GOP Politics and Party Positioning

Posted: Feb 13, 2006 4:50 PM

If The Washington Times crack investigative reporter Jerry Seper is correct there may be five Members of Congress who seriously are under investigation by the Justice Department concerning their relationship with lobbyist and confessed felon Jack Abramoff. Two of the five, by the way, are Democrats and one of those is Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-NV). For all we know, there may be more. Some sources have told me that it surely is seven and other sources suggest the number may be as high as twenty.

Regardless of the number, the vast majority of Members of Congress, indeed the vast majority of Republicans, most likely are not involved in this scandal. Of course, Congress must tighten the lobbying rules. And surely no expense-paid trips not pre-approved by the House or Senate Ethics Committee should be taken. If such a rules change were to be adopted the private jets taking Members to a golf outing at some prestigious foreign location would be precluded. Fine and dandy. Tighten all you should. Just don’t try to make grassroots lobbying extremely difficult, as Senator John S. McCain, III (R-AZ) would do.

But if Congress preoccupies itself with nothing but lobbying reform for this shorter Second Session of the 109th Congress that which Members so fear - namely, that there would be an anti-incumbent revolt which would return Democrats to power - absolutely will come true.

On the other hand, if Congress would return to the people’s business and enact a conservative agenda there would be reason for voters to re-elect most Members of this Congress and to elect new Republican candidates to the open seats. On the other hand, if all the voters hear about is scandal, the image of scandal will dominate. Voters would have the impression that to restore honesty they had better dump their Congressman.

Consider what happened with the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings of Judge Samuel J. Alito, Jr. for Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. (If confirmed Judge Alito would become the 110th Justice since the founding of this nation.)

After the Harriet Miers debacle the President nominated the type of nominee we should have had in the first place. In the process, voters had the opportunity to observe a competent and conservative jurist and hear reasonable statements by Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Voters also saw a Republican Committee Chairman, Arlen Specter, of Pennsylvania, conduct the hearings with skill and objectivity.

Moreover, voters witnessed the reaction of high-profile Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Several came across, especially on the second day of questioning, as small-minded, nasty and unreasonable – and at least three as of limited or no competence. No wonder Mrs. Alito cried when Senator Lindsay O. Graham (R-SC) apologized for the behavior of his colleagues. But that is what will happen if and when the Congress takes up a conservative agenda and enacts it. And we want that to happen. The debating of conservative proposals reveals to the country who the liberals really are.

This is the fourth year in which the President has been of the same party as both Houses of Congress. Republicans last were the Majority Party in Congress in the latter part of the 1920s. Democrats for decades had controlled the Congress but the most recent Democratic President, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, served only the first two of his eight years with a Democratic-controlled Congress.

In this sixth year of the Bush Presidency, however, voters are anxious about the apparent inability of Congress to enact some of the President George W. Bush’s agenda and at least to send the President some conservative legislation. If tax cuts are not made permanent this session of Congress then taxes again will increase for millions and millions of Americans.

Not only tax cuts are on the agenda. There is a whole series of bills running the gamut of issues which should be debated and enacted by Congress.

Having worked in the Senate for more than a decade, I know what a difficult place it is to get things done. But Senate Rules and Senate prerogatives are no excuse for inaction.

If my friend Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D. (R-TN), whom I admire, intends to present himself to the nation as a Presidential contender, he must demonstrate legislative accomplishment. Presently he has too little to show. Let’s grant that Democrats will filibuster or threaten to filibuster breakfast. Let’s grant that a handful of liberal Republicans will vote with Democrats to try to defeat conservative ideas. Let’s grant that Senator McCain will attempt to demonstrate that Senator Frist is not the right leader for the country by frustrating him whenever he can. (While Senators Sam Brownback [R-KS] and George Allen [R-VA] also are potential candidates they are less inclined to play games.). Let’s grant that the House may not carry its share of the burden because of nervousness over Abramoff. Let’s grant that Senator Frist has yet to be cleared of the ethics question under investigation. Let’s grant all of these things and stipulate that this probably will be the most difficult session of Congress, which any Congressional leader has faced in memory.

Nonetheless, it is incumbent upon Senator Frist to sit down with the newly elected Republican Leaders in the House immediately following the February 2 House Leadership Election and to persevere until a House/Senate strategy is devised for every major battle of this Second Session. If it is ANWR, if it is getting spending further under control, if it is health savings accounts, (which reliable sources tell us that the President will highlight in his State of the Union speech on January 31), if it is missile defense, if it is the Federal Marriage Amendment, if it is leftover pro-life legislation, you name it, there is a way to get it all done if clever minds will be clever. Communications between both bodies must be better than it has been.

Often Republican House Leaders will come to our Coalitions for America lunch and indicate their intention to pass particular legislation. Then with a chuckle they say, “We’re sending it over to the Senate where we’ll be watching with interest to see if and when there is any action on it.” Wrong. Every time legislation is passed in the House, House Leaders should know the game plan for getting it passed by the Senate, and vice versa.

While the First Session of the 109th Congress achieved some good things, I dare say, the nation (even those who follow such things with passion) hardly is aware of it.

I must say that the war room for the Alito nomination run by a combination of the Senate Leadership, the White House, the Republican National Committee and outside groups was the best I ever have seen in my 39 years in Washington, DC. Democrats hardly had spoken a sentence when e-mails were dispatched explaining a distortion, an error, a complete misstatement of the fact. It was incredible. That kind of operation needs to be replicated for the incoming Second Session of the 109th Congress.

Granted it was easier to accomplish with respect to a single nominee but if operated correctly it can overcome the agenda of the old media.

I must remind our conservative friends that talk radio, the Internet, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times and the Fox News Channel constitute an alternative to the old media. Harder to work I will grant you. But if done it can mean the difference between truth told and the old media liberal agenda foisted upon the American people.

Speaking of the new media, on the Friday before the President’s State of the Union, we at Free Congress will be presenting the Conservative State of the Union, a one- hour presentation, featuring Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council on social issues, Frank J. Gaffney, Jr., from the Center for Security Policy on defense/foreign policy issues and John M. Engler, former Michigan Governor, now President of the National Association of Manufacturers on economic issues. I will be moderator.

It will be broadcast live over Rightalk Radio at 1:00 PM Eastern, Friday January 27. That is available on your computer at There is a chance C-SPAN also will cover the program. Questions will be taken by the live audience as well as the radio audience nationwide. We hope readers of this commentary will participate in this example of new media and will call in as well.