- The Washington Times - Monday, April 5, 2010

WHITE HOUSE

Obama attends Southeast church

President Obama and his family marked the Easter holiday by attending a music-filled service at a historically black Methodist church in Southeast Washington, an area that was rocked by violence last week.

A boisterous crowd of more than 1,000 people welcomed the Obamas on Sunday at the Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Joining him at the service were his wife, Michelle, daughters Sasha and Malia, and his mother-in-law, Marian Robinson.

“Mr. President, you have no idea how much your presence has meant to us today,” Allen Chapel’s senior pastor, the Rev. Michael Bell, said after his sermon.

Mr. Bell called it providential that the president would attend service at Allen Chapel so shortly after the shootings. It was heartening to know that Southeast Washington has not been forgotten, he said, adding that Mr. Obama’s presence at the church was “bringing healing and hope into this community right now.”

Four people were killed and five wounded on Tuesday night when gunmen in a minivan sprayed a crowd with bullets. Southeast Washington is also beset by high unemployment and poverty.

DIPLOMACY

Israeli ambassador: No crisis in U.S. ties

Israeli-U.S. relations are “great” and there has been no better chance of a breakthrough on Middle East peace than right now, Israel’s ambassador to the United States said on Sunday.

“I am personally very confident. I think that the conditions today exist for moving forward toward a peace that did not exist perhaps at any other time in recent memory,” Michael Oren told CNN.

The upbeat appraisal from Mr. Oren flew in the face of recent tensions and came after President Obama refused to back down in a row over Jewish settlements, at its sharpest when Israeli officials announced plans, during a visit by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., to expand Jewish housing in East Jerusalem.

“We have an Arab world where most of Arab leaders view another country, Iran, as the greatest threat facing them, not the state of Israel. We have a Palestinian leadership which as I said earlier is committed to the peace process,” Mr. Oren said. “We have an Israeli government which is very deep, very widely represented, very stable, capable of making those hard decisions.”

Israeli officials have said that the decision to announce the settlement move during Mr. Biden’s visit was not approved by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

SUPREME COURT

Stevens drops hints about departure

The leading liberal on the Supreme Court dropped more hints Sunday about his imminent departure, which has the White House bracing for a tricky confirmation battle as early as this summer.

Justice John Paul Stevens gave two interviews published over the weekend, one to the New York Times and the other to The Washington Post, but cagily refused to confirm a resignation that is expected either this year or next.

“I can tell you that I love the job, and deciding whether to leave is a very difficult decision,” Justice Stevens, who turns 90 this month, told The Post. “But I want to make it in a way that’s best for the court.”

The liberal justice, picked by President Gerald Ford in 1975, said he would decide on the timing of his departure in about 30 days and confirmed he would definitely leave while President Obama held office.

Given the polarization of U.S. politics, particularly around judicial nominations, lawmakers envisage a mighty Senate confirmation battle for Justice Stevens’ successor.

“I hope … that Justice Stevens does not retire this year,” Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Democrat, said on “Fox News Sunday.”

“I think the gridlock in the Senate might well produce a filibuster which would tie up the Senate about a Supreme Court nominee. I think if a year passes, there’s a much better chance we could come to a consensus,” he said.

FAA

Pilots allowed to take antidepressants on job

Some pilots taking medication for mild or moderate depression will be able to fly as soon as next week under a new government rule aimed partly at getting those taking antidepressants to disclose the treatment.

The new policy, which takes effect Monday, reverses a ban on flying for pilots taking medications like Prozac. Federal Aviation Administration officials said the old rule was based on outdated versions of antidepressants that could cause drowsiness and other side effects.

The medications have been updated and do not pose that risk with everyone, FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt said. But there was a side effect to the policy that has now been abrogated, Mr. Babbitt said. That rule had resulted in pilots taking those medications to keep their depression and treatment a secret, under the threat of losing their certification to fly.

“Our concern is that they haven’t necessarily been candid,” Mr. Babbitt said.

Under the new policy, pilots who take one of four antidepressants - Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa or Lexapro or their generic equivalents - will be allowed to fly if they have been successfully treated by those medications for a year without side effects that could pose a safety hazard in the cockpit. The antidepressants are classified as SSRIs, which help regulate mood.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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