WASHINGTON -- Sources who were involved in the conversations say Speaker Dennis Hastert and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay agreed between them that Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier should temporarily succeed DeLay because he had no long-term ambitions for leadership.
Hastert and DeLay are described as pondering whether the speaker himself should temporarily take over the majority leader's duties. Hastert's friends say the idea of Dreier originated with DeLay. Dreier as an interim leader would have eased the way for DeLay's eventual return. Hastert's allies also contend the speaker decided to name Majority Whip Roy Blunt as DeLay's temporary successor without being urged to by conservative House members who opposed Dreier.
If DeLay does not return to the leadership, House Republicans will vote on a permanent majority leader. That might not happen until after the 2006 election, whose outcome will affect the leadership question. Rep. John Boehner, chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, might challenge Blunt for the post.
THE NEXT JUSTICE
The two names passing through conservative legal circles last week to fill the remaining Supreme Court vacancy were White House Counsel Harriet Miers and Federal Appeals Court Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr.
Miers, a 60-year-old former Dallas City Council member, is a prominent Dallas lawyer without judicial experience. She is close to President Bush, but the pro-life movement questions her position on abortion. She would be the first non-judge named to the Supreme Court since William Rehnquist in 1972.
Nobody questions the conservatism of the 55-year-old Alito. He was named in 1990 by President George H.W. Bush to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals (New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware) following service as Bush's U.S. attorney for New Jersey and in the Reagan Justice Department.
MCCAIN IN CALIFORNIA
Sen. John McCain is willing to go to California to campaign in favor of a labor-opposed "paycheck protection" measure that would enable workers to prevent unions from using their dues money for political campaigns.
In a recent private dinner sponsored by the American Spectator magazine, McCain said he always has supported the concept of paycheck protection and would be happy to go west to campaign for the referendum. However, McCain told this column that nobody has requested his presence.
A footnote: McCain said he also favors other ballot issues sponsored by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, including congressional redistricting for California.
Supporters of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist privately admit that he again demonstrated his lack of political finesse last Monday when he showed his back to reporters seeking to question him about his heavy sale of stock in HCA Inc., the hospital company founded by his family.
Frist called a press conference to read a brief statement asserting that he "had no information about HCA or its performance that was not publicly available." He then walked briskly out of the room with his back to the camera.
The practical choices facing Frist were either to issue his statement without a press conference or to submit to questions. Instead, the televised image of him appearing to flee questioning could have increased suspicions that he had something to hide.
President Bush's Supreme Court strategists hoped as late as Wednesday night that 81-year-old Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, one of the last senators undecided about Judge John G. Roberts Jr. as chief justice, would vote "yes" Thursday to put a clear majority of Senate Democrats in favor of confirmation.
However, Akaka joined his senior colleague from Hawaii, 81-year-old Sen. Daniel Inouye, in opposing Roberts. That meant the 44 Democrats split evenly, 22 to 22, on Roberts. Akaka did not address the Senate to explain his vote.
A footnote: The only senators from the same state belonging to the same party and splitting their votes were Michigan's two Democrats. Sen. Carl Levin voted for Roberts. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, up for re-election to a second term next year, opposed him.