Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- House Minority Leader John Boehner, who had promised last May that "bad behavior" by House Republicans who voted against their leadership would not be rewarded, announced to a party conference Wednesday that reform Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona was being removed from the Judiciary Committee.

With the change in House control, several Republicans had to be removed from committees. However, Flake was about halfway up the Judiciary panel in seniority, and this was his priority appointment. The decision was made by the Republican Steering Committee, dominated by Appropriations members who resent Flake's vigorous campaign against earmarks.

Boehner later told Flake he was purged because of his verbal attacks on party leaders. Flake was undone by his critical remarks on CBS's "60 Minutes" just before the election.

DEMOCRATIC DISCIPLINE

The House vote Tuesday passing a Democratic-sponsored homeland security bill showed that Republicans are unaccustomed to being in the minority for the first time in 12 years, while the Democrats are exercising iron discipline in the majority.

Although the full Republican leadership attacked the bill as expensive and ineffective, 68 Republicans voted for it while 128 were in opposition. The supporters included such ranking Republican committee members as Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida (Foreign Affairs) and Peter King of New York (Homeland Security).

All 231 Democrats voting were in support of the bill, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi began the Democratic "first 100 hours" of rapid-fire legislation. Pharmaceutical industry lobbyists could not find a single Democratic member against a party plan to force down drug prices. One moderate freshman congressman said he was opposed to the measure but felt obliged to vote for a bill that was in the Pelosi 100 hours as a "leadership issue."

EXPLORER OBAMA

Sen. Barack Obama informed a major Democratic financial contributor that he probably will announce formation of a 2008 presidential exploration committee this coming week, which starts with Martin Luther King Jr. Day Monday.

A political source close to Obama told this column he was not sure the exploratory committee would be named that early but added that probably would happen during the next three weeks. Actual announcement of his candidacy would come later.

A footnote: Obama canceled tentative plans to deliver the keynote address for Martin Luther King Jr. Day ceremonies at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. University officials speculated that Obama's travel has been temporarily suspended as he approaches the start of his presidential candidacy.

ROMNEY VS. REAGAN

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney's 1994 effort to unseat Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in Massachusetts continues to haunt him. A Democratic blogger named SoThisIsWashington posted a video clip on YouTube of a debate with Kennedy in which Romney deliberately separates himself from Ronald Reagan.

The video, from their campaign debate, shows Kennedy telling Romney that "your economic program" is "the program of Mr. Reagan and Mr. Bush." Romney responded: "Look, I was an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush. I'm not trying to return to Reagan-Bush."

In the same debate, Romney promised to "sustain and support" the Roe v. Wade abortion decision. Romney also was damaged with conservatives by a 1994 letter in which he claimed he was more pro-gay rights than Kennedy.

"DR. MULTIMILLIONAIRE"

Newly elected Rep. Steven Kagen, a rich allergist who self-financed his campaign in Wisconsin, by his own account taunted President and Mrs. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and presidential adviser Karl Rove during a White House function for new members of Congress in December.

Kagen told a group of activists that after he found himself in the restroom with Rove, he blocked the White House deputy chief of staff's departure by holding the door closed. According to Kagen, he then said: "You're in the White House and you think you're safe. . . . My name's Dr. Multimillionaire and I kicked your ass."

The new congressman said he said separately to both Bush and Cheney: "Thank you for coming to Green Bay. I couldn't have won without you coming." Kagen also said he approached Laura Bush and purposely called her Barbara, the name of the president's mother. Kagen's remarks were reported in "The Scene," published in Appleton, Wis.


Robert Novak

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

 
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