Week of January 10, 2007

January 10, 2007
Washington, DC
Vol. 42, No. 1b

  • President Bush faces a tough sell on Iraq policy change and ‘troop surge’
  • Judicial nominees pull out following weak Republican support
  • White House scrambles to fill State Department posts
  • Pelosi’s ethics reform hits a snag
  • We take a look at Senate races for 2008
  • Romney’s ‘National Call Day‘ pulls in $6.5 million
  • Outlook

    1. President George W. Bush‘s speech on Iraq tonight will attempt to convince the nation — especially Republican members of Congress — that he is not merely bringing an additional 20,000 troops to Iraq but also changing policy. It is a tough sell. Republicans in Congress are mainly interested in an orderly withdrawal well before the ’08 elections.
    2. The polls on the war run against Bush, but the Democrats are taking no chances. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, has spearheaded the changing of the terminology of the troop increase from “surge” to “escalation.” Democrats also are careful to make clear that efforts to reduce appropriations will be limited to the “escalation,” not the present troops in the field.
    3. The amendments to Democratic ethics legislation in Congress beings pressed by Senators Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) are aimed straight at the ethical credentials of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). The attempt to include the relatives of senators in ethics restrictions are intended to bring in Reid’s family, whose members have been linked to questionable deals.
    4. Despite the growing number of candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, insiders see a three-way race among Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) and former Sen. John Edwards (S.C.). Obama is expected to announce formation of his presidential committee this week and is regarded by Clinton supporters as their big threat. But Edwards’s populist campaign is coming up fast with potential backing from organized labor.
    5. The coming free trade battles in Congress — over free trade agreements with Colombia, Peru and Panama and extension of fast-track authority — represent a challenge to Clinton and Obama from Edwards. In his quest for labor backing, Edwards is taking the undiluted protectionist position. The question is how far Clinton and Obama are willing to go in that direction.
    6. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) has recruited several of President Bush’s former tax advisers and met with them in Utah during the holidays. Romney insiders want to depict him as a tax-cutter in comparison with the checkered record of front-running Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

    Bush Administration

    Iraq: President Bush will unveil his new Iraq strategy tonight, and it is expected to include a major surge of 20,000 additional U.S. troops.

    1. The strategy appears to many to be of the “just so crazy it might work” variety. By augmenting its presence, the U.S. military can achieve a victory of grand strategy that allows it to withdraw. To most people, this does not sound immediately promising.

    2. The “troop-surge” idea — called “escalation” by its critics — is embraced most lustily by Sen. McCain, even as many other Republicans flinch at putting their names on it. Notable exceptions are Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Pence says that Bush talked him into it this week, both had expressed qualified support for such a plan to reporters in December.

    3. Opponents, typified by Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), are skeptical that such a plan can work. The addition of more troops appears to be a continuation of more of the same policy that has not worked so far. There are always political concerns as well. The more troops placed in Iraq now, the more there are likely to be in 2008, and if Iraq remains a mess by then with Americans still dying in the midst of the insurgent conflict, Republicans will have the same mess on their hands for the second election in a row.

    4. As often happens after bitterly contested elections, the victors and the vanquished began by speaking of a new bipartisan spirit in Washington. As always, this has been disproved in a matter of weeks. The clearest sign that nothing has changed is the fact that Democrats are negotiating the new Iraq policy through the media.

      Not only does this demonstrate that Iraq remains just another political issue for them, but it also demonstrates that they feel sufficiently excluded from the policy conversation that they think they have more to gain by posturing than by trying to work with President Bush for a policy solution. The Democrats’ complaints — and their use of terms like “escalation of this conflict” — also came before Bush has unveiled any strategy.

    5. Senate Majority Leader Reid made Bush’s Iraq plan the subject of a radio address, and now he is introducing a Senate resolution condemning a troop surge. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) gave a speech Tuesday at the National Press Club denouncing (among other things) any troop surge in Iraq and introduced legislation to block it. Former Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), a wounded Vietnam veteran, said on CNN that an escalation of troop levels would lead only to “more casualties at Walter Reed” hospital.

    6. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) implied that Congress could refuse to fund such an activity. This is a very implausible suggestion that actually reflects Democrats’ need to tamp down discontent among their anti-war base. An actual refusal to fund a major ongoing military action involving high levels of U.S. troops would be something not seen in decades. (Funds were not withdrawn from Vietnam until U.S. troops had already been withdrawn.)

