Capital Briefs: March 3-7

LOOKS LIKE A TIGHT ONE: Although it is eight months away, the 2008 Presidential election is, at this time, shaping up as a tight race. According to a just-completed USA Today/Gallup Poll, John McCain is in a statistical dead heat (48% to 47% among likely voters) with Barack Obama. Pitted against Hillary Clinton among the same likely voters, McCain leads by a more comfortable-but-still-close 50% to 46%, according to Gallup.

NO NEW TAX CUTS, SAYS RANGEL AIDE: In no uncertain terms, the right-hand man to House Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D.-N.Y.) said last week that tax cuts are not going to be considered as part of any plan to reform the tax code. “I think everybody in the room is kidding themselves if they think tax reform is going to mean another tax cut,” John Buckley, chief tax counsel to the tax-writing panel, told the Tax Council Policy Institute conference February 21. Rangel has introduced a $1.3 trillion tax code reform plan that would completely repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax, cut the corporate tax rate, and then compensate for the “revenue offsets” through changes in treatment of carried interest and deferred compensation for hedge fund managers. Republicans point out that the Rangel package, which will shortly be trotted out for hearings, does not include an extension of the ’01 and ’03 Bush tax cuts set to expire in 2010.

MUKASEY’S NO TED OLSON: When Michael Mukasey was tapped as U.S. attorney general last summer, several White House correspondents commented that the retired U.S. District Court judge was chosen because he was not a controversial figure such as former Solicitor General Ted Olson—meaning he would be relatively easy to confirm and not make any waves at the Justice Department. All signs are, insiders at Justice tell Human Events, this has proven prophetic. His confirmation was easy, and now, in many cases, these insiders insist, he has deferred to career lawyers in the department over more conservative political appointees. One oft-cited case is that of the Civil Rights Division, one of the most sensitive sections at Justice. With the nomination of Grace Becker as assistant attorney general held up in the Senate, she serves as “acting assistant attorney general.” This makes the No. 2 spot at civil rights, principal deputy assistant attorney general (PDAAG), much more important. But, conservatives complain, Mukasey passed over the politically appointed deputy assistant AGs in civil rights and gave the No. 2 slot to Lisa Krigsten, formerly trial attorney and counsel (a rank below deputy). Mukasey also hired for his own staff Jesse Furman, onetime law clerk for liberal Supreme Court Justice David Souter and a maximum ($2,300 each) donor to the presidential campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

WHO’S MINDING THE MINT? With the position of director of the U.S. Mint vacant because Senate Democrats are holding up the President’s nominee, the “$64,000 question” is what will the Mint officially do with the District of Columbia’s suggestion for a new quarter? The Democrat-controlled district government, which badly wants D.C. voting representation in Congress, had submitted three proposed designs for the district’s 25-cent coin as part of the national program in which coins representing each of the 50 states have been produced. But each of the D.C. coin designs had on one side the message: “Taxation Without Representation” or “No Taxation Without Representation.” Mint rules forbid “controversial subjects” on coins and Mint officials, according to District of Columbia Secretary Stephanie Scott, “do not expect they will approve it.” But the district is not giving up. According to the Washington Post, Scott has sent a memo hoping to change the minds of officials by making the case that the statement on voting rights is an opportunity to “educate the general public.”

DUNCAN TO STAY AT RNC? Although no official statement has been made, sources at the Republican National Committee insisted last week to Human Events Political Editor John Gizzi that John McCain’s campaign will almost certainly ask RNC Chairman Mike Duncan to stay on through the election rather than put someone new at the party helm at the Minneapolis convention. “Go to the bank on it—Mike’s staying,” the RNC operative told Gizzi. While not confirming this, one state GOP chairman who requested anonymity said, “It doesn’t surprise me. McCain can run his campaign separately and not have any disruption at the RNC by leaving Mike there.” The same chairman recalled how, following their nominations for President, both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush left Chairmen Bill Brock and Jim Nicholson, respectively, in place at the RNC through the duration of the campaign. McCain already has his own person at the party headquarters—Communications Director Danny Diaz, who worked for the Arizonan’s presidential campaign until ’07.

TEAM OBAMA: As Barack Obama looms large as the probable Democratic nominee for President, pundits and pols throughout the world are starting to look at who the senator’s foreign policy team would be—and panic is starting to spread, even among Obamaniacs. Robert Malley, former Clinton National Security Council staffer and Arab-Israeli expert, is “the most horrific name on the list” of Obama advisers, according to New Republic Publisher and Obama backer Marty Peretz. Malley has co-authored numerous editorials with former Yassir Arafat advisor Hussein Agha that are critical of Israel, and his father Simon Malley was expelled from France by former President Valery Giscard d’Estaing for his close association with late Palestinian leader Arafat. Susan Rice, Bill Clinton’s assistant secretary of State for African affairs and an oft-mentioned prospect for secretary of State under Obama, advised John Kerry on foreign policy in the ’04 campaign. Her suggestion that he name as negotiators in the Middle East Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker—two Americans most distrusted in Israel—was eventually repudiated by Kerry himself. Harvard Prof. Samantha Power has raised eyebrows in the foreign policy community for advocating a “mammoth protection force” and an “external intervention” to impose a settlement between Israelis and Palestinians. By far the best-known person in the Obama foreign policy line-up is Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor during a time when U.S. standing in the world fell to a modern nadir. Others on “Team Obama” include “Mr. Zbig’s” son Mark Brzezinski (who has written in favor of closer ties with Iran), Anthony Lake, another past Bill Clinton advisor who resigned from the Nixon National Security Council staff to protest the U.S. bombing of Cambodia, and far-left former Rep. Howard Wolpe (D.-Mich.).