Lott on the spot
4/6/2002 12:00:00 AM - Robert Novak
WASHINGTON -- When Congress returns Monday following its Easter break, Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott will be on the spot to stop the Democratic majority from blocking confirmation of conservative appellate judges.
Lott faces two challenges: first, to decide whether to bring Senate business to a standstill unless action is taken on President Bush's nominees for appeals courts; second, if he does, to convince skittish Republican senators to go along with him.
More than Bush's stalled appellate nominations are at stake. If Lott cannot force Senate votes on them, prospects for conservative nominations to the Supreme Court will be bleak.
GORE IN '04?
Longtime supporters of Al Gore say they believe he will reject their advice to sit out the 2004 presidential race and wait until 2008. The former vice president is reported to feel time will probably pass him by if he skips the next election.
Despite a lack of enthusiasm for Gore among party insiders, he remains the prohibitive favorite to be nominated again in 2004 if he runs. The compacted primary election schedule will likely help him against a crowded field of lesser-known Democrats.
A footnote: Although friends of Gore were happy that he got rid of his post-2000 beard, they winced when he said he was shaving it off to give his wife, Tipper, a chance to run for the Senate from Tennessee. The possibility that Mrs. Gore might try to duplicate Hillary Clinton's feat in New York was never taken seriously in political circles.
UNHAPPY WITH ROMNEY
Barbara Anderson, who as executive director of the Citizens for Limited Taxation failed to talk Mitt Romney into signing a pledge not to raise taxes, was one of his original boosters to become the Republican candidate for governor of Massachusetts.
Anderson sat down with Romney for 40 minutes to try to get him to sign the pledge. The state's last three Republican governors (William Weld, Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift) had taken the no-tax pledge. Romney told her he would not raise taxes but would not sign. Riding a crest of national acclaim for rescuing the Salt Lake City Olympics, Romney forced Acting Gov. Swift out of this year's race for governor.
Romney dismissed Anderson's argument that failure to sign the pledge would weaken his bargaining position and encourage the Democratic-controlled state legislature to enact higher taxes. However, The Boston Globe quickly congratulated Romney for being open to tax hikes.
UNHAPPY WITH PELOSI
In her first review as House Democratic Whip, colleagues gave Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California low marks on her public presentation of party positions.
Fellow Democrats complain privately that Pelosi seems ill-prepared for wide-ranging interviews that constitute a new challenge to her. She has been urged to watch videotapes of her performances to see where she can do better.
A footnote: A prospective challenge to Pelosi by Rep. Martin Frost of Texas, currently the House Democratic Caucus chairman, faces an uphill climb. Pelosi's liberalism, in contrast to Frost's more moderate posture, fits the ideological profile of House Democrats.
A staffer on the House Appropriations Committee publicly proposed Wednesday that he and his colleagues become eligible for the 4.1 percent pay increase that President Bush has requested for the military. Such policy recommendations are usually reserved for elected members of Congress.
John Scofield, the powerful committee's spokesman, told The Hill newspaper: "Congressional staff who are crafting legislation, whether it is a defense supplemental or a crime bill, are just as important as someone who is serving on the front line." Scofield's $72,500 annual salary is more than double the pay and fringe benefits for an enlisted soldier with four years service.
A footnote: Scofield telephoned Citizens Against Government Waste to protest when it gave its March "Porker of the Month" award to James Dyer, the House Appropriations Committee staff director. Dyer is considered the most influential bureaucrat on Capitol Hill.