Mark down the date -- July 18, 2001. That's the day Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) committed his first major gaffe since becoming majority leader barely a month before. Whether the liberal Washington media pack choose to harp on the comments Daschle made that day as a serious faux pas, both the timing and the substance of those remarks indicate that he may not be quite as ready to run political rings around bumbling, fumbling George W. Bush as his many groupies in the press predicted in June.
Daschle's remarks came during a breakfast meeting with editors of USA Today and Gannett newspapers. According to USA Today, Daschle charged that the administration's failure to engage on a wide range of international issues was eroding U.S. leadership in the world.
To date, much of the press coverage of Daschle's comments has focused on their timing, coming as they did as President Bush was flying to Europe. There is, or was, an unwritten rule -- politicians mute their criticism of the president when he is traveling beyond America's shores. Daschle violated that rule, and it strains credulity to claim that Daschle was unaware that he was doing so. Rather, one suspects Daschle violated the rule hoping he would sting the White House into an angry response, thus guaranteeing maximum press coverage of Daschle's criticism, allowing Daschle and the Democrats to argue that the Republicans did it to Bill Clinton and allowing the thrust of Daschle's comments to stand.
Suffice it to say things haven't worked out the way Daschle may have hoped. Informed of Daschle's comments, USA Today quotes White House spokesman Scott McClellan as terming them "a disappointing departure from the long-standing bipartisan tradition of the Senate majority leader when it comes to American foreign policy." Bush, asked about Daschle's comments, expressed a similar sentiment. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was dispatched to call Daschle, express her disappointment and discuss Daschle's concerns.
But the success of the White House response to Daschle was apparent when Tim Russert, questioning Daschle on NBC's Meet the Press, picked up on the White House spin. He asked Daschle point blank, "Senator, are they suggesting that you're not ready to be majority leader?"
This came after Bush political adviser Karen Hughes expressed the hope that we could chalk this episode up to the fact that the majority leader still was learning the ropes of his new job. Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi suggested that this was the sort of thing that happens when one still has "training wheels" on one's bike. …