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MEET THE PRESS Sunday, September 19, 2004
GUESTS: Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-SD;
Former Representative John Thune, R-SD, Republican challenger
MODERATOR/PANELIST: Tim Russert - NBC News
This is a rush transcript provided for the information and convenience of the press. Accuracy is not guaranteed. In case of doubt, please check with:
MEET THE PRESS - NBC NEWS
(Sundays: (202) 885-4200)
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: the race for the White House; 44 days to go, as the candidates debate Iraq, the economy and more. And this morning, in our MEET THE PRESS Senate Debate series, we focus on those same issues in the most closely watched race in the country, South Dakota, where the Democratic leader of the U.S. Senate, Tom Daschle, is being challenged by the Republican former congressman, John Thune. Daschle vs. Thune; they debate right here on MEET THE PRESS.
And John Thune, the Republican, Tom Daschle, the Democrat, are both here. Welcome.
SEN. TOM DASCHLE, (D-SD): Thank you, Tim.
MR. JOHN THUNE: Thank you.
SEN. DASCHLE: Good to be here.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Daschle, let me start with you. John Kerry, the Democratic candidate for president, had this to say about Iraq a few weeks ago. "It's the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time." Do you agree?
SEN. DASCHLE: Well, Tim, I think it's being run the wrong way. I was in Iraq not long ago, and I had a chance to talk to our troops. And I must say there's--a day doesn't go by when I don't think of those thousand who have died and those 7,000 who were wounded. I went to a funeral for one of our soldiers in South Dakota. I think that the real issue is how can we do it better? How can we make this work? This administration has not provided any aid or any real appreciation for the international coalition that we have to create if we're going to do this right. We're not providing the equipment and the support for our troops. I think it's amazing to me that we're using sandbags and plywood in our Humvees and we're doing bake sales for body armor. We're not getting the military--the equipment that they have to have to run this war.
We're also not listening to the military commanders, Tim. If you listen to the military commanders, if you had the kind of international cooperation, if we really supported the troops with body armor and the equipment that they have to have, and if you did those kinds of things, I think we could be doing a lot better job than we are today. We're not today and that's why I think it's being fought the wrong way.
MR. RUSSERT: In 2003, Senator, as you well know, you were very laudatory. You said that Bush deserved great credit for his leadership during the war, and you went on to say, Senator Daschle, in talking about weapons of mass destruction, "I think we've got to recognize that there was more than one goal here [in Iraq]. One of the other goals was to remove a threat to this country, to remove a threat to the region, to remove a person who" has "not only repressed and tortured his own people, but clearly posed some serious problems throughout the world. And that, too, is a laudable goal. ..." I then asked, "So the war was worthwhile and successful?" Daschle: "Yes, it was."
SEN. DASCHLE: Well, Tim, you know, it was good that we got rid of Saddam. There's no question about that. But the real question is how can we do a better job of fighting this war? We had an intelligence breakdown. As a veteran, I'm all the more sensitive to the tremendous challenges that we face in trying to wage this war. But we've got to supply the equipment and the support for our troops that they're not getting in some cases today. We've got to listen to our military commanders. We've got to make sure we involve the international community a lot more than we are right now. If we do those kinds of things, this could be a different war. We could have a lot more success than we are today. This administration is not doing that.
MR. RUSSERT: Having not found the weapons of mass destruction, and seeing the level of insurgency we're confronting, knowing what you know now, would you have still voted to authorize the president to go to war?
SEN. DASCHLE: Tim, I stand by my vote. We can't roll back the clock. We can't turn it back. We've got to go from here. We've got to look at how we can win this war. We've got to provide our troops more equipment. We've got to listen to our military commanders. We've got to have better intelligence. We've got to make sure we involve the international community in burden sharing a lot more than we are. That's the kind of way we're going to do better at this war in the future.
MR. RUSSERT: Congressman Thune, Chuck Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, a Republican, said this. "We're in a lot of trouble [in Iraq]. ... The worst thing we can do is hold ourselves hostage to some grand illusion that we're winning. Right now, we are not winning. Things are getting worse."
Do you agree?
MR. THUNE: I don't agree with that, Tim. I think that Iraq is a part of the broader war on terror. It is a war that we have to win. And, you know, obviously the question before the House and I think the question Tom raised is: What will we do differently? And I don't think there's an answer to that question that's been offered up by Senator Kerry or by Senator Daschle or others. I think, clearly, we've got to--there's a strategy in place. Obviously, it's to, you know, create an interim government, move to free elections, ratify a constitution, train an Iraqi army. Those steps are being taken.
And, you know, this is going to be a tough job and nobody said otherwise. I think we knew going in that this was going to be a tough part of the world that we were going to have to fight, we're going to have to make sure that we create a democratic system there, that people in Iraq have freedom and we have to finish the job. This is not a time to cut and run. This is a time to show resolve and the international community is responding.
I mean, there is more support building, I believe, for what's happening there. And I think we have to continue and make sure that we support our troops. And we need to show support here in this country. Our political leadership needs to be behind the men and women who are wearing the uniform over there. Like Tom, I've talked to hundreds of Guard men and women and active duty personnel inside South Dakota. Everybody I talked to is totally supportive of what we're doing there. I mean, they believe that they believe in the mission, they believe we're making progress. This is important work that we're about.
MR. RUSSERT: And yet the intelligence agencies gave President Clinton the following report in July. "A classified National Intelligence Estimate prepared for President Bush in late July spells out a dark assessment of prospects for Iraq ... The estimate outlines three possibilities for Iraq through the end of 2005, with the worst case being developments that would lead to civil war ... The most favorable outcome described is an Iraq whose stability would remain tenuous in political, economic and security terms."
That's very bleak, and you advise to simply stay the course. Is that the policy of the Republicans?
MR. THUNE: Well, I think that the policy that's been laid out by the president is one of, you know, creating an interim government and Prime Minister Allawi is going to be here this next week. He's going to be meeting with the White House at the U.N., and I think the message he's going to deliver is that we are making progress. But this is tough work. This is not going to be easy. These are terrorists. These are people who think nothing of butchering and slaughtering their own people. The United States, I think as the leader of the Free World, has to stay strong. We have to stay resolute. We need to finish the job. If we don't, the terrorists are going to prevail and I think that spells disaster for the people of the United States and for our national security as we move forward from here.
