Fourth star for Sanchez?

Robert Novak

5/29/2004 12:00:00 AM - Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- President Bush must make a difficult decision whether to promote Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who recently ended 13 months as top U.S. military officer in Iraq, to full four-star general.

 The White House does not relish Senate confirmation hearings that probably would become another inquiry of the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal under Sanchez's command. However, considering the important Hispanic vote, Bush might not want to hold up a fourth star for the Army's most prominent Mexican-American. For the same political reason, however, Democratic senators might not want to appear that they were persecuting Sanchez.

 A footnote: Although the Pentagon announced that Sanchez's relief in Iraq was routine, he has not been on good terms with his superior officer: Gen. John Abizaid, the regional commander in chief.

DOUBT ABOUT KERRY

 It was because of criticism not only from the news media but also from important figures in his party that Sen. John Kerry backed away from plans to delay accepting the Democratic presidential nomination. The delay would have given him more time to raise money.

 While broadcast networks warned they might not cover the convention in Boston if Kerry did not officially become the nominee there, old Democratic hands privately told the candidate the delay would make him look ridiculous. These critics feel this technique would enlarge complaints that Kerry has little to say on the issues.

 Kerry's Democratic critics have been particularly unhappy about what they consider failure to draw sharp distinctions between him and President Bush on the war in Iraq. Speaking in Seattle Thursday, Kerry spelled out some of those differences.

ANOTHER PORKFEST

 The Bush administration's economic team is unhappy and frustrated by the Senate adding $170 billion in targeted tax breaks to the bill repealing the foreign sales corporate export tax break. This measure must be passed to avoid severe European Union tariff retaliation.

 Sen. John McCain of Arizona was defeated, 85 to 13, when he attempted to remove from the bill $18 billion in corporate tax advantages intended to promote energy development. Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona and Don Nickles of Oklahoma gave up on their efforts to substitute a general corporate tax reduction for the targeted tax cuts.

 There is not much President Bush can do if this bill gets to his desk. He can hardly veto the bill needed to stave off $400 billion in tariffs by Europe.

SOFT MONEY MADONNA

 Madonna, who has launched her racy new "Reinvention World Tour," is the featured attraction of a fund-raiser by one of the "527" Democratic fund-raising committees designed to get around the McCain-Feingold Act's ban on soft money.

 Two tickets cost $5,000 for "an evening with Madonna" June 14 at the MCI Center in downtown Washington. It is sponsored by the Great Plains Leadership Fund, supposedly "independent" but actually a Democratic fund-raising organization.

 The fund's "honorary chair" is Democratic Sen. Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota, an advocate of the McCain-Feingold bill. Its headquarters is nowhere near the Great Plains, but is located on Capitol Hill in Washington.

BLOCKING A JUDGE

 The temporary truce between President Bush and Senate Democrats over judicial nominees does not mean J. Leon Holmes, attacked because of his religious beliefs, will be confirmed as a federal district judge in Arkansas.

 When Bush agreed not to make any more judicial nominations this year while the Senate is not in session, Senate Democrats agreed to up-and-down votes on 25 judges. That includes Little Rock lawyer Holmes, whose nomination was sent without recommendation to the Senate floor by the Judiciary Committee a year ago. Holmes is under fire from feminists and may not get a simple majority.

 Holmes is backed by Arkansas' two Democratic senators, Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor. However, Sen. Arlen Specter, newly renominated in the Pennsylvania Republican primary, has been lobbying against Holmes. Six or more Republican senators may vote against him, enough to deny a majority.