Tales from the Trail

Texas gubernatorial race heats up

A looming battle between two prominent Texas Republicans is heating up after U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison confirmed that she’ll leave the Senate this fall to challenge Texahutch pics Gov. Rick Perry for his post in 2010.

Hutchison, Texas’ senior senator whose term ends in 2012, has not formally decided to run against Perry — the longest-serving governor in the state’s history — and will likely make that announcement in August, she told Dallas radio host Mark Davis in an interview on Wednesday.

Hutchison told Davis that she will likely resign her U.S. Senate seat “sometime in October, November … in that timeframe,” and return to Texas to focus on her gubernatorial campaign, with a primary run-off by May 2010.

“I’m coming home to try to give leadership to Texas,” said Hutchison, a television news reporter before she entered politics. “For him to try to stay on for 15 years is too long,” she said, referring to Perry.

A big question is the possibility that Texas could turn Democratic in coming years. In a recent article, The Economist said Texas — a long-time bastion of conservative Republicanism and home of former U.S. President George W. Bush — could swing Democratic in coming years due to a rising population of immigrants.

NRA, Chamber of Commerce split on Sotomayor

Two of the biggest and most influential U.S. conservative groups have split over U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.

USA-COURTS/SOTOMAYORThe U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with more than three million business members, urged the U.S. Senate to confirm her. It concluded that the New York judge would provide the court with a needed perspective on business matters.

But the National Rifle Association, with four million members, opposed President Barack Obama’s nominee. They wrote that they see Sotomayor as a threat to gun rights.

A serious Franken vows to work hard in U.S. Senate

Former comedian Al Franken on Monday made it clear in his first appearance in the U.S. Capitol as senator-elect that he had not come to entertain.

Franken did not crack a single joke, nor did he take a single question as he spoke briefly to reporters outside the Senate chamber. Instead he vowed to work hard and tried to downplay expectations now that his election has clinched a super-majority of 60 for President Obama’s Democrats in the Senate.

“A lot has been made of this number 60.  The number I’m focused on is the number two.  I — I see myself as the second senator from the state of Minnesota,” Franken said. (The other Minnesota senator is Amy Klobuchar).

Elections in Iran, Illinois? Obama very busy not picking sides

If you ever wondered what Illinois and Iran might have in common, here’s one answer: President Obama is most definitely not picking sides in their elections.
So insists the White House.
OBAMA/“Our response … on this has been, from the very beginning, consistent,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told a briefing Thursday when asked about the post-election turmoil in Iran.
“The American people and this government are not going to pick the next leader of Iran,” he said. “That’s something that the Iranians have to do.”
That doesn’t mean they won’t tsk-tsk loudly from the sidelines as the opportunity permits.
The administration has voiced concern about how the election was conducted, but shied away from suggesting any fraud was involved in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s defeat of challenger Mirhossein Mousavi.
They say they don’t favor either candidate, but insist the challenger’s supporters have a right to continue their protests a week after the vote.
“We have to ensure that we express our views, as I’ve said, about ensuring that people can demonstrate, have their causes and concerns heard,” the White House spokesman said.
Obama’s also steering clear of the U.S. Senate race in Illinois, Gibbs said, even though he met last Friday with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
Chicago papers say the Obama administration is pushing her to run for the president’s former U.S. Senate seat in 2010, but the White House begs to differ.
“Let me be explicit,” Gibbs said. “The president is not going to pick a candidate in the Illinois Senate race.”
And the meeting at the White House with Obama, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and senior adviser Valerie Jarret? Why, Madigan and Obama are just old friends and Obama has “enormous respect for what she accomplished,” Gibbs said.
And oh, by the way …
“I think she’d be a terrific candidate. But we’re not going to get involved in picking that candidate in Illinois.”
For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: Reuters/Larry Downing (Obama speaks at a fundraiser Thursday night)

U.S. Senate approves resolution apologizing for slavery

The U.S. Senate approved a resolution on Thursday apologizing for slavery and segregation of African-Americans, almost five months after Barack Obama was sworn in as the first black U.S. president.

