Monday, July 24, 2006
Political Hot Topics
AS BOLTON'S POST COMES UP FOR RENEWAL, SOME DEMS VOW A FIGHT: Senate Democrats have promised a "bruising fight" over the administration's nomination of John R. Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations... Mr. Bolton's temporary appointment is set to expire this fall, when Congress adjourns. However, the Senate has scheduled a debate this week on extending Mr. Bolton's appointment through the end of the Bush administration. On Thursday, Mr. Voinovich announced that he no longer is opposed to Mr. Bolton, all but guaranteeing that his nomination will be sent to the Senate floor with a positive recommendation... Democrats have not said whether they intend to filibuster the nomination again. However, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., the ranking member on the Foreign Relations Committee, hinted that a filibuster was possible. Washington Times: Democrats pledge to fight Bolton nod

MEMBERS INTERVIEWED ON LEAKS: The FBI is close to finishing a series of interviews with the top Congressional leaders and other key Members in both chambers as part of its wide-ranging criminal probe of alleged leaks of the previously classified domestic surveillance program. The agents and Justice Department officials are investigating whether any of the 15 current and former Members briefed earlier this decade about the National Security Agency spying program were a source for a New York Times report about the issue last December... The interviews, which came about after extensive negotiations this spring between the Justice Department and the counsels for the House and Senate, are taking place in Members' Congressional offices, usually with two FBI agents and one Justice Department lawyer in attendance. Members are also permitted to have a House or Senate counsel on hand if they wished. Roll Call: Leak Probe Progressing

ABA TO ISSUE CRITICAL REPORT ON "SIGNING STATEMENTS": A panel of legal scholars and lawyers assembled by the American Bar Association is sharply criticizing the use of "signing statements" by President Bush that assert his right to ignore or not enforce laws passed by Congress. In a report to be issued today, the ABA task force said that Bush has lodged more challenges to provisions of laws than all previous presidents combined. The panel members described the development as a serious threat to the Constitution's system of checks and balances, and they urged Congress to pass legislation permitting court review of such statements. Washington Post: Bush's Tactic of Refusing Laws Is Probed

DEMS CHANGE PRIMARY CALENDAR... NH MAY AS WELL STAND FOR "NOT HAPPY": As criticism continued in New Hampshire, the national Democratic rules committee yesterday formally adopted a 2008 delegate selection rule that breaks up the long Iowa-New Hampshire one-two tandem and places a Nevada caucus between them. There was no debate as the Democratic National Committee's Rules and Bylaws Committee inserted a new Rule 10-A into its official plans for selecting delegates to the party's 2008 Democratic National Convention... When the committee decided on Saturday that Nevada would hold a caucus between the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, Secretary of State William Gardner gave a strong indication that the move is grounds for triggering a state law allowing him to move the primary ahead of Nevada and possibly even Iowa as well, regardless of any DNC rule. He said the move "diminishes the value and dishonors the tradition" of the primary. Manchester Union-Leader: With no debate, Dems 'trample' primary

GOP "VIRTUALLY CERTAIN TO LOSE GROUND"... BUT HOW MUCH? Less than four months before the mid-term elections, there is one question that is preoccupying candidates around the country: How big will the Republican losses be in November? History suggests, and operatives in both parties agree, that Republicans are virtually certain to lose ground. The party that holds the White House almost always loses House seats in the midterm elections held in the sixth year of a two-term presidency. Only once in the past century has that pattern not held. There are no signs this year will be an aberration. President Bush is suffering from low approval ratings, and there is widespread discontent over the war in Iraq. Polls likewise show frustration with the Republican majority in Congress and an increased willingness to give Democrats the leadership reins. Washington Post: Issues That Will Shape The 2006 Elections

AFTER $1.4 BILLION IN "FRAUD AND ABUSE," DHS CUTS CASH HANDOUTS: The Department of Homeland Security, responding to months of criticism and ridicule, is revamping several of its core disaster relief programs, enacting changes that will include sharply cutting emergency cash assistance for victims of major disasters, and more carefully controlling access to free hotel rooms. Immediate emergency aid would not exceed $500 under the new rules, instead of the $2,000 per family previously allowed. And it would be handed out only after identities and addresses were checked. Such precautions were not taken consistently last year after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, an oversight auditors said led to fraud and abuse of up to $1.4 billion. New York Times: U.S. Government Plans Overhaul in Disaster Aid

GET READY FOR "OIL-PRICE SHOCK": Oil prices that more than doubled over the last three years have left a surprisingly small imprint on the U.S. and world economies. That may be about to change. The latest jump in prices, triggered by the Israel-Hezbollah conflict in Lebanon, comes at an inopportune time for the global economy. U.S. growth is slowing and inflation is rising... "It makes for an ugly situation," says Allen Sinai, president of consultant Decision Economics in New York and the top-ranked economist in the Wall Street Journal's latest forecasting survey. The 5 percent increase in crude-oil prices over the last month comes "on top of a U.S. economy that's vulnerable" and with a Federal Reserve that's "pretty stuck," he says. Bloomberg: Oil-Price Shock May Strike World Economy at Vulnerable Moment

