- The Washington Times - Friday, June 21, 2002

Watts waits

Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts Jr., the fourth-ranking Republican in the House, may have raised more questions than he answered yesterday when he tried to shoot down rumors he may not run for re-election.

"I'm not discounting that I will, but I'm not discounting that I won't," the four-term congressman and chairman of the House Republican Conference said, when asked about his plans in one of his periodic news conferences with reporters.

He said he can't make a final decision until the courts draw a final map for Oklahoma's new congressional districts. But he told reporters not to read too much into that either way, because whatever he finally decides will be announced in his home state.

"I will make my announcement in the state of Oklahoma, not in my Washington office," he said. "I'm not going to make an announcement here. I'm not going to chase the rumors."

He went through a similar situation two years ago, with the same rumors circulating. This year, according to the gossip among congressional aides, Mr. Watts is particularly discouraged by his ongoing battle with the administration over the Crusader artillery program. The administration has said it wants to eliminate the system, which would be built and tested in Oklahoma, and replace it with a lighter system.

Hutchinson's chances

"What does Karl Rove know that Arkansas Democrats don't know?" Gene Lyons asks in his column in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

"According to a now famous Power Point presentation on a computer diskette found lying on a Washington street corner, the White House expects Sen. Tim Hutchinson to lose his 2002 re-election bid to Arkansas Attorney General Mark Pryor," Mr. Lyons noted.

"The White House has done its best to paste a smiley face over the incident, but it's all there in red and blue. Drawn for Republican eyes only, Rove's 'Map of the Strategic Landscape' colors Arkansas blue to indicate a 'strong chance of a Democratic pickup.'

"What that tells you is that both parties' inside polls likely show Pryor leading or deadlocked with an incumbent senator, whose re-elect numbers remain below 50 percent. This comes as news to liberal Democrats, who have been complaining about what they see as Pryor's lackluster campaign, not to mention his flirtation with the religious right.

"I've even heard discreet [complaining] about the whole issue of primogeniture in American politics, i.e., how can Arkansas Democrats make sport of President Junior while whooping it up for Sen. Junior?"

Religious debate

President Bush disagrees with statements by a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention that criticized Islam and said many of America's problems can be blamed on religious pluralism, the White House said yesterday.

The Rev. Jerry Vines told thousands of delegates at the convention's annual meeting earlier this month in St. Louis that, despite what pluralists say, "Islam is not just as good as Christianity."

"Islam was founded by Muhammad, a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives and his last one was a 9-year-old girl," said Mr. Vines, pastor of First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla. "And I will tell you Allah is not Jehovah either. Jehovah's not going to turn you into a terrorist that'll try to bomb people and take the lives of thousands and thousands of people."

The Rev. Jack Graham, the new president of the nation's largest Protestant denomination, has said his colleague's comments are accurate.

"It's something that the president definitely disagrees with," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said.

Mr. Bush has taken pains to call Islam a religion of mercy and peace and to stress that the U.S.-led battle on terrorism is not a war against Muslims.

"Islam is a religion of peace, that's what the president believes," Mr. Fleischer said.

In remarks to the convention a day after Mr. Vines' address, Mr. Bush praised the Baptists for being "among the earliest champions of religious tolerance."

Tense contests

"Reps. Earl Hilliard, Alabama Democrat, and Cynthia McKinney, Georgia Democrat, both face Democratic primary challenges from black rivals that are sparking black-Jewish tensions," the New York Post's Debora Orin writes.

"In each case, the war on terror is a theme," Miss Orin said.

"Hilliard, who once defied the State Department to go to Cuba, opposed a pro-Israel House resolution. His campaign has fumed about Jewish financial support to challenger Artur Davis. Their runoff is June 25.

"McKinney, also unsympathetic to Israel, made headlines by suggesting that Bush deliberately allowed the 9/11 attacks for political gain. Democratic Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia is strongly backing challenger Denise Majette in the August primary."

Blaming America

"A bunch of far-leftists, including actors Ossie Davis and Ed Asner, playwrights Eve Ensler and Tony Kushner, as well as MIT professor Noam Chomsky and feminist Gloria Steinem, have signed a wacky 'letter of conscience' for a group called Not in Our Name," the Media Research Center's Brent Baker writes at www.mediaresearch.org.

"The letter asserted: 'We believe that people of conscience must take responsibility for what their own governments do we must first of all oppose the injustice that is done in our own name. Thus we call on all Americans to resist the war and repression that has been loosed on the world by the Bush administration. It is unjust, immoral and illegitimate.'"

'Weird captivity'

"Either he's a good actor or Mitch McConnell was genuinely amazed by the way the trial-lawyer lobby dictated terms to Senate Democrats on this week's terrorism-insurance vote," the Wall Street Journal says.

"'I've been here 18 years and I can say with total confidence that there's no special interest that completely owns, lock, stock, the Republican Conference,' the GOP senator told us [Wednesday]. 'But, by golly, I think the Democrats in the Senate are a wholly owned subsidiary of ATLA [the Association of Trial Lawyers of America]. They ought to be embarrassed.'

"These ruminations on the increasingly weird captivity of the Daschle Democrats by the lawsuit industry come after a party-line vote on an amendment to impose modest limits on trial lawyers after a terrorist attack. Naturally, it was defeated, thanks to manic arm-twisting by Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Sen. John Edwards (himself a trial lawyer with White House aspirations)," the newspaper said in an editorial.

"Not a single Democrat broke ranks, not even those with strong insurance-industry ties (Sens. Chris Dodd and Joe Lieberman) or a record of griping publicly about their party's beholdenness to the plaintiffs' bar (Sen. Tom Carper)."

The newspaper added: "What passes for reasoning on the Democratic side was blathered by Sen. Pat Leahy of Vermont, who said: 'Without the threat of punitive damages, the corporation can decide it's more cost-effective to continue cutting corners despite the risk to American lives.' You'd think on September 11 a consensus was born on who the real enemy is. But for 50 out of 50 Senate Democrats, it's apparently still the private sector."

Not there

A spokeswoman for Linda Daschle, wife of the Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, phoned yesterday to say that contrary to an item in this column Wednesday, Mrs. Daschle did not attend Tuesday night's salute to the Senate Democratic Caucus by the Boeing Corp.

Mrs. Daschle, who is a lobbyist for Boeing, was out of the country, the spokeswoman said.

The Prowler column, at www.americanprowler.org, had said Mrs. Daschle joined her husband and other Democratic senators at the event, despite her pledge to lobby only the House.

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