- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 22, 2009

INTERIOR

Obama approves offshore drilling

A proposal issued in the final days of the Bush administration to expand offshore drilling in previously banned areas will move forward under the Obama administration, an Interior Department spokesman told Reuters news agency on Wednesday.

Shortly after being sworn in Tuesday, President Obama ordered all federal agencies and departments to halt pending regulations until they can be reviewed by incoming staff.

Hugh Vickery, an Interior Department spokesman, said the department had been notified by the White House that it will be able to proceed with a proposed draft of a five-year plan to lease areas in the Atlantic and Pacific for oil and natural gas drilling.

The preliminary plan would authorize 31 energy exploration lease sales between 2010 and 2015 for tracts along the East Coast and off the coasts of Alaska and California.

When the plan was unveiled last week, the department said it would provide the Obama administration with the option to begin leasing recently opened areas in 2010, two years before the current leasing plan is set to end.

ADVICE

Gadhafi: Give bin Laden a chance

Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi advised President Obama on Wednesday to give Osama bin Laden a chance to reform, telling the new president that America’s most wanted man was looking for “dialogue.”

Mr. Gadhafi hailed what he called “positive signals” so far from the new Obama administration, including plans to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Speaking to students at Georgetown University via a satellite link-up from Libya, Mr. Gadhafi said Washington must review its approach to bin Laden, who declared responsibility for the Sept. 11 attacks and tops the U.S. Most Wanted list.

“Terrorism is a dwarf, not a giant. Osama bin laden is a person who can be given a chance to reform,” Mr. Gadhafi said through an interpreter. He gave no indication that he had any contact with bin Laden or wanted to act as a go-between.

“Maybe we can have a dialogue with him and find out the reason that led him in this direction,” he added.

SEIZURE

Kennedy goes home from hospital

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy was released from the hospital and was doing well Wednesday after suffering a seizure during an inaugural luncheon.

Mr. Kennedy’s office confirmed that the senator from Massachusetts left Washington Hospital Center, where he stayed overnight for observation, and was resting at home. Mr. Kennedy has been under treatment for a brain tumor since last spring.

A Kennedy representative, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the announcement was not official, said the senator was in good spirits and that doctors wanted him to get some rest.

Doctors blamed fatigue for the seizure Mr. Kennedy suffered during the Capitol Hill luncheon Tuesday after attending the swearing-in of President Obama.

MEDIA

News outlets refuse Oval Office photos

NEW YORK | Three news agencies refused to distribute White House-provided photos of President Obama in the Oval Office on Wednesday, arguing that access should have been provided to news photographers.

The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse said the White House was breaking with longstanding tradition in not allowing news photographers to capture the president at work in the Oval Office on his first day.

“We are not distributing what are, in effect, visual press releases,” said Michael Oreskes, managing editor for U.S. news at the AP.

The news agencies have used White House-provided images in the past for areas in the White House where media access is generally not permitted, such as the Situation Room or the private residence. But they contend that the Oval Office is the public office of the president and photographers should have access rather than rely on a government handout.

There was no immediate reply to e-mail and phone messages left with Obama representatives.

HOUSE

Democrats cancel digital TV hearing

Democrats abruptly canceled a meeting on a bill delaying the nationwide transition to digital television signals, citing opposition from Republicans.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee had been scheduled Wednesday to consider legislation extending the transition date to June 12 from its current Feb. 17 deadline.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, chairman of the committee, issued a statement on the cancellation referring to Republican opposition to a Senate version of the digital TV delay.

“Without a short one-time extension, millions of households will lose all television reception,” Mr. Waxman warned.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

A spokeswoman said Mr. Waxman is willing to work with Republicans to craft a compromise.

AGRICULTURE

Vilsack chooses his chief of staff

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack chose former top aide and political activist John Norris as his chief of staff, officials said Wednesday.

Mr. Norris, a former chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party and a political organizer in recent years, was chief of staff for Mr. Vilsack during his first two years as governor of Iowa. He will resign as chairman of the Iowa Utilities Board to work at the Agriculture Department.

Carole Jett will be Mr. Vilsack’s deputy chief of staff, said one source. She worked in Indiana for President Obama’s election last fall and was co-chairwoman of an Obama transition review of the Department of Agriculture. Formerly, she was a high-level official with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

From wire dispatches and staff reports


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