Inside Report: GOP health care discord

Posted: Jul 28, 2001 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON -- Delay of the House vote on the "patients' bill of rights" followed a contentious closed-door meeting of House Republican whips in which opposition was voiced against the Republican alternative sponsored by Rep. Ernie Fletcher of Kentucky. Rep. Henry Bonilla of Texas -- a deputy whip and normally a down-the-line party loyalist -- said many conservatives cannot support either the Democratic bill or the Republican substitute because lawsuits would bankrupt businessmen in their districts. Bonilla's fellow Texan, Majority Whip Tom DeLay, intervened and pleaded with him to vote for the Fletcher bill so that a Senate-House conference committee could draft a final bill more to conservatives' liking. Rep. Rob Portman of Ohio, chairman of the House Republican Leadership, told the whips that GOP members who supported the Democratic bill last year could switch their votes because the current Ganske-Dingell bill has changed in many important respects. The biggest new change is a blanket exemption for doctors from malpractice suits. HISPANIC POLITICS Former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, a leading Mexican-American politician, got an angry earful from Democratic National Chairman Terry McAuliffe because he praised President Bush's amnesty proposal for illegal Mexican immigrants. Richardson had said he was "proud that justice will be done" to three million Mexicans now working in the U.S. and "behaving properly." McAuliffe scolded Richardson for calling Bush's plan a "political masterstroke" that will help Republicans with the growing Hispanic vote. Richardson did not back down. A former member of Congress and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Richardson is contemplating a run for governor of New Mexico in 2002. He would be favored to win if he runs. HELLO, JANET? Pete Peterson's return to Florida politics after a four-year stint as U.S. ambassador to Vietnam has started out so unimpressively that the state's Democratic insiders doubt he will run for governor next year. They feel former Attorney General Janet Reno will be hard to beat for the nomination if she runs. Peterson, a former Vietnam prisoner-of-war and member of Congress from the Tallahassee district, got high grades for his just-completed four years in Hanoi. But he seemed politically rusty this week, almost referring to Florida as Vietnam at one point and unable to spell out his differences with Republican Gov. Jeb Bush. With the runoff now eliminated in the state's elections, the big Democratic vote in south Florida may well determine the winner of a primary for governor. That is a big advantage for Reno, the former district attorney from Miami. ROOKIE MISTAKE Secretary of Commerce Don Evans, a big-time Texas oil man who is a rookie on the Washington scene, struck out Tuesday when he addressed a very tough audience: Republican members of the U.S. Senate. Evans' performance at the senators' weekly closed-door luncheon meeting was called a "disaster" by one participant. He gave the senators an unsophisticated pep talk that was described as better suited for a rural Rotary Club meeting. George W. Bush and Evans both were in the oil business in Midland, Texas, in the 1970s and became close friends. Evans was chairman of Bush's 2000 campaign for president. CALIFORNIA DREAM TICKET Republican operatives close to the White House are trying to put together a California "dream ticket" headed by ex-Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan to oppose the state's dominant Democrats and Gov. Gray Davis' re-election bid. The plan would add to the ticket two Republican aspirants for governor: Secretary of State Bill Jones, the GOP's only statewide office holder, and lawyer-businessman William Simon Jr. Jones would run for lieutenant governor and Simon (son of the late former U.S. treasury secretary) for state attorney general. The keystone of the plan is Riordan, who has made no decision whether to run for governor. He is considered the only Republican with a chance against Davis.