Washington Prowler

A Trinity of Losers

Congressional Democrats turn to discredited Clintonians for foreign policy guidance. Plus: Frist's unity triumph.

By 3.5.03

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DOVE AT FIRST SIGHT
The saying goes, "You dance with who brung 'ya." So is that why Democrats in the Senate and the House continue to use discredited former Clinton Defense Secretary Bill Perry, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and and national security adviser Sandy Berger as their brain trust to counter the Bush Administration on defense, international and security issues?

The three former Clintonistas have been meeting fairly regularly with the Democratic leadership of both houses, even advising House leader Nancy Pelosi on what some Democratic House leadership staffers say were more than 35 drafts of the speech she is expected to make to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York this Friday.

"Whoever is saying that, it's just sour grapes," says a Pelosi staffer in her congressional office. "This is a representative who served on the House Intelligence Committee. She doesn't need to crib from others for her speeches."

Still, she and other Democratic leaders do appear to be leaning on the few recent foreign policy hands. Pelosi, especially, has been looking to Albright for backup in her tussle with her Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, who has been agitating for the party to be more hawkish on Iraq.

But the presence of the Clinton retreads grates with others. "You look at Iraq and North Korea and these are the people who created the problems," says a hawkish Democratic Senate staffer. "Why the hell are we listening to what they have to say?"

Part of the reason for the presence of the former Clinton cabinet members is concern among the Democratic leadership that too few of their membership carry any serious weight with the American public when it comes to foreign policy issues.

"At least Americans would recognize Albright or Berger," says another Democratic staffer. "The only other guy we've got is [Sen. Joseph] Biden, and he's been trotting himself out all over the place."

FRIST UNITY
Democrats in the Senate are surprised that Republican Majority Leader Dr. Bill Frist has been able to keep his 50 GOP colleagues in line on the Miguel Estrada nomination.

"We knew a cloture vote was going to come," says a Senate Judiciary Committee staffer. "But we also expected to see an Olympia Snowe or Susan Collins step out and make some noise about Estrada's extremism."

But that hasn't happened. In fact, Frist's seeming ease in getting his caucus to sign off on the cloture vote shows how well he has been able to bridge whatever disagreements may exist inside the Senate Republican conference.

"It has allowed us to focus exclusivly on the Dems," says a Republican staffer. "We know we have our 51 votes. We know we have four Democrats, and that we have a couple more leaning out way. Knowing we're united on Estrada gives us an edge that we don't necessarily have on other issues."

Frist, though, may run into some difficulties should the Estrada nomination linger as the Senate attempts to take up other thorny legislative issues like healthcare reform and the Bush economic stimulus package.

"We can't allow any policy disagreements on those fronts to undercut the unity we've achieved on Estrada," says a Senate leadership staffer. "I think our knowing how important this is will keep everyone in line."

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