WASHINGTON President Bush's top staff aide took the blame for the defection of Sen. James Jeffords from the Republican Party to become an independent, a move that shifted control of the Senate from the GOP to the Democrats.
"I think I've got to do a better job of communicating with people on Capitol Hill, but the president has done nothing wrong," White House chief of staff Andrew Card said Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation." He added that Bush has no plans to retaliate against Jeffords, saying: "He is not about political retribution or paybacks."
While pledging to work with the White House, incoming Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said some items on Bush's wish list, including drilling for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, are "dead." He also told NBC's "Meet the Press" he could not envision building more nuclear power plants, as Bush's energy task force recommended, before figuring out how to dispose of nuclear waste.
Card responded: "It sounds to me like he (Daschle) doesn't have an agenda other than an agenda of 'no.' . . . This should not be about just saying no to any agenda that the president puts forward."
Losing control of the Senate to Democrats will not deter Bush from pressing ahead with his agenda, Card said.
"We'll be able to get the president's agenda put forward because it's an agenda for America," he said. "This president wants to work toward future changes for America that are important to him. He campaigned on them, and he's going to deliver them."
Card said the president bears no responsibility for Jeffords' defection, which the senator said was prompted by his inability to reconcile his moderate positions with the conservative agenda set by Bush and other GOP leaders.
Daschle said Bush has "shut us out" of major decisions. He recounted a telephone conversation he had with the president after Jeffords' announcement last week: "I said, 'Look, if there's ever been a time for us to begin working together, this is it. Now we've got to find a way with which to talk more effectively.' "
Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., the outgoing Senate majority leader, said on ABC's "This Week" that he believes some Senate Democrats may try to "ram their agenda" through Congress and stymie Bush's agenda with unwarranted investigations.
Other Republicans said Jeffords' switch was a wake-up call. Some in the GOP "have become a bit arrogant," said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.
"You become arrogant, you get sloppy, you disconnect. Politics is about people; elections are about governance, and you can't disconnect the two," Hagel told CBS. "This is not catastrophic for us, but we should learn here."
Hagel said Bush, who likes to delegate details to subordinates, must take a more active role in legislative affairs: "That means he's going to have to understand issues better, more deeply, get himself immersed in this."
Lott's deputy, Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., said Republicans must do a better job making sure that GOP moderates, especially from the Northeast, feel comfortable in the party.
"Maybe we haven't brought everyone in to make them feel a part of our team and our effort. We're going to do better," Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, added on CNN's "Late Edition."
Although there has been some speculation that Hagel might challenge Lott in a Republican leadership fight, Hagel said he and his colleagues would stand by the incumbent.
Lott defended his leadership, saying Senate Republicans have already taken a personal inventory and have "come out unified." They also came out with a plan to expand or rotate leadership "to make sure that we're hearing every thought," he said.
"Senator Lott's in good shape," Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on "Fox News Sunday." "I don't think there was any lack of effort on the part of the leadership to keep him (Jeffords) in the fold."
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