Bush cuts deal by leaving Daschle out By Dave Boyer THE WASHINGTON TIMES The White House engaged in a divide-and-conquer strategy with congressional Democrats that isolated Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and won support for a resolution authorizing military force against Iraq. The plan resulted in President Bush being surrounded in the Rose Garden yesterday by prominent Democrats who pledged support for the resolution. Mr. Daschle, meanwhile, was left to issue a one-page statement at the Capitol saying he expected the Senate to give Mr. Bush his way. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat and the chief sponsor of a competing resolution, conceded before noon that the administration's strategy had all but killed his plan. "It's probably too late," Mr. Biden said. "That [White House deal] is going to create a lot of momentum." Senate sources close to the negotiations say the political power play unfolded three days ago, when administration officials were to meet on the resolution with the chiefs of staff of Mr. Daschle, South Dakota Democrat; Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican; House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican; and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat. The White House canceled that meeting because administration officials were not sure of the position of Mr. Daschle, who said last week that Mr. Bush was politicizing national security and the war on terrorism. Instead, congressional sources said, the White House began negotiating directly with Mr. Gephardt. At the same time, Mr. Lott and Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, were sounding out Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat, about co-sponsoring the White House resolution in the Senate. The White House's talks with Mr. Gephardt proved fruitful and perhaps were aided by the well-publicized visit to Iraq last week by three House Democrats who criticized U.S. policy while there. "The 'Baghdad Boys' may have pushed along Gephardt a little quicker than he wanted to," said Republican political strategist Scott Reed. A Senate Republican leadership source, who asked not to be identified, said Mr. Gephardt had ample reasons to reach a deal with the White House. "He wants to get his members home [to campaign], he wants to be president, and he doesn't want Daschle to be president," the aide said, referring to jockeying for 2004. Mr. Gephardt said yesterday that he and Mr. Daschle remain "good friends" and that the media was making too much of their split on the resolution. "We talked about this all the way through," Mr. Gephardt said. "We both agree that we've made good improvements in this" resolution. Negotiations reached their height about 7 p.m. on Tuesday, when Mr. Lott officially invited Mr. Lieberman to be the Democratic sponsor of the White House resolution in the Senate. "Gephardt & Co. got it," Mr. Reed said. "Lieberman, who has a pretty good nose to the ground, got it. Lieberman is who really caused Daschle some problems. Daschle's got a mess on his hands." The president met the top congressional leaders yesterday morning at the White House, and Mr. Hastert allowed Mr. Gephardt to announce the agreement to the media afterward. The deal had made enough concessions to House Democrats that Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio Democrat and leader of the anti-war faction, told colleagues later in the morning that he was shelving his petition to delay the vote. "The agreement that's been worked out is a good one," said Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr., Tennessee Democrat. "You're steadily peeling [opponents] away." Mr. Daschle canceled a morning press conference and, within the hour, Mr. Lieberman and Sen. Evan Bayh, Indiana Democrat, took to the Senate floor to support the White House resolution. Lawmakers said that, compared with his House counterparts, Mr. Daschle was hampered by a more liberal caucus and by different procedures that place more emphasis on the desires of individual senators. "It is showing that the Democratic leadership is very much a product of the liberal wing of the party," said Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican. Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, offered another explanation for the split between the House and Senate Democratic leaders. "I think the Democrats in the House don't have a suicide complex, and the ones in the Senate do," he said. Though he has three Republican co-sponsors for his plan in the Senate, Mr. Biden approached his task with an air of fatalism. "Since Gephardt made the deal, we cannot act before the House acts," Mr. Biden said. "So everybody is assuming what's going to happen is we'll have a Gephardt-Hastert resolution popping over here with a lot of votes." Mr. Reed said the contributions of Mr. McCain, who is often at odds with the White House, should not be overlooked. "McCain has been a huge White House asset for the last few weeks and was instrumental in putting this together," he said.