Robert Novak
WASHINGTON -- Senior Bush administration officials are grumbling that Virginia Gov. James Gilmore's absentee chairmanship of the Republican National Committee has been a failure and suggest he should either be subordinated or replaced. With Gilmore's term as governor extending through 2001, presidential aide Karl Rove has been the de facto national chairman. Gilmore was put down by the White House when he tried to really run the party early this year. Administration officials contend that this arrangement exposes Rove, President Bush's chief adviser, to partisan attack. Since it would be embarrassing to sack Gilmore, critics suggest kicking him upstairs to become "general" chairman. During much of Ronald Reagan's presidency, then Sen. Paul Laxalt of Nevada was the Republican general chairman, while fellow Nevadan Frank Fahrenkopf was the day-to-day national chairman. BIG DEFENSE BUCKS Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was told Wednesday by congressional budget chiefs that the short-term surplus is not nearly big enough to satisfy his desires for higher military spending. In a breakfast meeting at the Pentagon, Rumsfeld informed bipartisan leaders of the Senate and House budget committees that he is about to ask for President Bush's approval of Fiscal Year 2002 spending. He then asked how much extra money will be available for defense that year. The answer: around $25-$30 billion. Rumsfeld shook his head sadly and suggested that will not be nearly enough (while not specifying how much he wants). Congress is unlikely to authorize deficit spending to finance the Pentagon and will be reluctant to shift money from non-defense spending. POPULAR MCCAIN Private Republican polls show that Sen. John McCain, while losing some support from Republicans back in his home state of Arizona, has more than compensated with increased backing from Democrats and independents. As a result, McCain is easily Arizona's most popular political figure. Nobody takes seriously a recall drive to remove him from office launched by conservatives. A footnote: At a recent weekly Senate Republican caucus, Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas and McCain engaged in vigorous debate over the Democratic HMO reform bill that McCain co-sponsors. McCain was a leading supporter of Gramm's 1996 presidential campaign, but the two stopped speaking after Gramm campaigned for fellow Texan George W. Bush against McCain last year. NEW JERSEY SURPRISE New Jersey Republican insiders were putting out the word that the campaign for governor by the party establishment's candidate, former Rep. Bob Franks, was in a "tailspin" even before a Quinnipiac University poll Wednesday showed him well behind Jersey City Mayor Bert Schundler for the party nomination. The response by Franks strategists has been to step up attacks on Schundler. Less than three weeks ago, polls showed that Franks enjoyed a commanding lead in the June 26 primary. Nobody as conservative as Schundler has been elected to major statewide office in New Jersey in more than half a century. But New Jersey GOP insiders suspect that as a reformer and an outsider, Schundler would be a stronger candidate in November than Franks. Woodbridge Mayor Jim McGreevey, unopposed for the Democratic nomination, is favored no matter whom the Republicans choose. NEW YORK SURPRISE Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, who usually follows the straight Democratic line, has written a constituent an apparent endorsement of President Bush's faith-based initiative. His staff says, however, he has not made up his mind. The Rev. Dr. Ruben Diaz of the New York Hispanic Clergy Organization turned up at Schumer's office with dozens of his parishioners the week before Memorial Day. The senator was not present, so Diaz left a memorandum boosting the Bush plan. Schumer wrote Diaz May 30, asserting that he had read the memo and adding: "I agree with you that faith-based groups, which provide invaluable services to the most vulnerable in our society, ought to be eligible for federal funding." Noting that he had observed the social "effectiveness" of churches "from an early age," the senator described Bush's proposal as "innovative."

Robert Novak

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

 
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