Inside Report: Keeping Democrats busy

Posted: Nov 24, 2001 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON -- Democratic strategists are urging Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to forego the Senate's usual post-Christmas recess and stay in session throughout January, in order to give President Bush some competition for public attention. Normally, the Senate would hold a pro forma session on Jan. 4 and then do nothing until the president's State of the Union address in late January. To grant a newly popular Bush a whole month of news media domination as commander of the war against terrorism is worrisome to Democrats. By staying in session after Jan. 4, Daschle could compete with Bush for headlines by bringing up Democratic issues that have been neglected since Sept. 11. HMO regulation and prescription drug subsidies head the list. GEORGE AND VLAD President Bush's public expressions of affection for Russian President Vladimir Putin are not political hype but represent a unique relationship that has quickly developed between the two leaders, according to Bush's closest associates. Their recent Washington-Texas summit did not yield concrete achievements, but their developing relationship ripened. During some 60 years when American and Russian leaders have been meeting, the Bush-Putin relationship is the first to achieve so high a level of intimacy. Bush insiders say that Putin's unsmiling, forbidding appearance, as befits a career secret policeman, belies a warm nature. As an old bureaucrat, he went out of his way to talk to middle-level Bush aides. APPROPRIATORS VS. MITCH Leaders of the Senate Appropriations Committee -- Democrat Robert Byrd and Republican Ted Stevens -- are so upset with Budget Director Mitchell Daniels that they have refused to sit down with him the last few weeks. A meeting between them, however, finally was scheduled for when Congress reconvenes following Thanksgiving. Byrd and Stevens, with a combined 79 years experience in Congress, make clear that they regard Daniels as a bumptious rookie with the temerity to attempt limiting their desired spending. However, Daniels is highly thought of by President Bush and is regarded at the White House as one of the Cabinet's most valuable members. A footnote: Stevens' son, State Sen. Ben Stevens, is a prospect for Alaska's other U.S. Senate seat (now held by Republican Frank Murkowski, who is running for governor in 2002). The 42-year-old younger Stevens has never been a political candidate and was appointed to his State Senate seat in August. RAMADAN AMBASSADOR Wendy Chamberlin, the new U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, may have ingratiated herself with Islam when she announced last Monday she would become the first known Christian diplomat to observe the month-long dawn-to-dusk Muslim fast of Ramadan. But she irritated conservative Republican critics in Congress. Chamberlin, a career foreign service officer of 25 years standing, is viewed in Republican circles on Capitol Hill as a "Clintonian." She was principal deputy assistant secretary in the State Department's International Narcotics Bureau during the Clinton administration, and clashed with conservative Republicans on drug questions. She served as President Clinton's ambassador to Laos for four years. Secretary of State Colin Powell recommended Chamberlin to President Bush for the Pakistani post. She is one of several Powell selections criticized by congressional conservatives. MISSED DEMOCRATIC CHANCE The victory by an untested Republican Tuesday in Arkansas marked the third time this year that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) had under-funded a winnable special House election, in the opinion of Democratic strategists. Republican operatives were terrified that the Democrats would pour in enough advertising in the northwestern Arkansas district to label the GOP candidate, optometrist John Boozman, as an enemy of Social Security. However, spending for Democratic State Rep. Mike Hathorn fell short. That marked this year's third such DCCC failure under the chairmanship of Rep. Nita Lowey of New York. Politician technicians in both parties agree that more DCCC spending might have saved a Democratic district in Virginia and captured a longtime Republican district in Pennsylvania.