WASHINGTON -- Members of the inner circle of high-ranking House Republicans privately agree that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York is an absolute lock for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination and will not be easy to defeat in the general election.
The same lawmakers believe the Republican race to oppose Clinton is wide open but regard Sen. George Allen of Virginia as having the edge over Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee. The consensus among them is that Allen is a better candidate than Frist and will the advantage over him in GOP primaries. The House members see little or no prospect for former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Sen. John McCain of Arizona or Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
The Clinton-vs.-Allen forecast by the leading House members duplicates the National Journal's poll of insiders from both parties.
Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's efforts to broker a compromise on judicial confirmations angered Majority Leader Bill Frist, but in fact he never was close to completing a deal with moderate Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson.
Lott was trying to show that every effort had been made to negotiate a settlement before Republicans attempted to use the "nuclear option" (a phrase coined by Lott) to force a majority vote on judicial confirmations. Nelson, who is up for re-election next year in conservative Nebraska, wants to separate himself from other Democrats.
Internal Senate Republican politics are at stake. With Frist not seeking re-election in 2006, Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell is heavily favored to succeed him as majority leader. However, Lott is a long shot to seek and regain his old leadership position.
AMBASSADOR TO EU
Veteran Washington lawyer and Republican activist C. Boyden Gray recently sat down with Howard Kohr, executive director of American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), in an effort to counteract Jewish opposition to Gray as U.S. ambassador to the European Union.
Neo-conservatives inside the administration have advised President Bush that Gray would be a poor selection to go to Brussels. According to sources close to the situation, White House national security aide Elliott Abrams has opposed Gray in writing.
Gray was White House counsel in the first George Bush administration and has led citizens' efforts for the confirmation of George W. Bush's judicial nominations.
CAMPAIGN FINANCE POLITICS
Diminishing Democratic support for efforts to curb unregulated campaign spending by "527" organizations are reflected in the withdrawal by co-sponsors of the bill that would close the loophole in the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform act.
Of the eight original Democratic co-sponsors of the loophole closer, four have withdrawn: Reps. Timothy Bishop and Michael McNulty of New York and Reps. Xavier Becerra and Barbara Lee of California. In a House floor statement, Becerra expressed a "growing discomfort" that the bill "may actually limit voices too dramatically without offering other alternatives." Three Republicans are co-sponsors.
Of more than $600 million in 2004 unregulated 527 contributions, a big majority of the money -- roughly two-to-one -- was spent supporting John Kerry and other Democratic candidates and trying to boost Democratic voter turnout.
CORRECTING BILL THOMAS
After the U.S. Capitol was evacuated last Wednesday, a Capitol police officer shouted, "Stay there!" to a portly lawmaker who was prematurely trying to return from a holding area to the abandoned building. It was Rep. Bill Thomas of California, the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.
The policeman's admonition caused consternation among lawmakers who witnessed it, because nobody speaks harshly to the hot-tempered, imperious Thomas. In this case, however, Thomas just smiled and followed directions.
Police gave Speaker Dennis Hastert a specially guided path out of the Capitol, but other House members -- including Thomas -- were on their own.