WHO'S AFRAID OF BIG JOHN?
The White House political and congressional liaison staff is livid with Club for Growth founder Stephen Moore for going public with comments that he may seek a primary opponent against Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Consistent with points he made in an interview published in the Nov./Dec. 2002 American Spectator, Moore sent out a fundraising letter saying he could raise a million dollars for a run against McCain. The Wall Street Journal recently repeated that Moore may be recruiting Rep. Jeff Flake for the task.
"McCain is already pissed off with us, now he has a group like Moore's agitating him further. He'll think we're behind it," says a White House staffer who monitors Capitol Hill.
That's doubtful. Given the way the White House has treated Moore of late, it should consider itself lucky Moore isn't talking about running someone against Bush next time around.
Indeed, the White House has every reason to be grateful to Moore, whose Club for Growth was key to helping elect pro-tax cut, conservative House and Senate members (John Sununu, Jr., was one of Moore's big winners) in the last election cycle. Instead, it put off his call for a more conservative, pro-tax-cut Treasury Secretary in order to install another moderate, country club Republican in Paul O'Neill's place.
Besides, the White House has so badly botched the McCain relationship, that anything anyone else did wouldn't even show up on the radar.
McCain is now on the warpath against the Administration because he feels it -- and former Senate leader Trent Lott -- backtracked on a deal to give his favored nominee to the Federal Election Commission a seat at the table before his landmark campaign finance reform legislation passed through the FEC's regulatory clutches. Instead, his nominee was seated too late in the process to make a real difference.
"Okay, they seated her, but it was way after they should have. If the Senator is mad and looking to get even, it's because these guys didn't play straight," says a McCain staffer.
Currently, McCain is threatening to lead a revolt of GOP Senators against the Bush team's economic stimulus package, and has also told associates that he will again move to block new Bush nominations.
The Bush team has failed at almost every turn to deal with McCain in a manner that would ensure at least his receptivity to the Bush agenda. Most onlookers say the FEC shenanigans came on the recommendation of Lott. "He said he could handle McCain," says the White House staffer. "Looking back, we shouldn't have put so much faith in that."
Gee, ya think?
While it's easy to blame Lott for some of the problems with McCain, not to mention McCain himself, that doesn't absolve the Bushies for their central role in the McCain mess. The two camps have been acting like Hatfields and McCoys ever since McCain became a thorn in Bush and Karl Rove's side during the 2000 presidential primary season. Perhaps out of sheer spite, the two sides have failed to get together on just about everything.
Lost in this feuding is that Moore and the Club for Growth are absolutely right to look for a better alternative to McCain, whose voting record is hardly as reliably Reagnanesque as once it was. "He's a hero, but heroes don't always make the best politicians, or the most reliable," says a conservative political consultant. "McCain's been talking off and on of late about retiring, so it's not a bad thing that Moore is at least looking to position a strong candidate. I'd take some of his picks over some of Rove's any day."
Moore isn't stopping at McCain. He's also looking to find someone to mount a primary challenge to Pennsylvania's Sen. Arlen Specter, who is already facing unrest among conservatives in the state GOP. Now if Moore could find a reliable candidate to run for the Senate in California, supply-siders would really be in business.
THE TWO BILLS COME DUE
Former President Bill Clinton has been in almost nonstop contact with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson since envoys from North Korea began sitting down with Richardson late last week to discuss the crisis between the U.S. and the rogue nation.
Richardson has said that the North Koreans came to him because they could not get meetings with Bush Administration officials. Richardson, to his credit, while keeping Clinton up to date on his meetings, has also been passing along information to the State Department and the National Security Council.
Richardson was not asked by the Bush Administration to cancel his meetings with the North Korean contingent, most of whom are attached to the country's U.N. delegation. But Richardson also did not seek White House approval for the meetings, either. By the time Richardson spoke with State Department and White House officials, the meetings were already on track.
"You know that Clinton is going to step into this, if for no other reason than to try to salvage his administration's reputation on how they handled North Korea in 1994," says a Republican staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "He's going to muck this up, he can't help himself."
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