- - Tuesday, November 30, 2010

SENATE

Murray to head campaign arm

Senate Democrats Tuesday tabbed Washington state Sen. Patty Murray to head the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and lead the party’s 2012 effort to win back seats lost in the 2010 midterms.

With Democrats having to defend 23 seats in 2012 to just 10 for the Republicans, party leaders scrambled to find a candidate who would take what is expected to be a very difficult job. Mrs. Murray, who won a close race Nov. 2 for a fourth term in the Senate, will succeed New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez.

The DSCC is Senate Democrats’ fundraising and candidate-recruitment arm. The party lost six seats last month and clings to a 53-47 majority.

“I know that this is not an easy task, but I’m not doing it because it’s easy, I’m doing it because it is a very tough time for many families, businesses and communities across the country,” said Mrs. Murray, the Senate’s highest-ranking woman.

She was DSCC chairwoman during the 2002 election cycle, when Democrats lost two seats and control of the chamber.

LOBBYIST

Abramoff aide loses court plea

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that a leading figure in the Jack Abramoff lobbying conspiracy cannot change his guilty plea in light of a recent Supreme Court ruling that weakened one of the laws under which he was convicted.

Michael Scanlon admitted in a guilty plea five years ago that he and Abramoff defrauded Indian tribes that hired them to help promote their casino interests in Washington. Abramoff persuaded his tribal lobbying clients to pay inflated fees for Scanlon’s public relations services, and then Scanlon secretly kicked back half the profits to Abramoff.

Scanlon, who faces sentencing later this month, had pleaded guilty to conspiring with Abramoff to defraud the tribal clients of their right to “honest services,” along with mail and wire fraud and corrupting public officials.

But he argued that the honest-services part of the plea should be canceled because of the Supreme Court ruling, his sentencing should reflect that change, and the $19 million he has paid in restitution should be lowered.

IMMIGRATION

Reid pushes vote on amnesty bill

The Senate’s top Democrat said Tuesday he will force a test vote this week on a measure to give tens of thousands of young illegal immigrants a path to legal status.

Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada said he plans a vote on the so-called DREAM Act, which would give more than 100,000 young immigrants brought to the United States before the age of 16 a chance to become legal residents if they attend college or join the military.

It’s unclear whether Mr. Reid can muster the 60 votes necessary to move to an up-or-down vote on the measure. It is opposed by most Republicans and by some Democrats who regard it as little more than an amnesty.

A coalition of labor and immigrant advocacy groups announced Tuesday that they’re launching an advertising campaign to pressure Republican senators to support the measure.

ADOPTION

U.S., Russia seek new accord

The State Department announced that U.S. and Russian officials will be meeting Wednesday to conclude a new, binding agreement covering adoptions between the two countries.

Russia demanded such an agreement after an incident in April when a Tennessee adoptive mother put her 7-year-old boy on a plane back to Russia - unaccompanied by an adult.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Tuesday that this week’s meeting was intended to review the final text of the agreement, with formal signing to come at a later date.

Nearly 1,600 Russian children were adopted by Americans in 2009.

HEALTH CARE

Judge dismisses reform challenge

RICHMOND | A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed Liberty University’s lawsuit challenging the Obama administration’s new federal health care law, declaring that a provision requiring most individuals to obtain insurance is constitutional.

University law school Dean Mathew Staver said in a telephone interview that he will promptly appeal the ruling to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.

The ruling in Lynchburg by U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon, a Clinton appointee, is the second court decision upholding the law, following one in Michigan in October. Officials from several states have filed another lawsuit in Florida, and a separate challenge by Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli is pending in federal court in Richmond.

Principals on both sides expect the issue to ultimately be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

FARMERS

Lawmakers approve discrimination payouts

The House on Tuesday passed landmark legislation to pay for about $4.6 billion in settlements with American Indians and black farmers who say they faced discrimination and mistreatment from the government.

Lawmakers voted 256-152 to send the measure to President Obama, whose administration brokered the settlements over the past year.

The package would award about $3.4 billion to American Indians over claims they were cheated out of royalties overseen by the Interior Department for resources such as oil, gas and timber. Another $1.2 billion would go to black farmers who claim they were unfairly denied loans and other assistance from the Agriculture Department.

The settlements have broad bipartisan support but stalled on Capitol Hill over costs until the Senate broke a stalemate earlier this month.

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