Capital Briefs: July 30-Aug. 3

MORE MCCAIN MELTDOWN: The latest exodus from John McCain’s faltering presidential campaign is the Arizona Republican senator’s media team. Last week, media maestros Stewart Stevens and Russ Schriefer left McCain. Reports with the Federal Election Commission indicated that they had not been paid for their services and were not owed any money. For all the bad news surrounding his campaign, McCain is still running second or third in the latest national polls. According to a just-completed Washington Post/ABC News poll, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is the current presidential favorite of 37% of likely Republican voters, followed by McCain at 16% and Fred Thompson 15%.

NO FAIRNESS DOCTRINE: Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin last week wrote a letter to Rep. Mike Pence (R.-Ind.) assuring him that the FCC will not try to reimpose the Fairness Doctrine. Martin said that “with the continued proliferation of additional sources of information and programming, including satellite broadcasting and the Internet, the need for the Fairness Doctrine has lessened even further since 1987” — when it was eliminated in the Reagan Administration. Even though President Bush has promised to veto any legislative attempt to reimpose the Fairness Doctrine, liberal Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D.-N.Y.) says he will soon introduce such a bill.

JUSTICE UNDER SIEGE: As congressional Democrats mobilized last week against Alberto Gonzales over the fired U.S. attorneys controversy and not a single Republican on Capitol Hill rose to defend the embattled attorney general, key vacancies in the Department of Justice are mounting. As of last week, the six top positions under Gonzales remained vacant. In addition, 23 of the 93 U.S. attorney positions nationwide are open and the offices are being run by lower-echelon prosecutors.

IRAQ SUPPORT UP: As Gen. David Petraeus finished briefings to Pentagon officials on a new plan that would reportedly keep U.S. forces in Iraq until at least the summer of 2009, public support for the U.S. invasion in Iraq has actually risen. According to a just-completed New York Times/CBS News poll, 42% of Americans said that taking action in Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein was the right thing to do, and 51% said the U.S. acted improperly in invading Iraq. In May, the same poll showed that a record-low 35% of the public still supported the invasion, while 61% said it was a mistake. The latest survey also showed the number of people saying the war is going “very badly” has fallen to 35% (from 45% in May), and those saying it is going “somewhat well” is 29% (up from 23% in May).

VETO TIME: Although he has raised some skepticism among fiscal conservatives by not vetoing a single spending measure in nearly seven years, President Bush now says he will agree to the 2008 budget only if it is within the $933-billion ceiling he has set for discretionary non-defense spending. Democrats counter that the ceiling he has set is less than 1% below the $955 billion proposal they support that is now sailing through Congress. “Only in Washington, D.C., could $22 billion be seen as a trivial number,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto told reporters. The White House has also said it will veto the pending farm bill if it goes above the ceiling the administration has set or includes the proposal backed by congressional Democrats to increase the tax on hedge funds.

DID CARMONA WANT TO STAY? The White House said last week that controversial Dr. Richard Carmona wanted to remain U.S. surgeon general. Carmona recently made headlines by saying that the Bush Administration pressured him to do things he didn’t want to do while he was SG. According to White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, Carmona “did seek to renew his tenure with us.” Press Secretary Tony Snow later elaborated on Perino’s claim, telling Human Events Political Editor John Gizzi, “According to those present, it was clear that he wanted to be renewed, he wanted another term as surgeon general.” Pressed by Gizzi as to whether Carmona asked the President himself to let him stay on, Snow replied: “I don’t know that he asked the President, but he asked people working at the White House.” Gizzi called Carmona at his office in Tucson, Ariz., to confirm Snow’s version of the events, but the physician did not return his calls.  

WHAT’S WITH THOMPSON? For the first time since he signaled he would seek the Republican nomination for President, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson has begun to run into some bumps in the road to a formal announcement, the date of which was moved last week by his headquarters staff from August 8 to mid-September. Then also last week, CNN reported that campaign manager Tom Collamore had resigned because of disagreements with the candidate and wife Jeri Thompson (pictured below with the senator). Not so, Thompson spokeswoman Linda Rozett told reporters, adding that onetime assistant U.S. Commerce Secretary Collamore is continuing with the unannounced campaign as “senior advisor” and that “we are preparing to move on to another phase … adding some new, experienced political strength.” By that, she meant former Secretary of Energy and Michigan GOP Sen. Spence Abraham, who was named the new Thompson campaign chairman, and former Florida Republican Party Executive Director Randy Enright, the new political director for the campaign. But increasingly, Thompson-watchers say, power is being wielded in the budding campaign by Jeri. Also joining the Thompson camp to advise him on issues and outreach to conservatives are: Bill Wichterman, onetime legislative director to former Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.); Joe Cella, former president of the Roman Catholic Fidelis group; and Citizens United head Dave Bossie. In the weeks prior to the shakeup, Thompson had heatedly denied published reports that, despite his strongly pro-life voting record, he once lobbied for the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, with spokesman Mark Corallo saying, “Fred Thompson did not lobby for this group, period.” Subsequent news reports revealed documents showing he had indeed met numerous times with the group and that his retention to lobby the first Bush Administration on easing abortion restrictions was approved in the minutes of their board meeting. Thompson has also raised some concern among backers by putting off his announcement several times. One source close to the former senator told Human Events that “Fred has put it off because he wants to do it right when he gets in—there is no time for spring training before this World Series.”