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“Senator, I have Karl Rove on the phone.”
“Put him on.
“Well Karl it’s good to hear from you directly for a change–rather than reading in the papers how sick and tired you are of me.”
“Senator, you know you can’t believe everything you read in the papers. The President wants you to know how much he appreciates everything you’ve done to lead the party in the past.” “Karl, I fully intend to continue leading the party in the future–whatever the President thinks about it.”
“Senator, that’s what I’m calling to discuss–the future, specifically your future. You are a comparatively young man, only 61. You need to think ahead.”
“Karl, you need to think ahead. If I get fed up, I just might up and retire. Mississippi’s got a Democratic governor. If I resign, he appoints the next senator. That takes you down to a 50-50 Senate again. I’m sure Vice-President Cheney has much, much better things to do with his time than sit up in that big black chair casting tie-breaking votes.”
“He won’t have to sit there very long. If you go before the Congress reconvenes, the governor will have to call a special election within 90 days. If you wait till after your colleagues dump you on January 6, there will be a special election in November. Cheney can cast tie-breakers till then–and after that, we’ll win your seat back. Don’t worry about us, Senator, we’ll be fine. You should worry about you.”
“I mean if you were to resign–what would you do? You’re not a rich man. And we both know you’re not moving back to Pascagoula. How do you plan on earning a living afterward? Were you maybe thinking of joining up with your fellow Mississippian Haley Barbour at his lobbying firm? Or somewhere else? I think you may find that it’s tough to earn a living that way when the word gets out that the White House isn’t interested in talking to anybody who has talked to you. Even tougher when the word gets out that half your former Senate colleagues feel the same way.”
“Is that a threat?”
“Not a threat Senator. It’s a helpful suggestion. I’m just watching out for your interests here.”
“OK, so I won’t quit. I’ve got four years left in my term. I’ll just stay right up here on Capitol Hill and make life holy hell for you. Maybe you’ve got the votes to take the leadership away from me. Maybe you don’t. Whatever happens, I’ll still be Senator. I’ll still be able to amend any piece of legislation I want, filibuster any piece of legislation I don’t want, and subpoena any document I want.”
“Senator is a pretty powerful job, no question. So’s President. Just this morning, the President was looking at that $11-billion contract the Pentagon gave Northrop Grumman Ship Systems in June to improve our Coast Guard ships. I don’t think I have to remind you that Northrop Grumman is the biggest employer in Pascagoula. Anyway, the President was looking at that contract and he said to me, ‘Karl, I’ve got a bad feeling about this contract. I think the Pentagon boys need to investigate whether everything is going as it should–and maybe we had better suspend the contract until the investigation is complete. That may throw some thousands of people in Pascagoula out of work for a long, long time. But we just can’t take the risk of taxpayer money being wasted.’
“And then he said, ‘Karl, you know free enterprise is very important to me–competition and all that. I was looking through some old statutes the other day, and I just happened to come across this law from 1997 that gave one company, American Hawaii Cruises, a 20-year monopoly of the cruise business in Hawaiian waters, so long as they sailed cruise ships built in the U.S.–in Pascagoula as a matter of fact. Karl,’ the President said to me, ‘this just isn’t right. I think we need to put a stop to it. We’ve got good friends in Britain and Singapore who want a piece of this cruise ship business. We ought to let them have a fair shot at it.’
“There’s one more thing. The President said to me, ‘Karl, we need to remind Americans that this is an environmentalist administration. This guy from Mississippi who Trent Lott got me to hire to run the Army Corps of Engineers–sometimes it seems like he wants to pave over every marsh along the length of the Mississippi River. I think we need to find one of Christie Whitman’s friends from New Jersey–or maybe Boston or the Upper West Side of Manhattan–to run the Corps: someone who’ll shift the emphasis from creating a lot of construction jobs down Biloxi way to protecting marsh birds.”
“The President sure loves those marsh birds.”
There was a long silence.
“So what committee assignments would Bill Frist give me if I were to step down?”
“Write your own ticket, Senator, write your own ticket.”
David Frum is a resident fellow at AEI.
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