The first duty for members of Congress is to bring home the bacon. The second is to keep local military bases open.
Earlier this year, the Pentagon took stock of its real estate, and discovered 33 major facilities it no longer needs and 29 others that could be downscaled. But the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission, created to vet the process, gave a reprieve last week to some of the prominent sites that the Pentagon is targeting.
That's created some big winners in Congress. At the top of the list: Sen. John Thune of South Dakota (R), whose vow to protect Ellsworth Air Force Base was a major factor in his upset 2004 win over Senate Minority Leader Thomas A. Daschle. The Pentagon had recommended closing Ellsworth, but on Friday, the commission took it off the list -- and possibly saved the freshman Thune's political career.
Another big winner is Rep. Rob Simmons, a Connecticut Republican whose district includes a major submarine base the Pentagon had targeted. Commissioners struck that one from the list on Wednesday. Democrats had considered Simmons a ripe target in the 2006 midterm elections, but Republicans rallied behind their colleague to help save the Groton base, including an appeal to the commission from House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).
Sens. Olympia J. Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine get points for helping to spare Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. It also reduces the potential for mischief from the two moderate Republicans, swing voters on many major issues. But the commission voted 9 to 0 to close the naval station in Pascagoula, Miss., the home town of Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.). Lott and Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) could continue their attempts to save the base, or push for the speedy release of the highly attractive parcel of land it occupies, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.
During three base-closing rounds in the 1990s, the commission approved about 84 percent of the Pentagon's recommendations. Early next month, it will send a revised list to President Bush, who will forward it to Congress -- which must approve or reject the list as a whole.
Local GOP Is Thumbs Down on McCain
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) may be the most popular politician in the country. But no one, it seems, has told his local Republican Party.
The GOP committee for Arizona's 11th legislative district, where McCain resides, has passed a "resolution of censure and shame" accusing the lawmaker of drifting to the left on issues ranging from immigration to the filibuster -- and is urging Republicans everywhere to oppose him if he runs for president in 2008.
"We are ashamed of John McCain's betrayal of the trust Republican voters placed in him," said the resolution, passed earlier this summer. "We further state that only under extremely extraordinary circumstances will we support the candidacy of John McCain for President of the United States. We urge other Republican organizations to likewise convey to Senator McCain that they will not support his candidacy."
Rob Haney, the head of the organization, said McCain already has begun campaigning for the office and said he felt compelled to speak out now. "He's obviously running for president," Haney said. "If he gets a two-year head start, then it's almost a done deal. We have to start with him."
The state Republican Party rejected the measure as the work of a small, unrepresentative faction. McCain's office, meanwhile, issued a statement noting that the senator was reelected to a fourth term last year by more than 50 percentage points. "Senator McCain is the largest vote-getter in Arizona. He was just reelected by the highest vote margin of his career," said Mark Salter, his chief of staff. "He is grateful for the overwhelming support of Arizonans."
"The fact that it hasn't turned up in print doesn't mean I haven't said it."
-- Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) told the Philadelphia Inquirer, saying he has questioned the Iraq war, even if his aides cannot find those statements. His Democratic challenger, Bob Casey Jr., had said Santorum never asked "the tough questions" about the conflict.