NO MORE EAST TIMOROUSNESS
The Bush Administration wants to keep Bill Clinton out of the Middle East. So instead, it’s sending him to East Timor as an official U.S. representative to the May 20 independence celebration of the former Indonesian territory that separated from Jakarta three years ago.
Some press reports claim that Bush is just trying to make nice with Clinton, perhaps feeling guilty over blaming the ex-president’s failed peace brokerage between Israel and the PLO for the current troubles. Not true, say White House staffers.
“We have nothing to feel guilty about,” says one Bush staffer. “It’s simply because there hasn’t been an appropriate international event to send Mr. Clinton to. The East Timor invitation was for the president, and he is sending a suitable representative. Clearly, Mr. Clinton wasn’t insulted. He accepted the invitation from us.”
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice phoned Clinton in New York to ask him if he would lead the U.S. delegation to the event. “At first, I think he thought she was calling about the Bush meetings with Sharon,” says a Clinton staffer. “He seemed surprised at the call.” The staffer was quick to add Clinton was “happily” surprised by the Bush invitation.
“You just know he was itching to ask about the Middle East when Rice called,” says another White House source. “I’m surprised Clinton hasn’t put it out there that that was what the call was about.”
Republicans on Capitol Hill were somewhat taken aback when word got out Tuesday that Clinton would be leading the U.S. delegation later this month. “You can expect that Karl Rove will be getting several phone calls from the Republican leadership up here on this one,” says a Trent Lott staffer. “That man should not be representing the U.S. under a Republican president.”
So who would they send? Bush and Dick Cheney are otherwise committed, Colin Powell and Rice have bigger issues. “That’s why you have cabinet secretaries. Tommy Thompson would probably appreciate a trip overseas,” says the Senate staffer.
But White House staffers counter that Clinton has every right to represent the U.S., particularly given that it was his administration that played a role in East Timor’s winning its independence. “We aren’t about to not give credit where credit is due,” one of them says. “President Clinton deserves to see what his administration helped build there. We’re not going to be petty the way some of our Republican brethren apparently are.”
Republicans claim they have the votes to shut down the Senate on Thursday, the one-year anniversary of George W. Bush’s sending up of his first 11 judicial nominees. “It’s time the Democrats got the message that some of these judicial nominations they are holding up have to go through,” says a Senate aide on the Judiciary Committee.
“Ohhh, big talk, ” says a Democratic leadership staffer. “They said they had to the votes for Alaskan oil drilling. They said they had the votes for [Judge Charles] Pickering. But they’ve had nothing. That’s part of the problem we have here now, their leadership bluffs so badly.”
Much as one might hate to admit it, the Democrats are right. Even Republican staffers were laughing at Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott‘s comment last week that the “Republican agenda was winning” in the Senate. “He’s living on a different planet, has to be,” says a legislative aide to a rustbelt Republican Senator. “We see those kinds of quotes and just cringe. It must be bad flashbacks from Lott’s cheerleading days in college.”