Capital Briefs: June 25-29

WHAT’S WRONG WITH LOTT? Although conservatives were cheered last year when Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott returned to the Senate leadership as Republican whip, they have, in recent weeks, been reminded of how the Mississippian can disappoint them in big ways. Joining his presidential favorite, fellow Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.), Lott has emerged as a premier supporter of the Bush Administration-backed comprehensive immigration/amnesty package. As if to add insult to injury, when asked on June 15 why conservatives were able to stall the measure in the Senate, Lott snapped: “Talk radio is running America. We have to deal with that problem.” This sparked talk-show hosts and conservative bloggers to speculate on whether Lott was hinting he would join Democrats in reviving the Fairness Doctrine to curb their most potent media outlets. When he was in Jackson, Miss., recently for a luncheon of the Mississippi Leadership Forum, Human Events Political Editor John Gizzi found mounting dismay with Lott in his back yard. The illegal immigration issue and the administration bill, State Auditor Phil Bryant told Gizzi, “will destroy our party.” Bryant, a candidate for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor, said that he “loves Sen. Lott to death, but I hope he will understand the severity of the issue.” Other Republican leaders told Gizzi that the issue is hurting McCain’s presidential chances in a state once thought to be his for the taking, and there is a growing movement behind the yet-unannounced candidacy of former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson. Other Republican leaders told Gizzi that were Lott up for re-election in ’08 (he won last year) he would face a spirited primary challenge.

WYOMING UPDATE:  All three of the Republicans whose names Wyoming party leaders last week submitted to Demo-cratic Gov. Dave Freudenthal for possible appointment to the Senate to replace late Sen. Craig Thomas (R.-Wyo.)—State Sen. John Barrasso, former Assistant U.S. Atty. Gen. Tom Sansonetti, and former State Treasurer Cynthia Lummis—are strong conservatives in the Thomas mold. What was particularly noteworthy about the selection process was that the 71-member Republican Party Committee passed over the Senate bid of State House Majority Leader Colin Simpson, son of former Sen. Alan Simpson (R.-Wyo.). Although he may have had the best-known name, Simpson also had the least conservative credentials, notably on cultural issues such as abortion. As of late last week, most leading GOP activists in the state expected the governor to name Sansonetti.

STATIST ENERGY BILL:  The energy bill that the Democrats are trying to move through Congress is—along with much global-warming hysteria — larded with new government mandates and subsidies and includes almost no efforts to increase production from traditional sources. (Mike Franc explains the horrors of the Senate bill in “Legislative Lowdown” on page 10.)

GEORGIA REPORT:  Despite George W. Bush’s record-low approval ratings in polls, Republicans are almost certain to hold on to the seat in the 10th U.S. House District that became vacant when Rep. Charlie Norwood (R.-Ga.) died earlier this year. In the first round of voting last week, conservative GOP State Sen. Jim Whitehead topped a crowded field with 44% of the vote and fellow Republican Dr. Paul Broun apparently placed second with 15%. In securing the second place for the July 17 run-off, Broun edged out the candidate of the Democratic organization, James Marlow. Whitehead, widely regarded as the strong favorite in the run-off, ran as a vigorous opponent of the administration’s immigration bill now before the Senate.

PORTMAN TAKES HIS LEAVE: Last Tuesday, White House Office of Management and Budget Director Rob Portman announced his resignation, joining an expanding list of senior officials fleeing the Bush Administration in its final one and a half years.  Portman, a former GOP congressman from Ohio, left the House two years ago to become U.S. trade representative. Portman was promoted to the OMB job when President Bush tapped then-Budget Director Josh Bolten as his new White House chief of staff. Portman announced he was leaving the White House for personal reasons. Syndicated columnist Robert Novak reported last week that Portman is planning to return to Ohio for a future run for office—for governor in 2010 or perhaps a later Senate race. President Bush named former Iowa GOP Rep. Jim Nussle (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 86%) as Portman’s successor.

WILL BLOOMIE BUST?  That’s what pollsters were wondering last week, as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced he was switching from Republican to Independent and thus sparking speculation that the billionaire communications tycoon would mount a maverick bid for President next year. For all the concern that Bloomberg could make a big splash by deploying his considerable fortune, a just-completed Pew Research poll showed that of those who had heard of the New Yorker, only 9% said there’s a “good chance” they would vote for him and 56% said there was “no chance.” Bloomberg — who had switched from Democrat to Republican before running for mayor in ’01 — told reporters he intends to stay in “the greatest job in the world” until his present terms runs out in ’09. But he quickly added: “I do think the more people that run for office, the better.”

But Bloomberg apparently does have some impact on the race, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll conducted last week. The nationwide survey showed that in a hypothetical three-candidate race, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.) would edge out Sen. John McCain by a margin of 40% to 39%, with 10% going to Independent Bloomberg. With Bloomberg removed from the race, the same poll showed McCain defeating Clinton by a margin of 47% to 43%.