Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat currently a policy adviser at the law firm DLA Piper LLP, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that President Barack Obama must demonstrate passion that he’s been lacking when he gives the annual State of the Union speech to Congress Jan. 28.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the program with former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Thank you for being with us, Senator.
TOM DASCHLE: Pleasure, Al. Good to be back.
HUNT: Obama with comparatively low approval ratings gives the State of the Union next Tuesday. What does he have to do to turn things around?
DASCHLE: I think he has to show energy. He has to show a passion for the things that he wants to do in the second term. I think there’s a little bit of a feeling of lethargy right now. He’s had some setbacks. I think he needs to re-engage and re-energize, and I think he’ll do that.
HUNT: Part of the focus, we’re told, is going to be on - a big part will be on income inequality, which is very real, but critics say it’s divisive and that Obama isn’t going to be able to offer any real solutions.
DASCHLE: Well, I don’t - whether he offers solutions or not, you can’t ignore it. There’s too many studies that have come out in recent weeks. There has been a lot of attention nationally. I think to ignore it would make more of a statement than to devote time -
HUNT: You don’t think it’s a political loser for him?
DASCHLE: I don’t think so, Al. We have to address it. You’ve got conservatives and liberals that are both talking about. They have different ways of addressing it. But, clearly, there’s almost a universal recognition -
HUNT: Any chance for any consensus -
DASCHLE: I think there’s always a chance. I think that’s the real question is, how much can the president find that common ground? It’s one thing to stand your ground here, but I think it’s even more important to find common ground right now.
HUNT: I’m going to get to the common-ground question in just a moment, but, first, let me just ask you about health care, because it obviously got off to a very bad start. Do you think it’s over, its worst troubles? Do you think we’re going to have anywhere close to 7 million people signed up by late spring? And will health-care premiums soar?
DASCHLE: Actually, I think we’ve - we’ve surpassed 11 million, if you take into account the three categories.
HUNT: I was talking about the -
DASCHLE: You’ve got the exchange, Medicaid, and then the young people who signed up on their parents’ plan, so you - you know, you’ve got all of that. Will there be more glitches? Of course. This is not easy. We’re creating a whole new paradigm in health in this country, and that’s a challenge.
I think he’s gone through the toughest part. Obviously, this is - the rollout was a disaster. Everybody recognizes that. But the bottom line is, things are going much better.
HUNT: What about premiums?
DASCHLE: And premiums - I think all - all things considered, are going to be probably stable, maybe even down a little bit from what they were in the past. The reason why, of course, is that we’re reducing costs. We’ve got the lowest cost growth we’ve seen in over 30 years. That’s amazing, Al. And a lot of it has to do with not only ACA, of course, but the - the number of actions that the administration has taken outside of ACA to control costs going forward.
HUNT: You and Trent Lott wrote a fascinating op-ed this week in which you call for more bipartisanship, saying both sides sometimes have taken too unyielding positions. Where have the Democrats been culpable?
DASCHLE: Well, I think probably the most consequential is the opportunity that the Republicans would like to have to offer amendments. You know, it’s - it’s - we all do it. When I was majority leader, I did it. There’s a tendency to want to direct the debate and keep the debate as contained as you can. The minority needs to have the opportunity to offer amendments.
HUNT: So Harry Reid should start yielding on that?
DASCHLE: Well, I don’t know if I’d say yield, but I think finding ways to cooperate -
HUNT: So change, modifying -
DASCHLE: - would - would really make a big difference.
HUNT: Yeah. You also say there ought to be periodic sessions between Republicans and Democrats like there used to be, and you called for, I think, quarterly sessions at Camp David. Yet President Obama, unlike some other presidents, has rarely used the presidential retreat to talk to lawmakers or others. Has this been a mistake? And is there any chance he’ll change?
DASCHLE: Well, I think the president has always felt that there’s got to be cooperation on both sides. And he doesn’t feel as if there’s been adequate cooperation. My feeling is, you can’t give up. You’ve got to keep trying. You’ve got to find ways to break out of the normal venues - that is, meeting in some room on the Capitol - in the Capitol or in the White House, break out of those venues. Find ways to maybe personalize the relationship more than he has.
HUNT: Do you think he’ll use Camp David?
DASCHLE: I’m reluctant to think that he will. That’s not his nature. But I think - I wish he would give it a try more frequently. He’s used it some, I don’t think as much as I’d like to see.
HUNT: Let me stay on the president for a second. Former Defense Secretary Bob Gates suggested that the Obama White House was the most insular since the Nixon White House. Fair rap?
DASCHLE: Well, I can’t speak, you know, historically. I would doubt that it is the most insular. We’ve gone through some pretty insular times.
HUNT: Too insular, though?
DASCHLE: Too insular, yeah. No, I’ve not made it any secret that I - I think the more engaged, the more creatively involved they are with members of Congress, with members of the media, with members of all stripes in Washington serves them well. You’ve got to be engaged. And the more you’re engaged, the more likely it is you’re going to have the relationships that you’re going to need when you’re trying to move legislation.
HUNT: Do you see any encouraging signs that this is changing -
DASCHLE: Well, I have to say, I think his chief of staff, Denis McDonough, who used to work with me, has done a phenomenal job. He’s on the Hill a lot. He gets good remarks from members of both parties. I think - I think he’s done what I’d like to see more of from more people in the White House today.
HUNT: So let me ask you, as a political analyst, how much do you think that Governor Chris Christie’s presidential aspirations have been hurt by these controversies?
DASCHLE: Al, I think it’s unfortunate, but I think it’s substantial. I don’t think it’s irreparable, but it’s going to be tough. He’s got a lot of work to do to recover. He had such an incredible reputation, and most of that is lost for the moment. I think it’s possible to restore it, but it’s always very, very difficult.
HUNT: There are several major stories this weekend about the Clinton political colossus, as in Hillary, almost coronating her for the nomination. Is there a danger that it is too establishment, too Washington-heavy, too we’re going to corner, rather than capture a nomination, assuming that she runs?
DASCHLE: Well, so much of what has happened has been outside of their immediate realm. I mean, it’s all been ostensibly without her consent or her opposition. I mean, just - it’s been - but I do think there is that danger. I mean, we’ve got a long, long way to go. We still have another midterm election to go through.
And so I think you have to be a little concerned about the level of visibility and the perception that you’re trying to lock out others who might otherwise participate. There’s a danger in that.
HUNT: And as she weighs whether to run or not - most people think she’s likely to run - what two or three steps should she take in this very long process now to alleviate those concerns and get herself in good position?
DASCHLE: Well, I don’t know that she needs any advice from me, Al, but I would say that I think probably the most important thing is for her to - to be seen as a - as a normal human being for a while. I mean, you don’t have to be on the stage and seen in official capacities. She’s writing a book. I think spending the time that she’s done on that is a good thing. Maybe getting involved in some other efforts, CGI, the Clinton Global Initiative, might be a valuable thing. But the less political she looks more today, the more politically advantaged she is.
HUNT: You don’t have any doubts she’ll run, do you?
DASCHLE: No, I don’t.
HUNT: All right. And you can’t see anybody else getting the nomination if she does?
DASCHLE: No, she has the unusual capacity - you’d have to go back - and you may know the answer to this - when the last time was somebody was able to generate this kind of support this early for an open seat. Most open seats are very competitive, as you’ve known for - I mean, as you’ve - you’ve followed, as I have, and this is really remarkable. It’s historic.
HUNT: Tom Daschle, thank you so much for being with us.
DASCHLE: My pleasure.
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