- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 23, 2009

CONGRESS

Impeachment of judge dropped

The Senate has officially dismissed impeachment articles against a federal judge from Texas who is in prison in a sex abuse case.

Samuel B. Kent resigned from the bench June 30 just after the Senate began gathering evidence for his impeachment trial. The judge was based in Galveston and Houston.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Kent’s resignation accomplished what the House sought when it impeached him: Kent has left the bench and is no longer drawing a $174,000-a-year salary.

Kent began serving a 33-month sentence in mid-June after pleading guilty to lying to judicial investigators about sexually assaulting two female employees. Congressional members opposed salary and benefits for Kent after his conviction.

SUPREME COURT

Graham voices Sotomayor support

Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, said he will vote for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, breaking with his party’s conservative leaders.

Mr. Graham hinted during Judge Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings that he might back President Obama’s first high court nominee. His announcement brings the total number of Republicans publicly backing Judge Sotomayor to five.

Mr. Graham is generally conservative but has been known to flash a maverick streak similar to his mentor, Sen. John McCain of Arizona. The other Republicans who’ve said they’ll vote for Judge Sotomayor, who would be the first Hispanic justice, are all moderates.

The 55-year-old appeals court judge is expected to win confirmation in early August.

TECHNOLOGY

Homeland Security revamps Web site

The Homeland Security Department relaunched its Web site Wednesday and became the first Cabinet-level agency to follow the tech-savvy White House directives on social media.

President Obama’s aides have been urging agencies to add interactive components, such as videos and blogs, to their Web sites. But it’s been a slow start for a team that harnessed the Internet during the presidential campaign to organize supporters and deliver the White House.

The White House touted the Homeland Security Department’s online presence as a model for other agencies. The department redesigned its own Web site to offer more opportunities for citizens to interact and launched a YouTube channel to post online videos.

The department plans to use its Twitter account to communicate with the public during disasters.

“Social media plays an increasingly large role in our engagement with the public, especially in the event of an incident or disaster,” Secretary Janet Napolitano said. “These new tools will facilitate an open dialogue about the department’s security efforts across the nation and around the world.”

The department earlier this month started a blog to promote news articles and schedules to the public; officials said the blog draws about 50 new subscribers a day and almost 2,000 people receive e-mail updates.

Several departments already have Twitter accounts but have hardly used it as much as the White House. Last week, the White House announced Mr. Obama’s news conference through a Tweet.

HOUSE

Lawmakers OK bill to reinstate ‘pay-go’

With the deficit smashing records, the Democrat-controlled House has passed legislation designed to make it more difficult to enact tax cuts or new spending programs funded with red ink.

The legislation would reinstate a “pay-as-you-go” statute that requires tax cuts or new benefit programs to be paid with tax increases or by cutting spending elsewhere in the budget. If the “pay-go” law is broken, automatic spending cuts would make up the difference.

By itself, the pay-go measure would do nothing to address the government’s deficit woes. It wouldn’t force lawmakers to take action to stanch the flow of red ink; it instead seeks to prevent lawmakers from making it worse.

HOUSE

Puerto Rico bill moves forward

A House committee approved a proposal Wednesday that would let Puerto Ricans decide their island’s political status. It was unclear whether the full Congress would consider the bill.

The Natural Resources Committee approved the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009, which was submitted by the island’s resident commissioner, Pedro Pierluisi.

Voters would choose between keeping the island’s commonwealth status, adopted in 1952, or to opt for something different. In the latter case, a second plebiscite would let Puerto Ricans decide whether they wanted statehood, independence or independence with a loose association to the United States.

Two of the island’s main parties oppose the proposal, and a similar bill that the committee approved in October 2007 has died. Wednesday’s debate marked the 68th time that the House has debated a bill related to Puerto Rico’s status.

Puerto Ricans voted to maintain the island’s current status and rejected statehood in nonbinding referendums in 1967, 1993 and 1998.

Residents of the U.S. Caribbean commonwealth are barred from voting in presidential elections, and their congressional delegate cannot vote.

NIH

Volunteers sought to test flu shots

The government called Wednesday for several thousand volunteers to start rolling up their sleeves for the first swine flu shots, in a race to test whether a new vaccine will protect against this novel virus before its expected rebound in the fall.

Eight medical centers across the country are enrolling for a series of studies directed by the National Institutes of Health, and the first shots should go into volunteers’ arms by the second week of August.

First, doctors will test different doses of the swine flu vaccine in healthy adults, including the elderly - two shots, given 21 days apart. If no immediate safety concerns arise, such as allergic reactions, the same testing quickly will begin in babies and children, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Will the results come in time to guide the government’s debate on whether to roll out a mass vaccination campaign starting in mid-October, one expected to target mostly school-age children and young adults?

“It’s going to be very, very close,” Dr. Fauci told the Associated Press.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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