- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 24, 2009

SUPREME COURT

Justice Ginsburg returns to bench

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg returned to the Supreme Court bench Monday, a little over two weeks after her second major bout with cancer prompted questions about her health.

A beaming Justice Ginsburg walked into the marble courtroom with her eight male colleagues.

Wearing her typical court dress consisting of a black robe and white lace collar, Justice Ginsburg showed no ill effects from her recent pancreatic cancer surgery, leaning forward in her chair and tossing out challenging questions for lawyers in her soft hesitant voice.

“You are really saying you were wrong,” she chided a lawyer for the Navajo Nation who seemed to be backing away from an earlier position his clients took.

During the arguments, Justice Ginsburg looked the lawyers directly in the eyes, leaning forward scribbling notes with a pencil. She later began rocking slightly in her seat between Justices David H. Souter and Samuel A. Alito Jr., and smiling and whispering with the two as they posed their questions to lawyers.

Justice Ginsburg, 75, underwent surgery at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York on Feb. 5 and returned to her home in Washington on Feb. 13. Doctors said her prognosis is good.

ELECTRICITY

U.S. ready to override states

Democratic congressional leaders and the Obama administration indicated Monday that they will push for greater federal authority to locate electric transmission lines, saying the current power grid stands in the way of developing alternative energy sources.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he will soon introduce legislation that gives federal regulators authority to override states on electric grid placement decisions as part of a package of energy proposals the Senate is expected to take up in the coming weeks.

“We cannot let 231 state regulators hold up progress,” said Mr. Reid, referring to the members of state public utility commissions that decide on transmission locations in the states. He said states should be given every opportunity to participate but that “there may come a time when the federal government will have to step in,” including directing the taking of land for grid corridors.

SENATE

Burris to attend Obama’s address

Embattled Sen. Roland W. Burris, Illinois Democrat, plans to return to Washington in time to attend President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday night.

Mr. Burris’ office said the senator was in Chicago on Monday but planned to return to Washington to conduct legislative business and attend Mr. Obama’s speech to the House and Senate, meeting jointly.

Mr. Burris is facing calls to resign from Gov. Patrick Quinn and other officials amid new questions about his appointment to the Senate by former Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich.

Fellow Illinois Sen. Richard J. Durbin has not called for Mr. Burris to resign, saying he wants to meet with Mr. Burris in person before commenting further.

Mr. Durbin’s office says a meeting is being scheduled.

WHITE HOUSE

Climate bill could wait a year

The White House signaled Monday it could wait until next year for major climate change legislation to move through Congress as long as it fulfilled President Obama’s criteria for tackling global warming.

When asked when the president wished to see movement on a climate bill, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs left a time frame wide open.

“If we had significant legislation that began to address climate change … whether that’s this year or next year, I think both of us would agree that that’s a big change that we would welcome,” said Mr. Gibbs, referring to the president.

He said the bill would have to allow the United States to spend even more money investing in alternative energies to ensure the country was not adding to the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.

Though investing in renewable energy is a key part of Mr. Obama’s $787 billion stimulus bill, the administration has kept quiet about its other environmental goals for this year.

SENATE

Bill to target arms cost overruns

Legislation aimed at preventing chronic cost overruns in many Pentagon weapons programs will be introduced this week, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said Monday.

”It will create a presumption that a [weapons] system will not continue” if there is a cost overrun, Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, said at a White House event on fiscal responsibility.

“It breaks that barrier. That defense system will not be built,” Mr. Levin said. “Enforcement teeth will be restored in a bill that we will be introducing today or tomorrow.”

Under the existing Nunn-McCurdy law, the Pentagon must cancel any weapons program in which costs rise more than 25 percent unless it can show the program’s importance to U.S. national security, the lack of a viable alternative, how reasonable new cost estimates are, and offer proof that the problems that led to cost overruns are now under control.

Separately, a congressional aide familiar with Mr. Levin’s planned legislation said the bill contained “dozens” of provisions to help lawmakers crack down on cost overruns.

SWEEP

FBI rescues teen prostitutes

The FBI has rescued 48 suspected teenage prostitutes, some as young as 13 years old, in a nationwide sweep to remove children from the illegal sex trade and punish their accused pimps.

Over a three-night initiative called Operation Cross Country, federal agents working with local law enforcement also arrested more than 571 suspects on a variety of federal and state prostitution-related charges, the bureau said.

The teenage prostitutes found in the investigation ranged in age from 13 to 17.

“We may not be able to return their innocence but we can remove them from this cycle of abuse and violence,” said FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III.

STATE DEPARTMENT

Clinton to huddle with key envoys

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will meet foreign ministers from Pakistan and Afghanistan this week as part of a U.S. policy review in the volatile region, a State Department spokesman said Monday.

Mrs. Clinton will meet with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Tuesday and Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta on Thursday. All three also will attend trilateral meetings and a dinner, spokesman Robert Wood said.

The meeting follows President Obama’s decision last week to send an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan to battle Taliban insurgents, bringing U.S. forces there to 55,000 by this summer.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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