Bush Strikes Out

Posted: Apr 07, 2001 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON -- George W. Bush, meeting this week with Republican congressional leaders, told them: "As president, I have responsibility for 270 million Americans. But for now, I pay special attention to two senators." President Bush was referring to potential Republican defectors in the Senate's close division over his budget and tax proposals. He clearly meant Sens. James Jeffords of Vermont and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. Chafee's vote was given up by the White House as lost, but Jeffords was wooed with more federal spending for education and the disabled. It didn't work. Jeffords became an original co-sponsor of a budget proposal authored by Democratic Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana, which cuts the heart out of the Bush tax cut. Another co-sponsor was Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, a freshman moderate Democrat who had been courted by the White House. HASTERT'S HEALTH A successful 30-minute operation in Chicago last Monday to remove kidney stone fragments from Speaker J. Dennis Hastert generated apprehension among his Republican House colleagues. The operation was routine, following previous surgery, and was insisted on by Hastert's doctors prior to a 10-day African trip beginning Sunday. Nevertheless, it raised concerns about the line of succession for speaker. If Hastert had to be replaced suddenly, the new speaker probably would be Majority Leader Dick Armey. Although Armey has rebounded from his low point in 1999, when he was passed over as successor to Newt Gingrich, Republican House members question whether he projects the right image for the job. MCCAIN'S NEW ENEMY Hostility between Sens. John McCain and Mitch McConnell has declined since the Senate passed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform bill, but McCain may have a new archenemy: Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio. Ney is a moderate conservative who attracts less attention than his more ideological colleagues who came into Congress with him in the Republican sweep of 1994. But he is an adamant foe of McCain-Feingold and antagonized the Arizona senator last month by holding House Administration Committee field hearings on the bill in Phoenix. McCain has said he might hold town hall meetings in the districts of Republican congressmen for whom he campaigned last year but who might vote against his bill. Ney is contemplating his own road show. A potential stopping place for Ney: New Jersey, where Democratic Sen. Jon Corzine spent $60 million of his personal fortune to be elected in 2000. DEMOCRATIC HOUSE SHAKEUP If Rep. David Bonior announces his candidacy for governor of Michigan as expected, there is strong sentiment in the Democratic caucus that he immediately resign as whip -- the second-ranking position in the House party leadership. Bonior's resignation would trigger a long-delayed showdown between Reps. Nancy Pelosi of California and Steny Hoyer of Maryland. They were contending for the whip's job last year in case Democrats captured control of the House in the 2000 election, bumping Majority Leader Richard Gephardt up to speaker and moving Bonior from whip to majority leader. Pelosi appears to have a clear lead over Hoyer. She not only has nearly the entire California delegation behind her but has built a huge war chest for contributions to key House races, a familiar weapon in intraparty congressional races. WHITE HOUSE INTERVENTION President Bush's exceptional interest in keeping a Republican congressional majority has extended to the House vacancy in Virginia created by the death of Democratic Rep. Norman Sisisky. The White House wants State Sen. Randy Forbes to be the Republican nominee without primary election opposition. Bush political aide Karl Rove and House Speaker Dennis Hastert contacted Forbes, and the president himself called him Thursday. The district, carried by Bush last November 49.3 percent to 49.1 percent, is regarded as a tossup. State Sen. Louise Lucas, under consideration for the Democratic nomination to succeed Sisisky, is an African-American -- a potential advantage in a constituency that is 37 percent black.