WASHINGTON -- Republican leaders are anxious that Republican Strom Thurmond and not Democrat Robert Byrd will be president pro-tem of the Senate on Jan. 7 when the electoral votes for president are counted in what might be a two-vote victory by George W. Bush over Al Gore.
The presiding officer's function should be strictly routine, but Republicans don't want to take a chance. Between the swearing in of the new Senate on Jan. 3 and the inauguration of the new president on Jan. 20, Vice President Gore will be able to break ties in the 50-50 Senate. That means Byrd could be elected president pro-tem, if only temporarily.
Sen. John McCain, a Republican who maintains good relations with Democrats, has informed his colleagues that Senate Democratic Leader Thomas Daschle has no interest in taking over the Senate for 17 days. But putting Byrd in the presiding officer's chair might be tempting.
ASHCROFT FOR A.G.?
Defeated Sen. John Ashcroft of Missouri is being pushed for attorney general by congressional conservatives and has been in touch with high-level aides of George W. Bush to discuss the possibility. Montana Gov. Mark Raciot has been considered the most likely choice for the job.
Ashcroft's decision not to challenge his loss to the late Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan on constitutional grounds has won him universal praise and the desire to find a job for him. In contrast, Raciot is viewed as too liberal by congressional conservatives. But the Montanan is one of Bush's closest fellow governors and one of his most vigorous surrogates during the Florida recount.
A footnote: GOP conservatives are most angry about leaks out of Austin that Bush is considering another close fellow governor -- Pennsylvania's Tom Ridge -- as Secretary of Defense. While a member of Congress, Ridge opposed the Strategic Defense Initiative and most other new weapons systems. He was never a member of the House Armed Services Committee.
ILLINOIS CIVIL WAR
High-placed House Republican sources say Speaker J. Dennis Hastert has turned against bids for important committee chairmanships by two fellow Illinoisans: Rep. Phil Crane, seeking the Ways and Means chairmanship, and Rep. Henry Hyde, for International Relations chairman.
The Speaker's office denies that Hastert has made any decision in either case. But the perception in the House GOP cloakroom is that he is backing Rep. Bill Thomas of California, who has less seniority for Ways and Means than Crane.
Similarly, Hastert is believed to be supporting a congressman with less seniority, Rep. Doug Bereuter of Nebraska, against Hyde for International Relations. Hyde is losing his Judiciary Committee chairmanship under the Republicans' self-imposed six-year term limits.
The Justice Department's decision to remove government oversight of the Hotel workers union, after a surprisingly short five years to monitor any connections with organized crime, has raised speculation in labor circles that its president, John Wilhelm, may soon replace Richard Trumka in the AFL-CIO's No. 2 job.
The 54-year-old Wilhelm became a rising star in the labor movement when he organized 22,000 new hotel employees in Las Vegas. Now he is being credited with cleaning up a previously mob-infested union.
Trumka was permitted to stay on as AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer by President John Sweeney in violation of union rules after he took the Fifth Amendment when questioned by the government. If the Republicans take over the Justice Department, Trumka could be a target of new investigation.
At the private annual dinner for senators sponsored by the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday night, Bill Clinton joined other Senate spouses to sing in a musical number serenading the justices.
The other highlight of the senators only (no staff invited) dinner at the Supreme Court building was the sight of 98-year-old Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina bonding with Sen.-elect Hillary Clinton of New York.
But Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, who hosted this year, puzzled her guests when she quipped that she was glad to see the senators in a social atmosphere rather than pleading before the court.