WASHINGTON -- House Speaker Dennis Hastert turned down a White House request to elect a permanent successor to Tom DeLay as majority leader in advance of President Bush's State of the Union address on Jan. 31. Republican House members simply did not want to return early to Washington after their winter vacation.
Bush's aides wanted an early vote, perhaps on Monday Jan. 30, so that speculation over DeLay's successor and a possibly bitter internal campaign would not distract from the president's speech. But Hastert set the voting for Feb. 2 after GOP members objected to changing plans for getting back to work.
A footnote: Both of the principal contenders to succeed DeLay, Acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt and Rep. John Boehner, appeared to have peaked short of a majority last week. Each side started to leak negative opposition research.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi was described as incensed when she heard that her second-in-command, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, was collaborating on congressional reform behind her back with the Republican leadership. In fact, she had nothing to worry about.
Rep. David Dreier, a Republican leader as House Rules Committee chairman, was assigned to draft reform proposals in light of lobbyist scandals rocking Washington. Dreier let it be known that he intended to get input from Hoyer.
When Dreier's intention seeped out, Pelosi was reported angry. However, in a Wednesday night telephone conversation with Dreier, Hoyer ruled out bipartisan collaboration on rules changes. He said this was a problem of Republican conduct.
ABSENT ALITO PROTESTERS
The confirmation hearing of Judge Samuel Alito for the U.S. Supreme Court lacked opposition protesters, stickers and signs that were in evidence when Chief Justice John Roberts appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. In contrast, college-age Alito supporters assembled on Capitol Hill each day with bright red "Confirm Alito" signs.
The National Organization for Women (NOW) and NARAL Pro-Choice America, opposed to confirming both Roberts and Alito, held news media events at noon daily during the Roberts but not the Alito hearings. A NOW spokeswoman told this column no public demonstrations had been planned against Alito.
Actually, liberal organizations consider the fight over Alito as more important than the Roberts confirmation because Alito's presence would move the Supreme Court's ideological balance rightward.
MURTHA'S NEW ALLIES
Rep. Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania, formerly one of the most hawkish Democrats in Congress, met on Jan. 5 with representatives of the militant antiwar organization, Code Pink.
Murtha, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, has moved deeper into the antiwar protest movement over the past two months since advocating removal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Code Pink, at a mock war crimes tribunal in Istanbul June 27, signed a declaration that the Iraqi insurgency "deserved the support of people everywhere who care for justice and freedom." The document also rejected as illegitimate any democratic government left behind in Iraq.
Code Pink's website currently shows Murtha with his arms around Gael Murphy, the organization's co-founder, and Allison Yorra, its Washington coordinator. Murphy was one of the protesters arrested for disrupting the 2004 Republican National Convention.
BUSH'S BIG GIVERS
Republican "Regents," credited with contributing or raising at least $250,000 each for George W. Bush's re-election, traveled Thursday to Palm Beach, Fla., for a cocktail party and to listen to a private speech by the president.
Besides getting a chance to rub elbows with Bush for a few moments, the Regents were able to drink and eat hors d'oeuvres at the $70 million mansion of Republican national finance chairman Dwight Schar. He last year purchased Casa Apava, an estate at 1300 South Ocean Boulevard.
However, the Regents were not offered an overnight stay at Schar's mansion. A block of rooms to be paid for by each at $440 a night was set aside at The Colony, a ritzy Palm Beach hotel (though presumably each could have upgraded to a $650 suite).