Angry At Arlen

Robert Novak
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Posted: Sep 08, 2007 12:01 AM
Angry At Arlen

WASHINGTON -- While Senate Republicans reflected outrage that Sen. Larry Craig was retreating from his earlier statement that he would resign from the Senate, their privately expressed anger was directed toward Sen. Arlen Specter for encouraging Craig to reconsider.

Craig appeared ready to resign because he pleaded guilty to improper conduct in a Minnesota airport restroom, but he modified his position after he heard Specter on the Fox News Network say the Idaho senator should not quit. The misdirected voicemail disclosing Craig's tactics cited Specter's comments as reason for contemplating a fight.

Specter, a moderate from Pennsylvania, was grateful to Craig as a rare conservative senator who backed him vigorously when an effort was made after the 2004 elections to prevent Specter from becoming Judiciary Committee chairman. After privately being told by Republicans to stop boosting Craig, Specter Thursday contended he had said all he would say about the controversy.

VETO EDUCATION?

A closed-door meeting of House Republican leaders Wednesday favored urging President Bush to veto the higher education bill providing more money for student loans, but by Thursday they were backing away because of doubts that they could block an override.

The final version passed by overwhelming margins (273 to 149 in the House, 78 to 18 in the Senate). That included substantial Republican support -- 29 senators, 47 House members. Republicans expect far more than the 67 senators needed to override a veto but also fear the necessary 290 will be reached in the House.

Bush has indicated he would veto the extravagant bill unless it were improved in the Senate-House conference. But the conferees made the bill worse from the Republican standpoint. That raises the question whether Bush would undermine his veto credibility or risk a defeat.

W'S INTERVIEWER

Inside the White House, departed communications director Dan Bartlett is blamed for allowing journalist Robert Draper to conduct six exclusive one-hour interviews with George W. Bush for a new book ("Dead Certain") that paints an unfavorable portrait of the president.

Draper, a correspondent for GQ magazine, is a former senior editor at Texas Monthly who was regarded by most of Bush's aides from Texas as a "typical Austin liberal." Nevertheless, Bartlett argued it would be a good idea to give Draper unprecedented access.

In his author's note, Draper said he was "deeply grateful to Bartlett for this leap of faith -- made without any promises on my part or stipulations on his" to get "a larger, more lasting portrait" of Bush.

TIM JOHNSON'S RETURN

Although Sen. Tim Johnson received a warm bipartisan greeting upon his return to the Senate Wednesday after suffering a brain hemorrhage last Dec. 13, his financial team is running into trouble with his Sept. 12 fundraiser.

One political "switch-hitter" (who contributes to both parties) has received six separate invitations to the $1,000-to-$2,300 reception at the Washington mansion of Johnson's fellow South Dakotan, former Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle. Such unusual persistence indicates the sponsors are encountering donor resistance.

There has been speculation that Johnson could use the event to announce his candidacy for re-election in 2008. He indicated Wednesday he had not decided whether to seek a third Senate term.

HILLARY'S 'TOWN HALLS'

Sen. Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign has redesignated as "town halls" what used to be "VIP receptions" for top-dollar political donors.

Political events usually start with the candidate chatting and being photographed with big money backers paying the $2,300 limit, followed by a regular reception for $1,000 givers. Now, Clinton is calling the expensive first session a "town hall conversation."

An Aug. 24 "town hall conversation and reception" was hosted by two prominent Democratic multi-millionaires -- Elizabeth Frawley Bagley and Smith Bagley -- at their Nantucket Island, Mass., estate. The Bagleys were substantial contributors to President Bill Clinton's political campaigns and legal defense fund, and Mrs. Bagley was named by him as ambassador to Portugal