Gate attraction Bush

Robert Novak
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Posted: Mar 11, 2006 12:05 AM

WASHINGTON -- While George W. Bush is helping House Republicans to raise money Thursday for their 2006 campaign effort to keep their majority, they may that very day deliver a stinging rebuke to him on the Dubai ports issue.

 The president will be the major attraction at the Washington Hilton Hotel fund-raiser, where tables sell for $2,000 apiece. For $5,000, supporters can get into the VIP reception to be photographed with President Bush.

 It is not intentional, but the House schedule will bring a vote at about that time on a Republican effort to amend the emergency spending bill with a prohibition of foreign ownership of U.S. ports management. The decision by party leaders to attach this amendment to must legislation that is difficult to veto represents the tough tactics normally employed against a president by the opposition party in Congress.

TREASURY TROUBLE

 Deputy Secretary Robert Kimmitt's high-level colleagues at the Treasury are furious about his performance in the Dubai ports management controversy in which he told Congress he did not learn about the government's decision much before the lawmakers did.

 Kimmitt, in charge of foreign acquisitions, denied prior knowledge of the sale to an Arab company of the British company managing U.S. ports only after Congress attacked the deal. The resentment toward his position was stated privately by officials at the next level below him. That performance did not help prospects for Kimmitt, a protege of former Secretary James Baker, to become secretary of the Treasury before President Bush's term is completed.

 The ports dispute recalled the criticism 18 years ago when Kimmitt, at Baker's assignment, vetted Dan Quayle as the prospective vice presidential nominee and did not ask him about his Vietnam National Guard service that became a major campaign issue.

PICKETING THE GRIDIRON

 Anti-war picketers outside the white-tie dinner of the Washington Gridiron Club this weekend at the Capital Hilton Hotel were alerted by an unnamed invited guest who tipped off left-wing activists to the unpublicized event.

 "All the pro-war leadership will be there," wrote activist Kevin Zeese in an Internet message. "The Gridiron Club does a good job of keeping all of this secret, but I know someone who was invited to attend and therefore got the information." He called this "a gigantic opportunity" for the anti-war movement.

 The president and vice president usually both attend the annual event of the Gridiron Club, an organization of Washington-based journalists.

SLAMMING SANTORUM

 In attacking the new South Dakota anti-abortion statute, the Republican Majority for Choice (RMC) last Wednesday took a gratuitous swipe at Republican Sen. Rick Santorum's uphill campaign for re-election in Pennsylvania.

 Jennifer Stockman, RMC national co-chairman (and wife of Reagan administration OMB Director David Stockman), called Santorum "the poster child of the religious right." She said "rank-and-file Republicans" in Pennsylvania are "withholding support" from Santorum against Democratic State Treasurer Bob Casey, who also is pro-life.

 A footnote: Pro-choice Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania's other senator, wrote Jennifer Stockman five days prior to her attack on Santorum, calling on "the RMC to repudiate and renounce any effort to defeat Sen. Santorum." But a Specter spokesman told this column that Stockman has promised to stop attacking Santorum and that the senator intends to remain on the RMC advisory board.

OBAMA'S APPEAL

 Reflecting his status as an instant Democratic superstar, freshman Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois was the main attraction at California Sen. Dianne Feinstein's fund-raiser last Monday

 Obama was heralded as a "special guest" for Feinstein's reception in her Washington home. The prices for the event, appealing mainly to lobbyists, were scaled from $1,000 to $5,000.

 A footnote: Another unusual fund-raising attraction is being used by House Speaker Dennis Hastert in a fund-raiser at St. Charles, Ill., in his congressional district March 31. The "special guest speaker" for the $100-a-ticket event is Senate Republican Whip Mitch McConnell. House members usually do not use senators for their fund-raising.