Challenging Nancy

Robert Novak

5/26/2007 12:01:00 AM - 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.

INVISIBLE HARRY REID

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.

TORNADO POLITICS

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.

SHRUM ON EDWARDS

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).

Shrum now feels he was wrong twice in boosting Edwards, though he believes Sen. Joseph Lieberman also turned out to be a poor choice as the 2000 vice-presidential nominee. Senior adviser to Al Gore and John Kerry as the presidential candidates in those years, Shrum was engaged in the selection of vice-presidential nominees.

Shrum's "No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner," scheduled for publication next month, is described by those who have read it as extraordinarily candid. That belies unsubstantiated reports that he may again work for a Democratic presidential aspirant in 2008.

DO-NOTHING CONGRESS

After five months of Democratic control, Congress has enacted no major legislation and finished no regular appropriations bill. It has successfully renamed six federal buildings and one national park, extended the lives of two government commissions and reduced the membership of the Red Cross board of governors from 50 to 10.

In addition, Congress kept the government going with temporary spending legislation, redesignated five Eastern European countries (Albania, Macedonia, Croatia, Georgia and Ukraine) for security aid, strengthened penalties against animal fighting and authorized construction of 541 feet of road in St. Louis County, Mo. An emergency bill financing the war in Iraq and Afghanistan was vetoed by President Bush before a bill acceptable to him was passed before the Memorial Day recess.

Congress faces a heavy agenda to fit into a schedule interrupted by several recesses before the end of the year.