Mutually assured scandal

Posted: Aug 06, 2005 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- In response to the possible renewal of ethics charges against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, high-level Republicans are warning that House Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez's personal conduct is being scrutinized.

 No formal ethics charges have been filed against Menendez, and none is expected. However, recent published reports have speculated on the relationship between him and a lobbyist who formerly headed the congressman's Jersey City office. Republicans see a state of mutually assured destruction where nobody fires at either DeLay or Menendez because bloody retaliation would be feared.

 A footnote: The revelation of widespread use by House members of privately financed overseas travel has sharply reduced criticism of DeLay's trips abroad.


 Republican Jean Schmidt, who nearly lost a special congressional election in a heavily Republican Cincinnati district Tuesday, failed to return telephone calls from supporters who had lined up large amounts of donations and who offered significant technical assistance.

 Schmidt, the surprise winner of a bitterly contested Republican primary where she figured to finish third, was not prepared for a tough general election campaign. Her poor performance has led to speculation that she will face serious opposition in next May's 2006 GOP primary.

 A footnote: Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett ran so well as a Democrat against Schmidt that party strategists in Washington fear he will be the candidate against Republican Sen. Mike DeWine next year.


 Freshman Democratic Rep. Melissa Bean of Illinois, a principal Republican target for 2006, may win U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsement at the cost of backing from the Teamsters and other labor unions because of her vote for the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).

 Word circulated on Capitol Hill that Bean had been promised the U.S. Chamber endorsement if she broke party ranks to vote for CAFTA (supported by only 14 other House Democrats). A Chamber spokesman told this column it has never endorsed a candidate on the basis of one vote. Bean did not respond directly, but her spokesman said the congresswoman's CAFTA "decision was based solely on what she believes is in her district's best interests."

 Labor unions were outraged by Bean's CAFTA vote after contributing $235,200 to her 2004 campaign against veteran Republican Rep. Phil Crane in his Chicago suburban district. Since the election, labor has given her $127,500 more. The Teamsters were particularly vocal in protesting to Bean.


 Bush administration officials, headed by U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, have promised to help protect Rep. Robin Hayes from a backlash in his closely contested North Carolina district caused by his vote for the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).

 Rep. Phil English of Pennsylvania, sponsor of a House-passed bill authorizing retaliatory tariffs against China, traveled to Charlotte in Hayes's district Monday to help him out. English praised Hayes for supporting his bill, as both argued that China -- not Central America -- is the threat to the United States.

 A footnote: Republican leaders were unhappy that House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter, representing a safe district, voted against CAFTA and thereby forced Hayes to cast his politically risky vote. As a standing committee chairman, Hunter was expected to follow the Republican Party line.


 Although Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is awash with contributions to finance her 2006 re-election campaign in New York, a large local newspaper advertisement solicits vacationers to pay $1,000 per person to attend a two-hour reception Friday evening in Nantucket, Mass.

 The quarter-page ad in the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror gives "President William Jefferson Clinton" second billing under his wife as a "special guest." The event will be held at Innisfree, the palatial mansion of liberal socialites Smith and Elizabeth Bagley. Mrs. Bagley was U.S. ambassador to Portugal during the Clinton administration.

 The contact for the fund-raiser is Dan Turrentine, the Washington-based national financial director for "Friends of Hillary."