Week of March 14, 2007

March 14, 2007
Washington, DC
Vol. 42, No. 6a


  1. The early rush of the new Democratic majority in Congress has been slowed to a walk, but the Republicans still have not adjusted to being in the minority. At this week’s conference of House Republicans, the leaders were surprisingly passive in dealing with Democrats’ efforts to control Iraq War operations through the supplemental appropriations bill. Oddly, the most impassioned oratory came from Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), ranking Republican on the House Appropriations Committee.
  2. Democrats have been increasingly convinced that the greatest political gain leading up to the 2008 presidential election lies not in the tortuous path of legislation but in investigation. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, is the leading investigator. Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales is the leading target.
  3. Lack of White House interest in Senate consideration of an embryonic stem-cell bill suggests that President George W. Bush and his team are so locked into the Iraq war and its associated developments that everything else is secondary. There is no effective domestic agenda for the Bush Administration. A return to Iraq issues and then the budget could push embryonic stem-cell research back as far as Easter, although it could possibly come up in the next two weeks.
  4. The surprising Republican interest in hints by former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) that he is considering a run for President is evidence of the continuing conservative void in the Republican presidential field. Although long associated with the more liberal Howard Baker wing of the Tennessee GOP, actor-politician Thompson has a strong conservative voting record and is particularly alluring for social conservatives.
  5. Although emissaries of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) are still preaching the inevitability of her nomination, Democrats in general do not want the process closed or the field limited. There is new interest in New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. As a Westerner and a Mexican-American, Richardson is seen as strong in the newly decisive swing states of Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and his own New Mexico. His hope is the new Nevada caucuses, which are scheduled between the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary.

Bush Administration

The firing of eight U.S. attorneys, and the subsequent explanation that it came about for performance-related reasons, continues to rock the Bush Administration.

  1. Atty. Gen. Gonzales was forced to cancel a trip to the Northeast and deliver an apology for the confusion involved in the firings. He defended the decision as justified, but his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, resigned. Bush is standing by Gonzales for now.

  2. Democrats love the Justice Department controversy, as well as the fact that two New Mexico Republican lawmakers — Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson — have been ensnared in it. Wilson contacted U.S. Attorney David Iglesias during the fall election regarding the slow pace of corruption prosecutions of Democrats. Domenici allegedly called Iglesias at home to ask about the timing of an indictment.

  3. This confirms long-standing Republican rumbling that something is rotten in the Department of Justice. Gonzales agreed today to appear on Capitol Hill to defend the firings.


Iraq: On Iraq, House Democrats have begun to learn what their Senate counterparts discovered earlier — life in the majority also has its drawbacks. Several leading newspapers, by no means friendly toward Republicans usually, have criticized Democrats’ handling of the Iraq issue, the issue their base cares about most.

  1. The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times are among the major newspapers that have come to the same conclusion we expressed several weeks ago, namely that Congress can set military objectives, but it is uniquely ill-suited as an institution to determine military tactics. As a result, Democrats now find themselves trapped between their own liberal wing, which prefers a pullout, and their current, middle-ground position, which puts them at odds with the major instruments of public opinion.

  2. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) felt discontent from another side at the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee. She received scattered boos and polite applause when she addressed the group this week on why the Iraq War had failed. The difficulty of pleasing everyone, or even anyone, has made itself felt in the negotiations over the supplemental appropriations bill that funds operations in the Iraq War for fiscal 2007. A floor vote is expected next week.

  3. Republicans, meanwhile, continue to argue as though Congress should acquiesce to the President even when it comes to military objectives — the position Democrats refer to as a "blank check" for Bush. House Republicans have found at least one place where they can enlist the aid of moderate Democrats. They forced language on Iran out of the $124-billion supplemental. Even that language was rather tame — it would have required congressional authorization to invade Iran, which President Bush would be very unwise not to request.

  4. The full measure, which exceeds the President’s request by more than $21 billion, includes aid for salmon fishermen, peanut storage, and subsidies for grain, citrus and milk producers in addition to the war funding. This gives Republicans another platform to stand on as they oppose a bill whose level of Democratic support remains unclear.

  5. Although the House leadership had claimed they would not do so, the House bill will include other measures that have stalled in the Senate, including the minimum wage increase.

  6. Meanwhile, after several iterations of the same or similar proposals, Senate Republicans finally decided they could not forever hold off the vote on a non-binding Iraq resolution. The Senate today voted 89-9 to proceed to debate on the measure (39 Republicans voted to proceed), S Res. 9, which demands — or at least suggests — a final pullout date of March 31, 2008. The measure alters the original Iraq authorization to require "redeployment" as the new mission for the military in Iraq. This would effectively be a repeal of the Iraq War resolution of October 2002. The measure probably will not survive its second cloture vote, unless Republicans feel the need again to get this over with now and vote up or down. In that case, it would be vetoed by President Bush. Needless to say, the administration has a strong distaste for this measure and accuses Democrats of trying to lose the war.

9/11 Bill: Before taking up the Iraq debate, the Senate passed a bill intended to implement more of the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

The bill makes minor changes to grant programs for states and local governments, and it establishes a program to improve emergency communications. But it does nothing that is directly related to preventing a terrorist attack, beyond initiating a study on how to scan more port containers entering the U.S.

At its heart, the bill is designed to give collective bargaining rights to airport security screeners. Republicans are strongly opposed to this provision, and it will probably result in a presidential veto. This issue caused a long delay in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, and it ultimately had political consequences (costing Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) his seat).

Republicans did succeed in forcing a vote on some provisions they felt would be embarrassing to Democrats through a parliamentary maneuver by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) March 7. It was only a cloture vote — meaning it had little chance of succeeding, but Democrats had tried to avoid the vote because they did not want to vote against an amendment that, according to its description, "strengthen[s] the Federal Government’s ability to detain dangerous criminal aliens, including murderers, rapists, and child molesters, until they can be removed from the United States."