MR. RUSSERT: What is finishing the job?
MR. THUNE: I think it means getting to where we have a democracy set up in Iraq, where we have free elections, where we have an Iraqi army that is trained and prepared to defend itself. General Petras is working on that on a daily basis and the Iraqis are stepping up, they are providing for more of their security, but there's more that needs to be done. And, you know, the Americans over there right now need to be the reinforcers, not the enforcers, and I think ultimately...
MR. RUSSERT: If it means sending more American troops, would you support that?
MR. THUNE: Well, I think we have to rely on our military leadership. I think General Abizaid, General Casey, the people who are going to be making those recommendations to the president, if they call for more troops, I believe that the president will step forward and I think we have to support that. I believe it's important right now for us as a nation to show resolve, to be decisive and to finish the job and win the war on terror.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Daschle, don't cut and run, stay the course.
SEN. DASCHLE: Tim, if I could just say, if South Dakota were a country, we'd be the seventh largest coalition partner today. And that explains I think the problem that we have with regard to this international support effort. We ought to have more involvement, more commitment from the international community than we're getting right now. It doesn't have to be troops.
MR. RUSSERT: How, Senator? Do you think the French, the Germans and the Russians would support troops?
SEN. DASCHLE: It doesn't have to be troops. We need a lot of people on the ground. When I was in Iraq, we actually had tank commanders going door to door to try to help build the infrastructure for sewer and water and electricity. We have a lot of needs there for law enforcement. We have a lot of things we ought to be doing that we're not doing just because this administration has failed to get the kind of international cooperation we need.
MR. RUSSERT: Such as? Do what specifically?
SEN. DASCHLE: Well, specifically, I think we need a lot more engineers. We need a lot more peacekeepers. We need a lot more security advisers. We need a lot more help with regard to building the Iraqi police network in the country.
MR. RUSSERT: From where?
SEN. DASCHLE: From all countries, from Europe, from NATO, from the U.N., from Asia. We ought to be getting it in a lot more levels of help than we're getting right now.
MR. RUSSERT: Why would those countries send their people into the turmoil we're seeing now?
SEN. DASCHLE: Because I think just as we did 10 years or 12 years ago with President Bush's father, they indicated at that point they knew it was in their best interests because we persuaded them that it was. For some reason, we've not been able to do that this time. We need to persuade them that this is in their interest to be helpful, to be on the ground, to work with us to create the stability, to see that economic growth. That isn't happening.
MR. RUSSERT: Is that President Bush's fault?
SEN. DASCHLE: Well, I think it's--in large measure it's this administration's fault, no question about it.
MR. RUSSERT: What do you think?
MR. THUNE: Well, I just think that, you know, it's fine to say all that, but the same issue prevails and that is, you know, the answer is, we'll internationalize the war. You know, we need more support from Europe. We've got a lot of support from Europe, the U.K., Italy, Belgium, other countries are standing with us over there in the theater. And the French are starting to soften some of their opposition to this. But I think at the end of the day, just saying well, we need to get more support, I don't know how you go about doing that. I mean, that, to me, what if they say no? I mean, why would you want to send their--you know, why would they want to send their people?
MR. RUSSERT: What if they say no, Mr. Thune? The United States will be there experiencing 90 percent of the casualties and costs for years to come?
MR. THUNE: Well, I think we have to continue to try and build a broader coalition of support from those nations around the world who care about freedom, like this country does. But having said that, I think we have to understand that the United States is the leader in this. You know, the United Nations voted unanimously on several occasions to condemn what was happening in Iraq, you know, warned that there would be adverse consequences. We decided to move against Iraq, tried to involve the national community, got some support, trying to build a broader coalition as we move forward when it comes to stabilizing Iraq and providing a democracy and a freedom there that will provide stability in that region of the world.
But I think right now we are going to be on the point and hopefully over time we will build that broader coalition. But to suggest that that's the fault of this administration, I just don't know where the critics and people like Senator Daschle and Senator Kerry, who are attacking the policy, would do anything differently. And that's the problem right now is nobody has laid out--Senator Kerry certainly hasn't and I don't think Senator Daschle has either--how they would do anything differently. All they want to do is attack what's going on over there.
MR. RUSSERT: Has the president laid out a blueprint?
MR. THUNE: I think the president's made it very clear. Set up an interim government, ratify a constitution, hold free elections, train an Iraqi army. I mean, there are steps being taken. There is a strategy in place and we need to continue to pursue that strategy and make sure we are successful in prevailing.
MR. RUSSERT: And how long will U.S. troops be there?
MR. THUNE: Well, I don't think we know the answer to that. But I would hope over time as the Iraqi army gets trained and is better prepared to take care of its own defense needs and to protect its own people that the American commitment can, you know, ease out. But at this point in time, and we've got a lot of people, as Tom said, in South Dakota, who have been over there. And we are doing our fair share in our state. But I got to tell you, I talk to these kids, these men and women when they come home, and they believe profoundly in what they're doing, that they're making a difference for the future of freedom.
SEN. DASCHLE: Tim, when I was over there I talked to the 740th, one of our National Guard units, and one of the biggest concerns they had was that they were being asked to do things without the proper equipment. They didn't have the body armor in some cases. They weren't being given the GPS and the other kinds of equipment that they really needed to do their job. Regardless of what disagreements there may be on how we get this international coalition together, we've got to agree, and this administration needs to put a priority on ensuring that every single person over there who is putting their lives on the line have the equipment and the support that they need.
MR. THUNE: Didn't Senator Kerry vote against $87 million for aid to the troops?
SEN. DASCHLE: He did. I disagree with that. And when I was over there, that was one of the most important things we could do is to send the message, I think, that these members of the Guard and reserves, our active duty personnel, need the support need the equipment they've got to have. And I think that's something that this administration, frankly, has failed to do in addition to listening to their military commanders. If they'd have listened to the military commanders going in, we would have had a plan now. But to subject these people to the tremendous pressures they're feeling, to ask these thousand people to put their lives on the line as they did and lost, to see those 7,000 wounded, and then not to have a plan and not to listen to your military commanders is just a big mistake.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Kerry's complaining that we spend $200 billion in Iraq. You're suggesting we should be spending more.
