Vol. 42, No. 8a
- Gonzales to face congressional grilling next week over U.S. attorney firings
- Iraq troop surge getting mixed results
- Stem-cell debate heats up again
- A quick look at party committee fundraising so far
- Fred Thompson likely to jump into ’08 race, could come as early as next week
- A bipartisan deal on the supplemental appropriations bill to finance the Iraq war appears to be in the books, with less talk now of a presidential veto and a subsequent crisis over funding the troops in the field. The final version probably will contain the benchmarks opposed by President George W. Bush, but with no cutoff of funding.
- The early reports from Baghdad indicate the "surge" and new strategy (see below) will not win the war. The expectation from all sides is that a troop removal will be underway in earnest by year’s end, no matter who is winning the war.
- Watch for Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, to broaden the assault on Republican "corruption" and "incompetence" well beyond the U.S. attorneys story. The attack is expected to be withering.
- A presidential campaign by former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.) still seems likely — but not immediately. NBC’s "Law & Order" wants him to stay on during the springtime sweeps, and he still has commitments to the Paul Harvey radio show. His cancer announcement reveals a pre-existing condition, not an obstacle to his candidacy. He had to get it out of the way now if he is to announce.
- The fundraising performance by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) probably means Sen. Hillary Clinton (D- N.Y.) will not have the walkover for the nomination that her strategists envisioned. She has to win one of the early states (South Carolina, Iowa, Nevada or Iowa), and none is easy for her.
Justice Department: Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales will face a firing squad next week as hostile Democrats take aim and unsympathetic Republicans do little to help him when he comes to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee April 17. The testimony will be difficult simply because there is so much contradictory information in the public record.
- The frank testimony of Gonzales’s former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, probably put to rest the idea that a major conspiracy existed in order to remove U.S. attorneys inappropriately in order to interfere with their investigations into political corruption by Republicans. However, there is still enough ambiguity that Democrats need not drop that accusation — and they will not, because this is what gives political legs to the controversy.
- The Bush Administration really does appear to have pushed out several of the U.S. attorneys based on policy differences, not because of ongoing investigations. One of the prosecutors in question, Carol Lam of San Diego, had been lagging in enforcement of immigration cases, according to the statistics on record. Another, Paul Charlton of Arizona, had disagreed explicitly over the videotaping of criminal confessions for certain offenses, and also the applicability of the death penalty in certain situations.
- The truly problematic aspect of the affair is Gonzales’s press conference prior to Sampson’s testimony. Sampson appeared to contradict Gonzales very directly. Gonzales either was (as Sampson testified) or was not (as Gonzales said) deeply involved in the removal of the seven U.S. attorneys who were pushed out of office at the end of last year and the beginning of this year (another was removed last summer). Gonzales has a lot to answer for. This testimony may be his last major action before he resigns, probably within a few months.
- The House Judiciary Committee, in the meantime, signed off on a subpoena for several documents pertaining to the firings. The general lesson is that President Bush did not know how good he had it when Republicans controlled Congress. Suddenly, he is subjected to investigations on every side into numerous executive agencies, including not only Justice but also the government’s climate scientists and others. Democrats have more in store.
- The heightened U.S. troop presence, according to the top commanders, appears to be pushing the violence out of certain areas, but it has increased in others. Meanwhile, U.S. troop deaths are skyrocketing, with very little attention being paid to this fact at home. The first quarter of 2007 saw 244 deaths, far more than the same period last year. On April 10, the Pentagon reported 35 troop deaths in the first 10 days of this month. The grand total is approaching 3,300.
- Sen. John McCain‘s (R-Ariz.) recent ordeal in Iraq illustrates the political problem the war is posing for Republicans. McCain suffered an embarrassing political moment when he declared Baghdad safe before his trip there, only to tour a Baghdad neighborhood days later, escorted by a large military security contingent (including two helicopters) and wearing a bulletproof vest. Part of the precaution surely stems from his status as a presidential candidate, but the message was clear: Iraq is not safe.
- McCain’s attempt after a weak fundraising quarter to use the war as a positive political issue is perhaps the greatest sign of the desperation the war causes. One might call it "the last refuge" for Republicans. One must be hurting badly in order to try to make support for the Iraq War an asset.
- McCain was forced to admit Sunday night that he had gone too far in declaring Baghdad "safe." But all of the top Republican contenders are supportive of President Bush on the Iraq War. The issue now divides even Republicans, with levels of support only in the 60 percent range among the party faithful. But by next year, the Republican presidential nominee will have to answer whether he believes, in retrospect, that the war was a good idea. If he cannot summon up a "no," or at least a "maybe not," then his general election chances will diminish significantly.
Stem-Cell Debate: Senate Democrats are expected to fall short as they seek a veto-proof majority in the Senate to fund scientific experiments on embryos left over from in-vitro fertilization. President Bush has explicitly forbidden the use of federal funds to do experiments that involve killing new human embryos, so the bill’s effect is to nullify a presidential policy. Therefore, a veto is certain.
- The embryos, which can be killed for their stem cells, are expected by some to produce treatments and cures for certain diseases. Pro-life members of Congress managed to prevent the measure from receiving super-majority support in the last Congress, even as it passed both houses. Bush’s veto — his first ever — was sustained.
- This year, the numbers are especially different in the Senate, where 66 votes exist to fund the research. The required 67 votes would be there, but for the absence of Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), whose illness has kept him away from the Senate all year. The House, however, has already passed such a funding bill by a margin nowhere near the two-thirds needed to override President Bush’s certain veto. Democrats are burning time on this issue only for political purposes.
