WASHINGTON -- Word has spread in Democratic circles that Sen. Joseph Lieberman no longer conditions a presidential candidacy in 2004 on plans by Al Gore, his 2000 running mate. Contrary to Lieberman's past statements, he would not automatically drop out if the former vice president runs again.
Lieberman is supplanting Gore as presidential favorite of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the original source of Gore's political support. Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana, a former DLC chairman, has all but endorsed Lieberman. The Connecticut senator also is emerging as a favorite of the Blue Dog caucus, the moderate House Democrats (mostly from Southern and border states).
However, Lieberman could face problems at home if his fellow Connecticut Democrat, Sen. Christopher Dodd, decides to run for president.
COMPLAINING ABOUT O'NEILL
Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill got poor grades from the White House for his response to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle in the debate over economic policy.
When the administration's economic spokesmen were rolled out Jan. 6, President Bush's aides were bitterly disappointed by O'Neill's weak endorsement on NBC's "Meet the Press" of the Bush-approved economic plan. In contrast, economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey got high grades the same day when he appeared on CBS's "Face the Nation" and Fox News Sunday.
A footnote: O'Neill is not at the bottom of the White House hit parade. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman has become the least favorite Cabinet member among the president's aides.
WHAT INSURANCE CRISIS?
"Where's the pain?" asked top Bush adviser Karl Rove during a recent conference call on stalled legislation to protect the insurance industry from results of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Congressional friends of the industry had warned of an economic catastrophe unless the emergency legislation was passed. The bill fell short of passage before the late December adjournment of Congress when friends of trial lawyers blocked a cap on terrorist-related damages. As Rove pointed out, however, non-passage of the bill has caused no pain well into the new year.
A footnote: Republicans prevented Senate passage in December of a Democratic-sponsored farm bill with increased subsidies, but they may give up when Congress reconvenes in late January. Sen. Richard Lugar, the Agriculture Committee's top Republican, is reported to be tired of the delaying game and willing to take a chance on a reduced bill resulting from a Senate-House conference.
Continuing the slow-moving, carefully orchestrated romance between Teamsters and Republicans, the giant union will honor Speaker Dennis Hastert and other GOP House members Jan. 23 to celebrate the reconvening of Congress.
Only Republican lawmakers have been invited to the event at the Teamsters' marble palace on Capitol Hill. No similar reception for Democrats is scheduled.
Teamsters President James P. Hoffa is a Democrat who disagrees with many of the Bush administration's conservative positions. But Hoffa is reported to be furious with Democrats for blocking a Senate vote on oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska, which would produce jobs for his union's members.
DOLLARS FOR JEB
The long-planned Washington fund-raiser at the Capital Hilton Wednesday for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush yielded an estimated $1 million to $2 million. But a severe hold on expenses produced grumbling among big-time Washington lobbyists who raised and contributed the money for the re-election campaign of the president's brother.
The crowded $500-a-ticket cocktail party featured only one bar and a buffet with peanuts and potato chips. The meal served at the more thinly attended $10,000-a-couple dinner, complained one lobbyist, "was certainly not first class." President Bush addressed both the cocktail party (publicly) and the dinner (privately).
CORRECTION: The Dec. 30 column erred in listing Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma among the most vulnerable Republican incumbent senators. All evidence shows a substantial Inhofe lead over his likely Democratic opponent, former Gov. David Walters. The two most vulnerable GOP incumbents are generally recognized as Bob Smith of New Hampshire and Tim Hutchinson of Arkansas.