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Inside the Beltway: Rare breed — lawmakers who are military vets

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They are a rare breed — and a precious one. There are currently 108 members of Congress who are military veterans: 88 in the House, 18 in the Senate. Between them, these Capitol Hill vets have fought in World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan Iraq and Kosovo and also served in peacetime. Now comes a noteworthy salute to this special group, staged a mere block from the U.S. Capitol itself.

Among the attendees at a Capitol Hill Club reception on Wednesday, May 21, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.: Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte and Ted Cruz, Reps. Michele Bachmann, Mike Coffman, Michael Conaway, Bill Flores, Tim Griffin, Ralph Hall, — who served as a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier pilot from 1942 to 1945 — Joe Heck, Sam Johnson, Cynthia Lummis, Kenny Marchant, Michael McCaul, Randy Weber, Roger Williams and Don Young.

Mr. Coffman, who represents Colorado's 6th District, tells Inside the Beltway that voters value what veterans bring to the table in Congress.

"I think they do have an edge, and in several ways. They get things done. They're used to working on a team to accomplish a mission," he says.

Mr. Coffman himself served as a U.S. Army infantryman and also a U.S. Marine Corps officer.

Vets, he observes, "have a clear understanding of military and veterans' issues and the stresses and challenges of military life, in a way those who have never worn the uniform are hard-pressed to understand. I think our insight rubs off. Those who served are capable of talking to colleagues in a productive way, and in many cases, veterans' concerns emerge among the most bipartisan issues we address."

The occasion offers some august ambience, including the presentation of the flag by the Anacostia Marine Color Guard and some tunes by world-renowned Irish tenor Anthony Kearns, who also will appear at the National Memorial Day Concert on the West Lawn of the Capitol.

"I plan to sing inspirational music, 'God Bless America.' most certainly — all meant to inspire us to reflect and to remember those who served in the armed forces, and in the wars, both past and present," Mr. Kearns tells The Beltway.

"It means much to me personally. I am an Irish man, looking in on America, so to speak. I've met a lot of vets over the years, and I find they are humble, they are hardworking, and they all had the calling to serve their country. To honor them is a great thing," he says.

The emcee for the evening is none other than The Washington Times' opinion editor David Keene. John Solomon, editor of The Times, will act as host. There is charity involved here: A percentage of ticket sales will benefit Caring for Military Families, an outreach of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation. Yes, ahem, there are tickets. Interested parties can consult MemorialDayTribute.eventbrite.com. (Psst: The password is "Veterans".)

SHORING UP THE MIDDLE

Voter vexation with elected officials is the highest on record, according to a new Gallup poll that finds that, six months before the midterms polls open, 72 percent of registered voters say most members of Congress do not deserve re-election. Another 22 percent give the lawmakers the nod, a finding that is "on pace" to be the lowest approval of Congress the pollster has measured in an election year.

But wait. Now on the political landscape, and a timely launch it is: the Centrist Project Voice, which bills itself as "the first political action committee supporting candidates poised to set aside partisan politics and focus on the core issues of critical importance to all Americans." And project organizers say they will promote centrist candidates regardless of their party affiliation.

"Most Americans are moderates, yet we are represented by officials who pander to the extremes of the electorate and put partisan politics ahead of what's best for our country as a whole," said Centrist Project founder Charles Wheelan, an author and policy fellow at Dartmouth College.

The PAC's first endorsement is Larry Pressler, who served three terms as a Republican senator from South Dakota. The endorsement is accompanied by some rambunctious talk.

"Like us, he has watched Congress become completely dysfunctional. He is now fighting to reclaim his seat as an Independent so that he can support good policy solutions from both sides of the aisle," says Mr. Wheelan.

"I am running as an independent to help end the poisonous fighting between Republicans and Democrats that has paralyzed Congress. It is incredibly difficult to run as an independent," Mr. Pressler observes, citing "special-interest money" which he says goes exclusively to Republicans and Democrats. See the group's big doings here: Centristproject.org

SNOWDEN, THE MOVIE

That didn't take long. The book was only published on Tuesday. Film rights to journalist Glenn Greenwald's non-fiction book "No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the U.S. Surveillance State" have been bought by Sony Pictures Entertainment. The author based the book on his personal encounters with Mr. Snowden, and the media mayhem that followed.

What's next? The producers are Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, the team best known for such James Bond films as "Skyfall" and "Quantum of Solace."

Mr. Greenwald notes, "Growing up, I was heavily influenced by political films, and am excited about the opportunity to be part of a political film that will resonate with today's moviegoers."

THE REAL KEY TO KEYSTONE

Still pondering why the White House is blocking the Keystone XL oil pipeline? Follow the money, advises Scott Powell, a policy fellow at the Discovery Institute and a contributor to Investor's Business Daily.

People also need to understand the Keystone holdup by analyzing who benefits. Opposing the Keystone XL pipeline is a lightning rod and cash cow for the Democratic Party," he says.

"Environmentalists who are among the 1 percent — notably Tom Steyer — have pledged $100 million to fight Keystone and fossil fuels. Oh, and then there is billionaire Democrat Warren Buffett, whose Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad capitalizes on transporting the oil that would otherwise flow more safely and economically through the Keystone pipeline," Mr. Powell notes.

But there are troubling aspects on a larger scale.

"Internationally, the Keystone holdup helps sustain OPEC, while it weakens U.S. relations with Canada — an immediate neighbor and longstanding ally. At the same time, blocking Keystone helps China and Venezuela — two repressive regimes that are often hostile to the U.S.," Mr. Powell says.

POLL DU JOUR

82 percent of Ukrainians say they are "optimistic about the future" of their country.

67 percent approve of economic sanctions against Russia.

67 percent describe Russia President Vladimir Putin as "dangerous;" 15 percent said the same of President Obama.

56 percent say they feel "strong loyalty" to Europe, 19 percent felt loyal to Russia, 22 percent feel loyal to "neither."

47 percent described Mr. Obama as "friendly;" 14 percent said the same of Mr. Putin.

44 percent described Mr. Putin as "a strong leader;" 27 percent felt that way about Mr. Obama.

39 percent called Mr. Obama "trustworthy;" 17 percent said the same of Mr. Putin.

36 percent called Mr. Obama "clever;" 30 percent said the same of Mr. Putin.

32 percent called Mr. Obama "reliable;" 19 percent said the same of Mr. Putin.

Source: A CNN/ComRes poll of 1,000 Ukrainians conducted May 7-11.

Oorahs, hooahs, hooyahs, huas to jharper@washingtontimes.com.

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