President Clinton’s Star Wars-lite program took a heavy blow Saturday after a booster rocket used in a crucial test of the system failed to separate from an interceptor missile. With a 2-to-1 failure-to-success ratio in tests conducted so far, the viability of the missile defense system — designed to intercept nuclear nasties from erstwhile “rogue” nations like North Korea and Iran — is now being questioned, even within the Clinton administration. The latest calamity has clearly shaken the confidence of Clinton, who was to decide in August whether to deploy the $60 billion system. Appearing on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” National Security Advisor Sandy Berger began carving out wiggle room for his boss. “Obviously, this does go to the question of technical feasibility or how far along the system is, but we need an assessment from the Pentagon,” Berger said. Berger expects the prez to make a decision pending a formal recommendation from Defense Secretary William Cohen. The defense system’s Democratic and Republican supporters, meanwhile, urged Clinton to proceed with the project and conduct additional testing, while leaving the final decision up to the next president.
State governors veep it up
The veepstakes dominated water cooler talk at the four-day annual meeting of the National Governors’ Association in State College, Pa. The New York Times reports that veep hopefuls and wannabes such as Govs. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin and John Engler of Michigan (who, you might remember, failed to deliver his state’s voters to George W. Bush) dominated the conference. Too bad, then, that Colin Powell upstaged them. The Associated Press reports that the man often rumored in the pole position on Bush’s shortlist for secretary of state has his eyes on the prize. “If at some future time a president would ask me to return to government,” Powell offered coyly in a speech at the meeting, “I would consider that.”
Speaking with its John McCain-inspired straight talk tongue, the Washington Post had a different take: Though the governors barred the public from their meeting, they were all too happy to cozy up to corporate sponsors, who underwrote the event to the tune of nearly $1.5 million. For their largess, Ridge (who is often mentioned as a Bush favorite for the veep slot) teed off with contributors during a round of golf Friday.
Is Bush “Kweisi” or what?
Bob Dole skipped out on the NAACP convention during the 1996 elections because he thought it was a “setup,” that the civil rights organization would use his presence as an opportunity to publicly humiliate him for his party’s record on race issues. Not so for Bush, who is eager to build on the racially conciliatory tone he has tried to establish since his P.R. disaster at Bob Jones University last February. He’ll join a roster that includes Al Gore and Ralph Nader when he speaks at the convention in Baltimore Monday.
NAACP president Kweisi Mfume says his organization’s members, who led the battle to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse, want to hear from the horse’s mouth exactly “what compassionate conservatism really is.” Speaking on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday, Mfume said his organization isn’t setting up Bush for a hit job. “Republicans can make inroads, they can make change and they can change history with respect to the black vote — but they have to mean it, they can’t just say it,” he said.
Stretching the limits
Republican strategists plan to plunk down as much as $16 million of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s hard-money war chest for tightly contested House races in several Mountain States, and possibly across the country, to preserve the party’s tenuous six-seat majority. The controversial move, reported in the Washington Post, follows a May ruling by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver that lifted the $33,780 limit on direct party expenditures in House races in certain states. The Federal Election Commission, which plans a Supreme Court appeal, is threatening retroactive penalties if either party thumbs its nose at the current limit. Democrats are calling the expenditures — which are different from soft money in that they enable a party to buy airtime to play ads created by the candidates — “bluster and bravado.” But the Post compares them to nuclear proliferation, predicting that both parties will enter into this veritable arms race of spending.
Political funny business
Check out Roll Call for Jake Tapper’s vision of reality TV, Washington style.
Poll positions Gore 46 to Bush 45 (Newsweek June 29-30). Bush 52 to Gore 39 (CNN/Gallup/USA Today June 23-25). Bush 40 to Gore 39 (Associated Press June 21-25). Bush 49 to Gore 41 (NBC/Wall Street Journal June 14-18). Bush 52 to Gore 40 (Voter.com June 11-13). Bush 50 to Gore 40 (Los Angeles Times June 8-13).
Bush 47 to Gore 39 (Zogby June 9-12).
Bush 49 to Gore 45 (ABC News/Washington Post June 8-11).
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