Capital Briefs: Sept. 17-21

NEWT ‘UNLIKELY’ FOR ’08: The Georgia Republican who has known Newt Gingrich longer than just about anyone in politics says that the former speaker of the House is “unlikely” to seek the Republican nomination for President in ’08. Howard “Bo” Callaway, former congressman from Georgia and former secretary of the Army, told Human Events last week that “if Newt sees any candidate who is doing well, taking the issues to Hillary Clinton, and has a chance of winning,” he will not run himself. Callaway, who has known Gingrich since 1964 and worked with him closely on several political projects, added that the only thing that might lead to a Gingrich candidacy is “if he finds the [Republican] candidates are not going to take the issues to Hillary. He doesn’t want her to win by default.” Gingrich has signaled he will announce his intentions after conducting his Solutions Day national conference on the Internet, September 27 and 29.

OLSON FOR A.G.? Although Tony Snow repeatedly told reporters last week that the White House was not ready to name a new attorney general, speculation continued to mount that Alberto Gonzales’ successor would be former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson. Because of his role as lead Republican Party attorney in the Bush v. Gore Supreme Court case that led to Florida’s electoral votes’ being awarded to George W. Bush in 2000 and thus making Bush President, the mere mention of the brilliant Olson — whose attorney-wife Barbara was killed in the 9/11 Pentagon plane crash — angers Senate Democrats. “Ted Olson will not be confirmed,” hyper-partisan Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) told reporters last week. “I will do all I can to see that he does not become the next attorney general.” Others mentioned to succeed Gonzales are Chief U.S. District Judge Mike Mukasey of New York, senior U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Lawrence Silberman, former Deputy Atty. Gen. George Terwilliger and Fran Townsend, homeland security advisor to the President.

CHAO CHASES CORRUPTION: One of the reasons Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao is an increasingly admired Bush Administration figure among conservatives is the no-nonsense pursuit of corrupt union bosses through her department’s Office of Labor Management Standards (OLMS). Last week alone, Jorge Aponte-Figueroa, former president of International Longshoremen’s Association Local Union #1740, was sentenced to five years in prison for embezzling $1.9 million in union funds and former AFGE Local #2562 President Nathaniel Greene was ordered to make more than $55,000 in restitution following his conviction for filing a false financial statement. Two other union officials pleaded guilty to embezzling union funds and four officials of Teamster Local #743 in Chicago were indicted on charges of election rigging. Congressional Democrats, upset by the more than 780 convictions of their union buddies in the last two years, are trying to cut OLMS’s budget by $11 million, even though, as Deputy Assistant Secretary Don Todd points out, “since fiscal year 2001, OLMS investigations have yielded court-ordered restitution exceeding $101 million.

JUDGE NOT: As the Senate adjourned for the weekend last Friday, no fewer than 11 nominations to fill vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals were before the Judiciary Committee. Among the nominees who have languished for extended periods are U.S. District Judge Leslie Southwick of Mississippi, who was named to replace retired Appellate Judge Charles Pickering in January of this year, and Peter Keisler, assistant attorney general for the civil division, who was named to succeed Chief Justice John Roberts as judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in June of ’06. Keisler, onetime clerk to Judge Robert Bork and a founder of the Federalist Society, had formerly been named to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit but had failed to get the needed “blue slips” from Maryland’s two Democratic senators.

THOMPSON ON THE RISE: A week after he made his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination official, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson holds second place in most nationwide surveys of likely Republican voters. According to a just-completed NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is the favorite of 32% of GOP voters, followed by Thompson with 26%. Arizona Sen. John McCain remains in third place with 14%, followed closely by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 11%.

PETRAEUS AND THE PUBLIC: The same NBC/WSJ poll also showed that, despite all the Democratic criticism, the two-day congressional testimony of Gen. David Petraeus apparently helped strengthen public support for President Bush and the U.S. policy in Iraq. Conducted the day after Petraeus concluded his nationally televised testimony, the survey showed that 30% of American voters nationwide backed the Administration on Iraq, up from only 22% before the general testified, and that 66% of the public opposed the Iraq policy, down from a pre-Petraeus figure of 72%. The poll also showed that 24% said the U.S. should remain in Iraq until a “stable democracy” is achieved, 37% said U.S. troops should get out of Iraq but remain in the region, and 26% said that U.S. forces should simply withdraw from Iraq.