Senate Democrats must work with the president

With the Senate in Democratic hands, President George W. Bush is showing grace and openness that offer the country real possibilities. He is on the right track.

Having achieved power, Senate Democrats have to use it well. They must respond in kind to the president.

The president spent the first day of Democratic control reaching out to a variety of senators, including John McCain, Ted Kennedy and Jim Jeffords, whose party switch set off the political reversal. The president was long on charm and, at least in public, short on specifics. That is entirely appropriate as he and the Senate search for new accommodations.

The Senate’s change of control offers the president a chance for a new beginning. He started his presidency in ways that sometimes flew in the face of his promises of bipartisanship. Now he has a chance to re-direct himself where his heart seemed to be during the campaign and where most voters are: the center.

The president has received the kind of wake-up call — and opportunity — that Bill Clinton didn’t get until the 1994 congressional elections. Less than five months into his term, President Bush has a chance to re-boot his administration and have it run more smoothly.

He can’t achieve moderate results, however, without cooperation in Congress. For Democrats, control of the Senate comes with a huge burden of responsibility to work with the president. Sen. Tom Daschle, the new majority leader, is talking encouragingly about cooperation. As the New York Times reports, however, Democratic aides are busily making plans behind the scenes to obstruct the president’s proposals on everything from energy to judicial nominations.

Daschle and other top Democrats, including Washington’s Sen. Patty Murray, would do well to halt such offensive scheming cold in its tracks. They should take a lesson from how quickly the president paid a price for failing to halt his aides’ narrow partisanship.

The president promised all of us that he would change the tone in D.C. He can’t do it alone, but he seems very willing to reach out. The Senate’s Democrats now have the control they sought. They can waste their energies on partisanship and placating narrow constituencies. Or they can work with the president to improve the country. It’s a new day with a genuine chance for a new tone.

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