Inside Politics

Article excerpt

Byline: Greg Pierce

DASCHLE PLAYS DEFENSE

Sen. Tom Daschle apparently is feeling the heat from advertisements in his home state, paid for by conservative groups, that accuse him of obstructing legislation that backers say would be good for the country.

Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat and Senate majority leader, was buying radio and television commercials, scheduled to begin airing yesterday in Sioux Falls, to respond to a spate of critical ads broadcast in recent weeks by conservative groups, the Associated Press reports, citing aides to the senator.

"There's a lot of misinformation that's coming into South Dakota from outside groups and Sen. Daschle feels it's important to set the record straight," said Ranit Schmelzer, the majority leader's spokeswoman.

Since Mr. Daschle is not running for re-election this year, buying commercial time is an unusual move.

Conservative sponsors of some of the ads have also made clear they hope that by criticizing Mr. Daschle, they can weaken the state's other Democratic senator, Tim Johnson, who faces a competitive challenge from Republican Rep. John Thune this year.

The list of Mr. Daschle's critics is a long one.

It includes the Club for Growth, an anti-tax group that has pledged to spend $500,000 on commercials in a one-week buy in the state's two television markets. The group is currently airing an ad that blames Mr. Daschle for "petty partisanship" in opposing tax cuts and the economic-stimulus bill.

According to Mr. Daschle's office, the America's Senior Coalition ran a radio ad targeting the senator in October, and the Tax Relief Coalition pitched in with radio commercials in November accusing him of blocking action on President Bush's economic-stimulus package. A group called Common Sense attacked Mr. Daschle on the radio in December for holding up a Labor Department nomination.

Mr. Daschle's office also reported that United to Secure America, a group seeking immigration-policy reform, had made a "substantial television buy" in the state.

BAD FEELINGS

"Things have reached the point that even small incidents generate bad feelings" between President Bush and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, USA Today reports.

"Last month, for example, Bush, Daschle and other congressional leaders were at their weekly breakfast meeting in the White House. Bush's chief liaison with Congress, Nick Calio, was the only staffer in the room. He was taking notes on the conversation when Daschle asked if the leaders could talk privately. Calio got up to leave. Bush rose, too, acting as though he thought Daschle also wanted him to leave the room," reporters Judy Keen and William M. Welch write.

"Calio left, and the meeting continued. But Bush was irritated. He thought Daschle was out of line to ask a trusted White House aide to leave the room. Daschle's advisers say he wanted to make an offer on economic-stimulus legislation and didn't want it leaked to reporters. It leaked anyway."

HELEN AND HAMAS

Veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas stands accused of arguing "in support of terrorism." Her accuser: Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary.

At yesterday's White House press briefing, Mr. Fleischer was answering a question from CNN's Major Garrett about U.S. efforts for peace in the Middle East. Mr. Fleischer was discussing the recent Israeli seizure of a shipload of Palestinian terrorist weapons when Miss Thomas interrupted to ask, "Where do the Israelis get their arms?"

Mr. Fleischer began to answer, "There is a difference, Helen, and that is .

. . "

Miss Thomas interrupted again: "What is the difference?"

Mr. Fleischer said, "The targeting of innocents through the use of terror, which is a common enemy, for Yasser Arafat and for the people of Israel, as well as . …