Frist's first test

Posted: Dec 28, 2002 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON -- Newly elected Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist will get his first test next week in coping with Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, the new president pro tem of the Senate as the chamber's senior Republican. Stevens, the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, wants to handle the appropriations left over from the last Congress under a procedure that could cause time-consuming bill-by-bill consideration. Prior to Frist's election, Republican Leader Trent Lott wanted to get rid of the unfinished business with rapid lump-sum spending approval. A footnote: Republican senators, while delighted at ending the Lott affair with Frist's unanimous election, were taken aback by their new leader's acceptance speech. It was longer than expected and melodramatic in comparing the majority leadership with his previous career as a heart surgeon. SOUTHERN HOPE Sen. Bob Graham of Florida's unexpected expression of interest in the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination excited party insiders seeking a moderate Southerner to oppose President Bush in 2004. They question, however, whether he can survive the front-loaded presidential primary schedule. Graham has served 36 years in public office, including eight years as governor of Florida and the last 14 years in the Senate. That compares with a total of four years of public service by Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, the only other Southerner who has been mentioned for the Democratic nomination. If he runs, Graham will have to figure out how to survive the early tests in Iowa and New Hampshire before getting to South Carolina and other Southern primaries. THE GOVERNOR'S DAUGHTER Alaska Gov. Frank Murkowski's appointment of his daughter, Lisa Murkowski, to fill the Senate seat he held for 20 years did not go over well with the White House, Republican strategists, Alaska GOP politicians or even his old Senate staff. The younger Murkowski, who had just been named House majority leader in the Alaska Legislature, will be a heavy underdog for election in 2004 against former Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles. Democrats have not won a Senate seat from Alaska since the 1974 election of Mike Gravel, who lost to Frank Murkowski in 1980. A footnote: Murkowski is criticized by anti-abortion activists for weakening their Senate forces by one vote. The governor had a strong pro-life record in the Senate, but his daughter is pro-choice. NANCY'S CHOICE Moderate Democratic House members, worried that newly installed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is too far to the left, were impressed that she resisted pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus and instead picked Rep. Robert Matsui as Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) chairman. The Black Caucus pushed hard for one of its members, Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana, to lead the DCCC. That convinced Rep. Edward Markey of Massachusetts to drop his bid. Matsui, Pelosi's fellow Californian, is a 13-term veteran and third-ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee. He is considered a mainstream Democrat who is ideologically flexible. Rep. Mike Thompson, another Californian and a promising third-termer, was seriously considered. But Thompson's presence on the House delegation that visited Baghdad recently made him dangerous for Pelosi to choose. DROPPING JOHN EDWARDS Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, a contender for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, may be dropped from the Senate Judiciary Committee now that the Republicans have recaptured the Senate. The GOP takeover means the Democrats probably will lose at least one Judiciary seat, and Edwards is lowest in seniority on the committee. That would not please leading Democratic senators who want Edwards on the committee to grill President Bush's judicial nominees. Edwards, a celebrated plaintiff's attorney, led the tough cross-examination of U.S. District Judge Charles Pickering before the Judiciary Committee rejected his nomination to the appellate court. Prominent Democrats privately would prefer to lose Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, who stands one slot above Edwards on Judiciary's Democratic seniority ladder. However, both may have to give up their seats if the committee loses two Democrats.