Week of December 13, 2006

December 13, 2006
Washington, DC
Vol. 41, No. 25b
  • Bush could get another Supreme Court pick in next two years
  • Karl Rove retiring
  • Jefferson re-election causes heartburn for new Democratic majority
  • Bonilla crushed in special election runoff
  • Outlook

    1. The decision by the two new Appropriations Committee chairmen — Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) — to back a continuing resolution to keep spending at the current level until the next fiscal year begins does not foreclose efforts for selected higher spending. The supplemental appropriations bill to fund the Iraq War provides a vehicle for hikes demanded by Democrats.
    2. The Byrd-Obey statement’s provision purporting to rule out earmarks is unclear. The prohibition is in place only until unspecified lobbyist reform legislation is passed. Instead of actually banning earmarks, the statement calls for greater transparency without giving details. In the closing hours of the lameduck session, Democrats killed a grading system on Pentagon earmarks while earmarking was defended by Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Stay tuned for developments here.
    3. The reason for Democratic sniping at the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group is its rejection of the two solutions called for most widely by Democrats: definite scheduled troop withdrawals and division of Iraq into three separate countries. The recommendations are also being assailed as defeatist by the most vigorous supporters of the Iraqi intervention. President George W. Bush does not like it either but is trying to cool his own criticism since the report is under so much attack elsewhere.
    4. The Baker-Hamilton report is being strongly criticized by the Israeli government for calling for renewed Mideast peace negotiations. In their meetings together, however, Bush made clear to commission members he agreed with their report. Whether he now defies the pro-Israel lobby, however, is another matter.
    5. In a remarkably short span of time, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) has pushed aside former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) as the principal challenger of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). A long hard road is ahead for Obama, but he is clearly more than a media phenomenon.
    6. After reformers were defeated for all top House Republican leadership posts, a reformer — Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — did defeat an appropriator — Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) — to become top Republican on the House Budget Committee. Ryan is a conservative and supply-sider.

    Bush Administration

    Supreme Court: President Bush, now officially a lame duck and stuck with a Democratic Congress, is expected to be forced into several compromises over the next two years.

    1. Already there are rumblings that he will reluctantly accept Democratic proposals for tax increases to save Social Security, for example. But there is one area in which he will not be forced, at any rate, to compromise too far — and that is in his decision to replace a Supreme Court justice with a conservative, should a vacancy arise in the next two years.

    2. The rumor around Washington — originating from undetermined sources some time around the beginning of 2006 — is that Justice John Paul Stevens wants to be replaced by a Republican President, just as he was appointed by one, Gerald Ford. Stevens, a consistent liberal voice and vote on the high court, was also rumored to have wanted to step down after the 2006 election, so as to avoid making his replacement into a political issue. Although there is no way to determine whether Stevens actually intends to retire, it is not unlikely that one of the nine justices will in the next two years.

    3. President Bush may appear hamstrung by the 51-member majority that Democrats will enjoy in the new Senate, but if he wishes, he can take his cue from incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Reid, himself a former trial lawyer, gave Bush an opening in June of 2005 when he discussed with reporters the possibility of replacing a justice with a sitting or retired senator. Reid mentioned three senators who come from the trial-lawyer industry.

    4. "We have had approximately 10 members of the Supreme Court that come from the United States Senate over the years," Reid said in June 2005. "There are people who serve in the Senate now, who are Republicans, who I think would be outstanding Supreme Court members." Reid named three Republican senators: Mike DeWine (Ohio), Mel Martinez (Fla.) and Mike Crapo (Idaho). A South Carolina newspaper reported that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also received his imprimatur.

    5. Another senator then on Bush’s short-list — and still on it — is Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.). A member of the Judiciary Committee, Cornyn once served as a justice of the Texas Supreme Court and was also elected attorney general of that state. When asked about Cornyn in 2005, Reid pointedly refused to endorse him along with the trial lawyers.

    6. Martinez’s stock as a judicial nominee goes down with the fact that he has been picked by Bush to head the RNC. But DeWine, who was defeated for re-election last month, is certainly available, as is Crapo. Both could expect opposition from the liberal left, but neither would be assailed by the powerful, well-moneyed trial lawyer lobby. DeWine’s moderate record in the Senate could upset some conservatives, but his adherence to the pro-life line would still probably prevent another Harriet Miers situation. Miers’ nomination was withdrawn in 2005 after conservatives went into rebellion against Bush over her lack of a record and qualifications, and over fears about her position on abortion.

    7. Liberals would likely put up an enormous fight to stop Atty. Gen. Al Gonzales, once a Bush favorite and another former Texas justice. As White House counsel and then attorney general, Gonzales has outraged the left with advice he gave Bush on issues of "torture" and the application of the Geneva Conventions to captured al Qaeda terrorists.

