Washington Prowler

Bush’s Indispensable Bayou Democrat

John Breaux is back. Also: The DNC's latest messiah. Plus: Talent on display.

By 11.7.02

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BALANCING BREAUX
Once again, as during the opening days of the Bush administration, the White House is viewing Louisiana Sen. John Breaux as a key component in its legislative game plan. Recall that Bush early on openly courted the moderate Breaux, not so much to become part of the administration as to serve as a conduit to other agreeable Democrats. The relationship never got a chance to take off, in part because the Bush energy plan was sidetracked.

But with the Republicans' new Senate majority and their need to find a workable coalition of between seven to ten Democrats for votes that require the support of 60, Breaux again becomes a potentially pivotal figure. But probably not until after the December runoff between Sen. Mary Landrieu and Suzy Haik Terrell. "He's really important to Landrieu pulling this thing out, in part because of his perceived relationship with the White House," says a Louisiana Democratic operative. "If everything goes as planned, he's going to be at her side for the next month."

So while there is little doubt that the White House will use many of the tools at its disposal to help Terrell, it will also do what it can to not bend Breaux out of shape. "We don't need to have Breaux coming back in January upset, with a grudge. We're not going to have the time to rebuild burned bridges. We want to hit the ground running up there," says a White House political staffer.

Breaux is seen as critical in the ongoing struggle over the Department of Homeland Security. He was one of the few Democrats who made an effort to work with the White House in developing a civil service plan that would give President Bush many of the controls he wanted over hiring and firing and transfers from other departments, while maintaining some level of input from the civil service unions and worker organizations. At one point, about a month before the elections, it appeared that Breaux had brokered some form of a deal with the White House, but then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle knocked down any chance that a series of votes on the new cabinet-level entity would occur before the election.

Beyond Breaux, look for Georgia's Zell Miller to become another serious Democratic player. It's doubtful he will jump parties without a serious chairmanship dangled in front of him, a no-go given that Republicans currently have none to offer.

WINGBATS
It was inevitable. In the wake of the Democrats' latest disaster, some staffers inside the party's national committee have suggested turning to the one person who best communicates the true Democratic vision for America. "He's the only one who seems to capture the imaginations of our base as well as those of mainstream Americans," says one of the DNC staffers who claims to have lobbied chairman Terry McAuliffe to bring in the perceived savior. Bill Clinton? Too soon. John Edwards? Too Bill. Eugene McCarthy? Too hip.

The man of the minute is "West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin. "Watch that show," the staffer enthuses. "He gives voice to the most wonderful Democratic ideals in a way Daschle or Gephardt never was able to. If nothing else he could bring a voice to the party that we haven't had in a long time."

Others inside the party say it isn't that much of a stretch. Another DNC staffer pointed to a plot line in the show several months ago that featured the Democratic White House devising a plan that would make college tuition fully tax deductible. "It's completely unworkable," says the DNC-er. "But it's so thinking outside the box. That's what we need now. We need to pull these people in and talk to them. Really listen to what they say. What's the worst thing that could happen?"

Umm. They probably don't want to go there.

It isn't as though this were an original idea. When it became apparent to the gubernatorial campaign of Janet Reno that Bill Clinton would not stump for his former attorney general, it brought in the next best thing: Martin Sheen, playing the president he plays on "West Wing." As well, other Democrats and left-leaning political organizations have brought in other actors from the show, treating them like political royalty.

No word on whether Sorkin would be willing to take on the task of rebuilding the Democratic Party. Apparently he has his hands full saving his TV show, which has seen its ratings slowly decline this year.

NO SHORTAGE OF TALENT
Most elections will be formally certified by state election officials next Tuesday, so look for Missouri's new Sen. Jim Talent to be on Capitol Hill ready to roll next week. Republicans intend to seat Talent ASAP, allowable because the current holder of the seat Sen. Jean Carnahan was appointed to serve out only the time leading up to next formal election date.

When sworn in Talent will give the Republicans effective control of the Senate. It's unclear to many on the Hill, however, what the GOP will do with it. Currently, there are more than 75 unconfirmed nominations for jobs inside the federal bureaucracy waiting to be moved. Republicans are wisely discussing the best process by which to push some or all of them through.

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