- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2006

Specter vs. Cheney

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter accused Vice President Dick Cheney of meddling in the Judiciary Committee’s efforts to hold hearings on the administration’s anti-terrorist surveillance programs.

When press reports surfaced that the National Security Administration had collected the telephone records of millions of Americans, Mr. Specter called for hearings. He tried getting telephone company executives, who first asked to be subpoenaed, then asked for closed hearings. But when Mr. Specter tried scheduling closed hearings earlier this week, he said, Mr. Cheney intervened.

“I was advised yesterday that you had called Republican members of the Judiciary Committee lobbying them to oppose any Judiciary Committee hearing, even a closed one, with the telephone companies,” the Pennsylvania Republican wrote in a letter to Mr. Cheney that Mr. Specter’s office distributed to reporters. “I was further advised that you told those Republican members that the telephone companies had been instructed not to provide any information to the committee as they were prohibited from disclosing classified information.

“I was surprised, to say the least, that you sought to influence, really determine, the action of the committee without calling me first, or at least calling me at some point,” Mr. Specter wrote. “This was especially perplexing, since we both attended the Republican senators caucus lunch yesterday, and I walked directly in front of you on at least two occasions en route from the buffet to my table.”

Warner on Hillary

Mark Warner, the former Virginia governor whom some Democrats are looking to boost as the Hillary Rodham Clinton alternative for president in 2008, suggested Tuesday that New York’s senator would have trouble winning nationally, the New York Post reports.

“I have tremendous respect for Senator Clinton,” Mr. Warner said on TV station NY1’s “Inside City Hall” during a string of appearances he made around New York on Tuesday.

“I think she’s a great senator, and should she choose to run for national office, she’ll be a formidable candidate,” he added.

“But I find all across the country there is a real sense that what we as Democrats have to do is not simply be competitive in 16 or 17 states, but actually have candidates that can win all across the country.”

He added later that “simply having anger at Bush or his administration isn’t going to get us there.”

Al who?

Former Vice President Al Gore’s name is nowhere to be found on Paramount’s poster campaign for the new “global warming” movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” Matt Drudge writes at www.drudgereport.com.

“It’s not a political movie,” a source at Paramount said.

A rival studio executive claims marketing research showed little audience interest in a movie starring Mr. Gore. The film has made $2.7 million so far at the box office in limited release.

Religious coalition

A wide-ranging coalition of religious leaders yesterday decried what they called U.S. torture of prisoners in the war on terror, saying it “violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions hold dear.”

The 27 Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders included some newcomers to the issue: evangelical powerhouses such as the Rev. Rick Warren, author of best-seller “The Purpose-Driven Life,” and the Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Roman Catholics were also represented by Washington Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, who said torture is a “dehumanizing attack against human nature.”

The participants were vague about what constitutes “torture,” but one said the idea was captured by a law authored by Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, which bans cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of foreign suspects in the war on terror.

Primary reform

Louisiana’s “open primary” elections system could be scrapped in congressional elections and replaced with closed primaries similar to those used in most other states, under a bill approved by a legislative committee.

Louisiana now holds a general primary in November, with candidates from all parties running on the same ballot. A December runoff follows if no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote.

The bill introduced by state Sen. Cleo Fields, a former congressman, would create Republican and Democratic primaries in September, with party runoffs in October, followed by a general election on Election Day in November that would include the winners of the two party runoffs plus third-party candidates and independents.

The House and Governmental Affairs Committee voted 6-1 Tuesday to send the measure to the full House. It has already passed the Senate, the Associated Press reports. The measure also would need approval from the U.S. Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Mine-safety bill

It will never be as safe as a desk job, but lawmakers hope coal mining will become less risky because of changes they ordered yesterday, the Associated Press reports.

In a 381-37 vote, the House endorsed a bill that would require mine operators to put more oxygen supplies underground and move rescue teams closer to mines. The bill, which previously won Senate backing, now goes to President Bush for his signature. In a statement last night, the president said the legislation would complement the administration’s efforts to enhance mine safety.

“America’s miners and their families can be confident that their government is committed to taking measures that will help prevent accidents and save lives,” Mr. Bush said.

A string of fatal accidents in West Virginia and Kentucky prompted lawmakers to act. In all, 33 coal miners have been killed in the United States so far this year, compared with 22 deaths in 2005, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

“This has been a dark, mournful year for our nation’s coal miners,” said Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, West Virginia Democrat.

The last time Congress passed significant mine-safety legislation was in 1977.

“Technology has changed, communications equipment has changed, but our laws have not kept up,” said Rep. Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican.

The measure would require miners to have at least a two-hour supply of oxygen with them while they work — an increase from a one-hour standard. It also would require mine operators to leave additional air packs at various points in mines and to perform routine checks on the devices to ensure they work.

Greg Pierce can be reached at 202/636-3285 or gpierce@washingtontimes.com.

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