Capital Briefs: April 14-18

Arriving late at a press breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor April 3rd, House Republican Leader John Boehner (Oh.) was joshed by reporters for being “the million dollar man.” They were referring to the judgment the day before that resolved the Ohio lawmaker’s decade-long legal feud with Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) over an illegally taped phone call of Boehner’s. U.S. Distict Court Chief Judge Thomas Hogan ordered McDermott to pay Boehner $1.05 million in attorneys’ fees and costs, along with about $40,000 in interest. McDermott, who owes nearly $600,000 in fees to his own lawyers, was also ordered to pay more than $60,000 in fines and damages. He said he would not appeal Hogan’s decision and, of his ten-year-long battle with Boehner, said simply “It’s dead.”

The feud began when McDermott gave reporters access to a tape made by a Florida couple of a 1996 conference call between then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), Boehner, and other House GOP leaders regarding the Georgian’s legal troubles. Two newspapers published articles based on the call, which the couple intercepted from the cellphone of the vacationing Boehner. The Ohioan retaliated with a lawsuit and a federal court found that McDermott acted improperly in giving reporters access to the tape, and in a 5-to-4 decision last May upholding that ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals said that McDermott’s offense was particularly egregious since he was a Member of the House Ethics Committee at the time.

“And I offered several times to settle this,” Boehner pointed out, explaining that there were three simple things McDermott would have to do: 1) say he was wrong 2) apologize and 3) donate $10,000 to a charity of Boehner’s choice. Because the Democrat could not agree, added Boehner, “now he’ll have to pay.”

When one reporter asked if there have been “any handshakes” with McDermott following the final resolution of their long clash, Boehner simply replied: “I haven’t seen him.”

With two weeks to go before the very important Pennsylvania primary, a just-completed Quinnipiac University poll among likely Democratic voters shows Hillary Clinton leading Barack Obama by 50% to 41% statewide.  Among likely Democratic voters nationwide, however, the most recent Gallup Poll shows Obama leading Clinton 52% to 43%. Gallup also found that among American voters in general, 85% believe the economy is getting worse.

Another Gallup Poll completed last week showed that Republican voters really have no definite favorite for a running mate with John McCain. The two runners-up to McCain in the presidential nomination fight get the most support for the vice presidential slot from GOP voters nationwide, with Mike Huckabee topping the field with 18% and Mitt Romney second with 15%.  Condoleezza Rice, who insists she is not interested, is third with 8%, followed by Fred Thompson, who recently signed with the William Morris Agency to restart his show business career, at 4%. All other prospective running mates for the Arizonan got either 2% or 1% from Republican voters, including 1% for Democrats Joe Lieberman and Bill Richardson (who recently endorsed Barack Obama). 

Jimmy Carter gave one of his “near endorsements” again last week, when he strongly hinted that he favored Barack Obama for the Democratic Presidential nomination. On a trip to Nigeria, Carter told the newspaper The Day that his home state of Georgia and his hometown of Plains backed Obama in the state’s February 5 primary. Carter, who is one of the nearly 800 party insiders who are “superdelegates,” added that his four children, their spouses and his grandchildren support Obama. “As a superdelegate, I would not disclose who I am rooting for,” said Carter, “but I leave it to you to make that guess.” Carter’s blessing of the Illinois senator is similar to his “sort of” embrace of Howard Dean for President in ’04. Carter appeared with Dean on the eve of the Iowa caucuses, said many kind words about the Vermont man, but held back from the word “endorse.”

Under recent fire in editorials, commentaries, and cartoons for the low interest rates and relaxed regulation policy while he was Federal Reserve Board chairman that critics now charge helped cause the current sub-prime mortgage crisis, Alan Greenspan began to shoot back last week. In an op-ed piece in the Financial Times titled “The Fed is Blameless on the Property Bubble,” Greenspan answered critics who say that greater regulation would have prevented the bursting of the housing bubble: “We have tried regulation ranging from heavy to central planning. Nothing meaningfully worked. Do we wish to retest the evidence?” Writing in his signature Fedspeak, the 82-year-old Greenspan went on to observe that “Regulators, to be effective, have to be forward looking to anticipate the next financial malfunction. This has not proved feasible. Regulators confronting real-time uncertainty have rarely, if ever, been able to achieve the level of future clarity required to act pre-emptively.” That same week, Greenspan was the subject of a lengthy front-page profile in the Wall Street Journal in which he maintained that “the [wrong] evaluation of this period—and how to avoid the problems associated with it—will give you the wrong answers and the wrong policies.”

LOOK WHO’S BEHIND ATTACK ON ID LAW: It is already a disappointment to many conservatives who are looking for reasons to support John McCain that the legal operative behind the court assault on Indiana’s law requiring a driver’s license for identification to vote is the counsel to McCain’s presidential campaign. Trevor Potter, former Federal Election Commissioner and head of the Campaign Legal Center (whose publication likens the Indiana law to the poll tax and other roadblocks to minorities voting), is counsel to the McCain presidential bid and was also counsel to the Arizonan’s 2000 effort. But blood pressure on the right has really shot up over the news of who’s assisting Potter in this effort: Gerry Herbert, former general counsel to IMPAC 2000, the redistricting project of the Democratic National Committee and an organization responsible for formulating, coordinating, and implementing Democratic congressional redistricting efforts. Herbert has a long record of leading court battles for Democrats, including representing congressional Democrats in the Texas redistricting case and the Texas Democratic Party in its suit against the law intended to stop fraud in absentee balloting. Most recently, Herbert, onetime staff attorney for the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, has been leading the charge against confirmation of Bush nominee Hans von Spakovsky to the Federal Election Commission.