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Washington Wrap

Dotty Lynch, Douglas Kiker, and Joanna Schubert of The CBS News Political Unit have the latest from the nation's capital.



Defining Moment: White House adviser Karen Hughes has called President Bush's speech to rescue workers at the World Trade Center the "defining moment" of his presidency. Tuesday, The New York Times said the official kick-off of Mr. Bush's re-election campaign will be his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in New York on Sept. 2, 2004 – just nine days before the anniversary of the terrorist attacks. The Times reports Mr. Bush's advisers "said they chose the date so the event would flow into the commemorations of the third anniversary of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks."

The nominating convention, which starts Aug. 30, is the latest since the Republican Party was founded in 1856. By holding a late convention, Mr. Bush will be able to delay using the $74 million in public financing that can only be spent between a party's convention and Election Day. Despite the late "official kick-off," Mr. Bush will form a campaign committee soon to raise at least $200 million – twice what he raised in 2000 – for television ads and other campaign expenses.

In other presidential campaign developments, retired Gen. Wesley Clark has accepted a job as chairman of the board of WaveCrest Laboratories LLC, a company working to develop a new kind of electric motor. Clark, who has been busy as a CNN military analyst, also runs a consulting business in Little Rock, Ark. He said he expects the WaveCrest position to take about a quarter of his time. In addition to serving on several other corporate boards, that does not seem to leave much time for a run for the Democratic presidential nomination, an idea Clark reportedly has been toying with for almost a year.

Newt's Back: Just as Newt Gingrich was making a comeback as a foreign policy guru, the IRS handed him a little gift, but one that shifts the spotlight back to Gingrich's ethics problems. In what Roll Call labels a "remarkable about-face" the IRS "restored the tax-exempt status of two groups whose political activity became the basis of the ethics case against former Speaker Newt Gingrich."

The political activities of two "charitable" organizations, the Abraham Lincoln Opportunity Foundation and the Howard H. Callaway Foundation were heavily investigated. The Lincoln Foundation "effectively operated as the bank account" for Gingrich's GOPAC projects, including a $74,000 TV show that was funded by a loan from GOPAC to the foundation.

Steven Miller, the IRS director of exempt organizations, wrote a letter to another former GOPAC chair, Georgia's Bo Callaway, saying that the IRS was rescinding its 1999 decision based upon the a reconsideration of the merits of the case and that the 501(c)3 status "can be considered to have been in effect continuously from the date of your creation to the present time." Gingrich was ultimately reprimanded by the House in 1999 and fined $300,000.

Today, Gingrich, who serves on the Defense Policy Board along with its former chair Richard Perle, is giving a major speech at the American Enterprise Institute calling for a major overhaul of the State Department in light of "six months of diplomatic failure."

Gingrich, in an interview with the Washington Post, said, "The story of diplomatic defeat is a bigger and more profound story" than the U.S. military victory. In contrast, Gingrich applauded the Defense Department for its one-month military success which was preceded by a period of "unrelenting defeat" by Powell and State. "For 120 days we were losing ground worldwide," Gingrich said.

An unnamed State Department official told the Post that Gingrich has a history of attacking State and was "using Powell as a foil to attack Bush." Others see Gingrich as an advocate for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has issues with Powell. Gingrich claimed that he was trying hard not to attack the secretary of state but then said Powell's decision to go to Syria was the final straw that made him speak out.

"Powell allowed himself to be convinced to go to Damascus by the department's Near East bureau, which Gingrich says appeased dictators and tries to be nice to corrupt regimes," the Post reported.

Could Santorum Be In Lott Water?: Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum found himself in political hot water on Monday after comments he made equating homosexuality with adultery, bigamy, incest and polygamy.

The Associated Press reports that Santorum made the comments, which caused an uproar among gay-rights groups, in an interview about a U.S. Supreme Court case challenging the constitutionality of an anti-sodomy law in Texas.

In the interview, Santorum said, "If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual [gay] sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to do anything."

Santorum spokeswoman Erica Clayton Wright said the senator's comments referred to the "right to privacy in the Supreme Court case" and that Santorum "has no problem with gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender individuals."

Several gay rights groups - including the Human Rights Campaign, the Philadelphia-based Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights and the Pennsylvania Log Cabin Republicans - asked Senate Republicans to remove Santorum as chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, which is the party's third-highest post.

A spokesman for the Log Cabin Republicans called Santorum "out of touch with mainstream Republicans."

HRC spokesman David Smith compared Santorum's comments to those made by former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi last December at former Sen. Strom Thurmond's birthday party. Lott was forced to resign after he praised Thurmond's segregationist 1948 presidential campaign.

"For the second time in a matter of months, we see a senior Republican leader in the Senate disparaging an entire group of Americans," Smith told the Post. "While we welcome his spokeswoman's clarification that he has no problem with gay people, it's analogous to saying, 'I have no problem with Jewish people or black people. I just don't think they should be equal under the law.'"

Democratic presidential candidate and fellow Sen. John Kerry weighed in on Santorum's comments, and took a swipe at the Bush administration in the process. Santorum is one of the leading Bush cheerleaders in the Senate.

"The White House speaks the rhetoric of compassionate conservatism but they're silent while their chief lieutenants make divisive and hurtful comments that have no place in our politics … These comments take us backwards in America," Kerry said in a statement.

Campaign And Medical Leave: Increased campaigning - and in two cases, medical problems - have caused the members of Congress who are running for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination to miss votes.

According to the AP and the Republican National Committee, which keeps meticulous track of these statistics, Rep. Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., has missed 81 percent, or 114 votes, since January. Among the senators, John Kerry, D-Mass., tops the list, having missed 40 percent of the votes this year. Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., is not far behind, failing to vote 22 percent of the time. Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., has missed 16 percent, while Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., missed 14 percent, although some came while he was recovering from heart surgery. Kerry missed two votes while recovering from prostate surgery this winter.

In contrast to his House colleague Gephardt, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, has only missed one vote. The disparity might be explained by the fact that Gephardt has announced that he's not running for re-election in the House; Kucinich is still focusing on his day job.

Republicans call the absences "playing hooky," but the Democratic candidates insist that they have not missed any close votes. "Anytime the presidential candidates have been needed they have been there," said Ranit Schmeltzer, spokeswoman for Democratic Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota.

Even so, the amendment to increase funding for education and Medicaid lost by two votes while Lieberman and Kerry were on the campaign trail in January. Two months later, Kerry and Edwards were fundraising when the Democrats failed to pass an amendment to fund President Bush's education reforms, again, by two votes.

Daschle specifically requested that all four senators be there for the vote on a late-term abortion ban. They were there for the initial, nonbinding resolution, which passed 52-46. Edwards and Kerry, however, were on the campaign trail when the final vote, which passed the late-term abortion ban by a 64-33 tally, was cast.

So far, the missing votes haven't caused political problems for the Democrats and, according to political analyst Stuart Rothenberg, it may not effect the candidates' reputations.

"The line of attack on missing votes is pretty obvious - They're not doing their job now, why should they get a promotion," said Rothenberg. "But I think voters understand it's hard to hold a job and run for a job."

Quote Of The Day: "He looks French." – An unnamed Bush adviser's commentary on the physical appearance of John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate The New York Times says many Bush advisers consider "most likely" to win the nomination. (The New York Times)

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