SEN. DASCHLE: Well, I don't know that we have to spend more. Again, it goes to what I said a moment ago. We've got to make sure that we have broader international involvement. Costa Rica, I'm told, just dropped out of the coalition this last week. That again goes to this need for burden-sharing. Ninety-five percent, virtually, of all the troops on the ground, the sacrifice, 90 percent of the resources that are being committed today are being committed by the U.S. taxpayer, and that's unfair. We have a broader responsibility than that worldwide, and that ought to be reflected.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe that John Kerry is more capable of drawing in an international coalition in Iraq than George Bush?
SEN. DASCHLE: I do, absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Thune, let me talk to you about the lead-up to the war and this emphasis on the weapons of mass destruction and ask you something specifically that you said on October 8 of 2002. "There's a high probability that [Saddam Hussein] is able to add nuclear capability to extend missiles to the United States."
Where did that come from? I've read all the intelligence estimates. Where did you find that Saddam had the probability of nuclear missiles?
MR. THUNE: I think the intelligence was clear and that is that he had--he could build missiles. He had, you know, developing nuclear capability based on all the intelligence we had at the time. I think it was a threat to the United States. It was a more immediate threat to that region of the world. But, you know, when we made that vote, when we voted to authorize in the resolution of force back in 2002, most of us as members of Congress, I was in the House at the time, and of course Tom in the Senate, made that vote based upon information that we were provided, based on intelligence that had been furnished to us.
I think at the time--we now know that he still has the intention, he still has the capability as has been determined I think since that time. He doesn't have the stockpiles, or at least, we haven't found them yet, but I think that when the president very aptly described the axis of evil--Iran, North Korea and Iraq-- there there was a potentiality of nuclear weapons in each of those countries, and I believe that it was the correct move to vote for the resolution of force.
MR. RUSSERT: But when you say high probability that Saddam had nuclear missiles. The National Intelligence Estimates that you saw, were able to see--this is what the State Department said in response to that. "The activities we have detected do not...add up to a compelling case that Iraq is currently pursuing what the [State Department bureau of intelligence and research] would consider to be an integrated and comprehensive approach to acquire nuclear weapons."
There was no hard evidence that Saddam had a "high probability of nuclear weapons." Was that a scare tactic?
MR. THUNE: I don't believe that's a scare tactic, Tim. And I think that there was a lot of anecdotal evidence that had been collected over time in the region. We certainly knew that there had been a past history of using Scud missiles and that sort of thing on neighbors in the region. There were--you know, there were--the capabilities, in my judgment, were such that we needed to be alert in this country. I think that he was a threat, not only to that region, but to the broader world and the United States. You know, clearly, with biological and chemical weapons, but I also think the nuclear threat existed. I don't believe that's a scare tactic. I think that we are dealing with a very dangerous man who had proven over time that he was willing to murder and butcher and slaughter, you know, hundreds of thousands of his own people.
MR. RUSSERT: But that's a lot different than--would you now acknowledge that there is no high probability that Saddam had nuclear missiles?
MR. THUNE: Well, I think we've all concluded since, you know, the--we've gone into Iraq and a lot of the things that have been discovered since that time, that some of the intelligence was--the sourcing was weak and some of the information that we had was, perhaps, not as accurate as it should have been.
MR. RUSSERT: Was it hyped?
MR. THUNE: I don't believe it was hyped. I mean, I think that, you know, we were presented with information and the best intelligence that we had. You know, now you look back at it in retrospect and say, well maybe, you know, there was some short comings in our intelligence community and some of the information that was gathered that many of us made that decision based upon. But I think based upon the information that we had at the time that many of us, as members of Congress, made a decision that we thought was in the best interests of the national security of the United States and to a cause of, you know, making sure that there was stability in a region of the world on which we are very dependent.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Daschle, was the intelligence hyped?
SEN. DASCHLE: Well we don't know for sure whether the intelligence was hyped. It was certainly wrong, Tim. We had an intelligence breakdown and that is really one of the saddest chapters in this whole saga so far. How can we get better intelligence? That's something that the Congress is working on right now. How do we make sure this never happens again? How do we, not only make sure we have the best intelligence, but make sure that that intelligence is never abused? In this case, were that to be the problem, it's all the more of a tragedy. So we've got to make absolutely certain we do a lot better job, especially with the whole concept of pre-emption. We've got to do a better job in the future.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you feel misled?
SEN. DASCHLE: Well, certainly we were misled. The real question is whether it was advertent inadvertent. We don't know that. We do know that this intelligence was very erroneous. There were so many mistakes made with regard to what they had, what they didn't have, when they were going to-- you know, the information they had on the ground was just unacceptable.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you a television commercial that Senator Daschle is running in this race and it features George W. Bush. Let's watch.
(Videotape, Daschle '04 Senate ad):
SEN. DASCHLE: Tonight, the president has called us again to greatness. And tonight, we answer that call.
Announcer: In our country's hour of need, Tom Daschle made us proud. Senator Daschle helped forge a consensus to rebuild our military.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Thune, do you have any problem with that ad?
MR. THUNE: Well, you know, I mean, I think the ad--anybody who follows politics closely sees that as a very cynical and manipulative effort on Tom's part to connect himself to a popular president. You know, Tom is literally running out of the arms of Michael Moore into the arms of the president in South Dakota, and I think what it points out is this pattern that he has of saying one thing in South Dakota and another thing in Washington, D.C. In Washington, D.C., you know, he's attacking the president, you know, blocking the president's agenda, and in South Dakota, he's hugging the president.
And, you know, the amazing--the remarkable thing about it is how quickly he was willing to throw John Kerry overboard in order to help himself in South Dakota. I mean, I don't know very many party leaders that would do what he just did by running that ad. And I think most people see that for what it is, but it is an effort to connect himself and tie himself to a president who is popular in South Dakota at a time when he's running for re-election while the record is very clear that when he's in Washington, D.C., it-- the record is one of attack, criticize, block, obstruct, and I think the, you know, people should see that for what it is.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Daschle, critics will point out to the comment you made back in June about--in 2002 about President Bush. He's "been a source of great disappointment. ... I think his record on the economy is a disaster." Then you told National Public Radio that "President Bush wanted to change the tone in Washington, and I think he has. I think it's gotten worse."
