ENPR: Week of July 5, 2007

July 5, 2007
Washington, DC
Vol. 42, No. 14a


  1. It is hard to cut the gloom among Republicans on Capitol Hill about the 2008 elections. They see Democrats winning three ways — actually increasing their margins in both the House and Senate and putting Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) in the White House. These Republicans are counting on excesses of an all-Democratic government in 2009-10 leading to a GOP comeback in the 2010 election.

  2. The Iraq War still poisons Republican prospects. The importance of the fact that esteemed Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, came out of the closet as a war critic was critical. A visit to Capitol Hill to calm Republican waters by National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley failed and appeared to some GOP lawmakers to be an effort to put the blame for Iraq War failures on the military. The expected drawdown of U.S. troops at year’s end comes too late to calm Republican discomfort.

  3. The only bright spot for President George W. Bush and the Republicans leading up to the Fourth of July holiday was the succession of conservative, five-to-four Supreme Court decisions — including highly significant rulings on campaign finance reform and affirmative action. How Bush transformed the court by naming Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito now becomes clear. That makes the 2008 presidential election all the more urgent for Democrats, whose winner likely will be filling the probable vacancies left by the departure of liberal Justices John Paul Stevens and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

  4. The breakdown of presidential fund-raising (see below) by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was widely predicted well in advance of the end of the quarter. Friends had told McCain and his key aides that his campaign was staff-heavy and could not be supported by fund-raising. John Kerry showed in ’04 that a seemingly hopeless presidential campaign can revive, but it will not be easy for formerly putative front-runner McCain. He must finish no worse than first in either Iowa or New Hampshire — expensive states where McCain trails and has alread lost significant support in the polls..

  5. The spectacular second-quarter fund-raising by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) means that he will be able to take a punch — lose early primary elections — and still be around for the massive February 5 multi-state primaries. Obama will not suffer the fate of Dick Gephardt in 1988, who might have won the nomination — and quite possibly the election — had he not run out of money very early in the game.

Bush Administration

Libby Commutation: President Bush’s commutation of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby‘s prison sentence pleased conservatives if it did not fully satisfy them. It positively enraged his liberal critics. Libby himself can breathe a sigh of relief that he does not have to serve prison time, but hardly anybody else is all that happy.

  1. The conviction of Libby on perjury and obstruction of justice in the Valerie Plame CIA leak case has taken on overriding symbolic implications. Libby, as Vice President Dick Cheney‘s former chief-of-staff, is seen by Bush’s enemies as typifying deception that led the U.S. into war in Iraq. His conviction was seen by conservatives as part of the bitter assault on the Bush Administration, targeting Cheney in particular.

  2. By standing apart from the Plame affair and the Libby affair, Bush has subjected himself to abuse from both sides. Bush is blamed by friends of Libby for losing control of the Plame investigation by putting it in the hands of a special prosecutor — the U.S. attorney in Chicago, Patrick Fitzgerald. The abuse from the left certainly will expand thanks to his decision Monday, while praise from the right is muted.

  3. The word from the White House had been that Bush was not likely to pardon Libby, even on his way out of the Oval Office in January 2009. But more recently, Bush aides began spreading the word that there was no chance that Libby would do any jail time. When the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia refused Monday to review Libby’s 30-month jail sentence, Bush’s only recourse, short of a pardon, was to commute Libby’s sentence.

  4. The unique aspect of the Libby conviction was that there was no underlying crime whose prosecution he is accused of obstructing. Fitzgerald determined that no federal statute was broken when then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage revealed that Valerie Plame Wilson, the wife of Bush critic Joseph Wilson, worked for the CIA. But Fitzgerald prosecuted Libby for allegedly not telling the truth in the course of the investigation.

  5. Republicans have raised millions of dollars for Libby’s defense, painting him as the victim of prosecutorial abuse and the criminalization of politics. Former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tenn.), a leading prospect for the Republican presidential nomination, has been calling for a pardon. While welcoming Bush’s action, Thompson said he still would have issued a pardon. By endorsing the jury’s verdict and not criticizing Fitzgerald, Bush makes it difficult to issue a subsequent full pardon, although the President on Tuesday hinted at an eventual pardon.

  6. The commutation of Libby’s sentence does not save Bush severe attacks from Democratic critics. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called the President’s action "disgraceful," linking it to what he called Bush’s manipulation in sending the country to war in Iraq. Reid’s complaint: Libby was the person convicted what he views as a criminal conspiracy around Bush, and now he is not going to prison. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) was already flogging the pardon story to raise money the morning after it was announced.


Immigration: The spectacular failure of the immigration bill for the second time marks an unhappy day for President Bush, Sen. McCain and a handful of Republicans who may have put their reputations on the line by backing it. It also marks the first truly major failure of leadership by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

  1. One of the few conservatives to side with the President in backing the immigration reform bill stated, not for attribution, "If this were a war, Sen. McConnell should be relieved of command for dereliction of duty." Not only did the minority leader end up voting against an immigration bill that he had said was better than the 2006 version that he supported, but he also kept himself off the floor during final stages of Senate debate.

  2. Until now, McConnell had high marks from GOP colleagues during his six-month leadership following four dreary years under Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). McConnell’s non-performance on immigration derived from general Republican malaise going well beyond a single issue.

  3. In this atmosphere of pessimism among Washington Republicans, the hysterical onslaught from constituents demanding the death of the "amnesty" for illegal immigrants can only make matters worse. That this issue was brought up at all is agony for the GOP. That it continues to remain unresolved is disastrous for its electoral prospects.

