- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 7, 2009

SUPREME COURT

Judicial filibuster unlikely, senator says

The top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee says he’s inclined against using a filibuster to block President Obama’s nominee to succeed retiring Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter.

Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama said a deal among centrist senators four yours ago that averted filibusters against some of former President George W. Bush’s judicial nominees established a “standard” that shouldn’t be discarded except in unusual circumstances. Mr. Sessions, however, didn’t entirely rule out a filibuster.

“I think it should not be often used,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

Mr. Sessions said that Mr. Obama assured him in a brief telephone conversation Tuesday that he was not planning to nominate a “bomb-thrower.” The senator said he told Mr. Obama that Republicans would treat his nominee with respect and said that “we’re not going to misrepresent their record.”

SENATE

Specter shrugs off loss of seniority

Sen. Arlen Specter sought to minimize any political damage Wednesday after fellow Democrats decided against honoring the 28 years’ seniority he accumulated as a Republican before switching parties last week.

In a statement, Mr. Specter expressed confidence that beginning in 2011, “my seniority will be maintained under the arrangement I worked out with” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, before switching.

Mr. Specter said last week he and Mr. Reid had agreed he would be treated for seniority purposes as though he had been elected as a Democrat when he first came to the Senate in 1980. The issue has important ramifications because chairmanships as well as money to hire large staffs can be at stake.

Reid aides say the majority leader did not make a flat commitment to honor the Pennsylvania lawmaker’s seniority, telling him he would try but the issue would have to go before the Democratic rank and file.

On Tuesday night, hours after the Democrats’ weekly luncheon, the Senate passed a resolution that made Mr. Specter the most junior Democrat on the committees on which he serves. The resolution was passed after an agreement was reached between leadership in both parties and Mr. Specter, Reid spokesman Jim Manley said.

HOUSE

6 arrested, charged with disruption

A group of six pro-independence Puerto Ricans was arrested Wednesday for demonstrating inside the House, a Capitol Police spokeswoman said.

The group got passes to the House gallery from Pedro R. Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s delegate to Congress, his office said. Constituents can request and obtain passes to watch House proceedings through their representative.

Mr. Pierluisi said he recognizes the group’s right to express their opinions, but incidents like the demonstration could hurt Puerto Rico’s image.

“There are appropriate and lawful ways to speak one’s mind about the political status of Puerto Rico that do not violate the law or interfere with the orderly proceedings of government,” Mr. Pierluisi said in a written statement.

Arrested were Jose Rivera, 60; Ramon Rivera, 72; Luis Rivera, 67; Luis Romero, 55; Maria Rodriguez, 31; and Eugenia Perez, 59. They have been charged with disrupting Congress, said Sgt. Kimberly Schneider. The group was holding up signs in the visitors’ seating area that overlooks the floor of the House, she said.

ATHLETICS

Group says nation needs sports czar

A group that studies sports in society is urging the Obama administration to step up the federal government’s role in athletics, possibly with a Cabinet-level post.

Sport in Society, based at Northeastern University in Boston, says the enhanced government role could serve several important goals. It says the U.S. could encourage more youth participation, increase access for women and the handicapped, and promote healthier lifestyles.

According to the group’s proposal, made Wednesday, most countries already have a minister or secretary of sport. Sport in Society says the government could create a “Secretary of Sport and Culture,” establish a special adviser, or increase funding for existing programs.

AUDIT

FAA vulnerable to cyberattacks

A new government audit says the nation’s air-traffic control systems are vulnerable to cyberattacks, and support systems have been breached in recent months, allowing hackers access to personnel records and network servers.

The audit done by the Department of Transportation’s inspector general finds that although most of the attacks disrupted only support systems, they could spread to the operational systems that control communications, surveillance and flight information used to separate aircraft.

Auditors say the Federal Aviation Administration is not able to adequately detect potential cybersecurity attacks, and it must better secure its systems against hackers and other intruders.

SENATE

Franken huddles with vice president

Democratic Senate candidate Al Franken met privately with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. late Wednesday afternoon to update him on the still-contested Minnesota Senate race.

Mr. Franken, who said he is eager to join the Senate, said the two men also discussed President Obama’s policy goals.

Mr. Biden said he and Mr. Obama are looking forward to working with Mr. Franken after the Minnesota Supreme Court issues a final ruling.

Mr. Franken is ahead of Republican Norm Coleman by a narrow margin after a statewide recount. Mr. Franken was declared the winner by a special court in Minnesota, but Mr. Coleman has appealed the case to the Minnesota Supreme Court. Mr. Coleman could also pursue a separate federal appeal.

If Mr. Franken wins the appeal and is sworn in, he would represent Democrats’ 60th vote in the U.S. Senate.

FEMA

Hold on nominee irks White House

The White House said Wednesday that its nominee to run the Federal Emergency Management Agency deserves immediate Senate confirmation, not “political posturing” from a Republican senator who is standing in the way of a vote.

President Obama nominated Craig Fugate two months ago. The former chief of emergency management in Florida is experienced at handling hurricanes, has bipartisan support and had been expected to be confirmed quickly.

But Louisiana Sen. David Vitter is delaying the vote, saying that he has been waiting for more than two months for the agency to tell him how it will proceed with high-risk flood zones that will affect rebuilding in Louisiana, projects stemming from hurricane damage in 2005. He also wants information on rebuilding several community facilities in the small barrier island of Grand Isle, La.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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