    UN Ambassador: Zalmay Khalilzad, who was announced last week to be leaving as U.S. ambassador to Iraq, is the leading prospect to replace Bolton as envoy to the United Nations. President Bush was reported by aides as looking for someone who approximates Bolton’s combination of toughness and diplomatic skill and has tentatively decided on Khalilzad. A native of Afghanistan, he has served in government posts dating back to 1985 and is the highest-ranking Muslim in the Bush Administration.

    State Department sources have said Andrew Card had expressed interest in the UN post and was a dark horse to get it. However, he never made any such desire known to the President and is not being considered for the UN. The wilder targets of speculation include Sen. DeWine and Rep. Jim Leach (Iowa), both Republicans who were defeated for re-election in November.

    Rove’s Retirement: To little notice in the national media, Bush presidential adviser Karl Rove disclosed during a Washington speaking engagement last week that he will not return to his lifetime profession as a political consultant when he leaves the White House. Rove referred to himself as "a former political consultant" and said that he was leaving the game.


    RSC Chairman: To the relief of fiscal conservatives, members of the conservative Republican Study Committee chose Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.) as its chairman over appropriator, Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.).

    Tiahrt is a conservative member of Congress and an active member on several issues related to religious conservatism. But many conservatives were questioning whether an appropriator would be a proper chairman for the group that complained incessantly about earmarks and runaway Republican spending in the 109th Congress.

    The other dynamic in the race was a feeling among the RSC’s founders that the young Turks like Hensarling and others have been taking over. The vote was 57-42 in Hensarling’s favor. Hensarling has been active in social conservative causes, but much more so on economic conservative issues.

    There is much question about the RSC’s efficacy in Congress. While Republicans had the majority, the group could hardly keep 20 votes together on controversial issues. In the minority, they risk irrelevance unless they can team up with good-government Democrats to kill pork-laden spending bills.

    Patent Bill: The single-interest patent measure we wrote about last week failed to pass the Senate before the end of the lame-duck session, due to last-minute holds placed on it by Senators Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). The measure in question gave The Medicines Company a retroactive break on a drug patent extension application it had filed one day late.

    The company’s application had been denied because of the tardiness, potentially costing the company $1 billion, and so they hired a top lobbying team and wrote a bill so carefully worded that it would apply only to them, giving the Patent and Trademark Office the discretion to allow them a five-day grace period for applications currently under consideration (as is theirs).

    Although both Sessions and Grassley said that their holds were based on concerns over the drug patent measure, multiple sources said that Grassley was holding out for inclusion of a patent provision that would have benefited Iowa.

    The Medicines Company’s CEO, Clive Meanwell, argues that with the patent extension period, his company could conduct further clinical trials on using the drug to treat other indications, such as stroke. The company almost surely would have gotten the extension, except that their Boston law firm dropped the ball and filed it late.

    Rather than sue their incompetent lawyers, the company got the help of two Massachusetts Congressmen — Bill Delahunt (D) and Marty Meehan (D) — who sponsored the bill.

    In the upper chamber, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) was the driving force behind the scenes in the Senate for this single-interest legislation. But he was not brave enough to add his name to the effort or speak out for it on the Senate floor — he wants to be remembered as a champion of lower drug prices, not a defender of incompetent lawyers. The measure he advocated would have kept the heart drug’s price higher for four more years by barring generic competition.

    As we expected, lawmakers added the Medicine Company’s measure to a totally unrelated boat-hull-design bill sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), specifically because it was expected that Cornyn would not put a hold on his own bill. It never came to that, but freshman Cornyn is in his re-election cycle and might have been hurt if he had let his name be affixed to this kind of single-interest legislation.

    As long as the PTO keeps the company’s application under consideration, the next Congress can pass a bill to give them relief — probably it will be a broadly applying bill, though, that allows for discretion on deadlines and would apply to more companies in the future.

    Election 2006

    Louisiana-2: The re-election of Rep. William Jefferson (D) is baffling to most Americans. Vanquished Republicans, still smarting from the election of 2006, can now smirk. Democratic leaders suffer heartburn when looking ahead, knowing that one of their own is likely to be indicted soon.

    After an election in which corruption was one of the overriding issues, the congressman won the runoff after his freezer was found to contain $90,000 in cash that had been given him by an FBI informant, supposedly on videotape. Two others have already been convicted and sentenced in Jefferson-related crimes — one of them admitted to bribing Jefferson. Jefferson was also reportedly, and controversially, escorted through the Katrina floodwaters to his personal residence in New Orleans by the National Guard. His congressional office was raided for evidence of wrongdoing.

    Jefferson’s most widely run campaign ad essentially told voters, "Don’t believe the evidence, I am not a crook." Yet after taking just 30 percent in the first round, he crushed his run-off opponent, state Rep. Karen Carter (D).

    With Carter’s loss, the pro-abortion women’s group EMILY’s List finishes the year with a two-for-20 record in competitive races — not too successful considering how good the environment was for Democratic House candidates.

