- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2003

Coveted endorsement

The Service Employees International Union — the largest union in the AFL-CIO — is considering whether to endorse Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean.

The coveted endorsement could come Nov. 6 when the union’s executive board meets to consider whether to back the Democratic front-runner, the Associated Press reported.

“It’s Dean or no one,” said union spokeswoman Sara Howard.

However, there are top officials in the 1.6 million-member union who think an endorsement next week is premature and want to delay a decision. That’s a real possibility when the 63-member executive board meets next week, Miss Howard said.

Other candidates are trying to make that delay happen.

Bill’s falling star

“Wesley Clark’s fizzle from superstar wannabe to self-proclaimed ‘underdog’ is raising new questions in the Democratic Party about former President Bill Clinton’s star — and political smarts,” the New York Post’s Deborah Orin writes.

“Clinton helped launch Clark in a wave of media buzz by talking up the retired general as one of the Democrats’ top two stars — along with wife Hillary — and prodding allies like Mickey Kantor to back him,” Miss Orin said.

“But political novice Clark is sinking in most polls, down to also-ran status in Iowa and New Hampshire, and had a few deer-in-the-headlights moments at Sunday’s debate.

“Officially, Clinton now insists he wasn’t promoting the retired general, but other Democrats don’t buy it. ‘Yeah, and he never had sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,’ sniffed a rival strategist.”

Guilty in Carolina

North Carolina’s former agriculture commissioner was convicted yesterday of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying to the state Board of Elections about her campaign finances.

Meg Scott Phipps, a Democrat, was charged with lying last year about receiving unreported cash campaign contributions in 2000 and helping repay the campaign debt of one-time political rival and former aide Bobby McLamb.

Prosecutors also accused her of altering checks used to repay that debt and encouraging a former campaign aide to lie to the board and in a deposition before an administrative law judge.

The jury deliberated less than a day before finding her guilty of four charges of perjury and obstruction. She was found not guilty on a fifth charge, encouraging the aide to lie.

Judge Donald Stephens ordered Phipps held in jail until sentencing Nov. 12. She faces roughly 2½ to 13 years in prison. She also faces 30 federal charges, including extortion, bribery and mail fraud. Arraignment is scheduled for next month.

Candid advice

Hwang Jang-yop, the highest-ranking North Korean official to defect to South Korea, met members of Congress yesterday and warned against putting too much faith in the promises of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

“I don’t think that any promise made by Kim Jong-il is of any significance,” Mr. Hwang told reporters when asked whether Pyongyang would be prepared to give up its nuclear-weapons programs in exchange for U.S. security guarantees.

A former secretary of North Korea’s ruling Workers Party and the architect of the country’s Juche ideology of self-reliance, Mr. Hwang has been a harsh critic of Kim Jong-il and his regime since defecting six years ago.

Mr. Hwang, who is making his first visit to the United States since defecting, met State Department officials on Wednesday and briefed members of the House Committee on Homeland Security yesterday.

Rep. Christopher Cox, California Republican and the committee chairman, described the briefing as a “candid exchange” with Mr. Hwang that helped lawmakers gain a greater appreciation for the extent of the “horrible mistreatment of the North Korean people.”

Dramatic opposition

A group of House Democrats crashed a private meeting of lawmakers discussing the Medicare prescription-drug bill yesterday, in protest that they have been excluded from the bill negotiations.

“I came to say, ‘Look we don’t know what you’re doing,’” said Rep. Charles B. Rangel of New York, the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.

Mr. Rangel and Rep. Marion Berry, Arkansas Democrat, were appointed to the conference committee charged with producing a final Medicare prescription-drug bill, but have not been invited to daily, closed-door meetings held by Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, California Republican.

The private meetings consist of House and Senate Republican negotiators and two Democratic negotiators, hashing out the details of the final bill.

Mr. Rangel and Mr. Berry, along with about 12 others from the Ways and Means Committee, walked into yesterday’s private meeting, sat down and asked Mr. Thomas why they’ve been excluded.

Mr. Rangel said he was told the private meetings are for “willing participants” interested in producing a final bill.

“Subjectively, he decided I’m not one of those members,” Mr. Rangel complained after he left the room.

Aviation bill

The House last night narrowly approved an aviation spending bill that could increase the number of privately run air-traffic-control towers, the Associated Press reports.

The 211-207 vote, mostly along party lines, brings closer to resolution a rancorous dispute over whether the Federal Aviation Administration should be able to privatize air-traffic-control towers and jobs.

“It’s been a struggle to get here,” said Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure aviation subcommittee. The four-year, $60 billion spending bill, which the Bush administration backs, faces the threat of Democratic filibusters in the Senate.

Democrats resist private contracting, saying it only saves money through understaffing and is not as closely monitored by the FAA.

For the record

The other day, this column ran an item about Rep. George Nethercutt, Washington Republican, taking out newspaper ads to charge that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer intentionally mangled a quote to hurt him politically. However, as several readers pointed out, we did not produce Mr. Nethercutt’s untampered quote, which involved media coverage of the situation in Iraq. Here it is:

“So the story is better than we might be led to believe — I’m — just — indicting the news people — but it’s a bigger and better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day which, which, heaven forbid, is awful.”

The Seattle newspaper shortened the quote this way: “It’s a better … story than losing a couple of soldiers every day.”

The Post-Intelligencer not only refused Mr. Nethercutt’s request that it correct the record by running the full statement, it blasted him in an editorial, where it repeated the misleading “quote.” The newspaper continues to insist it did nothing wrong.

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or [email protected].

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