Democrats United in Plans to Block Top Bush Initiatives

Sunday, 09 January 2005 23:14 by: Anonymous

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DNC Chairman Candidates Focus on South    [
Democrats Pick Campaign Chief    [

    Democrats United in Plans to Block Top Bush Initiatives
    By Dan Balz
    The Washington Post

    Monday 10 January 2005

    As President Bush prepares for his second term, Democrats in Washington and around the country are organizing for a year of confrontation and resistance, saying they are determined to block Bush's major initiatives and thereby deny him the mandate he has claimed from his reelection victory last November.

    The Democrats' mood and posture represent a contrast to that of four years ago, after Bush's disputed victory over Al Gore. Then, despite anger and bitterness over how the 2000 election ended, Democrats were tentative and initially open to Bush's calls for bipartisan cooperation. Today, despite Bush's clear win over Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Democrats across the ideological spectrum say they are united in their desire to fight.

    In part that mood reflects the reality that Democrats are even more of a minority party than they were when Bush was sworn in four years ago, their ranks smaller in both the House and Senate and their ability to influence the legislative agenda sharply diminished.

    But the unity of purpose also underscores a hardening of attitudes among Democrats - from elected officials and strategists to grass-roots activists and party constituencies - that Bush's domestic agenda presents opportunities to divide the GOP, break apart Bush's winning coalition and recapture some of the voters who supported Bush last fall.

    Democrats said they see opportunities on Social Security, where Bush wants to partially privatize the system by allowing younger workers to divert payroll taxes to personal accounts; judicial appointments, where both sides are gearing up for a clash over a possible Supreme Court vacancy; and revising the tax code. Bush may find his best chance to win Democratic votes for his call to limit medical malpractice lawsuits.

    Bush has opened the year with calls for bipartisanship, telling newly elected members of Congress last week that he hoped to work across party lines to solve the country's problems. Democrats, however, appear to have little interest in building bridges to the White House, saying they do not believe Bush is genuinely interested in cooperation or compromise with the opposition.

    "The president's idea of bipartisanship is, 'Here's what I want to do, join me,' " said Rep. Robert Menendez (N.J.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. "It isn't about negotiating. It isn't about compromise. It's almost this belief that they have the monopoly on what's best for the country."

    Democrats point to Bush's decision to renominate a group of conservative judicial candidates who had been blocked by Democratic opposition during his first term as evidence that he will aggressively push an ideological agenda in his second term.

    Sen. Tom Harkin (Iowa), one of the most combative Democrats in Congress, accused Bush of "throwing down the gauntlet" since winning reelection. "Usually when you win you try to be magnanimous," he said. "But everything we've heard from the president is, 'I've got a mandate,' 'I've got all this political capital,' and 'We'll work with you as long as you agree with us.' Well, wait a minute, you mean we have to agree to everything before they'll work with us. That's a non-starter."

    "Four years ago, as a new president, his inaugural address indicated he wanted to work with people and then he didn't," said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.). "That Iraq experience was the most painful. There's a much reduced expectation that you can work with this White House or work with this Republican leadership."

    White House officials see Democrats as the obstructionists, but Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.) said the president's advisers are trying to have it both ways. "You cannot have bipartisanship based on a political strategy of polarization," he said.

    Kerry's defeat left Democrats demoralized, particularly because so many of them believed the Massachusetts senator was going to win, and it has triggered a period of introspection and debate over how the party needs to change to win elections in 2006 and compete for the White House again in 2008.

    That internal debate has not caused Democrats to shrink from a fight with Bush - if anything, Democrats' willingness to challenge him has increased in the past month - nor do they see a serious political cost in doing so. Harkin said Senate Democrats, who met privately Wednesday, were resolved "not to let the Republicans intimidate us or roll over us."

    Several events have contributed to Democrats' belief that Bush can be challenged at little political damage to themselves. They include the embarrassment over the withdrawal of Bush's nomination of Bernard B. Kerik as secretary of homeland security; the speculation, fed by anonymous administration leaks, about whether Treasury Secretary John W. Snow would stay or go; and the uproar over Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's remarks in Iraq about whether the military was equipped properly to go to war.

    Just as significant have been polls showing that Bush gained little ground in public opinion with his victory. "What's been clear and somewhat surprising in the weeks after the election is that Bush got virtually no bounce and no honeymoon from his victory," said Democratic pollster Geoffrey Garin. "What seems pretty clear is that there was nothing particularly healing about Bush's victory."

    That has emboldened Democrats to resist, and they see attractive targets on the horizon. "If you look at the major priorities that Bush has outlined for a second term, they all create significant opportunities for Democrats," said Mark Mellman, who was Kerry's campaign pollster.

    Bush's Social Security proposal that would allow younger workers to invest some of their contributions in personal savings accounts has further served to unite Democrats across the ideological spectrum - from the liberal Campaign for America's Future to two centrist groups, the Democratic Leadership Council and the newly formed Third Way.

