The Democratic National Committee has agreed to pull a TV ad featuring former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., following objections Dole conveyed to the White House that the ad twists his support for a bipartisan compromise for health care reform legislation into something else entirely.
The ad, which was set to launch Monday, features Dole and other Republican former officials advocating in general terms for health care reform.
Dole is quoted saying, "I want this to pass. … We've got to do something," and the ad attempts to contrast that attitude with that of current GOP congressional leaders, which the DNC describes as "siding with the insurance companies and just saying no to insurance reform."
"I wish they hadn't done it," Dole said of the DNC ad in a phone interview with ABC News on Sunday afternoon, saying that the ad's depiction of current GOP leaders "is just not my view."
He found it a bit ironic that "all I've been doing is urging bipartisanship" and that was used for partisan purposes.
"The ad doesn't reflect what I was trying to do," he said. "I just didn't think it was fair when I've tried to be helpful in encouraging a bipartisan solution for the DNC to run an ad that I interpreted and I know others did as a backhanded comment about Republicans."
Dole also objected to any impression that the ad suggested he endorsed any specific legislation when he's tried to keep what he's supporting "pretty generic."
Dole conveyed as much to White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel yesterday, who told the DNC to pull the ad.
"We have great respect for Sen. Dole and his commitment to reform," a DNC spokesman told ABC News. "As soon as Sen. Dole's concerns were communicated to us we immediately agreed to pull the ad."
President Obama cited the support Dole and other Republican former officials have expressed for health care reform in his weekly address Saturday, though some of those Republicans — former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., for example — have expressed misgivings about specific Democratic legislative proposals.
Dole told ABC News, "My whole message is you can't score unless you're in the game. I still believe a compromise is there. No one I know is flatly against health care reform." The 1996 GOP presidential nominee said that there's "still plenty of time to get a bipartisan result. And that's really going to start when bill gets to the floor" of the Senate and "amendments are offered."
"I was up there a long time and I learned it's never over 'til it's over," Dole said. "I'm an optimist. I guess that's my problem."
Rejecting the arguments of some Democrats that the current crop of Republicans isn't as inclined to compromise as he was, Dole said, "there's a lot of good men and women in Congress from both parties. And come crunch time they will think long and hard — depending on what's in it — before they vote no."
"I'll take some of the blame for the Clinton failure," Dole said, referring to former President Bill Clinton's failure to pass comprehensive health care reform legislation in 1994.
The World War II veteran said he doesn't think a failed bill can be used the same way to hurt Democrats in 2010 as it was in 1994.
"It's a different time," he said, "and the whole issue has become much more important. It's going to be drag on the economy if we don't figure out some long term way to fix it."
Working with other former Senate majority leaders former Sens. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., Howard Baker, R-Tenn., and George Mitchell, D-Maine — before Mitchell resigned to serve as President Obama's special envoy to the Middle East — Dole and others at the Bipartisan Policy Center have not only issued statements urging compromise, in June they suggested a framework for bipartisan health care called “Crossing Our Lines: Working Together to Reform the U.S. Health System.”
"Some of the recommendations we made are in the Baucus bill," Dole said, referring to the bill being offered in the Senate Finance Committee by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont. "I agreed on mandates which I don't really like. Daschle, for example, yielded on the public option, something that he strongly believes in. We understood and I think members of Congress ought to understand, there aren't any easy votes on this issue. Trying to avoid any political risk at all is going to be difficult."
Dole said if he were President Obama, he'd "want some of the other party on board for a couple reasons. It gives the president some protection if it's bipartisan. Secondly, the American people will feel better about it if both parties are involved."
He suggested the president add tort reform measures to the legislation which "would bring some more Republicans around."
He said he doesn't see the difficulties in voting for this bill as partisan, necessarily.
"It's a survival vote," he said. "Members are seeing what their constituencies want — and right now they're opposed to this. Eighty-percent like the health care they have."
"We're getting down to the semi-finals," he said. "I'm not convinced Republicans are against it. They may be opposed to the Baucus bill, but they're not opposed to health care reform."
"My view for my Republican friends is to try to stay in the game," Dole reiterated. "This will be the most important vote any sitting members of the House and Senate will have."