Washington Prowler

Dissident Quashing Daschle

Don't dare back Estrada, he warns. Plus: NATO's next surprise. Also: Nethercutt's new limits.

By 2.12.03

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TOM FOOLERY
Democrats who have publicly stated their support for the nomination of Bush appeals court nominee Miguel Estrada are taking heavy heat from Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and his leadership team.

Sens. John Breaux, Zell Miller and Ben Nelson have said they support Estrada and they've declined to support a full filibuster of his nomination.

"They've been told that if they step too far out of line with the party there will be recriminations," says a Democratic leadership staffer.

But on the face of it, there doesn't appear to be much that Daschle could do to any of them. There are no committee chairmanships at stake, no rewards to hand out or withdraw.

"In the end, we just have to trust that they will support Estrada when the time comes to vote," says a Republican leadership staffer. "There isn't much Daschle can do to them, but they do have party responsibilities. We're counting on them, though. Estrada needs their support."

As a lameduck, Miller in particular is expected to stand tall for Estrada.

NATO CRACKDOWN
With the announcement late last month that Britain's Lord Robertson is stepping down by the end of the year as the political head of NATO, the United States (which generally provides the supreme military commander, leaving the bureaucratic post to rotating Europeans) is finding itself in a bind. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is already said to be putting down his foot that not German or Frenchman will get the posting, and there is talk that the U.S. might actually back one of the newer members invited into NATO in the past three years.

"Ideally we'd like to see someone in that post who would give the United States its due within the NATO apparatus," says a Defense Department staffer. "But there's no way in hell the U.S. would go along with a German or a Frenchman given their behavior."

That leaves a limited number of traditional, or old-line, member states to draw on. The previous NATO secretary general was from Spain, ruling out that country as a source for a replacement. The U.S. would probably support an Italian or Dutch nominee. Another possibility might be from Poland, which has expressed support for the United States and its military positions over the past 18 months.

NETHERCUTT'S NEW LIMITS
Based on the poor performance of Washington Gov. Gary Locke as the Democratic Party's talking head after President Bush's State of the Union address, Republican Rep. George Nethercutt is locked in on challenging him in 2004.

Nethercutt, who was criticized for not sticking to his self-imposed term limit when he ran for re-election to the House in 2000, was also mulling a run against Sen. Patty Murray, who is considered to be one of the weaker Democrats running for re-election.

But the White House has made it clear to Nethercutt that fellow House member Jennifer Dunn is its first choice to challenge Murray. Dunn hasn't committed, but is thought to be leaning toward a run. Nethercutt, though, isn't taking any chances. He has already begun fundraising for either race. Just in case.

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