Tommy Franks for Chief

Robert Novak
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Posted: May 10, 2003 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is pressuring Gen. Tommy Franks, weary from his efforts commanding the Iraq war, to change his mind and agree to become the Army's next chief of staff.

Franks, who turned down Rumsfeld during the secretary's recent visit to the Gulf, would be more amenable to the Pentagon's civilian leadership than outgoing Gen. Eric Shinseki has been. However, Pentagon sources say there is no certainty that Franks would go along if Rumsfeld advocates the equivalent reduction of two Army combat divisions.

A footnote: Secretary of the Air Force James Roche, replacement for the fired Thomas White as secretary of the Army, can be counted on to support Rumsfeld's downsizing. Out of office, White would likely go public against a two-division reduction.

BUDGET CHIEF PORTMAN?

Rep. Rob Portman of Ohio, one of President Bush's favorite members of Congress, is being mentioned inside the White House as a successor to departing budget director Mitchell Daniels.

However, Portman might not want to end a promising congressional career for the politically thankless task of heading the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Currently the appointed chairman of the House Republican Leadership, Portman at age 47 is considered a House speaker of the future.

A footnote: Daniels is favored to be the Republican nominee for governor of Indiana even though he trails former Rep. David McIntosh, the 2000 GOP governor candidate, in the polls. Hoosier Republican activists believe the first million dollars spent for Daniels would wipe out McIntosh's name identification advantage.

FORCING MAJORITY RULE

Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, the 79-year-old president pro tem and senior Republican in the Senate, has been a tiger in closed-door Republican meetings urging an effort to rule filibusters against judicial nominees out of order so that a simple majority of 51 votes would be sufficient for confirmation.

Freshman Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri has made public the 51-vote plan, but Stevens has led the way inside the GOP conference. However, all 51 Republicans are not yet on board for this plan.

Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, facing a conservative primary election challenge this year, may be one of the Republican holdouts. He is privately pleading with Democrats to end the filibusters so that Republicans will not attempt an effort that would put Specter on the spot.

MARRIOTT'S DEMOCRAT

Hotel tycoon J. Willard Marriott, a pillar of the Republican Party in keeping with his family's tradition, is holding a fund-raiser June 12 at his Bethesda, Md., mansion for Senate Democratic Whip Harry Reid of Nevada. Reid won his 1998 re-election by only 428 votes, and faces another tough race in 2004.

Fellow Republican businessmen were stunned by a personal telephone solicitation from Marriott, and then his follow-up call. When the Democrats controlled the Senate in 2002, Reid blocked terrorism insurance legislation that Marriott said he needed to build new hotels. However, Marriott and Reid, both Mormons, are old friends.

Of $45,000 in hard money for federal candidates contributed by Marriott during the 2000 and 2002 election cycles, only $1,000 went to a Democrat -- Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut.

GEPHARDT'S ACE

House Democrats believe that Rep. James Clyburn, South Carolina's only African-American in Congress, is holding off on a presidential endorsement of Rep. Richard Gephardt because he does not want to frighten other Democratic candidates away from his state's primary election next Feb. 3.

Unless white Republicans unexpectedly flood the Democratic primary, blacks will make up 40 to 50 percent of the vote. Clyburn, a statewide political figure and 10-year House member, is reputed by political insiders to control half the African-American vote.

Strategists for Sen. John Kerry, who needs a respectable showing in the first Southern primary, contend Clyburn will stay neutral to keep the South Carolina primary honest. In the House Democratic cloakroom, however, speculation is that Clyburn will eventually go for Gephardt -- which would be an important step toward the presidential nomination.