Week of November 22, 2006

November 22, 2006
Washington, DC
Vol. 41, No. 24a
  • Pelosi gets off to an embarrassing start
  • The Rumsfeld sacking does not bode well for Bush’s final two years
  • For Republicans, losses in state legislatures rounds out a bad election year
  • In battle for 2008 GOP nomination, McCain decides to put up fight for Iowa
  • Outlook

    1. Never before has a new speaker entered office on such a sour note as Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Her vigorous and totally rejected campaign for Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) supports widespread cloakroom sentiment that she is not qualified for her high office and is there because of her gender and the support of the huge California delegation.

    2. As the first majority leader to get the job against the opposition of his speaker, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) is in a position to strike off on his own — particularly in view of his contacts with Blue Dog Democrats, the big (41-member) freshman class of Democrats, businessmen and Republicans. But that is not Hoyer’s way. He is a party man who wants a unified Democratic front.

    3. The independent Democratic force in the House is likely to be Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), the hero of ’06 as Democratic Congressional Campaign chairman and the new chairman of the Democratic Caucus. Emanuel wanted the No. 3 position of Majority Whip, but that was reserved for the Congressional Black Caucus Chairman James Clyburn (D-S.C.). Emanuel, this week, showed he wants to transform the largely ceremonial duties of Caucus chairman (as held by Clyburn and his predecessors) by sending a memo to members urging reform — on his own without consultation with the leadership.

    4. Meanwhile, Republicans chose to stand pat in the House, rejecting new leadership. Their caucus kept its present leadership, overwhelmingly rejecting reformers. If Emanuel is sincere about earmark reform, what does the Republican leadership do? House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (D-Mo.) was re-elected after making a vigorous defense of earmarks.

    5. Republican leaders in the current lame-duck session were ready to pass a bipartisan omnibus appropriations bill loaded with earmarks. But reformers — Senators Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) — so far have blocked this bill and instead are pushing a continuing resolution keeping spending at its present levels. There will be war on this front going into next year, with Coburn demanding that President Bush pledge veto any spending bill containing earmarks.

    6. The election of Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) to be Senate minority whip is vindication after he was pushed out as majority leader by President Bush on trumped-up charges of racism. Republicans expect a lot better leadership in the minority from Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) than they ever had in the majority from Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

    Bush Administration

    Rumsfeld Sacking: Donald Rumsfeld, a week after his sacking as secretary of Defense, was treated as a conquering hero with standing ovations at the conservative American Spectator magazine’s annual dinner in Washington. But the enthusiasm may have indicated less unqualified support for Rumsfeld’s six-year record at the Pentagon than resentment over the way President George W. Bush fired him.

    1. On the day after the election, Rumsfeld had seemed devastated — the familiar confident grin gone and his voice breaking. According to Bush Administration officials, only three or four people knew he would be fired — and Rumsfeld was not one of them.

    2. A wide assortment of Republican notables, including some fellow administration appointees and many of Rumsfeld’s quiet critics, were nonetheless upset about his treatment. Even Vice President Dick Cheney is said to be profoundly disturbed by Rumsfeld’s treatment. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), the soon-to-be-former Armed Services Committee chairman, calls it "a mistake for him to resign." But many others, even those less supportive of Rumsfeld, said they were "appalled" — the most common descriptive word — by the President’s performance.

    3. Apart from Rumsfeld’s shortcomings in personal relations, he was always loyal in executing the President’s wishes. But loyalty appears to be a one-way street for Bush. His shrouded decision to sack Rumsfeld came after he declared the Defense secretary would serve out the second term. It fits a pattern of a President who is secretive and impersonal.

    4. Bush had likewise sacked two other appointees, both of whom were the last to know of their demise. Economic advisor Lawrence Lindsey had been assured in 2002 that he would be retained as the President’s national economic adviser, but received word at around 5 p.m. that he would be fired the next day. Before Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill embarked on a dangerous mission to Afghanistan, he requested and received assurances that he would still have a job when he returned. Instead, he was dismissed in tandem with Lindsey.

