UPI's Capital Comment for April 25, 2002

By United Press International  |  April 25, 2002 at 1:09 PM
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WASHINGTON, April 25 (UPI) -- Capital Comment -- Daily news notes, political rumors and important events that shape politics and public policy in Washington and the world from United Press International.

Back in play -- The three federal judges who tried to block the use of new congressional district lines in Pennsylvania have reversed themselves. On Tuesday, the panel issued an order staying its own earlier ruling to strike down the new lines because the populations of the 19 districts differed by as many as 19 people out of a state population of 12.3 million. The judges also scheduled a hearing for May 8 on a new map approved by the legislature last week. If approved, those lines will be imposed on the state for the 2004 election. In rejecting the original map, the court cited case law saying states should make congressional districts as close to even in size as possible.

The number of congressional districts has been reduced from 21 to 19 to reflect Pennsylvania's slow population growth during the 1990s as compared to the rest of the country. The new lines are expected to alter the partisan makeup of the congressional delegation from 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats to 14 Republicans and five Democrats, putting the Democrats' drive to retake control of the House of Representatives in serious jeopardy.

Block busting -- Human Rights Watch came down hard on Israel's decision to suspend cooperation with the U.N. fact-finding mission into the Jenin refugee camp Wednesday. "Suspects shouldn't be able to chose their investigators," Hanny Megally, the executive director of the group's Middle East and North Africa division, said.

The group is charging that the Israeli move is another in "a long history of abusive governments trying to obstruct those appointed by the international community to look into human rights violations," and cites recent events in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo as other examples.

New Jersey GOP bedeviled by tight primary -- The race to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Marge Roukema is attracting a lot of attention, in part because no one is sure how it is going to come out. Assemblyman Scott Garrett, who challenged Roukema in the party primary twice before has been thought to be the frontrunner. But a new survey by McLaughlin & Associates undertaken for state Sen. Gerry Cardinale shows Cardinale has the most support with 32 percent of the 300 likely GOP primary voters surveyed. Garrett is second at 26 percent, and Assemblyman Dave Russo is third at 9 percent. "Undecided" led the field at 33 percent.

What we're about -- The Democrats have released a new party message card, "Securing America's Future, for all our Families" that outlines what they are calling their "kitchen table agenda" for the nation. According to the card, the Democrats are committed to: Winning the war on terrorism and making our country more secure; protecting your Social Security, pension and retirement savings; investing in America to create good jobs; cutting prescription drug costs and providing Medicare drug coverage for every senior; improving education by reducing class size with new, qualified teachers; and keeping our air and water clean.

"Crazy," says a FOX -- FOX News/Opinion Dynamics asked 900 registered voters across the country about Rep. Cynthia McKinney's, D-Ga., suggestion that President George W. Bush, in the words of the question, "had advance warning of the Sept. 11 attack and kept quiet about it so his friends and family could make money from their oil interests." Asked if they though McKinney's theory was "correct" or "just crazy," 75 percent chose crazy, including 67 percent of Democrats, 88 percent of Republicans and 68 percent of Independents. Just 11 percent -- 17 percent of Democrats, 4 percent of Republicans and 10 percent of the Independents -- thought the Georgia congresswoman was "correct."

Morning Starr -- Judge Kenneth Starr, who found fame but not fortune as the independent counsel charged with investigating corruption and obstruction in the Clinton White House, will give a briefing on the legal challenges ahead for the new federal campaign conduct law. The talk, sponsored by Frontiers of Freedom, a conservative group, will be held at the National Press Club on April 26. Starr is the lead attorney for a group challenging the constitutionality of the new law that some see as an infringement on the right to free speech guaranteed by the first amendment.

Back in dry dock -- The scheduled luncheon briefing with Israeli Adm. Eli Marum mentioned in Tuesday's Capital Comment has been cancelled. The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the sponsor of the event, gave no reason for the cancellation.

Up in the air, junior birdman! -- The Bush administration plans to reshape the Pentagon may be kicking into high gear. With Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Jones headed to Europe later this year, the early speculation is that his deputy, Gen. Michael Williams, will be tapped to replace him. Williams is a former helicopter pilot and, if selected, would be the first Marine aviator to ever lead the Corps.

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