Hawaiian tribe

Robert Novak

8/27/2005 12:00:00 AM - Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- The first business for the Senate when it reconvenes Sept. 6 after the summer recess will be passing a bill giving native Hawaiians the same status as mainland Indian tribes, despite opposition by Republican leaders and the Bush administration.

 On top of solid Democratic support, the bill is co-sponsored by Alaska's two Republican senators (who always back their Hawaiian colleagues) plus three other Republicans: Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Norm Coleman of Minnesota and Gordon Smith of Oregon. The bill appears to have the 60 senators needed to break a filibuster, putting responsibility for stopping the bill on the House or a presidential veto.

 A footnote: Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, the bill's principal co-sponsor, undermined his own cause Aug. 16 when he was described on National Public Radio as saying tribal sovereignty "could eventually go further, perhaps even leading to outright independence." Said Akaka: "That could be." The senator hastily peeled back Aug. 18 with a statement that he is "not a proponent of independence or secession of the State of Hawaii."

HILLARY'S ADVERSARY?

 Virginia Gov. Mark Warner is the early leader to become the "non-Hillary": Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's real adversary for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.

 As a sitting governor, Warner has limited out-of-state travels. But he has gained admirers in Pennsylvania, California and throughout the South. With his term in Richmond ended, Warner next year can travel the entire country to tap Democrats who are less than enthusiastic about Clinton.

 A footnote: Polls show Warner leading Republican Sen. George Allen (himself a potential presidential candidate) in a 2006 Senate contest. But making such a race would take Warner out of the presidential derby, and he appears to have his eyes on the White House.

NOBODY FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

 When a House International Relations subcommittee held hearings this summer on Chinese repression of the Falun Gong, Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California complained that the Bush administration was being represented not by a presidential appointee but by a low-level bureaucrat.

 Despite emphasis on democracy and human rights in his second term, President Bush's difficulty in filling key government positions extends to this area. He has been without an assistant secretary of state for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor since early August of 2004.

 When the House hearing on China and the Falun Gong was held, the deputy assistant secretary's slot also was unfilled. Representing the administration was Gretchen Birkle, principal acting deputy assistant secretary.

R.I. GOP RUMBLE

 The Republican establishment, which mostly has struck out in recruitment of good candidates in key Senate races, also has failed to keep Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey from challenging liberal Sen. Lincoln Chafee in the 2006 Rhode Island Republican primary.

 After months of delay, Laffey has hired a campaign manager and will announce his candidacy in mid-September. Robert Manning, Republican National Committeeman for Rhode Island, last week blocked a $500,000 Republican National Committee contribution intended to help Chafee.

 Chafee is running well in polls against unimpressive Democratic possible opponents, but party leaders in Washington fear he would be roughed up in a September 2006 Republican primary, even if he wins it. Opposition researchers are probing Laffey's personal life in preparation for a bitter primary fight.

WAITING FOR EDGAR

 Illinois Republicans are grumbling that former Gov. Jim Edgar, by keeping the door open for a possible comeback next year against embattled Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich, has closed down all fund-raising for the race.

 Edgar, who left the governor's office in 1998, is believed to be serious about trying to return to Springfield. The White House is anxious for Edgar to run as the best bet to end a Republican losing streak in Illinois.

 Backers of conservative State Sen. Steve Rauschenberger complain that Edgar's indecision has put their candidate's bid for governor on hold. Veteran Rep. Ray LaHood has bowed out, citing Edgar's peripheral presence as his reason.