Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- James P. Hoffa faces a possible challenge for re-election as president of the Teamsters in 2006 from the union's Southern leader, Tyson Johnson of Dallas.

 The threat is considered serious enough by Hoffa for him to meet secretly with Johnson, a Teamsters vice president for the Southern Region, Dec. 21 at the Phoenix airport. The meeting's results were described by union sources as inconclusive, and Johnson has not definitely committed himself to running.

 Hoffa has led the Teamsters out of the AFL-CIO for the second time and has been a national leader among union chiefs seeking a new direction to energize the labor movement. However, Hoffa has come under fire inside his union from erstwhile allies such as Johnson.

STEVENS FAILS

 Before the Senate refused to close debate on the defense appropriations bill containing a provision to permit oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska several times assured the White House that he had the votes to invoke cloture.

 The White House relied entirely on Stevens, president pro tempore of the Senate as the chamber's senior Republican, to get the votes. But he did not collect the two-thirds of senators needed to force the bill to a vote, and ANWR was removed from the military bill.

 Stevens admitted defeat with an unusually bitter speech Dec. 21, the last night the full Senate was in session. "I don't deserve some of the comments that have been made by some senators," he said, referring to criticism for inserting ANWR in the defense bill. He indicated he especially resented criticism by Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd, the Senate's senior member.

TEXAS SHOWDOWN

 The biggest Republican concern about future control of the House rests with the Supreme Court's decision in the Texas congressional redistricting case.

 Republican leaders were stunned when the court agreed to a review. They had thought the issue was settled when the justices, by five to four, refused to consider a similar case in Pennsylvania. But Justice Anthony Kennedy, who cast the decisive vote on the Pennsylvania case, is a swing vote who could go the other way on Texas.

 Even if the Supreme Court rules against the redistricting orchestrated by Rep. Tom DeLay, it might come too late to affect the 2006 election. Republicans gained six House seats from Texas after the redistricting.

DRIVING OUT SHERRY

 Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, one of the most liberal Republicans in Congress who is now serving his 12th term from upstate New York, might not seek re-election in 2006 if he is shut out from committee chairmanships.

 Boehlert is serving his last year as Science Committee chairman thanks to term limits. Although he is next in line to head the Transportation Committee (a principal dispenser of pork), current Chairman Don Young of Alaska is expected to block Boehlert's ascension. Boehlert's lifetime support record by the American Conservative Union is only 40 percent.

 A footnote: Rep. Tom Petri of Wisconsin is next in line at Transportation after Boehlert, but he may be stopped because of his support for a gas tax increase. That choice chairmanship could fall to Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. of Tennessee.

HOLIDAY POLITICS

 In sessions preceding their holiday recess, Democratic members of Congress peppered their floor speeches and press releases with references to Republicans as "Scrooge" and the "Grinch."

 Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi said the Republican budget bill was "a gift from an extremist Grinch." Rep. Dave Obey of Wisconsin said "Scrooge-onomics" best described Republican budget policy. "Bah humbug!" bellowed Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in two floor speeches. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said comparing Republicans with Scrooge "gives Scrooge a bad name." At least 19 members engaged in such rhetoric.

 A footnote: Responding to this Democratic holiday-bashing, Republican Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire declared: "Let me point out that 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas' is a wonderful story. A fellow who went to school in New Hampshire wrote it. It is a fantasy."


Robert Novak

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

 
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