- The Washington Times - Friday, July 3, 2009

SUPREME COURT

Papers irrelevant, White House says

The White House hit back Thursday at a key Republican senator who has accused Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s allies of withholding documents from her past.

White House counsel Greg Craig told Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, that board meeting minutes and other papers detailing the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund’s activities while Judge Sotomayor was an outside adviser aren’t relevant to her nomination. Republicans have raised concerns about the judge’s involvement in the group, arguing that it has taken extreme positions.

Judge Sotomayor early last month gave the panel documents she contributed to or helped write as a board member, but Mr. Sessions recently demanded more information about the cases the group handled and policy positions it took while she was involved. The Puerto Rican fund began sending some of that material to the committee Wednesday, but Mr. Sessions’ office said Judge Sotomayor’s backers were delaying the release of the information to prevent a thorough investigation.

Hearings on the nomination are scheduled to begin July 13.

EDUCATION

Accept merit pay, Duncan tells NEA

Education Secretary Arne Duncan challenged members of the National Education Association on Thursday to stop resisting the idea of linking teacher pay to student achievement.

It was Mr. Duncan’s first speech at the union’s annual meeting, a gathering where President Obama was booed when he mentioned the idea of performance pay last year.

“I came here today to challenge you to think differently about the role of unions in public education,” Mr. Duncan told the 2.7 million-member union in San Diego.

“It’s not enough to focus only on issues like job security, tenure, compensation and evaluation,” he said in a speech distributed by the Education Department. “You must become full partners and leaders in education reform. You must be willing to change.”

Unions are an important part of the Democrats’ political base of support. Mr. Duncan, even as he challenged NEA members, promised to include teachers in his decision-making.

“We’re asking Congress for more money to develop compensation programs with you and for you, not to you,” Mr. Duncan said.

WHITE HOUSE

Garden tests positive for lead

The White House says its high-profile garden on the South Lawn has tested positive for lead although it is not at dangerous levels.

White House spokeswoman Katie McCormick-Lelyveld said Thursday that tests on the soil in the White House garden detected lead levels of 93 parts per million. Soil is considered unsafe for growing vegetables when it reaches more than 500 parts per million.

First lady Michelle Obama planted the garden on the South Lawn this spring with local schoolchildren. Produce from it is used in the White House kitchens and donated to area groups.

Ms. McCormick-Lelyveld says the White House will continue to grow vegetables in its garden, which food activists sought and praised.

SUPREME COURT

Leahy: GOP would object to anybody

MIDDLESEX, Vt. | The chairman of the Senate’s upcoming Supreme Court hearings says Republicans told him that they would have objected no matter whom President Obama nominated to the high court.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, told the Associated Press on Thursday that, “They were going to object no matter who it was. And several have told me that privately.”

Republicans did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Obama chose Judge Sonia Sotomayor, who Mr. Leahy predicted would overwhelmingly win confirmation to be the first Hispanic woman to sit on the high court. He said the hearings opening July 13 will be the first time she can defend herself against conservatives who have said some of her remarks sounded racist.

POLITICS

Maloney wins help from Bill Clinton

In a slap at President Obama, former President Bill Clinton will headline a fundraiser for a New York congresswoman challenging White House-backed Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand in the state’s Democratic primary.

Mr. Clinton has not endorsed in the race, but his efforts to help Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney could be seen as a snub to Mrs. Gillibrand and the Obama White House. Matt McKenna, a spokesman for Mr. Clinton, said he will be attending a July 20 fundraiser in New York.

The White House has played an active role in clearing the field for Mrs. Gillibrand, who was appointed earlier this year to fill the seat vacated when Mr. Obama tapped Hillary Rodham Clinton to be his secretary of state. Mr. Obama asked Rep. Steve Israel not to challenge Mrs. Gillibrand, a request he honored. Just days ago, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. called Mrs. Maloney to discuss the race, a clear sign that the White House didn’t want a primary fight next year.

Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told reporters last week that the White House would help Mrs. Gillibrand’s re-election bid.

Mr. Clinton also did a fundraising event for Mrs. Gillibrand, but word of the Maloney event comes as the congresswoman moves toward formally announcing her candidacy. An adviser said this week she is running.

HOSPITALS

Veterans hope for compensation

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. | An attorney for veterans potentially exposed to HIV and other infections by colonoscopies at three Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals said his clients are waiting to hear whether they will be compensated for mistakes that led to congressional hearings and new VA spending on patient safety.

A spokeswoman for the VA declined to comment about prospects for compensation. Katie Roberts said the more than 10,000 veterans who have been getting follow-up blood checks since February have the option of filing a complaint in a claim just like other VA patients.

She said the VA has been advising the affected patients that they have the option of filing a claim.

But Nashville lawyer Mike Sheppard describes that claims process as cumbersome, particularly for veterans who have tested positive for HIV and hepatitis.

“Some of these veterans are scared,” said Mr. Sheppard, who has about 50 of the VA’s former endoscopic patients as clients. He said complaints about VA medical care must be filed under the federal torts claim law.

UNITED NATIONS

Bill Clinton to visit Haiti

UNITED NATIONS | Former President Bill Clinton will travel to Haiti on Monday for his first visit as U.N. special envoy to the Caribbean nation, the world body announced Thursday.

Mr. Clinton, who was appointed to the post by U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon last month, is to confer with government officials “about how to best support the efforts to prepare for hurricanes, generate new jobs and enhance the delivery of basic social services,” U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas told reporters.

The former president “will also focus on how to ensure that the United Nations, civil society and the donor community align their activities with the government’s recovery plan as well as with each other,” she added.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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