Gates' Old Enemy

One reason for hurrying Senate confirmation of Robert Gates as secretary of defense through the lame-duck session of Congress is to avoid confrontation with an old enemy: James Webb, who will be a Democratic senator from Virginia in the new Congress starting in January.

During President Reagan’s second term, Gates and Webb clashed as colleagues. Webb as secretary of the Navy objected to plans by Gates, then deputy national security adviser, for U.S. warships to protect oil platforms in the Persian Gulf. The hot-tempered Webb made clear his irritation with the soft-spoken Gates.

Considering his background, Webb is likely to go on the Senate Armed Services Committee. The White House wants to confirm Gates before Webb is sworn in.

Rahm’s Obstacle

Ambitions of Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois to be majority whip, third-ranking in the House Democratic hierarchy, were torpedoed by Congressional Black Caucus insistence on the post going to Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina as an African-American.

Emanuel, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, is celebrated as architect of his party’s return to House control. But there has been no African-American in a top congressional leadership position in more than 14 years, though five blacks are in line to be committee chairmen.

Emanuel agreed to succeed Clyburn in the lesser post of House Democratic Caucus chairman. Clyburn is a popular figure serving his seventh term. Emanuel, while only in his second term and too abrasive to be well liked by colleagues, has emerged as a political superstar.

Allen’s Blunder

Prominent Virginia Republicans are bitter at Sen. George Allen for losing his seat in the Senate, causing a Democratic majority there, because of his now deflated presidential ambitions.

These critics charge that Allen took for granted his re-election against what looked like a weak Democratic field and concentrated on building an organization in key presidential test states, headed by Iowa and New Hampshire. Accordingly, Allen did not have an effective Virginia campaign structure in place when his own mistakes jeopardized his election to a second Senate term.

Republican second-guessers outside Virginia say Allen’s mistake was not in failing to prepare for the state campaign but in not avoiding it, as Gov. Mitt Romney did in Massachusetts. By skipping an uphill re-election fight in a heavily Democratic state, Romney has been able to start building a national presidential campaign organization without worrying about his home front.

Departed Porkers

Three of the powerful Republican “Cardinals,” the House Appropriations subcommittee chairmen who dispense federal pork, were defeated in the midterm elections.

The losing Cardinals were Reps. Don Sherwood of Pennsylvania (Foreign Operations subcommittee), John Sweeney of New York (Treasury-Transportation-HUD) and Charles Taylor of North Carolina (Interior). Rep. Anne Northup of Kentucky, another senior pork-dispensing appropriator, also lost.

Sens. Mike DeWine of Ohio and Conrad Burns of Montana, both Senate appropriators who favored pork, were defeated (after Burns attacked his victorious Democratic opponent for opposing earmarks). Two other defeated Republican senators, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and Jim Talent of Missouri, voted for notorious pork projects: the “Bridge to Nowhere” in Alaska and the “Railroad to Nowhere” in Mississippi.

‘Church Electioneering’

The Rev. Barry Lynn, a crusader against “church electioneering,” during the campaign sent threatening letters to religious leaders warning that they could lose tax exemptions if their houses of worship engage in partisan political activity.

As chairman of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, Lynn long has assailed the Religious Right. In warning ministers that their churches may be subject to audits and retroactive tax payments, he specifically cited the experience of conservative churchmen Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

“If the IRS determines that your house of worship has engaged in unlawful intervention,” Lynn wrote the ministers, “it can revoke the institution’s tax-exempt status or levy significant fines on the house of worship or its leaders.” He cautioned the parsons “to be especially wary of so-called ‘voter guides.'”