INTERVIEW WITH FORMER SENATE LEADER
ROBERT DOLE (R-KS)

© 1996 Hedrick Smith Productions, Inc.


Party Unity vs. Lone Rangers and Renegades

HS: Tell me how hard is it to keep the Republicans together? You've got a very narrow margin if you lose a couple of votes. What do you say to Newt about that?

DOLE: Plus they have different rules. We can bring it up and hope we can get consent to even put the bill on the floor. If not we have to go through this procedure and get sixty votes. I only have fifty-three Republicans.

HS: So how do you work it?

DOLE: I just have to have a lot of meetings and be very patient and listen a lot

HS: Did I hear you say you'll be meeting with Gingrich right now?

DOLE: Oh right now we've been meeting I'd say the last 30 days, except for the Thanksgiving holidays of course, we had two, three, four meetings a day. And plus a press conference. And maybe another

HS: Tell me this is a little of a switch. Over the years you and Newt have had a couple of things to say about each other.

DOLE: I mean he was over there and I was over here. Seldom do house members and Senators get very close to each other. But we trust each other we don't play games together. We are the leaders. He was the initiator. We didn't have that on the Senate side. I think we pretty much complied with most of the provisions of the contract. But most of the time we have a good working relationship.

HS: How did that develop from the kind of bristly relationship you had before?

DOLE: I think having been a House Member there's always a little mistrust between House members and Senators. They look upon us as the House of Lords. We're six year terms we're not as tough as House members. And I remember when I was in the House the senators were pretty soft. But I think it's the same philosophy.

Efforts at Party Discipline

HS: What about guys like Rick Santorum who wanted to discipline Mark Hatfield?

DOLE: I understand they feel strongly about party loyalty.

HS: Do you think that was a mistake..that effort?

DOLE: Well of course Rick says it wasn't aimed directly at Hatfield it was aimed at Connie Mack and it was aimed at how we're going to treat these things in the future. I mean if you don't tell somebody in advance that you have a lot of party responsibility than don't cut his knees off when he veers off.

DOLE: I think he offered to resign. And I was criticized because I didn't accept it. If I'd accept it we only needed 66 votes and we could have won. I think he was very sincere man but I don't think he'd resign had I asked him to. And I wasn't' going to ask him to.. This is one fight there are going to be 50 others. This is one issue I feel strongly about. I rarely press people to vote with Bob Dole.

HS: You asked him to just stay away..what did he say about that?

DOLE: Yeah..He said he couldn't do that.

HS: But what did you say?

DOLE: I don't remember precisely. But uh..just get out of town. I mean, do something. I don't remember. I think he kept saying he never had a revelation. And I haven't had many revelations lately either. At least Mark Hatfield was consistent. He voted that way before.

The New Republican Majority

SMITH: It's easier to be in opposition?

DOLE: No doubt about it. It's tough. It's tough in a sense to be responsible. I even find some of the people in the majority sometimes would much rather be in opposition. Because it's easier to be against -- besides you only need 41 votes in the Senate to kill anything.

DOLE : I think Clinton had a big shock when the Republicans took over the Congress because he had never dealt with a -- you know, Arkansas is pretty much a one party state at the state legislative level. So, here you suddenly had a Republican Congress that had to be a big shock to him.

SMITH: But you all were pretty firm on the tax issue?

DOLE: Oh, yeah, I think we'd been bitten pretty hard by it in 1992. President Bush made the promise. Probably shouldn't have done it, but he pledged thereat be no new taxes -- read my lips -- and here we have -- have to go on through a very bad experience in 92, lost the election primarily because of that or at least a big factor. And then Clinton comes along saying "will you vote for some more taxes" and the answer was, "no."

DOLE: In fact, we even adjourned the Senate so we could go over and watch Newt sworn in. I wanted to be certain I saw that in my life, a Republican speaker. They did a good job. Maybe went a little too fast and too far in some areas. But overall they got their work done and we knew it was going to take use longer. But we reached a point where I felt maybe we were frightening people. Maybe people thought we were going too far on any program, maybe it was the environment, maybe it was medicare, maybe it was something else. It seemed to me that if we were going to get our job done, we were going to run this place, and maybe we ought to slow down and take a look and find what the response was from the American people. In some areas, the Senate would not go as far as the House and I think it's very clear -- first place, we have different rules. In the Senate you need 60 votes.In fact, I used to tell Newt you did in two hours what it took me two weeks to do.

White House and Congress: Confrontation vs. Compromise

DOLE: You shouldn't be punishing federal employees, who made on an average, most of them 25 - 30 thousand dollar a year. They were sort of the hostages in this battle and I didn't think that was fair.

DOLE: I think I finally convinced my House colleagues that we better get on with the program. We can tell ourselves all day long that it was Clinton's fault, the American people were blaming, the President and the Congress, but mostly Congress and we were in charge for the first time in 40 years. We needed to demonstrate we could run this place without creating a lot of chaos and I think some people hardships. If we want to downsize the government, let's eliminate some of the departments.

DOLE: The sensible strategy is to get our work done around here, get the appropriations bills passed. This may not seem like a lot to viewers, but we're talking about billions, hundreds of billions of dollars. Send the President another balanced budget, which welfare reform, medicaid reform, medicare reform, tax cuts for families with children, all these things we've talked about, things that President Clinton tells us privately he probably agrees with, and let's see what he does with it.

When the freshmen sort of marched in and told Newt, "we're not going to do this any more." I think there was this confrontation. I think this was -- "shut down the government, you know, six months whatever it takes." And my view is that was a big big mistake.

It was almost as though they'd orchestrated this in the White House. Newt would interrupt the President, oh, you can't go that far, you can't go that far, Mr. President. It was almost like we were there sort of as props.

DOLE: Where we broke down-- on policy, how are we going to save medicare, how are we going to reduce medicaid, how are we going to send welfare back to the states. And the President sort of balked at all these things. So, have we given up? Not completely.

DOLE: I'd say you can't be rigid and you've got to keep your word. I mean, if you go into negotiations and say "I'm not going to give anything or I can't give anything" because my troops won't let me give anything, you know, why -- why go in the first place. I mean, compromise is not bad. I get faulted for compromising sometimes. If I can get 80 - 85 percent this year, maybe get the rest next year, and never get the rest, that's better than zero. It's good, sound policy. I think if you're going to go into any negotiation, anything you do, you got to have some flexibility. You must keep your word. You're word is everything in politics. If you violate those rules, you might as well leave.
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© 1996 Hedrick Smith Productions, Inc.