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Washington Insight

May 02, 1996|From The Times Washington Bureau

DOUBLE TROUBLE: Republican Party leaders made two big decisions about their national convention Wednesday that force prospective standard-bearer Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.) to come to grips with two of his largest potential liabilities--House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and the ban-abortion plank in the platform. Gingrich is to be permanent chairman of the convention, a slot traditionally reserved for the party's leader in the House. That leaves it up to Dole's advisors to find a way to keep Gingrich's abrasive style and controversial record from spoiling the boost the nominee-to-be needs. On the abortion front, the choice of ardent abortion foe Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) to chair the platform committee seems on the surface designed to assure the GOP's antiabortion cadres that the platform won't be changed. But GOP defenders of abortion rights haven't given up hope that Dole wants to find a compromise. "If some change is going to be made, who better than Henry Hyde to push it through," said one abortion-rights supporter.

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DIGGING IN: House Republicans and Democrats are clawing at each other over a memo distributed for House GOP leaders last week to committee and subcommittee chairmen. The memo, sent by Republican Reps. Robert S. Walker of Pennsylvania and Jim Nussle of Iowa, asked for committee staff members to forage for examples of Clinton administration "waste, fraud and abuse" or "dishonesty or ethical lapses," as well as of "influence of Washington labor union bosses/corruption." Although the line between politics and public policy is always blurry, Democrats have stubbornly drawn a line. The request, they say, diverts staff resources to politics, amounting to a misuse of taxpayer funds, and they have asked the House inspector general to investigate. "The legislative branch is for governing, not for waging wide-ranging, full-scale assaults on the executive branch," said Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "The United States Congress was never intended to do the dirty work of any political party," says a letter 10 Democrats sent to Gingrich.

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FRESH MESSENGER: Americans will see much more of a rising young Republican star in the months before the fall elections. Reeling from being outmaneuvered recently by Democrats and President Clinton, the House GOP leadership has tapped Ohio Rep. John R. Kasich, 43, the articulate chairman of the House Budget Committee, to become their great communicator. The move responds to Republicans who believe their misfortunes are caused not by public objection to their agenda but by their failure--and that of Dole--to explain their actions and vision for the country. "John's our best communicator," said fellow Ohio Republican Rep. David L. Hobson. The choice rankled some in the party, however, who thought Kasich would be elbowing others from the limelight. Kasich, clearly feeling that pressure Wednesday, was less than communicative about his new role. "I don't know where it stands," he said.

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HAPPY CAMPER: The nation's first female attorney general, who says she would be willing to serve another four years if her boss wins reelection, makes a practice of not thinking about what she might do next. She contends it could affect how she performed her present job. But in a rare moment of public self-reflection, Janet Reno mused that one day she might buy a small truck, pack up her camping bed and stove and explore the places where she has only touched down in her far-flung speaking engagements.

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