Robert Novak
WASHINGTON -- Even before the loss of majority status was fully realized by Republican senators after the defection of Sen. James Jeffords, they were pointing fingers at Republican Leader Trent Lott as being responsible for the calamity. Jeffords himself, in meetings Wednesday with GOP senators closest to him, made clear his complaint was with Lott rather than the White House. The root cause of his defection, Jeffords indicated, was his inability to get the party leadership behind his pet project of more educational funds for the disabled. Moderate Republican senators have complained to Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma, who is the deputy party leader but is not close to Lott. If a move is made to displace Lott as minority leader, the current favorite to replace him is not Nickles but Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho. Craig, chairman of the Republican Policy Committee (fourth-ranking member of the Senate GOP hierarchy), is even more conservative than Lott but on better terms with the moderates. NO LIFE FROM BUSH About 60 wealthy, conservative Catholics were delighted that they were given nearly a half-hour of George W. Bush's time at the White House Wednesday, but were disappointed that the president expressed no anti-abortion sentiments. Thomas Monaghan, the billionaire philanthropist from Michigan, noted to a friend his surprise that Bush in his impromptu remarks had not raised the pro-life issue. In contrast, in scripted remarks March 22 dedicating the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center at Catholic University, Bush praised the Pope's anti-abortion position. A footnote: The pro-life movement is most disappointed with the early record of Tommy Thompson as secretary of Health and Human Services. Although Thompson was regarded as anti-abortion as governor of Wisconsin, he has been seen by pro-lifers as hostile in his decisions as a Cabinet member. PENTAGON CIVIL WAR Conflict between Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and holdover generals from the Clinton administration came to light when Republican Sen. Bob Smith of New Hampshire temporarily blocked Senate confirmation of Air Force Brig. Gen. Michael Hamel's promotion. Smith's action broke with the long-standing Republican practice of not interfering with military promotions. He was enraged that Hamel, director of Air Force space operations, is obstructing progress on missile defense. Hamel served as a military assistant to Vice President Al Gore and worked closely with Gore national security adviser Leon Fuerth, a longtime foe of missile defense. Hamel is only one of several generals who are confronting Rumsfeld on missile defense and other issues. ASHCROFT UNDER WRAPS John Ashcroft, who was confirmed as attorney general after fierce Democratic opposition, has been directed by President Bush not to address partisan Republican audiences. Ashcroft is probably the Cabinet's best stump-speaker, and he tends to give political stump speeches at non-political events. But Bush wants his attorney general to be non-partisan, and most recently ruled out a speaking date with the Republican Party's GOPAC fund-raising organization. A footnote: Career lawyers in the Justice Department have been complaining to reporters about Ashcroft beginning his day with a prayer. The attorney general meets the criticism head-on. He contends that what he does is no different than the Senate and House daily prayers in Congress -- except that his praying is not done on government time. CAMPAIGNING IN GEORGIA Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia, a Democrat with a largely liberal voting record seeking re-election next year in a state easily carried by George W. Bush, is trying to identify with the Republican president by mailing a glossy newsletter to constituents and financial contributors. A color photo shows Cleland shaking hands with the president, with this caption: "Sen. Max Cleland became the first official to welcome President George W. Bush to Georgia when the new president flew to Ft. Stewart on his first official visit to the state." Cleland's course in Georgia is now more difficult because the state's other Democratic senator, Zell Miller, has become such a consistent supporter of Bush's legislative proposals.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.
 

 
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