WASHINGTON -- George W. Bush was steaming Tuesday when he was described as backing away from personal retirement accounts as part of Social Security reform after lunching with Republican Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah.
Bennett, renowned as one of the Senate's best minds, has abandoned personal accounts while trying to win Democratic support for Social Security reform. President Bush intended, he now says, only to encourage Bennett's reform efforts -- encouragement he has given all Republican lawmakers. Bush told aides to contradict news media accounts, based on Bennett's briefing, and affirm that he had not given up on personal accounts.
A footnote: The White House is genuinely supportive of a plan announced Wednesday by several Republican members of Congress. The plan, led by Rep. Jim McCrery of Louisiana and Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, would retain Bush's personal account concept in a different, smaller format.
DALEY VS. DURBIN
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin may never have apologized for his remarks about the Guantanamo detention camp had his fellow Illinois Democrat, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, not described his comments as a "disgrace."
Durbin did not personally call Daley, but his frantic staffers were on the phone to the mayor's office Tuesday asking that Daley tone down or even retract what he said. Daley made clear he would do no such thing.
Durbin's staffers claimed that the senator's expression of regret the previous Friday should suffice, but the mayor insisted on a full-fledged apology.
STEM CELL POLITICS
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist wants quick Senate passage this summer of the House-approved embryonic stem cell research bill -- sending it to the White House for President Bush's veto -- rather than the protracted debate desired by many social conservatives.
Sen. Rick Santorum, third ranking in the party hierarchy as the Senate Republican Conference chairman, is a social conservative who supports Frist's move. Santorum faces an uphill fight for re-election against Democratic State Treasurer Bob Casey. As a vigorous foe of human cloning and federally financed embryonic stem cell research, Santorum would like as little Senate debate as possible because the votes are overwhelmingly against him.
Many Republicans, apprehensive about the 2006 election outlook, recall that Democrats suffered at the polls after President Bill Clinton's 1997 veto of a bill banning partial-birth abortion.
NO CLONING BAN
Rep. Jerry Lewis, the new House Appropriations Committee chairman, departed from usual practice, speaking first and voting first against an anti-human cloning amendment to the Labor-HHS money bill. The amendment by Republican Rep. David Weldon of Florida was defeated in committee, 36 to 29.
Lewis, who is rated 83 percent pro-life by National Right to Life, told the committee that approval of the Weldon amendment would violate his goal of ending the practice of appropriators legislating on money bills. He said the substance of the amendment should be considered by House Republican policymakers.
The chairman's intervention persuaded nine other Republicans (out of 36) to oppose the Weldon amendment. On Feb. 27, 2003, all but one of them voted for a bill to prohibit cloning that passed the House overwhelmingly.
In the office of freshman Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, lobbyists burst into tears Tuesday when they heard bad news about prospects for a bill they were pushing. That extraordinary reaction can be explained by the fact that the "lobbyists" were children.
The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation sent groups of children, some as young as age 5, to lobby senators for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. The children were in Washington to attend the foundation's Children's Congress. In order for any child to attend, each parent had to promise, in writing, support for the organization's stem cell research position.
The sobbing in DeMint's office came after a lengthy explanation by the senator's aides of why he opposes killing human embryos for research purposes. Another freshman Republican, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, avoided dramatics by coming out of his inner office and giving the children a simple "No."