Capital Briefs: May 19-23

BARRING A McCAIN WIN? Much as national Democrats worry about an independent candidacy for President by Ralph Nader, many supporters of John McCain, including campaign manager Rick Davis, have begun to voice concerns about the possible votes Bob Barr could siphon off from their man if the former Republican House member from Georgia wins the presidential nomination of the Libertarian Party at its national convention over Memorial Day weekend. “What Davis ought to be concerned about is why he should be so concerned about me,” Barr told HUMAN EVENTS Political Editor John Gizzi last week, shortly after making his candidacy official. “I’m kind of surprised he’s already making excuses for losing.” Barr, best known as a Clinton impeachment manager in 1998-99 and as a vociferous opponent of the Patriot Act, went on tell Gizzi that people who back him “are not inclined to vote for John McCain”—although Davis and others could make the case that the presence of Barr on the ballot would remove the option of conservatives voting for the Arizonan as “the lesser of two evils.” The former congressman said he would campaign on a platform of “significant tax reduction, shrinking our financial and military footprints in Iraq, smaller government, and stronger border security”—although he added, “I’m not in favor of the fence.” Barr’s campaign manager is Russ Vearney, the top political operative in Ross Perot’s independent bid for President in 1992. The Georgian’s best-known opponent for the Libertarian nomination is former Alaska Sen. and ’08 Democratic presidential hopeful Mike Gravel.

MCCARTHY TO CHAIR PLATFORM: The Platform Committee of the Republican National Convention this year will be chaired by sophomore Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R.-Calif.). Since the convention committee chairmanship alternates between House members, senators, and governors and this was the House’s turn, House GOP Leader John Boehner (Ohio) last week tapped first-termer McCarthy for the critical slot. A protégé of former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R.-Calif.) and his successor in Congress, Thomas was no favorite of conservatives, but McCarthy is considered more conservative–and much friendlier—than his mentor. The full-time operating head of the committee will be attorney Steve Duffield, a former staffer to Sen. Jon Kyl (R.-Ariz.).  Duffield’s work on judicial nominations for the Arizonan won high marks from conservatives.

INDEPENDENTS, CONGRESS, BUSH, AND GAS TAX: Barack Obama and John McCain almost evenly divide the votes of independents nationwide. According to a just-completed Gallup Poll, Obama edges McCain among all independents by 44% to 42%. The same survey showed that approval of Congress among voters nationally is down at 20%, only the fourth time it has hit that low in 34 years, according to Gallup. The poll also finds disapproval of Congress at 76%, just shy of the all-time high of 78% disapproval Gallup recorded in March, 1992, as the scandal surrounding the House Bank hit the headlines. President Bush has approval ratings of only 29%, according to Gallup, and that is largely because Republicans nationally still support him in big (66%) numbers. Gallup’s latest numbers also show voter approve of a summer suspension of the gasoline tax by 54% to 42%.

BATTLING LAW OF SEA: Although the White House repeatedly voices support for Senate ratification of the Law of the Sea Treaty, conservatives in the Senate are still vigorously collecting enough signatures from opponents on a letter to put a two-thirds vote to ratify the measure out of the question. Sen. David Vitter (R.-La.), one of the leading Senate foes of LOST, told HUMAN EVENTS last week that “we’ve collected 26 signatures [of senators] and need eight more” to thwart possible ratification. Vitter also told us that, while he has not spoken to the President about the treaty and the reservations of conservatives about its impact on U.S. sovereignty, “I have talked to other administration officials—in the Navy, and at the State Department. And I tell them all the same thing—that if it’s pursued, this issue of the treaty will divide Republicans in Congress as much as immigration did two years ago.”

LOOK WHO’S AGAINST FARM BILL: With House passage of a Farm Bill with massive subsidies by a vote of 318-to-106 last week and the President’s repeated vows to veto if the Senate also approves it, at least two liberal Democrats in the House have joined with conservatives to say they will round up votes to sustain the anticipated veto. In a surprise move, Democratic Representatives Ron Kind (Wis.) and Earl Blumenauer (Ore.) joined with conservative Rep. Jeff Flake (R.-Ariz.) to say the price tag on the version of the bill likely to be voted on by Congress was too high and they would support sustaining the likely veto. “When $2.5 million annual income still qualifies for subsidies,” Blumenauer spokesman Erin Allweiss told HUMAN EVENTS, “that’s not what my boss meant by reform.”

WHAT’S WITH CLEMENT? Conservatives have usually given high marks to U.S. Solicitor General Paul Clement. But just before his announced retirement last week, the Bush Administration’s top lawyer left admirers on the right a bit surprised and disappointed. Clement filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court case, Locke v. Karass, that will determine how much non-union members must pay to a union where they do not enjoy the fundamental protection of a right to work law. The National Right to Work Foundation has argued, along with most conservatives, that the U.S. Constitution does not permit the forced extraction of dues or fees for any expenses not directly tied to representational activity in the employees’ actual bargaining unit. “But Mr. Clement apparently has no issue with forcing Maine state workers to pay for union activism anywhere in the world, so long as the union satisfies a vague and weak two-part test,” according to Right to Work’s Stefan Gleason. “In practical terms, Clement’s standard would further empower union bosses to charge workers for almost anything under the sun, unless a worker gets a lawyer and forces them to prove that the forced fees are being used for narrowly prescribed purposes.” Noting that Clement has argued before for compulsory unionism, Gleason concluded: “With “friends“ like Bush’s solicitor general, who needs enemies?”

COUP AGAINST COLE? In the wake of the Democratic capture of a Republican House district in Mississippi last week (see cover story), talk has begun among some House GOPers about demanding the resignation of Rep. Tom Cole (R.-Okla.) as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee or even attempting to dislodge him from the campaign arm by a vote within the House GOP Conference. “People generally like Tom, but they are mad that he has not done anything to pick up the NRCC fund-raising,” one Republican House member who requested anonymity told HUMAN EVENTS. Among potential replacements: Jeb Hensarling (Tex.), Tom Price (Ga.) and Pete Sessions (Tex.)