In their new positions as power players with the Dem takeover, President Bush and Vice President Cheney met with Senators Harry Reid and Dick Durbin, the leaders when the new Congress convenes next January.
On Friday night, Durbin is celebrating being elected to the Senate 10 years ago at Fultons in the Loop--a kick off to a re-election campaign.
Durbin quipped `` I do want to say thanks personally to the President and Vice President for their conciliatory gesture by wearing blue ties today.â€? Durbin earned a laugh with that one. â€œFrom our side, we think that is a symbolic indication we're off to a good start.â€?
Cheney did not say anything, at least not while the pool reporters were in the Oval Office. The quartet did not take any questions. Reid and Durbin did not appear at a press stake out in front of the West Wing afterwards.
In the Oval Office, the vice president sat on a couch with his back to the Rose Garden and Durbin sat on the opposite couch facing him and beyond him the garden.
On chairs with their backs to the fireplace, Reid left and Bush right. So if you were sitting on the president's desk, you would see right to left: Durbin couch, Reid seat, Bush seat, Cheney couch.
â€œThe elections are over, the problems haven't gone away,â€? Bush said.â€?
â€œAnd I assured the senators that we will cooperate as closely as we can to solve common problems. I of course said this after I congratulated them on great victories. I know they were proud of their team's efforts, and they ran good campaigns and they talked about issues that the people care about, and they won.
â€œMy attitude about this is that there is a great opportunity for us to show the country that Republicans and Democrats are equally as patriotic and equally concerned about the future, and that we can work together. Senator Reid and I are both from the West. I'm from West Texas, he's from Nevada. And we tend to speak the same language, pretty plain spoken people, which should bode well for our relationship.â€?
Reid obliged. â€œThis has been an excellent discussion. We talked about issues that are important to our country. Election is over. The only way to move forward is with bipartisanship and openness, and to get some results. And we've made a commitment, the four of us here today, that's what we're going to do.â€?
Bush asked, â€œDick, do you want to say something?â€?
Durbin said, â€œI thank the President and the Vice President for meeting with us. We talked about a lot of important issues. On Veteran's Day we talked a lot about Iraq and our soldiers and their families, which means so much to all of us.
â€œWe talked about our agenda, moving forward on an agenda, finding things that we can agree on to start off on the right foot. I think that's important. This is a day for looking forward, as we should, instead of looking backwards to past battles and past elections.
â€œI do want to say thanks personally to the President and Vice President for their conciliatory gesture by wearing blue ties today. From our side, we think that is a symbolic indication we're off to a good start.â€?
DURBIN, ON CNN SAID HE ENDORSED OBAMA FOR PRESIDENT.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And joining us now, Senator Dick
Illinois, the minority whip, but soon to be the majority whip, I take
it. Is that a done deal, Senator?
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: If my colleagues on the
side give me that opportunity next week, and I hope they do.
BLITZER: All right, congratulations to you and your fellow
You scored a major, major victory in the United States Senate as well
as the House. You came to the Oval Office today with Senator Harry
Reid. You met with the president and the vice president. I know that
on the surface everybody is saying positive things right now, but can
you really trust this president and vice president over the next two
DURBIN: Listen, this is what it comes down to. We're dependent
another. We can stop the president's agenda. The president can stop
our agenda, and then we both end up empty-handed. He doesn't want to
end his presidency on that note. We don't want to take our opportunity
in Democratic leadership and have it end that way. So we both, I think,
have an incentive to do the right thing cooperatively and that's what
this meeting was about.
BLITZER: Politically from the Democratic perspective, if you
and you get things done in Washington, Republicans working with
Democrats, the executive branch working with the legislative branch. Is
that better for the Democrats prospect in 2008 or is it better if
there's a continuing food fight?
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: If we're going to end the
among the American people about their government and whether it can
truly help them in their everyday lives, we have to produce. And of
course we need the president's cooperation. He has the pen to veto or
sign a bill and so we need to work with him and try to find some common
BLITZER: Put on your political hat for a second. Would the
and the Republicans have been in better shape if they had fired
Rumsfeld, let's say, a month or two ago as opposed to waiting until the
day after the elections?
