Bracing for Bush

Hungry for Pork and Victory Spoils, Dems Back Away From Gore

DECEMBER 5—With their backs to the wall, the Democrats must fight George W. Bush not from the parapets of the White House—which slides futher from their reach with each court decision—but in Congress, where the Republicans need their help to pass any legislation.

For the last two weeks, Democratic leaders have been quietly trying to back away from Al Gore so they can ready their forces, particularly in the House, for what promises to be one of the most protracted and vicious battles in American legislative history as the two parties go head-to-head in a titanic struggle for power. The House is especially important, because all tax bills must originate there. A promised tax cut was at the heart of Bush's campaign platform.

This means the focus now shifts to Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, who has long fought Gore, and now surely will rise one more time to try to win the speakership if the Dems take over the House in 2002. And with Gore consigned to the dustbin of history, Gephardt may well try once more to run for the presidency.

To get anywhere in Congress, Bush must split the Dems, dragging off the conservative Southern and border state Blue Dog Democrats with plenty of pork. Bush will be leary of appointing Blue Dog Dems from the House to top political jobs in the government, because that will open the empty seats to an election, which the GOP might well lose to a more liberal Democrat. So Bush will go into the Senate to pick Dems for his cabinet and other high posts. In the Senate, a resigning member is replaced by the nominee of the state governor. One pol Bush will clearly be toying with is Louisiana's nominal Democrat John Breaux.

Beyond all this, Bush will have to play with the left-right coalition in the House on key trade issues his campaign funders will want dealt with expeditiously. Here the new administration will run smack into a coalition of liberal Dems and right-wing Republicans. Ralph Nader has long played a major although subterranean role in the anti-free-trade coalition, so he can be expected once again to become a major player, wielding strong influence in the House.

Gore now faces narrowing options for even a shot at victory in the presidential election. His lawyers must file their briefs tomorrow and then prepare for oral arguments before the Florida Supreme Court Thursday, seeking to overturn a judge's rejection of the Democrat's contest of George W. Bush's victory. Meanwhile, the Leon County Circuit Court will be considering two cases challenging the authenticity of absentee ballots cast in Seminole and Martin counties. Even if Gore wins in either of these two cases, the decisions could be rendered meaningless if the federal 11th Circuit Court of Appeals rules in Bush's favor.

A far brighter prospect lies in a potential civil rights case based on evidence that election officials in Florida intimidated and defrauded black and other minority voters at the polls during the presidential balloting, causing them not to vote. But even if these complaints (now under scrutiny by the Justice Department) provide factual support for legal action, the suit could last months or years and thus offer no help to Gore.

 
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