- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 8, 2009

AMBASSADORS

Senate confirms new ambassadors

The Senate on Friday confirmed Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. as ambassador to China, giving the Republican the task of nurturing a sometimes shaky relationship that President Obama sees as crucial to solving many of the world’s most difficult crises.

The Senate also confirmed John Roos, a lawyer and Obama campaign fundraiser, as U.S. ambassador to Japan. Both were confirmed by unanimous consent.

Mr. Huntsman’s confirmation sends to Beijing a fluent Chinese speaker with deep social, government and business ties to the region. It also allows Mr. Obama to bring into his administration a popular Republican leader seen as a potential challenger for the presidency in 2012.

Mr. Huntsman will travel to China at a time of rising cooperation between the two huge economies. Late last month, the countries held two days of high-level talks in Washington. Officials vowed to work together to address global economic turmoil, climate change and nuclear standoffs with North Korea and Iran.

But it is also a relationship beset by tension and occasional hostility. The United States has repeatedly criticized China’s treatment of its people, most recently its crackdown on ethnic riots in the oil-rich Xinjiang region, its massive, opaque military buildup and its trade and economic practices.

Mr. Obama’s nominee for Japan, Mr. Roos, reportedly collected at least $500,000 for Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign. He was relatively unknown outside fundraising and legal circles when Mr. Obama picked him as envoy to Tokyo, and his pick drew criticism from some in Japan.

Earlier, at his Senate confirmation hearing, prominent Americans spoke of what they saw as Mr. Roos’ qualifications, in both experience and temperament, to be ambassador. His supporters included former Sen. Bill Bradley and former Vice President Walter Mondale, who also served as ambassador to Japan.

The Senate also confirmed a host of other appointments, including Carlos Pascual to be ambassador to Mexico and Aaron Williams to be director of the Peace Corps.

HEALTH

Senate confirms new NIH director

The Senate on Friday confirmed Dr. Francis Collins, a scientist who helped unravel the human genetic code, as director of the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Collins led the Human Genome Project that, along with a competing private company, mapped the genetic code - or, as he famously called it, “the book of human life.” He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award, but may be more widely known for his 2007 best-selling book, “The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.”

“Dr. Collins is one of our generation’s great scientific leaders,” Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said. “Dr. Collins will be an outstanding leader. Today is an exciting day for NIH and for science in this country.”

The NIH is the nation’s premiere medical research agency, directing $29.5 billion to spur innovative science intended to lead to better health.

Dr. Collins, who was nominated to the post by President Obama in July, was confirmed by voice vote.

NIH is familiar turf for Dr. Collins, who spent 15 years as the NIH’s chief of genome research before stepping down last year to, among other things, work with the Obama campaign. He also helped found the BioLogos Foundation, a Web site formed by a group of scientists who say they want to bridge gaps between science and religion.

SENATE

Rep. Maloney won’t challenge Gillibrand

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, whose appointment to succeed Hillary Rodham Clinton in the U.S. Senate angered some New York state Democrats, cleared a major hurdle Friday when a potential primary opponent abandoned a promised challenge.

New York Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney said Friday she won’t take on Mrs. Gillibrand next year, opting to stay in the House of Representatives, where she has served for nine terms. She said her decision was based on a desire to deal with current challenges including health care reform, clean energy issues and the economy.

Recent polls showed the two in a statistical tie.

Mrs. Gillibrand was appointed in January to fill the seat vacated when President Obama named Mrs. Clinton his secretary of state. Mrs. Gillibrand got the nod over higher-profile possibilities including Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of slain President John F. Kennedy, who withdrew from consideration at the last minute. Since Mrs. Gillibrand’s appointment, Mr. Obama and other top national Democrats have come out in support of her to help clear the field for her 2010 campaign.

Other prominent New York Democrats, including Reps. Steve Israel and Carolyn McCarthy, considered a primary run against Mrs. Gillibrand but bowed out after Mr. Obama and other Democrats put their support behind the senator.

No Republicans have entered the race. Former New York Gov. George Pataki and Rep. Peter T. King are possible contenders.

NATIONAL SECURITY

Former FBI agent eyed to run TSA

The Obama administration plans to pick a former FBI special agent to head the federal agency charged with keeping terrorists off airplanes.

According to a Capitol Hill aide, the administration intends to nominate Erroll Southers to be the fifth man to run the Transportation Security Administration. The agency was formed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks. The aide spoke on the condition of anonymity because the announcement has not been made.

The TSA is best known for airport security, which includes screening passengers and luggage for dangerous materials.

Mr. Southers currently teaches at the University of Southern California. A former police detective, he was deputy director of California’s homeland security office, overseeing counterterrorism policies.

WHITE HOUSE

Obama to travel to national parks

The White House announced that the first family will travel to national parks in the West next week.

President Obama and his family will visit Bozeman, Mont., Yellowstone National Park, Grand Junction, Colo., and the Grand Canyon.

Spokesman Robert Gibbs said the trip is meant to encourage people to visit the national park system, and that it would occur during a “fee-free” weekend for national parks. He also said Mr. Obama would promote his policies during the trip.

The president also is expected to hold town hall-style meetings at some of the places he visits as he pushes Congress to pass an overhaul of the health care system. While on his Western swing, Mr. Obama is to address the convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, being held in Phoenix. It’s a summertime tradition for presidents.

From staff reports and wire dispatches.

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