Howard Fineman

Stories by Howard Fineman

  • I'll Have the Virginia Ham on Pumpernickel with a Shmear of Mustard. And You Got a Pickle by Chance?

    Say this about Sen. George Allen: he's not a very convincing spin doctor. "I'm having a wonderful time learning about my heritage," he told me with a straight face this week as he prepared to address Dr. James Dobson's Family Research Council in Washington. "Wolf Blitzer told me all about the Lumbrosos. He gave me a whole document." Maybe Allen was excited, but he was able to contain his enthusiasm when he got to the stage to speak to a ballroom full of 1,500 evangelicals. He didn't say a word about his newfound Jewish roots. "I appreciate your prayers," he told them, though it wasn't clear what he thought they were praying for. Allen's friends and advisors fret privately that the candidate still hasn't come up with a consistent, believable response to his various crises--the "macaca" flap, his Jewish roots and his reported college racial comments. "One minute he's refusing to talk about anything,...
  • Speak of the Devil

    The devil had a hell of a week. Too bad John Milton can’t cover this campaign, which has turned into an epic battle worthy of "Paradise Lost."The war between the leading families of public life—the Bushes and the Clintons—divides and defines us. Who may be the devil and who may be the Lord depends on your political allegiance, but there is no middle ground, it seems, and, as Bob Dylan sang, “you gotta serve Somebody.”The devil made headlines in New York and Washington. When Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez followed President Bush to the U.N. podium in Manhattan, he said, “The devil came here yesterday ... In this very spot, it smells like sulfur still.” That brought gales of supportive laughter from the General Assembly, and (though they didn’t admit it openly) from Bush’s American political foes.A few days later, the Rev. Jerry Falwell graced the podium at a capital political conference of evangelical activists. “I certainly hope that Hillary is the candidate,” he told the crowd,...
  • The Democratic Entourage

    It is getting late in the season, but John Yarmuth still wants in--into the club, the entourage. He is the Democratic candidate for Congress in Louisville, Ky., hoping to oust Republican incumbent Anne Northup. The club is the Democrats' Red to Blue Program. If you are a member--there will be about 40 of them--donations from strangers across the country will blow through your campaign mail slot like letters from Hogwarts. All you have to do is convince Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Chicago that you are worthy and that you can win. But that is the hard part. Under Emanuel, the program runs like a cross between a Chicago political clubhouse and a movie studio with too many way-over-budget projects. "I made my case to him when he was down here a couple of weeks ago," Yarmuth says. A friend of Yarmuth's flew to Washington last week to make the pitch to an Emanuel deputy. "We've got a good chance," says Yarmuth.Most politicians hate to say no; Emanuel can't say it enough. He is a one-man pecking...
  • A Different Kind of Politics?

    On the campaign trail this fall, no one is a bigger draw—especially for young voters—than Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. Of mixed racial and religious heritage, the 45-year-old Harvard Law School graduate strikes many Americans as a one-man answer to both the "clash of civilizations" and the Red-Blue chasm in America. Last week he spoke to a packed house at a MoveOn.org event hosted by Georgetown University students in regal Gaston Hall—a favorite venue for Democrats trying out ideas for presidential campaigns. In the green room afterward, Obama sat down with NEWSWEEK chief political correspondent Howard Fineman. Obama, who has been in the Senate for less than two years, did not slam the door on what would be a daring 2008 bid. Excerpts:NEWSWEEK: Your grandfather was Muslim, but you are a Christian. What did you think of the pope’s original comments about Islam and how the reaction played out?Barack Obama: Well, I think that we live in a time where there are enormous religious...
  • Outside the Beltway

    OK, so the Dems didn’t quite start their revolution in San Diego. Their candidate railed against the corruption of Washington—logically enough, since the race was to replace the disgraced Randy (Duke) Cunningham. The Republicans were forced to pour in $5 million and hundreds of staffers to defend a House seat in a famously conservative district. The Democrats can take heart from the fact that the race was close. But they also should learn a lesson, which is that talking about Washington—even if you’re attacking the immorality of the place—isn’t the only strategy, or even the main one.For Democrats hoping to claw their way back to national power, this is the strategic paradox: to regain control of the political Establishment, they must forget about it.Democrats aren’t likely to find leaders and answers here in the capital, and can’t expect the traditional media to light the way. Instead, Democrats need to be a “states' rights” party in a new sense, shunning the sclerotic political...
  • Kenny Boy, Meet Brownie

