ENPR: Week of June 13, 2007

June 13, 2007
Washington, DC
Vol. 42, No. 12b
  • Immigration bill crashes and burns thanks to conservatives’ strategic voting.
  • Vultures circling McCain.
  • McConnell has a real opponent.
  • Although it still seems unlikely, Shaheen could challenge Sununu.


  1. President George W. Bush‘s lunch with Republican Senators Tuesday, only the second such meeting in his presidency, was cordial. Nobody really confronted Bush on immigration (as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had proposed in an e-mail to GOP Senatorial aides). The President discussed his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin before getting into immigration. But Bush’s authority with congressional Republicans is at low ebb.
  2. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is painted by Republicans as a left-wing extremist, but the truth is that the left wing of House Democrats complain privately that she is far too cautious. They grumble that nothing is being accomplished in Congress because Pelosi is far too attentive to 20 or so moderates in the Democratic caucus — especially those who overturned Republicans last year in marginal districts.
  3. House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) made clear this week that the new procedure makes it impossible for individual members to challenge earmarks on the House floor. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), the anti-earmark advocate, protested Tuesday on the House floor. But so far there has been no concerted protest from the Republican leadership.
  4. The Fred Thompson boom continues, and it is hurting the Republican presidential candidacy of Arizona Sen. John McCain (see below). Mitt Romney still trails in national polls but is on the rise in New Hampshire. The question is what happens to Thompson once he becomes a real candidate. On the Democratic side, there are signs that John Edwards may be slipping out of the picture.
  5. ). still trails in national polls but is on the rise in New Hampshire. The question is what happens to Thompson once he becomes a real candidate. On the Democratic side, there are signs that may be slipping out of the picture.

). still trails in national polls but is on the rise in New Hampshire. The question is what happens to Thompson once he becomes a real candidate. On the Democratic side, there are signs that may be slipping out of the picture.

Bush Administration

Gonzales: The failure to invoke cloture for a no-confidence vote on the ability of Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales to perform his duties offers no real consolation to President Bush’s longtime friend and adviser.

  1. The fact that six Republicans backed the motion — including Senators John Sununu (R-N.H.) and Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) — was actually no big surprise. Although Republicans were willing to block cloture, arguing that the Senate had more important things to deal with than a symbolic vote designed to embarrass the administration, there were very few indeed willing to defend Gonzales. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), the Senate’s senior Republican, voted “present.”
  2. Republican officeholders, contributors and activists see Gonzales as an embarrassment to the party who presides over a hollow Justice Department. They were disgusted with the vigorous efforts by presidential staffers to cobble together the Senate votes to block the no-confidence motion.
  3. In stark contrast stands the President’s seeming indifference to the sentencing of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Prevailing opinion among Republicans is that Libby is the one worth saving, as a valuable public servant who faces serious prison time because of prosecutorial abuse made possible by Bush Administration decisions. Bush still apparently has no plans to pardon Libby but is resolute in keeping Gonzales.
  4. The Gonzales-Libby equation is symbolic of Republican discontent with their President. He failed totally to narrow the party’s internal gap over his immigration reform. Time is running out — to less than three months — on Republican forbearance for the Iraq occupation. In the closing months of the administration, key posts are going unfilled. Facing multiple investigations, Bush aides without personal fortunes are threatened by daunting legal fees.
  5. President Bush is now a lame-duck fighting an unpopular war — the fate also of Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson in their closing months. To help himself with his base, he would be well served to drop Gonzales and pardon Libby.


Immigration Bill: It is quite rare in Washington to see members of Congress so hell-bent on blocking a bill out of principle that they are willing to do what four Senate conservatives did last week to kill the immigration bill.

  1. Senators Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) voted in favor of an amendment to the immigration reform bill that had the backing of the AFL-CIO. The amendment, which ended the guest-worker program after five years, basically made the underlying bill a moot point.
  2. In doing so, all four changed their votes from the first time the amendment, proposed by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), came to the floor two weeks earlier. This time, the amendment passed by one vote (49 to 48), whereas it had failed by one vote the previous time (48 to 49). Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) had voted twice in favor of the amendment, winning over his Republican colleagues on the second go-round. Four Senators changed their votes from yea to nay, and five, including Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), voted the other way.
  3. The Dorgan amendment was a poison pill, so thoroughly unacceptable to one of the major interests in this debate (the business community) that it destroyed most of the rationale for passage. Dorgan’s success, more than the pathetic cloture votes, was the deciding factor in killing the immigration bill — for now.
  4. In the House, passage of comprehensive immigration reform is considered extremely unlikely. Democrats built their majority by winning in marginal districts last year, and already many of their new members are signaling either that they oppose the measure or that they are too afraid to support it. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has said that he would not pass the bill without 70 Republican votes, which is not going to happen.

President 2008

GOP Field: While Sen. John McCain claims that everything is “fine” in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, events strongly suggest otherwise. The former frontrunner is now in deep trouble. With respect to the positive signs a presidential campaign can point to at this early stage — fundraising, national polls, state polls, endorsements — McCain finds himself almost empty-handed.

