Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- President Bush reached out to the famously contentious Republican Sen.-elect Tom Coburn of Oklahoma to congratulate him on being elected and to seek his support. The response was somewhat barbed.
 
"Tom," said the president, "I'd appreciate your help." Coburn, a conservative who often clashed with the party leadership during his six years in the House (1995-2000), replied: "Mr. President, I'll be glad to help you cut spending." Like other conservatives, Coburn is unhappy with the increase in federal outlays during Republican control of both the presidency and Congress.

 A footnote: Since his election, Coburn has sought to deflate his reputation as a firebrand by keeping a low profile. He has been hard at work studying the Senate's complicated rules, which are much more important in that chamber than in the House.

RUMSFELD'S HAND

 President Bush's puzzling choice of Kellogg CEO Carlos Gutierrez to be secretary of commerce is attributed to the hidden hand of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

 While the commerce portfolio often goes to a major political fundraiser or contributor, Gutierrez is neither. He has not given money to either of Bush's presidential campaigns and is not a fund-raising "Pioneer" or "Ranger." Gutierrez has contributed relatively small amounts to an anti-Castro political action committee and to a few Republican congressional candidates.

 However, Gutierrez has ties to Rumsfeld through Kellogg. Rumsfeld served on the company's board of directors from 1985 to 1999 while the former Kellogg truck driver was working his way through upper management. Gutierrez became CEO just as Rumsfeld left the board, but they have remained in touch since then.

ABSENTEE FRIST

 Sen. George Allen of Virginia got the best of Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, his possible adversary for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, when several hundred GOP volunteers in Senate contests across the country were honored at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington.

 The event was scheduled for the convenience of Senate Majority Leader Frist's schedule. But when it came time for him to appear, Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell showed up instead. McConnell announced that Frist was in Little Rock, Ark., that day for the dedication of Bill Clinton's presidential library. The news evoked lusty boos from the gathered Republican loyalists.

 Allen, chairman of the party's Senate campaign committee, did appear and gave an inspirational speech that received a standing ovation from the volunteers.


Robert Novak

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

 
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