SMOKIN' IN THE HOUSE: During a series of votes, members stroll in and out of the chamber to relax in the Speaker's Lobby -- an exclusive spot where they can put up their feet, crack jokes, read newspapers, make phone calls and, yes, smoke cigarettes, cigars and pipes... It is perfectly legal for members to light up in the Speaker's Lobby, an unventilated room adjoining the House chamber on the second floor of the Capitol. The room's rules are set by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican who does not smoke. "Members are required to be here for long hours and oftentimes need to be near the floor for votes and other legislative business," said Hastert spokeswoman Lisa C. Miller. "To provide them a small designated area for smoking gives them the opportunity to be close by." Leaving the vast building for a puff outside the Capitol could take members 10 minutes, sometimes more than they can spare. "As long as people have smoked, there's been smoking in the Capitol," said former House historian Ray Smock. Washington Times: House's own smoke-filled room

INVESTIGATOR FINDS ABUSE OF "BLACK BUDGETS": An independent investigation has found that imprisoned former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham took advantage of secrecy and badgered congressional aides to help slip items into classified bills that would benefit him and his associates. The finding comes from Michael Stern, an outside investigator hired by the House Intelligence Committee to look into how Cunningham was able to carry out the scheme. Stern is working with the committee to fix vulnerabilities in the way top-secret legislation is written, said congressional officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the committee still is being briefed on Stern's findings. Cunningham's case has put a stark spotlight on the oversight of classified - or "black" - budgets. Unlike legislation dealing with social and economic issues, intelligence bills and parts of defense bills are written in private, in the name of national security. AP via Yahoo! News: Probe finds ex-Rep. abused 'black' budgets

FRESHMAN THUNE SAYS HIS WORDS WERE "MISCHARACTERIZED": Shortly after the news broke last week that Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) had told an audience he would advise Republican candidates to distance themselves from President Bush on the Iraq war, the aspiring freshman began working the Republican Conference to extinguish the flames. Thune - a rising GOP star who's eyeing a bid to chair the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the 2008 cycle - quickly began telling colleagues that his remarks, delivered Wednesday at the National Press Club, had been taken out of context and that he strongly supports Bush's policy on Iraq as well as Republican efforts to highlight Democratic disunity on national security. News outlets quoted Thune as saying if he were a candidate in 2006, "you obviously don't embrace the president and his agenda."... Almost as quickly as those news reports began spreading through the Conference, Thune started reaching out to his fellow Republican Senators to explain that his words had been mischaracterized. Roll Call: Thune Clears the Air

DESPITE HUGE LEAD, NELSON KEEPS RAKING IT IN: Sen. Bill Nelson's best-known Republican rival in Florida's U.S. Senate race is churning through campaign staffers, trailing by 30 points in the polls and wounded by ties to a scandal-linked lobbyist. Yet the Democratic senator is shattering Florida fundraising records, raising more than $15 million for his reelection bid -- already more than Republican Sen. Mel Martinez raised in his successful 2004 race... Nelson, who has $12 million in the bank, says he's simply being prudent. The incumbent notes it takes a lot of money to compete in Florida. His campaign is likely to go on TV as the November general election approaches -- at a cost of between $1.5 million and $2 million a week to reach saturation in the state's 10 television markets. And he says he isn't taking any chances on Republicans gunning for him after the Sept. 5 primary. His best-known opponent, Rep. Katherine Harris, R-Sarasota, has $2.6 million on hand, has lent her own campaign nearly $3 million and insists she's aggressively raising money. Miami Herald: With big margin, Nelson's building Senate war chest

FITZ LOOKING AT IL GOV'S HIRING PRACTICES: Gov. Rod Blagojevich's office was approving candidates by name for state jobs as late as fall 2004, nearly 18 months after aides said a "blind" hiring system was created, documents show. Well into Blagojevich's second year in office, his chief of staff and personnel director continued to sign off on names of candidates for such jobs as secretary, auto mechanic and film office intern, nearly 300 employment forms obtained by The Associated Press reveal. Blagojevich's hiring practices are the subject of an investigation by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who says he has found witnesses to "very serious allegations of endemic hiring fraud." Blagojevich, a first-term Democrat, has not been charged with any wrongdoing. AP via Chicago Tribune: Ill. Gov. Hired by Name Well Into '04
Posted By Stephen Bach, CNN Washington Bureau: 7/24/2006 09:20:00 AM ET | Permalink
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