You've been extremely critical of the president, and then in your commercials, you're seen embracing him.
SEN. DASCHLE: That's right, Tim. You know, John's a follower and I think there's something to be said for following, but you've got to be more than a follower in the United States Senate. That moment was a very important moment for our country. I think our country needed to see its political leaders come together, and that's exactly what happened. We came together in spite of our many differences. Now, there are times when I will agree with the president, as I did with 9/11. There are times when we work together--the farm bill, the healthy forest bill. We worked on a number of things and we've done it constructively.
But, you know, there are times when I have to oppose this president. I opposed him when he was wrong on the drought for South Dakota. I opposed him on the highway bill that he opposes for South Dakota. I've opposed him on the Medicare drug benefit. Those are--and many other times when I think you have to stand up and you have to do what's right for South Dakota. You can't just follow this president without questioning whether or not it's good for South Dakota.
MR. RUSSERT: The day before the president went to war, Mr. Daschle, you said the president had failed miserably at diplomacy, and now we're now forced to war. Professor John Schaff of the Northern State University, according to the Argus Leader, said this is your difficulty. "So Daschle will have to explain why South Dakota should vote for President Bush and also vote for the person who has done the most to try to oppose President Bush in Washington. Those votes don't seem to go together."
SEN. DASCHLE: Well, I think it's just the opposite. I disagree with him, because, clearly, if we're going to do what we have to do to represent the people of our state, we just can't follow this president or any president. I will support him when he's right. I will oppose him when he's wrong. That I think is what the people of South Dakota expect.
MR. RUSSERT: The Wall Street Journal described it as the Daschle dead zone. "All of these have been part of a deliberate political strategy by Minority Leader Tom Daschle. He has organized filibusters that have blocked votes ... stymied votes." They cite welfare reform, human cloning prohibition, medical malpractice, bankruptcy reform, flag burning and desecration, death tax repeal, Head Start reform, energy bill--all legislation that passed the House but died in the Senate graveyard because of you.
SEN. DASCHLE: Tim, that same editorial board came out against the farm bill, against the highway bill, against the ethanol bill, against the energy bill. They're in favor of privatization of Social Security; virtually everything that South Dakota opposes. So I would question anybody who would rely on that source.
That same Wall Street Journal, by the way, about two weeks ago said that it's really the Republicans' inability to get their act together, to agree among themselves on virtually every one of those issues that has caused the failure, the breakdown in the passage of this legislation. So whether you read their editorial page, which has come out virtually against South Dakota on everything that matters to them, or you read their news pages, which says it's the Republicans who can't get their act together, is up to you. But that's not a source I would quote.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Thune.
MR. THUNE: Well, Tim, yeah, I mean, the ad that you just showed where Senator Daschle is hugging the president in South Dakota was a--yes, was a one moment of bipartisanship, and immediately after that was over, every time the president has extended his hand of friendship to Senator Daschle, he's bit it off. You know, we need people that can work constructively. And I don't think anybody expects Tom to be a rubber stamp for President Bush, but it would be nice once in a while if he were a rubber stamp for South Dakota.
I mean, all the things that you just talked about, whether it's judges, whether it's energy policy, whether it's tax relief for working families in South Dakota, you know, you can go right down the list--medical malpractice reform to lower health-care costs. Right down the list, things are dying in the United States Senate. The Wall Street Journal has called it the Daschle dead zone, but there have been a number of other people who have commented on it as well. Senator Grassley from Iowa, our neighbor, has said that Senator Daschle was serving the nation poorly and that the Senate's become a graveyard for good legislation reforms. Zell Miller, Democrat from Georgia, calls it the Daschle graveyard.
SEN. DASCHLE: A couple of objective sources for you, Tim.
MR. THUNE: Well, you know, but the truth of the matter is, these are colleagues of Tom in the United States Senate who have made the very same point, and that is that this is a guy who continually is the chief obstructionist who stands in the way of the agenda.
SEN. DASCHLE: Listen, you can't be a follower and you can't just rubber stamp what this administration is doing and that's exactly what John would like to do, but we can't--South Dakota expects more than that.
MR. THUNE: That's not true.
SEN. DASCHLE: It is true, John.
MR. THUNE: That's...
SEN. DASCHLE: You know, every one of those things is unfair and you know that. That's not accurate. Let's at least tell the people of South Dakota the truth on these things and on each one of these. And I hope we'll get a chance to go through them because that isn't how we ought to be running this campaign. Let's get the real facts out. Facts are stubborn things.
MR. THUNE: It is a fact, and facts are stubborn things...
SEN. DASCHLE: No, it isn't a fact.
MR. THUNE: ...and it is a fact that the rules in the Senate are being used in a way by Senator Daschle that are unprecedented in this country's history when it comes to judicial nominations and other legislation that needs to move through the United States Senate.
SEN. DASCHLE: Maybe we should talk about judicial nominations for a second, Tim, because John keeps coming back to this one. You know that we have now confirmed 201 judges. That is more than Ronald Reagan got confirmed in his first term. It's more than President Bush's father got confirmed in his first term. We have the lowest vacancy rate virtually of any time in history. We've confirmed 201 judges. We've not confirmed 10. That's a 95 percent ratio of success. There are not many things...
MR. THUNE: And why wouldn't...
SEN. DASCHLE: ...95 percent. Now, John would suggest that maybe we just rubber stamp them all, but the Constitution requires us to advise and consent and you know that, John, so...
MR. THUNE: Exactly. And you're not...
SEN. DASCHLE: But what's wrong with 95 percent?
MR. THUNE: ...following the Constitution.
SEN. DASCHLE: Would you say--does it have to be 100 percent?
MR. THUNE: Let's talk about the people that you're not giving a vote, Tom.
SEN. DASCHLE: Well, every one of these people gets a vote, John.
MR. THUNE: It's one thing if you want to talk about the Constitution, let's talk about the Constitution.
SEN. DASCHLE: Well, I'm prepared to do that.
MR. THUNE: The president nominates...