    If you want a date to mark the beginning of the end of the Bush era in American life, you may as well make it this one: May 25, 2006. The Enron jury in Houston didn’t just put the wood to Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling. The jurors took a chainsaw to the moral claims of the Texas-based corporate culture that had helped fuel the rise to power of President George W. Bush.First, caveats. There’s no evidence that the president or anyone in his entourage knew about or benefited financially from the house of cards that Lay and Skilling built—and that a federal jury now has found to have been an edifice of fraud.The Bush Crowd was old school in the energy bidness and viewed Lay & Co. as hustling parvenus who had no real interest in finding and pumping oil—what real men in Texas do.Most of what Enron concocted was assembled in the go-go Clinton years. Bush’s idea of an oilman was his old Bible-study buddy, the upright, clean-as-a-whistle Don Evans. As the Enron scam was falling apart, Lay...
  • Selfless Oracle?

    In Washington the other day, I got a chance to tell Al Gore something I’d meant to say for a long time, which was that I thought his real strength, his real contribution, was as an observer—writer, explainer, outsider—and not as a politician.The new movie about him was evidence of that, I said. He gave me a blank, dismissive look, and an “umm” for a verbal response.I’ve known and covered Gore for decades, so maybe his reaction was inspired by Groucho Marx, who always said that he would never join a club that would have him as a member. But I think the brusque reply carried a different message: don’t assume that I’m ready to be put out to that pasture just yet.Gore has a certain aura of nobility about him these days—a mixture of rue, acceptance and lofty goals that makes him almost, well, endearing. As I talked to him at the East Coast premiere of the documentary film about him (“An Inconvenient Truth”), I wondered whether his newfound sense of peace and purpose meant that he had...
  • American Idols and American Leaders

    In America these days, we are obsessed with idols, but have no leaders. We are mesmerized by every round of “American Idol,” but despair of finding authority figures in public life we can trust to run the country.For a brief moment after the attacks of 9/11, voters suspended their disbelief about the ability of leaders to handle their jobs. People wanted the president to succeed: he was the only president we had in a moment of profound crisis. Public attitudes toward the Congress, toward business leaders, toward cultural institutions—all soared on the strength of patriotic unity.That moment has long since evaporated. Voters have lost faith in President Bush, in Congress as now constituted, in leaders of all kinds.The next election cycle—the midterm season now under way and the presidential campaign soon to follow—will be about one thing: leadership. Not just identifying who leaders are, but restoring the very idea that leadership is possible.The buzzword in Washington now is “sour.”...
  • Rove's Revamp

    This fall’s election season is going to make the past three look like episodes of “Barney.”The conventional notion here is that Democrats want to “nationalize” the 2006 elections—dwelling on broad themes (that is, the failures of the Bush administration)—while the Republicans will try to “localize” them as individual contests that have nothing to do with, ahem, the goings-on in the capital.That was before the GOP situation got so desperate. The way I read the recent moves of Karl Rove & Co., they are preparing to wage war the only way open to them: not by touting George Bush, Lord knows, but by waging a national campaign to paint a nightmarish picture of what a Democratic Congress would look like, and to portray that possibility, in turn, as prelude to the even more nightmarish scenario: the return of a Democrat (Hillary) to the White House.Rather than defend Bush, Rove will seek to rally the Republicans’ conservative grass roots by painting Democrats as the party of tax...
  • Clipping Rove's Wings

    As expected, Scott McClellan is quitting his job as the human pinata of the press room. Not so expected is new Chief of Staff Josh Bolten's decision to clip the wings of George Bush's political alter-ego of 33 years, Karl Rove.In the snakepit of the White House—any White House—power is a zero sum game. Bolten has demonstrated his clout by taking some away from the Empire of Rove. Forget trying to play policy expert, Bolten told Rove. Go back to focusing on what you do best: building and running a Republican election machine. And, by the way, if the Republicans lose the Congress in 2006, it's gonna be your fault, Karl—not the president's. By ripping a star from Rove's epaulet—the first time Rove has ever lost, rather than acquired, power in the Bush circle—Bolten showed that he can be effective, that he can influence events. I'm not sure the same can be said any longer of his boss. “The Decider,” a.k.a. President George W. Bush, thinks of himself as a can-do guy. He likes to hammer...
  • Circling the Wagons

