Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- Nancy Pelosi staved off the biggest intraparty challenge during her brief tenure as speaker of the House Monday, standing her ground in support of two free-trade treaties during an uproarious meeting of the House Democratic Caucus behind closed doors.

Pelosi backed deals on Peru and Panama treaties negotiated by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel despite fierce protests by rank-and-file Democrats. The caucus was to consider Iraq, immigration and the trade treaties, but the debate over trade was so extended that it took up all the time.

A footnote: There is no agreement on key Korean and Colombian trade treaties coming up later this year.


The usually omnipresent Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has kept far away from the current immigration debate, popped into a closed meeting of bipartisan senators led by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy trying to guide their compromise bill to passage.

"Would it help more if I stayed away or came in?" Reid asked with a smile. "Stay away!" was the jocular reply. Reid supported the less restrictive immigration bill in the last Congress but has not taken a public position on this year's measure.

The AFL-CIO and other liberal pressure groups whose line Reid generally follows oppose the compromise bill. But hotel magnate Bill Marriott, a Republican who contributes to Reid's campaigns, is pushing for guest worker legislation.


Bush administration officials, stung by complaints from Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius that National Guard heavy equipment needed by tornado-stricken Greensburg, Kan., is in Iraq, are putting out word that she was two days late at the disaster scene because she was attending a jazz festival in New Orleans.

The governor's office told this column that she was out of the state with her family to attend the New Orleans Jazzfest 2007 on May 4, when the tornado hit Kansas. She returned on a plane loaned by Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

Sebelius was featured on cable TV, radio talk shows and the Internet when she merged the Iraqi war with the Kansas tornado. A daughter of former Ohio Gov. John Gilligan, she would be a leading vice-presidential possibility if anybody other than Sen. Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee for president.


Democratic political operative Bob Shrum, whom press accounts of his forthcoming memoir depict as hostile to John Edwards, actually recommended the former senator from North Carolina for the vice-presidential nomination in both 2000 (unsuccessfully) and 2004 (successfully).

Robert Novak

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

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