ENPR: Week of April 4, 2007

April 4, 2007
Washington, DC
Vol. 42, No. 7b


  1. Comments in Sunday’s New York Times by former Bush strategist Matthew Dowd offer a window into the disillusionment now felt even within President George W. Bush‘s inner circle. Dowd not only expressed his disappointment, but also echoed our assessment of Bush as "isolated." Dowd views Bush as trapped within a bubble formed by his closest advisors, and blind to the public’s demand for withdrawal from Iraq. Some Republicans, however, question this sudden reversal, particularly since Dowd is a former Democrat and he expressed interest in working for Sen. Barack Obama‘s (D.-Ill.) presidential campaign.
  2. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid‘s (D-Nev.) suggestion that congressional Democrats might cut off war funds if President Bush vetoes the Iraq War supplemental was the boldest rhetorical step yet taken in the congressional war over Iraq policy. This probably takes the war’s unpopularity too far. He risks looking foolish if Congress is forced to pass a temporary funding bill later, to stave off GOP rhetoric about troops’ running out of gasoline, food and bullets in the Iraqi desert in mid-May.
  3. A Supreme Court ruling on EPA authority will almost certainly force the EPA to begin regulating gases that supposedly cause climate change. Without any congressional involvement, restrictive economic measures could now at some point appear in government environmental regulations.

Bush Administration

U.S. Attorney Firings: Last week’s testimony by Kyle Sampson, former chief of staff to Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales, and the recent release of thousands of pages of e-mails pertaining to the firings, have done nothing to quell the controversy over the administration’s firing of eight U.S. attorneys.

  1. The reason for all the trouble is at the top of the Justice Department — Gonzales himself now appears to have misled the press when he addressed them on March 13 and said that he "was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on."

  2. Sampson flatly contradicted Gonzales on this score, and the e-mails in question at least suggest that Gonzales was involved in discussions. Moreover, the e-mails do offer weak evidence that the firings could have been for "improper reasons," aimed at hindering corruption investigations.

  3. Though evidence of administration misconduct is far from solid, there is enough evidence for Democrats to use relentlessly against the administration for at least the next month. It is by design that Gonzales’s congressional testimony will not take place for two weeks — it allows the attorney-firing controversy to linger at least until that date, when it will again explode.

  4. There has been much confusing rhetoric over the actual scandal in the U.S. attorney firings. The question is not whether the President or the attorney general engaged in cronyism — this is permitted when it comes to U.S. attorneys. The question is whether any of them were fired in order to interfere with an ongoing investigation. In the case of U.S. Attorney Carol Lam of the Southern California district, Democrats have pointed to an e-mail sent by Sampson to White House Counsel Bill Kelly on May 11 — the day after Lam had announced her intention to execute police searches against two men involved in the corruption probe of a Republican member of Congress. In the note, Sampson referred to "[t]he real problem we have right now with Carol Lam that leads me to conclude that we should have someone ready to be nominated 11/18, the day her 4-year term expires."

  5. Sampson testified that he was unaware of Lam’s decision on the warrant at the time he wrote the "real problem" e-mail. Sampson said that the "real problem" he was referring to was Lam’s failure to pursue the administration’s priorities in stepping up gun and immigration prosecutions. She had allegedly failed to embrace "Project Safe Neighborhoods," the administration’s gun-enforcement initiative, and she allowed the number of immigration convictions in her district to decline so precipitously that both Rep. Darryl Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) later complained about her to the Justice Department.

  6. Still, the strongest argument that there was impropriety, combined with the "real problem" e-mail, is that the Justice Department chose to push Lam out without ever bringing this deficiency to her attention. This is a sign of deeper problems within Justice, and it suggests that this controversy will not be going away any time soon.

  7. Whatever the merits of firing Lam and the other U.S. attorneys in question, Deputy Atty. Gen. Paul McNulty invited controversy when he testified in February before the Senate Judiciary Committee and asserted that the firings had been "performance related" — a phrase that carries an implication of incompetence. This was an invitation to the attorneys in question to defend their reputations by disputing the administration’s account. In fact, it would have been more accurate to say that the U.S. attorneys had been fired for "policy differences" with the presidential administration that had appointed them.