    There are some reporters here who seem to think (or at least they have written) that George W. Bush has “shaken up” his administration by replacing chief of staff Andy Card with OMB Director Joshua B. Bolten. It’s true that Card was burned out and that Bolten had little or nothing to do with a series of administrative disasters (Miers, Katrina, Dubai Ports) that occurred on Card’s watch. But this isn’t a “shake-up,” at least not so far. It’s the opposite: a circling of the wagons. Or, in Texas-speak, it’s Bush insisting on his deeply held belief in “dancing with the ones that brung ya.”Bolten is one of the ones that brung him. He was part of the Bush inner circle in Austin well before the future president ever thought of hiring Card—who Bush liked, to be sure, but who he regarded as a Washington hand whose main job was to keep the paper flowing and (in Paul O’Neill’s famous account) the cheeseburgers arriving.The truly astonishing thing about the Bush Way is how little the real...
  • Changing the Script

    If you want to get ratings with the action drama that is the American presidency, you need a compelling plot and a hero with a stirring image.Since 9/11, George W. Bush has topped the charts with GWOT (bureaucratese for the “global war on terror"), in which producer-director Karl Rove features his leading man as commander in chief on the global battlements. It's a mix of Ike at Normandy, Ronald Reagan in Berlin and Tom Cruise in “Top Gun.”But ratings for “Bush, the War President” have collapsed (something to do with the loss of blood and treasure in Iraq). And Americans don’t like overseas stories in any case.Politically, the war in Iraq is a loser; Bush has said as much. So for the new season—the fall congressional elections and beyond—there will be a new shooting script and a reshaped presidential character.I saw the rushes the other day when the Republican National Committee released the text of a radio ad and Bush held a hastily called press conference. The revamped story line...
  • The GOP's Abortion Anxiety

    When South Dakota approved a law sharply restricting abortion last week, many pro-life Republicans around the country sounded a loud hallelujah. But at least one very senior Republican did not seem at all eager to join in the chorus. As Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, flew to Memphis to attend the first gathering of potential GOP presidential candidates for 2008, a NEWSWEEK reporter asked him if he had anything to say about the South Dakota law. "No," he said. Did he plan to make a statement on that topic at the Republican gathering in Memphis? "No" was the answer. Would he ever be willing to comment on the topic, other than to say that it's up to the states to make their own choices on abortion? Again, the answer was "no." The look on his face was more expressive. It appeared to ask, "Are you kidding?"Why such reticence to embrace glad tidings? After all, the abortion issue has been good to the Republican Party. It has energized Roman Catholic and...
  • Straw Poll Strategy

    In a sense, Sen. John McCain’s campaign for the presidency in 2008 began with a personal, private phone call he made last week—to President George W. Bush.A good source told me about it here the other day, in a quiet moment at the Southern Republicans’ conference at the Peabody Hotel, and McCain himself confirmed it at a reception hosted by Mississippi Republicans at one of the noisiest places in town, BB King’s restaurant.Private though it was, the McCain call was emblematic of the ‘08 strategy that he and his circle have decided to pursue. They want to build out their campaign with members of the Bush circle, and base McCain’s pitch on the notion that he is the only sensible, electable and competent commander who can take control of the war on terror.“Competence and electability,” that’s what we’re going to talk about,” said a key advisor. “If you support the president’s vision, John can carry it forward.”The road less traveledKnown as an outsider and maverick, McCain in 2008 has...
  • Awaiting the Almighty

    If you're a republican who wants to be president, the place to be this weekend is Memphis's Peabody Hotel, with its parading ducks--and politicians. Unless, of course, you're Rudy Giuliani. In that case, you skip the Southern Republican Leadership Conference even if--or, rather, especially because--it's the unofficial launch of the GOP's 2008 presidential cycle. Let lesser birds flock there; "America's mayor" will be traveling on business. For a man with near-total name ID, a 9/11 hero's aura--and, most valuable in these post-Katrina days, a reputation for administrative competence--it's best to fly alluringly alone for now.The GOP's '08 cycle has barely begun, but it's already produced a cliche: that this is "the most wide-open race since 1952." It's true that, in a party inclined to royal successions, there is no heir apparent--literally, in this case, since Florida Gov. Jeb Bush isn't running to succeed his brother. But it's also true that outlines of a hierarchy are visible,...
  • Hillary's Money Politics

    If you are a reporter, getting into a Hillary Clinton fund-raiser in Los Angeles—or almost anywhere else, for that matter—is no easy trick. I managed to do it few years ago in Bel Air when a friend took me along as her personal guest to a carefully guarded cocktail party at the home of movie executive Alan Horn. There were three layers you had to pass through, from the usual ticket-takers to some scowling security guys. I figured that, in the days not long after 9/11, the junior senator from New York wanted to keep her toughly worded anti-Bush rhetoric (the kind that excites Democratic hearts and opens their wallets) safely behind the closed, hand-rubbed doors.Three years later, the veil is slowly beginning to drop. The political risk for banging away at George W. Bush is gone. And the senator's strategy for locking up the Democratic presidential nomination certainly is no secret: raise so much money, and build such a state-of-the-art machine, that competitors will fold their tents...
  • Boomers: Which Way Will Their Politics Go?