SEN. DASCHLE: Ninety-five percent, just remember that.
MR. THUNE: ...the Senate confirms. You know, Janice Rogers Brown...
SEN. DASCHLE: It doesn't rubber stamp...
MR. THUNE: ...Priscilla Owen, Charles Pickering, Bill Pryor, Miguel Estrada, Bill Myers--you go right down the list. These people didn't get a vote. Now it's one thing to say that, you know, you're confirming a certain percentage, but these people deserve a vote. The filibuster has never been used in the history of this country to deny appellate court nominees an opportunity and an up-and-down vote in the United States Senate. Under Tom Daschle, that is the first time that has happened.
SEN. DASCHLE: That's not true.
MR. THUNE: These are good, qualified people...
SEN. DASCHLE: That is not true.
MR. THUNE: ...people who the American Bar Association says are highly qualified.
SEN. DASCHLE: That is not true.
MR. THUNE: Let them have a vote.
SEN. DASCHLE: That is not true either.
MR. THUNE: Let them have a vote.
SEN. DASCHLE: Ninety-five percent.
MR. THUNE: None of them are.
SEN. DASCHLE: That's the bottom line, Tim. I'd say 95 percent is the answer.
MR. THUNE: The bottom line is let's follow the Constitution...
SEN. DASCHLE: We do.
MR. RUSSERT: The issue...
MR. THUNE: ...give them a vote, Tom.
SEN. DASCHLE: We certainly do, John.
MR. THUNE: Give them a vote.
MR. RUSSERT: ...seems to be the Republicans are calling Mr. Daschle an obstructionist. Democrats are calling you a rubber stamp. Let me show you an ad that you're running talking about the president.
(Videotape, Thune '04 Senate ad):
MR. THUNE: I'll work with the president. If I disagree with the president, I'll let him know that.
MR. RUSSERT: If you disagree with the president, you'll let him know that, and Democrats point to this. And this is from Mike Madden in the Argus Leader: "Bush's Tough Stand On Aid May Hurt Thune." And this is for 2002. "During his [visit to Mount Rushmore] ... Bush said he knows the pain South Dakotans are in. ... But he said the government simply cannot afford to bail ranchers out unless the money can be squeezed from the existing budget. ... [Thune] certainly did not criticize the president for not coming with money in hand. `We know that fires and drought are just God's way of reminding us who's in charge. ... We will weather this storm." And the Associated Press said that when the president denied drought aid to South Dakota, you said, "I think he"--Bush--"had a really strong speech." Is that standing up or disagreeing with the president?
MR. THUNE: Well, I think you have to put what the president said in that speech into context. Obviously, he said he would support drought relief. He just wanted to have it paid for. The only drought relief that South Dakota farmers and ranchers got in the year 2002 was the assistance that I worked with the administration to provide and it was about a billion dollars. And the ranchers in western South Dakota got direct assistance in the form of checks going out to the election.
Now, could we have done more? Yes. And frankly I think the president was wrong not to say that this ought to be emergency funded, but he had laid down the perimeters of a bill that he would sign. So what does Tom do? He goes to the Senate and tries to pass a bill and he never got it ultimately passed but tried to pass a bill that he knew the president wouldn't sign because they wanted an issue and not a solution. We need solutions. And you know what happened after the election? After, he was stripped of his leadership position. Drought relief passed. You've got leadership in the United States Senate that was willing to work with the president constructively and in January of the following year passed three-- what ended up being about $4 billion of a direct assistance to our farmers and ranchers.
MR. RUSSERT: When you said the president was wrong, did you tell the president he was wrong or did you praise him?
MR. THUNE: I told him that I thought that they ought to make this just like every other disaster.
MR. RUSSERT: You didn't say that publicly, though.
MR. THUNE: Well, those are conversations that were held on a regular basis, but the point is when it came time to get something through and to work and constructively with the administration with a bill that the president would ultimately sign into law, the Senate was nowhere to be found. I mean, Tom wanted this issue in the 2002 elections as an issue. And what you found in the 2002 elections are a lot of the issues that Tom tried to create and things that he tried to block, including homeland security legislation, cost them in the United States Senate. It cost them seats in Georgia. It cost them seats in Missouri. What we need is someone who's going to work constructively to solve problems, not somebody who wants to create political issues and play the block and blame game.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator, when the farm bill passed, you said, "OK, that would take care of drought aid," and suddenly you wanted more money for South Dakota. Was that just simply trying to get a boondoggle?
SEN. DASCHLE: Tim, let me just say, the best assessment the Department of Agriculture made is that we needed about $6 billion. That was their assessment, not ours. That's what we passed in the United States Senate. John Thune didn't pass one cent in the House of Representatives. And when he had the chance to stand up for South Dakota or side with his party, he chose his party. He did absolutely nothing. And people in South Dakota still remember that day. That was a moment. You saw it. You put it up. That was a moment when John could have gone and said, "Look, this is far more important than my party or this president. I'm going to support my state." He chose not to do that. Not one cent.
We passed a bill with an overwhelming bipartisan margin in the Senate, $6 billion. Not our figure. This is what the Department of Agriculture said we had to pass. And we passed it and they couldn't get it done in the House. John didn't even try.
MR. THUNE: That's not...
SEN. DASCHLE: We didn't have a vote in the House of Representatives on drought in that year.
MR. THUNE: Well, it's not accurate to say that they didn't get assistance. I worked with the administration and we put out a billion dollars and I've talked to a lot of ranchers in western South Dakota, Tom, who appreciated the fact that we worked...
SEN. DASCHLE: Oh, of course.
MR. THUNE: ...to get something out there. But the reality...
SEN. DASCHLE: They'll take anything they can get.
MR. THUNE: But the reality is, you knew going in you were working on a strategy that wasn't going to become law.
SEN. DASCHLE: John, you know that's not true.
MR. THUNE: It was an issue and not a solution...
SEN. DASCHLE: John, that is not true.
MR. THUNE: ...and you knew that.
SEN. DASCHLE: And I'm telling you--you go back and look at the record, Tim. What they told us in the Department of Agriculture is that if you're going to meet the need that is out there today, you need about $6 billion. So that's what we passed. But John couldn't even do that in the House of Representatives, and not only that, he wouldn't be--he wasn't willing to stand up and say to the president, "You're wrong."
