Reviewing the rookies

Posted: Feb 15, 2003 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON -- The biggest pleasant surprise for the Republican leadership among the eight new GOP senators elected in November is Elizabeth Dole of North Carolina. Having picked up the reputation of a prima donna during two stints as a Cabinet member, she so far has proved to be a hard-working team member in the Senate. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, a former governor, Cabinet member and presidential hopeful, was thought by some Republican leaders to be over the hill but instead works hard and is effective. While John Cornyn of Texas had been regarded as not ready for the Senate, he quickly gave an impressive floor speech backing judicial nominee Miguel Estrada. Norm Coleman of Minnesota is more of a conservative than party leaders anticipated. Of the four House members who have moved to the Senate, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia has gotten the highest ratings. The other three -- Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Sununu of New Hampshire and Jim Talent of Missouri -- have begun with a lower profile than they showed in the House. CHENEY VS. CLINTON Behind closed doors at last weekend's Republican retreat, Vice President Dick Cheney delivered an extraordinary attack on Bill Clinton's preparation for the terrorist threat. Cheney addressed Republican Senate and House members at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulfur Springs, W. Va. He contended the former president failed to address terrorism, deepening the current crisis. A footnote: Republicans are furious with Clinton's role as a critic of the Bush administration. They complain that Clinton has gone well beyond other former presidents in assailing his successor. FEAR IN D.C. House Speaker Dennis Hastert hammered out an agreement on the bill for appropriations left over from the last Congress, but he was helped by the desire of lawmakers and their staffers to get out of Washington because of the terrorist threat. The possibility that the weeklong recess beginning Monday might be cancelled facilitated agreement. Spouses were anxious not to be stuck in the capital after losing a scheduled recess in January. Further desire to leave town, however, stems from fear engendered by the government's heightened terrorist warnings. A footnote: A meeting last Wednesday in Hastert's office with House and Senate leaders did not include Bush administration officials. But Vice President Dick Cheney was brought in via speakerphone to convey the administration's position on specific points. SILENCE FROM THE RIGHT While left-wing pressure groups mobilized opposition to judicial nominee Miguel Estrada, key counterparts on the right -- National Right to Life and Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum -- were silent. Right to Life, however, endorsed Estrada Thursday. The reason for their non-support of President Bush's nomination to the District of Columbia Circuit Court has been identical to why Democrats say they oppose Estrada: the lack of a record by the 41-year-old Washington lawyer. Specifically, some conservatives fear that he may not really be anti-abortion. These conservatives also worry about Estrada's record while working in the U.S. solicitor general's office during the Clinton administration. He argued in behalf of the National Organization for Women (NOW) that anti-racketeering (RICO) statutes could apply to anti-abortion organizations (though as a lawyer, he was required to advocate his client's position). DELUXE COLOMBIANS Members of a high-level mission to Washington from Colombia, seeking more U.S. funds to fight narco-guerrillas, were put up by the U.S. Defense Department at a deluxe hotel near the Pentagon. Colombian Defense Minister Martha Lucia Ramirez and her colleagues are seeking another $600 million in U.S. aid. They are staying at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Pentagon City in Virginia across the Potomac River from Washington. Their rooms are priced at $400-and-up a night. A footnote: Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, the new chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, is scheduled to visit Colombia during the coming week's congressional recess. Davis has asserted he will continue the Colombian oversight exercised by his predecessor, Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana. However, Davis has neither retained nor replaced the Colombian specialists on Burton's committee staff.