Inside Report: McCain's Way

Posted: Feb 03, 2001 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON -- Sen. John McCain has once again antagonized his Republican colleagues by traveling to Arkansas last Monday to boost the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform bill, which is opposed by the state's Republican Sen. Tim Hutchinson. McCain did not mention Hutchinson in his Little Rock town meeting and denies emphatically that he meant to hurt his fellow Republican, who is up for re-election next year. But that was the interpretation in Hutchinson's office, which resented Democratic Congressman Marion Berry sharing the stage with McCain. Berry is a potential opponent of Hutchinson for the Senate seat. Democratic Sen. Russell Feingold did McCain no favor when Hutchinson got the word that it was not Feingold's idea to go to Arkansas. WHY FIGHT ASHCROFT Senate Democratic Leader Thomas Daschle abandoned all pretense of bipartisanship in cracking the party whip to oppose John Ashcroft's confirmation as attorney general because of judicial nominations that lay ahead. Sen. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, the only Democrat on the Judiciary Committee to vote for Ashcroft, made it clear that even he will be applying a different standard for nominations to the federal bench -- especially the Supreme Court. The implication: Instead of 42 votes against Ashcroft, all 50 senators would line up against an Ashcroft-like appointment to the high court. What's more, they could filibuster this one. That suggests President Bush will name to the next Supreme Court vacancy a federal appeals court judge without the paper trail that strangled Robert Bork. Post-Bork nominees have been reticent to answer senators' questions with any clarity. JEB'S FOREIGN POLICY Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has privately told Cuban-American leaders he hopes that the new Bush administration in Washington will institute a more "coherent" policy toward Fidel Castro than was practiced under President Bill Clinton. As the governor of the state whose large Cuban-American population voted overwhelmingly for George W. Bush last November, Jeb Bush has a vital interest in the Castro question. He is described as wanting the "people-to-people" program in Cuba to mean something more than tourism enriching the Communist dictatorship. A footnote: The exile community is eagerly awaiting President Bush's selection of his top National Security Council staffer who will be dealing with Castro. Their first choice would be Cuban-born Otto Reich, the former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela. ABSENTEE CONGRESSMAN Rep. Philip Crane of Illinois, who lost the coveted chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee partly because of chronic absenteeism, was not present Wednesday for the year's first meeting of the committee's Republicans. Crane was first in seniority to be chairman of the powerful tax-writing panel, but House Republicans instead voted in Rep. Bill Thomas of California. Crane had to run on a record of staying away from Ways and Means meetings for years on end. Consequently, members watched carefully to see whether he would attend Wednesday's closed-door luncheon presided over by Thomas. A footnote: Thomas has privately expressed the view that he has much more experience in crafting legislation than the new boys in the White House. In view of his reputation for going his own way, Thomas is being treated with the utmost respect and care by the Bush team. MILLER'S NON-CROSSING Freshman Democratic Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, besides co-sponsoring the Bush tax cuts and voting for John Ashcroft's confirmation as attorney general, is also backing the president's proposal for limited school vouchers. At a recent closed-door session of Democrats with President Bush, Miller made a statement to this effect: "Mr. President, I opposed vouchers as a state legislator, as lieutenant governor and as governor. But if you're for vouchers, I'm for vouchers." Support for a president's legislative proposals by a legislator from the opposition party has become so rare an event in Washington that Miller has had to suppress speculation that he plans to cross the aisle to become a Republican. In fact, he is a loyal but moderate Democrat who wants to cooperate with Bush.