Inside Report: Gore phoning again

Robert Novak

7/27/2002 12:00:00 AM - Robert Novak
WASHINGTON -- Al Gore, though he says his decision whether to run again for president lies in the future, has begun making telephone calls to longtime backers asking for support -- and, implicitly, money -- in 2004. One influential Democratic contributor, whose support for Gore dates back to 1988, was solicited for the former vice president's political action committee. The donor replied that would require a personal call from Gore himself. Gore did get on the phone, but the contributor responded that he was not ready to make a commitment for '04. A footnote: Donna Brazile, Gore's 2000 campaign manager who had declared her neutrality for 2004, has been invited to meet with Gore. She has accepted. HARVEY'S TIN EAR Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chairman Harvey Pitt never consulted his political benefactors at the White House before asking Congress to promote him and raise his pay as part of the corporate accounting reform legislation. One senior presidential aide who has been a staunch defender of the embattled SEC chief conceded that Pitt had blundered. The aide replied with an unenthusiastic "no" when asked whether this affected Pitt's job status. Pitt's proposal confirmed a widespread judgment that he is a very smart man with a tin ear. The snide reaction in congressional cloakrooms was that he was using the corporate crisis to assure himself a grave in Arlington National Cemetery, as would be guaranteed by his promotion to Cabinet-level status. ENDANGERED IN IOWA National Democratic strategists have downgraded three-term Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa to "tossup" status for re-election this year along with two of the party's other Midwestern incumbent senators: Paul Wellstone of Minnesota and Tim Johnson of South Dakota. Harkin is one Democrat considered vulnerable on health care because of his Republican opponent: Rep. Greg Ganske, a physician who has gone beyond his party's position on health issues. In a recent closed-door meeting with other Democratic senators up for re-election this year, Harkin declared final passage of prescription drug subsidies is important to his campaign. A footnote: One Midwestern Democratic incumbent upgraded from "tossup" by the strategists is Sen. Jean Carnahan of Missouri, now regarded as a favorite against former Rep. Jim Talent. ENDANGERED ENVIRONMENTALIST The long knives are out for Jim Connaughton, the Bush administration's leading environmentalist, to remove him as chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). As a strong advocate of the global warming theory, Connaughton always has had many critics in the administration. But White House and Commerce Department officials were infuriated when Connaughton recently told Congress that President Bush's climate change initiative would do nothing to stem global warming. Prior to his appointment by Bush, Connaughton practiced environmental law in Washington and during the Clinton administration was a lead negotiator on the U.S. Technical Advisory Group. He is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. DEFECTING GOP SENATORS The normally conservative Sen. Frank Murkowski of Alaska was one of four Republicans who joined a unanimous alignment of Democratic senators to defeat a recent effort to increase requirements for labor union officers. Murkowski, a four-term senator, recorded perfect 100 percent American Conservative Union voting in 2000 and 2001. This year, he is running for governor of Alaska with support from the Teamsters union. The other three Republican defectors -- Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Gordon Smith of Oregon -- often vote the labor line. The vote came on an amendment to the corporate reform bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell, to require union chiefs to make the same financial disclosures and assume the same liability for their statements as corporate executives.