Inside Report: Leading the GOP

Robert Novak

12/23/2000 12:00:00 AM - Robert Novak
George W. Bush's decision to name Virginia Gov. James Gilmore as the Republican Party's general chairman reflects the reality that Karl Rove, the president-elect's longtime political lieutenant, really will be running the GOP. The plans were for Gilmore to stay in Richmond to fill out the last year of a single non-repeatable term as governor (while also leading the Republican Governors Association). Republican National Committee (RNC) headquarters would be run by a middle-level functionary with the title of RNC chairman. But Rove, operating out of the White House as a functionary, will really be in charge. He could have followed in the footsteps of his mentor, Lee Atwater, and become RNC chairman, but preferred to be close to the Oval Office. WHOSE CABINET IS IT? WASHINGTON -- The concern about not enough conservatives being named to the new Cabinet is shared by George W. Bush, according to the president-elect's closest aides. Eager to construct a diverse administration, Bush has concentrated on naming women, minority group members, abortion rights advocates and moderates to his Cabinet. When conservatives complained, they were told by Bush aides that he felt the same. That led to the inevitable question: Whose Cabinet is it? A footnote: The Bush choice most unpopular with conservatives: New Jersey Gov. Christine Whitman to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Bush aides contend that Whitman worked hard for Bush's election, especially in the Florida recount, and that her pro-choice views on abortion won't matter at the EPA. But environmental conservatives are not happy with her either. VP ON THE HILL Dick Cheney, showing his interest in Congress, will be the first vice president since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1961-63 to spend much time on Capitol Hill. Former Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson seldom worked out of his token downtown office and operated entirely from his former Senate suite. Since Johnson, vice presidents have used their space just off the Senate mainly for ceremonial purposes. In contrast, Cheney plans to staff both that office and a special one on the House side of the Capitol promised him by Speaker Dennis Hastert. However, the vice president-elect also plans to play a policy role at the White House -- especially as a member of the National Security Council. That means he frequently will be shuttling up and down Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House. LEADING THE DEMOCRATS Washington lobbyist Terry McAuliffe won the national chairmanship of the Democratic Party at the insistence of "the Clintons" against the wishes of other party leaders, including Al Gore. Their preference was Joe Andrew, the former Indiana state chairman who has won universal praise across the country as Democratic National Committee (DNC) chairman. Andrew was supposed to handle day-to-day affairs at party headquarters while General Chairman Edward Rendell, the former mayor of Philadelphia, was the voice of the party. But Democratic regulars across the country generally felt Andrew was a more dependable spokesman than the flamboyant Rendell. Both President Clinton and Sen.-elect Hillary Clinton preferred McAuliffe, and Gore did not press the issue. McAuliffe was a prodigious fund-raiser for Bill Clinton's campaigns, and personally provided the initial financing for the Clintons' home in Chappaqua, N.Y. ZELL ON THE SPOT Republican senators plan to put freshman Democratic Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia on the spot to test his 2000 election as a moderate Democrat in what has become a conservative Republican state. Former Gov. Miller was appointed to the Senate upon the death of conservative Republican Sen. Paul Coverdell and campaigned for his seat with the promise that he would vote much as Coverdell had. Both Miller and George W. Bush carried Georgia easily. A footnote: President-elect Bush has signaled that he wants to use Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana as his Democratic point man in the Senate. But many Republican senators say they cannot rely on Breaux to defy the Democratic leadership.