    5. It’s not that Bush is a malevolent tyrant. Rather, his administration suffers from a congenital Republican phobia over leaks to the press that dates back to President Dwight Eisenhower — and which led to President Richard Nixon‘s fateful creation of the "plumbers" squad to plug such leaks.

    6. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R) claimed that the replacement of Rumsfeld two weeks before the election would have saved Republican control of the Senate as well as 10 GOP House seats. Many Republicans have bought into that dubious speculation, especially those who lost their seats Nov. 7.

    7. Presidential adviser Karl Rove told Rep. Clay Shaw of Florida, one of the defeated longtime Republican congressmen, that a pre-election exit by Rumsfeld would have been too political. Shaw appeared to accept this explanation, but many other Republicans do not. They see the White House dedicated to the "24-hour cycle theory of politics." They believe the Rumsfeld removal’s falling into the 24-hour cycle was intended to crowd out continued rehashing of disastrous election returns.

    8. The last two years of eight-year presidencies are historically difficult, particularly after losing the final mid-term election. President Eisenhower, in 1959-60, assumed a more aggressive conservative posture by firing off multiple vetoes of excessive spending legislation. In the midst of the Iran-Contra scandal, President Ronald Reagan was steadfast in pursuing Cold War victory. But the way Bush handled Rumsfeld was not a good sign for his concluding years as President.

    State Legislatures 2006

    For Republicans, the story on state legislatures in the election of 2006 rounds out the story of defeat across the board in the House and Senate and in governorships nationwide.

    Democrats gained control of four state Senates and six state Houses. Republicans lost seats in most states, but may have gained functional control of one state Senate. We take a look at some of the legislative changes this week. We will continue our summary of key states next week.

    Alabama: The realignment of the 1990s still hasn’t reached Alabama on the state government level, but it’s getting closer. Officially, Democrats here have majorities in both houses, as they have since Reconstruction. But a bi-partisan majority now threatens to oust the Democratic leadership of Sen. Lowell Barron (D). Because Republicans gained two seats and narrowed their deficit in the Senate to 23-12, six conservative Democrats are in talks with them to create a new, mixed 18-seat majority caucus.

    Republicans gained just one seat in the House, bringing the Democrats’ advantage to 62-43. Projected Mixed Control.

    Arizona: Republicans needed just one more House seat to get a two-thirds majority and override vetoes by Gov. Janet Napolitano‘s (D). But Democrats gained seven seats in the state House, narrowing the Republicans’ edge to 32-28. The Republicans’ candidate for governor, conservative activist Len Munsil (R), was so weak that it had a clear impact on the Republican totals for state government statewide.

    Republicans’ Senate edge remained the same at 18-12. Continued Republican Control.

    Florida: Democrats picked up seven seats, depriving Republicans of their two-thirds majority in the state House. It was the largest Democratic gain in 20 years. But the 78-42 margin was bumped back up when State Rep. Will Kendrick, in his last term due to term-limits, defected to the GOP, putting the margin at 79-41. Kendrick, who hails from the state’s conservative Panhandle, has always been a conservative anyway, so his defection to the majority comes as just a tiny surprise. Continued Republican Control.

    Minnesota: Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) won a lonely victory in Minnesota as Democrats swept the down-ticket statewide races. Republicans even unexpectedly lost incumbent Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer (R).

    But in the state House, Republican losses were catastrophic. The 18-seat Democratic gain there came after a 2005 partial government shutdown and Pawlenty’s budget cuts of local government aid in 2006. Republicans entered the 2006 elections clinging to a one-seat majority, but they wound up with an 85-49 deficit. It was a huge gain for Democrats after their massive gains in the House in 2004.

    Democrats grew their margin in the state Senate by six seats, bringing the total to 44-23. Change to Democratic Control.

    Oklahoma: Republicans had high hopes of capturing the state Senate in this, the second election in which term-limits began ousting the old guard of Democratic incumbents. In fact, they would have taken Senate control if not for the defection of state Sen. Nancy Riley to the Democrats over the summer. The Senate ended in a 24-24 tie.

