Still no white smoke on the White House nominee for a new ambassador to the United Nations to replace John D. Negroponte, now the new ambassador to Iraq. The delay, we're told, is because the White House and the State Department can't agree on a candidate. (A shocking situation, indeed.) There's cause for some concern now because the usually derided United Nations might be of some use after all, and Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry is hammering on the Bush folks' not making use of the world body in Iraq.

Early word was that Richard Williamson, formerly one of the five other representatives to the United Nations and losing GOP senatorial candidate to Carol Moseley Braun in Illinois, was the odds-on favorite for the job. He's now back at his Chicago law firm.

But Williamson, said to be the favorite of the White House and Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., was running into stiff resistance from the State Department, where some folks think he may have been insufficiently loyal to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Deputy Secretary Richard L. Armitage.

The Foggy Bottom candidate is Will Taft IV, assistant secretary for legal affairs. But some in the White House think maybe he has been a little too loyal to Powell to be put in the New York posting.

So now there's some thought that National Security Council aide Robert Blackwill, who's said to be not much interested in the job, is emerging from the shadows as a possible fusion candidate. Another possible pick mentioned early is Shirin R. Tahir-Kheli, NSC senior director for democracy, human rights and international operations, who had served as a U.N. representative during Bush I and knows the Bush family quite well. That she's Pakistani American and a Muslim would give some flair to her selection.

But time is getting to be of the essence, since the hardworking Senate, exhausted by all the legislation passed this year, is not going to be in session very often in the next few months for confirmation.

From Diplomat to Spokesman

Speaking of Negroponte . . . his top spokesman in Baghdad is said to be longtime diplomat Rich Schmierer, now serving in the embassy in Berlin and formerly in the embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Schmierer was recently on a mission to London where he joined deputy State Department spokesman J. Adam Ereli -- who successfully fended off the Baghdad posting -- and NSC chief spokesman Jim Wilkinson.

They were meeting quietly with British counterparts to coordinate the big June 30 roll-out of the handover of sort-of sovereignty to the Iraqi people.

Senate Leaders May Stop in Iraq

There's chatter on the Hill that the once-postponed Baghdad trip of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) may be on again soon.

The dynamic duo is to be on the road to France for the D-Day celebrations in Normandy and the idea is there would be a stop in Kuwait and Baghdad before then.

The earlier scheduled trip in April was scrubbed because that turned out to be a particularly nasty month in Iraq.

Straight From the GOP's Mouthpiece

We've been having trouble believing some of these reports claiming GOP dissatisfaction with President Bush's handling of the Iraq situation. Clearly the supposed anguish and anger was mostly media hype.

But then yesterday we got this:

"The following is a statement by Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, on Sen. Tim Johnson's comments comparing Republicans to the Taliban:

" 'Unfortunately for angry Democrats like Tim Johnson, Nancy Pelosi and Ted Kennedy, terrorists aren't responsible for the deaths of U.S. soldiers, their commander-in-chief is.' "

No, Loop Fans, no need for another cup of coffee. That's what it said.

A Muddy Excuse

Falling off bikes seems to be in the news of late. Earlier this month, Sen. Kerry, trying to go both right and left at the same time, took a spill in Concord, N.H.

Then, over the weekend, President Bush fell off his mountain bike while riding at his ranch in Crawford, Tex. In keeping with White House policy that Bush never makes a mistake, his press secretary, Scott McClellan, said Bush fell because "it's been raining a lot and the topsoil was loose." There was no way Bush or anyone else could have predicted something as unusual as loose topsoil.

Democrats jumped all over that yesterday, noting that it hasn't rained in Crawford for the past eight days. They'll say, no doubt, that Bush fell because he did not have a plan to cope with the wholly predictable topsoil looseness.

Moving About . . .

Michele Ballantyne, the highly regarded former special counselor to Clinton White House chief of staff John D. Podesta and more recently general counsel to Senate Minority Leader Daschle, is said to be headed for doubtless greener pastures as senior vice president, government and industry relations, at the Recording Industry Association of America. RIAA is run by former top Senate GOP aide Mitch Bainwol.

Marc A. Thiessen, longtime spokesman for former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and more recently chief speechwriter for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, has moved over to the White House to be senior speechwriter for President Bush.