Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, meeting privately with moderate Democratic "Blue Dog" House members last week as he moved toward a possible presidential candidacy, took hard shots at President Bush but criticized Democrats as well.

The former NATO supreme commander, a newcomer to partisan politics, told his new political allies that Democrats "need to dig in" and fight harder on both foreign and domestic policy. Clark's criticism of Bush was more pointed than his public statements.

Clark did not make a hard commitment to become a candidate. The Blue Dogs were impressed with the general, with many considering him an excellent prospect for the vice presidential nomination whether or not he runs for president.


A private national poll taken by Democratic pollster Celinda Lake points to a "difficulty" for Democrats because voters do not think Republican prescription drug plans moving through Congress "sound like" the privatization of Medicare that they oppose.

Democrats for years have accused Republicans of trying to privatize Medicare. Lake reported voters think the GOP proposal "sounds like supplemental insurance, which seniors have now."

A footnote: While President Bush puts a high priority on increasing the narrow Republican majority in the Senate, his aggressive lobbying for the prescription drug bill put on the spot two key GOP Senate candidates. Reps. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Jim DeMint of South Carolina both voted against the president's proposal.


With conservative House Republicans rebelling against the administration-backed prescription drug bill, President Bush summoned to a White House photo opportunity a New York Democratic congressman -- Rep. Steve Israel -- who has broken party ranks to support the GOP proposal.

A photo of Bush seated in the Cabinet Room with Israel on his right and liberal Republican Rep. Nancy Johnson of Connecticut on his left was distributed nationwide by the Associated Press and put on the White House Web site. "I'm so honored that members of both political parties from the House of Representatives have come to discuss our mutual desire," said the president.

Israel was elected to Congress in 2000 from the Long Island district represented by Republican Rick Lazio before his Senate run against Hillary Clinton. Republicans contested this district in 2000 and 2002, but Israel's invitation to the White House suggests that the GOP now regards Israel as a safe Democratic incumbent.


Robert Novak

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

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