LOOK WHO'S TALKING
The Senate Democratic Caucus was up in arms earlier this week, complaining to reporters on Capitol Hill that Sen. Jay Rockefeller was not the source they should be going to for comments about the just-released 9/11 Report and the purported White House "misuse" of intelligence data to buttress arguments for taking down Saddam.
Senators Tom Daschle and Harry Reid, the Senate's Democratic leader and whip respectively, were both bad-mouthing Rockefeller, and let it be known in a meeting of all Democratic press secretaries that they, along with Sen.Bob Graham, were to be the only conduits for official Senate Democratic statements on either issue.
"This is the first time this White House has made a misstep we can capitalize on, and Rockefeller is out there soft-peddling the stuff like it is no big deal," says a Senate leadership staffer. "If Bush emerges from this unscathed, Rockefeller deserves a lot of the blame from our end."
Daschle and Reid had both told party caucus members that the past ten days have given them the best chance at wounding the White House. They asked for a coordinated communications effort, in line with their House counterparts and the Democratic National Committee. But then Rockefeller, who serves as ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, went off the reservation and told reporters that before there was any serious finger-pointing, the committee had to take in all the information. That was not the spin Daschle and company wanted.
Rockefeller's comments, however, were nothing next to those from former President Bill Clinton's on Tuesday's "Larry King Live," which left the Democrats on Capitol Hill almost speechless. Clinton, who said he had bombed Iraq in 1998, in part because of the threat of Saddam's nuclear program, took virtually all the air out of the Democrats' plans to continue attacking the White House's handling of uranium purchase intelligence used in the State of the Union Address.
"He had to have done it for Hillary. They are up to something," says a Howie Dean presidential campaign staffer in New Hampshire. "We can't believe our party's leader would stab us in the back unless there was something more to it. Maybe he's setting us all up for something else. Or he thinks by clearing the field of a national security topic, it will be easier for Hillary to enter the race and focus on domestic policy. Whatever, we can't believe he did it."
As for Rockefeller, a leadership staffer for Republicans said the word on the Hill was that Rockefeller was aware of what his party was trying to do to the White House, but chafed at taking orders from Daschle and Reid, particularly when the senator from West Virginia was basically told to steer all interview requests to higher-ups in the party.
Sen. Chuck Schumer has a lot of explaining to do about his rationale for blocking federal judge nominees. After holding back the nominations of four Bush nominees to the federal bench, all of whom were rated as qualified by the American Bar Association, Schumer trumpeted the fact that he and the White House had cut a deal to fill several open federal judgeships in New York state.
Schumer announced the deal without giving the White House the chance to announce it, a protocol no-no. "It's the kind of glory hound behavior you have to accept in dealing with him," says a White House legislative staffer.
But if the White House is upset about Schumer's jumping the gun, they won't say, in part because they believe they have caught Schumer in a double standard that undercuts his arguments about many Bush judicial nominees.
Dora Irizarry is a Republican nominated by the Bush White House to a seat on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. She has been fully backed for the slot by Schumer, in part because she a New Yorker, and in part to annoy New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who beat Irizarry in a race for that office, and who has clashed with Schumer for -- get this -- Spitzer's desire to be in the spotlight.
At any rate, Irizarry recently got her review from the ABA, and a majority of the ABA's review committee found the judicial nominee "not qualified" for the federal bench. Still, Schumer is backing her.
"He can't do it for long," says a Democratic Senate Judiciary staffer. "Otherwise, how can he support a sub-par nominee while refusing to back qualified nominees?"
That's exactly what the White House would like Schumer to have to explain.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas's tearful mea culpa on the House floor Wednesday was forced upon him by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, who told the prickly pol from California that if he didn't end the simmering story, he was risking his chairmanship.
Thomas, who is famous for his temper, and who has been known to stalk out of meetings in his own private office, angered Democrats when he ordered the House sergeant at arms to call in the Capitol Hill police if Democratic House Ways and Means committee members refused to re-convene for the markup of a bill. Most Democrats had marched out of the committee room in protest, leaving Rep. Pete Stark to scream homophobic remarks at Republicans. Evidently he hates it when they call him by his real name, Fortney.
"It was all very embarrassing to us," says a House Republican leadership aide. "Hastert has been hearing from a number of Republican members that it has been increasingly difficult to work with Thomas. He's been a real pain in the ass, and this was just the last straw."
Thomas beat Illinois Rep. Philip Crane for the Ways and Means seat three years ago, upsetting some conservatives who disliked Thomas's brash style.
Thomas had refused to apologize for his actions, even in a closed door meeting with the Republican caucus. But on Tuesday, according to Hill sources, Hastert laid down the law and told Thomas to get with the program.
For all of the glee some Republicans took in seeing Thomas humbled, they were reminded that there are worse personalities in their midst. While many Democrats welcomed Thomas's weepy tale of woe, Nancy Pelosi, who herself is facing increasing doubts about her leadership future, said the apology wasn't good enough.
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