A month ago The Prowler outlined how Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott was attempting to hold up federal funding for expansion of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. This, in order to embarrass Illinois Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin, who is running for re-election and who wanted the funding bill to help promote his campaign back home. Durbin hadn’t supported the nomination of Lott’s friend, Judge Charles Pickering, to the federal appeals court and after Pickering’s defeat Lott was determined to engage in some payback. Republicans said tossing Durbin’s runway project in the legislative dustbin would be the first of many Republican actions intended to show Democrats what their killing of Bush administration nominees would cost them.
Well, so much for the tough talk. Late last week, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle called Chicago Mayor Richard Daley to inform him that he had the votes to approve the O’Hare Airport expansion. “Lott didn’t have the numbers and never did,” says a Daschle staffer. “He just hoped people would forget about the tough talk and be distracted by other issues.”
The Daschle staffer went on to crow that Lott has lost control of his side of the aisle. “It’s nothing less than slightly controlled chaos on the Republican side. We’re going to be making them miserable through Memorial Day.”
Republicans don’t quite agree. “There are some things we aren’t going to be able to do simply because we aren’t in control of the Senate,” says a Republican staffer. “But that’s totally different from ‘chaos.’ We haven’t had a vote on the O’Hare legislation, let’s see what happens.”
Lott could use a victory. He had to sit and watch helplessly as Democrats and some in his own party killed Bush proposals to allow drilling in the Alaskan wildlife refuge. “The Democrats didn’t even need a filibuster. It was pathetic to watch it go down like that without a fight,” says another Republican Senate staffer. “It’s a sad day when guys like Paul Wellstone and John Kerry have a good day. But there was nothing we could do.”
With the killing of Arctic drilling, Daschle had a pretty good few days. He especially liked giving Daley a call about the airport funding, in part because he’s been hoping to get some backing from the Daley family for his presidential bid. “The airport thing helps,” says the Daschle staffer. “Daley really wants it, and he can’t get it without Daschle. So it’s one favor to call in down the road.”
Anyone who thought becoming Senate Majority Leader wouldn’t help Tom Daschle in his presidential bid need only know that last week the man from South Dakota sat down with high-tech lobbyists and executives to discuss whether he would allow legislation giving the Bush Administration the authority to hold fast track foreign trade negotiations. It’s something the Bushies have been pushing for months, but which Senate Democrats have blocked.
Interestingly, the Electronic Industries Alliance, one of the high-tech industry’s larger special interest organizations, did not hold similar private meetings with Republicans. Perhaps that’s because the president of EIA is former Democratic Rep. Dave McCurdy.
Last presidential election, Al Gore picked up huge amounts of money from the high-tech sector. Already, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry has been wooing the Silicon Valley crew for funds. But Daschle can actually give that still-struggling industrial sector something for their backing. “That’s why we talk to Daschle and not to Kerry or to any of the Republicans,” says a lobbyist for a large high-tech firm based in the Washington, D.C. area. “Daschle’s the only guy worth dealing with on the Hill. And if he comes through for us, then he deserves some credit and some backing down the road for his future endeavors.”
Daschle seems to know the drill. Attendees at his meeting report the Senate leader promised to get to the trade authority bill before May 15.