- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 21, 2002

'No' to hearings
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott shut down three committee hearings yesterday in protest of the slow rate of confirmation of President Bush's judicial nominees.
Mr. Lott, Mississippi Republican, invoked an obscure rule that stops committee meetings after two hours. His action interrupted meetings of the Judiciary; Governmental Affairs; and Health, Education, Labor and Pension committees.
When Democrats asked permission under the rules to resume their hearings, Republicans objected.
Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, called the action "petty and inconvenient." He said his panel would finish action on his pension-reform bill today instead.
Lott spokesman Ronald Bonjean said Republicans want to know when Democrats plan to hold confirmation hearings on several appeals court nominations that have been pending since last spring.
"We will continue to call attention to this issue in a variety of ways," Mr. Bonjean said.

Daschle backs off
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said yesterday he is no longer confident he can block a plan to bury nuclear waste at a Nevada site opposed by environmental groups and state officials.
The proposed Yucca Mountain waste site would permanently hold 70,000 tons of radioactive material generated by the nation's nuclear-power plants.
According to Reuters news agency, Mr. Daschle told reporters he recently learned of a provision in federal law regarding nuclear-waste disposal that would permit approval of the plan with a simple majority vote in the Senate.
Mr. Daschle said he had erroneously figured he could stop the plan by requiring a 60-vote majority the number of votes needed under Senate rules to close debate on legislation.
"When I said in Nevada many months ago that, as long as Democrats were in control, it was not going to be an issue that had much viability, I was not aware that this legislation when we drafted it decades ago is under an expedited procedure," the South Dakota Democrat said.
That means any senator can call the measure for a vote, he said, and once on the floor "it only takes a majority vote" to pass it. The Senate leader said only two Senate Republicans oppose the Yucca Mountain dump site, John Ensign of Nevada and Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado.
Spent nuclear fuel, high-level radioactive waste and excess plutonium from U.S. nuclear-power plants are now stored at more than 131 sites throughout the nation.
Nevada's state government has the right to appeal the Yucca Mountain decision to Congress. The state last month filed a federal lawsuit contending there is not enough scientific evidence to show the site is geologically safe.

Gore in California
Al Gore mixed self-deprecating humor with a serious call for peace in the Middle East during a keynote speech at a fund-raiser for the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, the Associated Press reports.
Mr. Gore told the Beverly Hills crowd of about 950 on Tuesday that leaders in the Middle East must step up to end 18 months of Palestinian-Israeli violence.
He said the cycle of violence began when Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat rejected an "extremely generous" peace settlement offered by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak during the Clinton administration.
"We must and will stand by the people of Israel," Mr. Gore said. "We must and will play a constructive role in trying to make it possible for the parties to find a solution."
Mr. Gore has been moving steadily back into the political spotlight in recent months, making a series of speeches in Democrat-friendly spots.
The $200-a-plate fund-raiser also was attended by California Gov. Gray Davis and hundreds of lawyers and judges who support the nonprofit organization and its social work.
"I haven't seen so many lawyers in one place since the last day of the campaign in the year 2000," Mr. Gore said during the humor-filled first half of his speech.
In another nod to the election loss to President Bush, Mr. Gore told the crowd that he currently is a member of the faculty at the University of California at Los Angeles.
"I'm a visiting professor, or V.P. for short," the former vice president said. "It's a way of hanging on."

A dead document
"When the folks at the constitutional convention passed the First Amendment, they weren't trying to give free speech and freedom of the press only to people who were rich enough to own newspapers," David R. Henderson writes in the New York Post.
"They wanted everyone to have those freedoms, so that people could speak out against whatever upset them," said Mr. Henderson, a research fellow with the Hoover Institution and author of "The Joy of Freedom: An Economist's Odyssey."
"That's why they said, 'Congress shall make no law … abridging freedom of speech.'
"That makes you wonder: What part of 'no law' does Congress not get?" Mr. Henderson asked, referring to campaign-finance legislation that would restrict political ads by private groups in the 30 days before a primary and 60 days before a general election.
Mr. Henderson noted that the most ardent supporters of the legislation are the nation's most elite newspapers and broadcasters.

California tossup
California Gov. Gray Davis "is famous for his take-no-prisoners campaigns," pundit John Fund writes at www.opinionjournal.com.
"This week, he previewed his coming attack" on Republican gubernatorial nominee William Simon Jr. "by saying the Republican's views on abortion and guns were 'out of touch and out of sync' with California's voters. As for other issues, Garry South, Mr. Davis' campaign manager says: 'If people don't like the governor's record, wait until they hear Bill Simon's solutions. It's a slam dunk.'
"Mr. Simon's supporters disagree and argue that their man's friendly, outgoing personality will make it hard to turn him into a bogeyman. He avoids extensive discussions of social issues that he says a governor can't easily influence and emphasizes his proposals to cut taxes and trim regulations," Mr. Fund said.
"The Simon campaign points to a Public Opinion Strategies poll last week that shows Mr. Simon holding a 48 percent to 41 percent lead over the incumbent governor. POS is the pollster of record for the Simon campaign, but the survey wasn't commissioned by the campaign.
"Nonetheless, the POS poll is flawed because it asked the horse-race question about the two candidates only after several leading questions discussing negative aspects of California were asked. Those questions are likely to have dragged down Mr. Davis' numbers. Other pollsters say the election is now probably a tossup, with Mr. Davis weighed down by doubts about his leadership (his disapproval rating is 47 percent in the latest Los Angles Times poll) and Mr. Simon handicapped by a lack of money to better define himself."

A Boston Republican
"Rick Ahearn is that rarest of breeds a national political operative from Boston who works for Republicans," the Boston Globe reports.
"Ahearn scored a big win earlier this month in California, as campaign manager for William Simon Jr., who upset former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan in the Republican gubernatorial primary," the newspaper noted.
"Under a prior agreement, Ahearn, who has a consulting firm, will assist on a part-time basis during the campaign against incumbent Democrat Gray Davis.
"Ahearn grew up in Brighton, the son of former Boston city councilor and one-time council president Francis X. Ahearn. His parents still live in Ward 22. Ahearn and his wife have homes in Washington and West Falmouth. What made a boy who grew up in ultra-Democratic Boston become a Republican? 'George McGovern,' he said."


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