Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- George W. Bush, usually early to bed, was on the phone past 10 p.m. Wednesday talking reluctant Republican House members into voting for CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement). GOP congressional leaders credit President Bush with doing more personally to pass this measure than any other proposal.

 Bush did not begin his lobbying Wednesday night. For weeks, House members have been brought to the White House to talk about CAFTA with the president. When GOP congressmen arrived at the Capitol Wednesday morning, they were told Bush would address them on the trade agreement at the weekly 9 a.m. closed-door caucus.

 A footnote: House Republican leaders had hoped to give Rep. Robin Hayes freedom to vote against this bill, but they ultimately needed his "yes" to pass CAFTA by two votes. The agreement is not popular in Hayes's North Carolina Piedmont district, which contains a heavy textiles presence.


 Democratic insiders worried about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's electability for president were cheered by her speech Monday to the centrist Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) meeting in Columbus, Ohio.
While Clinton's call for an end to internal Democratic strife did not specify who was at fault, it was generally interpreted as hitting the party's left wing. That was seen as a shrewd move, reaching out to Clinton's right. She is considered immune from any presidential rival squeezing in on her left.

 A footnote: Clinton's vote against CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) did not signify a break from the DLC. Out of 43 House members who belong to the DLC, 38 voted against CAFTA.


 The 2004 Senate victory in South Dakota of Republican John Thune over then Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle did not end the bitter election campaign. Since the election, at least five South Dakota blogs have appeared with the only apparent purpose of attacking Thune.

 Former Daschle staffers openly run two of the blogs, and two others are anonymous. A fifth is run by Todd Epp, who did part-time legal work for Daschle's campaign. Epp told this column that Steve Hildebrand, Daschle's campaign manager, learned from Thune's use of paid bloggers in 2004 and now "is kind of behind some of this."

Robert Novak

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

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