Platform maneuvers

Robert Novak

8/28/2004 12:00:00 AM - Robert Novak

PLATFORM MANEUVERS I

NEW YORK -- Long delays during Wednesday's Republican platform proceedings, attributed to clerical difficulties, were caused by waiting to see whether the White House would accept any compromise on stem-cell research. The answer, after four hours, was that it would not. 

 Furthermore, President Bush's agents informed conservative leader Phyllis Schlafly that pushing the stem-cell issue would cost her. If any change in stem-cell research were offered in the full committee, the White House would renege on agreeing to minor wording changes on immigration policy. Nevertheless, Schlafly said conservatives could not withdraw opposition to Bush's stem-cell policy.

 A relatively minor stem-cell amendment was offered by Gayle Ruzicka, leader of Schlafly's Eagle Forum in Utah. After Ruzicka briefly explained her amendment, Frist -- from the chairman's chair -- delivered a long scientific defense of Bush's policy. A motion to table Ruzicka's amendment cut off all further debate, and her amendment lost on a voice vote.

PLATFORM MANEUVERS II

 President Bush's commitment to federal aid for public education was demonstrated in the platform considerations by nearly total defense of the first line of the education plank in the Bush-approved first draft: "Public education is the foundation of civil society."

 Social conservative activist Kelly Shackleford, one of President Bush's fellow Texas Republicans, first tried to remove the whole sentence. When that failed, he attempted to remove the word "public." When that failed, the White House finally agreed to changing the word "the" to "a" in front of "foundation."

 Conservatives were told that the president regards the "No Child Left Behind" reform as a cornerstone of his presidency. Under heavy attack on education from Democrats, he does not want his own platform undermining it. 

HILLARY'S NEW BILL

Early Republican arrivers for the national convention were stunned Wednesday when they learned that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist had collaborated with Sen. Hillary Clinton for an op-ed column on health care published in that morning's Washington Post.

 Frist and Clinton wrote that "we both agree" a new information system will improve health care. Less important than the substance of their agreement is the fact that the chairman of the Republican platform committee had participated in a joint venture with one of President Bush's most severe critics as the presidential election campaign gets more intense. Platform committee members were particularly baffled by their chairman.

 Frist is considered a likely presidential candidate in 2008. In private conversation, he has talked about the possibility of running against Hillary Clinton.

NO GOP CHOICE

 Pro-abortion rights Republicans were their weakest in platform deliberations, not even risking a humiliating vote against their point of view.

 As recently as 1996, pro-life Republicans had to fight hard to keep anti-abortion language in the platform. This time, the pro-choice Republicans had to be content with an amendment that Republicans "respect" dissenting views in general, without specifying abortion.

 Jennifer Blei Stockman, a delegate from New York and national co-chairman of the Republican Majority for Choice, issued a statement Wednesday asserting that re-electing President Bush "will be immeasurably harder with this extreme and exclusionary language in the platform." She is the wife of Reagan administration budget director David Stockman.

BUSH'S CRITICAL APPOINTEE

 Former Sen. Max Cleland of Georgia, who has been pounding George W. Bush as a key surrogate for John Kerry, is a presidential appointee receiving $136,000 a year as an Export-Import Bank director.

 Cleland fills one of the slots designated for Democrats on the federal agency's board. Such opposition party appointments are routinely made by President Bush on the recommendation of Democratic congressional leaders.

 Secret Service agents at the gates of Bush's Crawford, Texas, ranch Wednesday turned away Cleland, acting in Sen. Kerry's behalf, and would not accept a critical letter to the president. Cleland then refused to accept a letter signed by prominent Republican veterans disputing what he has said about Bush. Cleland, a disabled veteran, has sounded Kerry's theme that the president has neglected vets.