Friday, June 16, 2006
House Boots Jefferson From Committee
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: June 16, 2006
Filed at 12:43 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The House stripped Democratic Rep. William Jefferson of his committee seat on Friday in an unprecedented action against a lawmaker ensnared in scandal, but not under indictment.
The move came on a voice vote, without debate, and capped an election-year effort by House Democrats to seize the political high ground on the issue of lawmaker ethics.
Jefferson had refused to step aside voluntarily from the powerful House Ways and Means Committee before the corruption probe was completed. The drive to remove him from the committee, led by the Democratic leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, sparked protests by black lawmakers who said Jefferson was being singled out unfairly.
Jefferson had no immediate response to the vote. On Thursday night, he issued a statement criticizing Pelosi over the ''unprecedented and unfair nature of her request for me'' to step aside.
Jefferson, who has denied wrongdoing and has not been indicted, was on the House floor at the time of the action. He and other members of the Congressional Black Caucus had been talking in a tight circle.
It was not clear what was said, or whether fellow Democrats had urged him once again to act on his own and avoid the stigma of being voted off the committee.
Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, chairman of the Democratic caucus, said he had intended to seek the move on Monday, but that Jefferson and Rep. Mel Watt of North Carolina, chairman of the CBC, recommended he proceed immediately.
Under House rules, any lawmaker could have sought a roll call vote. None did, meaning that Democrats, black lawmakers in particular, were spared the discomfort of having to take sides in public.
Clyburn told reporters that most members of the CBC did not want a vote.
On Thursday night, Democrats voted 99-58 to strip Jefferson of his seat on the Ways and Means Committee, with jurisdiction over taxes, trade, Social Security, Medicare and more.
''This isn't about proof in a court of law. This is about an ethical standard,'' Pelosi told reporters afterward.
Jefferson has not been indicted and maintains his innocence, although two men have been convicted in the probe and the FBI says it found $90,000 in bribe money in a food freezer in the congressman's home.
In the wake of the vote by fellow Democrats, Jefferson had appeared to leave open the possibility he might step aside voluntarily, telling reporters, ''I don't want to speculate.''
He also disclosed he had offered on Wednesday to step aside on the condition that the caucus establish a rule covering cases like his and that his seat on the committee go temporarily to a fellow Louisiana Democrat, Rep. Charles Melancon.
''Ms. Pelosi politely declined my offer,'' he said in a written statement. Pelosi's office confirmed the exchange.
The three-hour closed door meeting marked the culmination of a drive by Pelosi to take action.
''I wish the White House would follow our lead on this,'' she added. Democrats have vowed to make ethics a cornerstone of their campaign for control of the House this fall and have repeatedly accused Republicans of presiding over a ''culture of corruption.''
Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, is a member of the Democratic leadership as well as the black caucus, said the rank and file had confronted ''two competing interests -- the legal interest and the political interest.''
Earlier, Pelosi brushed aside criticism, telling reporters at a news conference she had been ''more than fair.''
The FBI claims that it videotaped the Louisiana Democrat last summer taking $100,000 in bribe money and that agents later found $90,000 of the funds stashed in a freezer in his home. A former aid to the congressman and a businessman who admitted paying bribes to the lawmaker have pleaded guilty in the probe.
The issue has left many lawmakers torn. Several black lawmakers had appealed privately to Jefferson, who is black, to step aside from the committee voluntarily.
The chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Melvin Watt of North Carolina, said after the Democrats' vote that by taking the action they did, fellow Democrats chose ''political expedien
Police don't have to knock, justices say
Thursday, June 15, 2006; Posted: 11:15 a.m. EDT
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that police armed with a warrant can barge into homes and seize evidence even if they don't knock, a huge government victory that was decided by President Bush's new justices.
The 5-4 ruling clearly signals the court's conservative shift following the departure of moderate Sandra Day O'Connor.
The case tested previous court rulings that police armed with warrants generally must knock and announce themselves or they run afoul of the Constitution's Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches.
Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, said Detroit police acknowledge violating that rule when they called out their presence at a man's door then went inside three seconds to five seconds later.
"Whether that preliminary misstep had occurred or not, the police would have executed the warrant they had obtained, and would have discovered the gun and drugs inside the house," Scalia wrote.
But suppressing evidence is too high of a penalty, Scalia said, for errors by police in failing to properly announce themselves.
The outcome might have been different if O'Connor were still on the bench. She seemed ready, when the case was first argued in January, to rule in favor of Booker Hudson, whose house was searched in 1998.
O'Connor had worried aloud that officers around the country might start bursting into homes to execute search warrants. She asked: "Is there no policy of protecting the home owner a little bit and the sanctity of the home from this immediate entry?"
She retired before the case was decided, and a new argument was held so that Justice Samuel Alito could participate in deliberations. Alito and Bush's other Supreme Court pick, Chief Justice John Roberts, both supported Scalia's opinion.
Hudson's lawyers argued that evidence against him was connected to the improper search and could not be used against him.
Scalia said that a victory for Hudson would have given "a get-out-of-jail-free card" to him and others.
In a dissent, four justices complained that the decision erases more than 90 years of Supreme Court precedent.
