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ENPR: Week of July 11, 2007

July 11, 2007
Washington, DC
Vol. 42, No. 14b

Outlook

  1. Despite important, senior Republican senators’ abandoning ship on the Iraq War, it is unlikely that Democrats will win Senate passage this month of a binding resolution calling for withdrawal of troops. The most popular such proposal has about 51 senators supporting it, short of the 60 votes needed for cloture. However, it may be a different story in September after Gen. David Petraeus makes his status report. But by then, President George W. Bush may be making his own troop redeployments.
  2. Even the Republicans who have stuck with Bush’s policy can see no satisfactory political solution in view of the inability of Iraqis to achieve a political solution. Without an Iraqi government that works, U.S. troops cannot leave Iraq without the probability of an ensuing renewal of sectarian war.
  3. The political aftermath of the immigration fight looks like another no-win situation for the GOP. While the conservative base remains angry at President Bush and Republicans in Congress who followed him in supporting "amnesty," Latino activists are launching a campaign against Republicans for defeating the immigration bill.
  4. Some Republicans take comfort in the fact that the approval rating of Congress under Democratic control is about as low as the President’s. But that fails to take into consideration the probability that voters are not looking at the non-performance of Congress as a partisan Democratic failure but as a general failing of government.
  5. Can Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain‘s presidential candidacy survive the implosion of his campaign (see below)? The answer given by insiders is that it is possible only by getting rid of his present staff and starting from scratch, as he did yesterday. It is an uphill climb, requiring him to move in the polls even though he has already fallen from front-runner status. His allies say that if he ends the year in fourth place, he is doomed.

Bush Administration

Cheney: The legal argument briefly employed by Vice President Dick Cheney‘s office — that he is the Senate President and not a part of the executive branch and therefore not subject to Congressional oversight — was an embarrassment that gave House Democrats, behind the clever Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), a way to humiliate him during the appropriations process.

Emanuel’s amendment to cut off funds for Cheney’s office came very close to passage and could have passed but for defections by a few powerful Democrats. Voting "no" were 24 Democrats, including some moderates, plus David Obey (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, and John Murtha (D-Pa.), an Appropriations subcommittee chairman. That surprised House Democrats who considered the proposal a party matter. The amendment failed, 217 to 209.
The oddest vote was certainly that of far-left Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), who voted no and then followed up with an impassioned floor speech calling for Cheney’s impeachment.

Emanuel’s experiment has emboldened his fellow Illinoisan, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), to float a similar Senate measure in order to force Cheney’s office to reveal how much information it declassifies. This could bog down an already-slow Senate appropriations process.

Congress

Vitter: The admission by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) that before being elected to the Senate he was at some point a client of an infamous Washington escort service may appear to have little political significance for now. The senator does not face re-election until 2010, and his wife was apparently made aware of the situation long ago.

  1. However, the matter will not rest there by any means. First of all, the accused madam involved — Deborah Jeane Palfrey — is going to trial and has announced she will subpoena Vitter. Her defense is that her service was not a prostitution ring, so the nature of Vitter’s testimony, under oath, would be to show exactly what he did while using the "escort service" and how many times he did it. Vitter could avoid going into such lurid detail by taking the 5th Amendment (after all, solicitation is a crime), but that would also look very bad for him.

  2. Second, this is not the first time Vitter’s morals have been called into question. When he ran for Senate in 2004, his enemies brought up old accusations (from when he first ran for Congress) that he had had a year-long affair with a prostitute in the French Quarter of New Orleans.

  3. Beyond that, tales about Vitter’s behavior abound in Louisiana. Even if every single one is false, this revelation suddenly gives them new currency. In the future, Democrats will send mailings at the right times and exploit his weakness.

  4. Unlike the embattled Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), Vitter is a Republican. His base will be much harder to mollify when it comes to charges of wrongdoing. True, Jefferson is actually accused of malfeasance in office (bribery), but Republicans are always held to a higher standard by their own voters, who tend to place special value on family issues.