  4. Politicians opposed to the bill — especially Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich — gloated because 12 Republican senators who had supported the bill succumbed to pressure and voted against it Thursday, most without prior explanation, as did McConnell. McConnell was among six switchers who voted no after the 40 senators needed to kill the bill were recorded. Another late switcher was Sen. Sam Brownback (Kan.), seeking the Republican presidential nomination as the candidate of the right. He voted for cloture on the motion to proceed last Tuesday, and put out a press release on his presidential website explaining his vote. On Thursday, he voted for cloture again, but when it became clear the measure had failed, he changed his vote from aye to nay and scrubbed his earlier statement from the Internet.

  5. Unlike McConnell, the second- and third-ranking Senate GOP leaders — Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) — stuck with the bill, despite intense pressure in their respective home states of Mississippi and Arizona. So did Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), facing threats of Republican primary opposition next year.

Earmarks: As the immigration bill in the Senate dominated the headlines, a fierce and nasty personal battle over earmarks had erupted on the House side. The message in the death of one particular earmark was that congressmen love their pork — fight against our system and you don’t get to participate.

  1. Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), as has become his custom, had proposed a series of amendments striking earmarks from the Interior and Financial Services appropriations bills. Each of these failed miserably, garnering at most around 100 votes. Flake’s amendments to eliminate funding for subsidies to Washington’s Barracks Row, "business incubators" in various regions, an urban planning center, a conference center and an airport commission, among others, lost by a huge margins.

  2. But one anti-earmark amendment succeeded. The member punished for his fight against earmarks was Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), a young conservative firebrand in his second term representing a district in Western North Carolina. McHenry had sealed the deal for himself with his fight to make earmarks more transparent, but he headed to the House floor to defend from one of Flake’s amendments a $129,000 grant to the Perfect Christmas Tree project in Mitchell County, North Carolina.

  3. Flake, stating openly that he expected this earmark-killing amendment to be defeated like all the others, acknowledged the poor economic conditions in Mitchell County, but held firm that need for federal intervention was dubious. "If this project is [already] successful, does it still need taxpayer assistance?" McHenry spoke of First Lady Laura Bush’s support for the program, even adding to the record a feel-good USA Today piece about the Home of the Perfect Christmas Tree Initiative.

  4. Financial Services Chairman Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) was full of irony when he rose in support of McHenry’s earmark, chiding him for finally finding an earmark he liked. Serrano said that he realized that McHenry was attempting to help his struggling district. But Serrano’s tongue-in-cheek support did little good for McHenry or the other North Carolina congressmen defending the Perfect Christmas Tree. It took McHenry very much by surprise when Flake’s amendment passed by a large margin, 249 to 174, with support from more than 140 Democrats who had never previously dreamed of voting against any earmark.

  5. The message was clear: Any member who opposes our corrupt system of favors and earmarks becomes persona non grata with the appropriations committee and his pork-barreling colleagues. It is, naturally, out of the question for such an uncooperative member to get his own earmarks. McHenry was humiliated but given a lesson on congressional power.

President 2008

McCain: Sen. John McCain is out of money. His campaign’s take of $11.2 million in the second quarter was surpassed by his spending of $14.4 million. He ended with just $2 million on hand, a meager amount for anyone hoping to be a viable candidate.

  1. The immigration debate was killing McCain’s fundraising totals. He will likely seek federal matching funds for the primary. The campaign had been spending as though it were going to raise $100 million in 2007. It was a case of champagne spending and beer fundraising.

  2. The campaign cut jobs "across the board" and cut pay for senior staff. One could argue whether the campaign’s announced strategy of going after early states — where it is not doing well — is the right strategy. Probably, McCain would do better to work in cheaper states, such as Oklahoma, in a race to collect a few delegates in the crowded field. But in fact, that is more or less quibbling about floral arrangements in the front office at Chernobyl. McCain will have great difficulty rebounding because he is too well known — his name identification is so high that he has little or no room for growth.

  3. In advance of the bad news, McCain boarded a plane for Iraq. He is making his sixth visit there to celebrate Fourth of July with the troops. McCain has vigorously denied rumors that he is dropping out of the race for President, but he had such a terrible week, capped off with the financial news, that any further campaigning could be considered futile. His immigration bill died a second death, and one of the most important portions of his 2002 campaign-finance bill was struck down by the Supreme Court, all in the space of a week. Prior to Monday’s announcement of massive layoffs, Quinnipiac’s most recent poll was the first to ask Republicans how they would vote if McCain were not in the race.

  4. McCain’s futures contract has plummeted in just one week from around $12 to $4. He led Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) by just 70 cents on July 3.

Obama: Sen. Barack Obama is so-so in debate and on the stump, but he continues to keep himself alive and relevant in the presidential race with his unprecedented and wildly successful fundraising. The announcement that his campaign took in $32.5 million from 150,000 new contributors in the second quarter (250,000 total) should have Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) very worried, since she was supposed to be the candidate with all the money.

Fred Thompson: More than a week prior to his scheduled (and postponed) announcement, former Sen. Fred Thompson’s organization was already in contact with the Republican National Committee (RNC) about setting in motion the process to sign documents for a data exchange of the RNC’s massive voter database. The RNC decided to share its massive voter databases with all Republican primary candidates, with the understanding that the losing candidates will in turn send back all of the updated data they collect after their campaigns are over.

  1. That Thompson’s staff was even aware of this program, Republican insiders note, is impressive, as is the fact that they were moving so fast to exploit it in mid-June.

  2. Far more troubling are the fears among Republicans that there is less to Thompson than meets the eye. He could still seize the nomination and prove a disappointing candidate in the general election. In appearances across the country, from New Hampshire to South Carolina, his speeches have ranged from "pretty decent" to "quite underwhelming." He has not yet had the knock-out performance he will need in order to prove that he is worthy of frontrunner status.

  Robert D. Novak