While the Senate resolution acknowledged that an apology for centuries of wrongdoing could not erase the past, it said a “confession of the wrongs committed and a formal apology to African-Americans will help bind the wounds of the nation that are rooted in slavery, and can speed racial healing and reconciliation, and help the people of the United States understand the past and honor the history of all people of the United States.”

In an unusual step, the three-page resolution was read in its entirety in the chamber, where the first black senator, Hiram Revels of Mississippi, stepped onto the Senate floor about 139 years ago.

U.S. Senate goes two ways on estate taxes

The U.S. Senate went two different ways on the estate tax, which has been a contentious issue for years — a tax congressional Republicans have villified as the “death tax”.BRITAIN-RICHARDSON/

Senators voted 51-48 to include a provision in the fiscal 2010 budget that called for exempting estates at $5 million for individuals and limiting the tax to 35 percent — though the measure is non-binding and could be stripped out when the legislation is melded with a separate budget that passed the House of Representatives.

The amendment provoked a moment of drama in an otherwise long day of voting in the Senate where Democratic leaders scrambled to find the votes to kill the amendment, which scores some political points to those who have rallied against the estate tax for years.

Whoever runs in Minnesota stays in Minnesota?

Nearly five months after the 2008 election, there’s no sign that either Norm Coleman or Al Franken will definitively be declared the winner in the race for one of Minnesota’s U.S. Senate seats, allowing him to spend the next six years in Washington.

USA/Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told Reuters in an interview that it could be many months before all legal challenges are exhausted. “I don’t think we’re going to see the end to this matter any time soon,” McConnell said.

For those who have forgotten about this cliff-hanger: Coleman, the Democrat-turned-Republican first-term senator running for reelection, lagged behind Democratic comedian-author-Franken by only 225 votes after a recount of nearly 2.4 million ballots cast for the two.

So much for that special British relationship with the U.S. Congress

The grumblings in the British press about how Prime Minister Gordon Brown was treated on his visit to the United States will almost certainly increase when they learn that several Senate committees kept working while he addressed a joint meeting of Congress.

Brown’s session with President Barack Obama at the White House was cast by some in the British press as a bit of a snub because there was no formal news conference, dinner with their spouses or other fanfare for his visit — the first by a foreign leader with the new president. Instead the two chatted with reporters in the Oval Office and took a handful of questions.

BRITAIN-BROWN/And as the British leader addressed members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, a rare honor bestowed a visiting foreign leader, at least four Senate committees plowed ahead with their hearings on a wide variety of subjects.

With less than 70 minutes to spare…

U.S. Senate Democrats had less than 70 minutes to spare when they finally filed the paperwork on Saturday for the compromise they reached with a handful of Republicans for the $827 billion economic stimulus package, setting up a vote for early next week.

USA/Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had hoped to file the specific language much earlier on Saturday but drafting took significantly longer. The compromise measure, some 778 pages long, was brokered by Republican Senator Susan Collins and Democratic Senator Ben Nelson.

With the paperwork filed, that will set a vote for 5:30 p.m. EST on Monday to wrap up debate on the stimulus package. If there are 60 votes, the Senate will vote on passing the legislation on Tuesday

A fourth Senate Republican won’t seek reelection

WASHINGTON – Democrats came up just short of a winning a filibuster-proof majority of 60 in the 100-member Senate in last November’s election.  But they may do it in next year’s contest — thanks largely to a rising number of Senate Republicans calling it quits.

George Voinovich – a highly respected, two-term moderate — on Monday became the fourth Senate Republican to announce he won’t seek reelection in 2010.CAMPAIGN BUSH

Voinovich’s decision followed earlier such announcements by Republican Sens. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Mel Martinez of Florida and Kit Bond of Missouri.