- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 23, 2001

Senate Democrats objected to a late-night gentlemans agreement that would have allowed 98-year-old Sen. Strom Thurmond to go home during marathon voting on tax cuts, Republicans said yesterday.
Democrats denied the accusation, saying the Senate simply adjourned for the night before the kind-hearted agreement could be worked out.
But Republicans say the episode was at best another example of the Democrats attitude to win at all costs, and at worst an attempt to tire out a frail senator on whose health the evenly divided chamber.
"Its just like any other organization," said Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, chairman of the Senate Republicans. "You have people who have a good heart and look beyond the political… . And then youve got some who view it only for power and for politics."
According to several Republican sources, this is what happened:
The Senate was working late into the night Monday on a $1.35 trillion tax cut supported by President Bush and most Senate Republicans. Democrats, most of whom oppose the tax cut, were offering a variety of amendments that delayed final passage and pushed the voting past 11 p.m.
As the session dragged on to 11:30 p.m., Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, and Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, worked out an informal deal. Mr. Thurmond, South Carolina Republican, would be allowed to go home for the night, and Mr. Biden also would leave to offset Mr. Thurmonds vote.
"He didnt look well, in my view," Mr. Biden said of Mr. Thurmond in a news conference yesterday. "Strom Thurmond did not ask for any relief, did not ask for any help. I spontaneously walked up to Strom Thurmond and said, 'Strom, go home. Nothing important is going to happen here tonight. And Phil [Gramm] said to me, 'The way to get him to go home is promise him you will pair with him."
Mr. Biden approached Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, Assistant Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, on the floor about the deal he had made. They raised concerns.
Mr. Daschle said he told Mr. Biden, "You should go talk to Senator Byrd," a reference to 86-year-old Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat. The minority leader also said Mr. Reid asked Mr. Biden why he would want to miss up to 30 votes that evening on tax-cut amendments when he has a re-election coming up next year.
Mr. Biden said Mr. Reid asked him, "How are you going to explain it at home?"
A Republican aide who was on the floor at the time and saw the episode but was out of earshot said the three Democrats talking to Mr. Biden appeared very "serious." A videotape of the session shows Mr. Biden in discussion with his partys leaders and Mrs. Clinton for about two minutes.
Mr. Biden then spoke to Mr. Byrd for about 30 seconds, but Mr. Byrd declined the offer. Mr. Biden then approached Mr. Gramm and Mr. Thurmond to inform them there was no deal.
Said Mr. Lott yesterday, "There was an effort made to do a pair last night for Senator Byrd. Unfortunately, we got an indication [from Democrats] that that wasnt going to be possible."
Such deals between senators are infrequent, but not unheard of. Republican Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska had such an arrangement on Monday with Democratic Sen. Daniel K. Inouye of Hawaii.
Mr. Gramm downplayed the situation yesterday, saying the Senate quit for the evening around midnight before an arrangement could be worked out.
"We probably would have worked out a deal where they could have if they wanted to, but we adjourned," Mr. Gramm said. "Thats all there is to it. I dont think theres any evidence that Democrats were trying to keep Strom here. We were still trying to work it out."
Of Mr. Byrd and Mr. Thurmond, Mr. Gramm said, "Neither of them asked to go home, and I dont know if they would have gone home. They werent protesting."
But many Republicans were seething about the matter yesterday.
"This is disgusting," said a Republican aide. "This is the lowest form of politics, when youre actually trying to exhaust senators into their graves in the hopes of gaining the majority."
Mr. Thurmonds health has been the subject of much political speculation because, with the Senate divided 50-50, his death could tip the chamber over to the Democrats by giving South Carolinas Democratic governor a chance to appoint a successor.
Republicans were united in their praise of Mr. Biden for trying to help Mr. Thurmond, who has been hospitalized several times in the past year and grips an aide with each arm as he walks.
"All I can say is, my opinion of Joe Biden, which was good to begin with, is better today," Mr. Santorum said.
Said Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican: "I really appreciated Joe Bidens effort. I thought it was a class act."
Mr. Biden told reporters that he was more worried about Mr. Thurmond than was Mr. Lott.
He said Mr. Reid asked him, "Isnt that Trent Lotts responsibility to take care of Strom?"
"And I said, 'Well, hes obviously not going to take care of Strom," Mr. Biden told reporters. Mr. Lott "is standing right there saying were going to keep on, and I think Strom should go home."
Mr. Lott said Mr. Thurmond did not ask to go home despite the lateness.
"Senator Thurmond feels very strongly about his responsibility to be present and vote," Mr. Lott said. "He wouldnt leave until I assured him that there werent going to be any more votes. Hes here and hes doing his job."
And he was doing it again last night, as Democrats once more prolonged a final vote on the tax cut with a multitude of amendments.


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