Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- Republicans returning to the House floor on Friday morning Aug. 3 after their walkout the night before were surprised to find as presiding officer the Democrat they call "King Corruption": Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, master of earmarks and backroom deals.

Rep. Ed Pastor, a 64-year-old eight-term Democrat from Phoenix, Ariz., who is affable and well-liked by Republicans, had been scheduled to preside. But Speaker Nancy Pelosi, fearing parliamentary tricks by Republicans, put her muscleman Murtha in the chair.

Murtha's performance as non-partisan presiding officer ran true to form. On a voice vote, Murtha ruled for Democrats when obviously more Republicans were on the House floor. He subsequently ordered a roll call vote, though members rising in support clearly fell short of the 44 required. After that ruling was challenged, Murtha declared: "The chair's decision is not subject to question."


Democratic insiders who are not neutral in the presidential race do not take seriously the USA Today/Gallup poll of Democratic voters showing Sen. Hillary Clinton 23 percentage points ahead of Sen. Barack Obama. They contend national surveys are meaningless because outcomes of the early state contests are still critical.

State polls show a virtual three-way tie among Clinton, Obama and former Sen. John Edwards in Iowa's early caucuses. Clinton has only a narrow lead over Obama in New Hampshire's opening primary. Obama has moved slightly ahead in the latest survey for South Carolina, the next primary state.

A footnote: Mitt Romney collects only 6 percent in the USA Today/Gallup national poll of Republicans but leads in Iowa and New Hampshire.


The Senate Judiciary Committee unexpectedly sent to the Senate floor the judicial nomination of former Mississippi Court of Appeals Judge Leslie Southwick, thanks to a defection by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California that blindsided Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy.

The homosexual rights coalition has targeted for defeat President Bush's nomination of Southwick to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals (Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi). Leahy called for an immediate committee vote on Aug. 2, expecting that the nomination would be killed. According to Senate sources, Republican Whip Trent Lott appealed to Feinstein on grounds that the Republican-controlled Senate had confirmed President Bill Clinton's judicial nomination of California liberal Richard Paez. Feinstein's vote provided a 10 to 9 edge for Southwick.

Robert Novak

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

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