- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2001

Legal eagles

How big a role should the liberal-leaning American Bar Association play in Supreme Court and federal court nominations?

The ABA has exerted its influence for 50 years on the process, and President Bush has some serious doubts about the propriety of it all; the woes of Judge Robert Bork at the hands of the ABA back in 1987 have long weighed upon the conservative conscience.

But never fear. The big guns are on it.

White House Counsel Al Gonzales and Attorney General John Ashcroft met for an hour with officials from the 400,000-member ABA yesterday.

Things were said to be civil, cordial even. But lawyers were in the mix. ABA President Martha Barnett said that the traditional 15-member judge-selection panel was "isolated and insulated" from the rest of the group, and in deft speech resembling legalese, she owned up to the association's liberal underpinnings.

"We did discuss the fact that some groups, people, believe that the American Bar Association has a political agenda or a liberal agenda," Ms. Barnett said. "We talked about that with them and pointed out that there may be positions we've taken that could be characterized as liberal."

Mr. Gonzales and Mr. Ashcroft did inquire about the ABA's "ability to be impartial," she said.

Still, civility reigned.

"The president welcomes input from the ABA and believes they should have a role in the process. The question is whether the ABA should have a preferential role over all interested parties," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan, after all was said and done.

Quell the cellQuell the cell

Annoyed by the self-important ringing of cellular phones at inopportune moments? So is President Bush.

During his meeting and press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon yesterday, Mr. Bush was interrupted three times by the tinkle of someone's hidden phone.

"Who's in charge of the cell phones? Gordon, are you in charge of the cell phones?" Mr. Bush asked Gordon Johndroe, who spent considerable time enforcing the official Bush "no cell phones" rule during the presidential campaign. He is now an assistant press secretary.

Mr. Johndroe is well aware that Mr. Bush will stop what he's doing should White House protocol be compromised by a twittering phone. Mr. Johndroe will no doubt remember yesterday's cell moment.

"You didn't do a very good job of telling them to turn them off," Mr. Bush concluded, and left the scene.

Campaign fund fizzleCampaign fund fizzle

Is campaign-finance reform much ado about nothing?

A new CNN poll finds that 20 percent of the respondents were not paying any attention to the debate. Only 10 percent were following it "very closely," while 39 percent said they followed it "somewhat closely" and 31 percent said they were in the "not too closely" camp.

Despite the lack of public enthusiasm, Sen. John McCain is getting a merry ride through the media. The Arizona Republican peddled his bill on all three broadcast-network morning news shows Monday, and was featured throughout the evening news in heroic proportions.

"When the legislative issue involves a conservative priority such as tax cuts, network reporters become poll pushers, citing any public hesitation as proof that compromise, delay or bipartisanship are required," observed Rich Noyes of the Media Research Center.

"But no one in the media is asking McCain to compromise or dilute his legislation, even though practically no one at least outside the media is clamoring for his brand of campaign-finance reform."

Speech lessons

Former President Bill Clinton spoke at the Jubilee Christian Center in San Jose, Calif., for four minutes only earlier this month but it translated into hours of angst for the Rev. Dick Bernal.

Hundreds in the 5,000-member congregation were plenty angry that Mr. Clinton had appeared, though the event raised money for earthquake victims in India.

The outcry was so great, in fact, that Mr. Bernal took out an ad in the San Jose Mercury News on March 10 to apologize.

"I'm sorry I offended you," the ad copy read, asking those who were angry to pray about the situation.

Mr. Bernal is still mulling things over.

"I thought it was a great idea," he said. "Just gathering Hindus and Christians, Democrats and Republicans to do something for those poor people in India. And man, I just caught so much flak from the evangelical right wing of which I am a proud member."

Getting steamed

Uh-oh. The British, always up for some nice political fisticuffs, have declared that the media is "sucking both the substance and spirit out of the politics it projects."

The panacea lies on the Internet, they say.

Citizens Online, an Internet think tank, warns the citizenry that politics is fast becoming a spectator sport and that politicians have few real inroads with voters. The group wants the government to develop an "electronic Commons an on-line debating chamber."

Politics, noted Jay Brumler, a communications professor behind the idea, needs to "generate a head of steam."

Ladies man

They're not women, they're not females. They're "ladies."

With wife Laura at his side, President Bush yesterday hailed the "ladies" of his Cabinet at an event celebrating female business leaders.

Mr. Bush was introduced by first lady Laura Bush and flanked by Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman, Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton and Labor Secretary Elaine Chao.

"I'm proud of Laura. She makes this White House special for me. She brings a lot of perspective to our household," he said. "She kind of reminds the president where he came from and always makes sure my tie lies straight."

"And I am proud of the ladies behind me as well. We put together a great Cabinet," Mr. Bush said. "They're smart. They're capable. And they represent America."

Mrs. Bush later spoke in the White House East Room. Things have gotten better for the 21st-century first lady than for her predecessors.

"Mrs. Abigail Adams actually hung her family laundry to dry in this room and there weren't any paned windows, so fresh air was abundant in this room. I'm thankful that times have changed," she said.

Beckoning tech

Minnesota's flashy head guy is at it again. In an effort to lure California's high-tech crowd up his way, Gov. Jesse Ventura has authorized some choice billboards down in Silicon Valley.

Commuters near the San Jose International Airport now pass a billboard which announces: "Whiteouts Occasional. Blackouts Never."

The $50,000 sign, playing off Minnesota's challenging winters and California's unending energy woes, includes the address of a Web site that links to the Minnesota Department of Trade and Economic Development.

"Everybody knows Minnesota has long winters," said Mr. Ventura. "But maybe they don't know what a great state this is for business."

Mr. Ventura will soon send invitational letters to 500 California companies but he is not alone on the promotional playing field.

Michigan sent 4,500 businesses a glow-in-the-dark mouse pad. Tennessee mailed out flashlights. And Anchorage, Alaska, has been running ads featuring a grizzly bear and the slogan, "We've got the power."

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