WASHINGTON -- United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan quietly slipped into the White House Wednesday night for an unannounced high-level dinner hosted by President and Mrs. Bush in the Red Room.
The unexplained social event comes at a time when Bush and Annan are at odds over Iraq's Saddam Hussein. They disagree over whether the U.S. needs to return to the U.N. Security Council before taking military action
Also attending the private (spouses included) dinner were Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
BUSH'S CLOUDY SKIES
President Bush plans to mention his "Clear Skies" initiative in Tuesday night's State of the Union address, though there is little chance for the moderate environmental step to become law.
If the president's proposal reaches the Senate floor, Democrats and a few Republicans headed by Sen. John McCain can expand it with a cap on CO-2 emissions. That would guarantee the death of the whole bill in conference at the hands of House Republicans, led by Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
Nevertheless, Bush's political advisers consider it essential for the president to step forward with reasonable proposals in order to woo the environmental vote for his 2004 election.
CALL HIM 'WHIP'
As the Senate's No. 2 Republican. Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is using the traditional title of "whip" rather than the "assistant leader" designation favored by his predecessor, Sen. Don Nickles of Oklahoma.
That means McConnell will concentrate on counting votes and enforcing party discipline rather than be deeply involved in policy as Nickles was. It also means McConnell will be less of a rival to Majority Leader Bill Frist than Nickles was to Frist's predecessor, Trent Lott.
A footnote: In breaking the recent deadlock over reorganizing the Senate to reflect the new Republican majority, Frist did the negotiating without going to the Senate floor to dispute the Democratic version. Frist proved an effective negotiator, but the public description of the controversy was dominated by Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle and Democratic Whip Harry Reid.
BLANCHE MOVES RIGHT
Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who mostly voted the liberal Democratic line during her first four years in the Senate, began preparing for re-election in Arkansas next year by introducing bills in the new Congress following President Bush on tax policy.
Of 10 bills introduced by Lincoln to open the 108th Congress, five would accelerate and make permanent Bush legislation (covering income tax cuts, estate tax repeal, child tax credits, the alternative minimum tax and pension reform). Until now, Lincoln voted 80 percent liberal (measured by the Americans for Democratic Action) with a 20 percent grade from the American Conservative Union.
Lincoln is a Republican target for 2004, but her most likely GOP challengers may be flawed. Gov. Mike Huckabee was nearly defeated for re-election last year. Designated Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Asa Hutchinson must carry the name of brother Tim Hutchinson, who was defeated for Senate re-election in 2002 after his divorce and remarriage.
HIGH TAX REPUBLICAN
Georgia's newly elected Republican Gov. Sonny Perdue has run afoul of Washington-based anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist for trying to close a state budget deficit with a variety of excise tax and fee increases.
During the 2002 campaign, 41 Georgia Republican state legislators signed the no-new-taxes pledge of Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform. Some asked whether Perdue's proposed fee hikes on drivers' licenses, insurance policies and bank loans violated the pledge, and Norquist replied that they do. Norquist now is hopeful that Perdue will advocate deeper spending cuts and freezes to replace tax increases.
A footnote: Nevada's Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn has proposed a $800 million tax increase levied on previously untaxed services (such as a haircut or a tire change). That could make Guinn less attractive as a possible candidate next year against Democratic Sen. Harry Reid.