Robert Novak

President Bush's political advisers are urging Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele neither to seek nor accept a Cabinet post but instead find a national platform on television or radio.

While losing for the U.S. Senate, Steele attracted favorable attention across the country as an eloquent African-American Republican. Bush political strategists have told Steele a high-ranking post in the administration's last two years would curb his independence and cramp his style. Instead, they advised, he could be "a black Rush Limbaugh."

Steele was interested in heading the Republican National Committee, but his independence displayed during the 2006 campaign was not what the White House wanted there. The decision had been made weeks earlier to name Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida as general chairman and Kentucky National Committeeman Mike Duncan as national chairman.


The renowned House Republican whip operation was nowhere to be seen Monday on the first day of the lame-duck session when the Vietnam trade bill fell 32 votes short of the two-thirds necessary for passage, four days before President Bush's arrival in Hanoi.

House GOP discipline enforced for 12 years broke down with 66 Republican members voting against the president. They did not have to defy the party's whips. There simply was no effort to whip the troops.

The breakdown in discipline was reflected by a surprising number of senior House members among the 66 defectors. They included Reps. Pete Hoekstra, Intelligence Committee chairman; Duncan Hunter, Armed Services chairman; Joe Barton, Energy and Commerce chairman; and Bill Young, former Appropriations chairman -- all normally dependable in following the leadership.


President Bush's political team, after six years of tolerating Sen. Lincoln Chafee's irregularities, was enraged by his final defection following defeat for re-election in Rhode Island.

The national Republican strategists had excused Chafee's repeated deviations from party line voting on grounds that it was necessary for him to survive in his heavily Democratic state. But with Chafee a defeated lame duck after the election, there was no political justification for his declared opposition to John Bolton as United Nations ambassador. That killed any last hope for confirming Bolton.

The White House had made a calculated decision to support Chafee against a regular Republican in the GOP primary in the belief only he could be elected. The Bush aides felt Chafee owed the president the Bolton vote since he was leaving the Senate anyway.


Robert Novak

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

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