Senators Are Slow To Arrive

Some Stay Home To Monitor Gustav

Posted September 1, 2008 at 7:36pm

In the wake of Hurricane Gustav, Senate leaders are keeping their schedules flexible so they can respond to home-state demands.

Most top Republicans intended to arrive in St. Paul, Minn., on Sunday or Monday, but as the storm made its way toward the Gulf Coast, they found themselves in a peculiar position, trying not to appear too political while heavy storms ravaged the Southern coastline.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who was scheduled to speak on the opening night of the convention, is still home getting daily updates on evacuation and relief efforts. Federal emergency officials have been forwarding information to the Republican leader on evacuation plans, as more than 1,000 people are set to be temporarily housed in Kentucky.

It is unclear when McConnell will make an appearance at the convention, but a McConnell aide said it was probable that the Senator would arrive in Minnesota later in the week. As the “temporary chairman,” McConnell is one of two leaders hosting the event.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) is in Minnesota serving as the as “permanent chairman,” or the point man for the convention, while Republican officials and activists adopt the party platform and officially nominate Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) as their presidential nominee. Monday’s convention activities, including speeches by McConnell, President Bush and Vice President Cheney, were canceled.

Weather forecasters were more in demand Monday than political prognosticators, and they were optimistic that the storm would not be as devastating as initially thought. Members were relieved that their convention might not be rained out and business could proceed in a less theatrical manner.

Campaign officials said Monday that McCain and his vice presidential pick, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, are likely to accept their nominations at the convention center.

On Monday, McCain was in the Gulf Coast region to monitor emergency preparations. That left Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, one of McCain’s surrogates, to make the rounds for his home-state colleague. Kyl does not have a speaking slot at the convention but has been making media rounds on behalf of the Republican ticket since arriving in Minnesota on Monday afternoon.

Senate Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) also will be speaking at several functions.

Republican Policy Committee Chairwoman Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) was still preparing to speak during prime time on Wednesday, immediately before Palin. On Monday, Hutchison was in Texas, touring emergency preparation facilities with President Bush. She is expected in the Twin Cities on Tuesday.

Some Senators have left the Twin Cities and returned home. Republican Conference Vice Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) said he was turning around and returning to his home state, despite the sunnier forecast. Cornyn arrived in Minnesota on Sunday afternoon and took a Monday flight back to Texas.

“I feel like I need to be back in Texas and take care of the people. The people come first,” he said.