Washington Prowler

White House in Control

Pushing legislation and an agenda that even George Stephanopoulos will warm to -- or else. Plus: The woman who moved Monica.

By 6.12.02

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O, CHRISTMAS TREE
In less than a week the White House has completed the first draft of the legislation that will create the Department of Homeland Security, and White House insiders predict that the final piece of legislation will be sent to Capitol Hill within the next two weeks. "We're gonna make this in record time because we've been working on it really since September 14," says a White House policy staffer involved in the work.

The one concern the White House has is the pork and additional appropriations the Senate may attempt to tack on to the bill. Two previous appropriations bills put forward by the White House related to September 11 were passed virtually intact by the House, with little or no so-called "Christmas treeing" of additional pork projects. The Senate, on the other hand, attached close to $8 billion in additional spending above what the White House had requested. "We've met with both Republicans and Democrats privately on this issue, and they've assured us they will expedite this legislation and won't bog us down with more money than we've asked for," says the policy staffer. "As it is, $38 billion is a lot to play with."

THIS WEAK
With ABC's "This Week" set to become a one-man show run by former Clinton senior adviser George Stephanopoulos, the White House is using the summer to figure out its media plan for the fall push for regaining the Senate, holding the House, and advancing its agenda.

"As far as we can tell, there are only two shows where our message will be allowed to get out clearly, and that's at CNN with Wolf Blitzer and on NBC with Tim Russert," says a White House communications staffer. "But we can't just boycott 'This Week' the way we've been boycotting 'Crossfire' on CNN. Stephanopoulos is going to get some decent ratings, and it's a show we have to work with."

The White House is leaning toward offering "This Week" what the show likes to call "second tier talent" (no Colin Powell, no Donald Rumsfeld, no Condi Rice), to gauge just how aggressive Stephanopoulos will be with guests in the opening months of his new hosting duties. "The expectation is he's going to be pretty tough, that he's going to want to show his bosses he can be just as aggressive as Russert," says the White House source. "But if he plays nice, we'll give him our headliners."

But ABC and Stephanopoulos aren't expecting too cold a shoulder. "No matter what they may say, we're at the least the second-best show in town," says an ABC News producer in Washington, in a nice tip of the hat to Russert's "Meet the Press." "If the White House wants its message out, it's going to have to play ball with us. George is going to get good ratings, he's going to be popular. This show is going to get fixed. The White House better not try to hard to dictate terms. You never can tell when the tide will turn."

BURKE TEAMWORK
Former Bob Dole chief of staff and key adviser Sheila Burke hasn't wasted a lot of time ensuring that her reputation as a liberal Republican Democratic sympathizer remains intact. Burke, who left Washington after Dole's defeat in 1996, returned to the nation's capital last year after Republicans regained control of the executive branch bureaucracy to become a director of the Smithsonian Institution -- where she continues to help Democrats.

Recently Burke hired Evelyn Lieberman as Smithsonian director of communications and public affairs. This is the same Lieberman who played a memorable role in the Monica Lewinsky affair. As deputy chief of staff to Bill Clinton, Lieberman grew alarmed at the seeming close relationship between the intern and the president. Her solution was to move Lewinsky from the White House to the Pentagon, where Ms. Monica teamed up with an obscure staffer named Linda Tripp.

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