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WASHINGTON INSIGHT

SUCCEEDING MITCHELL: Sen. Tom Daschle, a “prairie populist” who chugs around in a 1971 Pontiac when he goes home to South Dakota, is the early favorite to win election as Senate Democratic leader when George J. Mitchell (D-Me.) departs at the end of the year. An energetic inside player and Mitchell protege, the 46-year-old Daschle is firmly in the Democratic mainstream and is popular with colleagues. “He listens, he’s smart, he’s a coalition-builder who is not seen as being out to score a lot of points at the expense of others,” said one analyst. Daschle also benefits from the “small-state theory” of Senate leadership--that senators prefer leaders from states with little economic diversity, so they can be free to work on national issues. . . . Sens. John B. Breaux (D-La.) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.) also are contenders but suffer from anti-abortion stances and more conservative philosophies. A dark horse to watch: Sen. Jim Sasser (D-Tenn.), the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee--a savvy, genial sort with a sharp political edge. . . . The Senate Democrats will choose their new leader after the congressional elections in November.

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RALLYING ‘ROUND HILLARY: Women’s groups, led by the National Organization for Women, are springing to the defense of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton as she comes under mounting fire from Republicans and conservative activists. With only a few hours’ planning, NOW organized a “zap” rally outside the White House and spun off mailings to chapters across the country, urging lobbying in support of the health care reform plan so closely identified with the President’s wife. . . . “What we see behind these trumped-up attacks,” NOW President Patricia Ireland said in an interview, “is that the Rush Limbaughs of the world can’t stand a strong woman in the White House, but also the Republican leadership is looking for partisan benefits in the midterm elections, and they are trying to derail the health care reform package.” Some of the assaults, Ireland said, “are as vicious as the ones against Eleanor Roosevelt.”

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THE TITHE THAT BINDS: When he joined the House last year, he quickly picked up the nickname “Hunk” for his dark good looks. But lately, Rep. Dan Hamburg (D-Ukiah) has been a bit of a clunk, even as he seeks to expand his vocabulary. . . . Like many newcomers who ran for the House two years ago, Hamburg railed against congressional perks and pay raises. Assailing the Republican incumbent, Frank Riggs, for reneging on a promise to donate part of his salary to charity, Hamburg boldly told voters just before the election that he would “tithe a portion of my salary back to . . . the communities of the north (California) coast.” Hamburg went on to win the race--but guess who’s reneging now? . . . Explaining why he won’t fulfill his pledge, Hamburg says he never knew that the word tithe meant giving up one-tenth of his $133,600 salary--and he needs to pay off a second mortgage taken out during the 1992 campaign. He says he is making contributions to charity but declines to specify them.

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BOSNIA ON THE POTOMAC: Rep. Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.) is an expert on Balkan politics--and balky politicians--in his dual capacity as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and head of a group seeking broad changes in Congress. “The politics of Bosnia,” he laments, “are much less complicated than the politics of reforming Congress.”


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