Washington Prowler

Patty Murray’s Hostage

Democrats hold Bush friend for ransom. Also: Democrat beggars at the Omni Shoreham. Plus: Comeback McKinney.

By 6.6.03

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RANSOM DEMOCRATS
Democrats in the Senate aren't just filibustering President Bush's judicial nominees. They're also blocking a number of his political nominations.

Perhaps the biggest head-scratcher is the hold up on Office of Management and Budget deputy director-designate Clay Johnson.

Johnson, who has been friends with President Bush since college, was put up for nomination several months ago. At that time, Sen. Robert Byrd placed a hold on the nomination, citing Clay's allegedly testy relationship with organized labor.

"Byrd is a slave to the unions, and would do just about anything for them," says a Senate Republican leadership staffer.

Earlier this week Byrd surrendered his hold and for a few hours it appeared that Johnson might actually receive a fair hearing, perhaps even a vote in committee. But no sooner did Bobby Byrd relent than Sen. Patty Murray of Washington stepped in to place a hold on the nomination. The reason? Demands that the Department of Homeland Security pony up $58 million to help pay for port security in Murray's home state.

"It may be that Byrd had real issues with Johnson, because of the way he tried to outsource government work to private firms," says the Senate leadership staffer, referring to Johnson's previous job as White House presidential personnel director. But the Murray hold makes little sense beyond the notion, held by some White House staffers and Republicans on the Hill, that Murray is simply trying to hold a Bush associate for ransom.

"This appears to be a new Democrat approach to dealing with us," said a White House staffer who does some work on the Hill. "If they think they can hold every Bush nominee hostage and get what they want, then they're wrong about this president. It's been more than two years and they still don't know how this guy ticks."

Republicans in the Senate are still discussing ways to move the nominations that have lain fallow in committees, both judicial and political. In all, more than 70 nominations are being delayed by Democratic obstructionists.

HOWIE DOODIES
You'd think, with key Democratic presidential hopefuls showing up at Omni Shoreham Hotel over the last couple of days, that the Democratic Leadership Council was meeting there. But Sen. John Edwards, Sen. John Kerry, and Rep. Dick Gephardt came by for an entirely different reason: to pay respects to the far left Campaign for America's Future. It amounted to what EMILY's List organizers, founders and worker bees called an "audition" to see which Democrat could best beg for their progressive support. "This is a group that's made for Howie Dean," said a Republican lobbyist.

But given the amount of money progressive groups like EMILY's List have paid out in the past, and given the dearth of big money donations thus far in the campaign, so-called moderate or DLC types like Edwards, Kerry and Gephardt have had to come begging.

One candidate who might be wasting her time at the Campaign for America's Future is former ambassador Carol Moseley Braun, who is telling people that she will probably bypass campaigning in New Hampshire and is already telling some donors that her campaign will be kaput by September.

COMEBACK McKINNEY
Carol Moseley Braun may be going nowhere, but another woman, former Rep. Cynthia McKinney, is mulling a presidential bid. One of her former staffers is a leader in Georgia for the Green Party, and McKinney's name has been mentioned prominently as an alternative candidate for that party's nomination should Ralph Nader choose not run again.

But McKinney, who last year failed to win her party's renomination for the House in a Georgia district expressly created for her, isn't counting her presidential eggs before they hatch. She has already begun filing papers to run again for the House from her old district in 2004.

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