Inside Report: Democratic discontent with Gephardt

Posted: Dec 22, 2001 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON -- Rep. George Miller of California rose during a recent closed-door House Democratic leadership meeting to protest, reflecting discontent in the party caucus with Minority Leader Richard Gephardt. Miller's specific complaint was about flying across the continent at the call of the Republican leadership to vote on minor bills selected by the GOP with no consideration of Democratic measures. Miller belongs to the party leadership as an at-large whip and is an important adviser of Democratic Whip-elect Nancy Pelosi. Gephardt replied by noting the difficulty of dealing with the Republican majority, and murmurs were heard from other congressmen about the need for leadership. That reflects broader-based grumbling among Democrats about a lack of vision and strategy by Gephardt. BUSH'S STALLED NOMINEES Contrary to Capitol Hill's conventional wisdom, there is strong sentiment in the White House for the president to use the congressional recess to immediately put in office nominees whose confirmations have been stalled in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has refused to permit a confirmation vote on Otto Reich as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs and Eugene Scalia as solicitor of the Labor Department. Recess appointments would install Reich and Scalia with full authority. Republicans were highly critical of President Bill Clinton's recess appointments, especially Bill Lann Lee as assistant attorney general for Civil Rights. Daschle is pondering parliamentary obstacles to Bush taking that course. Nevertheless, a recess appointment is a better than even prospect for Bush. PHONING YASSER While Yasser Arafat was written off as "irrelevant" by the Israeli government, Secretary of State Colin Powell has been in regular contact via telephone with the Palestinian leader seeking Israeli-Palestinian peace. Arafat's speech calling to end violence by anti-Israeli terrorists came after prodding by Powell. The secretary thought he had a commitment from Arafat to make such a statement some two weeks earlier, but the Palestinian Authority president delayed until Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon broke off contact with him. A footnote: Retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni, Powell's emissary who was recalled from Israel "for consultations" after the upsurge in violence, was scheduled back in Washington for Christmas anyway. He will return to the Mideast next year, concentrating on middle-level talks with Israeli and Palestinian security forces. RUNAWAY TREASURY CHIEF? Just as they prepared to pass a stimulus bill Wednesday, House Republican leaders were astounded to learn that Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill was negotiating with Democratic Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus. O'Neill's efforts, though unsuccessful, ran counter to the White House strategy of presenting the House-passed bill to Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, take-it or leave-it. Presidential aides excused the Treasury chief on grounds that the administration's drive for a stimulus bill was functioning on several fronts. But O'Neill's lieutenants complained that his efforts were undermined by House Republicans, who in turn accused O'Neill of violating the party line. O'Neill's relations with the House GOP -- in particular, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas -- remain poor. Thomas still has not forgiven O'Neill for referring to the earlier House-passed stimulus bill as "show business." ENDANGERED BY TRADE In a private meeting, President Bush tried to assure Republican Rep. Robin Hayes that his vote for presidential negotiating authority on foreign trade will not cost him his North Carolina seat. Hayes, a textile owner himself, was pressured by Bush's agents to cast the decisive vote. His district is heavy textile country that was represented by a Democrat until Hayes's election in 1998. It is more urban and more Democratic because of this year's redistricting and has been hard hit by the recession. Hayes is under severe Democratic attack because of his pro-trade vote. In addition to the president, Commerce Secretary Donald Evans and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick have met with Hayes and promised him support. The Hayes camp really wants a campaign visit from Bush, who carried the old district with 56 percent last year.