- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 5, 2008

CONGRESS

Democrats aim to quit trade deals

The United States would review and potentially renegotiate all existing trade deals under a bill introduced Wednesday by Democratic Party lawmakers as a marker for next year.

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and other speakers from a coalition of labor, farm and environmental groups said they looked to Sen. Barack Obama, who clinched the Democratic presidential nomination Tuesday, to provide leadership for a new direction in U.S. trade policy.

“I think the public … has spoken so loudly and clearly we will see a different trade policy” no matter if Mr. Obama or Republican candidate Sen. John McCain is elected, said Mr. Brown, one of several lawmakers whose criticism of trade agreements helped them win office in 2006.

“President Obama will take it faster, will move in the direction the public is absolutely crying for. President McCain will need to be dragged into a very different trade policy, but I think he’s going to have to listen,” Mr. Brown said.

SENATE

Niece: Kennedy grateful for prayers

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend says her uncle Sen. Edward M. Kennedy is grateful for all the prayers he has received since being diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Mrs. Townsend says while it has been a very tough two weeks, it is “very good news how well the operation went.”

The Massachusetts senator, who is 76, had surgery Monday to remove as much of the tumor as possible. The surgery at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., was completed without complications.

Mrs. Townsend, who is a former lieutenant governor of Maryland and the oldest child of Robert F. Kennedy, says she has spoken recently with her uncle. Mrs. Townsend, in an interview with the Associated Press on Wednesday, kept further details private.

SENATE

Lawmakers hit car-roof proposal

A Senate panel on Wednesday criticized a Transportation Department proposal to require automakers to enhance the roof strength of new cars and trucks, questioning whether it would reduce deaths in rollover crashes.

Lawmakers said a proposal being developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) offered little promise of significantly preventing fatalities from collapsing roofs in rollover accidents.

“If we have a little increase in roof strength that doesn’t result in a major decrease in fatalities and injuries, we’ve done nothing,” said Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican.

Safety groups have said the roof strength rules, which have not been updated since 1973, need to be improved because more than 10,000 motorists are killed annually in rollovers. NHTSA is expected to release new regulations next month.

Members of a Senate committee railed against a provision that would limit the ability of plaintiffs to sue automakers in rollover cases. They warned that Congress would oppose the restrictions.

LOUISIANA

Congressman’s kin charged with fraud

NEW ORLEANS | A brother, sister and niece of indicted U.S. Rep. William J. Jefferson were charged Wednesday with pocketing more than $600,000 in state and federal grant money intended for charitable and educational projects.

A federal grand jury indicted New Orleans tax assessor Betty Jefferson, her brother, Mose Jefferson, and her daughter, Angela Coleman, on charges that include federal program fraud, identity theft and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said the family members used several nonprofit and for-profit companies to obtain grants designed to help pregnant teens, at-risk youths and others in need of assistance. They deposited some of the grant money into personal checking accounts and used it for personal expenses, authorities said.

NEVADA

State goes to court over nuclear dump

LAS VEGAS | Nevada officials say they’ve filed the first challenge to a Bush administration bid to win Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval for a national nuclear waste dump outside Las Vegas.

State Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto said she filed the challenge to the Yucca Mountain license application with the NRC on Tuesday.

The state says the government has not proven in its application that it will sufficiently protect public health, safety and the environment from radiation up to a million years.

The attorney general says the NRC should refuse to docket the license application “until key components are available for review.”

Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman says the license application will “stand up to any challenge anywhere.”

DIPLOMACY

Israeli leader bonds with Bush

A corruption scandal engulfing Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was pushed into the background Wednesday as the beleaguered Israeli leader and staunch ally President Bush displayed chummy relations and declared resolve against Iran and for Middle East peace.

Mr. Bush warmly saluted Mr. Olmert as “my friend” twice in less than a minute of remarks before their Oval Office talks.

Mr. Olmert, clearly delighted to be again at the side of the U.S. president whose popularity in Israel far exceeds his own, gushed over Mr. Bush and grinned broadly at him throughout his brief statement.

He effusively praised the U.S. leader’s speech in May before the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem as “the best expression of the United States’ commitment to the security and the well-being of the state of Israel.” He even said he admired Mr. Bush’s emotions.

Mr. Olmert’s political future has been thrown into doubt because of testimony from New York businessman Morris Talansky, who says he gave Mr. Olmert envelopes stuffed with cash over a decade and a half, in part to fund a lavish lifestyle. Political allies are conspicuously refusing to defend Mr. Olmert, instead jostling for his job.

AGENCIES

New twist involves former HHS chief

As President Bush’s health chief, Tommy Thompson proudly trumpeted millions of taxpayer dollars to help workers sickened by the Sept. 11 attacks at the World Trade Center, even amid complaints that his agency wasn’t doing enough.

Now, Mr. Thompson’s private company has won an $11 million contract to treat some of those same workers - the latest twist in a fitful government effort to determine how many people were made ill by the toxic debris - and to care for them.

The contract awarded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is aimed at tracking the health of between 4,000 and 6,000 workers who live outside the New York City area, where a separate health monitoring program is in place. The CDC is part of the Health and Human Services Department, which Mr. Thompson headed in Mr. Bush’s first term.

Internal e-mails obtained by the Associated Press show that the one-year contract went to Logistics Health, Inc., a La Crosse, Wis.-based company where Mr. Thompson is president.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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