UPI's Capital Comment for May 8, 2003

WASHINGTON, May 8 (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.

Waving the white flag...


At the invitation of U.S. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, U.S. and foreign officials gathered Wednesday in Washington for a two-day conference on the use of children as combatants in war.

"The goal of this conference is to bring international attention to the atrocity of child soldiers in the world today," Chao said in her opening remarks. "The forced recruitment and use of children as combatants is one of the worst forms of child labor. It is a moral outrage and must be stopped. All nations have got to come together to put an end to this evil."

The International Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers estimates that more than 300,000 children in more than 30 countries, the majority of who are between the ages of 15 and 18, may be fighting for governments or armed factions. Chao used the conference as an occasion to announce a three-part, $13 million U.S. government initiative to combat the problem.


The new efforts consists of a $7 million global project to be administered through the International Labor Organization's International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor; a $3 million project focusing on education needs of former child soldiers in Northern Uganda; and a $3 million project focusing on education needs of former child soldiers in Afghanistan that will be implemented by UNICEF.

The conference, which includes close to 500 representatives of governments, non-governmental organizations, the media and research groups, is examining strategies ranging from prevention to disarmament, demobilization, reintegration and rehabilitation at the community level.

A Haley fellow, well met...

Washington and Mississippi are joining hands June 9 for a party to celebrate former Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour's run for governor of his home state. The young professionals organizing the event promise an evening of Southern fun, hospitality and fried catfish -- all for $50 per person.

Event organizer Anne Gavin says: "There are a lot of Mississippians who live and work in Washington who are enthusiastic about his candidacy and what he can do for Mississippi. Haley has been very kind to a lot of people over the years, many of them young professionals just starting out who worked for or with him. They are glad to have the chance to give a little something back."


Those who want to attend are asked to contact Gavin by e-mail at [email protected].

The race between Barbour and incumbent Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, a Democrat, is expected to break a number of existing state records for campaign spending. Internal party polls reportedly have the race as a dead heat.

Office politics...

It had been generally assumed that, when the time came for White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels to leave the administration, longtime Bush associate Clay Johnson would take his place. Currently the director of the Office of Presidential Personnel, Johnson and Bush have been close friends since both were teens attending the same school. On Jan. 13, the president nominated Johnson to be deputy OMB director, something that is still pending in the Senate.

On Tuesday, Daniels announced he would indeed be leaving as had been widely speculated for some time. A meticulous man, it is unlikely he would have failed to notify the president and other senior White House officials well in advance of his announcement to give them time to come up with a replacement. To date, however, no successor has been announced.


It is true that the president likes to bring his new people forward in the limelight, waiting a few days after an opening occurs to publicly fill it. But in this case, some Republican sources say the delay may indicate Johnson's move into the top OMB job may be in jeopardy.

At least two influential Capitol Hill Republicans are rumored to have told the White House they are cool to the idea. Johnson is said to have a history of rocky relations with members of Congress and with Texas state legislators dating to Bush's term as governor. As Washington abhors a personnel vacuum, other trial balloons floating the names of potential replacement have already gone up including current NASA head and former OMB official Sean O'Keefe, former U.S. Rep. Dick Armey, and current U.S. Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

Johnson, because of his long history with the president, remains the candidate subject to the most frequent speculation, but the White House apparently still has some selling to do on Capitol Hill if it wants him in the job. The buzz Wednesday afternoon was that other names were already being considered inside the West Wing.


Personnel notes...

Colin McMillan of New Mexico is the president's choice to be the new secretary of the Navy. Currently the chairman of the Sallie Mae board, McMillan is a former assistant secretary of Defense and a former New Mexico state legislator... Pharmaceutical giant Schering-Plough has brought on G. Lawrence Atkins as senior director for public policy and reimbursement in its Washington office. Atkins once served as a healthcare adviser to the late Sen. John Heinz... Stephen G. Smith, the former editor of U.S. News and World Report and National Journal, has been named vice president of communications for the Brookings Institution think tank. Smith replaces former presidential Press Secretary Ron Nessen, who becomes the institution's journalist in residence.

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