Capital Briefs: March 31-April 4

HAGEL WON’T SAY HOW HE’LL VOTE: Encountering Sen. Chuck Hagel (R.-Neb.) and wife Lilibeth at Reagan National Airport last week, Human Events Political Editor John Gizzi mentioned to the senator an item in “Capital Briefs” March 10 in which we reported that Hagel told CNN’s John King “Chuck Hagel is out of the mix [for ’08”],” and asked the senator whether that meant he had not yet endorsed McCain for President. “You heard right,” Hagel told Gizzi. “John [McCain] and I have some serious disagreements on foreign policy.” When Gizzi asked him if he was referring to their very public difference of opinion on Iraq, Hagel said: “It’s not just Iraq. It’s about the direction of where U.S. foreign policy is going over the next few years.” The Nebraskan, who is retiring from the Senate this year, went further when he appeared on ABC’s “This Week” a few days later and told interviewer George Stephanopoulos that “we’re living through an historic reorientation of politics” in which the Democrats are “either going to have an African-American man or a woman” nominated for President. As for his own party, Hagel noted that McCain would be “the oldest person we would ever elect to the presidency.” Joshed by Stephanopoulos that McCain may not welcome his pointing that out, Hagel replied: “I’m just saying John’s situation is, I think, just again, very indicative of where we are in politics today.” As he did with Gizzi, Hagel indicated to Stephanopoulos that he had not yet endorsed McCain. “I’ve obviously got some differences with John on the Iraq War,” he said, “That’s no secret.” Insisting that “doesn’t put me in Obama’s or Clinton’s camp,” Hagel nonetheless signaled that he agreed with the Democratic hopefuls that the U.S. needs a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq. “Well, I think we need a clear plan,” he said, “and, yes, withdrawal. We’re going to have to start working our way out of this.” As to whether the plans for withdrawal by Obama and Clinton are responsible, Hagel would only say: “I haven’t looked at their plans. I haven’t.” When Stephanopoulos brought up speculation about Vietnam veteran Hagel as a secretary of Defense in an Obama Administration, the senator said: “I’m a long way from that. First of all, we don’t know who the next President’s going to be. I don’t expect to be in government next year.”

HERE THEY STAND (FOR NOW): With less than a month to go before the critical Democratic primary in Pennsylvania April 22, the latest Gallup Poll among Democrats nationwide shows a near-tie in presidential favorites: Barack Obama is favored by 47% of Democrats and Hillary Clinton by 45%. The attacks flying between the two Democratic hopefuls appear to have taken their toll, as a just-finished Rasmussen Poll shows. Among all voters nationwide, John McCain defeats Obama 50% to 41% and Clinton 48% to 43%. An impressive 55% of voters nationally view the certain Republican nominee favorably, and 42% view McCain unfavorably. For Obama, the numbers are 46% favorable and 52% unfavorable and Clinton 45% favorable and 52% unfavorable. But Rasmussen also showed that an overwhelming 81% of voters nationwide say the economy is “very important” as an electoral issue and that 49% trust the Democrats more than the Republicans on the issue, compared to only 38% who trust the Republicans more.

H.E. CALLED REYNOLDS RIGHT: In “Capital Briefs” February 25, we reported on the ongoing auditing scandal at the National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) and the toll it has taken on GOP lawmakers. We also noted that “rumors were brewing that the next Republican retiree from Congress would be Rep. Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), who chaired the NRCC during the ’06 cycle when much of the misreporting of funds occurred. Reynolds spokesman L.D Platt called to dismiss the rumor as “ridiculous” and “superlobbyist” Dan Mattoon, a close friend of Reynolds, also reached us to say that, as far as he knew, the 57-year-old Reynolds was running again. Two days before Easter, Reynolds announced that he was retiring from Congress after 10 years.

WHY KILBERG FOR CONVENTION? After a week in the Middle East flanked by Senators Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (Independent Democrat-Conn.), John McCain embraced another notable who annoys conservatives. Bobbie Kilberg, who served as a White House staffer under Gerald Ford and the elder Bush and has a long history of animosity toward conservatives, was tapped by the McCain campaign to oversee the Republican National Convention in St. Paul this September. One of the early members of the militantly leftist National Women’s Political Caucus (NWPC) founded by Ms. magazine’s Gloria Steinem, Kilberg championed an unsuccessful movement in 1975 to introduce racial and gender quotas into the selection of delegates to Republican National Conventions along the lines of those George McGovern got Democrats to adopt in the early 1970s. Kilberg later insisted she left the NWPC in 1974 because she felt it was becoming too leftist, but the group listed her on its letterhead as late as 1980. Kilberg also unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor of Virginia in 1993, but lost to conservative Michael Farris. Recalling how Farris became the only Republican to lose statewide office that year, many of his backers insist that Kilberg’s attacks on his strong pro-life stand and his background in the homeschool movement helped cause his defeat.

WILD AT GPO: Having netted a record “profit” of $100 million over the past 16 months, the government’s main printing agency went on a wild spending spree. According to the Washington Times’ Bill Gertz, the Government Printing Office has given bonuses as high as $13,000 to its top managers, sent employees on trips to Paris and Las Vegas, and paid for official photos of Public Printer Robert C. Tapella at his desk and his swearing-in ceremony that cost close to $10,000. Gary Somerset, spokesman for the monopoly-based GPO, told Gertz that the bonuses are part of a three-year-old plan for “goal-based performance” that is modeled after private-sector businesses. Somerset also insisted all travel was above-board and authorized under government regulation. But Bush Administration officials as well as congressional investigators are concerned about the spending and beginning to raise questions about the oversight of GPO, according to Gertz.

DEMS’ VEEPSTAKES: After sounding out a group of unnamed “journalists and politicos” about their picks for Vice President on the Democratic ticket, the leftist American Prospect magazine last week revealed that “the two names our mentioners mentioned most frequently were [Virginia Sen.] Jim Webb (could bring Virginia and white working-class males and provide some national security experience on either a Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama ticket) and [Delaware Sen.] Joe Biden (provides foreign-policy bona fides and age to Obama’s youth).” According to American Prospect Editor Harold Meyerson, the names of two female governors—Kathleen Sebelius of Kansas and Janet Napolitano of Arizona—also “came up as running mates for Obama, not Clinton.”