"It weakens, perhaps destroys, much of the practical value of the Constitution's knock-and-announce protection," Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for himself and the three other liberal members.
Breyer said that police will feel free to enter homes without knocking and waiting a short time if they know that there is no punishment for it.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, a moderate, joined the conservatives in most of the ruling. He wrote his own opinion, however, to say "it bears repeating that it is a serious matter if law enforcement officers violate the sanctity of the home by ignoring the requisites of lawful entry."
Thursday, June 15, 2006
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. House of Representatives panel on Tuesday voted to raise the U.S. minimum wage in increments to $7.25 an hour by January 1, 2009.
The House Appropriations Committee backed the proposal by a vote of 32-27 during work on a massive fiscal 2007 funding bill for labor and health programs.
The surprise result came after seven Republicans on the committee supported the Democratic amendment.
But the legislation faces many hurdles, including possible efforts by Republican leaders to have the proposal stricken from the legislation, according to Republican and Democratic aides.
Under the proposal, which was offered by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, the current $5.15-per-hour federal minimum wage would rise in 70-cent increments starting January 1, 2007. On that date, the minimum wage would be set at $5.85 and a year later it would go to $6.55 before topping off at $7.25 in 2009.
Opponents, using House rules, could argue that this change in law should not be attached to annual spending bills, such as the measure approved by the House Appropriations Committee.
For the last several years, Democrats have been pushing to raise the minimum wage, which has been static since 1997.
Republicans have blocked the move, claiming it would discourage hiring of low-skilled workers and hurt the economy.
The next step for the legislation will be the House Rules Committee, which will have to decide whether to "protect" the amendment as part of the bill or let any lawmaker object to it when the legislation hits the House floor.
"Hopefully, the Rules Committee will protect it and we're going to have a showdown on the minimum wage," Rep. George Miller of California, the senior Democrat on the House Education and Workforce Committee, told reporters.
Hoyer and Miller said there would be bipartisan support for raising the minimum wage for 7.3 million workers if a full debate was allowed on the House floor.
The Senate has not yet debated the fiscal 2007 labor and health spending bill.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
RICHMOND, Va. Jun 14, 2006 (AP)— James Webb, a former Reagan Navy secretary who broke with the GOP over the invasion of Iraq, won the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. George Allen, a man he had endorsed six years earlier.
Webb won 53 percent of the vote in Virginia's primary Tuesday, defeating Harris Miller, a wealthy businessman and longtime Democratic activist who outspent him nearly 2-1.
"We need leadership that will not just follow an administration blindly, but is capable of independent thought," Webb, a decorated Marine combat veteran in Vietnam, told more than 300 supporters in his victory speech.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
WASHINGTON - Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald has informed Karl Rove’s lawyer that he will not be prosecuted in the CIA leak case, NBC News reports.
Attorney Robert Luskin said that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald informed him of the decision on Monday, ending months of speculation about the fate of one of President Bush’s closest advisers. Rove testified five times before a grand jury.
Fitzgerald has already secured a criminal indictment against Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby.
“On June 12, 2006, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald formally advised us that he does not anticipate seeking charges against Karl Rove,” Luskin said in a statement.
Monday, June 12, 2006
Three detainees at the US base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have died in what appears to have been a joint suicide pact, officials said.
The inmates - two Saudis and a Yemeni - hanged themselves in their cells, according to the camp's commander.
Rear Adm Harry Harris said the suicides had been clearly a planned event and were not spontaneous.
The US holds about 460 men at the facility on suspicion of links to al-Qaeda and the Afghan Taleban.
They are the first deaths reported at the detention centre.
The men were found unresponsive and not breathing by guards, who noticed "something out of the ordinary" in the cells.
They hanged themselves with clothing and bed sheets, Rear Adm Harris said.
"The guard force and medical teams reacted quickly to attempt to save the detainee's life," he said, referring to the first suicide to be found.
It is not first time detainees have attempted to commit suicide since the camp was set up four years ago.
Forty-one attempts have been made by 25 prisoners since then.
Rear Adm Harris said he did not believe the men had killed themselves out of despair.
"They are smart. They are creative, they are committed," he said, quoted by Reuters.
"They have no regard for life, either ours or their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of ...warfare waged against us."
Some detainees have been involved in on and off hunger strikes since last August to protest at their continued detention and conditions, although according to authorities the number dropped to 18 last weekend from a high of 131.
A spokesman for UK Prime Minister Tony Blair described the suicide as a "sad incident", adding that everyone should wait for the results of an investigation before making further comment.
Mr Blair has in the past described Guantanamo as "an anomaly that has to end".
Human rights group condemned the suicides, which William Goodman, of the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights called "sad and unnecessary deaths".
Mr Goodman, who defends some of the Guantanamo prisoners, told Reuters news agency the incident was "the latest result of the policies of this administration, which seek to deny justice, fairness and due process to these men".
On Friday, US President George W Bush responded to growing calls for the prison to be shut down, by saying: "We would like to end the Guantanamo - we'd like it to be empty."
"There are some that, if put out on the streets, would create grave harm to American citizens and other citizens of the world. And, therefore, I believe they ought to be tried in courts here in the United States," he added.