Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- MoveOn.org, the left-wing activist group leading the fight against Rep. Tom DeLay, has claimed there is a Republican clamor to replace him as House majority leader that does not actually exist.

 "Now," said an e-mail dispatched by MoveOn, "some Republicans in Congress are speaking out against DeLay." In fact, however, no Republican in Congress has criticized DeLay publicly, not even on an off-the-record basis.

 The e-mail also declares unequivocally that "DeLay illegally used corporate funds in support of his plan to redistrict Texas." Actually, DeLay has not been convicted, tried or even formally accused of breaking the law.

GOING TO ROME

 Members of the Senate and House from both parties hurried to arrange to be in Rome for Friday's funeral of Pope John Paul II. But their ranks did not include the lawmaker most responsible for establishing diplomatic relations between the United States and the Vatican in 1983: Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana.

 Lugar, who then, as now, was the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pushed through a Senate resolution enabling the relationship despite strong Protestant opposition. President Ronald Reagan then came under heavy pressure not to set up an embassy in Vatican City. Since the establishment of formal diplomatic ties, however, there has been little criticism.

 The rush of senators and House members to attend the funeral, not seen when earlier popes died, came without a formal invitation. Lugar told me he was staying in Washington because of urgent Foreign Relations Committee issues on the Senate floor, indicating that "devout Catholics" should get precedence on the trip. However, those going to Rome included many non-Catholics -- such as Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

DISSING THE POPE

 Thirty minutes after voting 98 to 0 Tuesday to honor John Paul II, the Senate by a narrow margin went on record against the late pope's "Mexico City policy" barring U.S. government spending abroad for abortions.

 The pope was a principal architect of the Vatican-proposed policy, adopted at a 1984 United Nations population conference in Mexico City. President Ronald Reagan then issued an executive order prohibiting federal grants for groups that perform abortions abroad and that lobby to legalize abortion in developing countries.

 Republican Senate staffers and outside conservative groups were caught off guard Tuesday when Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California suddenly brought up a proposal to undo the Mexico City language. It passed 52 to 46, thanks to eight Republican defections and unanimous Democratic support.


WOOING BLACKS

 Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman attended last Wednesday evening's reception in Washington by the National Urban League, but Democratic Chairman Howard Dean was not there.

 A Democratic National Committee spokesperson said Dean missed the prestigious African-American organization's major event because he had a schedule conflict with the annual black-tie dinner of the Washington Radio and Television Correspondents Association. However, Mehlman was able to attend both events.

 A footnote: Dean so far has avoided mini-debates with Mehlman. NBC's "Meet the Press" has failed in several efforts to pin down Dean for a joint appearance with Mehlman.


MARYLAND GOP HOPES

 National Republican leaders, seeking to elect a Republican senator from Maryland for the first time since 1980, privately express confidence that Lt. Gov. Michael Steele next year will run for the seat left open by the surprise retirement of Democratic Sen. Paul Sarbanes.

 Steele, who is an African-American, is considered the strongest Republican candidate but was thought to be more interested in running for another term as lieutenant governor. The only announced Democratic contender, former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, also is black.

 A footnote: National GOP leaders are hoping to win a seat in another Democratic stronghold, New Jersey, with State Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (son of the former governor). The Senate vacancy is being created by Democratic Sen. Jon Corzine, who is leaving to run for governor.


Robert Novak

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

 
©Creators Syndicate