  5. As Louisiana’s only statewide-elected Republican, Vitter is currently the don of GOP politics there. This scandal not only devalues his political currency, but it also embarrasses other Republicans. Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-La.), a Vitter protégé, is far and away favored to win the governor’s race later this year. But now he is saddled with Vitter. Jindal has already called for Jefferson to step down. Will he call for Vitter to do the same?

  6. Democrats will have lots of fun with this. They may not be able to win the governor’s race, but they could make it more competitive by using Vitter to embarrass Jindal. Vitter cannot step down right now even if he wants to, because he would be replaced by a Democrat. If he wants he leave, he has to wait until Jindal becomes governor.

  7. Vitter is also a supporter of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) for President. After losing his Iowa chairman to the Bush Administration and his South Carolina chairman to cocaine charges, Giuliani is lightly burned once again by a key supporter.

Earmark Rules: Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) sent Senate Democrats into a fit by seeking guarantees that Senate earmark transparency rules — identical to rules adopted in the House and endorsed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — not be purged in a House-Senate conference.

  1. Meanwhile, events during the last week of June demonstrated that the celebrated transparency in the House is a sham. Amendments to strike transparent earmarks are brought up for a floor vote, they are overwhelmingly defeated and the news media completely ignore the story. Searches of Lexis-Nexis and Google News suggest that no one — and we mean absolutely no one — has picked up on the story of Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) and the embarrassing fight he lost to keep an earmark in his district.

  2. Evidently, there is no political risk to pork-barreling because the news media ignore votes on earmarks. Meanwhile, members of both parties insist on their pork, a reflection of bipartisan congressional nonchalance toward ballooning federal spending. In pretentious cynicism about earmark reform, the Democrats punished McHenry with a vindictive chuckle.

  3. While considering the Interior Appropriations bill on June 26, the House easily voted by huge margins to keep earmarks from the 11 most egregious earmarkers in Congress. Rep. John Murtha, the king of Democratic earmarkers, preserved $1.2 million for the Southwestern Pennsylvania Heritage Preservation Commission in Holliday, Pa. (by a 343-to-86 vote) and $150,000 for W.A. Young & Sons Foundry in Greene County, Pa. (328 to 104). The House voted 323 to 104 to retain $140,000 for the Wetzel County, W. Va., courthouse sponsored by Rep. Allan Mollohan (D), whose earmarking habits have provoked an FBI investigation. Other pork approved that day included $1.5 million for the Conte Anadrmous Fish Laboratory in Turners Falls, Mass.

  4. Moving on to Financial Services Appropriations on June 28, the House voted 335 to 87 to continue Murtha’s raid on federal funds: $231,000 for the Grace Johnstown (Pa.) Area Regional Industries Incubator. By 325 to 101, the members refused to remove another $231,000 Mollohan earmark. After this pork-fest, they turned the guns on McHenry’s earmark.

Iraq: The defection of Senators Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), John Warner (R-Va.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) demonstrate that there is a real problem on Capitol Hill with President Bush’s approach to Iraq — something that goes beyond partisanship. But the White House appears much less interested in getting advice from congressional Republicans than it is confused about why they aren’t toeing the party line.

National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley‘s meetings with a half-dozen senior Republican senators before the Independence Day recess, which were clearly intended to extinguish fires set by Lugar’s unexpected break from Bush’s Iraq policy, created more fears than they quelled. Some senators were left with the impression that the White House still fails to recognize the scope of the Iraq dilemma.

Tobacco Tax: Senate Democrats will unveil in a markup this Friday a tobacco tax increase that would, in theory, pay for the State Child Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) they want to expand to include children in families making up to $80,000. It is easy enough to raise taxes on a minority like cigarette smokers, but collections of such taxes will not remain consistent, since they tend to depress smoking. It will, however, bolster Republican arguments that Democrats are raising taxes.

President 2008

Clinton: Sen. Hillary Clinton has had a bad week in terms of associations with two firms — a law firm and a public relations firm.

