Inside Report: Leave the Capitol!

Posted: Oct 13, 2001 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON -- Federal security experts are pressing Congress to adjourn for the year in the interests of security, but the lawmakers won't be hurried and may be in session another six weeks. The FBI, the Secret Service and the Capitol Police have told congressional leaders in secret briefings that since Sept. 11, the Capitol building has become a prime target. Consequently, they are urged to wrap up business for the year and get out of town. Congress has refused. It cannot adjourn until money for the government is appropriated, and none of the 13 appropriations bills has been sent to President Bush's desk (though the Interior Department measure was set to be passed by this weekend). Speculation on Capitol Hill is that adjournment will not come before Oct. 31 and could be delayed until Thanksgiving, Nov. 22. BUSH'S OUTBURST President Bush's memo attacking security leaks by Congress and limiting further briefings disappointed Republican senators and House members, who privately express surprise that he did not shield this problem from public view. Members of the intelligence committees would have preferred that the leak (which was never published) be handled behind closed doors with the guilty party cut off from further information. But Bush wanted to deliver a public spanking. White House Chief-of-Staff Andrew Card is blamed by senior Republicans in Congress for letting the president vent his wrath. They speculate that the memo never would have seen the light of day under such past chiefs-of-staff as Dick Cheney and James A. Baker III. DEMOCRATIC GLOOM In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, national Democratic strategists have grown gloomy about their chances to regain control of the House next year and worry they may lose the Senate. In addition to surging national support for President Bush, decennial House redistricting has mostly gone against the Democrats -- particularly in Texas. In the Senate, Democrats worry about shaky incumbents in Montana, Missouri, Minnesota, South Dakota and Iowa. In contrast, the Democratic strategists see only one vulnerable incumbent Republican senator: Sen. Robert Smith in New Hampshire. But Smith could well be defeated in the GOP primary by the more popular Rep. John E. Sununu. NOT BIPARTISAN Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee chairman, came down hard against White House lobbyist Nicholas Calio because of an item in this column a week ago reporting that popular former Gov. Marc Racicot might change his mind and become the Republican candidate against Baucus in Montana next year. An angry Baucus asked Calio whether the White House was behind reviving Racicot's candidacy. Baucus then complained that it was unfair for the president's men to plot against him after he worked with them on Bush proposals, including the tax reduction program. At the time Baucus was complaining, plans were underway to name Racicot as special U.S. envoy to negotiate timber trade disputes between the U.S. and Canada. Such a role could overshadow Baucus' efforts to resolve the timber question, which is a major issue in Montana. LAZIO, COME BACK! Republican Party officials continue to prod a reluctant Rick Lazio, defeated last year in New York by Sen. Hillary Clinton, to try to win back his former congressional seat on Long Island now held by Democratic Rep. Steve Israel. Israel is regarded by some of his party's insiders as the most vulnerable freshman Democratic congressman. Nevertheless, he is seen as a sure winner in 2002 if anybody other than Lazio runs. Whether his first re-election proves difficult, Israel will have the benefit of a renowned Democratic veteran. Mark Siegel, for many years a member of the Democratic National Committee and before that its staff director, starts Monday as Israel's chief-of-staff. That is an unusually humble position for a famous Democratic veteran, but Siegel said he was compelled by the events of Sept. 11 to get back in politics after being a Washington lobbyist.