WASHINGTON -- White House aides stress that George W. Bush, not just Dick Cheney, is taking a hard line resisting congressional demands for information about the vice president's energy task force.
The buzz around Washington has been that the administration's refusal to negotiate the dispute rather than go to court is rooted in Cheney's stubbornness. According to White House sources, however, it is the president himself in recent meetings who vociferously insisted on protecting the power of his office.
A footnote: Comptroller General David Walker, head of the congressional investigative arm looking at the Cheney task force, has been surprised by Bush's stand. In private conversation with White House lawyers, he had predicted that the president would never let the question go to court.
VACANCY IN MANILA
The important position of U.S. ambassador to the Philippines remains vacant because Senate Democrats are holding confirmation of President Bush's nominee hostage for passage of a farm bankruptcy bill.
Bush's Nov. 14 nomination of Francis Ricciardone, a non-controversial foreign service officer, was reported to the Senate floor without dissent by the Foreign Relations Committee on Dec. 12. No action has been taken by the Senate to fill the empty ambassador's seat in Manila, as 650 U.S. troops arrive in the Philippines to fight terrorists who hold two Americans captive.
Word has been passed that the Ricciardone nomination will be brought to the floor once farm bankruptcy is passed. Democratic Sen. Jean Carnahan of Missouri, key sponsor of the bankruptcy bill, told this column through an aide that she has no interest in the Philippine nomination and has not put a hold on Ricciardone's confirmation.
Shortly after House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt delivered a mild official Democratic response to the State of the Union address, Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe orchestrated an attack on President Bush's presentation.
The McAuliffe-led Democratic National Committee (DNC) dispatched post-midnight talking points to the party's members of Congress contending that Bush's performance on domestic issues "did not rise to the occasion. Where people want results, he offered only rhetoric."
While urging the president to engage in bipartisan cooperation, the DNC talking points claimed that Bush "dared not speak the truth about the administration's energy policy -- that it was practically written by Enron and other special interests."
House Republicans are puzzled by the refusal of Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma to take himself out of a race for either leader or whip, the party's second- and third-ranking House positions. As GOP Conference chairman, Watts holds the No. 4 post.
Majority Whip Tom DeLay has collected far more commitments than necessary to replace as leader his fellow Texan, Dick Armey, who is not seeking re-election. Chief Deputy Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri seems a lock to succeed DeLay. Watts hints he might yet run for either post, though he has done nothing so far to collect commitments.
The House GOP inner circle does not want a contest where the only African-American Republican in Congress is badly beaten. Watts has said that as whip, he would name a woman as chief deputy whip. He has also contended that a minority group member -- such as his Hispanic-American colleague, Rep. Henry Bonilla of Texas -- should have been named Republican National chairman.
Sen. Tom Daschle was a rare Democrat inducted into Washington's exclusive, largely conservative Alfalfa Club at its annual black-tie dinner last Saturday night, but the Senate majority leader did not show up.
Daschle was in Naples, Fla., addressing a Senate Democratic campaign fund-raiser. He spent the night at the palatial vacation home of Washington lobbyist Jack Kelly (whose clients include BMW, Perdue Farms and U.S. West).
A footnote: Former President George Bush was seated at the Alfalfa head table between Vice President Dick Cheney and Francois Bujon de l'Estang, the French ambassador. Bush virtually ignored the diplomat while engaging in animated conversation with Cheney.