With reports that Al Gore has decided he’s running for president in 2004, look for some new hints to come out of his visit this to Florida, where he has committed to campaign with gubernatorial hopeful Bill McBride and later with one of his better buddies from the 2000 Florida election debacle, Carole Roberts, a member of the Palm Beach election board, who is now running for the House of Representatives.
“He spent some time in Tennessee after the Labor Day holiday and feels his fence-mending there has gone well,” says a Washington-based adviser. “He came back from some political rallies there, some campaigning for others there and felt those old juices flowing.”
And should McBride, as expected, be confirmed as Democratic nominee for Florida governor, Gore feels it’s prudent for him to be on board early. “He’d like nothing more than to lead McBride’s camp in a defeat of Jeb Bush in Florida. He almost hates Jeb as much as he hates W. It was Jeb and his people he thinks who really did him harm immediately after the polls were closed down there in 2000,” says a former Gore staffer.
Gore’s biggest problem remains cash. Many of his fundraisers have committed to other candidates, Sens. John Edwards and John Kerry mostly. “Those guys can always come back,” says the Gore adviser. “And the same with donors. Just because you gave money to one guy doesn’t mean you can’t give money to another.”
Some Senate Republicans are wondering when their leadership will get out of its chairs to start going after Democratic stalling on Homeland Security legislation. In the last week, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle announced he had no intention of bringing the full Homeland Security bill before the full Senate until he darned well felt like it.
This was a gambit on his part to try to force the Bush White House to pull back on demands related to the mix of union and nonunion hiring at the new agency. The White House wants broad discretion in determining the employment policies for the agencies. But federal employee unions have been lobbying Democrats to demand the same kind of employment protections — pay, vacation, seniority etc. — as those provided to union members throughout the Washington bureaucracy. It’s a huge issue for the unions since it’s expected that at least initially the makeup of Homeland Security will be pulled together from departments such as Justice, Defense, the CIA, Transportation, Energy, even Agriculture and Commerce.
“Look, Daschle has a constituency to protect,” says a Democratic leadership staffer. “He’s listening to their concerns, and in an election year, with us looking at a recess in the next month, we don’t think we need to push this thing harder than we have already. We don’t hear the public calling for quick action. Homeland Security isn’t registering at all for them.”
Well, it may not be registering with the American people, but it’s registering with some serious people on Capitol Hill. While Daschle basically fiddles, some in his party have been negotiating with the White House in good faith. Sens. Joseph Lieberman, Ben Nelson and John Breaux have all been working the Republicans to bring a vote on Homeland Security to the floor at some point before the end of October.
“But we can’t even get the Republican leader to stand up and really push for this,” says a frustrated Democratic staffer. “At some point Trent Lott has to stand up to Daschle and just say, ‘Enough. We have a plan, we have 53 votes. Let’s move forward.'”
The 53 votes presumably would include the three Democrats, as well as Vermont independent Jim Jeffords, who has indicated general support for Homeland Security legislation. Of course the other part of the equation is the White House. According to some Democratic staffers, Breaux and Nelson have been attempting to find some middle ground on the hiring rules for the new department, giving the White House much of the leeway it’s been seeking, but not all. Thus far, the Bushies have balked at cutting a deal.
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