Robert Novak

One reason for hurrying Senate confirmation of Robert Gates as secretary of defense through the lame-duck session of Congress is to avoid confrontation with an old enemy: James Webb, who will be a Democratic senator from Virginia in the new Congress starting in January.

During President Reagan's second term, Gates and Webb clashed as colleagues. Webb as secretary of the Navy objected to plans by Gates, then deputy national security adviser, for U.S. warships to protect oil platforms in the Persian Gulf. The hot-tempered Webb made clear his irritation with the soft-spoken Gates.

Considering his background, Webb is likely to go on the Senate Armed Services Committee. The White House wants to confirm Gates before Webb is sworn in.


Ambitions of Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois to be majority whip, third-ranking in the House Democratic hierarchy, were torpedoed by Congressional Black Caucus insistence on the post going to Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina as an African-American.

Emanuel, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, is celebrated as architect of his party's return to House control. But there has been no African-American in a top congressional leadership position in more than 14 years, though five blacks are in line to be committee chairmen.

Emanuel agreed to succeed Clyburn in the lesser post of House Democratic Caucus chairman. Clyburn is a popular figure serving his seventh term. Emanuel, while only in his second term and too abrasive to be well liked by colleagues, has emerged as a political superstar.


Prominent Virginia Republicans are bitter at Sen. George Allen for losing his seat in the Senate, causing a Democratic majority there, because of his now deflated presidential ambitions.

These critics charge that Allen took for granted his re-election against what looked like a weak Democratic field and concentrated on building an organization in key presidential test states, headed by Iowa and New Hampshire. Accordingly, Allen did not have an effective Virginia campaign structure in place when his own mistakes jeopardized his election to a second Senate term.

Republican second-guessers outside Virginia say Allen's mistake was not in failing to prepare for the state campaign but in not avoiding it, as Gov. Mitt Romney did in Massachusetts. By skipping an uphill re-election fight in a heavily Democratic state, Romney has been able to start building a national presidential campaign organization without worrying about his home front.


Robert Novak

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

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