    7. The death of the 3,000th U.S. serviceman underscores the notion that the current strategy in Iraq has not worked. The President has to show that he is not just sending in more troops, but rather that he is adopting a substantively different approach to the problems in Iraq, to which the additional troops are merely incidental. The new plan is supposed to focus on holding territory more than on merely patrolling for insurgents.

    Judicial Nominees: With the Democratic takeover of the Senate, four of Bush’s nominees to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — William Haynes, William Myers, Terrence Boyle and Michael Wallace — are withdrawing their names from the nomination process. The White House had been willing to renominate all of them, but three had been languishing for years and had no desire to continue the charade. Wallace, the fourth, had gotten a poor rating from the American Bar Association.

    This is a reflection of two things: First, Democrats are expected to obstruct judicial nominees as they have since Bush took office in 2001, which is no surprise. Second, after an entire session of Congress in which they all but ignored the issue of judges, Republican leaders in Congress have given nominees little or no confidence that there will be a fight on their behalf. The administration also did very little to push these nominees through a Senate that had a 55-seat Republican majority.

    Further evidence of this nominee-confidence problem came with Kenneth Tomlinson‘s decision yesterday not to seek renomination as chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. Tomlinson was so brutally battered by Democrats throughout his tenure — as Republicans stood by and watched — that he did not feel it worth his while to put himself through more misery in the form of confirmation hearings.

    State Department Shuffle: Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee from both parties were alarmed last week that John Negroponte was leaving as director of National Intelligence (DNI) after less than two years to become deputy secretary of State. Negroponte informed one Republican senator that he did not want to make the switch but that the White House prevailed on him.

    The switch comes just as his on-the-job training as DNI had been completed, reflecting a panicky desire to fill the long-vacant deputy secretary’s post. Five other key State Department positions are either vacant or will be soon.

    Republicans in Congress fret that the State Department under Secretary Condoleezza Rice is a mess. Rice’s previous duties as an analyst and staffer had not prepared her to be a manager. While the U.S. faces numerous challenges abroad — in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Israel, Korea and Sudan — Rice has failed to find a strong manager as deputy since the departure of Robert Zoellick. John Bolton, an under secretary in the first term and an experienced bureaucratic manager, volunteered, but Rice wanted him as ambassador to the United Nations.

    Zoellick, one of the most talented national security administrators of the past generation, did not get along well with Rice. As a result, Nicholas Burns, No. 3 at State as under secretary for Political Affairs, dominated the building. Burns surely would have been in the same post if John Kerry had been elected 2004, and he probably would have been more comfortable in a Democratic administration.

    Estranged from Zoellick, Rice relied on Burns and State Department Counselor Phillip Zelikow for advice. Zoellick departed in frustration last July, setting off a furtive, sporadic search for a new deputy. Several prospects (including Marine Gen. James Jones, retiring as NATO supreme commander) said no, perhaps warned off by Zoellick’s experience. Negroponte, named DNI despite his lack of intelligence experience, now was implored by fellow FSOs to bring order out of chaos. Retired Adm. Mike McConnell, though he had been out of the intelligence game for 10 years, replaced Negroponte.

    Negroponte will find other empty offices at State. Zelikow, Counter-terrorism Coordinator Hank Crumpton and Assistant Secretary (political-military) John Hillen have all resigned and have not yet been replaced. Under Secretary (arms control) Robert Joseph is reportedly leaving and Under Secretary (economic) Josette Sheeran Shiner is leaving to head the World Food Program.


    100-Hour Agenda: Democrats’ attempt to implement their “first 100 hours” agenda has had mixed results so far, with some successes but a few bloopers as well.

    Ethics Reform: The Democrats’ House ethics reform hit a snag with their prohibition of travel by members on corporate jets. The new rule bans travel on non-governmental planes that are not licensed by the FAA for commercial air travel. The problem is that the FAA does not license planes for commercial air travel — only pilots. The way the rule is written, members of Congress would literally be forbidden from flying on any commercial flight as well as any corporate jets. Republicans pointed to this difficulty as a result of Democrats’ failing to put any of their “100 hour” legislation through the committee process.

    Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are not following their House counterparts in enacting a ban on Senators’ flying on corporate jets. The main concerns are that the provision could make re-election more difficult for many incumbents. As a compromise, their package makes such travel much more expensive for senators by requiring them to pay a charter rate.

