Democratic Musical Chairs

Posted: Jun 02, 2001 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON -- The decision by Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware to assume the Foreign Relations instead of the Judiciary chairmanship in the Democratic takeover of the Senate did not please either the White House or business lobbyists. President Bush's aides felt Biden at Judiciary would have been less partisan than the new chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, in handling judicial nominees. Had Biden passed up Foreign Relations, that chairmanship would have gone to Sen. Paul Sarbanes of Maryland. Instead, Sarbanes will be the Banking chairman. Business lobbyists would have much preferred the less liberal Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut at Banking. Biden's decision is also distressing for Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, top Republican on the Agriculture Committee. If Leahy had been bumped at Judiciary, he would have become Agriculture chairman and displaced Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa. Lugar does not relish working with the populistic Harkin. RIORDAN FOR GOVERNOR The increasing possibility that Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan will try to be Democratic Gov. Gray Davis's Republican opponent next year is strongly backed in the White House, although Republican sentiment in California is mixed. Riordan could encounter serious opposition from conservatives who do not forgive his past lack of loyalty to Republican causes and issues. President Bush will not endorse anybody before the GOP nomination is settled, but his advisers see Riordan as the strongest candidate to win the governorship and improve Bush's re-election chances in the country's most populous state. Until recently, Riordan had responded to talk about the 2002 race for governor by saying that, at age 72, he would be too old to run. Now, with his eight years as mayor coming to an end, he seems much more interested. If Riordan becomes a candidate, it is unlikely that businessman William Simon Jr. would continue to pursue his interest in the governorship. HISSING MCCAIN When President Bush appeared in Phoenix last weekend, the mention of Sen. John McCain (by Arizona's junior senator, John Kyl) was hissed by voters in his own state. Bush himself referred to McCain kindly and called him "my good friend," but those statements evoked only the mildest of applause. The president's visit to Arizona came the day after McCain was one of two Republican senators to vote against the Bush tax cut. A prominent Arizona Republican who is a friend and supporter of McCain telephoned the senator's office to inform him of the negative reaction in Phoenix. A McCain aide responded that polls showed he was in good shape at home despite his votes against Bush. FIGHTING MISSILE DEFENSE Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, the new Democratic chairman of the Armed Services Committee, is expected to launch his campaign against President Bush's missile defense plan with an assault on a key Pentagon appointment. A committee hearing scheduled for last week on the nomination of Washington lawyer Doug Feith to be Under Secretary of Defense for Policy was cancelled, and his confirmation process is likely to be messy. Feith, a former Reagan administration official, is a missile defense hawk who contends the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty is irrelevant. Those positions run counter to Levin's. The tradition of bipartisanship on the Armed Services Committee, continued most recently under Sen. John Warner of Virginia as chairman, could be threatened by Levin's aggressive style. HOUSE GOP HARMONY On the morning after Sen. James Jeffords defected, House Majority Whip Tom DeLay received reassurance that the same fate would not befall House Republicans. In the members gymnasium, DeLay was approached by Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut -- one of the most liberal Republicans in the House. Shays informed DeLay that the Jeffords debacle could not happen in the House because the party leadership gives everybody a say. A footnote: In contrast to the post-Jeffords trauma among Republican senators, DeLay contends that the Democratic takeover will not affect the congressional work product.