UPI's Capital Comment for May 14, 2002

By United Press International  |  May 14, 2002 at 12:42 PM
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WASHINGTON, May 14 (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.

Keeping an ear to the ground and a nose to the grindstone -- Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, is nothing if not persistent.

In 1996, Boehner participated in a conference call with other members of the House's GOP leadership where pending resolution of a House Ethics Committee investigation into Speaker Newt Gingrich's college course was discussed. Boehner, who was on vacation, took the call on his cell phone. A Florida couple, activist Democrats, intercepted the call over their scanner, taped it, and brought it to Washington.

Once the contents of the tape became public, some House Democrats charged the call violated the agreement Gingrich's representatives made with the Ethics Committee to refrain from organizing opposition to the proposed resolution of their investigation into Gingrich's college course.

Claiming an invasion of privacy, Boehner brought suit against Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., formerly ranking Democrat on the committee, whom he claimed had been the one to make the tape of the private phone conversation public -- something McDermott repeatedly denied.

Five years after the fact, a new admission allegedly made by McDermott has given new impetus to the case -- which has been tossed out and reinstated in the ensuing years.

According to a Capitol Hill news weekly, McDermott admitted in documents filed with the court that it was in fact he who alerted the media to the tape's existence. He also, he is alleged to have admitted, allowed two well-known anti-Gingrich reporters to listen to it, forming the basis for the leak. The complex legal issue involved as one member of Congress sues another over actions taken in the course of official business aside, it seems that Boehner may at least be one step closer to a moral victory.

One giant leap for partisan kind -- John Weaver, once the lead consultant for Arizona Sen. John McCain's 2000 presidential bid, is continuing the process of distancing himself from his former Republican colleagues. On Monday it was learned that Weaver had signed a contract, effective May 1, to provide consulting work for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party organization charged with electing Democrats to the U.S. House of Representatives. Weaver will, according to a source, focus primarily on helping the Democrats figure out what the GOP is doing in its efforts to maintain control of the House for the fourth consecutive election.

Que Syria Sera -- A bipartisan group of lawmakers, led by House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, and Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., is asking colleagues to cosponsor H.R. 4483, the Syria Accountability Act of 2002. Saying "Successive administrations have tried to engage Syria through diplomacy and a variety of carrots and sticks, and have been largely unsuccessful," the lawmakers say the legislation would provide new tools to hold the country accountable for policies that destabilize the region. Of particular concern are Syria's rumored efforts to field chemical and biological weapons and the development of longer-range ballistic missiles.

A big wind -- On Monday, President George Bush issued a presidential proclamation declaring the week of May 19 through May 25 as National Hurricane Awareness Week. The president is calling on government agencies, private organizations, schools, news media, and residents in hurricane-prone areas to use the week to share information about hurricane preparedness and response to help prevent storm damage and save lives.

American and Muslim -- The American Muslim Council, one of the nation's leading advocacy groups for Islamic Americans, opens its 11th national convention -- "American Muslims: Part of America" -- on June 27. The gathering at Alexandria, Va.'s Hilton Mark Center will include panel discussions, award presentations, a briefing by the White House and a reception on Capitol Hill.

United we stand; divided we stay logged off -- A national town hall meeting moderated by CBS News' Joie Chen will discuss what, if any specific actions the government and the private sector should take to ensure that young people and entrepreneurs of color can bridge the so-called digital divide. The UNITY 2002 town hall meeting will be held May 22 at the National Press Club in Washington. Hosted by Journalists of Color Inc., the program is being sponsored by software giant Microsoft.

Because every vote counts at least once -- The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a liberal organization concerned with issues of importance to black America and other minority blocs, is holding a forum May 22 on issues affecting voting rights and minorities in the decennial redistricting process. Participants in the forum include center scholar David Bositis and Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law Voting Rights Project Director Anita Hodgkiss and Maria Echaveste.

Sore winner -- Fred Wertheimer, the former head of Common Cause who for years advocated additional regulation of the American campaign finance system, is a bit peeved at the White House. In a recent column, Wertheimer complains about the Republican National Committee joining the list of groups suing to overturn the Bush-signed legislation covering campaign activities.

Scoffing at the RNC's claim it "did not consult with the Bush administration before filing the suit," Wertheimer suggests the "old notion that the national political party of a sitting president functions as an arm of the president must no longer be operative. I guess White House political czar Karl Rove must have a runaway RNC on his hands, making major political decisions without even consulting him about it!"

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