Evans-Novak Political Report

ENPR: Week of June 6, 2007

June 6, 2007
Washington, DC
Vol. 42, No. 12a

Outlook

  1. Just when it seemed that President George W. Bush‘s stock could go no lower with his political base, he dropped down a little more with the sentencing of Scooter Libby. Bush’s reluctance to pardon Libby compares with his stubborn support of Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales. It is hard to exaggerate the extent of Republican discontent with the President.
  2. The indictment, however tardy, of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) undermines Democratic exploitation of the corruption issue. The Congressional Black Caucus is already divided. It is a cut-and-dried case against Jefferson, and a terrific embarrassment for the Democrats.
  3. The fiction perpetrated by Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) that the Democrats are not pressing for a tax increase is undercut by the leading two Democratic presidential candidates — Senators Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.) — who are openly advocating higher taxes to finance health care.
  4. Even before the official announcement of candidacy by former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), an all-star team of GOP operatives is gathering around him — Lawrence Lindsey, Ken Khachigian, Tim Griffin, Dave Bossie and Victoria Toensing, with more to follow.

Congress

Immigration: The Senate became embroiled Tuesday afternoon in a debate over which amendments would be allowed votes on the immigration bill. The resulting squabble endangered the immigration reform bill and the fragile coalition that built it. The bill’s future was on the edge this morning.

  1. The clash that has led Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to file for cloture came after conservative opponents of the bill faulted the Republican leadership for abandoning them and acquiescing to Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), the bill’s main sponsor. The complaint among conservatives had been that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was not doing enough to insist on votes for their amendments, but McConnell stood up to Reid in demanding time for more votes.

  2. Reid responded by announcing that he would file for cloture and that just 20 amendments would receive votes. McConnell, noting that far more amendments were considered last year, objected to the proceedings. Republican senators had been frustrated that none of their amendments could be introduced, since Democrats objected to the introduction of most of them.

  3. Republican supporters of the bill — especially Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) — denounced Reid for showing bad faith. Reid has relented, however, by allowing some amendments. This impasse could have brought about the end of the immigration bill, leaving several Republican senators holding the bag after taking legislative action that upset their conservative base. This would work out quite well for Democrats, who benefit from keeping the issue alive longer and letting it divide the GOP.

  4. Part of the problem with amendments has been that any change — no matter how mild — threatened to disrupt and possibly destroy the fragile coalition of senators that has come together behind the bill. The most critical amendment was that of Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), to restrict legalization of violent felons and gang members. That amendment failed 51 to 46, but a weaker version by Sen. Kennedy passed.

  5. With the sudden, unexpected death of Sen. Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.), opponents of the immigration reform compromise bill on the Senate floor this week lose a vote they already could not spare. The defection of high-profile opponents of last year’s immigration bill, including Senators Kyl, Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), has diminished the opposition to roughly 30 conservatives. The only hope of blocking the bill comes from objections over process, not policy.

  6. President Bush did himself no favors last week by denouncing those opposed to the immigration bill as uninterested in the nation’s well-being. On its own, the decision to combine border security with naturalization of illegal immigrants has always been the President’s way of holding a national priority (security) hostage to a policy (legalization) that he views as desirable.

Dollar Bill: In addition to their self-inflicted earmark problem, congressional Democrats find their political situation complicated by the 16-count indictment of Rep. William Jefferson. This came as no surprise, considering that other principals in his dealings have already been sent to prison.

It took a Republican privileged resolution by Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) to force action on Jefferson’s case with the House Ethics Committee. The resolution passed overwhelmingly last night, with some important highlights:

Ironically, Jefferson’s voting record made him one of the most conservative members of the Democratic caucus. He was the sixth-highest-ranked Democrat on the 2006 Club for Growth scorecard.

Confirmations: The Senate has failed to act on 85 of President Bush’s nominees for substantive positions, and 175 nominations over all.

  1. The most high-profile of these was former Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-Tex.), who was defeated for re-election last year. He withdrew his name yesterday after not being confirmed by the Democratic-controlled Senate two and a half months following his nomination by President Bush as U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States.

  2. Other unfilled positions include presidential appointees for deputy secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), undersecretary of Energy for nuclear development, assistant secretary of Agriculture, assistant secretary of Commerce, deputy Social Security administrator and HHS general counsel.

  3. Also unconfirmed are 24 judicial nominees: seven for circuit courts and 17 for district court judgeships.

President 2008

GOP Debate: Last night’s Republican debate was free of any major gaffes. But the reminders were constant of how and why each of the top three candidates is so unacceptable to Republican voters.

Former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani: Giuliani had the strongest performance of the three major candidates. Although it was no fault of his own, a possible divine intervention highlighted once again his inability to keep his story straight on abortion. When he was asked about the topic, lightning actually knocked out his microphone, preventing his answer from being heard. Giuliani was very strong in explaining the complicated topic of health insurance.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): McCain preached to the New Hampshire crowd about the need for comprehensive immigration reform, but he was preaching to the opposition and not the choir. He was most moving, however, when he brought up the topic of Hispanic war veterans on the Vietnam Memorial Wall and in Iraq. Responding to criticism that he was too intense in earlier debates, he entered this one by overcompensating, speaking and acting in an extremely sedated fashion.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney: Pollster Frank Luntz’s focus group gave Romney the highest marks, but he did not respond well to clever questioning from Wolf Blitzer about his views on homosexuals in the military. On yet another issue (after abortion and immigration), Romney appears to have moved from one side to the other. He has gotten better each time in talking about his religion, but his refusal to answer a simple question on Iraq was a bit clumsy.

