Cheney to stay

Robert Novak
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Posted: Feb 21, 2004 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- Normally close-mouthed political operatives who run George W. Bush's re-election campaign are unequivocally stating that Vice President Dick Cheney will remain on the ticket for a second term.

Those assurances are intended to counter a wave of rumors, in and out of Washington, that Cheney will be replaced as vice president. The dump-Cheney reports have intensified as President Bush has fallen well behind potential Democratic challengers in the polls. To quell the rumors, the re-election campaign plans to increase use of Cheney on the road.

The most constant variant of these reports has Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist replacing Cheney. Frist had no part in stirring up such speculation, but one of his financial backers in his home state of Tennessee is responsible for helping to spread the rumor.

CALIFORNIA DEBATE

Sen. John Edwards is unlikely to get the one-on-one debate against Sen. John Kerry his strategists want in the Democratic presidential debate in Los Angeles next Thursday. Edwards is the only party involved who wants to bar Rep. Dennis Kucinich and the Rev. Al Sharpton from the last big debate.

The official Kerry position is that he will show up for whatever kind of debate is scheduled, but his supporters want no part in eliminating Kucinich and Sharpton. The debate's co-sponsors, the Los Angeles Times and CNN, are not interested in dumping the two also-rans.

The rationale for finally producing a two-candidate debate is a never-invoked rule requiring 10 percent of the delegates selected so far in order to stay in the debates. Kucinich and Sharpton are not even close to meeting that standard.

KERRY-BAYH?

With Sen. John Kerry as presidential nominee certain to come under Republican attack as a Massachusetts liberal, an underground campaign has started to push for Sen. Evan Bayh on the ticket as an Indiana moderate.

Bayh is no conservative, earning a 100 percent liberal rating from the Americans for Democratic Action in 2001. However, his career American Conservative Union rating of 22 percent is high for a Democrat. His principal value on the ticket would be to win the electoral votes of Indiana, which has not been carried by a Democrat since Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

Bayh's political liability in the eyes of many Democratic practitioners is his vote in favor of President Bush's last tax bill. In 2000, abortion rights activists squelched consideration of Bayh as Al Gore's running mate because he supported a partial-birth abortion ban. Kerry advisers brush that off, contending it does not disqualify Bayh.

NOT CONFORMING JUDGES

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is reported by Senate sources to be leaning on Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch to get more aggressive in pushing President Bush's nominations for the federal judiciary in a way that would add to the number of filibusters.

Hearings have been held on Claude Allen, who once was press secretary to former Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, for the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals. But Hatch has bowed to Democratic demands and not forced a committee vote on Allen. Hatch has not even called hearings on another 4th Circuit nominee close to Helms, Chief District Judge Terrence Boyle, or four judges for the 6th Circuit opposed by Michigan's Democratic senators.

Frist wants to speed movement on these nominations even though confirmation is unlikely. The Republican rationale is to add to the long line of filibusters in the Senate in hopes they will backfire against the Democrats.

MORE WELFARE REFORM

Wade Horn, assistant secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), has worried conservatives by proposing changes in the 1996 welfare reform signed by President Bill Clinton.

Horn contends that all work requirements have been met and that new language is needed to continue driving welfare recipients off the rolls. However, conservatives feel this is asking for election-year trouble with liberals poised to attempt new revisions.

Horn is also under fire for his proposed expenditures of $1.5 billion, over five years, for supporting marriage.