Bill's Displeasure

Robert Novak

2/24/2007 12:01:00 AM - Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- Democratic sources believe that the harsh response by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign to criticism by Hollywood producer David Geffen stems from an overreaction by Bill Clinton to any attack on his pardon policy as president.

Geffen sniped at the Clintons in his interview with New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd because President Clinton had pardoned financial contributor Marc Rich instead of American Indian activist Leonard Peltier. Geffen, a longtime backer of Bill Clinton, is backing Sen. Barack Obama for president.

The movie mogul's comments marked the first time Bill Clinton had been subjected to an attack from his party since the 1992 campaign. The former president was reported as infuriated, raising the question of whether he will rise to the bait in any further intraparty criticism of his wife.

OBAMA'S RETORT

Close supporters of Sen. Barack Obama's presidential candidacy were pleased for the short term by his campaign's sharp retort to Sen. Hillary Clinton's criticism of him but are concerned by its long-range implications.

Obama backers said his tough response demonstrated that as a newcomer to big-time politics, he could take a punch and then hit back. The broader problem is whether Clinton and Obama will engage in a continuous head-to-head struggle that would open the way for another candidate (especially former Sen. John Edwards).

A footnote: Obama's strategists were happy about him skipping the first Democratic presidential candidate forum last Wednesday at Carson City, Nev. (preceding the inaugural Nevada caucuses next Jan. 19). Obama did not want to tear up his schedule in order to get five minutes at the forum and felt Clinton wasted her time doing so.

DIPLOMATIC PROTEST

Although the White House claimed ignorance about the resignation last month of Robert Joseph as under secretary of state for arms control and disarmament, associates say he was upset generally with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's policies. The recent nuclear arms accord with North Korea was the last straw.

When asked last Tuesday whether Joseph disagreed with the Korean policy and resigned in protest over it, White House spokesman Tony Snow replied: "Not that I'm aware of. In fact, I don't have any idea." That evoked laughter from the assembled reporters.

Joseph had left the government after four years as a key aide to National Security Adviser Rice during President Bush's first term. But Rice pleaded with Joseph, saying she badly needed him at the State Department, and he agreed to take the job. His first experience at State did not prove a happy one, as he felt cut out of the action.

MCCAIN'S NEW BACKER

Former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating ended weeks of considering whether to run for president last Sunday when he appeared at Spartanburg, S.C., at Sen. John McCain's side to support his candidacy.

Keating, currently the life insurance industry's top lobbyist in Washington, had discussed with Republican political consultant Ed Rollins the possibility of making the run. He recently decided against the race, partly because of the difficulty in raising funds.

At Spartanburg, Keating declared that McCain is the "only candidate who is a true-blue, Ronald Reagan conservative." Keating is a prominent Catholic layman and an anti-abortion advocate.

GOV. BREAUX?

Louisiana Democrats are optimistic that former Sen. John Breaux, now a high-priced Washington lobbyist, will bail them out of their post-Katrina malaise by running for governor this year.

The popular Breaux would be heavily favored against Republican Rep. Bobby Jindal, who was narrowly defeated by Gov. Kathleen Blanco in 2003. Because of her handling of Katrina, Blanco is in deep political trouble. Democrats in Louisiana believe she would step aside if Breaux runs.

A footnote: Breaux resides in the Foggy Bottom section of Washington in a condo whose owner took the tax break reserved for citizens of the District of Columbia. That could raise questions of whether Breaux meets the five-year Louisiana residency requirement for gubernatorial candidates. Breaux declined to comment to this column.