Washington Prowler

Solomonic on Steel

The president will have it both ways. Also: Al Gore quietly prepares to prepare. The White House waits to hear what Simon says.

By 3.4.02

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THE BOYS AND BRAZILE
While Democrats in Washington doubt that Al Gore can successfully run for president in 2004, he just may think he can. Already, according to former staffers in Washington and Tennessee, Gore is reaching out to former loyalists who will be critical to any future political success. First up, apparently, is former campaign manager Donna Brazile, who's been out and about, working at the Kennedy School at Harvard and the University of Maryland. "If he's going to do anything, he'll need her," says a former adviser.

More so than perhaps Gore realizes. Much of Gore's fundraising team has already signed on with 2004 competitors John Kerry of Massachusetts and John Edwards of North Carolina. Gore is said to have sought Brazile out recently during a trip to Washington, D.C. The former campaign manager is known for her aggressive political tactics and her ability to run a tight campaign.

Those who have spoken to Gore say he has been noncommittal about even looking ahead to 2004. "But if he's talking to people like Brazile, he's got to be thinking about the future and a run," says the former adviser. "Even two years out, he wouldn't be wasting their time if he wasn't considering some thing."

TWISTING STEEL
Look for President Bush to take the advice of free-traders Vice President Dick Cheney and Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill as well as the advice of anti-free trade Republican lobbyists in the pocket of American steel manufacturers and announce by Wednesday that he plans to impose very specific and targeted tariffs and quotas on imported steel products. While U.S. steel manufacturers will get some tariff protections, these will be from the far-reaching, tariff heavy deal they were hoping for. "His decision isn't going to make anyone happy," says an economic policy adviser. "But it should give him some political breathing room, and give the U.S. steel industry a bit of breathing room. But the message is clear: they have to get their act together."

The steel issue was turning into a political hot potato for Bush. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, for one, was beating on Bush, claiming his decision could either save the American steel manufacturers or destroy them. Bush is expected to announce the trade decisions sometime before Wednesday evening, and already the Democratic National Committee had TV ads ready to run in Pennsylvania and Ohio. "We wanted to jump right on him if he screwed with American steel," says a DNC policy researcher. "We were sure he'd bend completely to the Republicans lobbying for the steel industry. Now we don't know what to make of things."

Some Republicans on the Hill were spreading rumors late last week that O'Neill might resign over the White House steel decision. Now that issue appears moot.

ON SUCH A WINTER'S DAY
In anticipation of today's outcome in the California Republican gubernatorial primary election, White House political advisers say Karl Rove and other senior Republicans are preparing a peace offering to Bill Simon Jr., whose upstart campaign to defeat White House-backed Richard Riordan has shocked almost everyone watching the campaign. Simon was down almost 20 points in L.A. Times polls in early February. As of last Sunday, he was ahead of Riordan by as many as ten points. "Rove never saw it coming," says an RNC fundraiser. "You can't blame him for backing Riordan, the guy was the best man to beat [California governor] Gray Davis. Simon's campaign is just shocking."

Rove is said by the RNC insider to be prepared to meet with Simon and throw the White House's support behind the political neophyte. "The White House is buying into the idea that if Simon can beat Riordan and the White House, he could beat Davis with the White House behind him," says the RNC fundraiser.

But others who work with the RNC disagree. "Simon may knock off Riordan, but he doesn't have a prayer against Davis," says a California-based political consultant who has worked a number of Republican campaigns, mostly in Southern California. "The White House and the RNC have so savaged Simon both publicly and privately, that I just can't see how the two sides can make up their differences. If I were Simon, I'd go it alone and tell the White House to go to hell. It might help him in the long run."

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