JOKE'S ON GORE: Used to be, Vice President Al Gore relied on self-deprecating humor to disarm critics, telling Macarena jokes, impersonating trees and making other comic references to his legendary woodenness. But when the going got rough over campaign financing, Gore turned serious--and opened himself up to one of the most devastating political weapons: ridicule. It's an indication that when blood is first spilled by a potential presidential candidate, political sharks start circling. Jeers the voice mail message of chief American Conservative Union lobbyist Bill Pascoe: "I'm not here now, but that's OK because there's no one controlling legal authority that says I have to be here." It was a mocking reference to Gore's legalese-laden defense of the fund-raising calls he made from the White House. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) offered tongue-in-cheek thanks to President Clinton for remaining conscious during last weekend's knee surgery: "We wouldn't want you to hand off your presidency--even temporarily--to Al Gore." Gore's admirers predict he soon will regain his footing on the ladder to the White House by using the prestige of his vice presidential office. "Oh sure he can," sneered one GOP wit. "Just ask President Quayle."
PAT'S BACK: For months now, ever since last summer's campaign, the Populist lion of the right has been silent. But Tuesday, Patrick J. Buchanan roared again--sparking a conservative drive to block extension of most-favored-nation trade status to China. Charging that U.S. trade provided far more benefit to the "wicked regime" in Beijing than Americans received in return, the conservative commentator charged that the Clinton administration had been "severely compromised if not thoroughly corrupted" by campaign contributions from the Chinese. Shrugging off the suggestion that he was trying to mount the tiger of Chinese trade for another presidential campaign ride, in which he captured 3 million primary votes in 1996, Buchanan claimed he had misgivings about the U.S. relations with China ever since the breakthrough visit of his former boss Richard Nixon in 1972. As evidence he cites the memoirs of Henry Kissinger, which describe Buchanan as "morose" on the return trip to Washington.
AMERICAN FIRE DRILL: China may have thought it was staging a major diplomatic coup when it got Gore and House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) to agree to visit there later this month, but Beijing soon may be complaining that it is getting too much of a good thing. Besides the vice president and the speaker, the Chinese also are going to be besieged by no fewer than 12 congressional delegations, all of which will arrive at the same time as Gore and Gingrich and will require special handling. The "codels," as congressional delegations are known in diplo-speak, each have anywhere from 12 to 24 lawmakers, many of whom no doubt will want to be wined, dined, entertained and taken to China's most attractive shopping areas.
TWISTED HUMOR: All the knee jokes making the rounds since Clinton's injury and surgery show that, in Washington circles, there's apparently no such thing as stooping too low. At a White House briefing on the president's meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny M. Primakov, for example, one reporter asked presidential spokesman Mike McCurry if "the other side used any knee-jerk positions." And at the annual Gridiron Club dinner over the weekend, Republican Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, chairman of a Senate committee investigating campaign fund-raising misdeeds, said Clinton is always "one step ahead of me," but that he "never dreamed he'd cut himself off at the knees."