Not supporting Rumsfeld

Robert Novak
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Posted: Dec 18, 2004 12:00 AM

 WASHINGTON -- An embattled Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld cannot expect support from Sen. John Warner, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman who normally supports the Bush administration on military matters.

 "I've had it with him," Warner told a Senate colleague recently, referring to Rumsfeld. The 77-year-old Warner, a five-term senator and former secretary of the Navy who is a veteran of both the Navy and Marine Corps, complained about Rumsfeld's neglect of senators during a Senate Republican caucus two years ago. Nothing has changed since then, in Warner's opinion.

 Republican senators who have publicly joined criticism of Rumsfeld include John McCain, Chuck Hagel, Trent Lott and Susan Collins. The defense secretary has little support in the Senate and is particularly unpopular with junior GOP senators.

SNUBBING HAGEL

 The White House made sure Sen. Chuck Hagel did not get advance word that his fellow Nebraskan, Gov. Mike Johanns, would be named secretary of agriculture. Hagel was shocked to hear about it while travelling abroad.

 Hagel and Johanns are close political allies, but the White House instructed the governor not to alert the senator about his selection. This secrecy in part reflects anger over Hagel's criticism of President Bush's Iraq policy. But news of the Johanns selection was also kept from Rep. Tom Osborne and the rest of Nebraska's Republican congressional delegation.

 Johanns's nomination removes the strongest threat to Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson's re-election in 2006. Hagel has repeatedly told the White House there is no chance Nelson will change parties and not to count on Nelson's help on key Bush measures. Nelson still may face a strong challenge from State Atty. Gen. Jon Bruning. 

UN INFIGHTING

 Liberal Democratic activist Carol Bellamy will be replaced next spring as head of UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund), but UN Secretary General Kofi Annan may break precedent by not choosing an American to succeed her.

 Departing U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman has been mentioned as a possible conservative successor to Bellamy. However, Annan may seize the opportunity to wrest UNICEF from American hands.

 Bellamy focused on children's rights, abortion advocacy and sex education since being named to UNICEF by President Bill Clinton in 1995. The liberal British medical journal Lancet recently criticized Bellamy's "pervasive neglect of [UNICEF'S] central mission" of protecting children's health and reducing infant mortality. Bellamy is a former New York City Council president and New York state senator.

DEMOCRATIC INFIGHTING

 Democratic National Committee (DNC) members were not happy when the party's congressional leaders urged them to elect former Rep. Tim Roemer as DNC chairman.

 Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi both backed Roemer without consulting the 447 DNC members. Since they actually will select the chairman, the members resent the congressional intervention.

 During six terms in the House (1991-2002) representing South Bend, Ind., Roemer built a centrist voting record and a reputation for being pro-life. His first national exposure came this year while serving on the independent 9/11 commission. However, he has had little contact with DNC members.

UNREST ON THE RIGHT

 Secretary of Health and Human Services-designate Mike Leavitt during the Senate confirmation process may come under fire from social conservatives who consider him even worse from their standpoint than his predecessor, Tommy Thompson.

 The complaint with Leavitt has much less to do with his current record heading the Environmental Protection Agency than his previous performance as governor of Utah. He vetoed abstinence education and dropped the state of Utah's case defending anti-abortion laws. His nomination confirmed the feeling among social conservatives that they are being shut out of the White House.

 A footnote: Immediately after Leavitt's nomination was announced, he was endorsed by Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania (chairman of the Senate Republican Conference). Following Santorum's strong support for the renomination of liberal Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, his backing of Leavitt widens his rift with the social conservative constituency that once looked to him for leadership.