The next Speaker

Robert Novak
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Posted: Feb 19, 2005 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- If House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert were to announce his retirement, the most likely successor would be somebody given up for dead a few years ago as far as Republican leadership ambitions were concerned: Rep. John Boehner of Ohio.
 
At age 45 with only four years' experience in Congress, Boehner was named chairman of the House Republican Conference when the GOP took control of the House in the 1994 elections. He lost support from rank-and-file members, partly because of his role in the unsuccessful coup to replace Newt Gingrich as speaker. Boehner was defeated for re-election in 1999 to the fourth-ranking leadership post by then Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, who was considered a more conservative Republican.

 Boehner became chairman of the Education and Workforce Committee and slowly worked his way back to the high esteem of his colleagues. House insiders believe that if Hastert suddenly left the speakership, the contentious House Majority Leader Tom DeLay probably would replace him. But if Hastert announces a future retirement date, Boehner would be first in line.

SILENT HOWARD DEAN

 Although Howard Dean's ability to perform on television was boosted in his successful campaign to be Democratic national chairman, he stayed off all major television and radio programs after his election and avoided reporters generally.

 The day before Democratic National Committee members voted, a two-hour "meet and greet" session with candidates for chairman was opened to reporters for the last 20 minutes. But when they entered the meeting room at the Washington Hilton Hotel, Dean was gone.

 Dean's staff agreed only reluctantly to allow reporters into a debate Thursday between Dean and neo-conservative national security expert Richard Perle.

LABOR'S NEW LEADER?

 Labor sources report that AFL-CIO President John Sweeney is likely to be defeated by John Wilhelm, head of the hotel workers union, if Sweeney seeks a fourth term at the labor organization's convention in July.

 The 70-year-old Sweeney, who won the AFL-CIO's top job in 1995 as an insurgent candidate, has been criticized inside the labor movement for lack of success in recruiting new union members. Sweeney's administration has concentrated on political activity but has not reversed the tide of Republican successes.

 Teamsters leader James P. Hoffa, who has called for less money to be given to the AFL-CIO by individual unions, is likely to support Wilhelm, 59, in a showdown with Sweeney.

DOCTOR-LAWMAKER

 Newly elected Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma is facing the same ethics charges leveled by the same literal-minded staffer that nearly forced him out of the House of Representatives seven years ago.

 In 1997, the House Ethics Committee ruled that Dr. Coburn could return weekly to Muskogee, Okla., to deliver babies despite ethics regulations intended to prevent lawmakers from practicing medicine on the side. Robert L. Walker has moved from the staff of the House to the Senate Ethics Committee and is contending that stiffer Senate regulations prohibit Coburn from practicing the obstetrician's trade.
 
A compromise is being sought that would permit Coburn to "wind down" his medical practice, ending it after babies are delivered for his present patients. However, Senate Democratic staffers are talking about forcing Coburn to stop now, threatening the loss of his Senate committee memberships if he does not.

GREEN EVANGELICALS

 Evangelical leaders are being urged to sign a document that attempts to take a stand on environmentalism by asserting "we are not the owners of creation but its stewards."

 The document, already adopted by the National Association of Evangelicals, quotes Genesis that men are summoned by God to "watch over and care for" the earth. It is to be circulated and discussed March 9-10 in Washington at a meeting of the association, which represents 52 denominations. So far, signatories include Chuck Colson, James Dobson and Ted Haggard.

 Evangelicals supporting the document say it can help take the environmental issue away from the Left.