Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- Worried Republican leaders from both the House and Senate cleared out staffers Wednesday for the first night of their three-day retreat on the Eastern Shore of Maryland to discuss their anxiety about the question of ethics.

 Over dinner at the Inn at Perry Cabin in St. Michaels, Md., the GOP leaders were reported to have discussed the repercussions of the scandal revolving around the federal investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff. They were said to have discussed how many of their colleagues might find themselves linked to Abramoff, as has Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio, the "mayor" of Capitol Hill as chairman of the House Administration Committee.

 The dinner took place two days after the Hill was shocked when Rep. Duke Cunningham of California pleaded guilty to receiving $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors. However, Republicans feel the likelihood is greater of exposing more Neys, challenged by ethical questions, than of more Cunninghams, committing overtly criminal behavior.


 Newt Gingrich, who was forced to resign as speaker of the House seven years ago, is serious about seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.

 Critics of Gingrich have suggested that he encourages the presidential talk mainly to boost book sales and promote lecture fees. In fact, however, as he travels the country, Gingrich privately makes personal pitches in seeking supporters for a presidential candidacy.

 Thus far, there is no sign of any success by Gingrich in signing up former colleagues whom he has approached. He has generated more support from former staffers, who are ready to work on his '08 campaign.


 Newly elected Rep. Jean Schmidt of Ohio, excoriated by Democrats for intimating that Rep. John Murtha is a coward, faces a possible Republican primary challenge next year from former Rep. Bob McEwen.

 Piercing the usual veil of anonymity for freshman House members, Schmidt was battered by Democrats for suggesting that decorated wounded war veteran Murtha was a coward because he proposed withdrawal from Iraq. Republican colleagues were furious with her for making the well-liked Murtha the issue instead of the war.

 Former State Rep. Schmidt won the nomination last June 14 with 31 percent of the vote in the 11-candidate field, trailed by McEwen's 25 percent. In the Aug. 2 special election, she nearly lost the heavily Republican Cincinnati-area district.


Robert Novak

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

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