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Capital Briefs: April 2-6

Tough Times for Tony: The increasingly shrill debate over funding for U.S. troops in Iraq, the ongoing controversy over the eight fired U.S. attorneys, and all of the other big news in Washington last week took a back seat to the announcement from the White House that the growth that led Press Secretary Tony Snow to check into the hospital two weeks ago was cancerous and had spread to his liver. “He is in consultation with his doctors on chemotherapy treatment,” Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino told a hushed press room in what Human Events Political Editor John Gizzi called “the most unforgettable briefing” of his career. “He said that he’s going after it as aggressively as he can,” Perino said and then began to sob as she told reporters: “I know that you love him too, but it was hard news for us.”

The 51-year-old Snow lost his mother to cancer and had himself been successfully treated for colon cancer last year prior to becoming the first professional journalist in more than 30 years to serve as White House press secretary. A former editorialist with the Detroit News and Washington Times and a former Fox television commentator, Snow won fans through his polished performance in daily televised briefings with reporters. In contrast to recent predecessors who left right after the briefings, Snow made friends among even critical journalists by staying in the press room to talk to them privately after the camera was turned off. His legions of fans across the country join with President and Mrs. Bush in sending him best wishes and praying for his recovery.

The White House has set up a link on its website, under the “Features” section, for people to send Tony Snow notes of encouragement.

Romney’s Campaign Tithe: Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, one of the media-anointed “Big Three” candidates seeking the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, is offering participants in “Students for Mitt” a cut of the funds they raise for his campaign. According to the Associated Press, college students who participate in the program will get a 10% cut of the money they raise for the Romney campaign after the first $1,000. The report quotes Romney spokesman Kevin Madden, who said: “For the kids who want to get involved in a political campaign and they don’t want to spend their summer painting houses, they can help the campaign and themselves at the same time.” Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Steve Grossman was quick to criticize the lack of conviction on behalf of the students and the Romney campaign by saying: “It may very well succeed, but I’d like to think that he’d approach young people and college students based on their commitment to the country, not because they want walking-around money.”

VP Possibilities: At a South Carolina campaign stop last week, Romney floated a trio of names as possible running mates. He mentioned South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Of Bush, Romney said “I love him. If his name weren’t Bush, he’d be running for President, I’m convinced.”

Webb’s Gun Scuffle: On March 26, an aide to Sen. Jim Webb (D.-Va.) attempted to pass through Capitol Hill police security carrying a loaded 9mm handgun and two loaded magazines. The weapon and ammunition belonged to Webb. Phillip F. Thomson, who is an executive assistant to Webb and longtime friend, was arrested and spent the night at the District of Columbia jail. He said he grabbed the briefcase that held the weapon after a luggage mix-up while getting ready for a scheduled trip to New Orleans the following weekend. Webb told the press, “I did not give the weapon to Philip Thomson and that’s all I think I’ll say. We had three cars on Friday that were being moved because of my trip, and that is probably a reason this inadvertent situation developed.” Members of Congress and designated employees are permitted to bring unloaded guns into the Capitol, but are not allowed to bring the guns through the District’s streets, because Capitol grounds are federal property and not subject to the District gun ban. Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance W. Gainer said that members of Congress who would like to have their guns at the Capitol should ask police to transport the weapons for them. A few days later at the annual Radio and Television Correspondent’s Association dinner, President Bush poked fun at Webb’s 2nd Amendment scuffle. Bush thanked the organization for hosting the dinner and then said, “and I’d like to thank Senator Webb for providing security.”

Hunter to Leave House: Conservative Rep. Duncan Hunter (R.-Calif.), who is currently seeking the Republican nomination for President, announced that he will not be seeking re-election to the House of Representatives in 2008. Hunter is the ranking Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee and recently unveiled a plan to withdraw troops from Iraq that relies on steadily rotating Iraqi troops into combat assignments to relieve U.S. troops from those posts. Hunter offered his plan shortly after a fact-finding mission to Baghdad, Ramadi and Fallujah.

Johnson Votes: Sen. Tim Johnson (D.-S.D.) is still recovering from the brain hemorrhage that struck him last December, but did vote by proxy in the Senate Appropriations Committee March 22. After the vote, Johnson’s staff issued a statement thanking pork-friendly Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd (D.-W.Va.) for including $4 billion in drought relief for farmers in the Iraq war supplemental spending bill. Johnson’s communications director Julianne Fisher told KELO-TV in Sioux Falls, “Some of the committees have rules that you have the right to vote [by proxy] on an amendment in the committee but not necessarily vote on the overall bill coming out of the committee. They want to make sure the senators are around so you can’t just dial it in.”

Veto Showdown  On March 29, the Senate passed its version of the Iraq supplemental spending bill by a vote of 51 to 47. It was packed with $21 billion in pork-barrel projects and contained a date certain for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. A week earlier, the House passed a similar bill loaded with $24 billion in spending for pet projects. The two bills now go to a conference committee to work out a compromise. President Bush has vowed to veto the final version if it contains a withdrawal date and is full of pork projects. He said, “They set an arbitrary date for withdrawal without regard for conditions on the ground, and they tacked on billions for pet projects that have nothing to do with winning the War on Terror. This bill had too much pork, too many conditions and an artificial timetable for withdrawal.” Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R.-Miss.) speculated in a press conference that a compromise could be reached if the Democrats would take out the deadline. “It clearly could be worked out if they would make up their mind and come to terms that we are not going to have artificial deadlines, we are not going to micromanage the war,” he said. When asked if the Democrats removed the deadline if the President would still veto the bill based on spending alone, Lott said: “If you took out the deadlines and took out some of the outrageous pork, it could be [eventually passed]…but if all of this is just a feign to get an extra $21 billion in spending, I doubt that the President would agree to that.”  

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