Robert Novak
BUSH'S BIG DECISION WASHINGTON -- President Bush is unlikely to make a politically dangerous decision on federal funding of stem cell research until Congress leaves Washington for its summer recess scheduled to begin Aug. 4. A rising number of conservatives are coming out in support of federal funding, following the lead of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson and national poll results. Bush has been told by political advisers that he would lose the vote of church-going Catholics, who are critical to Republican fortunes, if he launches a federal research program. The president has been lectured by advocates of federal funding to forget about politics and make his decision strictly on the basis of science. However, Bush is described by aides as believing this issue is based on ethics, and that will guide his decision. GARY CONDIT'S FRIEND Rep. Nancy Pelosi stunned outsiders when she became the first House member to make an unequivocal statement of confidence in fellow California Democrat Gary Condit, but congressional insiders were not at all surprised. Condit had lined up his colleagues among the centrist Blue Dog Democrats to vote for Pelosi in the coming election for House Democratic Whip, the second-ranking post in the party hierarchy. Without Condit's aggressive intervention, the Blue Dogs might have supported the liberal Pelosi's slightly more moderate opponent, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland. Pelosi's early endorsement of Condit came before he was revealed as carrying on an illicit sexual relationship with missing intern Chandra Levy and withholding information from the police. Pelosi still leads Hoyer by a substantial vote, but her praise for Condit may cause her to lose support from concerned members -- including Blue Dogs. SAFETY FOR THE TORCH? Embattled Sen. Robert Torricelli has quietly assured his fellow Democrats on the New Jersey congressional delegation that his legal troubles with the federal government will be over by August. According to Capitol Hill sources, Torricelli did not elaborate. He has been under Justice Department investigation on corruption charges, with accusations laid out earlier this year in a progression of leaks to The New York Times. Democratic strategists have made it clear that if Torricelli is indicted, he cannot be elected and should be defeated for the party nomination. They believe he faces an uphill fight for re-election to a second term next year even if he is not indicted. ACTIVIST HASTERT House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, who usually leaves arm-twisting to the Republican floor leader and whip, has been surprisingly active behind the scenes in seeking support for the alternative "patients' bill of rights" sponsored by Republican Rep. Ernie Fletcher of Kentucky. In addition to buttonholing colleagues, Hastert has sent a letter touting the Fletcher bill to 350 editorial writers across the country. The measure is gaining ground in the House and may well be passed instead of the Democratic bill that was approved by the Senate. Hastert has recently engaged in a wide range of activities vividly contrasting his usual laid-back posture: accusing Sen. John McCain of threatening House Republicans on campaign finance reform, lecturing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for not keeping in touch with GOP members of Congress and actively participating in the struggle over campaign finance reform. WHICH JOE ON HOLLYWOOD? A Senate Governmental Affairs Committee hearing next Wednesday on entertainment industry ratings will be closely watched by politicians to see which direction Sen. Joseph Lieberman is taking on the Hollywood issue. For many years, Lieberman was one of the nation's toughest critics of entertainment even though the industry is a major source of funding for his Democratic Party. Once he became Democratic nominee for vice president in 2000, however, he backed away from his previous position. As a prospective candidate for president in 2004, Lieberman seems to be returning to his previous hard line on Hollywood. He may have called Wednesday's hearings to display his present posture.

Robert Novak

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

 
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