- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 6, 2002

The Senate stalemate over a bill to create a Department of Homeland Security has strained Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle's relationship with the news media.
Mr. Daschle, who frequently elicits appreciative laughter from reporters at his news conferences, chastised the Capitol Hill press corps twice last week not reporting his view that Republicans were to blame for the lack of progress.
At one news conference, the South Dakota Democrat displayed for television cameras a chart illustrating five procedural votes in which the Democrats' bill did not gain the necessary 60 votes.
"One, two, three, four, five times, the Republicans have blocked homeland security," Mr. Daschle told reporters, "and I must say I haven't read that anywhere yet. But I'm hoping one of these days, somebody might report it."
The assembled reporters did not take his cue. The first five questions from the news media for Mr. Daschle were about a resolution authorizing President Bush to use military force against Iraq.
Two days later, Mr. Daschle again raised his complaint at a news conference at the Capitol.
"We've had five cloture votes," he told reporters. "Nobody out there knows it because you all don't report it. But there are five cloture votes that we've had on homeland security so far. And we may have five more, and you won't report those either."
Whereupon a reporter piped up with the next question: "Do you expect any Iraq votes to happen this week?"
Mr. Daschle's counterpart, Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, said the news media are not exhibiting an uncharacteristic bias toward the Republican Party.
"I see a media bias in favor of honesty," Mr. Lott told reporters Friday. "and even though a lot of you want to help Senator Daschle, you just know that what he's saying is not the case, when he tries to infer that Republicans have been filibustering homeland security."
Mr. Daschle's complaints stood out, especially because his relationship with reporters is generally considered to be friendlier than that of most other congressional leaders who deal regularly with the press corps.
"Daschle doesn't have to worry about a hostile press, so he worries about an inattentive press," said Robert Lichter, president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group in Washington. "This is standard procedure when your message isn't getting out."
A reporter who covers Congress for a major news organization, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he does not take Mr. Daschle's complaint seriously because other Democrats are negotiating with Republicans on a solution to the impasse.
"The problem is every time there's a cloture vote, there are members of his own party who say things are still alive and they're trying to work out a deal," the reporter said. "The bottom line is there's a dispute between the White House and the Democrats."
President Bush wants flexibility in personnel issues in the new department, arguing that national security requires quick action on certain jobs. Democrats want to deny him that power and to extend civil service protections to unionized employees that would make it harder for the administration to fire or transfer personnel.
Democrats are also not willing to vote against their union base so close to an election.
Mr. Lott noted that he has been negotiating with Democratic Sens. John B. Breaux of Louisiana, Zell Miller of Georgia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska on a compromise measure. He said Mr. Daschle rejected a deal because "the unions will not accept" it.
"That's the truth of what's going on," Mr. Lott said. "He's worried about the appearance that we have left town without doing a Homeland Security Department, even though he is blocking the negotiations that could actually produce one, but he's afraid that he will be questioned, Democrats will be questioned about their commitment to security if we don't have a homeland security bill."
Mr. Lichter said the situation is a glimpse into the frustration both parties feel with the news media.
"Conservatives assume the liberal press is out to get them," Mr. Lichter said. "Democrats ask, 'Where is the liberal press when we need them?'"


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide