Some U.S. Senate Republicans are privately miffed at their leader, Trent Lott, because Democrats are chairing the opening rounds of hearings for George W. Bush's Cabinet nominees, particularly the ones next week for the two most controversial picks, John Ashcroft and Linda Chavez. Until Jan. 20, Democrats have a majority in the 50-50-split Senate because Al Gore still has his job as vice president of the nation and president of the Senate. Gore can cast tie-breaking votes; after Jan. 20, when Bush and Dick Cheney are sworn in, Cheney presides over the Senate, giving Republicans the majority (and the return of those coveted chairmanships).
Last week, when the Senate opened for business, Democrat majority leader Tom Daschle whizzed through a half dozen apparently ceremonial and pro forma resolutions that were quickly approved by voice vote. Republican committee chairmen are angry that one of the floor resolutions Daschle got passed made Democrats chairmen of the committees until Jan. 20. The Republican chairmen didn't know that Daschle was offering the resolution because Lott apparently never alerted his committee chairmen that the Democrats would control their panels for 17 days. "Only Lott knew," says a GOP aide. "But he didn't pass it on to the worker bees."
The 17 days of Democratic rule could come back to haunt Republicans. Chavez, Bush's labor secretary pick, is now under fire for providing a room and money for an illegal immigrant from Guatemala. Ashcroft, the just-defeated Missouri Republican senator, is under attack from liberal groups for what they claim is a hostile record on civil rights. Daschle has promised no Democratic shenanigans during his 17-day reign, but Republicans are bracing for partisan attacks during the opening Chavez and Ashcroft hearings next week. "Bipartisanship is over," grumbles one senior Senate GOP aide.