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Bush Against Romney

An Inside Report by Robert D. Novak

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Bush Against Romney

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- While President George W. Bush has maintained neutrality among contenders for the Republican presidential nomination, he privately expresses to friends his exasperation with Mitt Romney's hard-line stance on immigration.

Bush is upset that Romney changed his position on the issue, compared to what it had been when he was governor of Massachusetts, at the expense of the president's immigration reform. Bush and Sen. John McCain are not close, but the president is grateful for McCain's support on Iraq and immigration.

A footnote: The president's younger brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, has not endorsed any presidential candidate. But he and his political allies were behind Romney's losing effort in last Tuesday's Florida primary.

TEDDY'S DISTRESS

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy may have endorsed Sen. Barack Obama for president anyway, but his support was hastened by Bill Clinton's disregard of Kennedy's plea for Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign to moderate anti-Obama rhetoric.

Kennedy has told associates the former president listened politely to his telephoned advice to dial down criticism of Obama that emphasized him as the African-American candidate. Then Clinton turned around and continued to zing Obama in campaigning for the South Carolina primary. Kennedy likes Hillary Clinton but is not so keen about her husband.

A footnote: Kennedy is one of four Democratic senators who endorsed Obama after Clinton won the New Hampshire primary Jan. 8. The others are John Kerry of Massachusetts, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

Hoffa Neutral

Teamsters President James Hoffa tells friends he still will not choose sides between Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama in the face of renewed pleas for his endorsement from both camps.

Associates close to Hoffa believe he is inclined toward Clinton because he questions whether Obama is ready for the presidency. Nevertheless, he intends to sit out the presidential contest until the party's nominee is selected. He did not have a particularly happy experience in 2004, when he was an early supporter of the losing candidacy by his friend and law school mate Rep. Dick Gephardt.

A strong pitch for Hoffa and the Teamsters to back Obama was made by the Culinary Workers Union, whose support nearly defeated Clinton in the Nevada caucuses despite her backing from the state's Democratic regulars.

Busting Pork

An effort by Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon and Republican Sen. John Thune of South Dakota to add $15.6 billion worth of pork barrel spending to the bipartisan economic stimulus package failed in the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday, when Chairman Max Baucus rejected it.

On Monday, aides for all senators received an e-mail listing the amount of money for building infrastructure that each state would receive under the Wyden-Thune proposal. Pennsylvania with $1.3 billion and West Virginia with $1.2 billion led the list. The states of the proposal's co-sponsors would benefit by $251.2 million for Oregon and $181 million for South Dakota. The two most populous states, California and Texas, would receive nothing.

Baucus indicated his interest in infrastructure spending but also turned down a plea to commit himself to considering the proposals two months from now.

Florida Surprise

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's unexpected late endorsement, which helped propel Sen. John McCain to a momentous victory in the Florida primary, came as an unpleasant surprise to Republican leaders around the state.

Crist had passed the word to GOP regulars that he was not making an endorsement after he shunned former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani's courtship and suggested that they also stay neutral. His support for McCain irked Republican activists who generally would have preferred former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

A footnote: While losing the state, Romney carried heavily Republican Collier and Lee counties in southwest Florida by substantial margins. That represents Republican voters whom McCain will have to win over if nominated.

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