- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 9, 2001

George W. ought to send Trent Lott flowers, to thank him for the grief the Democrats are about to cause Linda Chavez. A bouquet of evening nightshade, perhaps.

When Mr. Lott, who trained for the rough-and-tumble of Washington politics as a cheerleader at Ole Miss, gave up his sword or at least his pom-pons to Tom Daschle the other day, he signaled that the Democrats could roll the Republicans in the Senate without popping a proper sweat.

The conventional Washington speculation is that Mr. Daschle, the Democratic leader, offered a smooth confirmation hearing for John Ashcroft in return for power sharing in the Senate, an agreement by which neither party would claim a majority with all the usual majority perks. Or maybe it was a Daschle promise that no senators would join Maxine Waters and Alcee Hastings in throwing a tantrum at the ceremonial opening of the Electoral College ballots.

Whatever and however, the Democratic leader could hardly contain his credulity when Mr. Lott accepted this sucker's deal, and as soon as it was sealed the Democrats turned their fire away from Mr. Ashcroft to open their campaign against Miss Chavez. (If Bill Clinton has advice for his party, it's that beating up on women is less risky than picking a fight with a man.) The first volley was fired by The Washington Post, with the disclosure that Miss Chavez and her husband had once offered a bed and shelter to a penniless Guatemalan immigrant with no green card even occasionally giving her a few dollars to buy groceries.

This was followed up yesterday by the first wave of fake moral indignation. Who better to express a carefully choreographed outburst of spontaneous outrage than the Senate's own keeper of the eternal flame of piety and probity, the man who still can't bear to go near the water after all these years lest he be spooked by a floating female corpse. Teddy Kennedy, looking weary from his daily wrestling match with his conscience, pronounced himself "troubled" by the story of Miss Chavez' indiscriminate act of charity. The Associated Press can now describe Miss Chavez as "embattled" and Reuters, the British news agency, even professes to discern a "firestorm" over the nomination (a grease fire in the kitchen at Fawlty Towers can look like a "firestorm" to an easily wowed Brit).

George W., offering ever larger hints that he's a lot tougher than some of the wussies in Congress, a cowering kingdom of tabbies and over-the-hill toms, defended Miss Chavez and added for good measure that he has no intention of offering a pardon to Bill Clinton unless he is first indicted by the U.S. grand jury now considering whether an ex-president ought to be held to the same standard of the law governing you, me and everybody else.

"I've got confidence in Linda Chavez," Mr. Bush said of his choice for secretary of Labor. "I strongly believe that when the Senate gives her a fair hearing, they'll vote for her."

And what about the nation's most celebrated career criminal, now limping to a pathetic exit in a flurry of grand jury speculation and disbarment proceedings? "No, I wouldn't pardon somebody who's not been indicted," George W. said. "The suggestion that I would pardon somebody who has never been indicted, that doesn't make any sense to me."

The prospective indictee himself, sounding like a man with all his things packed for the return trip to Arkansas and a rented room with his mother-in-law, was itching yesterday to get into the fray with sick jokes about Miss Chavez.

He told a meeting of the AFL-CIO, which is organizing the assault on Miss Chavez, that he had prepared "loads of jokes" about her but his staff told him the jokes were too tasteless even for him to peddle.

"They said I have to assume the appropriate role of a former president and I cannot say any of the things I want to say which would leave you howling in the aisles, and the only thing that could give me a headline in my increasing irrelevancy," the president said. "You can just use your imagination."

Nothing Bill Clinton could say or do would any longer surprise anyone, of course, and George W.'s confidence that the Senate will give Miss Chavez a full and fair hearing and then do the right thing may or may not be well placed, but it's what he has to pray for in the wake of the cave to the Senate Democrats. If Trent Lott once an aide, always an aide, in the artful description of Gene McCarthy was willing to give up the Senate leadership to Tom Daschle, a man might have expected him to exact as the price the confirmation of George W.'s entire Cabinet. But such a naive man has never watched these Republicans at work.

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