Week of July 5, 2006

July 5, 2006
Washington, D.C.
Vol. 41, No. 14a

To: Our Readers


1) The new Bush White House team is putting much more emphasis on restraining federal spending to use as a means of regaining the allegiance of the Republican base. Rob Portman, the new OMB director, played a major role in getting the modified line-item veto through the House.

2) But there are Republicans who believe much more decisive measures must be taken if the political tide is to be turned. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is pressing to return to the balanced budget constitutional amendment. As of now, the White House is not enthusiastic.

3) We find only a minority of Republicans in Congress take the earmark issue seriously. Their problem is that they see earmarks as only a small percentage of federal issues, not as a moral issue that is at the root of Congressional scandals.

4) The left-wing Democratic attack on Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) may not drive him out of the Senate, but it reflects serious tensions inside the Democratic Party. Republican Senators, without any real hope of gaining the seat for the GOP, hope that Lieberman loses the primary and is elected as an Independent, bringing him closer to the Republicans.

5) Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is increasingly regarded as the front-runner for the Republicans’ 2008 presidential nomination. That is conceded by Senate colleagues who have no great affection for McCain. A $5,000-a-ticket event in downtown Washington, D.C., for McCain’s PAC last week was jammed, bringing out prominent lobbyists who have not endorsed McCain but wanted to get their ticket punched by showing for his fundraiser.


Immigration: Republicans are now conducting hearings in cities along the Mexican border in an attempt to find common ground among their base on the divisive immigration issue. Democrats, who have benefited mostly by standing to the side on this issue and allowing Republicans to obliterate themselves, are in a confusing situation, because it is not entirely clear how the issue affects them.

1) To date, Democrats have had free rein to take both sides of the issue. Many of them have been criticizing an amnesty that most of them support, while talking up the idea of increased border enforcement, which most of them oppose — unless it is accompanied by provisions for expedited normalization of illegal immigrants, either through an amnesty or a guest-worker program, but preferably both.

Essentially, their view is identical to that of President Bush, but they still have the advantage of also being able to criticize Bush, because the initiative is his, not theirs. They have the advantage — or at least it is widely believed an advantage — of being able to line up next to the popular Sen. McCain on the issue.

2) The whole paradigm has changed now, however, since the House Leadership has ruled out a “compromise bill” between the House and Senate immigration bills — two bills that are vastly different in scope. The border hearings by Republican committee chairmen are meant to draw attention to heretofore unnoticed provisions in the Senate bill that will reinforce the public’s wariness of it — but especially Republicans’ wariness.

3) Bush’s problem on immigration is that those who care intensely about the issue feel that Bush is not speaking to their concerns. They believe Bush hasn’t lifted a finger to solve the border-security problem, and many are sophisticated enough to understand that the deployment of the National Guard to the border is just window-dressing. They also know that the problem could be solved without any policy changes, just enforcement of existing laws.

Republican voters, baffled by the President’s fixation on “comprehensive” reform, understand that his talk about enforcement is disingenuous. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) was probably wise to kill immigration reform. But the Bush Administration, fearful of alienating the growing Hispanic vote, seems to want to keep it alive, even though Bush will never recover politically until this issue is off the radar.

4) Because the real action in the 2006 election will be in the House, House Republicans are trying to build their credibility by focusing on enforcement issues and differentiating themselves from President Bush and the Democrats. Democrats have denounced the border-town hearings as a stunt. They prefer for Republicans to continue wounding themselves politically by working out an immigration bill.

5) A hearing in San Diego this week, led by House International Relations Subcommittee on Terrorism Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.), focused on the Senate bill’s effect on state and local law enforcement and their power to detain illegal aliens. Under current law — reaffirmed by a post-9/11 opinion issued by the Justice Department — local law enforcement may detain illegal aliens for any immigration-related offense, including, for example, a visa overstay. Two of the 9/11 hijackers were actually pulled over for traffic offenses prior to their attack, and in theory, they could have been arrested — one for a visa overstay and the other for illegal immigration — if the officers involved had noticed their violations. But the Senate bill would change this, allowing such arrests only for criminal immigration violations and not civil violations.

What is the difference between the two? It is not an intuitive distinction. A visa overstay is a civil violation. A fraudulent marriage for immigration purposes is a criminal offense. Not only would the Senate bill hinder the officers in the real-life 9/11 example, but the issue is complicated enough that local law enforcement, fearful of being sued for arresting the wrong kind of illegal alien, might stop helping the federal government altogether.

6) At a hearing in Laredo this week, the emphasis switches to restrictions the Senate bill places on construction of a border fence. The border fence is an extremely popular idea that is not limited to single-issue zealots on the immigration issue. Of those voters who care about immigration and have any chance of voting Republican, a majority would likely be satisfied with a bill that did nothing but build a fence.

Bush Administration

Mexican Elections: The United States is a stable country with an established rule of law. It was able to survive the controversy surrounding the 2000 election, when Vice President Al Gore (D) refused to concede for more than a month after losing, by a mere 500 votes, the electoral votes he needed to become President. In Mexico, however, and the current election controversy could turn to violence and chaos, depending on how the apparent loser reacts.