Former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.): The case for Thompson, we have argued many times, is based on the fact that Republican voters disagree with Giuliani, dislike McCain and distrust Romney. Although he did not appear in the debate, Thompson did appear on Fox News’s "Hannity and Colmes" afterward. While endorsing a reversal of Roe v. Wade, Thompson appeared ready to say that he did not approve of criminalizing abortion. Hannity stepped in and interrupted, saving him from a gaffe. Although he still trails in most polls, Thompson now leads in the futures markets, with Giuliani and Romney close behind and McCain a distant fourth place.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee: Huckabee was roundly appreciated as the rhetorical winner of the debate, and the one with the best jokes in all three debates — even though no one gives him a chance in the race. His successful performance comes at the expense of Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who appeals to the same set of social-conservative voters.

Democratic Debate: The latest Democratic debate in New Hampshire reflects the present status of the Democratic race:

Sen. Hillary Clinton (R-N.Y.): She never looked better physically, and she keeps out of trouble. She is running like a front-runner, rejecting former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards‘ claim of a "bumper-sticker" War on Terror. She is slow-walking her way toward the nomination, which is often a path leading to defeat. She also is less than pleasant with her stentorian tones — she shouted through most of the debate, just as she shouted out most of her speech at the Iowa Democratic Hall of Fame Dinner. We find a good deal less certitude in Democratic circles that she will be nominated, but nobody is abandoning her.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.): He is still a little rough around the edges, but getting better. He is smart enough not to attack Clinton in debates, and he is quick enough to ask Edwards where he was on the war issue four and a half years ago. There are a surprisingly large number of Democratic insiders who now believe Obama will be the nominee.

Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.): He was probably the winner of the New Hampshire debate on style points and dynamism. But the consensus of Democratic insiders is that his sharp criticism of Clinton was an act of desperation that only hurts him. Actually, his strategy is based entirely on winning the Iowa caucuses — which could happen. Edwards is unlikely to get the labor support he once hoped for, so he needs to look different from Clinton and Obama — and that is what he did in the debate.

Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.): He has pushed himself to the top of the second tier of candidates, though he exceeds even Hillary Clinton on the noise meter. The dramatic high point of the debate was when he called for an expeditionary force to Darfur. If Biden had some funding, he might be a contender.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson: He appeared totally unprepared at the debate. It was a continuation of his disastrous performance on NBC’s "Meet the Press" last Sunday — perhaps the worst performance in the show’s history. On "Meet the Press," Richardson had seemed unprepared for host Tim Russert‘s questions on Iraq, immigration, gun control and his own record, culminating in his declaring he is simultaneously a Red Sox and a Yankee fan. Longtime Richardson-watchers say he has been flying by the seat of his pants his whole career, and this time he crashed and burned.

Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.): He still cannot shake off the Senate style of oratory and is fading after early high expectations.

Taxes: Obama, Edwards and Clinton were all willing to admit in debate that they want to raise taxes. This opens up a clear ideological battle over taxes that Democrats have never won in any previous election cycle. Former Vice President Walter Mondale famously tried to shame Ronald Reagan on the issue of taxes, and it did not help his campaign.

Clinton has actually gone further than the others. Little noticed in her May 29 Manchester speech was a call for higher individual tax rates and also higher corporate income tax rates.

Giuliani: Giuliani supporters are changing New Jersey’s longtime proportional representation rules for allocating national convention delegates to winner-take-all, seeking a coup to give Giuliani all of the state’s 52 votes in the February 5 Super Tuesday primary date next year.

  1. Under the current rules, each primary voter picks a slate of 16 National Convention delegates — three from his district and 13 at-large delegates. Giuliani’s Jersey coup is engineered by his liberal supporters in the state allied with the conservative David Von Savage, Republican chairman of Cape May County.

  2. A June 14 meeting of New Jersey’s Republican State Central Committee will determine this outcome. The committee is expected to adopt a February 5 presidential primary procedure giving the first-place district-wide finisher all three delegates in each of the state’s 13 House districts, and the statewide leader all 13 at-large delegates. In the past, delegates were divided among candidates according to their share of the vote.

  3. Giuliani was stung by a column directed at him by Catholic Bishop of Providence Thomas Tobin, excoriating the candidate for his position on abortion. Tobin compared Giuliani to Pontius Pilate, who allowed Jesus Christ to be crucified even though he did not believe him guilty of any crime. Rhode Island is a thoroughly Blue state, but it could be an easy place for Giuliani to pick up some delegates in case the primary chase is close. Thanks to Rhode Island’s heavy Italian population, it is not incredible to imagine Giuliani making some inroads there in a general election and perhaps picking up some key Democratic endorsements.

Sincerely,
Robert D. Novak


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