Justice Gonzalez?

Robert Novak

7/7/2001 12:00:00 AM - Robert Novak
WASHINGTON -- President Bush's aides are telling worried conservatives that moderate White House counsel Alberto Gonzales will not be Bush's first or second selection for the Supreme Court, though he may end up there after two new justices have been seated. Gonzales, who resigned from the Texas Supreme Court to come to Washington, has been widely reported as Bush's likely first high court nomination. He has no hard conservative views sure to ignite a confirmation battle, and Democratic senators would be loathe to reject the first Hispanic named to the U.S. Supreme Court. He served as then-Gov. Bush's chief counsel in Texas before being appointed to the state court. Privately, Gonzales won't hint where he stands on contentious issues. That might ease his confirmation, but it plants fears among conservatives that Gonzales will be "another Souter." As the senior George Bush's first Supreme Court nomination, Souter shrouded his views during confirmation, but he has become the Supreme Court's most consistent liberal. RUMSFELD VS. GOP House Speaker Dennis Hastert has privately complained to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that he ignores the political impact of his decisions on defense-heavy congressional districts, notably cutting back B-1 bombers. Republican members of Congress from Georgia and Kansas, states where the big bomber is manufactured, were outraged that they were kept in the dark about B-1 plans. Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, a prominent Senate Armed Services member, assailed Rumsfeld during a recent committee hearing. Rep. Saxby Chambliss, a possible Senate candidate in Georgia next year, also has attacked the secretary. Multimillionaire industrialist Rumsfeld has wide political experience (including service as a congressman from Illinois). In his second hitch at the Pentagon, however, he has kept a low profile and maintained strict secrecy. SOFT MONEY SPLURGE As the House considers banning unrestricted political contributions, Democratic congressmen are pleading with Washington lobbyists for huge soft-money donations for a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fund-raiser in Bel Air, Calif., on July 22. Reps. Richard Gephardt of Missouri and Charles Rangel of New York lead the way pumping the phones. They are asking lobbyists to put down their corporate clients for a $50,000 contribution each. If turned down, the congressman says he will list the company for $25,000. If Democrats win the 2002 elections, Gephardt would become speaker and Rangel chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. The July 22 "dinner and musical tribute" (with performances by Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross) will be held at the Bel Air mansion of Motown Records founder-owner Berry Gordy. DEMOCRATIC SHUFFLE Rank-and-file House Democrats are anxious for Rep. David Bonior, a lame duck since his announced candidacy for governor of Michigan, to resign as party whip and open the way for a new leadership team. Bonior, whose congressional district will be carved up in the decennial reapportionment, is running a poor third for the governor's nomination and must devote his attention to Michigan. That promotes restiveness in the House Democratic caucus about the current party leadership. Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California leads Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland in their long-running contest for whip, second-ranking party post. The only question is whether she already has locked up a majority of House Democrats. NOMINEE IN TROUBLE While many of President Bush's nominees are facing trouble from liberal Democratic senators, conservatives are attacking the possible choice of career foreign service officer James Dobbins as ambassador to the Philippines. Dobbins, as the Clinton administration's coordinator for Haiti, is accused of hiding the role of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's death squads in the 1995 murder of lawyer Michelle Durocher Bertin. Rep. Benjamin Gilman of New York informed the State Department that year that Dobbins had deceived the House International Relations Committee, then headed by Gilman. Nevertheless, Dobbins appears on track for the Manila post, thanks to support from Secretary of State Colin Powell. Dobbins was at the State Department working with Powell when he was President Ronald Reagan's national security adviser.