- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 21, 2009

FERC

Obama makes picks on energy panel

President Obama has designated Jon Wellinghoff as chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a position Mr. Wellinghoff has held on an acting basis since January.

Mr. Wellinghoff, a supporter of renewable energy development and energy conservation, is one of two Democrats on the five-member commission that oversees power grid reliability and wholesale natural gas markets.

Separately, the White House said Mr. Obama will nominate Commissioner Suedeen Kelly, the panel’s other Democrat, to a third term. Mr. Wellinghoff has been on the commission since 2006 and Ms. Kelly since 2003.

The Senate must confirm commission members, but the president may name its chairman without Senate action.

PARTIES

DNC raised little, has little on hand

The Democratic National Committee raised $3.2 million in February, a strikingly low take for a party led by President Obama and his legions of grass-roots supporters who helped him shatter campaign fundraising records.

Even the committee’s Republican counterpart raised more - $5.1 million - last month and did so under more difficult circumstances. The Republicans are coming off a disastrous election in which they lost the White House and saw their numbers in Congress shrink further. New Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele also had a rocky start.

Overall, monthly reports being filed Friday with the Federal Election Commission show the RNC in healthier shape than the Democrats as both parties start raising money for special congressional elections and governor’s races in Virginia and New Jersey this year, as well as congressional elections in 2010.

The DNC reported $8.6 million on hand and $7 million in debt, while the RNC reported $24 million in the bank and no debt.

SENATE

Burris seeks OK for legal fund

Sen. Roland W. Burris, Illinois Democrat, has asked the Senate’s ethics committee for permission to raise money for a legal expense fund in connection with his appointment to the Senate by ousted Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich.

Burris spokesman Jim O’Connor said Friday that the fund would be used to pay legal expenses incurred in connection with Mr. Burris’ appointment and an ongoing probe of Mr. Burris’ statements after he took the Senate seat vacated by President Obama.

John Schmidt, the state’s attorney in Sangamon County, Ill., is reviewing Mr. Burris’ testimony before the Illinois House panel that impeached Mr. Blagojevich. Mr. Burris has made conflicting statements about contacts with associates of the former governor, also a Democrat.

An ethics committee decision on Mr. Burris’ request could take three to four weeks.

Forming a legal expense fund would allow Mr. Burris to tap outside donors for contributions of up to $10,000 each for his representation.

The request, made Monday, was filed by the Chicago law firm Gonzalez, Saggio & Harlan, where Mr. Burris’ personal attorney, Tim Wright, is on staff.

WHITE HOUSE

President plans commencements

President Obama will deliver three commencement addresses in May, the first of his presidency.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Friday announced the graduation addresses will take place May 13 at Arizona State University, May 17 at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana and May 22 at the U.S. Naval Academy. The last speech will continue the tradition of presidents delivering a graduation speech at one of the three service academies.

As a candidate, Mr. Obama spoke to graduates of Wesleyan University in Connecticut last May, filling in for an ill Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat.

Mr. Obama plans to spend this weekend and next weekend at the presidential retreat at Camp David. His schedule for the coming week does not include any travel, after spending two days in California this week.

IMMIGRATION

Liberians get stay in U.S. extended

President Obama has signed an executive order allowing about 3,600 Liberians living in the United States under “temporary protected status” to stay in the country for an additional 12 months.

The White House told members of Congress of the decision on Friday.

An 18-month extension issued by President Bush was set to expire March 31. Advocates for the Liberians hope that Congress will let them stay permanently. The Bush administration had called its 2007 extension the last one for Liberia, where years of civil war have given way to a fledgling democracy.

Supporters of the Liberians’ stay in the United States have said that though the quality of life in Liberia has improved, it is still a perilous environment with high unemployment and inadequate infrastructure and electricity, among other problems.

Six countries now have temporary protected status: Burundi, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia and Sudan.

The Liberians “have contributed to our society for more than a decade, becoming active members of our communities and providing for their families,” said Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy, Rhode Island Democrat.

STATE

U.S. cuts aid to Madagascar

The United States on Friday suspended millions of dollars in aid to the Indian Ocean island nation of Madagascar, saying the change of government there this week was unconstitutional.

The State Department said the Obama administration would cut all non-humanitarian assistance to the country because the departure of President Marc Ravalomanana, who resigned after weeks of protests and handed power to the military, was “tantamount to a coup d’etat.”

“The United States will not maintain our current assistance partnership with Madagascar,” department spokesman Robert A. Wood told reporters.

The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development could not immediately provide the exact amount of aid to be suspended, but Madagascar participates in several U.S. development-assistance programs with different agencies. One of those agencies, the Millennium Challenge Corp., said it was putting a hold on a five-year, $110 million grant program. More than half of that grant had already been disbursed.

Federal law requires the U.S. to suspend non-humanitarian assistance to countries where a democratically elected government is toppled by unconstitutional means.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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