Capital Briefs: May 7-11

‘90% SURE FRED’S RUNNING’: Following a recent meeting attended by Fred Thompson and a handful of his old friends at the former Tennessee senator’s house in McLean, Va., last month, one friend told Human Events he is “90% sure Fred’s running for President.” The 64-year-old Thompson and his “kitchen cabinet” reportedly explored whether it was the right time for him to run, the sacrifice he and his family would have to make if he became a candidate, and if there was time to put together adequate campaign and fund-raising organizations for the star of TV’s “Law & Order” to be a viable contender for the Republican nomination in ‘08.  To a person, Human Events was told, the feedback to Thompson was positive on all three points.  Thompson also voiced concerns about whether his entering the race would destroy his friendship with Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain, for whose 2000 presidential candidacy he vigorously campaigned.
Following the gathering at his home, Thompson has begun to accept major speaking engagements and is picking up key endorsements nationwide (see “Gizzi on Politics,” page 18).  Having drawn more than 60 national correspondents to his recent address to the high-dollar Lincoln Club of Orange County (Calif.), the former senator will be the headliner at the Connecticut Republican Party’s annual Prescott Bush Dinner May 24. “And people are kicking down our doors to buy tickets,” State GOP Chairman Chris Healy told Human Events. In Missouri, more than half the Republicans in the state House of Representatives have broken with Gov. Matt Blunt, a Mitt Romney-for-President leader, to endorse the still-unannounced candidacy of  Thompson.

DEBATE DOLDRUMS: The eight candidates competing for the Democratic nomination for President held their first primary debate April 26 and didn’t spring any surprises or land any knock-out punches. Veteran reporter Bob Novak said, “Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.) was nothing special, but the consensus among Democrats was that she did well enough.  She won by not losing the debate.” On the other hand, Sen. Barack Obama (D.-Ill.) showed improvement, “but the consensus was that he lost by not winning the debate.”  None of the other six contenders, Sen. Joe Biden (Del.), Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.), former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, former Alaska Sen. Mike Gravel, Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, managed to outshine Hillary’s and Obama’s lackluster performances.  The worst gaffe of the evening was made by Richardson, who, when asked who is his favorite Supreme Court Justice, named Justice Byron White.  Richardson, a pro-choice advocate, had forgotten that White had dissented in Roe v. Wade.  Then, Richardson was also asked to explain a comment he had made about Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales. When Democrats on Capitol Hill began calling for Gonzales to resign over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, Richardson told the media: “The only reason I’m not [calling for Gonzales’s resignation] is because he’s Hispanic, and I know him and like him. It’s because he’s Hispanic. I’m honest.”  At the debate, Richardson did not retract his comment.  Instead, he said, “Did it affect that he was Hispanic in what I said?  Yeah, it did and I said so.”

RUDY ALSO COURTS HISPANICS:  In a speech before Latino small business leaders, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani solidified his pro-amnesty approach to illegal immigration by reiterating his support for comprehensive immigration reform that would provide a path to citizenship for people who have entered the country illegally.  “If they’re working and they’re complying with the law and they’re making a contribution, then let’s sign them up, let’s register them, let’s collect their taxes, and let’s let them pay their fair share,” Giuliani said. He did say that illegal aliens should be moved “to the back of the line” behind legal immigrants who have applied for citizenship and should pay penalties and back taxes. “If they do that, then those people should become citizens, because we’ve re-established in this whole process now a sense of assimilation and Americanization,” Giuliani said. He also called the Hispanic community a place where “the Republican Party could grow best.”

AMNESTY RALLIES DECLINE:  The push in Congress for amnesty for illegals received a blow last week as attendance at May Day immigration rallies dropped significantly this year compared to the hordes of illegal immigrants that turned out May 1, 2006, for marches and rallies demanding amnesty. This year, rallies were held nationwide in major cities such as Chicago, Detroit, Miami, New York, Oakland, Phoenix and San Diego. But the largest rally, held in Chicago, netted only 150,000 participants. Last year, there were an estimated 400,000 at the Chicago demonstration. 

TONY’S ‘TAKE TWO’:  There was a rare, standing-room-only crowd of White House correspondents at the early morning briefing April 30.  They were there to mark the long-awaited return of Press Secretary Tony Snow, who had been gone from behind his familiar podium for more than a month while undergoing surgery for cancer.  To the applauding reporters, Snow called himself a “lucky guy,” said his chemotherapy treatments would start later in the week, and said that, if his cancer “is merely a nuisance for a long period of time, that’s fine with me.”  At one point, Snow choked up as he said, “I want to thank everybody in this room.  You guys—” and then he simply made a thumbs-up sign to more applause.

Then it was back to the usual grind, with the President’s top spokesman deftly dealing with tough questions about the Iraq supplemental package the President would veto the following day, the resignation of Deputy Secretary of State Randall Tobias over his patronage of an escort service, and the new book by and television interviews with former CIA Director George Tenet.

When Human Events Political Editor John Gizzi referred to the “60 Minutes” interview with Tenet in which CBS correspondent Scott Pelley said that the White House “retaliated” to criticism by former Ambassador Joe Wilson by revealing that his wife Valerie Plame worked for the CIA, Snow showed he was back to his fighting form, saying of  Pelley’s characterization: “That’s wrong, that’s wrong” and “does not, in fact, square with the facts” of former vice presidential chief of staff Scooter Libby’s trial.