Capital Briefs: August 13-17

OBAMA UNDER SIEGE: “From Jane Fonda to Dr. Strangelove” was Mitt Romney’s one-liner during the latest Republican presidential debate to describe Democratic hopeful Barack Obama’s promise to send U.S. troops into Pakistan if that country’s government failed to more aggressively pursue al Qaeda terrorists camping out there. Having opposed the U.S. strike that brought down Saddam Hussein and the mission in Iraq, the Illinois senator’s rather startling call for military action in the nation led by American ally Pervez Musharraf has been drawing fire from just about all sides for two weeks. During the last GOP debate in Iowa, Romney and all the other candidates denounced Obama’s call for sending troops into a country that supports the War on Terror. Obama’s fellow Democratic hopefuls also distanced themselves from his statement, with Hillary Clinton warning that Presidents should not say all that they are going to do in foreign policy. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson was the only Democratic hopeful to second Obama’s Pakistan position, telling reporters: “We need to reverse the Bush-Cheney policy of appeasement and make sure Musharraf knows his deal with the terrorists is completely unacceptable to the U.S.” Asked by Human Events Political Editor John Gizzi what the administration’s response to Obama’s stand was, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow would say only, “There are a lot of things that people are going to say on the campaign trail. Our policy toward Pakistan and toward bin Laden and al Qaeda have been pretty consistent.” Snow went on to give a spirited defense of the Musharraf government’s efforts to hunt down al Qaeda within its borders and added: “We’re going to do what we can to support them, what they need. At the same time, we recognize the sovereignty of the Pakistani government and realize that they’re putting on a serious push.”  The Pakistani government was much harsher in its response to Obama. M. Akram Shaheedi, information minister for the Pakistani Embassy in Washington, told Gizzi: “Talks of U.S. troops in question in the Pakistan territory is unacceptable, as it would provoke a backlash among the people of Pakistan, which would be detrimental not only for Pakistan, but also for the national security interests of the United States. Such an action would certainly undermine Pakistan’s ability to cooperate in the campaign against terrorism.”

NO ENVOYS: Along with its complaints that the Senate has been stalling on confirming numerous judicial nominees as well as the appointment of former Iowa Republican Rep. Jim Nussle as Office of Management and Budget director, the White House has begun to voice complaints that the President’s nominations of ambassadors to many world capitals are languishing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (chaired by Democratic Presidential hopeful Joe Biden of Delaware). According to the U.S. State Department, 15 ambassadorial nominations are awaiting action by Biden’s committee. Assistant HHS Secretary William R. Steiger and former Arizona State Republican Chairman Bob Fannin, for example, were named by the President on January 4 to be ambassadors to Mozambique and the Dominican Republic respectively. The Foreign Relations Committee has yet to move on either nominee.

LOW GRADES FOR ALL: As Congress adjourned for August and President Bush headed for some rest in Kennebunkport, Maine, they could all take some heart from the fact that the American public gives everyone low job performance ratings. According to a just-completed USA Today/Gallup Poll, public approval stands at 37% for Democrats in Congress, 34% for Bush (up from a record-low of 29% a month ago) and 29% for the Republicans in Congress. The same survey showed more than six in 10 Americans disapprove of Bush and the Republicans in Congress, while 55% disapprove of the Democrats in Congress.

THOMPSON ON THE MOVE: Despite negative press about his failure to recall lobbying for a pro-abortion group in 1991 and his continuing to put off a formal announcement of his candidacy for President, Fred Thompson is still gaining ground among likely Republican voters. According to the latest Pew Research Poll, the former Tennessee senator is running second nationwide among likely GOP voters with 18%, with former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani in first place with 27%. Arizona Sen. John McCain was third in the same poll with 16%, and former massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney fourth with 10%. In April, Pew’s nationwide survey of Republicans showed Giuliani at 32%, McCain 23%, Thompson 10% and Romney 8%. Thompson also continued to beef up his campaign staff last week, signing on Bill Lacy, formerly a top operative in Bob Dole’s 1988 presidential campaign, as campaign manager.

AFL-CIO WAITING: After its summer meeting in Chicago last week, the AFL-CIO Executive Council decided not to endorse a candidate “at this time.” The union said, “This move enables individual unions to endorse or not during the 2008 primaries.” Right now, the favorite Democratic candidates among labor activists appear to be Rep. Dennis Kucinich (Ohio) and former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.). The big union spent more than $60 million on last year’s mid-term elections and could easily spend double that next year in what AFL-CIO President John Sweeney calls the union’s “biggest election effort preparing for the most important national elections in our lifetimes.”

TAX DOLLARS FOR BONO, SAYS RNC: In a move that left many conservatives bewildered and angry, the Republican National Committee, at its meeting in Minneapolis, Minn., last week, endorsed “One,” the pet global anti-poverty project of Irish rock singer and U2 front man Bono. Despite protests from such conservative state Republican chairmen as Randy Pullen of Arizona and Saul Anuzis of Michigan, the RNC Resolutions Committee did not rescind the endorsement by the full committee for spending an estimated $30 billion in U.S. tax dollars on Bono’s initiative. “I don’t think we should be allocating that much of the U.S. budget for relief around the world,” an angry Pullen told reporters after the meeting, “That’s not the business of government.” Anuzis agreed, saying: “I’m not in favor of earmarking and believe ‘global conservatism’ is an oxymoron. I would rather we teach folks to fish rather than just send them more fish.” Committee sources told us that the resolution was the work of Washington lobbyist and former RNC Deputy Chairman Jack Oliver, a “One” co-chairman who pushed hard for the committee endorsement.