UPI's Capital Comment for February 6, 2003

Feb. 6, 2003 at 4:15 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 5 (UPI) -- UPI's Capital Comment for February 6, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 5 (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.

Further discussion...

The controversy over the unfavorable portrayal of Muslims at the 30th annual Conference Political Action Conference held last weekend in Arlington, Va., continues. Capital Comment's report on the Saturday panel devoted to "Islam: Religion of peace?" prompted a call from Arab-American Institute head Jim Zogby, who had originally been scheduled to participate.

Zogby says CPAC officials asked him to appear on a panel about Islam some months ago, facing off against "someone from the other side."

"They mentioned a bunch of names including Daniel Pipes," Zogby says. "I told them I was not interested in participating in the kind of discussion into which such a panel would degenerate. I felt it would not edify anyone and no one would learn about Islam."

Zogby, who is Roman Catholic, earned his Ph.D. in comparative religions with an emphasis on Islamic studies while Pipes, the head of the Middle East Forum, is a prominent critic of aspects of the faith.

"When they asked me to participate in a CPAC forum on Islam with Chuck Colson, I was eager to participate. I believed it would produce a thoughtful exploration of the issues of religion, politics and violence."

Unbeknownst to Zogby, Colson withdrew because of what a CPAC spokesman said was a scheduling conflict and was replaced, at the direction of the co-sponsors, with Pipes and two other critics of Islam.

Zogby said he did not learn of Colson's withdrawal until the change appeared on CPAC's Web site. " I did not hear again from them again until I saw on the Web site that Colson was not on the panel and that three people who were -- including Pipes -- had an ideological ax to grind against Islam." In a call to CPAC organizer Peter Cleary after he discovered the change, Zogby informed him would be pulling out of the program.

"I told him it was no longer a discussion but a dogfight and I was not about to be part of it," Zogby said. "Cleary said 'people would accuse me of being a chicken.' I told him I was a big boy and I could handle myself but that he had not been honest with me about the nature of the panel and that I would not participate. He said he understood and we hung up the phone."

Cleary admits he was late in notifying Zogby and the leader of another Muslim group about the change but confirms the two spoke after the substitution was announced on the Web site.

"I told Zogby I knew very little about Pipes and only had his word for it that Pipes had a habit of engaging in ad hominem attacks on the subject of Islam. I also told Zogby that it might be too late to get his name off the printed schedule." Cleary says he was trying to warn Zogby that, even if he withdrew, his name might still appear in the printed schedule and that, if his assessment was correct, Pipes might accuse of him of chickening out of the debate and that he "would not be there to defend himself."

Pipes feels Zogby's criticism is unfounded. "I repeatedly, emphatically consistently distinguish between Islam the religion and militant Islam the ideology. Some people are just not smart enough to absorb that distinction and I guess Mr. Zogby is one of them," Pipes told UPI.


On Wednesday the full Senate began a debate over the nomination of Miguel Estrada to be a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The first Hispanic nominated for a seat on that particular court, he has attracted a lot of interest -- not all of it good. A number of liberal special interest groups have come out strongly against his nomination and are putting pressure on Senate Democrats to keep him from being confirmed.

Sources inside the Senate expected the Democrats to launch a filibuster against Estrada on Tuesday. A filibuster, when a single senator or small group engage in protracted speech-making to hold the floor and prevent a vote from occurring, is an extreme tactic that is little used today. In the modern Senate, nominations are stopped by holds that keep them off the floor and by the agreement of Senate leaders to move on to other business.

If the Democrats try to filibuster, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., intends to make them hold the floor and talk -- essentially to have a real filibuster -- rather than acknowledge that it is underway and then move to other business by unanimous consent.

This would be hard to do because it would require Frist to keep all 51 Senate Republicans in the Capitol round-the-clock to answer quorum calls and to keep the Senate in session -- while the Democrats can hold up their end with just a handful of members.

The Republicans hope that such a struggle would attract the attention of the Washington press corps and would underscore their content that the Democrats are being obstructionist. One senior Senate source says that Frist, in what others say is the first real test of his leadership, intends to force the Democrats to stay on the floor talking if they want to prevent Estrada's nomination from coming to a vote. It's a risky strategy -- a high stakes game of political chicken -- but with all the Senate Republicans currently backing him up, Frist hopes he can make the Democrats blink first.

Personnel notes...

Bill Wichterman, formerly the chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., the head of the GOP Values Action Team, has moved over to the office of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn. In his new role, Wichterman will be Frist's point man for dealing with conservative groups... Telly Lovelace, who has for some time been the Washington presence for Star Parker's Coalition on Urban Renewal and Education, has been named deputy communications director for freshman Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo.... Chris Cox, currently the chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., has accepted an offer from the White House legislative affairs office to come aboard as a special assistant dealing with the United States House of Representatives.

Got an item for Capital Comment? E-mail it to CapComm@UPI.com.

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