Robert Novak
WASHINGTON -- Senior members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, maintain a unified public facade confronting a national crisis but are unhappy that they are not being fully briefed by the Bush administration. They grumble that Cabinet members sent to Capitol Hill to brief the lawmakers are delivering political speeches to them instead of dispensing information. Attorney General John Ashcroft is designated as the worst offender. Old congressional hands unfavorably compare their treatment by the president with how well his father kept them informed during the Gulf War. Administration officials privately explain that they don't trust members of Congress to protect confidential information. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld are both furious with Sen. Orrin Hatch, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, for leaking information from communications intercepts. CHANGE AT CIA? The massive intelligence failure in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack is likely to prove the end of George Tenet's tenure as CIA director, according to members of congressional intelligence committees. In the interest of national unity, Tenet's critics are keeping quiet. But there is a growing consensus both in the Bush administration and on Capitol Hill that a change is needed at the Central Intelligence Agency. Tenet, a career civil servant specializing in intelligence, was named as head of the agency by President Clinton in 1997. He was one of the rare Clinton holdovers retained by President Bush. Donald Rumsfeld was originally a prospect to be CIA director but was made Secretary of Defense instead, and Bush decided to keep Tenet. SOFTENING LANGUAGE The Senate, led by Majority Leader Tom Daschle, subtly but significantly amended the language of the congressional resolution condemning the terrorist attack to soften the threat of retaliation. Senate staffers eliminated from the original House proposal a provision obligating the United States "to respond in the name of international peace and security." Another change deleted approval of "any and all measures deemed necessary by the president" to fight terrorism and substituted a call "to bring to justice and punish the perpetrators of these attacks as well their sponsors." Although hard-line conservatives were outraged by the changes, Republican leaders did not want a fight over the language of the resolution to shatter the image of national unity following the attacks. Hawkish sentiment runs high in the House. DEFENSE DEBATE The mood of bipartisan unity created by the terrorist attack may soon be broken by a Democratic effort to shift defense spending from President Bush's national missile defense to anti-terrorist programs. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has not abandoned his fight against national missile defense and may now have a stronger hand because of Tuesday's calamities. Republicans in Congress face a dilemma. If they vote for the defense bill at a time of national crisis even though it reduces funds for national missile defense, they would be voting for a measure that severely cuts one of President Bush's top priorities. DOLE MEETS DEADLINE The signal last Monday of her future Senate candidacy in North Carolina by Elizabeth Dole just made a private 72-hour deadline imposed by Sen. Bill Frist, the Senate Republican campaign chairman. National party leaders did not want Dole to delay her decision and build uncertainty in the wake of Sen. Jesse Helms' decision not to seek a sixth term. Former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, the GOP's unsuccessful candidate for governor in 2000, had quickly jumped into the race and cannot be persuaded to drop out. If Dole had not made her announcement, Frist may have turned to Rep. Richard Burr as the most viable alternative. When former Sen. Lauch Faircloth bowed out of consideration, Dole named him as her chairman and hired staffers from Faircloth's 1998 losing campaign for re-election. That has caused concern among North Carolina Republicans who looked on the Faircloth effort as a disaster.

Robert Novak

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

 
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