Daschle Bids Democrats Goodbye
Tom Daschle bade his fellow Senate Democrats farewell Tuesday with a plea that they seek common ground with Republicans yet continue to fight for the less fortunate. After 10 years as the Senate’s Democratic leader, Daschle congratulated his longtime assistant and now successor, Harry Reid of Nevada, as Democrats chose their leadership team for the 109th Congress that takes office in January.
The South Dakota Democrat, narrowly defeated by Republican John Thune in a bid for a fourth term, kept a low public profile on Tuesday. He spoke only briefly on the Senate floor, making perfunctory remarks about the week’s legislative calendar. He plans a public farewell on Friday, a day after attending the opening of the Clinton presidential library in Little Rock, Ark.
Generally unassuming, Daschle, 56, appeared more reserved than usual. He passed up his usual Tuesday turn in front of television cameras, ceding the spotlight to Reid. But in the Democrats’ weekly closed-door lunch meeting, Daschle gave a talk that other senators described as positive, optimistic and gracious and was greeted with sustained applause and a few tears. “Saying goodbye to Tom Daschle is a very sentimental thing for all of us,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J. “You’ll never find anybody with more class,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
Daschle talked about campaign stops where he met people whose problems reminded him of why he first came to Congress 25 years ago, said a Democratic aide. One 75-year-old woman he met wakes up every day at 4:30 a.m. for a job at McDonald’s, he said; she needs the extra money because she spends most of her Social Security check on prescription medicines.
The only incumbent senator defeated in a re-election bid, Daschle also addressed the Senate Democrats’ difficult position Ã¢€” they lost four seats on Nov. 2. He urged senators “to find the politics of common ground, but to never compromise their principles,” the aide said. He concluded with a favorite quote from Teddy Roosevelt: “You should always work hard at work worth doing.” His public praise of Reid was unstinting. “I can think of no better man to lead (the Democratic party) into a new era,” Daschle said in a statement following Reid’s election.
Despite the emotions that accompanied Daschle’s private goodbye, politics is an unforgiving and unsentimental business, as Reid demonstrated in his first public remarks as Democratic leader.
“We all miss, more than we can describe, Senator Daschle,” Reid said. “But Tom Daschle is not here. We’re going to proceed forward.”
Ironically, had Daschle followed his own advice, he would still be the Minority Leader. His stance of obstructing Republican initiatives and Bush political appointees at every turn, even when the interests of his own Red State constituents were disserved by doing so, cost him his job.