- Democrats see a political opening with the stem-cell issue. Still, as the narrow success last year (largely due to the help of a misleading advertising campaign) of an embryonic-research ballot proposition in Missouri demonstrated, it is not necessarily as good an issue as they would hope. Instead of helping Democratic candidates over the finish line, as it was supposed to, the state’s Proposition B (which established a right to clone human embryos for experiments) barely survived on the back of a strong Democratic turnout in a strong Democratic year.
- Possibly critical to this debate, and almost completely unnoticed, was the move last week by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to invalidate certain "broad" patents on embryonic stem-cell lines. These had allowed a small number of stakeholders to profit from royalties every time embryonic stem-cells were isolated and preserved. This decision, if upheld on appeal, may in the short run make embryonic stem-cell research cheaper. But in the long run, it threatens to undercut much of the financial support for initiatives backing large government donations to the embryonic stem-cell business. Private funding has been hard to come by, because the research is highly speculative.
Syria Trip: For all the Republican criticism of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi‘s (D-Calif.) visit to Syrian President Bashar al Assad, the visit was not a total embarrassment to the United States government. This controversy is mostly political. It does not add up to the policy bifurcation that resulted when Representatives Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) and Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) visited Saddam Hussein and denounced President Bush in a television interview from Baghdad.
- Three Republican congressmen who visited Damascus three days before Pelosi arrived were eager to disassociate themselves from the Democratic leader and make clear they did not even know she was going to Syria. When President Bush assailed Pelosi for her Syrian mission, she noted that Republican Representatives Frank Wolf (Va.), Joseph Pitts (Pa.) and Robert Aderholt (Ala.) made the same journey (although they did not meet with Assad). Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) had wanted to visit Damascus as well, but he could not be added to the other three members’ itinerary.
- Some news reports gave the false impression that the three Republicans were on the same congressional delegation as Pelosi. While Wolf emphasized that he and his two GOP colleagues support Bush’s Iraq policy, their mission to Damascus violated the President’s Middle East policy, as did Pelosi’s.
- Rep. Darryl Issa (R-Calif.) visited shortly after Pelosi and met with Assad, also drawing a public rebuke from Bush. Issa, an Arab Christian, has been openly critical of Bush’s Middle East policy.
Patent Politics: An effort to save a New Jersey pharmaceutical company upwards of $1 billion for failing to file a drug patent extension on time resumed March 29 with the introduction of a bipartisan bill and a high-powered lobbying campaign.
- Representatives Marty Meehan (D-Mass.), Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.) and John Duncan (R-Tenn.) have filed a bill that would extend the lapsed deadline for the Medicines Co., whose lawyers were a day late in 2001 filing the extension for the blood-thinning drug Angiomax.
- A similar, last-minute relief bill quietly passed the House late in 2006 but was derailed by Senate objections. The renewed effort is slightly different from that earlier one. Instead of seeking a bill that narrowly aims to help just the one company, it would allow for more leniency in the future toward other companies that file patent-extension applications up to 30 days late. Such companies would have to offer an explanation within 30 days of the deadline that is deemed worthy by the director of the Patent and Trademark Office. If the explanation is deemed worthy, then the PTO could accept the late application and rule on its merits.
- The lobbying operation is being run by the DLA Piper lobbying firm, which received $1.7 million from Medicines last year. Its lobbyists include former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Tex.).
Fundraising: With the presidential candidates’ fundraising getting all of the attention, it is also worth looking at fundraising for the party committees — important to the 2008 the congressional elections.
- Democrats seem sure to hold the U.S. Senate in 2008, but Republicans have a realistic long-odds chance to retake the House. If Democrats take the presidency, Republicans will need to retake the House simply in order to maintain a toe-hold in the federal government.
- Republicans continued to lag in fundraising for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). The NRSC had raised $3.3 million as of February 28, compared with $4.9 million for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC). Republicans also trailed in cash on hand with just $1.4 million to the Democrats’ $2.5 million.
- Republicans continued to lead narrowly with their congressional committee fundraising for House races. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) had raised $9.4 million by the end of February, compared with $7 million for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). But the Democratic committee led in cash on hand, $4.3 million to $1.6 million. The Republican committee also has a larger amount of debt to service and retire.
- The Republican National Committee (RNC) raised $17.7 million, compared to $10.3 million for the Democratic National Committee (DNC). In total cash on hand, the two parties were roughly equal at the end of February. March numbers become available later in the month.
Fred Thompson: Thompson is very likely to enter the race for President, with a possible announcement coming as early as next week. Thompson’s announcement that he is in remission from lymphoma is a trial balloon — the reaction could determine his decision. This particular kind of lymphoma is much less harmful than others and should not shorten his life expectancy.
- His progress toward becoming a Republican presidential candidate will take a step with the return of the House from its Easter break next week when he meets privately with a large group of Republican House members.
- GOP House leaders had prepared last year to back Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), but his defeat for re-election to the Senate eliminated him from presidential consideration. They had been moving toward support of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), led by former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert‘s endorsement. But many have stepped back from Romney and are looking hard at Thompson. One member of the GOP leadership who had been prepared to endorse Romney is holding his fire while he considers Thompson.
- Although he probably will not have announced by then, Thompson will hit the campaign trail next month with a May 4 speech in Orange County, California. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has so far led GOP presidential hopefuls in lining up California support.
- Thompson is responding to an off-the-cuff criticism of his religious faith by Dr. James Dobson by planning to attend the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast on Friday. This appearance also offers him a chance to reach out to a large religious demographic largely outside the South’s natural faith-in-politics reach.
- Thompson has picked up endorsements from Missouri’s state speaker Carl Bearden (R) and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder (R), who are breaking from the state’s political establishment. Gov. Matt Blunt (R) and former Sen. Jim Talent (R) have both endorsed Romney. Kinder becomes the first statewide official anywhere to endorse Thompson.