DURBIN: Yes, no doubt in my mind. If they would have evidenced
indication of change in policy in Iraq, it might have helped them on
Election Day. But Rumsfeld by himself would not have made the
difference. He would have some impact, but I don't think it would have
made a major difference.
BLITZER: Well it could have made a major difference in two
where you narrowly won, Virginia and Montana. Those races were
incredibly close. The Democrats won, but if Rumsfeld presumably would
have been fired earlier, maybe the Republican candidates would have won.
DURBIN: Well, it could have happened. That could have been a
possibility. There were a lot of other factors in those races, though.
You've analyzed them, I'm sure, both Virginia and Montana had a lot to
do with the war, but not exclusively. There were many other issues at
risk in that race.
BLITZER: Based on what you know right now, will you vote to
Robert Gates as the new defense secretary?
DURBIN: I come to that nomination with a positive feeling. He
record of public service and as former head of the CIA, we know his
capacity and his ability. But I want to hear his responses to some very
basic questions about the future of our military. We owe it to our
soldiers and their families to make sure that we put someone in that
secretary's position who's going to make our military stronger and move
us toward the day when we come home from Iraq.
BLITZER: So this decision to get rid of Rumsfeld, bring in
Gates, is that encouraging to you that there could be a significant
shift in strategy as far as Iraq is concerned?
DURBIN: This is a significant change in leadership in the Bush
administration after six years. And the fact that it was announced the
day after an election tells me that the president not only read the
returns in terms of the majority's in Congress, but read the feelings of
the American people.
BLITZER: Here's the reaction today of the al Qaeda leader in
Hamza al-Muhajir: "But will the politicians keep their election promises
and get the mothers, their sons, out of the lion's den in Iraq? Will
they be able to save the budget, which was depleted in the stupid war?
The enemy is incapable of fighting on and has no choice but to run
Here's the question. Has the Democratic victory in Congress
DURBIN: I don't think so. When you look at what was happening,
carnage in Iraq and even in Afghanistan leading up to the election,
we're facing nothing short of a civil war in Iraq. The sectarian
violence there is claiming too many American lives, 104 American dead
alone in the month of October, one of the deadliest months in the
history of that war in recent memory. So I think that they've been
emboldened by their own devices. We have to make sure that they
understand they are enemies of the United States, they are a threat to
us, we're going to deal with them in an effective way, tough but smart.
BLITZER: Will that include the power of the purse, withholding
for the war in Iraq if necessary to force the administration to change
DURBIN: This senator is not going to vote to bargain the lives
safety of our soldiers over this policy debate. I'm going to make sure
that I vote for the funds necessary so our troops are safe in the field
and come home safely. But I'm still going to engage in the debate about
the policy. I think that's my responsibility and I think that's what
the American people were asking for in this last election.
BLITZER: Do you think these troops will be home by 2008?
DURBIN: I can't say. You know, the president a few months ago
he'd leave it to the next president. I hope that isn't the case. I
hope we start to bring these troops home soon.
BLITZER: We're almost out of time, senator. But what about
colleague from Illinois, Barack Obama? He said after the election he's
going to seriously consider a run for the presidency. What are you
DURBIN: I'm encouraging him. Anybody who's watched Barack
campaign in 30 states, red and blue states, Republican and Democratic
states, 50 different cities, knows that he's an impact player. He's a
political phenomena. He draws crowds, the likes of which we've not
seen, people who are anxious to hear his message and are inspired by it.
We need that in American politics and I hope that he'll be part of
this debate as the presidency, the election comes up for the next
session of the president.
BLITZER: Do you think he can beat Senator Clinton in the
DURBIN: I won't get into speculation among my colleagues. I'll
tell you that I encourage Barack Obama and his voice to be part of that
BLITZER: I'll take that as an endorsement of Barack Obama. Is
DURBIN: It is, it's fair.
BLITZER: Senator Durbin, let me end it as I started it.
Congratulations to you and your fellow Democrats. Thanks very much for
DURBIN: Thanks, Wolf.