Washington Prowler

Tom DeLay Is Back

Why is he unhappy with the White House? Also: Lining up to oust Lott. Plus: Gary Condit says it with flowers.

By 2.18.02

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WAR OF THE BRANCHES
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay has asked the White House to replace its chief Capitol Hill liaison, Nicholas Calio, after weeks of what he called "failures and embarrassments," according to a White House domestic policy staffer.

DeLay, in line to succeed House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who is retiring this year, was angered by what he believes were breakdowns in communications between the White House and Congressional Republicans. "The White House doesn't brief us on anything. We hear about the war on terrorism from the news, Bush's plans to sign campaign finance reform from the news, his environmental policy plans from the news," says a senior House leadership aide. "That's Calio's job, to coordinate and let us in on what the White House plans to do before it actually does it. If he isn't doing that, then something has to give."

One problem: Calio is doing the job Karl Rove wants him to do. "Nick isn't telling Republicans on the Hill anything because we don't want them to know anything," says another domestic policy staffer in the White House. "Those guys up there get their briefings and then leak it to their supposed friends in the media, and we get burned. You saw it happen all the time with Clinton's people. We're not going to make the same mistake."

House and Senate Republicans are generally given briefings from the White House the morning of major policy or political announcements. The staffer explains: "We give them a couple of hours to prepare for any media queries. That's all they need. Besides, on most issues, they have a pretty good idea where our president is coming from. If they haven't figured that out yet, they aren't as smart as they claim they are."

FRIST SHALL BE LOTT
Sen. Bill Frist has decided to challenge Senate Minority Trent Lott for leadership of the Senate, regardless of what happens in the November election. "He's indicated that whether the election is for leader of the minority or the majority, he's in," says a Frist staffer.

Rumors on Capitol Hill had Lott wavering on whether he would run for the leadership post, but several sources in Lott's offices say their boss has indicated that he too intends to run again. "He's in for the long haul. He wants to be the leader who brings back the Senate majority," says one adviser in the leadership office. "He wants this badly."

He may want it badly, but it's up in the air whether his colleagues want him back. Lott's failings to anticipate a wave of Republican retirements prior to the 2000 election and to more firmly direct the political activities on his side of the aisle are widely blamed for Republicans losing their majority in the Senate.

Frist's challenge is but the first of what is expected to be at least a three-man race for control of Senate Republicans. Current Republican whip Don Nickles, who is term-limited by the caucus from serving another term in that position, has not announced his intentions yet, but staffers believe he may challenge Lott, rather than take the chairmanship of either the Senate Budget or Energy committees. "He's waffling. Part of him wants to run for the job, another part doesn't want to challenge Lott," says an aide. "If I had to bet now, I'd say he probably challenges, especially if Frist jumps in."

Frist, who heads the GOP's senatorial campaign committee, is a fast-rising star. He was a media darling during the anthrax scares on Capitol Hill and later this year will have a book published on the threat of bioterror to America. It's unclear how much support he would have in a challenge to Lott or Nickles. "I'd rather see him run for something lower on the totem pole," says one Republican senator, who says he'd back Nickles in a leadership fight. "There are going to be several open slots."

Perhaps the most down and dirty Republican election will be between Mitch McConnell and Larry Craig, who are both vying for the Whip position. McConnell, who has raised millions for his Republican colleagues, is said to have already lined up enough votes to ensure victory. But Craig, currently chair of the Republican Policy Committee, isn't giving ground and continues to campaign for the job.

FLOWER POWER
Rep. Gary Condit has barely $100,000 in the bank for his run for re-election in California's central valley. Perhaps if he spent less on hotels and flowers, he'd have more. Condit's latest financial filing with the Federal Election Commission includes a number of flower-order charges for "constituents." Some charges are for less than $5. Others, as much as $150. As well, there are charges for Hilton Hotels in San Francisco and at least one Washington, D.C. hotel. Strange, given that Condit has a home in Washington and another one less than three hours from San Francisco.

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