    After Jefferson’s victory, members of the Congressional Black Caucus demanded that he be returned to his seat on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. House Speaker-designate Pelosi refused to grant that privilege, however, leaving him in suspension.

    Texas-23: Rep. Henry Bonilla (R) was crushed in the special election runoff after receiving 49 percent in the first round on November 7. The reasons are complicated, and they go back to a controversial Supreme Court decision earlier this year demanding a re-map of his district.

    For one thing, Bonilla was at fault in many ways. He did not spend enough money to get himself over the 50 percent mark on Election Day, leaving $1.4 million in his campaign account on November 8. Bonilla had harbored ideas of running for statewide office — possibly a Senate seat if one opened up. The saving of money that could have gotten him the few thousand extra votes he needed to pass the stake on November 7 proved costly. He only turned out 60,000 voters in the first round, just half of what 50 percent equals in many districts in a midterm election. Part of this is because of the number of illegal immigrants in the district, but there were enough votes in the district to put him over the top in the first round.

    Democrats also acted cleverly in the first round with a calculated strategy. They fielded three semi-credible candidates in the race in order to appeal to different parts of the newly constituted district, knowing that none of those Democrats would have a serious chance of a first round victory. This would force a second round race with just two candidates by law and no chance that Bonilla could win with a plurality.

    There was little reason to believe that yesterday’s victor, former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D), could come out on top after taking just 20 percent in the first round. But the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee carried Rodriguez, a poor candidate in his own right, over the finish line, driving a powerful early-voting operation in advance of the election. The Hispanic group LULAC pressed for three extra days of early voting, which helped Democrats. Many Republicans did not think Bonilla could lose and, therefore, failed to help.

    Bonilla, meanwhile, continued running positive ads for too long after November 7, but then suddenly launched a series of ads that overreached in their extreme negativity, asserting that Rodriguez had ties to Islamic terrorists. Bonilla also focused his entire voter turnout operation on Bexar County, his home base of voters that had saved him from a strong challenge in 2000. But there just weren’t enough votes there — his vote total on December 12 was just half of what it had been a month earlier, and he lost by almost 10 points.

    Bonilla was also slightly harmed, and certainly not helped, by his embrace of the conservative position on the border security and immigration issue. Once again, it proved woefully ineffective in bringing out white voters, and whatever-sized effect it had among Hispanic voters — who make up more than 60 percent of the new district — it was a negative effect. Bonilla lost counties in the second round that he had never lost in any previous election.

    This race has implications for Republican hopes to win the Hispanic vote in the future. True, it’s been a bad year for Republicans, and the district was more Democratic than it had been before the Supreme Court demanded a new round of redistricting. But with a substantial cash advantage and 49 percent in the first round, every indication is that Bonilla only needed a competent campaign in order to win.

    Election 2008

    Edwards: Between November 2004 and November 2006, whatever fervor existed for former Sen. Edwards after his failed shot at the vice presidency appears to have held up. But that only gives him seven percent in a McLaughlin poll of actual Democratic voters on election night.

    Despite the softballs thrown by his interviewer, Edwards got off to a shaky start in his recent appearance on MSNBC‘s "Hardball." He talked about "tribal wars that have been going on for centuries" in Iraq and said that the U.S. had been foolish to intervene to try to stop them. Surely he understands the issue of Iraq better than that: He was in the U.S. Senate and voted for the Iraq War. after all. Most of pre-invasion Iraq was relatively stable under the thumb of Saddam Hussein.

    McCain: Sen. John McCain is eagerly courting social-conservative groups as he approaches the 2008 presidential race as the frontrunner on the Republican side and overall. Eight or nine such groups were represented at a recent Capitol Hill meeting in which he tried to mend some fences with pro-life and Christian activist groups.

    McCain had upset the National Right to Life Committee during the debate over his McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill, and he had uncomplimentary words for Christian activists during his 2000 presidential run. Although McCain has not been with any of these groups on embryonic stem-cell research, he is reportedly persuadable, and he has also voted pro-life throughout his career, making him more attractive for conservatives than Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) in at least that respect.

    Romney: Having just been praised by the Family Research Council and an array of other groups for releasing a proclamation ordering the Massachusetts legislature to convene and put the issue of same-sex marriage before the voters, Gov. Romney was suddenly ambushed. In 1994, while running for Senate, Romney had sent a letter to the homosexual Log Cabin Republicans group, stating that he would be a stronger advocate for gay rights than Sen. Kennedy. Conservative leaders viewed his earlier statements as troubling and called for an "abject rejection" of his earlier stance. The key to Romney, though, seems to be that he shifts his positions on issues important to Republican primary voters. The Log Cabin letter was cleverly released by someone while Romney was in Japan, and he did not respond for four days. The combination of this and his abortion flip-flop could strangle his candidacy in its crib — it has already deflated him somewhat in the blogosphere.

    Robert D. Novak