WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Before Congress returns to Washington on June 5, Republicans must stop trying to place blame for the defection of Vermont liberal Jim Jeffords and start contemplating ways to preserve "The Bush Agenda" from attack by a gloating Tom Daschle and his "new Democrat" majority in the Senate.
Fixing culpability for "who lost Jeffords" is the kind of "political fun" liberal pundits crave -- especially when Republicans turn on their own -- but for the White House and the GOP leadership on Capitol Hill it's a distraction from the task at hand. And the new lineup in the Senate shows just how difficult that task will be for the next two years.
Outgoing Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch hadn't even cleaned out his desk before his replacement, Jeffords' fellow liberal from Vermont, Patrick Leahy, put the administration on notice regarding judicial nominations: "They are going to have to look for mainstream judges. ... Nobody wants to see the judiciary lurch to the far right or the far left."
Sounds moderate, but Leahy didn't stop there. He said he will once again let the American Bar Association "vet" judicial nominees and made it clear that, notwithstanding the Constitution, no judge will be approved without the consent of both senators from a nominee's home state. That makes it tough for conservative jurists from any of the 32 states with at least one Democrat senator. The new "Leahy Rules" have already produced one judicial casualty: former California Rep. Chris Cox, who pulled himself out of contention for a judgeship.
At the Foreign Relations Committee, liberal Democrat Joe Biden of Delaware is taking over from North Carolina's Jesse Helms, a staunch defender of U.S. sovereignty and security. "In foreign affairs," Biden said, "(I hope) to play a constructive role in generating more of a bipartisan foreign policy." A vocal critic of the president's national missile defense system, Biden says that plans to deploy such defenses represent an "unrelieved pessimism." He has scolded conservatives for losing "hope for a world transformed" and for placing hope "instead in better weapons."
Biden's vision of a global utopia runs headlong into presidential plans to reduce the U.S. military's nation-building and peacekeeping commitments. The titles of recent articles allegedly penned by Biden himself are a forecast of things to come: "Bush's Plan to Pull Out of Balkans Reflects His Lack of Understanding," and "Nation Building? Yes." Last Tuesday, Bush announced he would cut U.S. forces in Bosnia to 3,000. Biden has dismissed the president's plan for troop reductions in the Balkans as "breathtakingly naive." So much for bipartisanship.
The change of leadership has pundits questioning how many of the president's bills will reach the Senate floor for debate. But the power shift also means that administration officials will spend a lot of time on Capitol Hill testifying about various Democrat senators' pet projects.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, who is taking over the Subcommittee on International Operations and Terrorism, wants hearings on "The U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women," which, among other things, requires that women be eligible for military conscription and assignment to combat duty. She also wants to hear what we're doing to implement "The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child." This little piece of globalist handiwork restricts the rights of parents to raise their children if they do not adhere to the dictates of U.N.-mandated political correctness.
Carl Levin of Michigan, the new chairman of the Armed Services Committee and the chairman the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, is planning double duty on a whole raft of hearings. In the Armed Services committee, he questions the president's legal authority to abrogate the 1972 ABM treaty with Moscow in order to build a ballistic missile defense system. He also wants his Investigations Subcommittee to probe the oil industry's profits and the price of gasoline at the pump.
According to the Energy Department, last week U.S. gasoline prices rose an average 1.7 cents to $1.704 a gallon, up 17 cents from a year ago. "We hear various explanations as to why we have again suffered a dramatic increase in gas prices, but so far the explanations haven't been satisfactory," Levin says.
Iowa's Tom Harkin, facing a tough re-election battle next year, will become chairman of the Agriculture Committee. He wants to know why Iowa's farmers aren't getting more orders for corn-based ethanol. And Maryland's Paul Sarbanes, the new Banking Committee chairman wants to investigate "the fairness" of new rules making it tougher for people to declare bankruptcy when they want to dodge their credit card bills.
All this portends a tough time for the president's agenda, and liberal Democrats would like nothing better than to have the GOP fight over "who is to blame for Jeffords' defection."
Jeffords is gone. So is the majority leadership advantage. But the war is not lost. Republicans would do well to heed the counsel of George Washington, who is said to have commented when apprised of Benedict Arnold's treasonous attempt to sell West Point to the British in 1780: "He is gone. Now we must be about winning this war."