Washington Prowler

Showdown Time

The President and the CBC. Democrats position against Gray Davis.

By 7.18.03

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NO FEELING HIS PAYNE
In the long simmering war that the Congressional Black Caucus has waged against this Bush administration, the president made the CBC blink.

On Wednesday, Bush invited CBC chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings to the White House along with a group of other House and Senate leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Lugar, Foreign Relations ranking member Sen. Russ Feingold, Rep. Nita Lowey, ranking member of the House subcommittee dealing with foreign aid, and Rep. Donald Payne, ranking member of the House subcommittee on Africa. The purpose of the meeting was to brief these leaders on Bush's recent trip to Africa and to encourage congressional support for the pro-African legislative agenda the administration is putting forward.

Cummings, though, rejected the invitation, claiming he hadn't been invited enough in the past for this invitation to make a difference.

"Everybody in the House and the Senate, for that matter, knows that this is the way the president operates when he does overseas trips," says a White House legislative staffer. "On issues like this he reaches out to everybody and in this case the leader of the black caucus ignored that invitation."

Cummings encouraged Payne, who is also a member of the CBC, to decline the invitation as well. But Payne ignored Cummings' entreaties, in part because the Bush administration supported a version of the Sudan Peace Act which Payne had been pushing in the House.

THE LINE ON FEINSTEIN
With a recall in California of Gov. Gray Davis all but certain, some Democrats who earlier publicly claimed little interest in running to replace him are privately backing off those promises to the embattled governor. According to several Democratic insiders in California, Sen. Dianne Feinstein has privately expressed a willingness to throw her hat into the ring should the political realities inside the state make it obvious that Davis has little chance of retaining his position.

The hedging is probably due in part to the nature of the California recall ballot. In this case voters would be asked if Davis should be recalled or not and then on the same ballot allowed to choose a replacement from a list of candidates. No Democrat will want to appear on the ballot if he thinks Davis has any chance to hold on and in effect win re-election at their expense.

Another Democrat seriously considering a run is former White House Chief of Staff and congressman Leon Panetta. "He could easily step in and raise the money for a campaign within two weeks of announcing," said a state Democratic Party official. "He's been out of politics for more than two years now, but the machine, while it's been in the garage a while, is gassed up and ready to go."

Panetta most likely would not run were Feinstein to enter the race. Feinstein's decision to go ahead most likely rests in the hands of Republicans, about whom there are growing doubts. "Davis's negative material on [recall activist Rep. Darrell] Issa isn't having as powerful an effect as we thought it would," says a state Republican Party staffer. "But at the same time polling numbers are flattening out for [rumored favorite Arnold] Schwarzenegger and Issa both."

If it appears unlikely that either man can win a plurality, look for Feinstein to jump into the fray for a position she has always coveted.

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