  8. At least four of the other firings will figure prominently when Gonzales testifies. Paul Charlton, who was asked to step down as U.S. attorney in Arizona, had differed with the administration’s position on whether to tape confessions and when to seek the death penalty. But Charlton was also reportedly in the midst of investigating a land deal by Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) when he was asked to step down. Although it is highly doubtful, Democrats have even suggested that his downfall was related to a probe of former Rep. Jim Kolbe‘s (R-Ariz.) role in the page scandal of former Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.).

  9. U.S. attorneys in Washington (John McKay) and New Mexico (David Iglesias) were allegedly shown the door when they failed to pursue voter fraud and corruption cases against Democrats. Still, the cases in question were strong — a grand jury last week indicted two prominent Democratic politicians in the New Mexico case for stealing funds intended for construction of a courthouse.


House Rules: Republican Leader John Boehner (Ohio), in a private conversation on the House floor last Wednesday, warned his Democratic counterpart, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), of a legislative ”meltdown.”

Hoyer earlier had threatened rules changes limiting efforts of the Republican minority to alter legislation through ”recommittal” votes at the end of debate. If that happens, Boehner told Hoyer, look for Republicans to delay the appropriations process and bring the House’s work to a standstill.

House Republicans have experienced some success this year by exercising the minority party’s traditional right to recommit a bill to its originating committee. (See next item.)

CIA Leak: CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden conferred privately with two Democratic committee chairmen — with no Republicans present — the night before the March 16 House hearings on the Valerie Plame CIA leak.

Hayden talked to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), whose Oversight and Government Reform Committee conducted the hearing, and Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.), the Intelligence Committee chairman.

Waxman the next day quoted Hayden’s description of Plame’s status with the agency after the CIA’s repeated refusal to discuss this subject with Republican chairmen before the 2006 election. Hayden, a career Air Force officer, has assured complaining Republicans that he is not a Democrat. However, these Republicans speculate that Hayden has ambitions to become director of National Intelligence under a Democratic President who might be elected in 2008.

President 2008

Fundraising: Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) may have raised the most money in the first quarter of 2007, but the real winner in the money race will be Sen. Barack Obama. Clinton’s campaign has not yet released the amount of her $36 million ($26 million raised and $10 million transferred from her Senate account) that can be applied to the Democratic presidential primary.

Obama nearly beat her in funds raised ($25 million), and he will likely beat her in another important measure: He had far more donors who gave smaller amounts. Of the $25 million raised, $23.5 million can be applied to the Democratic presidential primary. Donors are permitted under federal law to give $2,300 to the primary and the same amount for the general election, but the general-election money being collected by candidates now cannot be used in the primary.

Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) made a respectable showing with $14 million, $13 million of which is primary money. This is certainly enough to remain competitive for now.

On the Republican side, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) came out on top, raising $23 million. By tapping into the financial world (his professional home) and the Mormon world (his religious home, and one of the wealthiest demographics in the United States), Romney has kept himself well in the race, despite recent poll numbers — which at this point mean little anyway.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) was impressive in another way, since he started so late and still managed to raise $15 million — $10 million of it in one month.

The biggest loser is Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the former frontrunner who was reportedly caught off guard by the vigor of other candidates’ efforts. To be sure, McCain’s $12.5 million would have been a record if not for the other candidates’ showings. But the maverick candidate of 2000 now finds himself trailing among the top three. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) confirmed everyone’s fears about his fundraising by bringing in just $1.9-million, including a $575,000 transfer from his Senate account.

Rudy Giuliani: The bad press continues to roll in for Giuliani, whose relationship with the news media has always been adversarial, especially during his time in New York. Giuliani spent last weekend insisting that no, his wife would not be a virtual member of his cabinet.

Far worse, though, are the felony allegations against Bernard Kerik, Giuliani’s former police commissioner and a former employee of his consulting firm. Kerik had been Giuliani’s pick for Homeland Security. If the bizarre stories about Giuliani’s personal life have hurt him somewhat, this will hurt him much more, particularly in the event that Kerik is indicted. Giuliani is not the subject of any investigation, and his firm is cooperating with authorities, but the embarrassment will be very real anyway.

