GOP Vows to Retake Floor
Republican leaders told rank-and-file Senators last week that the chamber will be a “battleground” in this presidential election year and unveiled a plan intended to promote the GOP’s positions on six specific issue areas in the coming months.
The Republican leadership is urging their colleagues to invoke their Senatorial privilege of using the floor to speak in favor of President Bush’s legislative agenda and question the policy proposals of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
“They have put out the signal, Senator Kerry’s campaign says the battle for the presidency is going to be waged on the floor of the United States Senate,” Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.) said in an interview. “They are tipping off what they want to do, so we are going to engage.”
Santorum was one of three GOP leaders to sign a memo distributed to Senators at Tuesday’s Republican policy lunch detailing the new initiative, which calls for a renewed focus on such issues as the war on terror, jobs/economy, health care, education, retirement security and marriage.
Santorum, Republican Conference Vice Chairwoman Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) and Republican Policy Committee Chairman Jon Kyl (Ariz.) described these as “six of the most critical issues in the months ahead” in the memo, dated March 23.
Republicans, who asked not to be named, said GOP leaders are concerned that Democrats have used the floor more effectively than they have in recent months to advance their agenda.
While GOP leaders would not speak specifically to that issue, they vowed not to allow Democrats to monopolize the floor to promote Kerry’s initiatives and ultimately his candidacy.
“It is clear that the presidential campaign has already started on the floor of the Senate and Democrats are using all of the time they can to try and score political points,” Kyl said in an interview. “We should not cede the floor to them.”
“We are going to engage … we are going to try and ramp up the effort here,” Santorum added.
Specifically, GOP leaders are “expanding the structure” of six existing “working groups” charged with espousing the Republican line on these issues. The Policy Committee, the research arm of the GOP conference, will make additional research material available to GOP Senators so they may speak authoritatively on each of the topics.
“The purpose of this proactive effort is to provide Republican Senators with enhanced resources to more effectively communicate our message to the public and the media,” the GOP leaders wrote in the memo.
Democratic leaders said they are ready and willing to lock horns with the Republicans on each topic.
“If we see an increased presence on the floor by the Republicans wanting to take on these issues, we certainly will meet them there,” said Senate Democratic Policy Chairman Byron Dorgan (N.D.). “I am looking forward to having an open debate on the floor.”
Political rhetoric on the Senate floor has increased since it became apparent after Super Tuesday that Kerry would be named his party’s presidential nominee at the Democratic National Convention this summer in Boston.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) sharply criticized the White House on Thursday for trying to undermine former terrorism czar Richard Clarke’s credibility in the wake of his allegations he made in a recently released book that President Bush failed to recognize al Qaeda as a threat.
“The president came to Washington four years ago promising to change the tone,” Daschle said. “The people around him have done that, they’ve changed it for the worse. They are doing things that should never be done and have never been done before.”
On Friday, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) defended the Bush administration in his own speech from the floor.
“I am troubled by these charges,” Frist said of Clarke’s allegations. “I am equally troubled that someone would sell a book, trading on their former service as a government insider with access to our nation’s most valuable intelligence, in order to profit from the suffering that this nation endured on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I am troubled that Senators on the other side are so quick to accept such claims,” the Majority Leader added.