- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2001

The nation has heard a little something about the situation facing the great majority of President Bush's judicial nominees, consigned to a political holding pen until the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee complete their course work (read: hearings) on how to nix ideological (read: conservative) nominees. But six months into the Bush administration, judicial vacancies are far from the only open slots. Numerous senior staff positions around the executive branch remain unfilled. Chief among them, amazingly enough, is an empty seat in the president's Cabinet. That seat belongs to John P. Walters, the man President Bush tapped to become the nation's drug czar.

The Rose Garden ceremony at which Mr. Bush chose to introduce Mr. Walters took place a few weeks before the balance of power in the Senate shifted to the Democrats in May. Having completed its reorganization, however, the Senate has no excuse to stall this nomination any longer. Too much time has passed already, during which Mr. Walters' critics, both inside and outside government, have rushed forward to present an inaccurate caricature of Mr. Walters' views. The crude picture that has emerged may make an easy target, but it bears little resemblance to the thoughtful and sensible philosophy of the man himself.

Mr. Walters, to take just one example, has come under steady attack for being a blinkered law enforcer with zero tolerance - not for illegal drugs, but for treatment programs. This makes no sense. As chief of staff and then deputy director of the drug office in the earlier Bush administration, Mr. Walters closely supervised four years of drug budgets that actually increased federal support for treatment programs more than any administration ever - including the budgets of all eight years of the Clinton administration combined.

Only a full and fair Senate hearing will allow Mr. Walters the opportunity to cool the rhetoric burning around him. But when will he get that opportunity? A report this week in The Washington Post cited an official with the drug office who said that Mr. Walters is expected to be confirmed before Congress recesses next month. Really? Key Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, have yet to accept courtesy calls from Mr. Walters, while an aide to Mr. Leahy told The Post that Mr. Walters' confirmation "may be controversial."

Is "controversial" just a code word for "contested"? If so, let the hearings begin. In May, Mr. Bush spoke with an inspiring conviction about his commitment to the war on drugs, a commitment underscored by his excellent choice in Mr. Walters for drug czar. Now that it is July, it would serve the nation well for the White House and Senate both to do what they can to fulfill that commitment.

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