WASHINGTON -- The Senate chamber was filled with audible gasps last Tuesday when Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the pro-choice champion, clearly voted "yes" on final passage of the bill to ban partial-birth abortion. It was a mistake, however, and Kennedy changed his vote to "no" a few minutes later.
This marked the second time in a week that Kennedy, widely considered the most powerful member of the Senate, became confused on an important vote. He mistakenly voted with President Bush in opposing a Democratic-backed amendment to require partial Iraqi repayment of U.S. reconstruction aid. On that occasion, Senate Democratic Leader Thomas Daschle conferred with Kennedy and prompted him to change his vote.
A footnote: All three of the senators still running for the Democratic presidential nomination voted against the partial-birth abortion ban. That included Sen. Joseph Lieberman, supposedly the most socially conservative of the presidential hopefuls.
NEW FILIBUSTER RECORD?
Freshman Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is intent on breaking the record held by his predecessor, Strom Thurmond, for the longest speech ever delivered in the U.S. Senate.
In 1957, Thurmond -- then a segregationist Democrat -- spoke for 24 hours, 18 minutes to protest the imminent passage of the first civil rights bill since Reconstruction nearly a century earlier. Graham has notified the Senate Republican leadership that he wants to exceed Thurmond's length with a protest against Democratic blocking of President Bush's judicial nominations.
Neither Thurmond's speech nor Graham's effort to break his record fits the filibuster's normal purpose of stopping specific legislation from passing. In 1957, passage of the civil rights bill was assured when Thurmond spoke. In 2003, Graham's intended speech would be a demonstration against Democrats who are successfully filibustering confirmation of Bush judges.
LOBBYING FOR TEAMSTERS
The Teamsters Union, anxious to free itself from 14 years of government supervision, has hired the prestigious Washington lobbying firm of Patton Boggs to try to end the federal consent decree.
The union's insiders had hoped Teamsters President James Hoffa's support of the Bush administration on several issues would help end the government monitoring of alleged corruption and mob influence in the union. However, the White House has been unable to help, and Hoffa's relations with Bush have cooled as he vigorously boosts Democratic Rep. Richard Gephardt for president.
Patton Boggs, which has had experience in representing other unions trying to shed criminal influences, is headed by super-lobbyist Tommy Boggs. Both of his parents were powerful Democrats in Congress. Robert D. Luskin, who is the Patton Boggs expert lawyer on white-collar crime and union corruption, will handle the Teamsters' account.
Two Republican senators who are former governors -- Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and George Voinovich of Ohio -- have broken with the GOP line against state taxation of sales on the Internet.
They are blocking passage of a Republican-sponsored bill that would extend the moratorium on Internet taxation. The National Governors Association (NGA) is sponsoring a bill to coordinate state tax plans on the Web. Alexander and Voinovich are both former NGA presidents and remain close to the organization.
A footnote: Ohio's Republican Gov. Bob Taft, under conservative fire for his high tax policies, is pushing hard against extension of the moratorium.
Former Rep. J.C. Watts of Oklahoma, the ex-chairman of the House Republican Conference registering for the first time as a Washington lobbyist, has not started out with the Fortune 500 as his early clients.
His client list contains less than household words in American business: Robinson Aviation, Xyant Technologies, Luther Speight & Co. and Syntroleum Corp. Watts also is representing the Oklahoma Heart Hospital, the Golden Hill Pauggussett Tribe and Langston University.
A footnote: Watts has been urged to run for the U.S. Senate seat left open by the retirement of Republican Sen. Don Nickles, an opening in serious danger of being filled by the Democrats. However, Watts has made clear he has no interest in returning to politics at this time.