle. Many party operatives privately are saying that Daschle's words, taken out of context, can be used against Democrats in the 2004 elections.

Daschle's harsh comments are attributed by Democratic critics to theories, widely shared inside the party, about Republican gains in the 2002 elections. Feeling that Democrats were too soft last year, Daschle may have overreacted.

TONY BLAIR'S DEFECTOR

Labor Party supporters of British Prime Minister Tony Blair were delighted to see the resignation over the Iraqi war of Robin Cook as leader of the House of Commons, an event widely misinterpreted in the U.S. as a danger signal to the government.

Cook's previous stint as foreign secretary was unpopular with the right wing of the party. These critics were not pleased when Blair named him to the parliamentary post. If the prime minister had to lose one member of his government, supporters said that Cook would be least likely to take colleagues along with him. Only two junior ministers joined Cook in resigning, and Blair won 272 of 410 Laborites in Monday's House of Commons vote.

A footnote: Blair's speech in behalf of war, opening the Commons debate, won rave reviews in Washington. Even Republicans compared it favorably with President Bush's war address Monday night.

DELAY'S PEP TALK

Majority Leader Tom DeLay delivered an impassioned speech to a closed-door session of House Republicans Tuesday, urging them to hold the line on President Bush's budget. However, it struck Speaker Dennis Hastert as potentially counterproductive by offending the GOP moderates whose support is needed to pass the party program.

DeLay told his colleagues that they should not find it too difficult to cut spending by just one percent, and he specifically called for exercising control over health benefits for veterans. One of his colleagues in the Republican leadership called it the best speech he had ever heard delivered by DeLay but questioned whether he might offend the party's moderates, whose votes he needs.

Rep. Christopher Smith of New Jersey, a 12-term moderate who has become a thorn in the side of party leaders, rose in the caucus to criticize the cuts for veterans and the majority leader. DeLay rebutted Smith by questioning health care for maladies that are not service-related.

BAILING OUT BUSH

Plans by Senate Democratic leaders to scuttle President Bush's tax cuts were blocked by inadvertent help for the president by two of his biggest critics: Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Senate Minority Leader Thomas Daschle wanted to amend the Republican-sponsored budget resolution to reduce Bush's proposed $726 billion tax cut for the next year to $375 billion. Daschle had a good chance of picking up enough Republican defectors to defeat the president, but he did not corral sufficient Democrats.

Kennedy and Clinton let it be known that $375 billion was still too much in tax reductions, and that they would vote against it. The amendment was then withdrawn.

POLITICS OF AIDS

President Bush's Global AIDS program, featured in his State of the Union address, is floundering amid growing opposition from anti-abortion conservatives.

Although U.S. foreign aid officials had promised to channel AIDS money to faith-based organizations, the money so far has gone to pro-abortion CARE (which wants international family-planning money to go to abortion providers). The foreign aid agency also funds HIV/AIDS Alliance, whose web page advocates legalized prostitution.

Chairman Henry Hyde on Thursday postponed House International Relations Committee consideration of Bush's Global AIDS bill for a third time. Chairman Richard Lugar also cancelled a Senate Foreign Relations Committee markup.