Washington Prowler

Democrats Without a Prayer

Passing on mourning the Pope. Plus: The two Johns split. DeLay replacement. Infectious Clinton.

By 4.4.05

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JUDGE NOT
Democrats have been patting themselves on the back lately that they have figured out how to better communicate with Red State America. You wouldn't have known it on Friday and Saturday, when congressional minority leaders, Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi refused to adapt the party's weekly radio address to the breaking news that Pope John Paul II was on his death bed.

"We had a plan in place for a national radio address that would have highlighted the Pope's stand on social justice and equality for all," says a Democratic National Committee staffer. "They wouldn't do it. They said it would look like pandering, that it wasn't helpful to their agenda."

Instead the Dems went with an odd radio address by former Democratic Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, in which he attacked Republicans for mulling use of a parliamentary rule that would allow the majority party to get judicial nominees approved by a mere majority of the Senate, instead of the 60 votes now required.

Mitchell, who in his days in the Senate was well known for stretching the truth to gain any little political gain, showed that retirement -- and his time in Hollywood -- had done little to dull his talents for prevarication. He claimed the Republicans were seeking to deny Senators a "voice" in the selection of judges, despite the fact that Democrats were blocking judges from getting a full hearing by the full Senate, as well as final up and down vote.

President Bush devoted his weekly radio address to praising the John Paul II, recalling the Pope's heroic charge for freedom and devotion to the culture of life.

Democrats around the country were said to be angry that Reid and Pelosi wasted an opportunity to show the party's faithful side to a nation that clearly would spend the weekend focused on the death of the Pope, and not judges.

Her Catholicism notwithstanding, Pelosi was especially adamant about pressing ahead with the political agenda, according to a House leadership staffer. "This wasn't counter-intuitive," says the staffer. "This was just being stupid and stubborn. It's another example of where we are going wrong as a party."

"This is another example of where we just don't get it," says a Democratic pollster in New York. "We knew the Pope was dying. We knew we had an opportunity, and we just ignore it and go ahead and act like the Democrats all those Red Staters think we are. We attack the Republicans for trying to save the Schiavo woman, and we ignore the Pope's passing. Somehow I know this is just going to come back and bite us in the ass."

SORE LOSERMICE
Former vice presidential candidate John Edwards has begun reaching out to the Democratic Party establishment around the country, and Sen. John Kerry isn't happy about it.

This past weekend, Edwards was in Iowa meeting with state party officials to thank them for their efforts, and to sit down with reporters on Iowa's state PBS talking head show.

From there, he was in Wisconsin, where he was keynote speaker at the state party's Founders' Day dinner.

Edwards has also traveled to New Hampshire since losing in November 2004, and Kerry, for one, is trying to figure out what his former running mate is thinking. Kerry is mystified because, as he has told friends, Edwards promised him that he would not seek the Democratic presidential nomination again should Kerry decide to run.

"He has told people that Edwards took the Lieberman pledge," says a former Kerry/Edwards staffer now working at the DNC. "It never came up in the days following the election, but Kerry swears it happened while the two were in Boston on November 3."

Edwards has been mum about any promise he may have made, but given his relative youth and the fact that he really has a great deal of time on his hands, it is difficult to see him cutting off such a large opportunity.

Kerry has been actively speaking on background and off the record to reporters about the failings of his campaign, and has generally withheld serious criticism of Edwards, but now it appears he is preparing to do just that in an effort to bruise Edwards up a bit. Kerry has asked some campaign staff to pull together meeting notes and to speak to former campaign staff assigned to Edwards during the campaign to collect anecdotes and stories he can use in future interviews about his presidential run.

MAJORITY RULER
The whispering campaign that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay may be pushed out of his leadership position has officially begun, after the Wall Street Journal's Friday "Washington Wire" broached the subject. The two big names the Journal tossed into the ring were those of Majority Whip Roy Blunt and former House Republican Conference Chairman John Boehner.

Boehner, for one, isn't spreading the rumors, but Capitol Hill insiders say that he has been seeking advice from friends about how to best position himself should DeLay be forced to resign due to the ongoing ethics investigations in Texas.

Blunt, too, isn't pressing for the job, and ironically probably can't win it thanks to the public and ethics beating he took over his personal life and ties to a former tobacco lobbyist that was instigated by strategic leaks by DeLay himself. Blunt was viewed as an up and comer with too much ambition for DeLay's taste, even though DeLay had handpicked him for the whip position.

Perhaps the only reason DeLay is feeling secure in his job is that no potential challenger to his position -- including old political hands Boehner and popular whip Blunt -- has the organization inside the House that is required to challenge DeLay's machine.

"Boehner might be in the best position, because he is such a tireless fundraiser for the party, but he just doesn't have the operation and organization to get the votes he needs here in the House," says a Republican colleague. "If the leader gets tossed over the side, his replacement is going to be the guy or gal who has the staff and outside help necessary to have a campaign in place and the votes in place fast enough that no one else can challenge them. That's how [Speaker Dennis] Hastert ended up where he is. He wasn't the favorite, but he had the organization to get the job done before anyone else could move."

IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH
Bill Clinton's health is not what it appeared during his arrival at Washington's Union Station last Thursday afternoon. Clinton rode in first class on Amtrak's Acela high-speed train from New York to attend a National Foundation for Infectious Diseases dinner and receive its Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Award for Humanitarian Contributions.

Clinton arrived at Union Station, and made a spectacle of walking out of the first-class lounge, which served as a holding area for him, and then walking through the station ostensibly window shopping. Clinton had been given the opportunity to exit the train privately, with no public interaction, but ever the politician, according to advisers, Clinton wanted to feel the love of the public.

Clinton walked through the station, spoke to some people, and then according to advisers began feeling weak. He was escorted back to the holding area, where Clinton is said by sources to have caught his breath.

Clinton also caught enough of a rest in a private room (paid for by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases) at the Pentagon City Ritz-Carlton where the dinner was held (and also the location where Linda Tripp famously was wired by federal authorities to nab Monica Lewinsky), to have enough strength not only to appear at the dinner but to take several backhanded swipes at the Bush administration for not doing enough about HIV around the world -- even though it's doing more than Clinton's ever did in this regard.

"It was classic Clinton in every way," says a reporter covering the event.

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