- The Washington Times - Monday, December 25, 2000

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, only a vote away from bringing his party back into the majority, likely will emerge as the nation's most visible Democrat once Republican George W. Bush moves into the White House.
With the Senate divided 50-50 between the parties and only 41 votes needed under its rules to thwart most legislation, Mr. Daschle, more than any other Democrat in the country, will have the power to block Mr. Bush's agenda or at least extract concessions in exchange for it.
If a historical trend persists the losing party in a presidential election picks up seats in Congress two years later or one of the GOP's aging senators leaves office suddenly, Mr. Daschle quickly could find himself atop the first Democratic majority in either house of Congress since 1994.
"He is the leading Democrat in the country," said Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat and a longtime friend who is part of Mr. Daschle's leadership team. "He has a national platform. I think you will see him emerge as a significant new force in national politics."
The soft-spoken Mr. Daschle, 53, plays down talk of his own rising star.
"I don't think I'm the top anything," the South Dakota Democrat said in an interview in his Senate office, sitting next to a crackling fire. "I see myself as one of many faces in Democratic leadership that hopefully will be able to articulate the vision of our party, but I don't think I have it alone."
Mr. Daschle, who stood by Vice President Al Gore during his postelection battle in Florida, acknowledges that his own hand is stronger with Mr. Bush's victory.
"I think there is something to that," he said. "Although I wouldn't hesitate to trade that is, to have a President Gore and a Vice President Lieberman."
Working opposite a Republican president for the first time provides Mr. Daschle both a challenge and an opportunity to be more active in shaping party policy. He says he will share setting the agenda with House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, who will have nine fewer votes than Republicans in that chamber.
Counting the tie-breaking vote of Richard B. Cheney, who will be vice president, Mr. Daschle has only one fewer vote than Republicans in the Senate. But it's Senate rules, which give the minority party more power than in the House, that give Mr. Daschle the stronger hand.
In the Senate, it's easier to block initiatives than to pass them, said Steven S. Smith, a Senate historian at the University of Minnesota.
"If Senator Daschle and the Democrats are freed from having to pass a president's agenda," Mr. Smith said, "they can fall back more on negative power, and use that as a source of leverage with the Republicans."
Of course, in this pre-honey-
moon period, Mr. Daschle declines to talk about "negative power," speaking instead of working in a bipartisan way with Mr. Bush. The two men met for a half hour in Mr. Daschle's office last week.
Mr. Bush has touted his ability to work across political aisles, especially in establishing a friendship with the late Bob Bullock, the Democratic lieutenant governor in Texas. But Mr. Daschle also has befriended a top Republican in his state, Gov. William J. Janklow.
"We actually talked about that," Mr. Daschle said of his meeting with Mr. Bush. "I indicated that we both have something in common. I think it may be asking a lot off the bat to expect a friendship of that depth with the new president. But I do hope that some of the same qualities that came from that relationship can be found in this one."
There will be no papering over the major disagreements Mr. Daschle and Mr. Bush have on issues such as tax cuts, school vouchers and partial privatization of Social Security.
But those who know Mr. Daschle say his low-key, easygoing bearing will help smooth the transition for both men.
"I don't know of anybody who doesn't get along with Tom Daschle," said former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, who preceded Mr. Daschle as Democratic leader.
"He's really good, and he's good in an understated and nonconfrontational way," said Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report, a Washington newsletter. "It's hard not to like Tom Daschle. It's hard to resent him. He's got that nice-guy style about him."

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