- The Washington Times - Friday, November 19, 2004

Democrat says no

Sen. Ben Nelson, Nebraska Democrat, has turned down a Bush administration offer to become secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Hearst Newspapers reported yesterday, citing congressional sources.

The Bush administration is seeking a new agriculture secretary after Ann M. Veneman announced Monday that she is stepping down.

Mr. Nelson, 63, a former two-term governor from a major farm state who was first elected to the Senate in 2000, is known for his willingness to cross party lines. He sided with President Bush 81 percent of the time and voted against Democratic leaders almost 46 percent of the time during his first two years on Capitol Hill and became known as “Bush’s favorite Democrat” in the Senate, reporter Judy Holland said.

Mr. Nelson turned down the Cabinet offer because he thinks that, as a centrist, he still has an important role to play in the Senate, said sources.

David DiMartino, Mr. Nelson’s press secretary, called the Hearst article “irresponsible” because “it quotes sources outside our office.”

Mr. Nelson’s apparent decision to reject the offer was good news for Senate Democrats, who likely would have lost a seat if Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns, a Republican, had appointed a Republican to replace him.

Mr. Nelson is expected to face a tight race for re-election in 2006, in a state that Mr. Bush carried by 33 points.

Delaying exit polls

The consortium of news organizations that runs the election exit polls has voted to delay distribution of data for several hours on future election days.

Exit-poll data won’t be distributed until after 4 p.m. to the organizations that have paid for it — ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News Channel and the Associated Press — NBC elections director Sheldon Gawiser said yesterday .

On Nov. 2, the companies conducting the polls, Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International, distributed the first wave of exit-poll data at 1 p.m. — and the numbers immediately were leaked on the Internet and to the campaigns.

Those initial numbers suggested that Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, had slight leads in Florida and Ohio — both battleground states that were won by President Bush when the votes were counted.

“There were an awful lot of people on the Internet talking about things they don’t understand,” said Mr. Gawiser, head of the news organizations’ steering committee. “First-wave exit-poll data is not terribly accurate.”

Those first numbers reflected interviews only with people who had voted in the morning. By delaying the release of numbers until between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., pollsters will have talked to more people and, it is presumed, have a more accurate snapshot of the electorate, he said.

‘Get over it’

Justice Antonin Scalia, when asked about the Supreme Court’s decision in the 2000 presidential election, told a University of Michigan audience to “get over it.”

Justice Scalia, who was at Rackham Auditorium in Ann Arbor on Tuesday to speak about the philosophy of constitutional interpretation, was asked by a member of the audience whether, if he had the chance, he would revisit his decision. The justice cut off the questioner, saying: “I’m inclined to say it’s been four years and an election. Get over it.”

That drew loud boos from the audience, the Detroit Free Press reports.

Justice Scalia voted with the 5-4 majority in 2000 to cease the recount of disputed votes in Florida.

Justice Scalia continued, “The issue is not whether the decision should have been decided in the Florida or U.S. supreme courts, but that the Constitution had been violated. … The only decision was to put an end to it after three weeks and looking like fools to the rest of the world. It was too much of a mess.”

Racist cartoons

The Independent Women’s Forum has denounced as blatantly racist several editorial cartoons featuring Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser and President Bush’s nominee for secretary of state.

These cartoons clearly draw upon centuries of deep-rooted, wicked and indefensible portrayals of black women, the organization said.

“The depiction of Dr. Condoleezza Rice by Jeff Danziger, Pat Oliphant and Garry Trudeau as an ebonics-speaking, big-lipped, black mammy who just loves her ‘massa’ is a disturbing trend in editorial cartoons,” said Michelle D. Bernard, senior vice president of the Independent Women’s Forum. “These cartoons take the racism of the liberals who profess respect and adoration for black Americans to a new level. It is revolting.”

She added: “One must ask, where is the outrage of the nation’s civil rights leadership, feminist organizations, and the so-called liberals who only seem to embrace black America in election years?”

Bell rung

The House Standards of Official Conduct committee last night turned the tables on the accuser of Majority Leader Tom DeLay, rebuking Rep. Chris Bell, Texas Democrat, for exaggerating misconduct charges against the Republican leader.

Although the complaint by Mr. Bell led to an ethics report that admonished Mr. DeLay, the Democrat violated a rule barring “innuendo, speculative assertions or conclusory statements,” a committee letter said.

The committee’s Republican chairman and senior Democrat used the four-page letter to Mr. Bell, the Associated Press reports, to warn lawmakers that making exaggerated charges of wrongdoing could result in disciplinary action against the accuser.

Mr. Bell was not disciplined. He lost his March primary after Republicans in the Texas state Legislature — with Mr. DeLay’s backing — redrew his district. He will leave Congress when the session adjourns.

In the future, exaggerations and misstatements also could lead to the dismissal of a complaint, said the letter from Reps. Joel Hefley, Colorado Republican, and Alan B. Mollohan, West Virginia Democrat.

HHS sweepstakes

Word around Capitol Hill is that Dr. Mark McClellan, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, is at “the top of the list” to replace Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson.

Mr. Thompson hasn’t formally announced his departure, but he has indicated his desire to move on.

Dr. McClellan, formerly an economics professor at Stanford University, was an economics and health care adviser in the Bush administration before becoming FDA commissioner in 2002. His brother, Scott McClellan, is the White House press secretary.

However, Dr. McClellan is no favorite of social conservatives.

“He did nothing” on issues related to condom labeling or the RU-486 abortion drug, and the flu-vaccine problems happened on his watch, Washington insiders complained to The Washington Times yesterday. Social conservatives, they added, are rooting for another person on the shortlist — HHS Deputy Secretary Claude A. Allen, who ran Virginia’s health and human resources department in the late 1990s.

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

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