GOP tiring of judicial confirmation battles

Robert Novak

4/19/2003 12:00:00 AM - Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- Senate Republicans are tiring of the battle to confirm contested judicial nominees, indicating that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's Democratic plan to prevent President Bush from shaping the federal judiciary is succeeding.

Weekly meetings of Republican senators produce increased grumbling. The complaining senators ask the White House and the Republican leadership why they should keep fighting to confirm as appellate judges Washington, D.C., lawyer Miguel Estrada and Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen. Not only liberal GOP senators but also some old guard committee chairmen claim this fight is neither important nor politically prudent.

Kennedy's unprecedented plan to block Bush's judicial selections always has been based on the theory that Republican senators soon would tire of the struggle.

WHO RULES IRAQ?

Exiled Iraqi leader Ahmad Chalabi was brought to Iraq to take part in postwar nation building against the wishes of the State Department and without its knowledge.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld showed his dominance within the administration by insisting on the quick arrival in Iraq of Chalabi and his associates. Chalabi is the London-based leader of the Iraqi National Congress.

According to administration sources, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was particularly opposed to bringing in the Iraqi National Congress so early to give it an advantage in postwar political maneuvers. Chalabi turned up in Iraq without the State Department even being alerted.

ILLINOIS SURPRISE

The decision by Sen. Peter Fitzgerald not to seek re-election in Illinois next year came as an unpleasant surprise to the White House. It had counted on him for a difficult but winnable race in a state now dominated by Democrats.

Fitzgerald was the most seriously threatened elected GOP incumbent senator, second in vulnerability among Republicans only to appointed Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Nevertheless, Fitzgerald would have been a better bet in Illinois than an unknown candidate who will be his replacement.

President Bush's political operatives had stilled talk of challenging Fitzgerald in the Republican primary. While he occasionally went off the reservation, Fitzgerald was usually a dependable vote for the administration. The White House had asked House Speaker Dennis Hastert and other critics of the senator to lay off Fitzgerald.

FUNDS FROM FRIST

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is hosting an unusual $1,000-a-ticket fund-raiser for Rep. Tom Davis, a powerful House Republican who is a sure bet for re-election from his district in northern Virginia's Washington suburbs.

The event will be held April 28 at the McLean, Va., home of Jim Kimsey, the founder of AOL Inc., who is a major Republican fund-raiser. Washington lobbyists received a letter from Kimsey asking for $2,000 to become a sponsor and get two tickets, be listed on the program and be photographed with Frist.

While Kimsey's letter stressed "the importance of keeping Tom in Congress," Davis last year won a fifth term with 83 percent of the vote. The real need for money is by a Davis war chest for distribution to other Republican House members -- an important tool for gaining power in Congress. After serving as House Republican campaign chairman for the last two cycles, Davis this year became chairman of the House Government Reform Committee.

NRA VS. RON PAUL

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is considering opposing Rep. Ron Paul, a champion of gun rights, in next year's Texas Republican primary. Paul evoked the NRA's ire April 9 by opposing a bill that would order federal and state courts to immediately dismiss lawsuits against gun makers and gun sellers.

Paul, once the Libertarian Party candidate for president, always has defended Second Amendment protection for gun owners. However, he objected to Congress legislating against state rights. The bill carried, 285 to 140. Only three Republicans -- Paul and two liberals -- voted against it.

The gun lobby is split on Paul. While the NRA wants to challenge him, the Gun Owners of America are in full support.