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Capital Briefs: Dec. 17-21

JUDGE NOT: With 12 Bush nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals already cooling their heels in the Senate Judiciary Committee, there were strong signs last week that the so-called “judge wars” between the White House and Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D.-Vt.) have extended to the U.S. District Court. The President’s nomination of former Rep. James Rogan (R.-Calif.) to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California has languished before the Leahy’s panel since January. What is keeping the Rogan nomination from moving forward is the opposition of Sen. Barbara Boxer (D.-Calif.), who has used home-state privileges to block the appointment of her fellow Californian. Although Boxer spokeswoman Natalie Ravitz told the Washington Post that the senator’s opposition is based on Rogan’s conservative voting record, which Boxer feels is “completely out of sync” with California, more than a few pundits and pols suspect her opposition also has to do with Rogan’s record as an unapologetic House manager in the 1999 Senate impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton. Other well-known liberal Democrats—among them former California Senate President John Burton and former Clinton special counsel Lanny Davis—have weighed in strongly for the nomination of Rogan, currently a superior court judge in California. Now that the President has sent the Senate a string of nominees to the U.S. District Court—among them Missouri Supreme Court Justice Stephen Limbaugh, cousin of conservative radio talk-show host Rush—there is mounting speculation that the Rogan case may well portend similar stalling on other District Court nominees. When Human Events Political Editor John Gizzi asked White House Press Secretary Dana Perino about this, she replied: “We remain concerned that the judicial nominees have not moved forward on the pace the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman said that they would.” Perino also noted that Leahy intends to move forward with his own first order of business: action on a contempt citation against the President’s former deputy chief of staff and former advisor [Karl Rove] over removal of U.S. attorneys. “Clearly, the Senate Judiciary Committee needs to get its priorities straight and move forward on our nominees,” Perino said.

THE LAST STOP IS COBURN: That’s what colleagues are increasingly saying about staunchly conservative Sen. Tom Coburn (R.-Okla.), who now has holds on 95 different pieces of legislation for different reasons—a record for holds in the history of the institution, according to Associate Senate Historian Donald Ritchie. Coburn is so attentive to what he considers wasteful legislation and so adept at deploying Senate rules to bottle it up, observed a profile of Coburn in the Capitol Hill publication Politico, that “Senate aides on both sides of the aisle now take legislation directly to Coburn’s office before moving forward to make sure he has no objections—whether he’s on the relevant committee or not. If he does, they often swallow their pride and make the changes he’s asking for.” Holds by the Oklahoman range from big (breast cancer research) to small (the naming of a post office). Coburn’s friend and fellow conservative, Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Tex.), said that the physician-senator will “take a shot at any piece of legislation, whether it’s Democratic or Republican, if he feels like it deserves it. I think there is a sense he isn’t going away, so we’ll have to deal with him.”

AFTER MCCRERY: With the decision of Rep. Jim McCrery (R.-La.) to retire next year (See “Politics,” Page 14.), the maneuvering is expected to be fast and furious among House Republicans to succeed him as ranking member on the House Ways and Means Committee. Although California Rep. Wally Herger is next in line in seniority to McCrery, the third senior Republican on the panel, Dave Camp of Michigan, is almost a certainty to run for the ranking slot. Both Herger and Camp are considered strong conservatives and supporters of tax cuts. House Republicans will decide on their top person on the powerful tax-writing panel after the November ’08 election.

HUCK UP NATIONWIDE: Given all the recent attention focused on his presidential bid, it was no surprise to find former Arkansas Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee surging in nationwide polls. The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll showed that, among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who say they are certain to vote, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani leads with 25%, Huckabee has 19%, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney 17% and Arizona Sen. John McCain 12%. Huckabee’s support has doubled in the same poll over the last month, while Giuliani has lost nine points. In addition, the ABC/Post poll showed that Giuliani has dropped 19 percentage points among conservatives and 20 points among those who say they are following the race very closely.

ROMNEY STILL UP IN N.H.: For all of the surge for Huckabee in polls of Republicans nationwide as well as in key nomination battle states such as Iowa, South Carolina and Michigan, the former Arkansas governor is still not catching on among Republicans in the first-in-the-nation primary. According to a just-completed CNN/WMUR-TV poll of likely GOP voters in New Hampshire, Romney still holds a double-digit lead over all competitors. According to the survey, Romney leads with 32% of the vote, followed by McCain and Giuliani with 19% each and Huckabee trailing far behind with 9%. But, as CNN Polling Director Keating Holland told reporters, “this race is not over by a long shot” because a “whopping 55% of GOP voters say they are still trying to make up their minds.”

IT’S THE ECONOMY, STUPID (AGAIN?): The slogan that Bill Clinton used in 1992 may well be dusted off by some candidates again, a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll indicated. For the first time, the survey showed that the economy has surpassed Iraq as one of the two top issues voters are concerned about. Despite a modern low in unemployment, the poll showed that, among all Americans, 44% now say the economy is one of the top issues in their vote for President and only 28% say the feel the economy is in good shape.

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