Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- No fellow Democrat volunteered to give Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton protective cover when she was the only senator voting against the nomination of Michael Chertoff as a judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. Chertoff was chief counsel of the Senate's 1995 investigation of the investment by the Clintons in the Whitewater project.

Chertoff was confirmed Monday, 88 to 1. On May 24, 2001, Chertoff was confirmed as an assistant attorney general by a 95 to 1 vote, with Clinton the only dissenter. On the same day, she was also the only no-voter when the Senate confirmed, by 95 to 1, Viet Dinh as an assistant attorney general. Dinh was a staffer in the Senate Whitewater investigation and President Bill Clinton's impeachment trial.

Sen. Clinton said nothing in these debates before casting her solitary negative votes.


Democratic insiders are coming to regard Rep. Richard Gephardt as the real front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination even though he does not lead in nationwide polls.

That's because the Jan. 19 Iowa caucuses have changed for Gephardt, who represents a district in nearby St. Louis, Mo., from a trap to a springboard. While Iowa is a must win for Gephardt, polls show him moving into a comfortable lead there. A big Iowa win could propel him into a high finish in the New Hampshire primary eight days later.

A footnote: Backers of Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, regarded by many as the front-runner, are alarmed by polls showing him about even in New Hampshire with his fellow New Englander, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. A loss in New Hampshire would virtually eliminate Kerry.


Tension between the No. 2 and No. 3 Republicans in the House -- Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas and Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri -- is growing and becoming public.

The word in the GOP cloakroom is that DeLay felt Blunt gave up too easily on a union-opposed bill regarding employee flex time because he could not find sufficient votes. DeLay was a successful majority whip for six years and, Republican insiders say, tends to be critical of the performance by his successor and former deputy.

In a front-page Washington Post report Wednesday, DeLay was described as opposing Blunt's efforts to slip in legislation favored by the Philip Morris company.


National Democratic political operatives, predicting Sen. Ernest F. (Fritz) Hollings probably will not seek an eighth term from South Carolina next year, are hoping he will retire.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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