• U.S.

CAMPAIGN ’96: WHO’S MINDING THE SENATE?

2 minute read
Karen Tumulty/Washington

ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL BOB DOLE depicts himself as the only man who can save the Grand Old Party from the divisive populism of Pat Buchanan. But Republican elders and lawmakers fear that Dole, the Senate leader and master tactician, is leaving them vulnerable back in Washington, where they stand to lose control of Congress if they don’t post some legislative accomplishments–and fast.

Dole has declined to step down from the majority leader’s post, which carries stature and affords him free television exposure as President Clinton’s foil on Capitol Hill, and he refuses to delegate more authority to his top deputy, majority whip Trent Lott. Now, though, the pressure on Dole is rising. Having lost the balanced-budget battle and becoming desperate to show voters what they stand for, Republican lawmakers return to Washington this week, after a three-week break, to find a Senate schedule devoid of anything except votes on funding the District of Columbia and the Whitewater investigation. Last week Dole’s staff was scrambling to produce a timetable on such pressing matters as the debt ceiling, welfare reform and spending bills for a fiscal year that is already into its fifth month. Senators are grumbling that while Dole campaigns from Arizona to the Dakotas to South Carolina, he has not even given them a firm recess schedule that will allow them to plan their own re-election campaigns.

Lott has not so subtly agitated for more authority to run the Senate in Dole’s absence. He has told reporters, “I do like to get up on the horse and ride.” But Dole has never felt comfortable with his deputy’s obvious lust for the Senate’s top job, and has told friends he believes Lott mishandled parts of the telecommunications bill. A Dole ally describes Lott as a troublemaker who kicks up dust even when he stands still. Last Thursday, Lott finally offered the majority leader his endorsement for President–becoming the 38th Republican Senator to do so-but had trouble getting his call returned.

–By Karen Tumulty/Washington

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