    The baby boomers tacked left, then right. Where will their politics go in the golden years? The 'I want it all and I want it now' crowd confronts its hardest campaigns.
  • Living Politics: Winners and Losers

    Forget the black hat. Everybody in Washington is obsessed with Jack Abramoff's gangsterlike attire as he came out of the federal courthouse. But the thing that jumps out at me is the figure $20,194,000. If I read the fed's plea-agreement papers correctly, that's the amount of cold cash that the Republican lobbyist siphoned from Indian tribes and stashed in his secret accounts.You may not believe this, but in this city, that is an unheard of amount of money for a lobbyist to haul in--and the number itself signifies a troubling change in the nature of life in the capital of our country.The denizens of D.C. deal in trillions of dollars. But they are YOUR dollars: tax receipts and federal spending. Lawyers and lobbyists here do well. Still, they haven't generally been in the same league as money-power types in, say, New York or Los Angeles. This was a city in which official position meant more than a plush vacation home; in which a Ph.D. or J.D. meant more than a BMW. Traditionally, the...
  • Battle for America

    As young men in law school in the 1970s, neither Mark Warner nor George Allen set the legal world on fire. At Harvard, "I was the only guy I knew who didn't get a law-firm offer after summer internships," says Warner. At the University of Virginia, Allen seemed to prefer deer hunting to textbook reading; his mud-splattered truck was a rare sight in the law-school parking lot. As immigrants to Virginia, however, both men spied their main chance in 1982--and took it. Warner cut deals in the burgeoning cell-phone business that made him wealthy. Allen, son of an American football coach, launched his political career in a redistricting of the rural countryside, winning a seat in the state's House of Delegates by 25 votes.As a new election cycle begins, Virginia--and the careers of these two Virginians--is moving to center stage. They offer competing models of how to succeed in the South, where Democrats must be competitive if they hope to win the White House again. Warner, 51, is ending...
  • The Virginians

    As young men in law school in the 1970s, neither Mark Warner nor George Allen set the legal world on fire. At Harvard, Warner founded a group called the Somerville Bar Review--that's "bar" as in drinking studies, not professional ones. "I was the only guy I knew who didn't get law-firm offers after summer internships," he says. At the University of Virginia, Allen lived in a cabin on the mountaintop next to Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. But the scenery did more to inspire a passion for deer hunting than textbook reading; his mud-spattered truck was a rare sight in the law-school parking lot. "I probably didn't fit in real well," he says.But then, as immigrants to Virginia, both men spied their main chance in 1982--and took it. Searching for a big financial score, Warner heard through a friend that Atlanta TV mogul Ted Turner had become interested in an infant technology called "cellular" phones. "My law buddies asked, 'Who is going to want to talk on a phone in their car?' " Answer...
  • Bush at the Tipping Point

    As friends describe it, Rep. Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania had been searching his soul for months, seeking guidance on what to do in Congress about Iraq. "I think he was going through what we Catholics call a 'long night of the soul'," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut. In 1974, Democrat Murtha had become the first Vietnam veteran elected to the House. A decorated Marine from the mountainous "Deer Hunter" country east of Pittsburgh, he had always been a down-the-line hawk and a favorite of the Pentagon generals. Now, at 73, he was the dean of the House on defense spending: a gruff, taciturn pasha receiving supplicants from his perch in the "Pennsylvania corner" of the floor--last row, aisle seat, surrounded by equally beefy cronies. "I like to do things behind the scenes," Murtha explained to NEWSWEEK.But, by last week, Murtha had decided to come out of his corner in spectacular fashion. The result was a turning point--and a low point--in the war at home over the war in Iraq....
  • A Faith-Based Initiative

    The morning after Democrat Tim Kaine won the governorship of Virginia, his first order of business was to attend mass in Richmond, where he said prayers for his father-in-law, who is ill with bladder cancer. It was an apt conclusion to a notable campaign, in which Kaine ran as a mass-attending disciple of Jesuit missionaries and the Roman Catholic Church's social gospel. Kaine accomplished three things. He became the first Catholic to win the top job in Virginia, home of Protestant evangelicals Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. He provided a road map into the cultural mainstream for national Democrats. And he highlighted the ever more pivotal role of Catholic politicians, jurists and voters at a time when "values" debates are front and center. "We can't completely separate politics and faith," Kaine told NEWSWEEK. "They rise from the same wellspring: the concern about the distance between what is and what ought to be."Formerly a reliable part of the Democratic base, Catholic America ...
  • Can We Go Home Now?

