'W' Opting Out

The reason given by the White House for President Bush missing the 122nd annual Washington Gridiron dinner March 31 is that he will entertain Brazil’s President Lula da Silva that weekend. But a key adviser urged him six weeks ago to skip the gathering of the journalists club.

The adviser attended the Jan. 27 Alfalfa dinner in Washington and was struck by the "tepid" greeting given the president by the elite audience. If an audience presumed friendly to Bush was cool, he feared the reception from hostile newsies.

Vice President Dick Cheney cleared up a schedule conflict so that he could substitute for the president at the Gridiron dinner.

Run, Fred, Run

Close friends of Fred Thompson say his wife Jeri is urging him to take the plunge later this year and run for the Republican presidential nomination.

The former senator from Tennessee and current actor on "Law & Order," in private conversation, makes it clear that he is seriously interested in launching a candidacy that has attracted extraordinary attention over the last two weeks. However, he does not plan to announce his candidacy in the immediate future.

The major rap against Thompson is that he was not a hard worker during his eight years in the Senate. His friends respond that this is an easily correctable error and that the same complaint was made about Ronald Reagan before he ran for president.

Barack Blooper?

Supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s presidential campaign continue to pound away at Sen. Barack Obama, two weeks after the fact, for saying "nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people." That is why, Obama said, he hopes for "a loosening up" of aid restrictions to the Palestinian people.

Clinton backers say this was not a conscious effort by Obama to display his political independence, much as Bill Clinton separated himself from black activists in the 1992 campaign "Sister Souljah" incident. They contend that Obama committed a blooper that revealed him as a novice who cannot go the distance in a presidential campaign.

Behind Clintonites harping on this incident is the political danger risked by any Democrat displaying sympathy for the Palestinian cause, as Hillary Clinton did when she was first lady.

Welcome Back, Trent

Sen. Trent Lott has made a triumphal return from backbench obscurity to front-row leadership as Senate Republican whip, making himself essential to the party’s leadership now in minority status.

Rank-and-file GOP senators see Mitch McConnell as far preferable to the departed Bill Frist as the party’s leader in the Senate. But they consider Lott the invaluable wise old hand with experience working in a Republican minority. He was House minority whip in 1981-1988 and was elected Senate majority whip after the 1994 elections before becoming majority leader in 1996.

The irony of Lott’s political resurrection is that he was forced out as majority leader in December 2002 thanks to loss of support from President George W. Bush, who is now held in low esteem by Republican senators.

Louisiana Hayride

The decision by Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco not to seek re-election this year leaves the state’s Democrats high and dry, uncertain whether former Sen. John Breaux will launch a late candidacy with no campaign money yet raised.

Louisiana Democrats are stunned that Blanco did not make a deal with Breaux to try to succeed her before she bowed out. The only record of fund-raising this year by Breaux, a multimillionaire Washington lobbyist, is an event for Blanco last month.

Blanco narrowly defeated Republican Bobby Jindal in 2003. But she has trailed Jindal, now a member of Congress, badly in the polls following her much criticized handling of Hurricane Katrina. Breaux, a popular figure during 32 years’ service in the House and Senate, is the only Democrat given a chance to defeat Jindal (though one poll shows him also losing).