There may be a method to Sen. Trent Lott‘s madness, at least to Lott. Over the past two weeks, the disgraced former Republican Senate leader has been a pain in the neck to both the White House and his own party’s Senate leadership.
Last week, with Senate Republicans finally pushing back against the staged shenanigans of the Democrats — shutting down the Senate for four hours to debate what amounted to nothing behind closed doors and a continued drumbeat of “Bush lied” statements — Lott claimed that serious, possibly criminal leaks of highly classified information about CIA “black sites” for al Qaeda prisoners that appeared in both the Washington Post and reports by the left-wing organization Human Rights Watch might have come out of a Republican Senate policy luncheon.
Lott’s statement made front page the next day, despite the fact that it was a blatant lie. Sen. John McCain said no discussion of “black sites” was made at the staff-attended policy lunch, and an AmSpecBlog timeline further undercut Lott’s tale. But why do it?
Lott, according to sources both in his office and in offices of some moderate Republican Senators, is attempting to raise his visibility in order to make a run for his Senate leadership post a year from now. While Senate Republican deputy majority leader Mitch McConnell is favored to take the Majority Leader slot when Sen. Bill Frist retires, Lott continues to have designs on the job.
McConnell, a solid conservative, who gets along well with the Bush White House and is a tireless fundraiser and campaigner for his team in the Senate, is considered to be a friend of Lott’s. “That would never stop Trent if he thought he could get his job back,” says the staffer of a Republican who also considers Lott a friend. “Everyone knows he wants to get his old job back just to embarrass the White House and Senator Frist.”
Lott has been using his friendship with McConnell and the third member of the GOP Senate leadership, Rick Santorum, as well as his chairmanship of the Rules Committee to take an increasingly vocal role in the P.R. battles of the Senate. Lott has been front and center on the Supreme Court battles, the Iraq war and other challenges the Bush White House has been dealing with. He has taken a decidedly negative perspective on almost all of them, siding against the White House.
Lott, according to insiders, is looking to build support and allegiances going into next year with moderates in the caucus, using that block of votes to peal off conservatives support from McConnell when the time comes. “If he is nothing else, he is a vote counter and a vote getter,” says another Senate Republican staffer. “He earned his rep for doing that in the House and that is what got him the leadership post in the Senate. He’s a bitter man right now, and that is what is fueling this ugliness.”
Senator Arlen Specter was front and center at a low key Capitol Hill fundraiser for his Pennsylvania partner, Sen. Rick Santorum last Thursday morning. Specter spoke briefly at a breakfast fundraiser for Santorum at the French power and dinner spot, La Colline. Specter has been the most consistent supporter of Santorum, not so much because they like each other, but because Santorum sold out his conservative base last election cycle to help Specter get re-elected.
Now, Specter is returning the favor by fundraising for Santorum, but it isn’t helping the junior Senator that much. Last week’s fundraiser met its goal, but just three days before the event, they were more than $2,000 short and desperate for rear ends to fill the seats.
“Lots of arm-twisting to had to be done to meet their goal,” says a Capitol Hill lobbyist, whose company chose not to give to the event. “The problem is, Rick and his people keep bugging us, and we’ve already given. But they expect more. If Rick actually did something for us, it would be another matter, but he keeps screwing us on tax policy and other issues.”
Santorum recently annoyed the banking and financial communities with his refusal to fully support several pending tax-cut issues before the Senate Finance Committee. Only after his campaign fundraisers let him know he was irking some high profile backers did Santorum tack on his position and assert full support for the measures.
“Rick is in a tough spot,” says a Senate leadership aide, “and people have to give him a break. He’s got the national Democratic Party out for his head, watching his every move. But he’s got a very good staff, and a very good campaign. People have to give him some breathing room, and he’ll be just fine.”
Senate Democrats have moved from looking to the research of their staff on the Senate Judiciary Committee to outside sources in their fight to block the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Judge Samuel Alito.
“It was outsiders like Ralph Neas and Nan Aron who were pushing Kennedy and Leahy and Reid on the Vanguard ruling, and pressing them to go around the us,” says a Democratic staffer on the Judiciary Committee. “We had the Vanguard material, we were putting it together on the briefing materials, but Kennedy and others asked outsiders for help.”
Aron, who heads the left-wing legal extremist group, Alliance for Justice, and Neas, who head People for the American Way, have both been out front on the Alito fight. In that past, both of their organizations have worked closely with Kennedy and Leahy staff in judicial fights. Leahy, in fact, regularly used outside researchers and non-Senate staff to prepare get briefing materials.
The Vanguard ruling is a comparatively minor case that Democrats are now desperately attempting to make into a big deal. Judge Alito, during a prior confirmation hearing, had promised to recuse himself from cases involving Vanguard companies, because he had a mutual fund account with them. He ended up involved in a case, but had sought clearance and guidance in doing so. There is no evidence that Alito did anything unethical.
Republicans and even some Democrats are upset at Kennedy and Leahy, because they went directly to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals for information, instead of going, as is the usual request process, through the Judiciary Committee. Almost all of the information Kennedy and Leahy have used has come from Aron’s and Neas’s organizations, which are using outside researchers, some of whom worked for the DNC and MoveOn.org during the last election cycle, as well as private investigators, to dig up information about Alito.
Already, the DNC has been caught up in the smear campaign against Alito. Last week, the DNC was caught red-handed in a ham-fisted attempt to leak a policy document that claimed Alito was soft on organized crime cases.