Inside Report: Confirmation politics

Posted: Jan 06, 2001 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON -- President-elect Bush's priority of confirming former Sen. John Ashcroft as attorney general is making it harder for Senate Republican leaders to keep opposing Richmond, Va., lawyer Paul Gregory as a judge on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. When President Clinton last month made Gregory the first African-American ever to serve on that appellate court by nominating him during the congressional recess, leading GOP senators were determined not to confirm him. Never before has any president used a recess appointment for a lifetime judgeship. If Gregory is not confirmed by the Senate during the new Congress, he must leave the bench. However, Republican strategists fear failure to confirm Gregory could sink Ashcroft. Foes of Ashcroft for attorney general allege that as a senator, he was prejudiced against black judicial nominees. MINETA'S PATRON Andrew Card, President-elect Bush's chief of staff, was behind the unexpected selection of Democratic Secretary of Commerce Norman Mineta as the Republican administration's Secretary of Transportation. When Card was the automotive industry's chief Washington lobbyist, he became close to Mineta, who was chairman of the House Transportation Committee in 1993-94. The former congressman from San Jose, Calif., was on nobody's Cabinet list when the transition began. But when Bush ran into trouble fulfilling his promise to name at least one Democrat to the Cabinet, Card began boosting Mineta. A footnote: Mineta's selection hurt chances for another former Democratic congressman, Lee Hamilton of Indiana, to be named either CIA director or ambassador to the United Nations. National security conservatives have opposed Hamilton because of his record as House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman. With Bush having finally named a Democrat to his Cabinet, the pressure is off to tap Hamilton. PENTAGON POLITICS Richard Armitage, a defense expert who was an assistant secretary at the Pentagon under Ronald Reagan, may be kept out of the Bush administration thanks to his close relationship with Secretary of State-designate Colin Powell. Armitage met with Secretary of Defense-designate Donald Rumsfeld Wednesday but was not optimistic about becoming deputy secretary. He had been slated for the No. 2 post if Bush had selected a businessman unfamiliar with the Pentagon for the No. 1 post. But Rumsfeld, who ran the Pentagon 24 years ago, may not want an insider tied to retired Gen. Powell. A footnote: Support is growing for former Rep. Tillie Fowler of Florida, who served on the House Armed Services Committee, as Secretary of the Navy. NITA FOR PATRICK Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, who abandoned her Senate ambitions to permit Hillary Clinton's candidacy last year, was appointed chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) by House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt because she aggressively sought the job. Democratic campaign operatives outside Congress were critical of the DCCC under Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, who declined another term as chairman, and doubt Lowey will do any better. These critics believe Gephardt was responsible for record DCCC fund-raising in 2000 and again will carry the load in 2002. With Democrats losing a net of three House seats last year outside of California (where four seats were gained), poor candidate recruitment by Kennedy is blamed. Campaign operatives question how effective Lowey will be in finding candidates for 2002. MAVERICK DEMOCRAT House Republicans will give maverick Democratic Rep. James Traficant of Ohio committee assignments to replace those taken away by his own party Wednesday after he voted for Republican J. Dennis Hastert's re-election as Speaker. Traficant long ago telegraphed his intention to back Hastert against Democrat Richard Gephardt but insisted he wanted to remain a Democrat. There is no Democratic caucus rule covering Traficant's apostasy, but party leaders have long grumbled about his increasing tendency to vote with Republicans. A footnote: There is a 36-year-old rule prohibiting Democrats from supporting Republican candidates for president, but no sanctions are planned against Rep. Ralph Hall for that violation. A conservative Texan who votes with the Republicans more frequently than any other House Democrat, Hall endorsed George W. Bush for president.