WASHINGTON — Is Hollywood calling the shots in Washington? Beltway insiders would normally scoff at the suggestion, but House Republicans are having a hard time denying it.
Rumors that Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) will jump ship at the end of this year to succeed Jack Valenti as chief exec of the Motion Picture Assn. of America just won’t go away. Now speculation is swirling that Schwarzenegger transition chairman Rep. David Dreier’s star has risen so high that he’s eyeing a run at Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).
Last week Dreier (R-Calif.) denied any interest in moving to the upper chamber, but key California politicos report that Dreier and staff spent last week talking to influential GOP consultants in the state and reading the political tea leaves about his chances.
Dreier and Tauzin’s political fortunes seem intertwined. They each chair a powerful committee in the House, and one or both of their departures would set off a game of musical chairs for the plum political posts among GOP brethren.
Rumors that Tauzin covets the glitzy MPAA position have been bouncing around Washington for years. But they took on a more serious tone when Valenti admitted earlier this year that his days as Hollywood’s top lobbyist in Washington are numbered and the studios began to discuss potential successors.
When the rumors threatened to distract Tauzin from his legislative work, he was forced to write to his colleagues promising them that the gossip was hogwash. Still, a month later rumors persist — fueled in part by the heat Valenti is taking over withholding Oscar screeners — that Tauzin will wrap up work on two major bills by the end of the year and then make his showbiz debut.
“Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire,” one senior House GOP source said of the rumors. “And there’s been a hell of a lot of smoke.”
Sen. John Breaux (D-La.), another high-profile pol who made the studios’ early short list for the MPAA job, took his name out of the running in September. At the time, he implied that he would like to start his own lobbying firm and wouldn’t mind having the MPAA as a client. That admission spurred the Tauzin talk, because the two Bayou State boys are close friends and could easily share the responsibilities — and the limelight.
At the time, Breaux told Daily Variety that Tauzin would be perfect for the job. When asked how Tauzin could get out of his written promise to stay put, Breaux smiled. “Anything’s possible in politics,” he remarked.
Of course, Dreier may have bigger fish to fry if he decides to take on Boxer and seek a bigger political spotlight in the Senate.
With three important chairmanships all in play, GOP leaders are shrugging their shoulders and leaving it up to Hollywood to get back to them on which script they’ll need to follow next year.