- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2012

No red carpet, but there are sure to be gawkable moments and a few screams Wednesday morning when a celebrity with a cause celebre comes to call on the U.S. Senate. That would be George Clooney, who has the lead role in a hearing before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, chaired by Sen. John F. Kerry. The script is based around the security and disposition of Sudan and South Sudan.

Mr. Clooney is representing the Satellite Sentinel Project, which he founded and bankrolled in 2012 with human rights activist John Prendergast after multiple trips to the troubled African region, most recently last week. Mr. Prendergast also will testify before the committee.

“We’re the anti-genocide paparazzi,” Mr. Clooney has said of his project, which uses satellite imagery to document “chilling warning signs” that things are amiss — evidence of mass graves, forced displacements, troops and artillery buildups. See their findings here: http://satsentinel.org.

The supporting cast? In his third appearance before the committee, Mr. Clooney shares the stage with Princeton Lyman, special envoy to Sudan and South Sudan at the State Department, Nancy Lindborg, assistant administrator for the Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance at the U.S. Agency for International Development; and Jonathan Temin, director of the Sudan Program at the United States Institute of Peace.

No leaks or comments, though. Mr. Clooney will answer only to Mr. Kerry and company, says his District-based spokesman Jonathan Hutson. Then it’s on to the National Press Club, where the actor will chat with PBS Newshour correspondent Judy Woodruff, while the regular paparazzi will clambor for more Clooney-centric content.

DOOMSDAY VOTE

Uh-oh. Health care reform turned out to be the “doomsday vote” for Democrats that dealt party lawmakers a crippling backlash, according to research that gauged public perception and sentiment toward the massive legislation.

“The study suggests that a yes vote on health care reform led voters to perceive their member of Congress as more ideologically distant from themselves, even after considering the member’s overall voting record,” says Seth Masket, a political science professor at the University of Denver. “This vote appeared to have an even greater effect than the member’s overall ideology or party voting record in making them appear out of step with voter wishes.”

In all, 63 Democratic incumbents were defeated in 2010, handing Republicans their largest gain in the House since 1938.

“We further found that had it not been for health care reform, Democrats likely would have at least 25 additional House seats today, maintaining control of the chamber,” says Mr. Masket, who co-authored the study with researchers from Dartmouth College, the Public Policy Institute of California, George Washington University and North Carolina State University.

The findings were published in American Politics Research, an academic journal.

RAISING CAIN

Timed to precede three days of highly anticipated Supreme Court consideration of health care reform, the Tea Party Patriots plan a sizable “Road to Repeal Rally” at high noon on March 24 in Upper Senate Park. The event showcases an enthusiastic Herman Cain; the former presidential hopeful plans his own anti-tax “Cain’s Revolution on the Hill” on April 15, incidentally.

Joining Mr. Cain: Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Republican Reps. Louie Gohmert of Texas and Tom Price of Georgia, among others.

Americans for Prosperity plan a “Hands Off My Health Care Rally” the following day, also in Upper Senate Park, drawing such Republican luminaries as Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Rand Paul of Kentucky, plus another former presidential candidate, Rep. Michele Bachmann.

The grass-roots groups have some grass-roots competition, however. The White House has already hosted several dozen leaders from nonprofit organizations that support President Obama’s health care law, helping them plan a prayer vigil, press conferences and other events outside the Supreme Court on Monday.

Even the New York Times deems the effort “an aggressive campaign.”

NIGHTSTAND READING

Is it fiction, tell-all or how-to? Fresh from the Government Accountability Office, “Opportunities to Reduce Potential Duplication in Government Programs, Save Tax Dollars, and Enhance Revenue” cites all the duplications, overlaps, waste, “fragmentation,” improper payments and inefficient practices among myriad federal agencies. See this monster report here: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d11318sp.pdf.

PALINTOLOGY

“I’m not running for any office, but I’m more than happy to accept the dubious honor of being Barack Obama’s ‘enemy of the week’ if that includes the opportunity to debate him on the issues Americans are actually concerned about.”

- Sarah Palin, in a Facebook post addressing an “absurd new attack ad” from President Obama’s re-election campaign featuring Fox News footage of the former Alaska governor.

‘GAME CHANGE’ NUMBERS

Was “Game Change” small change? That depends on who’s interpreting the Neilsen numbers. Slightly more than 2 million viewers tuned in Saturday night to watch the HBO drama based on the 2008 election. The network says the last time it got a higher rating for an original movie was in 2004, for “Something the Lord Made.”

Meanwhile, “48 Hours Mystery” on CBS drew 5 million viewers in the same time slot, though the numbermeisters caution that HBO is a subscription-based network, while CBS is free.

NEWTOPIA

Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich remains convinced that $2.50-per-gallon gasoline is possible if we’d only drill, baby, drill — and jettison federal regulations. White House spokesman Jay Carney weighed in on such thinking Tuesday, declaring to the daily press gaggle that Mr. Gingrich “doesn’t know what he is talking about.”

Mr. Gingrich’s ever-vigilant staff has some pushback.

“The idea of this administration, which has brought us a failed stimulus, boondoggles like Solyndra, $5 gasoline and record budget deficits, lecturing anyone on economics, would be funny if their utter incompetence weren’t so painful for the American people,” says Joe DeSantis, a Gingrich spokesman. “It is clear that Newt Gingrich is in the president’s head.”

POLL DU JOUR

• 57 percent of Americans overall say religiously affiliated employers should be able to opt out of birth control coverage if they have moral objections.

• 78 percent of Republicans and 32 percent of Democrats agree.

• 36 percent overall say such employers should have to cover birth control costs.

• 18 percent of Republicans and 53 percent of Democrats agree.

• 51 percent overall say this issue is about “women’s health and their rights.”

• 30 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of Democrats agree.

• 37 percent overall say the issue is about “religious freedom.”

• 55 percent of Republicans and 23 percent of Democrats agree.

Source: A CBS News/New York Times poll of 1,009 U.S. adults conducted March 7-11; the sample included 282 Republicans and 329 Democrats.

Citations, accolades, flimsy excuses to jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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