- The Washington Times - Monday, May 14, 2007

Bipartisan angst

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, said yesterday that senators in both parties are frustrated with the Iraqi government.

“I don’t know what their problem is, but this country has made an enormous investment in giving the Iraqis a chance to have a normal government after all of these years of Saddam Hussein and his atrocities,” Mr. McConnell said on CNN’s “Late Edition.”

“And there’s a growing sense of bipartisan frustration in the Senate over the lack of progress on the political side of the Iraqi government,” he said. “I think benchmarks will be a part of the final package that we get to the president for signature on the troop-funding bill.”

President Bush has offered to seek compromise with congressional Democrats over a war-spending bill setting benchmarks for progress in Iraq.

Mr. McConnell said House Democrats “have gone from micromanaging the war to now trying to microfund the war.” But he said that Republicans also “overwhelmingly feel disappointed about the Iraqi government.”

“I read just this week that a significant number of the Iraqi parliament want to vote to ask us to leave. If they vote to ask us to leave, we’ll be glad to comply with their request,” Mr. McConnell said.

Murtha’s pork

For the first time, the annual intelligence bill passed by the House discloses more than two dozen “earmarks” — spending items inserted at the request of a lawmaker — the only parts of the legislation’s $40 billion-plus budget for U.S. intelligence to be publicly revealed.

The earmarks, totaling just under $100 million, were disclosed for the first time under new House rules intended to curb abuses, reports Shaun Waterman of the United Press International.

By far the largest of the earmarks, $23 million, is to keep open the National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC), a multiagency federal facility based in the Pennsylvania district of Rep. John P. Murtha, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican, criticized the center, opened more than a decade ago, as a “Clinton-era pork boondoggle.”

The center, designed to channel intelligence about the drug trade from different federal agencies, was slated for closure in the Bush administration’s 2008 budget proposal, after a review by the Office of Management and Budget. Last year, a House Government Reform Committee report called NDIC, which is run by the Department of Justice, “an expensive and duplicative use of scarce federal drug-enforcement resources.”

Hagel’s pitch

Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel says the Republican party has been led astray by “isolationist insulationists” and it may be time for an independent presidential ticket — perhaps with the names Bloomberg and Hagel on it.

Mr. Hagel, a lifelong Republican who has been a frequent critic of the Iraq war, said yesterday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he will decide about running by late summer after determining where he can best play a role to “make a better world.”

After dining recently with New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who is also considering a run for president as an independent, Mr. Hagel said people might want to consider the two on a ticket.

“We didn’t make any deals. But I think Mayor Bloomberg is the kind of individual who should seriously think about this,” Mr. Hagel said.

“It’s a great country to think about — a New York boy and a Nebraska boy to be teamed up leading this nation,” he said.

Mr. Hagel said it was time for the political system to be shaken up with a third-party candidacy, the Associated Press reports. He said the GOP is no longer the party of “Eisenhower, of Goldwater, of Reagan,” but rather a group hijacked by “single-minded, almost isolationist insulationists, power-projectors.”

Hillary’s advice

Don’t buy your wife flowers or candy, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton told MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough Friday morning after he asked her advice for a Mother’s Day gift.

“Obviously, the old fallbacks of flowers and candy are just no good because you’ve already blown your cover on this nationwide broadcast. So jewelry — jewelry, Joe,” the New York Democrat said during a call in to his show, laughing.

“He’s a big TV personality, and he’s got two shows,” the New York Democrat explained to another guest on the show. “I mean, you know, the flowers for him is — you know, you could do flowers, plus.”

“You were supposed to help me out and you’ve just made my life a lot more difficult,” Mr. Scarborough whined to Mrs. Clinton, reports The Washington Times’ Christina Bellantoni.

Mrs. Clinton also cribbed some political talking points from a current presidential rival and one who almost ran for the White House.

She said voters “are so anxious to turn the page,” a phrase Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, has used on the stump recently. An Obama address in California was even dubbed his “turn the page” speech.

Mrs. Clinton went on to say the country needs to have “sensible center,” a preferred stump line of former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat who opted last fall not to seek the presidency. However, Colin Powell coined the term years ago.

But the show’s kicker was when Mr. Scarborough, a former Republican congressman from Florida, said he would take “part blame” for the “Clinton wars,” lamenting how they started to create deep political divisions in the United States.

“I apologize for anything that I’ve ever said that may have been unkind about you or the president, and wasn’t really serious about that whole impeachment thing. It was really guys who recommended that I do that,” Mr. Scarborough said.

“And, Joe, I apologize to you if I got you in trouble for Mother’s Day,” she responded.

An ‘entourage’

Democrat Barack Obama said yesterday he was reluctant to ask for Secret Service protection this early in the 2008 presidential race.

“I’m not an entourage guy. You know, up until recently, I was still taking my wife Michelle’s grocery list and going to the grocery store once in a while,” the Illinois senator said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Mr. Obama acknowledged that some of the threats against him were racially motivated.

“You know, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it or considering the details of this, but just to broaden the issue, are there people who would be troubled with an African-American president? Yes,” he said. “Are there folks who might not vote for me because I’m African-American? No doubt.”

But Mr. Obama said that if he doesn’t win, it will not be because of the color of his skin, the Associated Press reports.

“It’s going to be because I didn’t project a vision of leadership that gave people confidence. It’s going to be because of something I didn’t do, as opposed to because I’m African-American,” he said.

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

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