- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 6, 2008

COURTS

Bush aide testimony to House halted

A federal appeals court has blocked former White House Counsel Harriet Miers from testifying about the firing of nine U.S. attorneys until judges decide whether they have authority to wade into a battle that pits Congress against the Bush administration.

Miss Miers was supposed to testify at a House Judiciary Committee hearing next Thursday.

In its ruling Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said it wants to review arguments from both sides about whether its judges have jurisdiction to rule in the case.

The three-judge panel gave House lawyers until 4 p.m. Wednesday to make its case on why the court should uphold an earlier ruling forcing Miss Miers to testify. The Justice Department must submit its own argument - why she should not - two days earlier, on Monday.

The House committee wants Miss Miers to testify and White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten to turn over documents related to the 2006 prosecutor firings, which Democrats contend were politically motivated.

The Justice Department says Congress can’t force top White House aides to testify because it infringes on the executive branch’s independence.

In July, U.S. District Judge John Bates strongly rejected the government’s argument and ordered Miss Miers and Mr. Bolten to comply with the House demands.

The appeals court panel’s ruling temporarily blocks that order. However, the delay “should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits of that motion,” wrote the panel of judges, two of whom were appointed by Republicans.

RACE

Georgia lawmaker calls Obamas ‘uppity’

A Republican congressman from Georgia who referred to Barack and Michelle Obama as “uppity” says he wasn’t aware of the term’s racial overtones and did not intend to insult anyone.

Speaking to reporters Thursday, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Grantville, Ga., described the Obamas as members of an “elitist class … that thinks that they’re uppity,” according to the Hill, a Capitol Hill newspaper.

Asked whether he intended to use the word, he said, “Yeah, uppity.”

In a statement Friday, Mr. Westmoreland - who was born in 1950 and raised in the segregated South - said he didn’t know that “uppity” was commonly used as a derogatory term for blacks seeking equal treatment. Instead, he referred to the dictionary definition of the word as describing someone who is haughty or snobbish or has inflated self-esteem.

“He stands by that characterization and thinks it accurately describes the Democratic nominee,” said Brian Robinson, Mr. Westmoreland’s spokesman. “He was unaware that the word had racial overtones, and he had absolutely no intention of using a word that can be considered offensive.”

The Obama campaign had no immediate response.

Mr. Westmoreland is one of the most conservative members of Congress. He has drawn criticism from civil rights advocates on a number of issues, including last year when he led opposition to renewing the 1965 Voting Rights Act. He also was one of two House members last year who opposed giving the Justice Department more money to crack unsolved civil rights killings.

WHITE HOUSE

Bush keeps tabs on hurricane season

President Bush is keeping tabs on the Gulf Coast’s recovery from Hurricane Gustav while monitoring the threat from two other looming storms, Hanna and the more-powerful Ike.

From the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland, Mr. Bush called the governors of South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia Friday to discuss preparations for dealing with Hanna, White House press secretary Dana Perino said.

The tropical storm was expected to make landfall on the northern coast of South Carolina early Saturday before cutting a path up the Atlantic coast.

Tropical storm watches or warnings were in effect from Georgia to areas just south of New York City. David M. Paulison, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, was in touch with governors of other East Coast states to make sure they have what they need, Mrs. Perino said.

The president’s weekly radio address, taped Friday for broadcast Saturday, covered the administration’s hurricane efforts. Gustav hit Louisiana on Monday; Ike is heading toward the Bahamas and Florida.

Even though Gustav hit land with less power and in a less-populated place than expected, problems linger. Mrs. Perino said Washington’s focus is helping while state and local authorities work to get the power back on for the 900,000 people, most in Louisiana.

“Full restoration is expected to take weeks in some areas, especially in the coastal areas,” Mrs. Perino said. “We have moved federal resources into that area.”

TRANSPORTATION

DOT almost out of highway funds

The federal highway trust fund will run out of money this month, requiring delays in payments to states for transportation construction projects, Transportation Secretary Mary E. Peters said Friday.

The trust fund - a federal account used to help pay for highway and bridge projects - will run about $8.3 billion short by the end of September, Mrs. Peters said during a conference call with reporters.

The shortfall will mean short delays - and in some cases a temporary reduction - in payments to states for infrastructure projects the federal government has agreed to help finance.

Mrs. Peters blamed the funding shortage on the high price of gasoline, which has prompted Americans to drive less. This means less fuel has been purchased, and less in gasoline taxes collected for the trust fund. Americans drove 50 billion fewer miles between November 2007 and June than during the same period a year earlier.

Compounding the problem, Mrs. Peters said, is federal lawmakers’ habit of loading up highway spending bills with pet projects, or earmarks, for their home states. The current highway spending bill has more than $24 billion in earmarks, she said.

From staff reports and wire dispatches

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