- The Washington Times - Monday, January 23, 2006

Pulling strings

“They have huffed and puffed, threatened and delayed. But faced with a scheduled Tuesday vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Democrats are hatching a plan for dealing with the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. Like watching sausage being made, it’s not a pretty sight,” New York Daily News columnist Michael Goodwin writes.

“A matter-of-fact report in the New York Times captured the crass, bare-knuckled motive. With little chance of stopping Alito, the Times wrote, ‘Senate Democratic leaders urged their members Tuesday to vote against him in an effort to lay the groundwork for making a campaign issue of his decisions on the court.’

“There you have it, a sign of how debased the Democratic Party has become. Faced with a nominee who obviously is qualified, Senate Dems are lining up to vote against Alito for purely political purposes,” Mr. Goodwin said.

“It is a breathtaking moment where all the doubts and cynicism about Washington politicians are blatantly confirmed. And the whole truth is actually worse.

Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) defended the plan with a logic that was so tortured it can lead to only one reading: the wackadoo wing is now the puppeteer pulling the strings on U.S. senators. Durbin told the Times, ‘I think some people may ask the important question, Did the Senate really take a close look at this nominee?’”

Another world

It’s hard not to listen to the reviews of the Democrats’ performance in the Alito hearings and come away thinking that much of our party is living in a parallel universe,” Dan Gerstein writes in the Wall Street Journal.

“Most of the political establishment has concluded that the Democrats were: (a) ineffectual; (b) egomaniacal; (c) desperately grasping at straws; (d) downright offensive; or (e) some combination of the above. The American people, outside of those living in deep-blue enclaves, either were not paying attention or concluded that Sam Alito seemed like a pretty decent guy who was more than qualified. And if they saw anything about it on TV, they couldn’t figure out why those pompous Democratic senators were trying to slam Judge Alito for being racist (and making his wife cry),” said Mr. Gerstein, a former communications director for Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat.

“Yet the liberal blogosphere is agog at the way the Democrats let Judge Alito off the hook. And they’re stupefied as to why the Senate Democrats are signaling that they won’t risk triggering a nuclear confrontation with a filibuster.”

Five photos

Time magazine reported yesterday that pictures show President Bush with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The magazine said it had seen five pictures of the president together with Abramoff, who on Jan. 3 pleaded guilty to conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion linked to his Washington lobbying activities.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that White House acknowledged Abramoff attending some events there. Spokeswoman Dana Perino said it’s not surprising that the two would have met.

“The president has taken tens upon thousands of pictures at such events,” she said.

Although Time said it was unable to publish any of the photographs — whose existence was also reported by Washingtonian magazine — it characterized them as mostly formal pictures taken at White House receptions.

Abramoff met a few times with White House staff and attended Hanukkah receptions in 2001 and 2002, the White House has said, but officials have refused to disclose exactly how often he’s been into the complex or on what business.

The real problem

“This is one of those moments when you realize Congress is not an altogether serious body,” Fred Barnes writes in the Weekly Standard.

“There have been others. One that comes to mind is the frantic effort several decades ago to stop the National Football League from blacking out home games on local television (unless stadium tickets have already sold out). This time it’s worse. The current drive for lobbying reform is purely cosmetic. And it skirts the real issue. Lobbyists, for all their selfish intentions and dubious methods, aren’t the problem. Members of Congress and the way they spend taxpayers’ money are,” Mr. Barnes writes.

“Lobbyists will always be with us. Barring them from taking members of Congress or staffers to lunch won’t fundamentally alter the relationship between lobbyists and legislators. Nor will a ban on gifts to members or their aides. And while a prohibition on congressional travel paid for by private groups is a good idea, it’s not a meaningful curb on potential corruption in Congress. Democrats want to establish a new office of public integrity to examine disclosure statements by lobbyists for possible violations. This is flyspecking.

“Congress is noisily responding to the wrong scandal. Based on what we know now, disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff is chiefly to blame for fleecing Indian tribes. Yes, he financed a golfing excursion to Scotland by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and may have prompted wrongdoing by Republican Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio. But these incidents alone don’t touch on the real source of corruption.

“The case that does involves Republican Rep. Duke Cunningham of California, who resigned from Congress after admitting taking bribes. This case exposed the incentives to corruption produced by the spending and budget practices of Congress. For a price, Cunningham would slip spending measures into appropriations bills with practically no one’s noticing. The sheer complexity and opaqueness of the budget made it easy to do so.

“It’s not just so-called earmarks that lead to trouble. More broadly, it’s the fact that Congress spends so much, and often in deceptive ways that go beyond earmarks, that makes Capitol Hill a rich target for lobbyists. So what’s needed isn’t lobbying reform, which deals merely with the symptom. What’s needed is congressional reform.”

General reading

Wes Clark may have found the easiest way to take charge of the publishing world. No, not by writing a book: by picking the subjects of new biographies,” Paul Bedard writes in the Washington Whispers column of U.S. News & World Report.

“We hear he’s joined Palgrave Macmillan as the editor of a new collection of books, ‘The Great General Series.’ The first, ‘Patton’ by Alan Axelrod, will be unveiled in Washington February 7,” Mr. Bedard writes.

“‘He tells us which generals we should feature,’ says Palgrave’s Alessandra Bastagli. ‘He also tells us what authors he thinks would be good.’ The books aren’t just bios, but studies of how to apply the general’s strategies to modern warfare.”

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or gpierce@washingtontimes.com.

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