Capital Briefs: October 22-26

NOW WHAT FOR GORE? That’s what Democrats have been asking, following the news last week that former Vice President Al Gore actually was a co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. “The value of an Al Gore endorsement just shot up by several thousand percent,” an adviser to one of the ’08 Democratic hopefuls told the Financial Times, referring to the international publicity the former Vice President has received. “Gore now has the leverage to really shape the campaign.” Although there are still die-hard Gore backers who want him to become a candidate for nomination himself, most who know him best are convinced that the 2000 Democratic nominee does not want to run. As 2000 national campaign manager Donna Brazile told the ABC News blog “The Note,” “I believe Gore wants to be above the fray and not back in the middle. With the Nobel Prize now his, Gore can play kingmaker and help the Democrats win in 2008.” Several pundits have predicted that Gore will endorse Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and probably do so by Thanksgiving. Along with the icy relations that developed between Bill Clinton and his Vice President during the 1999 impeachment trial and over Gore’s refusal to ask Clinton to campaign more for him in 2000, it is no secret that the 2000 nominee and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton hold each other in “minimum high regard.” Both Clinton and Obama issued warm statements of congratulation upon Gore’s Nobel news. On the other hand, Gore may well choose to sit back, wait and do nothing for a while. His endorsement of Howard Dean for President in ’03 before the Vermont man fizzled demonstrates that Gore’s early blessings may not translate into political currency. If no Democratic candidate has really caught on by next summer, Gore could always enter the race as a compromise candidate just before the late August Democratic convention.

EIGHTEEN TO TWO: That’s the ratio between Republican and Democratic retirees from Congress so far. The announced retirements of Ohio Republican Representatives Ralph Regula and David Hobson and the decision of Rep. Steve Pearce (R.-N.M.) to run for the Senate in ’08 (see “Gizzi on Politics,” page 16) brings to13 the number of GOP House members relinquishing their seats next year. Of 22 Republican senators whose seats are up in ’08, five have announced plans to retire. Not one of the 12 Democratic senators up for election next year has announced his retirement, and so far, only two House Democrats are leaving office: Tom Allen, to run for governor of Maine, and Mark Udall, to run for the Senate from Colorado. At week’s end, the talk in Illinois was increasing that former Republican House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, who has already announced his retirement in ’08, will announce he is resigning from the House in November, thus sparking a special election early next year.

Latest polling numbers: Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani still holds a healthy lead for the GOP nomination among Republicans nationwide in almost every poll of the ’08 race. The latest CNN poll shows Giuliani leading the field with 27%, followed by former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson with 19%, Arizona Sen. John McCain 17%, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney 13% and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee 5%. The results differed slightly from a Rasmussen Poll last week showing Giuliani leading Thompson by a tighter 29%-to-23% margin, followed by Romney with 13%, McCain 9% and Huckabee 8%.

DROPOUTS: The withdrawal from the Republican presidential race by Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback last week means there are now nine Republican hopefuls for ’08. Brownback, who cited difficulty raising money, follows former Governors Jim Gilmore of Virginia and Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin as dropouts from the Republican pack. Thompson last week endorsed Giuliani, despite their differences on abortion and other cultural issues. Thompson said he was supporting the former New York mayor because “he reduced welfare by 50%, he reduced murder by 66%, he’s an individual who changed, transformed the city of New York.” Before endorsing Giuliani, the former secretary of Health and Human Services was asked by Katherine Skiba of the Milwaukee Journal whether he would consider another Cabinet job. Shot back Thompson: “I don’t think that Hillary would have me.”

SCHIP VETO UPHELD (BUT SCHIP LIVES):  Despite spending millions on the effort, the Democrats failed to persuade the House to override the President’s veto of the $35-
billion Democrat-expanded State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) last week.  The vote was 273 to 156, 13 shy of the two-thirds needed to override. The tally was nearly the same as the vote by which the House passed the program September 25. Not a single Republican changed his vote, meaning that the $10-million media campaign by the AFL-CIO, Moveon.Org and other liberal groups to pressure Republicans to change their votes (see Human Events, October 15) was a total failure.  Both the President and White House Press Secretary Dana Perino indicated last week that the administration was willing to go along with some expansion of the program and had already offered a 20% expansion. But this did not go over well with some conservatives who are angry at administration  for blessing a federal health care program at all. Rep. Steve King (R.-Iowa) told reporters:  “SCHIP stands for ‘Socialized Clinton-style HillaryCare for Illegals and their Parents. ‘”  (For more on SCHIP, see page 10.)

STARK MAD: Leftist Rep. Fortney “Pete” Stark (D.-Calif.) blew his top over the failure of the SCHIP veto override vote, ranting on the House floor:  “The Republicans are worried that they can’t pay for insuring an additional 10 million children. They sure don’t care about finding $200 billion to fight the illegal war in Iraq. . . . You don’t have money to fund the war or children. But you’re going to spend it to blow up innocent people if he can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the President’s amusement.”  House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) demanded an apology from Stark, which wasn’t forthcoming. No Democrat criticized Stark’s words. In fact, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.Calif.) later thanked him for his work on SCHIP.