- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 24, 2001

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle won a showdown with President Bush yesterday over judicial nominees as Congress returned to work amid major disruptions from anthrax.
Senate Republicans abandoned their strategy of holding up spending bills to force more judicial confirmations after Mr. Daschle told the president in a White House meeting he would not budge on the issue.
"There isn't leverage on appropriations bills," Mr. Daschle said later. "I told that again to the president."
As lawmakers went back to work yesterday, congressional leaders said some contaminated Capitol Hill office buildings may be closed for weeks and unopened mail may be burned to eradicate the bacteria. Leaders decided last night to reopen the Russell Senate Office Building at 9 a.m. today, but to keep all House buildings closed.
"We're dealing with a new threat here," said Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican. "There's a steep learning curve."
The House, in its first day in session since leaders closed the chamber one week ago, moved toward passing long-awaited anti-terrorism legislation. A vote is scheduled for today. Under the revised bill, expanded wiretap and search powers for federal agents would expire in four years. Mr. Bush hopes to sign it into law by the week's end.
And Senate Democrats promoted a one-year, $70 billion economic stimulus plan, half of which is devoted to spending on displaced workers. The House today will vote on a $100 billion Republican package heavily weighted toward tax relief for businesses.
Republicans had been blocking Senate action on appropriations for weeks, trying to force Democrats to confirm more judges. But Democrats have approved only 12 of the more than 40 candidates nominated by Mr. Bush.
In a meeting with congressional leaders yesterday, Mr. Bush asked Mr. Daschle pointedly about his view on judges. Senate sources said Mr. Daschle told the president that he would not link judges with spending bills, and that Mr. Bush needed the spending bills more than Senate Democrats did.
Said Mr. Lott, "Senator Daschle, frankly, did not offer a lot of encouragement. He basically said 'Mr. President, you want the appropriations bills, so good luck.'"
After the meeting, Mr. Lott conferred with Mr. Bush, Vice President Richard B. Cheney and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, essentially telling them, "Now you see what I'm dealing with."
"I think he was a little surprised," Mr. Lott said of the president.
Senate Republicans agreed later at their weekly luncheon to abandon their effort on judges. Several Republican sources said lawmakers did not want to be perceived as playing political games when the nation is in a crisis.
"It's time to move on and find another way around this problem," said Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican.
Mr. Daschle called Republicans' change of heart "a positive sign."
There are more than 100 vacancies on the federal bench, and Republican sources said they plan to renew their attack on the issue early next year.
"We're going to act in good faith," said Mr. Lott. "We're going to do what these times call for. We hope they will do the same when it comes to confirming federal judges."
Lawmakers had more-practical logistical problems with which to contend yesterday. With all Capitol office buildings closed for environmental testing, some House members set up temporary offices in a General Accounting Office building downtown and senators crammed in four to an office in the Capitol itself.
Many had no staff. "There's no room for them," said Sen. Peter G. Fitzgerald, Illinois Republican.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey said work on an airline security bill might need to wait until the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee could find a room large enough to accommodate all 75 panel members.
Many aides worked from home and others were given the day off. Several hearings were postponed or moved away from the Capitol.
Lawmakers worked almost exclusively via cellular phone. The results were frustrating to many.
"I was trying to reach a number of senators; I was having a hard time finding them because I couldn't get them at their offices," said Mr. Lott. "So I was scrambling around the Capitol building trying to find their offices here in the Capitol because I didn't have their private phone numbers.
"But I'm not going to complain," he said. "There are young men and women who are putting their lives in harm's way today to deal with these terrorists. There are Americans that are working under difficult circumstances, and postal employees under difficult circumstances here in this area and all over America. We don't have room to complain."
The lack of mail to Congress, which was halted with the discovery of an anthrax-laden envelope at Mr. Daschle's office on Oct. 15, presented one of the most troubling problems.
"Routine casework, constituent work, answering the mail: that's going to be weeks before that gets back to normal, maybe months," said Sen. Rick Santorum, Pennsylvania Republican. "I think the word should go out, 'Don't send any letters to Washington and to members of Congress.' Because we may be a while before we can answer them."

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