    Jari Askins (D), who won the lieutenant governorship vacated by Rep.-elect Mary Fallin (R), will be able to break party-line ties and will at least help organize the Senate under Democratic control.

    Republicans believe the disastrous gubernatorial bid of Rep. Ernest Istook (R) dragged down their ticket and prevented their expected Senate takeover. Republicans continue to control the state House with a 56-45 majority after losing one seat.

    Riley, who won a four-year term in 2004 running as a Republican, made an unsuccessful run at the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor and remains in the Senate at least until 2008. Continued Mixed Control.

    Pennsylvania: Republicans just barely held on to the state House after a tumultuous primary season and a disastrous up-ticket election.

    Incumbents from both parties faced angry voters during the primary season after the legislature had given itself a pay-raise in a way that clearly contravened the state constitution. The public furor cost the jobs of the top two Republican state senators, who lost their primaries, and several other members as well. Democrats also faced stiff primary challenges because of the pay raise, but by and large, their incumbents survived.

    Democrats gained seven seats in the state House, for a final composition of 102 Republicans and 101 Democrats. One recount, still pending, could flip control to the Democrats, but this is not expected.

    Republicans’ lead in the state Senate remains unchanged at 29-21. If the GOP can find a credible candidate to succeed Gov. Ed Rendell (D), they still have a chance of totally controlling the all-important redistricting process after 2010. Republicans still control both chambers, but their margin is extremely precarious. Continued Republican Control.

    President 2008

    McCain: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has done the new calculus on the presidential contest, and the current situation requires a change of strategy. McCain skipped the Iowa caucus in 2000, and at one point, he planned to do so in 2008 as well. But now McCain plans to play in Iowa, a fact that is borne out by his hiring of Iowan Terry Nelson, a former Bush campaigner and a consultant behind the controversial ad that ran against Rep. Harold Ford (D) in the Tennessee Senate race this year.

    Part of the strategy-shift is tied to the loss of Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), once a presidential hopeful. Allen’s departure works against McCain by narrowing the conservative field — McCain wants the conservative vote to be split as many ways as possible. This means that a stronger candidate to McCain’s right — at this point the most likely one is Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) — has a better chance in New Hampshire, which is coincidentally a good state for Romney geographically.

    If McCain were to skip Iowa and then lose to, or narrowly defeat, Romney in New Hampshire, he would then risk being shut out through the Southern states’ presidential primaries, nearly putting him out of contention. By the time the Michigan primary rolls around, McCain’s credibility could be seriously diminished, and his home-state primary would become meaningless rather than being a momentum-building win that contributes to his image as the inevitable candidate. On the other hand, a strong showing in Iowa would give him momentum for New Hampshire that could carry over to the next set of states, including Missouri and South Carolina.

    One alternative for McCain would be to adopt a late-state strategy, but no one has done that in decades, and with good reason.

    McCain’s biggest problem in Iowa has always been ethanol, which critics deride as an energy-losing fuel additive which the government only mandates in order to appease farmers and artificially inflate their crops’ value. McCain, always an anti-porker, has always opposed it as a bad deal for his non-agricultural state. In fact, nearly all politicians from coastal and mountain states reject ethanol and vote against it, but farm states hold a huge majority in the Senate, and the agricultural-industrial lobby is so powerful that massive ethanol mandates are not going to disappear anytime soon.

    Romney: Gov. Romney remains at a disadvantage in Michigan, even though state GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis easily put down a coup attempt last weekend. Despite heavy losses in the state on Election Day, Anuzis kept the strong backing of the state’s GOP officeholders.

    Romney still loses, though, because all plans have officially been scuttled to adopt a closed primary or a caucus in which only Republicans could participate. McCain, who won Michigan in 2000 over President Bush, is considered to have a much better chance of repeating in an open race, or a "semi-open" primary as the new 2008 election scheme is now called. There had once been hope that Michigan Republicans would get their own vote.

    It could have been worse for Romney, though, if the faction of Chuck Yob, loyal to McCain, had succeeded in taking over the state party.

    Robert D. Novak