WHO WILL LEAD THE SENATE?
Five days after Sen. Majority Leader Trent Lott made his unfortunate comments regarding the political heritage of the Dixiecrats, Republicans on Capitol Hill and conservatives in Washington and around the country are discussing how best to call for Lott's stepping aside as Senate leader.
According to a knowledgeable Republican source, GOP members of both houses are extremely concerned that Lott's comments have so derailed the momentum gained from the 2002 elections that it would be impossible to come in in January, make numerous political confirmations for the executive branch, and begin planning a legislative agenda that would include accelerating the Bush tax cuts and pushing through a prescription drug plan for seniors.
Even more upsetting to Republicans is the realization that Lott's comments may make it virtually impossible for them to bring a number of controversial judicial nominations to the Senate floor successfully.
Republican Senate staffers meeting over lunch and in the hallways of Capitol Hill have already begun throwing out successor names, such as outgoing Republican Whip Don Nickles, incoming Whip Mitch McConnell, and even rising star Sen. Bill Frist.
"Even Lott's people understand how serious this has become," says the Republican source, who added that while there is no discussion in Lott's office of his stepping aside, Lott's people are steeling themselves for a growing drumbeat from their side of the aisle for Lott to give way to a noncontroversial leader who can get the Republican agenda back on track.
LETTING AL SQUIRM
For someone who's been coy about whether he'll launch a presidential campaign for 2004, Sen. Joe Lieberman sure is acting like a candidate. Last week he hosted yet another dinner with supporters in Connecticut, reinforcing the notion that he will run. Even more telling, according to associates, is that Lieberman is enjoying watching Al Gore squirm due to lackadaisical book sales and policy gaffes.
"We all loved his line that George Stephanopoulos put words in his mouth," says a Lieberman adviser in Washington.
The reference is to Gore's comments last Sunday on ABC's "This Week," where in response to questioning from Stephanopoulos, the show's host, Gore said he'd probably have to raise taxes if his single-payer health-care program were put into place. The next day, Gore claimed he hadn't really said it, that words were put in his mouth.
"Lieberman is going to do everything right. He's not going to break his promise and challenge Gore, but he's not going to just do nothing in the meantime," says the adviser. "Gore seems put off by that, but what can he do? If he'd make up his mind, we'd make up our minds."
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi must not have made it clear to her caucus that the two-day meeting she held this week wasn't voluntary. But apparently some House Democrats didn't care enough to show up. An attendance roster listed 129 (about two-thirds of the full caucus) Dems meeting in Washington behind closed doors to map out a party economic strategy for the congressional season in January. More important, to Pelosi's way of thinking, were the sessions held on Tuesday to discuss the party's failures in 2002.
"If the meeting was mandatory, I didn't see it on the agenda," says a Democrat not in attendance. "We do enough of these things as it is, I didn't think it was necessary to make the effort. We'll have at least one retreat after the January session opens up."
In fact, some Democrats might want to go back to the minutes -- if such things are kept -- of the caucus retreat that was held last year. There they'd find Pelosi in her wisdom not only upbraiding colleagues for shoddy campaigning in 2000 and leading into 2002 races, but bringing in ethically challenged Gray Davis political advisers to lecture them on proper fundraising techniques. It was this performance that angered many of the moderates of the party and, perhaps out of fear they would hear more of the same, caused them to stay away from their new leader's first meeting.