The last word of the John Ashcroft drama is likely to be written Thursday, when both his friends and his foes believe the former Missouri senator will be confirmed as the next attorney general. All 50 Senate Republicans and a handful of Democrats have pledged to support his nomination.
Democrats who oppose Ashcroft have shown little inclination to slow the process with a filibuster, though party leaders are striving for 41 "no" votes to prove that they could have sustained a filibuster if they wanted to. It's thought that such a showing will prove to President Bush that conservative judicial nominees won't get a free confirmation ride from Democrats. And even the Democrats who plan to vote for Ashcroft insist he still has to demonstrate to the American public his willingness to enforce laws he disagrees with.
Many conservatives don't appreciate the Democrats' tactics during the Ashcroft battle and hope they're not a preview of future partisan action. Some Republicans suggest that the Democrats don't appreciate the size of the conservative constituency in America that supports Ashcroft and his ideals.
In the meantime, the president held a fence-mending session Wednesday evening with leaders of a constituency that is decidedly out of the pro-Ashcroft camp. Bush met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, many of whom have been among Ashcroft's most vocal opponents.
In what's beginning to be a cliché of Bush's "uniter, not divider" meetings, both sides described the gathering as friendly. But there's no evidence that anyone's mind was changed on any issue. Caucus members voiced their concerns about Ashcroft's record on race and about the lingering anger in the black community surrounding irregularities in the voting process in Florida. Bush smiled and said that he hoped that the meeting would beget other meetings and lead to a more open relationship in the future.
Similar tones of noncommital cordiality followed Bush's meeting last week with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., during which the president and his former rival tried to hammer out a compromise on the timetable for campaign finance reform.
With his Cabinet battles behind him, the president is now likely to focus his attention on two of his top policy priorities: taxes and education reform. Conservatives are increasingly confident that the still-growing surplus will guarantee a substantial tax cut, even if it's not the full $1.3 trillion cut Bush has proposed. The blessing of Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan and the cooperation of moderate Democrats are also heartening to them.
Bush's education plan, however, isn't getting rave reviews from small-government enthusiasts. His push for accountability involves more oversight from Washington than some conservatives would like. The president has acknowledged that members of his own party could obstruct the progress of his education reforms in Congress.
-- Alicia Montgomery [5:45 a.m. PST, Feb. 1, 2001]
The story of the Clintons' $190,027 worth of gifts just gets more interesting, although not the way most of the Beltway media was spinning it last week. Led by NBC's Andrea Mitchell, the press bashed the Clintons for accepting an excessively large number of gifts during 2000, with most of them going to furnish the couple's new million-dollar homes. Mitchell and others implied that most of the pricier gifts arrived after Hillary Rodham Clinton was elected as New York's senator but before she was officially sworn in, thereby allowing her to bypass the Senate's ban on keeping expensive gifts.
The truth is that the Clintons' haul included many gifts received years ago, but which for various reasons were not accepted until last year. One such gift was a $22,000 piece from renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly. According to his assistant Janet Makela, the artist presented the sculpture to the Clintons eight years ago, and even though they claimed it as a gift last year, the piece has not been moved to either of the Clintons' private homes. Rather, it will remain as part of the permanent White House Museum collection because the Clintons donated it. Makela explains that because the piece was essentially on loan from Chihuly, the Clintons had to officially accept it before donating it to the White House collection; otherwise the sculpture would have been returned to the artist.
-- Eric Boehlert [1:35 a.m. PST, Jan. 31, 2001]