Capital Briefs: Nov.20-24

Amnesty’s Attack Dog

In 2005, his first year in office, Sen. Mel Martinez (R.-Fla.) looked like a conservative star. He earned a 100% rating from the American Conservative Union. But this year, Martinez became lead sponsor of what conservatives consider one of the worst pieces of legislation to pass the Senate in decades: President Bush’s amnesty plan, which would have put millions of illegal aliens on a path to citizenship.

That, coupled with the rhetoric Martinez has used to criticize border security and immigration hawks, explains why conservatives are up in arms that Bush nominated Martinez last week to become general chairman of the Republican National Committee. Randy Pullen, RNC committee member from Arizona, told the Washington Times: “I would say it’s another Harriet Miers moment.” Heritage Foundation analyst Robert Rector wrote in Human Events earlier this year that Martinez’s bill would have added 66 million new immigrants to the U.S. over the next 20 years. Rector also calculated it would have led to the largest increase in welfare in 35 years. During debate over the bill, Martinez called the 700 miles of border fence proposed by House Republicans (which eventually became law) an “ugly symbol.” As soon as Bush announced Martinez for the RNC post, Martinez began attacking conservatives who had backed tough immigration enforcement while opposing amnesty (see cover story). “I think we have to understand that the election did speak to one issue, and that was that it’s not about bashing people, it’s about presenting a hopeful face,” said Martinez. “Border security only, enforcement only, harshness only is not the message that I believe American wants to convey.” Martinez also said he would not be an “attack dog.”

Dole on RNC Plan

After President Bush decided last week to create divided leadership at the top of the Republican National Committee—with Sen. Mel Martinez (R.-Fla.) serving in a spokesman and fundraising role as “general chairman” and Kentucky National Committeeman Mike Duncan running day-to-day operations—some Republicans raised doubts about the wisdom of the arrangement.

Former Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas shared the RNC leadership from 1971-73, when he held the title of RNC chairman and Thomas B. Evans of Delaware ran day-to-day operations. “It worked pretty well, but it’s better with a full-time chairman,” Dole told Human Events Political Editor John Gizzi. “You need someone in charge, one boss and one person.” Dole added: “I was probably too independent for the [Nixon] White House, and they sent Evans over to keep an eye on me—although Tom and I became and still are the best of friends.” After Dole left the RNC post in 1973, a change in the party’s rules barred sitting officeholders from serving as RNC chairman.

Laxalt on RNC Plan

Another former senator who was part of a power-sharing arrangement at the RNC was more optimistic about the Martinez-Duncan leadership. “As long as the person who is the general chairman has a good relationship with the President, then it works,” said former Sen. Paul Laxalt (R.-Nev.), who served as general chairman of the RNC from 1983-87 while fellow Nevadan Frank Fahrenkopf ran the committee on a full-time basis. Laxalt said the arrangement with him and Fahrenkopf (which required his having a new title at the committee because of the post-Dole rule change) appealed to his good friend, then-President Reagan. “It worked for us,” said Laxalt. “We never had a problem.”

Mitch Will Pitch for Judges

President Bush re-nominated six candidates for appellate-court judgeships last week, but it is unlikely any will be confirmed during the lame-duck session of the out-going Republican-run Senate.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.), just elected to be the Senate minority leader in the new Congress, says he intends to play hardball with the Democrats to get Bush’s judicial nominees approved. His “biggest fear,” he said, is that “we will have difficulty getting judges out of the Judiciary Committee and up for a vote on the Senate floor.” “Everything is tied to everything else,” he added. “There are things that [Majority Leader] Sen. [Harry] Reid is going to want to do that the new Republican leader might well decide to make conditional upon reporting out candidate X, or candidate Y. There are a variety ways to leverage the system.” McConnell vowed it would be the “highest priority for me to both get candidates out of committee and get them up-or-down votes on the Senate floor.” “There are two years left in the Bush Administration,” he said, “and we don’t intend to go through another two years without action on a substantial number of judges.”

Killer Instinct

McConnell also said he would take joy in turning the tables on Democrats. “To the frustration of any majority, the minority in the Senate has and has always had enormous sway over the outcome,” said McConnell. “When we are the majority, obviously we are frustrated by that. But when you are in the minority, you find it somewhat liberating. And as odd as it sounds, some of the high points of my Senate career have been killing things”

Pelosi’s Pet

House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.) was dealt a stinging rebuke by her own caucus last week. By 149 to 86, House Democrats picked Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.) over Rep. Jack Murtha (Pa.) as House majority leader. Pelosi had taken the unusual step of publicly endorsing Murtha in a move that was seen as very hypocritical and many Democrats feared would come back to haunt them. Pelosi had claimed in the recent campaign that Democrats were going to clean up Congress. But during his race for majority leader, even establishment media outlets ran the videotape the FBI made in 1979 of a bribe offer an FBI undercover agent made to Murtha during the Abscam scandal. Murtha was seen by millions as leaving open the possibility of accepting a bribe from FBI Special Agent Anthony Amoroso, who was posing as an intermediary for an Arab sheik. Amoroso: “I went out and I got the 50,000, OK? From what you’re telling me, OK, you’re telling me that that’s not what you—you know, that that’s not what—” Murtha: “Look, I’m not interested.” Amoroso: “OK.” Murtha: “At this point.” Amoroso: “OK.” Murtha: “You know, we do business for a while, maybe I will be interested. Maybe I won’t, you know?”