- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 12, 2009

HOUSE

Wilderness bill falls 2 votes short

The House on Wednesday defeated a bill to set aside more than 2 million acres in nine states as protected wilderness - the victim of a renewed Republican push to allow concealed, loaded weapons in national parks.

A majority of House members supported the wilderness bill, but the measure was defeated because it did not receive the needed two-thirds vote. The vote was 282-144 in favor - two votes short of approval.

Supporters said the bill was brought up under a special rule - which severely restricts amendments - because majority Democrats were afraid that Republicans would introduce an amendment allowing guns in parks. With dozens of Democrats supporting gun rights, such a measure stood a good chance of passage, advocates and staff aides in both parties said.



WHITE HOUSE

Obama nominates war-zone envoys

President Obama on Wednesday named a career military officer who once was the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan to be the next ambassador to the war-torn country and tapped a veteran diplomat to be the new American envoy in Iraq.

The White House said Mr. Obama had nominated Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, who served in Afghanistan twice, including an 18-month tour that ended in 2007, to be ambassador in Kabul, and Christopher Hill, a seasoned negotiator who led the U.S. team at nuclear disarmament talks during the Bush administration, to be ambassador in Baghdad.

He also named:

• Ivo Daalder, a former Clinton administration National Security Council official, to be ambassador to NATO.

• Alexander Vershbow, a former ambassador to Russia and South Korea, to be assistant secretary of defense for international security.

• Richard Verma, a lawyer and former Senate aide, to head the State Department’s legal team.

ALASKA

Bristol Palin splits with baby’s father

WASILLA, Alaska | Levi Johnston and Bristol Palin, the teenage daughter of Gov. Sarah Palin, have broken off their engagement, he said Wednesday, about 2 1/2 months after the couple had a baby.

Mr. Johnston, 19, told the Associated Press that he and 18-year-old Miss Palin mutually decided “a while ago” to end their relationship. He declined to elaborate as he stood outside his family’s home in Wasilla, about 40 miles north of Anchorage. He also said some details of the breakup, rumors of which had been swirling on the Internet, were inaccurate.

Miss Palin said in a statement that she was devastated about a report on Star magazine’s Web site that quoted Levi’s sister, Mercede, as saying Miss Palin “makes it nearly impossible” to visit the teenagers’ infant son, Tripp. The baby was born Dec. 27.

“Unfortunately, my family has seen many people say and do many things to ‘cash in’ on the Palin name,” said the statement, which was issued through the governor’s political action committee. “Sometimes that greed clouds good judgment and the truth.”

Mrs. Palin revealed her daughter’s pregnancy just days after being named John McCain’s running mate on the Republican presidential ticket.

MINNESOTA

Franken to call final witnesses

ST. PAUL, Minn. | Minnesota’s drawn-out Senate saga is about to advance another step toward conclusion.

Lawyers for Democrat Al Franken planned to call their final witnesses Wednesday, but will have to wait until Thursday, when a county auditor who was snowed in is expected to take the stand. But that doesn’t mean the seven-week trial is quite done.

A lawyer representing individual voters who are trying to get their rejected absentee ballots counted has the right to present evidence. And Republican Norm Coleman, who brought the election challenge, can put on witnesses to rebut Mr. Franken’s case.

“We’re not there yet because there are still those steps left,” Franken lawyer Marc Elias said. “But we’re ending what has been a very long postelection process.”

Coleman lawyer Ben Ginsberg said the Coleman rebuttal case won’t be “terribly lengthy.” So barring unforeseen delays, the three judges could be deliberating by next week.

Mr. Franken led Mr. Coleman by 225 votes after a statewide recount.

Once the judges determine which candidate got the most legal votes, the loser has the right to appeal to higher courts or the U.S. Senate.

SPENDING

Kennedys grab chunk of earmarks

BOSTON | More than one out of every five dollars of the $126 million Massachusetts is receiving from a federal spending bill is going to help preserve the legacy of the Kennedys.

The bill includes $5.8 million for a new Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the Senate to be located near the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum. The JFK Museum will get $22 million for upgrades.

There’s also $5 million for a new gateway to the Boston Harbor Islands on the Rose Kennedy Greenway, named after Mr. Kennedy’s mother.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Kennedy, who is struggling with brain cancer, said the senator hadn’t requested the money for the library and institute, and there are dozens of earmarks for homeless services and health centers.

SENATE

Schumer eyes debt collectors

Sen. Charles E. Schumer is asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate reported instances of debt collection firms asking people to pay their dead relatives’ credit card bills or other debts.

Mr. Schumer, New York Democrat and a member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, met Tuesday with the new chairman of the FTC, Jon Leibowitz, and requested that the agency look into a practice he said appears to violate the law.

“These companies call surviving relatives, often shortly after the death of a loved one, to coax or cajole them into making payments on the deceased relative’s credit card,” Mr. Schumer said in a letter sent to Mr. Leibowitz on Wednesday. “To say the least, this practice is distasteful and unethical. Moreover, this practice may very well violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.”

Mr. Schumer asked for an accounting of how many debt collection firms engage in the practice and which companies that issue credit cards retain debt collectors for that purpose. If the practice isn’t declared illegal, the FTC could at least require debt collection firms to notify the relatives they contact that they have no legal obligation to pay the debts, Mr. Schumer suggested.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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