  1. Milberg Weiss, a securities class-action law firm that gives 99 percent of its political money to Democrats and gave $11,500 to Clinton and her PAC during the 2006 election cycle, is facing big trouble over fraud charges. The firm has contributed millions to Democrats over the years, including another presidential candidate, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.). A former partner in the firm, David Bershad, has pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with investigators.

  2. Meanwhile, Clinton is facing increasing Democratic criticism for using Mark Penn as her presidential campaign’s chief strategist while he also serves as CEO of Burson-Marsteller, a public relations giant with corporate clients whose policies run opposite to Clinton’s. Clients of the PR firm include Royal Dutch Shell (attacked by Clinton for ‘‘windfall profits”), as well as tobacco and pharmaceutical firms with records she has deplored. Penn was a key operative in President Bill Clinton‘s 1996 re-election campaign and continued as a second-term adviser.

McCain: The departure of Sen. John McCain‘s top campaign aides, John Weaver and Terry Nelson, answers questions that several Republicans in Washington had been asking about the previous week’s Monday Massacre of low-level staff.

  1. While young press aides and campaigners in states such as Michigan were being axed (all but one aide in that state were fired), the "deciders" who had clearly been running the campaign all wrong were left in place. Nelson was to stay on without pay, but he had been making more than $12,000 per month anyway. The word is that the parting was not friendly.

  2. McCain’s longtime chief-of-staff and ghost-writer, Mark Salter, has been sidelined.

  3. The question to ask now is not where McCain’s campaign goes from here, but what the race might look like without McCain. There is no more "Rudy McRomney," only a three-way race between Rudy Giuliani, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, and the non-candidate candidate, former Sen. Fred Thompson. Does this help or hurt those in the second tier, such as Rep. Ron Paul (R-Tex.), for example — the only anti-war Republican in the race — who now exceeds McCain in cash on hand? Or Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, who won the Blackhawk County, Iowa, straw poll with 40 percent of the vote?

Obama: Newcomers among some 30 reporters who followed Illinois Democratic Sen. Barack Obama‘s campaign to Iowa last week were surprised how little contact they had with the Democratic presidential candidate over two days.

Obama traveled in an SUV, at first alone and later with his family. No reporter entered the SUV, and Obama never visited the bus containing the reporters. One scheduled press availability was trimmed to 10 minutes. In contrast, Bill Clinton, accompanying his wife’s presidential campaign in Iowa the same week, whipped out $60 and bought malts for reporters following his wife.

Senate 2008

Minnesota: Comedian and radio host Al Franken (D) claims that his campaign raised $1.9 million in the latest reporting period, putting him ahead of early second quarter numbers quoted by Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.). Coleman has announced a take of $1.6 million, and Franken’s rival for the nomination, attorney Mike Ciresi, declared $750,000.

Democrats appear ambivalent about their two candidates, but Republicans are unabashed in their preference for Franken, a polarizing figure they view as a sure loser. Coleman’s cash on hand is double that of Franken, but both Democratic candidates have personal wealth.

North Carolina: Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), viewed by Democrats as vulnerable as she seeks re-election in 2008, has made a comeback with successful fund-raising and a boost in approval ratings.

Dole’s private polls put her favorability level at 59 percent in the state, compared with President Bush’s 42 percent. Republican insiders attribute that mostly to her opposing the immigration bill backed by Bush. Thanks to effective second-quarter fundraising (at a level not yet announced), Dole is sitting on an estimated $2 million. She previously had been criticized as an ineffective first-term senator, mainly because of her national chairmanship of the failed 2006 Senate campaign.

Gov. Michael Easley (D), the strongest potential Democratic challenger, has so far resisted pleas that he run, although Democrats in Washington still hope to prevail on him. Dole’s war chest may discourage lesser-known Democrats. State Rep. Grier Martin (D), an Iraq war veteran, has family money for a possible candidacy.

  Sincerely,
  Robert D. Novak

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Written By

Mr. Novak was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report, a political newsletter he founded in 1967 with Rowland Evans. He passed away August 19, 2009. Read tributes to Robert Novak and his legendary work, as well as memories from Novak alumni and the Human Events family.

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