Watts to stay put
Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts, chairman of the House Republican Conference, has decided against running for majority leader or Republican whip, Roll Call reports.
“I have decided I’m not going to be a candidate for either leadership race right now, because we’ve got some enormous challenges ahead and enormous stakes this year, and that needs to be my focus,” Mr. Watts told reporter John Bresnahan in an interview Friday.
The current majority leader, Texas Rep. Dick Armey, has announced he will not seek re-election in November. Texas Rep. Tom DeLay, the majority whip, reportedly has wrapped up the votes he needs to succeed Mr. Armey.
Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt, the assistant whip, reportedly has the votes necessary to move into the whip’s position. Neither Mr. DeLay nor Mr. Blunt has formally announced his candidacy.
“I have concluded that I’m doing the job that members elected me to do, and I need to do that without being distracted by running for somebody else’s job or another job,” Mr. Watts said. “I’m not ruling out any future race for higher office, but I need to focus on the job at hand.”
Cheers for Condit
Rep. Gary Condit stole the show in his first face-off with a former aide, the front-runner in the race for Mr. Condit’s congressional seat, the Associated Press reports.
At the end of a one-hour forum Sunday with the six Democrats in the race, Condit loyalists jumped to their feet and chanted “Gary, Gary, Gary.”
A beaming Mr. Condit raised his arms in victory, while Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza, who learned the ropes from Mr. Condit, walked away from the stage without shaking hands.
There were no heated words between the two men, nor was there mention of the scandal over missing former intern Chandra Levy.
Outside the union hall before the forum, Condit supporters staged a rally while anti-Condit forces, who have demonstrated for months outside his district office, held signs calling for Mr. Condit’s resignation because of the Levy case.
Mr. Condit has been under scrutiny since Miss Levy, a former intern at the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, disappeared in Washington in May. During an interview with police, Mr. Condit acknowledged an affair with Miss Levy, a police source said.
Mr. Condit has said repeatedly he had nothing to do with Miss Levy’s disappearance.
Mr. Cardoza is considered the front-runner by political analysts and he has played the role well, touting his endorsements from high-power Democrats and labor unions and raising the most money.
Mr. Cardoza said he came to the forum to discuss the issues but watched it turn into “a circus.” Applause for Mr. Cardoza was loud at times, but it was drowned out by cheers for Mr. Condit.
The primary is March 5.
Coleman vs. Wellstone
Norm Coleman, the Republican former mayor of St. Paul, Minn., officially began his campaign for the U.S. Senate yesterday as a new poll found him locked in a tie with Democratic incumbent Paul Wellstone.
The two-term mayor, who switched to the GOP from the Democratic Party in 1996, painted Mr. Wellstone as an obstructionist who “was never at the table when the partisan wrangling was cast aside and the job got done,” the Associated Press reported.
“It seems to me if an office holder can’t get the job done in two terms, maybe they should think about moving on,” Mr. Coleman said in prepared remarks. “Minnesota’s agenda in Washington is largely undone.”
Mr. Coleman said he wants to cut business taxes, raise reimbursements to rural hospitals and secure the future of Social Security.
The poll, published yesterday in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, found Mr. Wellstone favored by 45 percent and Mr. Coleman by 44 percent. The Minnesota race is being watched closely in Washington because of the slight edge one vote the Democrats hold in the Senate.
The real chairman
“By all normal appearances Senate Democrats were in charge of [Thursdays] hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. But anyone who knows anything about modern legal politics knows that the real chairman was the talkative fellow holding court with the press corps in the hallway nearby,” the Wall Street Journal said in an editorial Friday.
“That man is Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way and ringleader of what promise to be years of attacks on President Bush’s judicial nominees. Politically speaking, he’s Edgar Bergen and Senate liberals are his Charlie McCarthys. He gives them their attack themes, and they then repeat them to skewer some hapless nominee who thinks a judgeship is going to be the capstone of his career. [On Thursday] Democrats sang Mr. Neas’ tune while pounding appeals-court nominee Charles Pickering Sr. as some kind of 1950s racist,” the newspaper said.
“For Mr. Neas, this is like old times. His main contribution to American politics is the verb ‘to bork,’ defined as vilifying a judicial nominee in order to block his confirmation. He orchestrated the original borking, against Robert Bork in the late Reagan era, but has also lent his expertise to the trashing of Clarence Thomas and a host of other conservative nominees.
“Now, after eight years in hibernation, Mr. Neas is back, this time giving attack orders to Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy. And he hasn’t lost his touch. All the hallmarks of the Neas method are on display in the borking of Mr. Pickering, a federal district judge since 1990 and Mr. Bush’s nominee for a seat on the Fifth Circuit: the phalanx of liberal interest groups, the press leaks and shameless appeals on race and abortion.
“And, of course, the senators themselves, all lip-synching lines from Mr. Neas’ anti-Pickering position paper. The document is so full of half-truths and deliberate omissions that even Legal Times, no friend of conservatives, felt compelled to report that ‘You won’t get the full story on Charles Pickering Sr. from liberals’ portrayal of his life and record.’”
Newsweek’s Evan Thomas, on the news commentary TV program “Inside Washington,” referred to Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat and chairman of the Appropriations Committee, as a “pompous idiot.”
“Mr. Thomas’s characterization came during a discussion of the Senate Budget Committee hearing last week in which Byrd lectured Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill as out of touch for daring to suggest that high taxes and regulation impede people,” the Media Research Center’s Brent Baker writes. “In the much replayed exchange, Byrd tried to out-poverty O’Neill by recounting how he grew up without indoor plumbing or electricity.
“Admiring how O’Neill fired back by reciting how he rose from poverty, Thomas, Newsweek’s assistant managing editor, announced: ‘It is a kamikaze attack, I admit it. But it’s so great to see somebody call Byrd’s bluff. He sits up there, that pompous idiot, sits up there and where he’s been, you know, handing out the pork. I’m really totally anti-Byrd and have been for years and he gets away with it because people are scared of him because, as you say, he controls the money.’”
Bush vs. Daschle
Americans, by a wide margin, trust President Bush more than Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to reform the Social Security system, according to a new poll.
The nationwide survey of 1,200 adults, conducted by the Republican polling firm Fabrizio McLaughlin Associates for the 60 Plus Association, found that Mr. Bush outdistanced the South Dakota Democrat 51 percent to 34 percent on the Social Security issue. Fifteen percent said they trusted neither side more than the other and 1 percent said they trusted both equally.