NOT TOO KEAN
Republicans on Capitol Hill and many conservatives throughout the Bush administration are scratching their heads, and perhaps even pulling out their hair, over the current machinations of the 9/11 commission currently holding hearings and working on a report due out later this year.
Officially called the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, this is a separate commission from the joint congressional committee overseen by Intelligence chairmen Sen. Bob Graham and Rep. Porter Goss which sometime next week is expected to release its report.
The 9/11 commission, chaired by former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean and retired Indiana Rep. Lee Hamilton -- and featuring such even-handed players as former Clinton counsel Richard Ben-Veniste and Clinton-Gore adviser and former number two to Janet Reno Jamie Gorelick -- has been making noise of late that it is not receiving satisfactory cooperation from federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Justice Department.
"The White House will rue the day they put Tom Kean in charge of this commission," says a senior Republican Senate staffer. "This is a man who is a Republican in name only and who has allowed Ben-Veniste to ride roughshod over everybody else working on that commission."
Ben-Veniste's influence was obvious on Tuesday when, during the appearance of three supposed experts on the Arab world, he focused almost exclusively on the Bush administration's decision to go to war with Iraq.
"It not an area the commission should even be looking at," says the Senate staffer. "People like Ben-Veniste and Gorelick have been meeting with Democratic leadership in both the House and the Senate. They've been meeting with party officials and are using a commission created by the Bush people out of fairness to play dirty politics on the government's dime."
Republicans are also concerned about the amount of classified information the 9/11 commission is receiving, including more than 3,000 pages of internal White House documents that they fear may be leaked or handed over to Democratic operatives working against the administration in 2004.
While in North Carolina the other day, Sen. John Edwards met privately with the man who would like his job, Erskine Bowles. Neither Carolinian, nor their aides, pussyfooted around the purpose of the get-together. "We wanted some kind of guidance on what Edwards was going to do," said a Bowles supporter (not present for their meeting).
Bowles had requested the meeting at a time that he views as critical for his planning and fundraising going into the fall. Edwards has so far declined to say whether he will not run for re-election in order to give his presidency candidacy his undivided attention. Bowles would appear to be the most likely candidate to fill Edwards' slot, and North Carolina Democrats have made it very clear that they would prefer to know sooner rather than later about Edwards' plans.
Already Republican candidate Rep. Richard Burr has been using Edwards' indecision to his fundraising advantage, picking off conservative Democratic dollars in areas of the state normally considered to be solely Democratic.
Bowles, however, may not be the only Democrat eyeing Edwards' seat. Former state house speaker Dan Blue, who lost to Bowles in last year's Senate Democratic primary, while not openly saying he would like to run, was coy enough to tell the press earlier this week that Edwards should take all the time he needs to decide whether he'll run again for the Senate.
As it stands, Democrats in North Carolina are becoming increasingly nervous about Edwards as a Senate candidate. Almost all the polling numbers out of the Tarheel state indicate that he enjoys less than 50% voter approval statewide and that he would lose the state in a presidential race to President Bush by a whopping margin. In some polls, he would lose the Senate seat to Burr.
Edwards and his staff, while not putting a timeline on his decision, have indicated to state party officials that he will decide before September 30.
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