Who’s Who?

Days prior to the attack, Republicans were beginning to panic amid signs that the economy is doing worse, not better, since President George W. Bush signed his big tax cut. At a private dinner at Washington’s Metropolitan Club, senior Bush adviser Karl Rove was subjected to what The New York Times calls an “unvarnished critique” of the president’s style and strategy on economic issues by a gathering of top GOP leaders. The group including former RNC Chairman Haley Barbour, former Reagan Chief of Staff Kenneth Duberstein, consultant Charles Black, pollster Linda DiVall, and former congressmen Bill Paxton and Vin Weber. So what was the “new” idea the group pushed on Rove? More tax cuts, specifically of the capital gains tax.

It must be of some comfort to President Bush knowing that his longtime aide Joe Allbaugh is in charge of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is directing relief efforts in the wake of the terrorist attacks. But for some months this column has pondered the significance of the fact that Allbaugh got the yeoman’s assignment of running FEMA, whereas Rove, another longtime aide, gets to run the White House. Now, Paul Burka of the Texas Monthly speculates that this curious division of labor may explain why the Bush administration has veered so consistently to the right, when as governor Bush was seen as much more moderate and accommodating. During Bush’s gubernatorial years, Burka notes, Rove was political director, but had his own consulting firm and wasn’t on the inside making policy decisions as he is now. Allbaugh, on the other hand, was Governor Bush’s chief of staff and chief enforcer, and had the “size and the presence” to challenge Rove’s bare-knuckle partisan political advice. Burka wonders: “If Allbaugh had been on the inside keeping an eye on Rove, wouldn’t James Jeffords still be a Republican?”

Sen. Phil Gramm, who has announced he will retire when his term is up in 2003, is coming under intense pressure from some GOP leaders to retire early so that Texas Gov. Rick Perry can replace him with a Hispanic, Rep. Henry Bonilla. As a sitting senator, Bonilla would presumably have an advantage against a Democratic challenger. He’ll need it if the popular former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros decides to run for Gramm’s seat, as many Democrats fervently hope. Perry met with Bush in Washington last month to discuss how they could convince Gramm to leave sooner, according to The Houston Chronicle. Gramm spokesman Larry Neal says the Senator has no intention of doing so.

Federal Judge Royce Lamberth is best known for the ease with which he approved dozens of discovery motions that allowed fellow conservative Larry Klayman of Judicial Watch to dig into the public and private life of President Bill Clinton. But Lamberth was considerably more strict last March, when he raised procedural concerns about a requested FBI wiretap involving a member of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. Lamberth’s doubts sparked an internal investigation at the Bush Justice Department into the FBI’s monitoring of several terrorist organizations, including Osama bin Laden‘s Al Qaeda network. That inquiry, officials told The New York Times, “might have hampered electronic surveillance of terror groups.”

One of the Rules of Washington Punditry is that if you’re important enough to get on NBC’s Meet the Press there’s no point in going on C-SPAN. Clinton administration officials adhered to this rule and seldom appeared on the cable network. But the Bush administration seems to have a refreshingly different attitude. Top Bush folks who have been guests this year on C-SPAN’S Washington Journal include Allbaugh, Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, White House domestic policy adviser Margaret LeMontaigne and congressional affairs director Nick Calio.

One of the few welcome consequences of the September 11 events is that stories about Rep. Gary Condit have been driven off the air. Until the attack, network camera crews remained staked out in front of Condit’s apartment in Washington’s Adams Morgan neighborhood 18 hours a day, even on days when there was literally no news to report. The crewswho lounged in the shade in bag chairs, munching on company-paid sweet-and-sour chicken, and chatting with localsdidn’t seem to mind. Many had grown accustomed to the long, monotonous days covering Washington’s serial scandals. And the overtime pay helped. A microwave technician with one of the cable networks said he is “living in the house that Monica built.”

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of The Washington Monthly.

Paul Glastris

Paul Glastris is the editor in chief of the Washington Monthly.