Major questions also remain unanswered about Kerik’s time heading up security for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, and his time living abroad.

Fred Thompson: The phrase "out of nowhere" is truly appropriate for the story of former Tennessee Republican Sen. Fred Thompson‘s unofficial entry into the presidential race. Yet at this point, Thompson’s appeal clearly has more to do with his opponents’ deficiencies than it does with any appeal or accomplishment he has himself made.

  1. On the one hand, Thompson fills a void on the right. Polls show that already somewhere between 12 and 14 percent of Republicans want to back him instead of the top three candidates.

  2. On the other hand, Thompson is enjoying this success despite not only his own inaction, but also the fact that he remains virtually unknown among Republican voters. A full 67 percent of Republicans polled by Rasmussen this week had no impression or no opinion of Thompson (the number was similar for adults nationwide). Even his role on NBC’s "Law & Order" — which is the best-known thing about Thompson — is named by just 11 percent of Republicans. (Interestingly, the poll suggests that "Law & Order" has a more Democratic audience.)

  3. And so just as Thompson is running within two points of Sen. McCain, he is also a virtual unknown. This gives rise to two questions: First, who is Thompson? Is he really the conservative hero he is now made out to be? Second, how much upside does this give Thompson, and where does he draw his support from?

  4. Republican activists have complained for months that none of the "Big Three" contenders — Giuliani, McCain and Romney — fits the model of a conservative leader for a conservative party. The party faithful have been waiting for another Ronald Reagan. Nobody mentioned Thompson as this "messiah" until he appeared March 11 on "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace" and announced that he was "giving some thought" to a presidential run. Then even Thompson was surprised when the first Gallup Poll that included his name (March 23-25) gave him 12 percent

  5. More important than the polling data is his backing within the political community. Buyer’s remorse is expressed by several House members who had endorsed Romney. Thompson will be traveling to the Hill this month to seek support there among those who fear that, wealthy as his campaign may be after the first quarter, Romney is stuck at 3 percent and unlikely to seize the nomination. The polls suggest that Thompson is drawing support away from Romney and Giuliani, and to a lesser degree from McCain.

  6. Another major question is whether Thompson is really a conservative. He has a solidly conservative voting record from his eight years in the Senate, with the exception of his position on campaign finance reform, which he has since renounced. But his background as the protégé of moderate former Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) causes more concern, as does his failure while in the Senate to hire conservative staff.

  7. But as the famous story goes, Thompson does not have to outrun the bear, he just has to outrun his companions to get away alive. None of the three leading Republicans has been so consistently conservative as Thompson on tax policy, national security and abortion. That means that Thompson is still coming off as an electable conservative — and he will certainly run as a conservative.

  8. A minor consideration is the entry of former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R) into the race, and the possibility it brings of name confusion.

Governor 2007

Louisiana: Louisiana Republicans are aggressively working to scare former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) away from making the governor’s race, and with good reason. Breaux would have an excellent chance against the putative Republican candidate, Rep. Bobby Jindal (R), and most of the other potential candidates would not.

Breaux’s problem is the tough five-year state citizenship requirement for gubernatorial candidates. There is now a bipartisan request pending in front of State Atty. Gen. Charles Foti for an opinion on Breaux’s residency.

Breaux, currently a lobbyist, claims residency in Maryland and Washington, D.C., and registered to vote in Maryland. Depending on whether the law is taken seriously or not, Breaux would basically need to receive special treatment to be an eligible candidate in the race. Republicans note that Breaux would not qualify for an in-state hunting license or in-state tuition at LSU. His claim of the D.C. homestead exemption could even pose legal questions aside from the governor’s race.

Republicans are not letting anyone hear the end of this. The reasoning behind their strategy is that Breaux has put himself out there as a gubernatorial candidate before, only to back out in the end. Maybe, they reason, they can force his hand, and get him to do it again.

Robert D. Novak