How badly does Al Gore want back into politics? After failing to twist his wife's arm into running for his old Senate seat, he's reduced to cold calls. "I think he has called just about every Democrat who's won a primary," says a former staffer. The latest: Rahm Emanuel, who after his primary victory last week is now a sure bet to House seat out of Chicago.
Gore is also getting into down and dirty primary fights, something former presidents and vice presidents normally don't do because it's viewed as classless to throw one's political weight around in intra-party wrangling. But not Desperate Al. He's backing a former Clinton White House staffer, Fred DuVal, who is seeking a House seat in Arizona and challenging a member of the Udall family for the nomination. On Monday Gore headlined a Washington fundraiser for the "new" re-apportioned 1st District congressional seat. Gore is also sending Tipper out to campaign for DuVal sometime in April.
Gore has set up a PAC, Leadership 2002, and has pledged to back promising Democrats around the country both physically and financially. "He's building goodwill and favors," says the former aide. "It's obvious he's doing the little things one needs to do to build support in the party for a big run down the road. When you lose and you're out of it, nothing is too small if it will help you in the long run."
Want to know one reason why Congress is so eager to speak to Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge? The tab he's running up. He's already spending more than $25 million on salaries for 145 staffers working directly for him, and that doesn't include the hundreds of workers in the Departments of Justice, Transportation, Energy, Commerce, State, and even Interior who also cover security issues for Ridge's office. That office is also looking at premium office space, which might run as much as $10 million a year, not including the space in the Eisenhower Old Executive Office Building it is already taking up.
"On their face, the numbers don't seem big, but there are millions more budgeted for the Office of Homeland Security, and we don't know where that money is going," says a senior Republican Appropriations Committee aide. "Ridge won't even meet with us over these issues. It's frustrating."
Apparently, Ridge is willing to meet with members of the House and Senate: White House logs indicate that he has held more than 50 meetings there with many senators and congressmen. He's also met numerous times with them up on the Hill. But according to a legislative affairs staffer in the White House, Ridge is under strict orders from senior White House adviser Karl Rove to ignore all formal invitations to testify before congressional committees.
Why? "If Ridge did it, then people like Rove would have to do it too," says the staffer.
Ridge was not confirmed by the Senate, thus he is not required to appear before that body. The same goes for Rove and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. "We don't want to set any precedents," says the White House source.
For now, though, sights are set on Ridge. Senate Democrats have been threatening to slap Ridge with a subpoena, but have yet to do so. Ridge yesterday offered to appear in a public but noncommittee setting on Capitol Hill to address Senate and House leaders and answer their questions . Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle turned down that deal. "He wants to get Ridge under oath," says a Senate Democratic leadership staffer. "They want to embarrass him and the administration."
As he explains, Democrats are looking for ways to criticize the administration's war effort without appearing to be directly attacking President Bush.
DICK, HILLARY AND HAROLD
Apparently, just in case she decides not to run, Sen. Hillary Clinton is staking a claim in a Democratic presidential candidate: Dick Gephardt. While Gephardt has more than enough political contacts from his previous forays in presidential politics and his years on the Hill, Hillary is said by several of Gephardt's staffers to have helped set up a meeting between their boss and longtime Clinton friend and political adviser Harold Ickes. "He's trying to line up help in the Northeast for the primary runs," says a Gephardt campaign adviser. "Ickes knows New York like no one else. With [Massachusetts Sen.] John Kerry in the race, Ickes would be a good guy to have on the team."
Ickes was a key adviser to Hillary Clinton in the early days of her Senate campaign and remains a confidante. "He certainly wouldn't be talking to Gephardt without her knowing," says a Clinton staffer in New York. "Harold is her guy."
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