The Republican amendment, sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), also dealt with deporting suspected terrorists after their visas are revoked and criminalized the recruitment of terrorists and the rewarding of families of suicide bombers. Reid maintained that these are immigration provisions and did not belong in this bill.

Because Democrats did not want to vote on such a measure, they refused to agree to limiting debate. This prevented any agreement on a vote, but it allowed McConnell to file a cloture motion before Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) could file for cloture on the underlying bill. The vote on cloture for the amendment was 46 to 49.

Energy: The automotive industry and its labor union associates staunchly opposed increased Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards the last time they came up — in the 107th Congress, when Democrats narrowly controlled the U.S. Senate with 50 members in their caucus. Their opposition at that time was sufficient. Now, with Democrats in control of both houses of Congress and the Bush Administration suddenly intent on "going green," new regulations have their best chance of passing in decades.

  1. However, business and labor are changing their tactics. Instead of blocking an environmentalist policy that hurts only them, they are trying to spread the pain by advocating an economy-wide cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions. This new measure has a better chance of passing. House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) is the industry’s best ally for holding off CAFE increases.

  2. Even so, there is strong support for sharp increases in CAFE standards. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) has done a complete about-face on this issue. In 2002, he backed an amendment that effectively killed CAFE increases, but now he is calling for a hike of the current 27.5-mile-per-gallon standard to 40 miles by 2018. House Democrats yesterday proposed a bill that will increase the standard to 35 miles.

  3. Whichever bill is adopted, none of its effects on fuel consumption or consumer automobile prices will be felt for at least five years. CAFE standards represent a far less efficient but politically safer way to curb fuel consumption than a simple gas tax hike, which would take effect overnight and affect both consumers and manufacturers immediately.

  4. President Bush has completely turned tail on this issue. He tried to head off the most economically damaging reforms by referring to a proposal in his State of the Union Address that would regulate cars’ CAFE standards based on their sizes. Much of the auto industry is backing this rule (except the manufacturers of smaller trucks), but environmentalists do not like it because it dulls the incentive under the current rules to produce smaller cars. Bush, having adopted the notion that Americans are "addicted to oil," may ultimately be forced to sign this or a similar proposal.

President 2008

Edwards: Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) had been slipping as the Obama-Hillary contest became a two-way race, but he received help at CPAC when columnist Ann Coulter used the term "faggot" during a reference to Edwards. So hated is Coulter on the left that it was probably the best publicity he’d received in months. His campaign was soliciting donations over the event almost immediately after it occurred, sending e-mails to supporters that included a video clip of Coulter’s insulting him.

Obama-Clinton: Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) seems to have Sen. Hillary Clinton right where he wants her. Her campaign is constantly reacting to what he does.

  1. This includes her recent appearance in Selma, Ala., in which she reinvented her own past. Clinton, speaking at Selma’s First Baptist Church on the 42nd anniversary of the "bloody Sunday" freedom march there, declared: "As a young girl [age 16], I had the great privilege of hearing Dr. King speak in Chicago. The year was 1963. My youth minister from our church took a few of us down on a cold January night to hear [King]. … And he called on us, he challenged us that evening to stay awake during the great revolution that the civil rights pioneers were waging on behalf of a more perfect union."

  2. That all sounds great, except that the young Hillary went on the following year to become a supporter of Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, who opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Clinton’s commencement address, made at Wellesley as a student, did not mention civil rights. She and her handlers are so afraid of Obama that they were implying the existence long ago of a teenager in Chicago’s suburbs who never really existed.

  3. Clinton’s speech in Nashua, N.H., was a clumsy attempt to return the focus to herself as the "barrier-breaking" candidate instead of Obama. It was not exactly the comparison of herself to JFK that it was called in some headlines, but it was definitely a ham-fisted attempt to assert that she was an underdog seeking to overcome a major cultural barrier. The comparison she made, however, only highlights the fact that Obama’s inauguration would break really huge barriers, whereas hers would be what everyone has been expecting anyway — four more years of Clinton.

  4. Obama gave some rare praise to President Bush at a dinner hosted by the National Council of La Raza. Obama praised President Bush for having his heart "in the right place" on immigration reform. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also addressed attendees. In a minor incident, two guests had their cars stolen during the event at the National Building Museum — the valets were held up at gunpoint.

Thompson: The hype over former Sen. Fred Thompson has some substance to it, as the actor-politician has already begun approaching experienced campaign hands in key states. Thompson already evokes the obvious comparison to Ronald Reagan because of his profession.

Thompson effectively embraced the Republican right when he ran for and entered the U.S. Senate. From the perspective of the Republican Party’s conservative base, he stacks up well against each of the "Big Three" leading Republican candidates. His voting record (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 86%) in the Senate is more conservative than that of Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain (lifetime ACU rating: 82%), none of his position-switches are nearly as bad or as recent as those of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), and nothing in his background is as negative as that of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R).

Given enough money, Thompson could make a good run at it by tearing down the conservative credentials of the "Big Three" and then building himself up as a tax-cutting, pro-life former senator. His acting role on "Law & Order" does not hurt, either.

Brownback: Although he remains at the top of the second-tier candidates, Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback‘s third-place finish in the CPAC straw poll was impressive considering he spent less than $2,000 organizing for the event. All but four of his 40 student volunteers paid their own way. Romney finished first in the poll with 21 percent, followed by Giuliani at 17 percent, and then Brownback at 15 percent.

Romney reportedly spent more than $300,000 in organizing for the event and transporting, registering and housing volunteers. Brownback’s backers assert that if the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., hadn’t been on spring break, Brownback could have beaten Giuliani.

Robert D. Novak