    "I don't think Democrats are frightened of him," said DLC President Bruce Reed. "They're frightened of what he wants to do but not frightened of what he can do to them, the way many were on tax cuts."

    "It looks like Democrats are going to stay firm and stay united," said Roger Hickey, one of the leaders of the Campaign for America's Future. "Bush is asking Republicans to bite a harder bullet than he did four years ago."

    Grass-roots Democrats feed the appetite to battle Bush, giving Democratic leaders in Washington more incentive to challenge the president. "I've been struck how funders and groups like MoveOn are very engaged and are not letting up at all," said Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg.

    Four years ago, he said, Democrats pulled back, but this time there is pressure from the grass roots to continue the fight. "Democrats took a licking [in November], but see themselves back in the battle," Greenberg said. "I don't think outside forces will allow Democrats [in Washington] to disengage."

    For all their talk of challenging Bush, Senate Democrats are unlikely to mount serious opposition to the president's nominee for attorney general, White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, in spite of his role in shaping legal policies on torture and interrogation methods. Gonzales is expected to win confirmation without difficulty, both sides predict, and some Democrats said they believe it is a mistake to let him sail through so easily.

    Nor are Democrats well organized yet to challenge Bush effectively. House Democrats represent an ineffective force in a body tightly controlled by the GOP majority. Senate Democrats are adjusting to new leadership, with the office of Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) likely to become the focal point for coordinating Democratic strategy. The Democratic National Committee must pick a new leader to replace outgoing chairman Terrence R. McAuliffe before the national party can provide real help.

    Already there is grumbling among strategists that the party is falling behind the White House and congressional Republicans in developing a strategy. In the end, they acknowledge, Democrats may have more desire than capacity to defeat Bush's agenda, but as Bush's second term begins, the battle lines in Washington are being clearly drawn.


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    DNC Chairman Candidates Focus on South
    By Harry R. Weber
    The Associated Press

    Monday 10 January 2005

    College Park, Ga. - Seven candidates for chairman of the Democratic National Committee promised Saturday to address the concerns of Southern voters, saying they had learned the lessons of the past two elections.

    "You want to know my Southern strategy, show up," said Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor who dropped out of the presidential race during last year's Democratic primaries.

    Dean and the other candidates seeking to replace Terry McAuliffe as the face of the Democratic Party spoke before a Southern audience at the first of several regional caucuses to give Democratic Party officials a chance to hear from them.

    "You can't compete in just 19 or 20 states," said former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb, another candidate for national party chairman. "You get better odds in Las Vegas than with that program."

    Each of the candidates addressed questions on how the Democratic Party can attract women, black and minority voters. None offered to change the party's positions, but all suggested the party needs to focus the issues more.

    The chairman's job will be filled in February when the Democratic National Committee holds its winter meetings.

    Also running for the spot are former Texas Rep. Martin Frost, Democratic strategist Donnie Fowler, former Indiana Rep. Tim Roemer, former Ohio state Democratic Party chair David Leland and Simon Rosenberg, head of the New Democrat Network.

    "It's not just about spending more money," Rosenberg said in an interview before the forum. "Money also needs to have strategy."

    Roemer said if elected he would work harder to appeal to rural voters in the South and Midwest, two areas that have gone solidly to Bush in the last two elections.

    "Some people think we need to steer left. Some people think I would steer the party right. It's not about that. It's about expanding the bus," Roemer said.

    Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a fellow Democrat, told the candidates that the party needs to listen more to local officials. He said he is proof that Democrats know how to win on the statewide level in the South, and that can be translated to the presidential election with a more comprehensive strategy.

    "The next time around, we want a 50-state platform. We want a 50-state party," Bredesen said to loud applause. "To my party, get out of Washington more."

    On the Web: Democratic National Committee:


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    Democrats Pick Campaign Chief
    The New York Times

    Monday 10 January 2005

    Washington - Representative Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, a former senior adviser in the Clinton administration, was named on Sunday as the new chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

    The appointment by the minority leader, Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, means Mr. Emanuel will direct the Democrats' effort to recapture the House in the 2006 midterm elections, after they suffered losses in both the House and Senate last November.

    "Some people argue about old Democrats and new Democrats," Mr. Emanuel said in explaining his philosophy. "I'm a Vince Lombardi Democrat. Winning is everything."

    Mr. Emanuel, who is beginning his second term, worked on the campaign committee in the 1980's before joining Bill Clinton's presidential campaign and then his White House administration.

    He will succeed Robert T. Matsui, the California congressman who died this month. Mr. Matsui had previously said that he was not going to continue in the role.

    Ms. Pelosi, who has been closely involved in the campaign operations of House Democrats, described Mr. Emanuel as a "master strategist" who impressed his senior colleagues with his ideas and political skills in his first two years.

    "Rahm knows this country, its people and its politics from the neighborhoods up, which has been a key to his success and will be a key to ours in 2006," she said.

    Mr. Emanuel's counterpart at the National Republican Congressional Committee will be Representative Thomas M. Reynolds of New York, who was also chairman in the previous election cycle.

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