- The Washington Times - Friday, January 31, 2003

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 (UPI) — Capital Comment — Daily news notes, political rumors, and important events that shape politics and public policy in Washington and the world from United Press International.

Trade with places …

It was clear from the start that the current Bush administration intended to place a heavy emphasis on free trade as part of its economic and diplomatic efforts. President George W. Bush took two critical steps Thursday in expanding U.S. trade into Asia and South America, announcing the United States' intention to enter into free trade agreements with Singapore and Chile.


Judge not …

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday voted to send to the full Senate the nomination of Miguel Estrada to a seat on the D.C. Circuit. Estrada's nomination has languished in committee for close to two years. If confirmed, he would be the first Hispanic to join that particular court and would vault to the top of potential nominees for the next vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.

The stakes are high, which may be why Ralph Neas of the liberal lobby group People for the American Way has invested so much in trying to stop Estrada from being confirmed, calling his nomination hearing the beginning of judicial Armageddon.

The New York Times, in a Wednesday editorial, came out strongly against his confirmation, saying too little was known about his views. "One way to begin to fill this gap," the Times said, "would be to make available the numerous memorandums of law that Mr. Estrada wrote when he worked for the solicitor general's office, as other nominees have done. But the White House has refused senators' reasonable requests to review these documents."

What the Times did not mention is that in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, all the living former solicitors general indicated that, in their view, the request was in fact inappropriate and unreasonable.

There is already talk that the nomination will be filibustered on the Senate floor when it comes next week. Expect this argument to be part of the debate.


Sherry you can't be serious …

As chairman of the House Science Committee, U.S. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., may be the most influential member of his state's congressional delegation. But that is not enough to stop at least one member of his own party from trying to unseat him in 2004.

Dr. David Walrath, a surgeon and Cayuga County, N.Y., legislator, is making another run against the multi-term incumbent. In 2002 Walrath was a last minute entry into the primary and, despite being outspent better than 10-1, came within 2,700 votes of beating him thanks to the support of the New York State Conservative Party, the National Rifle Association and the Cayuga County Republican organization.

Boehlert, who has served in Congress for more than 20 years, has a lifetime rating of just 36 out of 100 from the American Conservative Union and is considered by many to be the last vestige of liberal "Rockefeller" Republicanism in the New York congressional delegation.


Paybacks are, well, you know …

One of President George W. Bush's more intriguing appointments thus far has been the selection of former U.S. Rep. Paul McHale, D-Pa., to a high-level post inside the Department of Defense. McHale, one of the first Democrats to publicly condemn former President Bill Clinton for his illicit relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, was also one of only five Democrats in the House to vote in favor of at least one of the impeachment resolutions.

McHale must go through the Senate Armed Services Committee on his way to confirmation, which may produce some fireworks. One of the committee's newest members is New York Democrat Hillary Clinton, who has more than a passing interest in the whole matter of the former president's impeachment. Though Clinton had little to say when asked about McHale's nomination other than she looked forward to exploring his views when he comes before the committee, others were quick to point that she was the lone "no" vote on the Senate floor when the nomination of another impeachment veteran, Michael Chertoff, was brought to a vote.


Sign of the times?

The Conservative Political Action Conference, currently celebrating its 30th year, got under way on a sour note Thursday morning. While Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., was addressing the main session, organizers of the meeting were forced to confront a vendor in the exhibition hall hawking decidedly anti-Muslim paraphernalia.

Alongside pro-GOP materials and anti-liberal T-shirts, bumper stickers and coffee mugs were other materials reading "No Muslims, No Terrorists" and the word "Islam" with the "S" replaced by a Nazi symbol.

CPAC spokesman Craig Shirley said, "We didn't know they were bringing these materials. They are reprehensible and repugnant and there is no place for them here." Conference organizers ultimately told the vendor that either the offensive materials went or he did — leading the vendor to remove them from display.


Don't count on us …

The American Muslim Council is calling on Muslim religious leaders across America to protest a new federal policy directing the Federal Bureau of Investigation to count the numbers of mosques and Muslims currently in the United States. In an open letter to Muslim religious leaders, AMC Executive Director Eric Erfan Vickers calls the new policy "a direct attack on religious freedom."

The AMC "calls upon you to demonstrate mass criticism and activism against the new FBI policy," he writes. "This policy of conducting an exclusive census on the Muslim community is a direct attack on religious freedom. For it not only intrudes upon the right of Muslims to worship free from government surveillance, it also stigmatizes Islam as a terrorist threat."


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