Capital Briefs November 24

N.Y. TIMES BOOSTS COLUMBIAN TRADE: With President-Elect Obama, the Democratic congressional leadership, and Big Labor leaders all opposed to it, the Columbian Free-Trade Agreement got an unexpected boost last week. In a hard-hitting editorial, the New York Times called for passage of the agreement President Bush signed two years ago but which the Democratic majority has steadfastly refused to approve. Calling the pact “good for America’s economy and workers,” the Times warned that “[r]ejecting it would send a dismal message to allies the world over that the United States is an unreliable partner and, despite all that it preaches, does not really believe in opening markets to trade.” The agreement “would benefit American companies” and “strengthen bonds with an important ally in a volatile corner of South America,” editorialized the Times. Democrats who oppose the free-trade agreement on the grounds of human rights abuses by Columbian President Alvaro Uribe, according to the Times, “are ignoring undeniable improvements. Violence has abated considerably during the Uribe administration as it has taken on the left-wing guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia [FARC].”

WHITE HOUSE MUM ON McCAIN-FEINGOLD SUIT: Two weeks after Republican National Chairman Mike Duncan filed a surprise lawsuit to overturn the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill, the White House is holding back on whether it supports the action. Noting that the President signed the 2001 measure that limits how certain funds are used by candidates and major parties, HUMAN EVENTS Political Editor John Gizzi asked White House Press Secretary Dana Perino whether the President had an opinion on the suit filed by RNC Chairman Duncan. “No,” replied Perino, “We’re going to let the RNC go forward with their lawsuit and not comment on it.” Duncan also signaled last week he would try to retain the chairmanship at the RNC’s winter meeting in January. So far, there are five other candidates vying for the job.

U.S. SPLIT ON AUTO BAILOUT: That’s what a just-completed Gallup/ USA Today poll concluded. According to the survey, 47 percent of voters nationwide want tax dollars used to bail out the “Big Three” auto manufacturers, but 49 percent are opposed to such a bailout. There are also sharp differences along party lines, with Gallup showing 60 percent of registered Democrats favoring a bailout and 65 percent of Republicans opposed to one. Among independents, the poll found them split 53 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed.

HUCK AND MITT IN ’12? Two of the runners-up to John McCain in the 2008 Republican nomination process sent out signals last week that they would try again in 2012. “I’m not ruling anything out for the future, but I’m not making any specific plans,” Mike Huckabee told a press breakfast in Washington to promote his ’08 campaign memoir Do the Right Thing. The former Arkansas governor, whose book tour will take him to Iowa later this month, now hosts a television talk show on Fox News, does commentary on ABC Radio, and is a hot figure on the lecture circuit. Mitt Romney also raised eyebrows November 19 with a hard-hitting op-ed in the New York Times denouncing the proposed bailout for the auto industry and saying “[w]ithout that bailout, Detroit will need to drastically restructure itself.” The former Massachusetts governor recalled how his father George took over American Motors in 1954 as banks “were threatening to deal it a death blow” and “I watched Dad work to turn the company around — and years later at business school, they were still talking about it.” Also, Romney’s political action committee donated $5,000 to the recount fund for Republican Sen. Norm Coleman (Minn.), who last week was still clinging to a 174-vote lead over Democrat Al Franken as all 2.9 million votes in their race were tallied and the recount began.

DINGELL DEPOSED: The lone committee chairman in the House to be denied another two years wielding the gavel was Rep. John Dingell (D.-Mich.). By a 137-to-122 vote among House Democrats, Dingell, the longest-serving U.S. House member in history (53 years), lost the chairmanship of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee to vociferously anti-business Rep. Henry Waxman (D.-Calif.). Although both Democrats have liberal voting records, Dearborn-area lawmaker Dingell had sponsored emissions legislation far less punitive toward the auto industry than desired by leftist environmentalists. Nancy Pelosi insisted she was neutral in the Dingell-Waxman contest, but many of the speaker’s allies backed her fellow Californian Waxman. “The vote weakens the seniority system,” concluded Congress Daily. With this move, House Democrats have continued the pattern begun in 1974 of gradually deposing older and less-liberal committee chairmen in favor of more leftist replacements.