MR. THUNE: Tim, Tom...
SEN. DASCHLE: Why can't you get help?
MR. THUNE: Tom actually agreed on this show with the president when he said that, you know, assistance is--you know, the farm bill is now in a fashion that we ought to figure out a way to handle disasters with it. I mean, those are your words, not mine. But the point is, when we got to a point where we needed to help our farmers and ranchers, this was a year in which the Senate had decided they wanted to block and obstruct and create political issues rather than real solutions.
SEN. DASCHLE: That's funny. You know, we got over 80 votes.
MR. THUNE: And it wasn't until he was stripped of his leadership position that drought relief was passed and signed into law by the president because you got some folks who were willing to work together under the parameters the president had laid out for a bill that he would ultimately sign into law.
SEN. DASCHLE: I just have to squeeze this in. I mean, if we were blocking and obstructing, why did so many Republicans support the bill? Why was there such an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote when we passed that $6 billion in the first place? How could they be part of the blocking and obstructing?
MR. THUNE: How could they not vote for it, Tom? I mean you got...
SEN. DASCHLE: Well...
MR. THUNE: ...you got people...
SEN. DASCHLE: You ask them.
MR. THUNE: Well, obviously...
SEN. DASCHLE: You're making the accusation.
MR. THUNE: Obviously, they knew and they wanted to help their farmers and ranchers in South Dakota, so if you throw something out there, you're the leader of the Senate. But you laid a bill out on the table you knew wouldn't be signed into law. That's...
SEN. DASCHLE: It goes back to the leader-follower, Tim.
MR. THUNE: That's not true.
SEN. DASCHLE: This is the leader-follower issue. You know, if you're going to follow, you do what John did two years ago. If you're going to lead, you've got to do what I just did.
MR. RUSSERT: We have to take...
MR. THUNE: All right.
MR. RUSSERT: We have to take a brief break. A lot more of our debate, Tom Daschle, the Democrat; John Thune, the Republican. They're from South Dakota. They want to represent that state in the U.S. Senate.
MR. RUSSERT: Democrat Daschle, Republican Thune--all eyes on South Dakota. The debate continues after this station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back, joined by Republican John Thune, Democrat Tom Daschle. They are candidates for the United States Senate from South Dakota.
There is an ad, Senator Daschle, that you are running criticizing an ad that you say is by John Thune. Let's watch.
Announcer: John Thune is running another negative misleading ad. Tom Daschle does not support any increase in gas taxes. Daschle's fought to lower energy prices.
MR. RUSSERT: The ad is actually run and paid for by the National Republican Senate Campaign Committee, so it's not a John Thune ad, and yet you say it is.
SEN. DASCHLE: Well, I do, Tim, because John has the ability to pull those ads. I've demonstrated that in South Dakota. Some time ago, we made an offer to John and his campaign that none of the outside groups would be involved in the ads in South Dakota, would be involved in negative advertising or any part of our campaign. Every single group that I asked to stay out has stayed out. Three groups that said they were going to go in have announced that as a result of my request, they're not going in. So John has a personal responsibility for those negative attacks and he is accountable for them.
MR. RUSSERT: You did, in fact, vote for an increase in the gasoline tax in 1990 and 1993.
SEN. DASCHLE: I did and so did John. John voted against the repeal...
MR. THUNE: I wasn't there.
SEN. DASCHLE: ...of that very gas tax. No, but he's voted against the repeal of that very gas tax.
MR. THUNE: No.
SEN. DASCHLE: Yes, you have, John. It's on the record, in 1998. You may have forgotten. But the issue--this is four cents, Tim. And, you know, we get double what we send to Washington back every single year. We get $2 back for every dollar that we commit. That's $187 million. So either John has to decide whether he supports that tax that brings that revenue or supports the repeal of $187 million for highway construction in South Dakota every year.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me...
SEN. DASCHLE: That's the choice.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you, Mr. Thune, what the Argus Leader says about this ad and this debate. "Since October 1st, 1995, the 4.3-cent tax per gallon has gone to the U.S. Highway Trust Fund, which finances road projects. South Dakota is a donee state and receives about $2 in project money for every dollar paid in gas taxes. In the past, Thune also has expressed concern about a gas tax repeal questioning the loss to state roadways."
And yet you're on the air now with a commercial and you question Senator Daschle's judgment. You say, "When he got a chance to lower gas taxes, he voted against that, too." Are you saying that you would vote to repeal the gasoline tax, even though it would mean highway money for South Dakota?
MR. THUNE: Well, I don't think that's the point here at all. The point is, first off, Tom's ad is false on two counts. One is it isn't my ad. I mean, that's just flatly dishonest and not true. Secondly, what he came out and said is that he hadn't voted for it. In the Argus Leader also earlier this week, Tom said, "I've never voted for a gas tax increase." I mean, that's completely false and dishonest.
MR. RUSSERT: He just said he did.
MR. THUNE: He just said he did. I'm just correcting that.
MR. RUSSERT: But I'm asking you, when you say he got a chance to lower gas taxes, he voted against that, too. Will you introduce legislation to repeal the gasoline tax or lower it, even though it means less highway money for South Dakota? Will you, John Thune, do that as a senator?
MR. THUNE: Not if it means less highway money for South Dakota.
MR. RUSSERT: So then why are you criticizing for him...
MR. THUNE: I am criticizing Tom's record not on energy generally but on taxes as well. And the energy tax is one component part of it. The broader issue here is every time that Tom has an opportunity to vote to lower taxes, he votes against it. Every time he has an opportunity to increase taxes, he votes for it. He's got over 350 votes to raise taxes. The votes he made, I would not have made the vote in 1993 because it wasn't dedicated to the Highway Trust Fund. It was dedicated to something else.
And, frankly, I think the whole issue of what Tom's record on energy is, is a critical part of this debate. And the reason is, because he hasn't done anything to lower energy prices. He's opposed drilling in Alaska that would lessen our dependence upon foreign sources of energy and produce another, you know, million barrels of oil in the pipeline of America today. On the energy bill last November in the United States Senate, a bill that had passed the House with an overwhelming margin and the president said, "If you put it on my desk, I will sign it into law," it gets to the United States Senate, Tom's folks filibuster it.
