- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2001

Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. is not afraid to pursue a traditional conservative agenda, despite this new era of bipartisanship between congressional Republicans and Democrats.

And despite Republican control of the White House, don't expect the new Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee to shirk his watchdog duties over the Bush administration.

"It's still the legislature's job to watch what the executive [branch] is doing," the Wisconsin Republican said.

This is a marked departure from the previous administration, in which cabinet chiefs and political appointees were continuously called before one congressional committee or another to testify about numerous scandals that swirled around President Clinton.

Those intensive oversight investigations, one of which led to the impeachment of Mr. Clinton in the same House committee, were highlighted by the intense partisanship of Democrats who were more intent on defending their fellow Democrats than investigating them.

Mr. Sensenbrenner, a manager in the impeachment hearings, is approaching his new role in a different manner.

"I told both Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Louis Freeh that just because I'm the chairman and the administration is of my party, they don't get a pass on oversight," Mr. Sensenbrenner said.

House Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Texas describes Mr. Sensenbrenner as a "tough but fair leader" who will "continue the Judiciary Committee's recent tradition of strong, conservative leadership."

"He will work well with Republicans and Democrats, while standing up for his principles and tackling issues that are important to all Americans," Mr. DeLay said.

Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican who served on both the Science Committee, chaired last session by Mr. Sensenbrenner, and the Judiciary Committee, said in both roles the chairman has shown a "great grasp of the issues and has run both committees effectively and efficiently."

Topping the chairman's list of planned oversight hearings this year is the case of accused spy and former FBI Agent Robert P. Hanssen.

"One of the things we are going to be looking into are the protections in the FBI against double agents as a result of the Hanssen case, and the tremendous harm in him not being caught earlier and what this has done to the internal security of our country," Mr. Sensenbrenner said.

The chairman tackled many hot-button issues during a wide-ranging interview with The Washington Times on Thursday.

His top priority is reforming the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), which he calls "the most dysfunctional agency in the entire federal government" and says is in "meltdown."

He supports President Bush's proposal to split the INS into two divisions: one to enforce laws against illegal immigration, and one to handle services to immigrants and would-be citizens.

"Frankly, everybody who has had dealings with the immigration service has come away very frustrated," Mr. Sensenbrenner said.

Protecting U.S. intellectual property from piracy in other parts of the world is another high priority.

"Getting tough with foreign governments on intellectual property enforcement is necessary to protect this type of export, as well as to protect the creativity base of the most inventive people of the history of the world, and that's the American intellectual community," he said.

Three months into the 107th Congress, bills calling for new constitutional amendments have already been filed in his committee for consideration.

Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, wants an amendment guaranteeing every American the right to own a home, and Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr., Illinois Democrat, is seeking an amendment giving all Americans the right to a clean environment.

Mr. Sensenbrenner is quick to point out that the amendments are not "moving" through his committee, indicating neither has much chance of seeing the light of day.

An amendment protecting the American flag against desecration, however, will see committee approval.

"I know the House will pass it again, and I know it's an uphill battle in the Senate, but as a result of the Supreme Court saying that flag desecration is protected free speech, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ended up having to use that precedent to say that defecating on the American flag was protected speech," Mr. Sensenbrenner said.

"That is disgusting," he said.

The Wisconsin Republican added: "But it is even more disgusting when they say this act is protected free speech if done on the American flag, but if it's done on a newspaper [in public] it's disorderly conduct."

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