Capital Briefs: Aug. 27-31


CPB EXCESS: The Republican-controlled board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting could not bring itself to mandate the showing of Frank Gaffney’s documentary Islam vs. Islamists nor did it make any attempt to block the prime-time return of leftist Bill Moyers, but the board is very decisive when it comes to tax-paid junkets. The board’s latest trip was to Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, reports Al Kamen in the Washington Post. Prior to that, the board traveled to Alaska and Arizona.

CONGRESS’S APPROVAL RATING FALLS … AGAIN: A new Gallup Poll, released August 21, finds that Congress’s approval rating has hit its lowest mark in the history of the poll. Gallup says that only 18% of Americans approve of Congress’s job — down nine points from its 27% July approval rating — while 76% disapprove. The last time the legislative branch was this poorly rated, according to Gallup, was in March 1992, during the check-bouncing scandal — when Democrats last controlled both houses. Gallup notes that it was in 1992 that many states were passing term limits for congressmen (which were later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court). The nine-point drop was caused by increasing frustration among Democrats and independents. Approval from Democrats over the last month dropped 11 points (from 32% to 21%), while independents’ approval of Congress fell 13 points (from 30% to 17%) since July. Republicans’ approval rating remained unchanged at 18%.

SCHIP AND STATES SAGA: Having made it clear the President will veto the much-expanded State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) passed by both the House and Senate last month, the Bush Administration is moving to prevent the states from further enlarging SCHIP. The administration has sent a letter to state health officials outlining tougher new standards that will make it much more difficult for states to extend coverage beyond lower-income families. Presently the poverty level is set by the federal government at $20,650 annually for a family of four, but many states have received waivers to provide SCHIP for families with incomes twice that. According to a report in the New York Times, prior to the letter that spells out the tougher standards, California sought to increase its income limit to 300% of the poverty level and Pennsylvania recently increased its limit to 300%. The new policy “is highly restrictive, much more than what we want to do,” Stan Rosenstein, California Medicaid director, told the Times.

FOURTH CIRCUIT FIASCO: With the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals split five to five between Republican and Democratic appointees, and with five vacancies, “one of the nation’s most conservative appellate courts is shifting to a moderate direction, with the balance up for grabs,” concluded the Washington Post recently. With the surprise resignation last year of Judge J. Michael Luttig to take a private sector job and the decision of Chief Judge William W. Wilkins, Jr., earlier this year to take senior status (semi-retirement), the Bush Administration has yet to nominate a successor to either of these prominent conservative jurists on the 4th Circuit. In addition, Bush has yet to send a nomination to the Senate to succeed the late Judge Francis D. Murnaghan and another vacancy has lingered since 1994. (After Judge J. Dickson Phillips, Jr., took senior status, the Senate failed for years to deal with nominee Terrence W. Boyle, Jr. Last month, the President sent the name of North Carolina District Judge Robert Conrad to the Senate for the 13-year opening.) University of Pittsburgh law professor and court-watcher Arthur Hellman went as far as to tell the Post: “There is a very good chance that this court will be solidly Democratic for many, many years.”

AMES GAINS: Following their one-two finish in the Republican straw poll in Ames, Iowa, two weeks ago, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee each posted modest gains among GOPers in the ’08 race for President. According to a just-completed Gallup Poll, Romney jumped from fourth place last month with 8% to third place this month with 14% of likely Republican primary voters. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani remained in first place with 32% and unannounced former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson placed second with 19%, according to Gallup, while Arizona Sen. John McCain had dropped from 16% in their last poll to 11% and fourth place in the latest survey. Huckabee doubled his support in the Gallup Poll, going from 2% before Ames to 4% and fifth place after the straw vote.

BUT CHANGE THE SYSTEM: As much as political junkies seem to love talking about the current round of televised debates, polling and early fund-raising, voters in general appear to want some other method of choosing the President. According to the latest Rasmussen poll, 62% of voters in general feel the major parties need to find a better way to nominate their candidates, with 64% of Democrats, 54% of Republicans and 68% of independent voters agreeing. An early Rasmusssen survey found that only 15% of voters found the televised presidential debates exciting, while 58% found them boring.

MIKE DEAVER (1938-2007): The man Time magazine once dubbed the “vicar of visuals” for his superb work in finding the right settings for Ronald Reagan’s public appearances died August 18 at age 69. Mike Deaver, one of three top White House aides to Reagan in his first term as President, had battled pancreatic cancer for several months.

Deaver’s services to his fellow Californian went back to Reagan’s first term as governor in the 1960s. William P. Clark, Reagan’s first chief of staff as governor and later his National Security Advisor in the White House, recruited Deaver for the gubernatorial staff. Deaver had actually worked on the gubernatorial campaign of Reagan’s moderate primary opponent, former San Francisco Mayor George Christopher, and as Clark told Human Events, “Mike was very pragmatic, more so than Gov. Reagan or me.” But he also said that Deaver “did a great job and was very loyal to the governor.” Clark noted that “Nancy Reagan required a lot more attention than I could give her, so I gave Mike the Nancy account” — setting the stage for the close relationship between Mrs. Reagan and Deaver that would live on in the White House.

His preoccupation with image rather than substance in the Reagan White House aroused some wariness about Deaver on the right. But, as the late Donald Regan, secretary of the Treasury under Reagan and later White House chief of staff, said about Deaver: “There was, of course, no reason for him to be interested in the substance of policy. His job was to sell the product once it was invented and ready to be marketed. Deaver was in charge of the Reagans’ public image, and judging by the results he had achieved, he deserved his reputation.”