Washington Prowler

The McCain Menace

Stopping at nothing to sabotage the Bush White House. Also: Al Gore stays away.

By 7.29.02

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PERMANENT WAR
With close to 90 political and judicial appointments gathering dust on Capitol Hill and fellow Republican John McCain partially responsible for their nonconfirmation, Karl Rove was the bigger man, and cut a deal with the unpredictable Arizona senator to break up the logjam a bit. McCain had been holding up the confirmation process to ensure that his choice for a seat on the Federal Election Commission, Democratic operative Ellen Weintraub, would be approved by the White House.

The White House had been in no hurry for the FBI to move on a background check of Weintraub, a well-known DNC fundraising specialist who supports almost all of McCain's campaign finance reform ideas. McCain began blocking votes on Bush's nominations two months ago, even though Republicans and Democrats had cut a deal to bring many of the nominations to the floor for a vote. Only one nonjudicial confirmation was approved in July, and that was for fellow Arizona native Richard Carmona as Surgeon General.

Rove cut a deal with McCain, promising that Weintraub would be seated on the FEC before October 31 (the FEC isn't expected to fully adopt and finalize the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform rules until then, anyway). This was apparently good enough for McCain ... for now. But more trouble is brewing between the White House and McCain, and it could turn pretty ugly.

McCain has been meeting with Democrats in the Senate, mapping out his role in whatever moves the Democrats choose to make related to health-care issues this fall. The big one is senior prescription drug benefits, an issue McCain has been involved with for some time. The White House was angered when McCain signed on as lead Republican to New York Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer's generic drug bill that would expand a 1984 law aimed at bringing lower-cost generic drugs to market. The bill would limit brand name drug companies to just one 30-month stay for drug patents, instead of the multiple stays they are allowed today.

"I don't know why the White House is pissed off about this," says a McCain staffer. "It's not like there aren't other Republicans who are backing it."

That's true, but McCain's seeming willingness to be a constant thorn in the Bush presidency's side has become a bigger problem than perhaps even the White House anticipated. "It isn't like there is a sense that now that we've appeased him on Weintraub, that we think we have clear sailing, because we don't." says a White House staffer who's done work on Capitol Hill. "With McCain you're always aware that he has another hurdle he's going to put in front of you. We know prescription drugs is going to be one, there is probably going to be another after that. It's inevitable."

AL'S LATEST SULK
Former Vice President Al Gore was not satisfied with the slot he was to receive at the Democratic Leadership Council's New York meeting this week, and declined an invitation to speak at the "National Conversation," which takes place in Manhattan today and Tuesday. "Gore was pushing for a 'keynote' style speech, a big one," says a DLC staffer. "But we aren't doing it that way, everyone is getting a chance to speak, especially those with a national reputation. He wasn't comfortable traveling in a pack."

Gore apparently was further upset that his former running mate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, would be given what he perceived to be preferential treatment. Unlike Gore, Lieberman has been an active DLC member for years. "Lieberman isn't getting anything that the other speakers aren't getting. It's a speaking engagement, nothing more," says the DLC-er. "You have to wonder about a guy who is acting like a spoiled child toward a group he needs badly if he is to succeed down the road. It is sort of odd."

On the face of it, it doesn't appear that Lieberman is getting much of a special spotlight. He's due to speak on Monday, along with Sens. Tom Daschle and John Kerry. Sen. John Edwards and Rep. Dick Gephardt are scheduled for Tuesday, when Gore presumably would have had a slot. But ironically, his absence only adds to the attention that will most likely be showered on John Edwards, who is primed for what his staff considers to be a major address to a group he's looking to build tighter bonds with.

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