    Republicans can complain about Democrats’ breaking promises on this issue, or on the issue of implementing all of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations. But they will make very little headway in this way, simply because the Democrats were not elected because of the promises they made. Democratic promises of 2006 were not like the 1994 “Contract with America,” in that they had little to do with Democrats’ success. They were basically an afterthought, a legislative agenda thrown together in the campaign’s last days after it was already clear Democrats were going to take the House. Democrats won because of the Republicans’ behavior — something that will take extra time for Republicans to recover from.

    Rules Votes: Representatives Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) and Jim Marshall (D-Ga.) both voted with Republicans for a “motion to recommit” on the Democratic bill implementing some of the 9/11 Commission recommendations. This kind of defection on a procedural vote is highly unusual and normally draws the ire of a party’s congressional leadership. In Marshall’s case, it reflects the difficult district he holds. Taylor has always been something of a maverick who bucks leadership.

    Earmark Reform: Senators Coburn and DeMint plan to introduce an amendment to the Senate lobby reform package that focuses less on the behavior of lobbyists than the behavior of senators. Namely, it would forbid senators from requesting earmarks that may financially benefit themselves or immediate family members of themselves or their staffers. The idea is to mirror laws that prevent executive branch employees from benefiting personally from their work in the government.

    Coburn complains of projects he claims were funded because of the assistance of family-member lobbyists. This is something Congress will be especially loath to touch. The provision is a back-handed slap at Reid, who was accused last year of benefiting from an earmark that will increase the value of land he owns in Arizona, and four of whose sons are paid lobbyists.

    Subcommittee Change: It is of interest to a relatively select crowd, but Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has quietly maneuvered the Commodity Futures Trade Commission (CFTC) into his purview by bringing the regulatory body under the jurisdiction of his newly formed Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee. Chicago, once home to extensive stockyards, is home to the two largest futures exchanges in the U.S.

    Senate 2008

    We take a quick first look at a few races in which Republicans are heavily favored for re-election.

    Alabama: With Rep. Artur Davis (D) ruling out a Senate run, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) is one step closer to getting a free pass in 2008. Sessions, a staunch conservative, had no trouble with re-election in 2002, and he should have no problem in this conservative state if he draws as his opponent a state legislator such as State Sen. Vivian Figures (D). Sessions, a spokesman for most conservative causes in the Senate, remains popular in Alabama.

    Georgia: One of the last Southern states to realign from the Democrats put a Republican in the Senate in 2002, and followed up with a Republican governor, another senator, and both houses of the state legislature. The state appears unlikely to look back anytime soon. Former Sen. Cleland has already ruled out a re-match against Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R), and former Secretary of State Cathy Cox says she will not run for federal office. The Democrats currently speaking publicly about making the race are DeKalb County CEO Vernon Jones and trial attorney Jim Butler, neither of whom would likely mount a serious challenge.

    A more formidable opponent would be Rep. Marshall, who represents much of Chambliss’ old district. But the Democratic Party here has really taken a beating in the last six years and faces the kind of irrelevance in statewide races from which Texas Democrats currently suffer. Marshall is in a tough, newly drawn district as it is, and he barely hung on for re-election in 2006. He may regard a statewide race as too much to handle. Alternatively, if he fears losing the district, he has nothing to lose.

    Oklahoma: Currently, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R) is not expected to have too much trouble as he runs for re-election to a third full term. Inhofe would be 71 at the end of his term, and so there is speculation that he may retire, but he has already said he is not feeling his age and has no reason not to run. He will not receive a repeat challenge from Rep. Dan Boren (D).

    If he does get a serious challenge, it would probably have to be from Gov. Brad Henry (D) — just re-elected by a wide margin — or former Rep. Brad Carson (D). Henry is considered unlikely to run until a vacant seat opens up. Carson did so badly against Sen. Coburn in his open-seat run in 2004 that he would have to see some real weakness on Inhofe’s part to give it another go.

    President 2008

    Romney: The wild and unqualified success of former Massachusetts Gov. Romney’s “National Call Day” fundraiser served as a counterpoint to conservative concerns about his record. Romney raised $6.5 million in a single day with the help of nearly 400 high-profile volunteers in 40 states making phone calls. His main rival from the right, Sen. Brownback, spent the same day collecting endorsements from Massachusetts social conservatives, but the contrast also highlights Brownback’s relative lack of fundraising accomplishment.

    Robert D. Novak