- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 9, 2009


Steele slams Obama on ‘empathy’

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele has a message for President Obama and his stated goal of replacing Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter with a judge who brings empathy to the bench: “Empathize right on your behind.”

Sitting in for host Bill Bennett on the “Morning in America” radio show Friday, Mr. Steele, a lawyer, said Mr. Obama should be searching for a judge who understands the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law.

“Crazy nonsense empathetic! I’ll give you empathy. Empathize right on your behind. Craziness!” Mr. Steele told the radio audience.

Speaking to reporters last week to announce Justice Souter’s retirement, Mr. Obama said he would seek a replacement who combines an impeccable legal background with “empathy and understanding” for how the law is applied.

“I will seek someone who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a case book. It is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives,” Mr. Obama said.

Conservatives including Utah Republican Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, have questioned Mr. Obama’s goal of selecting an empathetic Supreme Court pick. On Monday, Mr. Hatch called empathy “a buzzword for judicial activists.”


Hiring drive eyed at State, USAID

President Obama’s proposed foreign affairs budget calls for a massive hiring drive at the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development to staff a dramatic shift from military to civilian operations abroad.

The spending plan submitted to Congress on Friday calls for adding 1,226 new Civil and Foreign Service diplomatic positions at the two agencies in the budget year that starts in October. It projects a 25 percent boost in the total number of Foreign Service officers by 2013 and doubling the number at USAID by 2012.

There are currently 6,600 Foreign Service officers at the State Department and another 1,000 at USAID.

“Smart power starts with people,” said Jacob Lew, the deputy secretary of state for management and resources who detailed the specifics of the $53.9 billion budget proposal for reporters on Friday. “We want to be able to pursue the policies that we’re calling smart power and we don’t have the troops to do it without this buildup.”

The budget puts the Obama administration on track to double the United States’ foreign aid by 2015, and Mr. Lew and other senior officials said neither the State Department nor USAID now has the manpower to handle that.


Blagojevich’s lawyer agrees to lower fee

The top lawyer for ousted Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich reluctantly agreed Friday to be paid far below the rate some lawyers usually charge in return for being allowed to tap his $2.3 million campaign fund.

In court papers filed Friday morning, attorney Sheldon Sorosky accepted the rate of $110 an hour, which is the legal limit court-appointed lawyers can charge in federal cases. Big-name criminal defense attorneys often work on a flat-fee basis, but when computed as hourly rates their charges can range up to $700 and beyond.

Federal prosecutors had said they would not object to the defense using the fund if the hourly rate were limited. If attorneys had billed the fund at a high rate, they said, it would soon be exhausted.

Mr. Blagojevich is charged with scheming to sell or trade President Obama’s U.S. Senate seat and using the muscle of the governor’s office to squeeze companies with state business for campaign contributions.

He has pleaded not guilty to all charges.


Obama reassures Hispanics on flu

President Obama sought Friday to reassure Hispanics that swine flu won’t lead to an epidemic of discrimination in the United States just because Mexico has been the epicenter of the outbreak.

At a town hall-style meeting at the White House, Mr. Obama told about 130 Hispanic public health professionals and neighborhood volunteers that the nation’s plan to fight the flu will not exclude their communities. Even if some residents are here illegally, they will still be able to get medical care for the flu, administration officials assured the group.

“We’re one country, we’re one community. When one person gets sick, that has the potential of making us all sick,” Mr. Obama said. “We can’t be divided by communities.”

Mr. Obama spoke in English to open a town-hall style meeting that continued in Spanish after he left. The gathering was co-sponsored by the Spanish-language media company Univision. Excerpts will be broadcast on Spanish-language television programs around the country and in Latin America.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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