So instead of needing 51 votes to pass, it needs 60. It gets 58, two votes short; 36 Democrats either didn't show up or voted against it. All he had to do was get two more votes and you've got ethanol, a renewable fuel standard, that guarantees a market for ethanol. You've got production tax incentives for ethanol. This was a colossal failure of leadership. When he talks about leadership, that isn't leading. That is listening to the people in his caucus, the special interest groups, rather than the people of South Dakota. The ad is accurate. Senator Daschle has not led on energy. He has not worked to lower energy prices for South Dakota.
MR. RUSSERT: But you would not repeal the gas tax?
MR. THUNE: No, I wouldn't repeal it entirely.
MR. RUSSERT: And you wouldn't either. But on the energy bill, Senator Daschle, if you're the leader, why couldn't you have gotten two more Democrats to join with you and pass that energy bill?
SEN. DASCHLE: Tim, I remember the old days when that grocer would sell produce and he'd put his thumb on the scale. That was dishonest. Well, you just heard John Thune say something very dishonest. Most of what he said is wrong. It's untrue. And most people in South Dakota know that. I stand up--I will stand up for my record and the things that I've done on energy and ethanol for the last 25 years more than anybody else in the Senate. I feel very strongly about what we've been able to do. We've created an ethanol industry with nine plants in South Dakota. We...
MR. RUSSERT: But specifically on the energy bill, why couldn't you persuade two fellow Democrats to join with you?
SEN. DASCHLE: Listen, we persuaded. We had 88 votes for a bipartisan plan on energy--88 votes, Republicans and Democrats working together. But they made it impossible to pass, Tim. They made it impossible to pass and their only option was to fail when they put special interest provisions in that bill that they knew would not get done. We warned them against it. We tried to do everything we could to keep that from happening. But they made it impossible to pass.
MR. THUNE: Tim...
SEN. DASCHLE: And that's what happened. We got 88 votes, and we got an overwhelmingly bipartisan Republican and Democratic vote, but John's putting his thumb on the scale here. He's distorting the truth, and he knows it, and he ought to recognize that.
MR. THUNE: There isn't anything about that ad that's not true. What's not true is the ad Tom ran saying that that was my ad which it was not and then his ad, you know, talking about his record on energy. My ad says that he voted to raise energy taxes. That's true. My ad says that he voted against repealing energy taxes. Those are true statements. When he goes...
SEN. DASCHLE: That is not true, John.
MR. THUNE: ...when he says in the Argus Leader...
SEN. DASCHLE: That is not true, John, and you know it.
MR. THUNE: No, it's absolutely true.
SEN. DASCHLE: No, no, it isn't.
MR. RUSSERT: All right.
MR. THUNE: What's dishonest about this is to say that they had an overwhelming bipartisan...
SEN. DASCHLE: We...
MR. THUNE: ...support for an energy bill in the United States Senate...
SEN. DASCHLE: That's in the record. It's in the record. There is no doubt about it. You know...
MR. THUNE: No. But the point is when it came time to pass it, this is an energy bill that had been built over years, months of negotiation. It passed overwhelmingly in the House. The president had said "I will sign it into law." It had everything that the South Dakota ethanol industry wanted.
SEN. DASCHLE: Yeah. But you know why it did?
MR. THUNE: Renewable fuel standard, production tax incentives, everything. Listen, it was...
SEN. DASCHLE: Tim, you know why it did? John, let's look at this...
MR. THUNE: Can I finish this? Can I finish this? You had your time.
SEN. DASCHLE: Yes.
MR. THUNE: This was the Holy Grail for the ethanol industry. Everything that they wanted was in that energy bill, and Tom decided to listen to his members of his liberal Democrat caucus and the special interest groups who didn't want an energy bill and failed to produce two votes out of 36 Democrats. He can block any judicial nominee he wants to block, but when it comes to something that's that important to South Dakota, he doesn't provide leadership.
MR. RUSSERT: I'll give you a chance to respond.
SEN. DASCHLE: You've had your shot and I'll give you mine, John. We passed an energy bill in the Senate, Tim, with 88 votes. And by the way, it had the renewable fuel standard in here which would double the amount of ethanol all the way through. We have put the ethanol legislation into the Senate version. John couldn't get that done in the House. All he got was a study. We don't need another study in South Dakota. We already have studied this enough. We've got nine plants. He got a study. But the bottom line here is that they inserted legislation. And it's in the record. They inserted legislation that made this impossible to pass. It's special interest provisions that bailed out some oil companies and special interests, chemical manufacturers that even the Republicans--you look at The Wall Street Journal, The Wall Street Journal said the other day that some of the Republican senators had a commitment from Bill Frist that they would not even bring up the energy bill as long as those special interest provisions were in the bill. These guys control the House, the Senate and the White House, and yet they want to make it my fault.
MR. THUNE: Tim, look, I've got to respond to this. I'm got to respond to this.
SEN. DASCHLE: You can respond.
MR. THUNE: I've got to respond.
SEN. DASCHLE: But let me just finish.
MR. RUSSERT: I just want to move on from the energy bill because there's a couple other issues in the campaign that I think are important. One is the tone. Now, Mr. Thune, you wrote a letter to your fund-raisers saying this. "Tom Daschle has to go. He's an embarrassment to South Dakota and to the nation." The Republican chairman of the Republican Party in South Dakota wrote this. "Daschle's three years as Complainer-In-Chief have brought shame to the honor of his office, concern to our men and women in uniform, and comfort to America's enemies." Do you believe that Tom Daschle is an embarrassment to your state and, two, do you believe he's given comfort to America's enemies?
MR. THUNE: Well, look, I'm not going to--the chairman of the South Dakota Republican Party can defend himself and his comments.
MR. RUSSERT: But do you denounce those words?
