Robert Novak

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Republican National Chairman Kenneth Mehlman went to Capitol Hill last Tuesday to warn the party's House and Senate campaign staffers of dire consequences unless Republicans break the current legislative deadlock.

 Mehlman stressed the necessity to pass a budget resolution and an immigration reform bill, dealing with two issues that seriously concern the Republican base.

  Word circulated around Capitol Hill that Mehlman warned 45 seats could be lost in the House on Nov. 7. He told me that he did not mention that figure and, in fact, believes Republicans would retain control of the House if elections were held today. High-level party sources close to Mehlman estimate the GOP loss could be 25 seats under a worst-case scenario. A 15-seat gain would give the Democrats House control.

ABSENT GRASSLEY

  Sen. Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, turned down a request to meet in the Oval Office with President Bush and other Senate and House tax legislators last Tuesday because he was scheduled with Iowa constituents.

 That marked Grassley's second recent boycott of a high-level meeting about tax legislation. A week earlier, he declined to attend an 8:30 p.m. session in Speaker Dennis Hastert's office because it was so late in the day.

  The message from Grassley is that as Finance Committee chairman he is running his own show and does not want to be bossed around by either the president or the speaker.
 
JUDICIAL POLITICS

 Outside conservative groups advocating confirmation of White House aide Brett Kavanaugh as a federal appellate judge are not happy with willingness by Senate Republican leaders to grant his Democratic opponents new Senate Judiciary Committee hearings on his nomination.

  Democrats say the committee's April 24 interrogation of Kavanaugh is out of date and they want to question the nominee about new controversies, including the Jack Abramoff scandal. Outside conservatives fear this will give Sen. Charles Schumer and other Judiciary Democrats an opening to assault Kavanaugh.

 However, Senate Republican strategists feel that the more the public sees the Judiciary Committee harassing judicial nominees, the better off the GOP will be. They are particularly anxious to put Schumer on national television.

TARGETING MCCAIN

 An ad filmed last Thursday by the American Family Business Institute targets Sen. John McCain, a prospective Republican presidential candidate, to pin down his vote ending debate on repeal of the estate tax.

  The cloture vote on the bill later this month is expected to be close. The ad, distributed through conservative blogs, quotes my column of last Sept. 4 as saying, "McCain told me he will vote for cloture." However, the senator is opposed to total repeal of the tax.

 "American family businesses and farmers are counting on John McCain," says the ad. "Counting on him to cast a vote that could save the jobs they create and the legacy they leave for their children." It concludes, "Ask John McCain to keep his promise and end the death tax forever."

UNFRIENDLY NEIGHBORS

 Presidential adviser Karl Rove and his enemy, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, along with his wife, Valerie Plame, were seated at adjacent tables in the huge ballroom of the Washington Hilton Hotel for the White House Correspondents Association dinner on April 29.

 Wilson on Aug. 21, 2003, talked about having Rove "frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs" in connection with disclosure of his wife's identity as a CIA employee. Wilson later said, "I don't know if he (Rove) leaked it." With 2,700 in the ballroom, Wilson and Plame (guests of ABC) and Rove (NBC's guest) were seated a few feet from each other.

  A footnote: Billionaire financier George Soros, who spent $20 million against George W. Bush's re-election, was at the correspondents' dinner, but as far from the head table and the president as possible. Soros was a guest of the Financial Times, whose table was at the outer reaches of the ballroom.


Robert Novak

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

 
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