Washington Prowler

State of the Union Strikers

Why did some Democrats walk out during the president's address? Who gave them permission? PLUS: John Edwards' successor.

By 1.29.03

Send to Kindle

NANCY'S RUDE RUBES
So by final count, 20 Democratic House members staged a planned walkout on the President's State of the Union speech, while two Democratic presidential wannabes sent out critiques of the president's speech well before he'd even finished. Talk about lives of lonely desperation.

Unknowing reporters might imagine Rep. Dick Gephardt and Sen. John Edwards furiously taking notes on PDA's during the SOTUS and e-mailing them off to them from their seats. After all, the comments of both White House aspirants about Bush's speech were available in journalists' e-mail boxes more than ten minutes before the president finished his gripping address.

In fact, the canned comments from Gephardt and Edwards were written and approved even before the two men entered the joint session of Congress. "If you want your man's thoughts to get play after the fact, then you've got to get them into the media's hands in a timely manner," explains a Gephardt staffer. "If we waited until after Bush was done, we'd never get play."

Gephardt and Edwards were naturally supportive of Bush's Iraq policy, but slammed him on domestic issues. Big surprise.

After Bush's speech and the Democratic response, DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe, as well as Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, were inundated with complaints about the party's responder, Washington Gov. Gary Locke. Democratic leaders selected Locke after the party's governors demanded a larger role in the national party's activities in Washington. But acts like Locke's will quickly have them back playing in Peoria.

"He was an embarrassment," said one moderate Democratic House member. "Bush gave a great speech, our response only made his words seem more powerful. Why do we bother?"

The walkout, staged by mostly liberal Democrats, occurred about ten minutes before Bush's speech ended. According to one House leadership source, the walkout was approved beforehand by Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, who saw nothing wrong with members of her caucus behaving rudely, and is said by other Democratic staffers to have encouraged her caucus to react visibly to Bush's speech whenever emotions moved them.

"It says more about the respect her caucus has for her that they asked her if they could do it," says a House Democratic leadership staffer. "They'd never have bothered to ask Gephardt."

BURR IN EDWARDS' SADDLE
The White House has hit on the candidate in North Carolina it wants to run for the Senate in 2004: Rep. Richard Burr, a conservative elected to the House in 1994 from Winston-Salem. White House consigliere Karl Rove has been touting Burr and working with the state party to tamp down other potential candidates who might be considering a run. A few weeks ago, for example, North Carolina Rep. Robin Hayes had expressed interest in exploring a Senate run, but given the challenges he's expected to face running for re-election to the House in a slightly Democratic-leaning district, it's doubtful he'd be encouraged to run.

Burr on the other hand, may be in the best position to run. Incumbent Sen. John Edwards may choose not to seek re-election if he goes full-bore on the presidential trail, leaving the seat open in a state that went strongly Republican last go-round. Further, Burr's district has a number of high-tech and medical research facilities, a natural fundraising base. To enhance Burr's standing, the White House is looking for him to help walk the point for the administration's health-care reform proposals, including its prescription drug plan and other Medicare reforms. Both are issues Burr has dealt with in the past, and his successes would nicely play off Edwards, who failed in his attempt to get a patients bill of rights passed in the 107th Congress.

Like this Article

Print this Article

Print Article