    A homebody by nature, and often unsteady in unscripted public situations, George W. Bush is no fan of high-profile presidential travel. Especially now. With job-approval ratings south of 40 percent--the lowest of his presidency--he risks hearing hecklers, even at his rigorously screened speeches. Foreign trips are even more problematic. At a summit in an Argentine resort, Bush's presence set off protest marches and even riots by anti-free-trade demonstrators last week. Travel offers no escape from the Washington scandal news. When he landed in Mar del Plata, the local TV put up a split-screen of Air Force One--and I. Lewis Libby hobbling into court to plead not guilty in the Valerie Plame leak case. CIA ESCANDALO read the headline. Briefly facing American reporters, Bush fielded only five questions. But four were on a single issue: the fate of Karl Rove, his top White House aide, who has been named--but not indicted--in the federal leak probe. Bush gave lawyerlike answers. "The...
  • Flying Blind

    Dark days: Singed by the special prosecutor and rattled by the Harriet Miers mess, Team Bush is in turmoil.
  • Harriet's Hail Mary

    For 25 years, Tom Rath has been the Bush family's New Hampshire go-to guy: an affable lawyer, member of the Republican National Committee--and prize catch for any would-be contender in the GOP's next presidential race. It was no surprise, then, that when George W. Bush's political team wanted to send ambitious Republican senators a firm message about Harriet Miers (crude summary: "Lay off her if you ever want our help"), they chose Rath to deliver it. On his own, or through an allied group called Progress for America, Rath last week made the family's view clear to George Allen of Virginia and Sam Brownback of Kansas, likely candidates on scouting missions to the first-in-the-nation primary state. Not coincidentally, a Bush financial backer in Houston, who had attended a recent Brownback event there, called the Capitol to echo the same--how to put it?--concerned message. "Miers deserves a fair hearing," Rath told NEWSWEEK. "That's all we're saying."Actually, here's what they're...
  • Troubled Waters

    War, storms, leak probes—and a growing array of ethics clouds. Dark days for the Republican Party.
  • Money, Money, Everywhere

    Check, Please: Louisiana Cheered. Democrats--And Some Tightfisted Gopers--Jeered. How We Will Pay For The Katrina Cleanup--And The Political Costs For Bush.
  • A Storm-Tossed Boss

    In September 1965, a massive hurricane hit New Orleans. By the next day the president--a Texan in a time of war--was in the city, visiting a shelter. With no electricity in the darkness there, Lyndon Baines Johnson held a flashlight to his face and proclaimed, "This is the president of the United States and I'm here to help you!" Almost precisely 40 years later, when another horrific hurricane hit the city, the president was, again, a Texan in wartime. But rather than hurry to New Orleans from his Texas ranch, George W. Bush decided, three days after Katrina hit, to fly back to Washington first. Photographers rarely are allowed into the forward cabin of Air Force One, but consigliere Karl Rove and other aides summoned them so they could snap pictures of the Boss gazing out the window as the plane flew over the devastation. Republican strategists privately call the resulting image--Bush as tourist, seemingly powerless as he peered down at the chaos--perhaps among the most damaging of...
  • HUNTING BIG GAME

    Cambria County is Pennsylvania deer-hunter territory, and you had better be careful before you criticize an American war or a commander in chief. In these Alleghenies, full of devout descendants of Eastern European millworkers, you carry a rifle into the woods--and serve in the military--as a way of life. That's why Democrat Bob Casey Jr. treaded as carefully as a hunter with a buck in view when he campaigned last week at Ed Cernic's annual picnic on a hillside above Johnstown. Seeking votes in his campaign to oust Rick Santorum, perhaps the Senate's most vulnerable Republican, Casey mentioned Iraq once--and then only to laud "the valor of those young men and women who are dying for us" there. But in an interview with NEWSWEEK, Casey crept closer to his target. Santorum, he said, "was not asking the tough questions of this president. What we need most of all to go forward are facts--and this administration isn't giving them to us and leaders such as Santorum aren't asking for them....
  • Threading the Needle

    The Democrats' dilemma: fight now, or save their fire for the next round?
  • Rove at War

    HE ROSE USING TACTICS HIS FOES ARE TURNING AGAINST HIM. BUT NEVER BET AGAINST KARL ROVE.