Inside Report: Getting Lott?

Robert Novak

11/11/2000 12:00:00 AM - Robert Novak
Even before the election returns were in Tuesday, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska was sending signals that he might challenge Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi as Senate Republican leader. After the disappointing Republican performance in the 1998 election, first-termer Hagel considered running against Lott but instead opposed Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky as campaign chairman (and was badly beaten). Since then, dissatisfaction with Lott among his Senate colleagues has grown, and 2000 proved another poor election for GOP senators. Beating Lott for the leadership is still a long shot. A better bet for Lott's Senate critics may be to embarrass him by defeating his close ally, Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, for election to the third-ranking party post of conference chairman. Santorum's likely opponent is Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri. LABOR FIGHTS BACK WASHINGTON -- AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, furious over Democratic failure to recapture control of Congress, has privately authorized a blank check for any efforts to turn the presidential election to Al Gore. Labor unions do not want the challenge limited to Florida but want broad efforts to question the apparent narrow Republican victory in New Hampshire and possibly Oregon. Trial lawyers are also mobilizing for Vice President Gore. A footnote: Well-placed Republicans, including some of Texas Gov. George W. Bush's advisers, complain that the Republican National Committee has been too passive since the election. They want challenges of narrow Gore wins in New Mexico, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota. NO MISSOURI CHALLENGE Defeated Sen. John Ashcroft of Missouri has suppressed any attempts by the Republican-controlled Senate to deny Democrat Jean Carnahan a seat in the Senate as high-level Republicans had planned. Ashcroft flatly rejected plans by prominent party leaders to nullify his defeat by the late Gov. Mel Carnahan on grounds of the federal constitution's requirement that a U.S. senator must be an "inhabitant" of his state at the time of his election. Senate GOP leaders are willing to defer to Ashcroft's decision. Missouri's other Republican senator, Kit Bond, has questioned Mrs. Carnahan's right to hold the seat, and strongly urged an investigation of alleged voting abuses in St. Louis. BUSH'S CHIEF OF STAFF The selection by George W. Bush of veteran Republican political operative Andrew Card as White House chief of staff is read by political insiders as an indication of the influence that Dick Cheney would wield as vice president. Card, currently on leave as head of General Motors government relations to work in the Bush campaign, has an impressive resume that includes service as Secretary of Transportation and White House deputy chief of staff. But he is not a first-rank political figure at the level of such past top presidential assistants as Sherman Adams, James Baker and John Sununu. Cheney, who was President Gerald Ford's chief of staff, could exert extraordinary influence over all policy matters in a Bush administration. He would be the first vice-presidential nominee to be named as his campaign's transition chief. UNHAPPY LOBBYISTS The big disappointment of high-priced Washington lobbyists on K Street was the defeat of Sen. William Roth of Delaware as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee while the Republicans were keeping control of the Senate. That means Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa will take over as chairman of the committee that deals with taxation, Social Security, Medicare and international trade. While Roth was a conciliatory figure, Grassley is a sometimes ornery prairie populist. If Roth was going to be beaten, the special-interest lobbyists would have much preferred the Democrats to take over with Sen. Max Baucus of Montana as chairman. A footnote: K Street long had assumed that Democrats would win back the House, making New York's Rep. Charles Rangel chairman of the Ways and Means Committee (the House counterpart of the Finance Committee). The lobbyists had contributed heavily to Rangel to prepare for that eventuality. Instead, a Republican -- Rep. Philip Crane of Illinois or Rep. Bill Thomas of California -- will be chairman.