For this and other reasons, the nascent campaign of former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson poses a challenge for McCain in particular. Thompson has reportedly raised millions in just days after filing an exploratory committee, and a new national Bloomberg poll puts him at 21 percent, in a strong second place against former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. McCain has plunged to 12 percent, just ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, but at least Romney has some bright points in his favor: his lead in fundraising and his lead in Iowa and New Hampshire polls.

McCain has no such good news. If Thompson is the charging bear, McCain is the slowest of the three campers fleeing him — the most likely to be devoured.

  1. First, McCain has fallen out of favor in the important state polls. Romney, who has saturated the Iowa and New Hampshire airwaves with campaign advertisements in recent weeks, has leap-frogged over both McCain and Rudy Giuliani to lead in both states. Romney leads McCain only narrowly in Iowa but has pushed his lead in New Hampshire to 8 percent. In South Carolina, Giuliani and McCain trade a narrow lead. In Florida, Giuliani dominates.

    McCain’s recent withdrawal from the August straw poll in Ames, Iowa, seemed to come with a sigh of relief. With Giuliani exiting the straw poll first, McCain had an excellent excuse to drop out of an expensive and early symbolic contest that he probably can’t win against the moneyed Romney. Especially troubling for McCain in Iowa are his past stances on ethanol, immigration and guns, to say nothing of his campaign finance reform bill.

  2. With respect to fundraising, McCain had a dismal first quarter at $12.5 million, widely considered a disappointment. Now his campaign is setting extremely low expectations by saying simply that he will raise more than that amount in the current quarter (results will be available in mid-July). Such a take would be woefully insufficient for him to continue in earnest, perhaps leaving him with one fourth (or less) of the cash on hand of his top competitors. His campaign is still recovering from its earlier spendthrift ways, even though his staff has now been pared down by more than one third.

    More striking are the stories of many high-profile Bush supporters — so-called Rangers and Pioneers — from previous campaigns. They are currently keeping their powder dry in spite of McCain’s aggressive courtship. The uncommitted heavy-hitters see Thompson looming in the background, prompting many to hold off in consideration of backing the newcomer. McCain is also soliciting help from unusual quarters, giving rise to stories that hardly inspire confidence in his operation.

  3. Third is the recently reported defection of McCain staff and a high-profile supporter, which is more symptomatic than causal of McCain’s problems. Fourth is the national poll mentioned above. With non-candidate Thompson 10 points ahead of McCain nationwide, the “electability” rationale for backing McCain begins to fade for many Republicans.
  4. More significant are the negative motivations for supporting the top three candidates, and McCain in particular. As we have argued previously, much Republican support for the top three stands on three pillars, or the Three D‘s: disagreement with Giuliani, distrust of Romney and dislike for McCain. For example, a conservative Republican who feels overwhelmed by antipathy toward Romney and Giuliani will reluctantly back McCain on these or similar grounds: “McCain may be too liberal on taxes and guns, but at least he is very conservative on earmarks and spending, he’s tough on terrorism, and he has a pro-life voting record on abortion.” The same sort of thinking applies, in varying degree, to all three candidates.

    But with the entry of Thompson into the race, many conservatives will feel — rightly or wrongly — that they may have a conservative alternative and need not settle for someone they merely distrust or dislike less than the others. This is the key to Thompson’s effortless success so far, his climb from nowhere to 21 percent nationally. (It is also a reason Thompson could suddenly implode once he is defined.)

    With Thompson’s candidacy all but declared, the outlook becomes even more bleak for McCain. The big money that McCain has been courting could instead flow to the newcomer. Romney, who will never be without money, is sprinting ahead in the early states. Giuliani remains the overall frontrunner. Thompson is luring McCain supporters into his camp.

    McCain may be able to overcome any one of these setbacks, but can he survive them all simultaneously? The futures markets are already counting him out, putting his contract at $12 to the $29 price on Thompson.

 Senate 2008

Kentucky: Fresh from losing the nomination for lieutenant governor, state Atty. Gen. Greg Stumbo (D) has let out word that he is considering a run at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). McConnell is well funded and should be unassailable. Democrats would love to give him a hard time, putting one more Republican Senate seat on the map by fielding a credible candidate. Another potential Democratic candidate is millionaire businessman Charlie Owen.

There is even some talk of a primary against McConnell — a thinly veiled threat by some Republicans who feel that he did not do enough to help Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R) in his contested primary last month. Fletcher now trails in double digits for this November’s re-election.

New Hampshire: Former Gov. Jean Shaheen (D) is the one politician who would guarantee a strong race against Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.), but many feel that she will not run. Several Democratic figures statewide have already given their endorsements to one of the two declared Democratic candidates — Port City Mayor Steve Marchand and consultant Katrina Swett — a hint that they do not expect Shaheen to get in either.

Marchand has gone so far as to say that he would back out if Shaheen gets in. Shaheen showed 10 points ahead of Sununu in a March poll. But she is not showing up at the kinds of events or doing the things that Senate candidates normally do. Then again, as some have observed, there is little hurry for Shaheen. She is already well known, and presidential primary madness in New Hampshire will keep the Senate race off most people’s radar anyway.

Robert D. Novak