MR. THUNE: Well, listen, let's think about something here. Tom stood on the stage last May when his junior senator got up and called members of the South Dakota Republican Party the Taliban. And not only that, Tom applauded at that statement. You know, so there's rhetoric on both sides. But let me address what I said about the embarrassment situation because I do believe what I am doing is echoing what I hear people in South Dakota say and people around the country say. The people of South Dakota are tired of, you know, being branded as a state where their senator is the guy who obstructs everything that they believe in. I mean, you said it. The Wall Street Journal called it the Daschle dead zone. Chuck Grassley has called it the graveyard for good legislation reform. Zell...
MR. RUSSERT: So you believe that Senator Daschle is an embarrassment?
MR. THUNE: I believe that I am echoing what I hear people say in South Dakota about their senator and as they travel around the country having to deal with the chief obstructionist label. And I believe that is embarrassing to South Dakota. It's hard to explain to people around the country that you've got a United States senator who is literally the person who is obstructing judicial nominations, who's obstructing energy policy, and I'd love to come back to energy policy because Tom had a chance...
MR. RUSSERT: But you have no problem with the head of your party saying he gives comfort to America's enemies?
MR. THUNE: I would not have chosen those words but let me say this. I have talked to a lot of soldiers in South Dakota. I talked to a soldier recently who said that Tom's comments going into the war on the eve of war when we had South Dakota men and women in the Persian Gulf that he could never vote for him again. And what it does is emboldens our enemies and undermines the morale of our troops and I...
MR. RUSSERT: His words embolden the enemy?
MR. THUNE: His words embolden the enemy. I think they do. I think when you've got political leaders in your country, Tim, in a time of war, when you've got young men and women on the ground, South Dakota men and women, Guard men and women, active duty personnel, who are putting their lives at risk for the United States of America and you've got a leader from your state who is getting up and attacking in a way that completely undermines the morale of our troops, that's wrong.
MR. RUSSERT: This is a very serious charge. Your words: embolden the enemy.
SEN. DASCHLE: That's disappointing. That is very disappointing, Tim. John's attacks on me, where I come from, would earn a trip to the woodshed. He knows that's wrong. His effort to demonize me won't work in South Dakota. It's not only an attack on me--I take this personally. It's not only an attack on me, it's an attack on where I'm from. I got my values from my mother and dad to tell the truth, to play by the golden rule, to play by the golden rule, to do unto others as you would do unto yourself. Love of country, flag, work and dream but work harder than you dream--that's South Dakota. To do it the right way, to do the right thing, those values are as important to me as my arm. And I think that John ought to reflect on that before he makes a charge like that again.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you regret the day before the war saying that the president had failed miserably?
SEN. DASCHLE: I could have found a different time to say it. But you know what? I'm the veteran. There's only one veteran running here. I've been to funerals. I've been to Iraq. As I said, there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of those thousand people who died and those 7,000 people who have given up something of their body for this country. I was concerned about them then. When you've been a veteran, those things matter, Tim. Those things matter a lot.
MR. THUNE: Let me say that...
SEN. DASCHLE: And I don't know that John understands that but I will tell you this, these matters are very, very critical and we ought to take great care. This administration has made a lot of mistakes. They didn't have a plan. We know that now. We aren't giving our troops the body armor they need. We're not listening to the military commanders. We're not providing the kind of help internationally that we should be providing. Those are the things I was talking about then.
MR. RUSSERT: I do want to get to you both on the record on something. Mr. Thune, you said in 1996 you would not vote for any other tax cuts until the budget is balanced. Is that your position still?
MR. THUNE: I don't believe that we're in an environment today, because of the war, because of 9/11, because of the stock market collapse, the recession, that we're going to be in a position to get the budget balanced overnight. It's going to take some time. At that point in time, we did and when I got to Congress I voted for legislation that would balance the budget and cut taxes at the same time.
MR. RUSSERT: But you will vote to extend the president's tax cuts, at a cost of about a trillion dollars even though we have a $422 billion budget deficit.
MR. THUNE: The record of history is very plain. When you reduce taxes, it happened under Coolidge, it happened under Kennedy, it happened under Reagan, and I believe it will happen in this, that when you reduce taxes on people in this country, they spend, they invest, they grow the economy, they create jobs and that's what's going to happen with this. We are going to generate additional revenue as this economy continues to grow. We have set out a path for growth. We are on that path and we need to continue on that path.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Daschle, you want to roll back the top bracket of the tax cut. Will you apply that to reduce the deficit 100 percent, or will you use it for spending?
SEN. DASCHLE: I would--we're going to take up tax cuts this week, Tim. We could pass middle-class tax cuts for those with families with children, ending the marriage penalty. But, yes, you know, the difference between John and I is he is continually prepared to support more tax breaks for billionaires. Well, billionaires don't need more tax breaks.
MR. RUSSERT: But every cent of rolling back the tax break will go to the deficit, not spending?
SEN. DASCHLE: Well, I think that we ought to roll back the deficit. You're absolutely right.
MR. RUSSERT: Tax cuts.
SEN. DASCHLE: $422 billion deficit this year, $600 billion...
MR. RUSSERT: But will it go to the deficit or spending?
SEN. DASCHLE: Well, I'd roll it back on the deficit. Absolutely.
MR. RUSSERT: That has to be the last word. To be continued: Tom Daschle the Democrat, John Thune the Republican. Good luck to both of you. We'll be watching.
MR. THUNE: Thanks, Tom.
SEN. DASCHLE: You betcha.
MR. RUSSERT: We'll be right back with the very latest in our presidential polls in some battleground states, right after this.
MR. RUSSERT: Before we go, MSNBC and Mason-Dixon have been tracking the presidential race in battleground states across the country. Here are the results of the polls in six battleground states, all that George Bush won in 2000. He's currently ahead in all of them in 2004. Arizona, Bush over Kerry 50 to 39; Missouri, Bush ahead 48 to 41; Nevada, Bush 5-point lead over Kerry, 50 to 45; New Hampshire, Bush leads by 9 points, 49 to 40; Ohio, Bush is up 49 to 42; and look at West Virginia, Bush 45, Kerry 45. If Al Gore had won West Virginia in 2000, he would have been president.
We'll have the results in our polls in the blue battleground states, the ones Al Gore won in 2000, tomorrow night on "NBC Nightly News" with Tom Brokaw.
That's all for today. We'll be back next week. If it's Sunday, it's MEET THE PRESS, a South Dakota branding iron.
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