Capital Briefs: Oct. 8-12

RUDY STILL ON TOP: The criticism of Rudy Giuliani’s non-conservative stands on social issues continues, along with threats from some conservative leaders after a recent meeting in Salt Lake City that pro-family groups might bolt for a third-party candidate if he is the Republican nominee for President next year. Others, such as Gary Bauer (see page 5), think this is premature, although eventually possible. Nonetheless, the former New York City mayor continues to hold a handsome lead in national polls among likely GOP voters. According to a just-completed Washington Post/ABC News poll, Giuliani is the presidential favorite of 34% of likely Republican voters nationally, followed by Fred Thompson at 17%, Arizona Sen. John McCain 12%, Mitt Romney 11% and Mike Huckabee 8% (the best the former Arkansas governor has done in any nationwide survey so far). When asked in the Post poll who, regardless of their choice for President, they trusted to handle social issues, 41% of the same Republican voters cited Giuliani, compared to 18% for Thompson, 15% for McCain and 14% for Romney.

AFTER ‘AMNESTY MEL’? The desire among Republican National Committee members to have Sen. Mel Martinez (R.-Fla.) leave as general chairman of the RNC became evident last week, as Martinez announced he will step down from the party post following the selection of a GOP presidential nominee next year. No sooner had the chairman (whom many RNC members privately call “Amnesty Mel” for his disagreement with them on a tougher stand on illegal immigration) made his announcement than South Carolina State Party Chairman Kaeton Dawson told reporters he was interested in the post. “Sure—I’m well-suited for that job,” the conservative Dawson told reporters after they asked if he wanted to succeed Martinez. Dawson went on to say that 2008 is too soon for Republicans to recapture the House and Senate but he expected a big operation to get under way for 2010.

TED KENNEDY WRONG ON DEFENSE BILL VETO: As President Bush vetoed the expanded SCHIP bill last week (see cover story), he also signaled that he will veto the $648-billion Defense authorization bill because of controversial hate crimes language added to the measure. Sen. Teddy Kennedy (D.-Mass.), author of the hate crimes amendment, said that the law deserved to be signed because “the President of the United States has never vetoed, in the history of the United States, a Defense authorization bill. . . . For this reason and for many others, the Defense authorization deserves to be passed.” The only problem with this is that, like so much Kennedy has said in the past, it isn’t true. Presidents Carter, Reagan and Clinton all refused to sign into law various Defense authorization bills for different reasons. Mocking Democrats such as Kennedy who claimed such bills were never vetoed, White House Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto said: “Clearly, they haven’t bothered to check the historical research, which would show they’re flat-out wrong.”

FOR PETE’S SAKE—DOMENICI TO GO: In a surprise announcement last week, New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici, 75, became the fifth Republican U.S. senator to announce he would not seek re-election in ’08.  Given the increasing Democratic trend in New Mexico, pundits and pols agree that it will be an uphill battle for Republicans to keep the seat of Domenici, who has held it since 1972. The state’s two Republican U.S. representatives—conservative Steve Pearce and moderate-to-conservative Heather Wilson—are both exploring a Senate bid. The likely Democratic candidate is Rep. Tom Udall, son of former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall.

INHOFE ON LAW OF THE SEA: Amid growing concerns about the scope of the Law of the Sea Treaty (see Human Events, October 8, cover story), Sen. Jim Inhofe (R.-Okla.) last week called for hearings of the Senate Armed Services Committee on the controversial LOST to expose its weaknesses. “I’m not sure I will get them, because we Republicans are no longer in the majority,” Inhofe told Human Events Political Editor John Gizzi, recalling how he was able to have hearings on LOST before the Environment and Public Works Committee when he was chairman in ’04. Inhofe also told Gizzi that the Bush Administration’s renewed push for treaty ratification is the key reason he is asking for fresh hearings. Other Republican senators backing Inhofe’s call for hearings are Jeff Sessions (Ala.), John Cornyn (Tex.) and Mel Martinez (Fla.)

NEWT’S NEAR-RUN:  Close friends such as former Rep. Bob Walker (R-Pa.) felt sure on the evening of September 28 that Newt Gingrich would enter the race for the Republican nomination for President in ’08. The former speaker of the House had already received, in a very short period, pledges for several million dollars of the $30 million he had previously said would be enough for him to fund a credible race.  Moreover, numerous former colleagues and political friends had pledged their support to a Gingrich campaign.  But the following day, Gingrich announced that he would not run after all. He said: “Because of the current, misguided and destructive campaign finance laws … if I had decided to explore being a candidate, it would have become necessary to sever my relations with [the Gingrich-run] American Solutions to protect it from the false allegations of being used as a devise to promote the feasibility of my candidacy, which is not permissible under the law.”  American Solutions is a “527” group under the U.S. Tax Code, filing reports with the Internal Revenue Service, not the Federal Election Commission, but Newt apparently feared the FEC would hassle him with overzealous interpretation of the oppressive McCain-Feingold campaign finance law. One week before he announced his “no-go,” Gingrich had received what one correspondent called “a rock star’s welcome” at the Republican conference in Mackinac Island, Mich.  The former speaker’s speech drew an overflow crowd of listeners and people wanting autographed copies of his latest book.  In taking himself out of the race, Gingrich indicated his belief that former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney “are beginning to articulate really dramatic change,” that “[former Tennessee Sen. Fred] Thompson has not yet,” and that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee could become competitive and is “probably the best performer in terms of giving speeches and being appealing.”  Other close Gingrich watchers say he believes Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.) will probably be elected President in ’08 and that the Republican Party might be more ready for a candidacy by him in 2012.