WASHINGTON — Another day, another set of Republican dramas. We’ll leave the Shakespearean parallels to John Batchelor over at AmSpecBlog, but suffice it to say Monday was remarkable: with the seeming shifts every 15 minutes and constant updates on the House Republican caucus elections, and the drawn out ravings of Democrats on the Senate side, as a seemingly heavily medicated Judge Samuel Alito calmly sat and took it all in.
So if it’s Tuesday, it must be another day on Capitol Hill for the Prowler. And here we be.
On the House side, things are no clearer for Republicans or anyone else trying to figure out two days out who is in the lead for Leader of the Republican Caucus.
Recall that throughout history, these types of intraparty races have been the toughest to call early on, and with three weeks to go before the actual voting, no one should be taking stock of public whip counts for either Reps. Roy Blunt or John Boehner.
Late Monday night, both sides and their surrogates were claiming some form of victory.
Boehner released a 37-page manifesto that he clearly had spent a good deal of time on, addressing policy issues across the board to appeal to both conservatives and moderates.
The result: Rep. Mike Castle (Del.) committed at least initially to Boehner late in the day and “hosted” a conference call of fellow moderate members to whip them on Boehner.
Blunt and his operation were putting out messages about announced supporters all day long, conservatives and moderates alike.
Some onlookers guessed that Blunt was slightly ahead in support, others opined that Boehner was pulling ahead.
The reality: no one, not even the prospective leaders’ whip organization, really knows where they stand. And they won’t for some time.
AN EARLY EDUCATED GUESS? Despite the fact the Blunt had almost double (30-18) the stated supporters by day’s end, Boehner may be in the better position to gain a foothold for the position.
He arrived in Washington more than a decade ago from Ohio with the reputation as a reformer, and did just that as a member of the “Gang of 7” that took down the House Post Office and House Bank.
He has served as committee chairman, successfully steering sometimes unpopular legislation through his committee and onto the floor.
In speaking with Democrats, they privately will tell you that their leader, Nancy Pelosi, has had difficulties in the past few days enunciating or even guessing at how to attack Boehner as a potential Republican leader.
“We’ve tried the K Street crony lines and they don’t really work,” says the Democratic staffer. “He’s been a good representative for his district and he’s been low key for the past few years. Despite what the press is saying, he isn’t as tainted by things like the Abramoff scandal as others on his side — or our side — of the aisle are.”
To a number of reformist types, Boehner appears to be more palatable and with the program.
One note about Boehner’s Abramoff connection: media reports aside, there is no evidence whatsoever that Boehner has ever had a connection to Abramoff or his organization. According to Boehner supporters in the House, there is no evidence that Abramoff had anything to do with the $30,000 or so Indian tribes donated to Boehner over his time in the House.
“The reality is that Indian tribes have been actively seeking support for their issues for years, long before Boehner came to office,” says a Washington, D.C.-based political fundraiser. “Boehner has insisted that he has no ties to Abramoff, and the evidence bears him out, yet the mainstream media has just taken it as truth that he has ties. It’s not fair.”
ON BLUNT’S SIDE OF THE LEDGER, he has been in leadership under Tom DeLay for several years, with a reputation for identifying and nurturing talent within the caucus. Exhibit A: Rep. Eric Cantor (Va.), one of his deputy whips, who is in line to replace Blunt as whip should his boss be elected to higher office.
Blunt is viewed as more in line with the Hastert/DeLay approach to legislation and coercion, but there is growing evidence that Blunt will have to adapt this style, if the closing weeks of the last congressional session are evidence.
Blunt’s time as acting leader was deemed a marginal failure. He could not keep his caucus in line, he struggled to muster the necessary votes, and the vaunted GOP machine in the House appeared to be creaking a bit.
But Blunt rallied. He is a tenacious negotiator, a more than sold fundraiser, and has the support of the White House and GOP leadership outside of Congress. All of which can create a smooth transition during a time when a smooth transition would be nice for a change.
“What does all this talk mean?” rhetorically asks a Republican operative in leadership up in the House. “Not a damn thing. If you talk to longtime staffers up here, they will tell you that there are at least four twists yet to go in this story, and they don’t know where it is going to go.”
ON THE SENATE SIDE? This morning look for Sen. Ted Kennedy to mispronounce Judge Alito’s name at least twice more. We’d say it could be a drinking game, but his questions will probably come around 10:30 a.m., too early for most to be drinking…unless you’re a Kennedy.
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