1) At the time, some considered Gore’s persistence irresponsible as he worked through the courts to overturn the election. But the margin was so close that one could hardly blame him for at least trying initially. Although there are several parallels, the situation is vastly different after Mexico’s elections on Sunday. Like Gore, leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (known in the Mexican press as AMLO) is suggesting that millions of uncounted votes would close the margin between him and his opponent, center-right Felipe Calderon. But unlike Florida 2000, the margin in this race is 400,000 votes — a whole percentage point.

2) Another difference: Mexico is not a stable democracy where people have faith in the system. In the United States, only a minority held to the idea that Bush’s election was illegitimate. In Mexico, there have been so many genuinely rigged elections in the last century that reasonable people could doubt this one. Almost everyone believes that in 1988, the election was stolen by Carlos Salinas of the ruling statist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Absent evidence of fraud — which he has not yet produced — Lopez-Obrador is taking a big risk with a nation that has only had one or two fair elections in its history.

3) More background on the tenuous nature of Mexican democracy: In 1994, Ernesto Zedillo became the last member of the PRI elected to the presidency (the original PRI candidate had been assassinated, many believe at the party’s hands). The 2000 election of center-right Vicente Fox (PAN) ended seven decades of one-party rule that featured rampant public corruption, economic stagnation, and at times religious persecution of the nation’s almost monolithic Catholic population. Distrust of government is therefore pandemic among Mexicans, and emigration remains a key to economic success for most of them. One interesting fact about Mexicans living in the United States: They supported Calderon overwhelmingly, giving him 57 percent of the vote to 34 percent for AMLO.

4) It appears that Calderon has won — the official count begins today — and this is a big relief for the Bush Administration. Obrador would not have been Hugo Chavez, but he could caused problems.

Senate 2006

Connecticut: Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) announced that she will support whoever wins the Democratic primary, even if it isn’t Sen. Lieberman (D-Conn.). Lieberman has already begun collecting signatures in case he loses the August 8 primary against the wealthy liberal Ned Lamont (D), so that he can submit them on August 9 in order to run as an Independent if necessary.

Polls indicate that Lieberman would win in such a three-way race, but the story goes further than that. Former vice presidential candidate Lieberman, who is quite liberal despite his moderate image, is viewed quite favorably by a large segment of the population nationwide across the party spectrum.

Lieberman’s defeat in a Democratic primary over a single issue — the Iraq War, which he supports — would say much more about the Democratic Party than it would about Lieberman. It could quite possibly help Republicans nationwide make the case that the Democrats are too weak to be trusted with matters of national security.

Lieberman should still win the primary, but it isn’t going to be as easy as he’d hoped. Leaning Lieberman.

Michigan: Although Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard (R) faces opposition in the August 8 Michigan Republican primary, he is clearly the favorite of both the GOP electorate and of the national party establishment. He took part in a strategy session in Washington last Wednesday attended by incumbent GOP senators — he was called in by Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

The Republican challenge in Michigan against first-term Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D) has attracted little national attention so far, but we think this one is a sleeper. Bouchard serves as sheriff in a large county that has long been a bellwether for statewide elections. As Michigan suffers economically and continues to shed jobs, Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) is in desperate shape right now. Her wealthy opponent, Dick DeVos (R), already leads in the polls, and he can afford to finance the statewide ground game that could unseat Stabenow as well — provided that Bouchard runs a strong campaign after the August 8 primary.

Bouchard is heavily favored to be nominated over the Rev. Keith Butler (R), a former Detroit city councilman. Likely Bouchard.

House 2006

Outlook: Halfway through the primary season, Republicans are lucky they are still in the game. Somehow, the Democrats have blown a large lead, and the score is beginning to even up. They still stand to gain seats in both houses of Congress, but that doesn’t mean they will take over either one.

As President Bush begins to enjoy a revival of his poll numbers, and Republicans figure out a way to put the immigration debate behind them, the general picture begins to look better. But in some places, it looks worse than it did before — particularly in the Ohio district of Rep. Bob Ney (R), whose possible indictment appears more and more likely.

Ohio-18: Ney lost three top staffers last week, the clearest signal yet that legal trouble is on its way. The only question is whether that trouble — possibly an indictment — will come before or after Election Day.

Ney tried to put the best face on the matter, noting that each staffer had stayed with him for much longer than the average on Capitol Hill, but all this proves is that Ney is not a difficult man to work for. In fact, those who have worked for him seem to admire him and think him a very kind man. But that will not save him from indictment.

The sudden exodus from Ney’s office came just as his district director, Matthew Parker, received a subpoena from federal prosecutors. Ney remains quite popular in his southern Ohio district, but an indictment would obviously affect his re-election prospects, and not for the better.

Democrats are still kicking themselves over the failure to nominate the stronger candidate in the primary, Chillicothe Mayor Joe Sulzer (D), but the fact is that an indictment would make Ney vulnerable to defeat by almost anyone. Unless it comes down, he is a lock for re-election. Leaning Republican Retention.

Pennsylvania-12: The morning of our publication last week, the Florida Sun-Sentinel admitted to misquoting Rep. Jack Murtha (D) as saying that America is the greatest danger to world peace — in fact he was just quoting the results of a poll. The fact that the misleading quote remained in circulation for three days before it was discredited is puzzling, and it definitely hurt Murtha, because the false quote was at least believable if somewhat outrageous.

Whether Diana Irey (R) can mount a serious challenge to Murtha will hinge on her success at raising money in the second quarter — the numbers are due later this month. Leaning Democratic Retention.