Robert Novak

 WASHINGTON -- Sentiment in conservative circles strongly favors promoting Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to chief justice if ailing William Rehnquist leaves the nation's top judicial position.

 President Bush's nomination of Thomas would guarantee a tough confirmation fight. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who voted against confirming Thomas for associate justice, has signaled he also would oppose him for chief justice. In addition, Thomas is reportedly unwilling to undergo another confirmation battle. However, Thomas at age 56 would ensure long-term conservative leadership at the court.

 The Thomas boosters would like his place on the court filled by Washington lawyer Theodore Olson, who recently resigned as solicitor general. Other conservatives are launching a campaign to boost the 63-year-old Olson for chief justice.


 Sen. Charles Schumer, who this week took himself out of the 2006 contest for governor of New York, is saying privately that polls show he could have easily defeated State Atty. Gen. Eliot Spitzer in the Democratic primary for governor but he stayed out for reasons of party unity.

 Actually, Schumer may have been most influenced by a Federal Election Commission (FEC) opinion that barred him from spending on a campaign for governor any of the funds he raised for his easy Senate re-election. Of his $27 million in Senate campaign funds, the most recent FEC report shows $13.8 million not spent.

 A footnote: New York Democrats believe Spitzer's run for governor is preliminary to a future run for president. Confronting Schumer in the primary would have been a serious bump in the road for Spitzer.


 The closed-door meeting of House Republicans Wednesday that was supposed to quickly protect House Majority Leader Tom DeLay from a political indictment turned into a contentious debate lasting several hours. Rep. Rob Portman of Ohio, the appointed chairman of the House Republican Leadership, came up with a compromise that won assent.

 The original proposal would have simply repealed the 1993 Republican rule requiring the resignation from the House party leadership of any member who is criminally indicted. The Portman compromise sets up a review by the House Republican Steering Committee of each case.

Robert Novak

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

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