Sens. Joseph Lieberman and Olympia Snowe plan on holding a "Moderates Meeting" perhaps as early as this week, in hopes of creating at the very least an informal voting block of like-minded Republicans and Democrats to offset the hardening conservative and left-wing party lines.
According to a staffer in Sen. Arlen Specter's office, Specter was invited by Snowe, indicated his desire to be a part of their block, but said given attempts to regain footing among conservatives, his attendance would cause him more problems.
Specter's decision to decline the invitation would seem to indicate that he is focused on wooing Republicans on the Judiciary Committee and within his caucus before he considers other political options.
It isn't clear whether Lieberman and Snowe's plans are anything greater or more ambitious than an attempt to bring a moderate mood to Senate proceedings, which are expected to be tough and bare-knuckled for the foreseeable future.
"Senator Lieberman is a man with far greater respect for the institution of the Senate than he has for giving his own political party an edge," says a Republican Senate staffer. "We don't see this as a political grab or an attempt to water down or somehow undercut a Republican majority. Snowe, on the other hand, may have other ideas. We're just not sure."
There is a school of thought among the more conspiracy-minded Senate staffers that some moderate Republicans and Democrats could essentially create a critical third voting block in their chamber. A moderate group of four or five Republicans and two or three Democrats would be enough to serve as critical swing votes in what will surely be a number of tight votes on bills and issues the Bush Administration has targeted as high priority: tax fairness, class action lawsuit reform, medical malpractice, and the confirmation of judges.
CLEAN BILL OF HEALTH
This week, the Clinton Presidential Library gets polished up for its formal dedication Thursday, and the former President appears to be fit and ready to go on a media blitz that only three weeks ago he appeared unable to participate in.
"I wouldn't say it's miraculous, but his staff isn't telling people doctors are limiting him the way his staff was telling the Kerry people that doctors were limiting him," says a former Clinton staffer. "He's raring to go and grab the spotlight."
Clinton will be appearing on all the morning shows, and most of the network news anchors intend to broadcast from Little Rock for the dedication of the library that cost more than $150 million to build.
According to a former Clinton fundraiser, at least a third of the funds came from donors outside of the United States: Saudi Arabia, China, Taiwan, Singapore and Australia, some of the same donors who funneled money to the Clinton-Gore election campaigns and the Democratic National Committee in the 1990s.
Clinton has had rough patches in fundraising, and has depended on the generosity of foreign donors to keep the library project moving along.
Clinton has told associates that he intends to spend extensive amounts of time at the library, where he hopes that he will be able to create a conflict resolution center along the lines of the one former President Jimmy Carter created at his library in Georgia.
"His staff sees that as a way of making some money for the library foundation, that and lots of tourists," says the former Clinton staffer. "Though you know the one exhibit that would probably make him the most is the one that will never be held on these grounds. A certain little blue dress would be the biggest draw for the place."
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean is being encouraged not to run for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, in part because he simply doesn't have enough support to make a serious run.
"It would take a miracle for him to do it," says a DNC staffer. "There are too many respected, middle of the road party loyalists who think he's just a younger Nader waiting to implode."
Right now, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack is a leading candidate for the job, after longtime Gore and DNC activist Donna Brazile removed her name from the running. Gov. Bill Richardson was also thought to be a dark horse for the job if he chose to pursue it.
Tough guy Harold Ickes is considered to be on a par with Vilsack, though there is growing distrust among DNC leaders about again handing over the party apparatus to someone so close to the Clintons. Ickes, however, has just as close ties with organized labor, which if the party is to keep up with the Republicans must be somehow assuaged.
Dean was felt to have a shot based on the fundraising performance he exhibited during the Democratic primary. His campaign was credited with drawing in tens of thousands of donors via the Internet, who donated money in small amounts similar to how Republicans have given to their party.
But Dean had little to nothing to do with that fundraising success. Dean insiders say that his campaign manager, Joe Trippi, deserves much of the credit for creating that kind of online fundraising environment.
"Dean was the draw, but the ideas were Trippi's," says a former Dean staffer. "If the party is serious about somehow becoming more progressive and appealing to younger voters, Trippi is the guy, not Dean."
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