Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- Howard Dean rose to the top tier of Democratic presidential candidates after collecting $7 million the past quarter, but his quick tongue got the former governor of Vermont in trouble with African-Americans.

Dean was having difficulty on NBC's "Meet the Press" June 22 answering moderator Tim Russert's questions testing his knowledge of the federal government. Asking him how many troops are in active duty in the U.S. military, Dean said, is "like asking me who the ambassador to Rwanda is." Some black politicians were offended that Dean cited the U.S. envoy to an African country, whose name he obviously did not know, as unimportant trivia.

The U.S. ambassador to Rwanda appointed by President Bush in 2001 is Margaret K. McMillion, a veteran foreign service officer specializing in Asian and African affairs.

PETE WILSON REDUX?

Many California Republicans, unable to find a viable candidate to oppose Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer for a third term next year, are urging Pete Wilson to consider a comeback.

Wilson is widely blamed for the party's precipitous decline in the state because of his support as governor for an anti-immigration referendum that alienated Hispanic voters. However, he has never lost a general election, winning two terms each as U.S. senator and governor after serving as mayor of San Diego and a state assemblyman.

A footnote: Many California GOP strategists do not want the party to select a single candidate for governor as part of the recall effort against Democratic Gov. Gray Davis. Naming one Republican would enable Davis to use his familiar tactic of concentrating on his opponent.

CONFEREE HASTERT?

House Speaker Dennis Hastert may break precedent and become a Republican conferee representing the House in a tense Senate-House conference to shape the final version of the prescription drug bill.

A member of the senior leadership will be one of the three House Republicans named as conferees. Normally, a speaker does not serve on conferences. But Hastert specialized in health care issues before he became speaker and is vitally interested in the bill. Majority Leader Tom DeLay usually represents the leadership in major conferences, but third-ranking Majority Whip Roy Blunt is also a possibility.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a physician and an expert on health care, is almost certain to be a Senate conferee.

TURNING DOWN A MILLION

The White House successfully convinced Rep. Chip Pickering of Mississippi to turn down a million-dollar lobbyist's job to stay in the House of Representatives as a key Republican.

Pickering, 39 years old with five young sons, was asked to be president of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association beginning Jan. 1, paid at least 1 million dollars a year (compared with his $154,700 congressional salary). The four-term congressman had accepted the offer, but President Bush talked him into staying in Congress. Pickering is the son of U.S. District Judge Charles Pickering, whose nomination as an appellate judge has been blocked by a Democratic filibuster.

There was little danger of Republicans losing Pickering's seat. He won 64 percent of the vote last year against Democratic Rep. Ronnie Shows in a contest between two incumbents created by reapportionment. Party leaders regard the younger Pickering as a political comer and wanted him to stay in the House.

CONGRESSIONAL ODD COUPLE

First-year Democratic Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the former Clinton White House aide elected to Congress from Chicago last year, and Rep. Gil Gutknecht, a conservative Republican from southern Minnesota, plan to visit each other's districts to conduct bipartisan townhall meetings on health care.

They are co-sponsoring an amendment that would give Americans access to cheaper name-brand drugs across the border in Canada. With House Republican leaders blocking the Emanuel-Gutknecht amendment, Gutknecht defied the party line and voted against the prescription drug bill. Emanuel also voted against the bill, along with most Democrats.

At the townhall meetings in Chicago and Minnesota, the congressmen will promote their amendment as a free-standing bill.


Robert Novak

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

 
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