Capital Briefs: July 31- Aug. 4

Beyond His Brief:

Last week in this space, we reported that White House Spokesman Tony Snow had used admirable bluntness in twice describing the deliberate killing of human embryos for stem cell research as “murder,” indicating this was President Bush’s view.

Snow’s bluntness, it turned out, put not-so-blunt White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten in an awkward position the following Sunday, when he appeared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” with ever-blunt host Tim Russert. First, Russert played Snow’s remarks for Bolten. Then, he said: “Murder. The President believes that using an embryo for stem-cell research is murder.” Bolten bobbed and weaved and evaded the point. “Let me step back for a second, Tim,” he said. After many words had issued from Bolten’s mouth, and Russert had rephrased his question more than once, Russert finally asked again: “But does [the President] accept or reject the use of the word ‘murder’?” Bolten said: “I haven’t spoken to him about the use, the use of particular terminology.” The next day at the White House briefing, a reporter called Bolten’s discomfort on “Meet the Press” to Snow’s attention. “Does [the President] believe that this is murder?” the reporter asked. “I overstepped my brief there, and so I created a little trouble for Josh Bolten in the interview,” replied Snow. “And so I feel bad about that. I think there is concern. The President has said that he believes this is a destruction of human life.” But, apparently, not “murder”?

Pro-Troops Prime Ministers:

The vastly differing receptions Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki received last week from Democrats on Capitol Hill and U.S. troops at Fort Belvoir, Va., were instructive. House Democratic leaders postured briefly as super hawks at Maliki’s expense, demanding that Maliki—who was democratically elected by a Shiite majority population—be uninvited from a joint session of Congress because he was critical of Israeli actions in Lebanon. A group of 200 troops, meanwhile, gave Maliki a standing ovation when he addressed them at Fort Belvoir.

Speaking to the troops, Maliki was eloquently and properly thankful to our nation, and especially to the U.S. servicemen and women and their families who have sacrificed greatly so his government could come into being. “I sympathize with families who have lost loved ones,” he said. “And I appreciate this sacrifice and suffering, because I am one of the people who sacrificed and suffered in Iraq. The previous regime had sentenced me to death, and actually has executed 67 members of my family. And I can feel the bitterness of the loss when someone loses a dear member of his family, a son, or a spouse. When blood mixes together in the field, aiming to achieve one goal, this blood will help establish a long-lasting relationship,” he said. “Our relationship will last forever.”

A Google Government:

The proposal by Sen. Tom Coburn (R.-Okla.) to create a free, fully searchable online database of every recipient of federal grants, contracts and loans was unanimously approved by the Senate Homeland Security Committee last week.

“Passing this bill will help end the culture of secrecy in Washington and restore some measure of the public’s confidence in government,” said Coburn. “Technology has made it possible, like never before, to fulfill our founders’ vision of enabling all citizens to understand our nation’s finances, investigate abuses and hold elected officials accountable.” The bill has good prospects, considering it is co-sponsored by both Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.) and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.). In June, the House passed a bill to create a smaller database that would not include federal contracts. Coburn Spokesman John Hart told Human Events that Coburn would stand firm on demanding that the database include federal contracts. “Contracts are not self-policing,” said Hart. “As everyone in America outside the Beltway understands, there are countless examples of favoritism and conflicts of interest in the contract process. Opposing the inclusion of contracts creates the appearance of secrecy, which is what this bill is trying to end. If no one has anything to hide in the contract process, there is no reason to conceal it from the public.”

Child Protection:

The Senate voted 65 to 34 last week to pass the Child Custody Protection Act (S 403), which prohibits taking minors across state lines for abortions in an attempt to circumvent state parental notification and consent laws.

The harder-line House version of the bill also mandates that doctors performing an abortion give a minor’s parents 24-hours’ notice before the procedure. President Bush encouraged the House and the Senate to quickly reconcile their bills. “Transporting minors across state lines to bypass parental consent laws regarding abortion undermines state law and jeopardizes the lives of young women,” he said in a statement. Only four Republicans voted against the bill: Lincoln Chafee (R.I.), Susan Collins (Maine.), Olympia Snowe (Maine.) and Arlen Specter (Pa.).

Murdock for McCain:

Although he hosted a much-publicized fund-raising luncheon for the reelection campaign of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y.), News Corporation Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch said last week he was unlikely to support her for President in 2008. Were the next presidential race to come down to Clinton and John McCain, the media tycoon told Charlie Rose of PBS, he would “probably support McCain. If it was happening today, I think so.” Murdoch said he was still uncertain about Hillary’s philosophy. “Has she suddenly become a moderate and a centrist in everything or is she the old Hillary Clinton?” Murdoch said to Rose. “I don’t know.”

Love of Labor Not Lost:

Long before he turned to raising funds for Sen. Clinton, Murdoch stunned many of his conservative readers in Great Britain when one of his newspapers, The Sun, backed Tony Blair’s Labor Party in its successful election win in 1997. In his interview with Rose, Murdoch signaled he has not changed his affection for the Labor Party, whose leadership Blair is shortly expected to relinquish. Asked what he thought of the new leader of the opposition Conservatives, David Cameron, the publisher told interviewer Rose: “Not much.”