April 16, 2005
Inside Report: Showdown on Judges

By Robert Novak

WASHINGTON -- Republican leaders count only two or three GOP senators who will vote against the efforts to end, by a straight majority vote, filibusters on confirmation of judicial nominations.

Sens. Olympia Snowe of Maine and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island will not support this move, and they are likely to be joined by Sen. John McCain of Arizona. That would mean 52 senators would go along with the parliamentary maneuver attempting to end filibusters on judges. Only 50 are needed.

The only Democrat who might possibly join this effort is Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska. But Bush will not press him to break party discipline if his help is unnecessary.

National Republican leaders are pressuring Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey to stay out of the Rhode Island Republican primary election against liberal Sen. Lincoln Chafee.

Although Chafee votes against some of President Bush's proposals, he often sticks with the administration on party-line votes and may do so on the confirmation of John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations. The White House feels Chafee is still the best Republican bet in heavily Democratic Rhode Island and does not want him to face a Republican challenge.

Laffey, who is to the right of Chafee, is described by his supporters as confident that he would win the primary against the incumbent senator. Laffey also feels he would have a better chance than Chafee of winning the general election.

Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, while claiming her opposition to the confirmation of John Bolton as United Nations ambassador was rare, has actually voted against 11 of President Bush's nominees.

"I myself went back to the record," Boxer said at last week's hearing on Bolton's nomination. "I voted no three times out of hundreds that have come through this committee." In fact, she opposed the only two controversial Bush nominees considered by the Foreign Relations Committee: Condoleezza Rice for secretary of state and Bolton for under secretary of state.

Boxer has voted against every Bush nominee facing any significant opposition. They include John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales for attorney general, Theodore Olson for solicitor general, Gale Norton for secretary of the interior and Michael Leavitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

While Republicans claim they are targeting Democratic Sen. Robert C. Byrd for re-election to a ninth term in West Virginia next year, GOP strategists actually regard the Senate's senior member as unbeatable and don't want to waste a serious candidate against him.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, 53, has been talked about as an effective Republican challenger against the 87-year-old Byrd. However, national party leaders feel she would face an uphill battle. Even if Byrd has seemed more partisan and more eccentric recently, he is considered unbeatable in West Virginia with so many public works in the state named after him.

Republican leaders worry that if Capito ran against Byrd, she not only would be likely to be defeated for the Senate but probably would also lose her former House seat to a Democrat. Capito is the first Republican elected to Congress from West Virginia since 1980.

Embattled lobbyist Jack Abramoff's spokesman has sent the Jewish Forward an e-mail denying a Newsweek report that quoted him as saying House Majority Leader Tom DeLay "knew everything" about an alleged fraud involving fees paid by Indian tribes.

Abramoff also claimed that the unnamed luncheon companion quoted by Newsweek "has flatly denied ever stating that Mr. Abramoff said these things." An orthodox Jew, Abramoff sent the denial only to the Jewish Forward.

This column last weekend listed Democratic Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois among "those going to Rome" for the funeral of Pope John Paul II. Emanuel, a non-Catholic, told me he gave up his seat to permit a Catholic member of Congress to make the trip.

Copyright 2005 Creators Syndicate

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