Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- The absence by Chief of Staff Andrew Card from President Bush's Latin America and Asia trips has increased speculation about a possible reconstruction of the White House staff.

 Presidential aides said Card was left behind to handle the crush of congressional business during Bush's absence. However, the chief of staff almost always accompanies the president on foreign travels.

 A footnote: Al Hubbard, director of the National Economic Council, is being given a wide variety of domestic assignments beyond economics and is speculated on as Card's possible successor.

IMMORTAL SENATORS

 The final version of the Health and Human Services appropriations bill rejected by the House Thursday contained a provision naming two government buildings in Atlanta for current U.S. senators.

 The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) buildings were to be named after Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa. Each has been active in securing funds for the CDC. House members on both sides of the aisle were infuriated by sitting senators seeking to immortalize themselves.

 A footnote: The highly unusual 224 to 209 defeat on the appropriations bill came as a surprise to Acting House Majority Leader Roy Blunt. No Democrat voted for the bill, and 22 Republicans opposed it.

DEMOCRATS IN '08

 Democratic insiders have raised from "possible" to "probable" the prospect of presidential candidacies in 2008 by New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware.

 Richardson has said he will await his 2006 re-election campaign in New Mexico before making a presidential decision. But party insiders say now he is preparing the groundwork for a national campaign, assuming that his second term as governor is likely. Richardson is a former member of Congress, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and secretary of energy.

 There has been skepticism that Biden, whose 1988 presidential candidacy was aborted, really would try again. However, Democrats close to the six-term senator now expect Biden, who will turn 66 shortly after the 2008 election, to make a final bid for the White House in what may be his last shot at the White House.
 
SOLID DEMOCRAT

 Sen. Ben Nelson, a moderate Democrat seeking re-election in the overwhelmingly Republican state of Nebraska and a leading GOP target next year, is shown by a Republican poll to enjoy a very high approval rating.

 The survey taken by the Braynard Group shows 71 percent job approval for Nelson, compared with 59 percent for his Republican colleague, Sen. Chuck Hagel. President Bush's rating is 64 percent, one of his highest in the country. Nelson previously had been considered one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents.

 Nelson had $2.6 million in campaign cash on hand at the end of September. That's eight times as much as his Republican challenger, Ameritrade heir Pete Ricketts, and probably enough to buy most of the state's air time for the full '06 campaign.

REDS AT NEA

 The District of Columbia cell of the Communist Party USA has been revealed as holding a monthly luncheon in the cafeteria of the National Education Association (NEA), without the sponsorship but not with the disapproval of the huge, politically powerful schoolteachers union.

 The Communist meetings were reported by Chris Peterson in the Washington City Paper edition of Nov. 11-17. A lawyer attending the September meeting bolted from the cafeteria when he learned a reporter was present.

 "We had no knowledge of this," NEA spokeswoman Denise Cardinal told this column, "because the NEA does not screen the patrons of our cafeteria or listen in on conversations. It's open to the public."


Robert Novak

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

 
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