UPI's Capital Comment for May 16, 2002

By United Press International  |  May 16, 2002 at 4:48 AM
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WASHINGTON, May 16 (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.

Table manners -- If there is one Republican in the U.S. Senate who doesn't want to antagonize the White House right now, it may be New Hampshire's Bob Smith. The two-term legislator is in the midst of a difficult primary fight against Rep. John Sununu, R-N.H., the namesake son of Bush 41's chief of staff, and he does not need the White House to weigh in against him, even tacitly.

Smith probably did not help his case at Tuesday night's Republican National Committee fundraising gala. A source sitting several tables away from Smith says the senator's cell phone emitted an extremely loud ring while President George Bush was in the middle of his speech. The phone rang "three loud blasts," says the source, while Smith fumbled around in his pocket trying to get to it.

It is a well-known fact -- except, possibly, to Smith -- that cell phones going off at inappropriate times are a presidential pet peeve. So, instead of telling the person on the other end of the phone that he would call back, our source says Smith commenced a conversation and laughed out loud. People for several tables around him in all directions were glaring at him, giving the impression they all thought it was inappropriate and rude. Nevertheless, Smith just kept talking and laughing and glaring back, the source says, staying on the phone for close to 10 minutes while the president gave his remarks and tried to ignore what was going on in front of him.

Crossed off? -- With great fanfare, Cable News Network re-launched Crossfire as its signature political program. In an effort to beef up the left side of the desk, former California Democratic Party Chairman Bill Press was dumped from the show in favor of the Clinton-partisan tag team of Paul Begala and James Carville while pundit Tucker Carlson joined Bob Novak on the right. The show was also expanded to an hour, the format was altered to allow more topics to be discussed on each show and it was moved to a theater at George Washington University so that an audience could be added. In all, a very expensive undertaking. Unfortunately, the major retooling appears not to have worked. Media insiders are quietly saying that the new format and new co-hosts have not delivered the ratings CNN had hoped for, to say the least. Additionally, rumors persist that Novak, who has the most gravitas among the four co-hosts, is unhappy with the direction CNN is taking and is thinking about leaving the network. So it looks like the new Crossfire may be old news more quickly then the network would like.

And the award goes to... -- Restaurateur and National Restaurant Association member Ruben Sepulveda, Sr., received the National Immigration Forum's Thomas Carvel Immigrant Entrepreneur Award at their annual Keepers of the American Dream Awards Dinner in Washington Wednesday night.

Coulter's catch-22 -- Columnist Ann Coulter is picking a fight with Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, over his failure to move ahead on the nomination of Miguel Estrada to a seat on the federal bench.

Leahy recently said of the nomination, "To contend that (Miguel) Estrada, a young attorney with no judicial experience, is the only Hispanic who could be a nominee to a potential vacancy on the Supreme Court does a disservice to the many outstanding Hispanic judges serving in our federal and state courts."

In a stinging rebuke, Coulter says "Bush was just looking for top legal talent, not models for a Benetton ad," adding, "It's rather churlish for Leahy to complain that Estrada has no judicial experience. He can't develop judicial experience until he's on the bench, where the Democrats refuse to put him because he has no judicial experience."

Coming apart -- Political activists in Los Angeles expect a measure to allow the San Fernando Valley portion of the city to become a separate political entity will soon be on the ballot. If the secession effort succeeds, the as-of-yet unnamed new city would be the sixth largest in America. Los Angeles Mayor James Hahn opposes the measure, which is gaining support from many different quarters. The principal complaint, supporters of the move say, is the "gross tax" levied on businesses regardless of whether they show a profit.

Mapmaker, mapmaker, make me a map -- The contentious New York congressional redistricting process may be headed to a conclusion. The Republicans, which controls the governor's pen and the state Senate, and the Democrats, who have an overwhelming majority in the state assembly, have been going at it hammer and tongs over the new lines. In the latest version of the map, which both sides expect to be approved, all the incumbents in the New York City metropolitan area had their hold on their districts strengthened -- even out into the suburbs. This development is something of a surprise, as the city was expected to take at least one hit. The state loses two seats because of reapportionment so it looks like Rep. Jack Quinn, R-N.Y., and Rep. John LaFalce, D-N.Y., will be thrown into the same seat near Buffalo. In the other incumbent-vs.-incumbent fight, GOP Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, one of the most liberal members of his party in the U.S. House, will face off against Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., but only if he can survive a rumored challenge from the party's conservative wing.

Union trouble -- Tuesday morning, members of ADAPT, a disability rights organization, blocked the entrances to three labor union headquarters buildings in Washington. The protesters want the unions, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the AFL-CIO, and the Service Employees International Union to give their support to The Medicaid Community Attendant Services and Supports Act currently pending in the House and Senate. ADAPT says the bill "would reform Medicaid to allow people real choice in where they receive long term care services."

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