Washington Prowler

Payback Time

McCain's defector could cost the GOP the Senate. Plus: House underground costs revisited.

By 5.17.02

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WEAVERING A THICK PLOT
Sen. John McCain's former adviser John Weaver made no bones about it: if White House political maestro Karl Rove persuaded Republican senators to hire him for their 2002 and 2004 re-election campaigns, he'd jump to the Democrats. And boy has the former moderate Republican done so, in a big way.

Weaver's bad standing with the Bush White House is rooted in the stunning run he is credited with engineering for McCain in the 2000 presidential primary, especially his sweeping victory over Bush in New Hampshire. Weaver's forte is in drawing traditionally non-Republican voters to his candidates, particularly in states with open primaries, where uncommitteds can easily cast a vote either way.

After the 2000 election, senior White House adviser Rove made a point of telling several Republican senators that it would not make the White House happy to see Weaver working for them. One of these senators, Alabama's Jeff Sessions, has confirmed such conversations took place.

Weaver walked out on the Republican Party in a huff. He worked gratis with House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt to get passage of the campaign finance reform package in March. Now he has signed on as the lead consultant for the House Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "He's going to crack the code," says on senior staffer on DCCC. "He knows how Republicans think, he knows how they work, and he's been with them so recently he probably has a sense of what they are planning for 2002 and beyond campaign-wise."

Helpful as he may be the DCCC, the bigger issue is what Weaver may yet do for Democrats in the Senate. Because while Republicans didn't want Weaver, Democrats did, namely New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, who is running for the U.S. Senate. The seat is currently held by Sen. Bob Smith, who is being challenged in the Republican primary by Rep. John Sununu.

"If Shaheen wins that seat, we win the Senate," says a Democratic leadership aide. "It's that simple. If Weaver gives us that, then he's a hero for the cause. He won that state for McCain, he should win it for us. Republicans should be really pissed at Rove for cutting off this particular nose."

UNDERGROUND PORKING
Much has been made of the Capitol Hill Visitors Center that is currently under construction behind the Capitol. The need for the underground complex was dubious at best, but when a lone gunman smuggled a gun into the facility several years ago, killing and wounding several brave Capitol Hill police officers, the window was opened to create a secure facility to screen visitors to the building.

The problem is that a project like this wouldn't result in a true Capitol Hill landmark unless it were loaded down with pork. So a center that should have cost no more than $10 million is now a $300 million monolith that will stand as a permanent witness to congressional excess. Even more amusing -- as revealed at a recent hearing of the House Appropriations Committee's legislative subcommittee -- is the seeming shock at the bulging price tag on the part of the very people who allowed the construction in the first place. The hearing was held in part to address the anger of congressmen forced by the new construction to park their cars at more inconvenient spots on Capitol Hill grounds.

Others, like legislative subcommittee member Rep. Don Sherwood (R - Penn.), feigned ignorance about who had approved the building of a more than 500,000 square-foot underground facility. One Democratic House member asked his aide, "Why would we do that?" before being told it was what had been voted on by Congress.

"It just goes to show you how these guys think up here," says another House aide, who works on the Appropriations Committee. "It's their center, essentially their museum or monument, if you will, and they just threw money at it with no consideration for the taxpayer. Most of them will never set foot in the damn thing. It's now, literally, a money pit."

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