Capital Briefs: Oct. 9-13

Do Fence Us In:

Perhaps the most important piece of legislation passed by the Republican Congress this year went almost unnoticed by an establishment press too busy covering every tidbit of the Mark Foley scandal.

On September 29, the Senate approved the Secure Fence Act, authorizing construction of 700 miles of double fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border. Democratic liberals, and even some Republicans, once fatuously derided such a fence as a U.S. version of the “Berlin Wall.”  Nonetheless, the final Senate vote was 80 to 19. Only one Republican, Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, voted against it. Among Democrats, even the hyper-liberal Barbara Boxer of California felt compelled to vote for it. Meanwhile, President Bush signed a fiscal 2007 Homeland Security appropriations bill that includes $1.2 billion to begin construction of the fence and other border infrastructure. Passage of this bill was calculated to boost not only border security but also Republican reelection chances. Still, at least one Republican lawmaker who got good media exposure on the bill downplayed its substantive significance. “I’m not sure that’s the most practical use of that money,” Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Tex.) told Cox News Service, saying he believed that “in the end” the border would probably be secured with a “virtual fence.” But as Cox put it, Cornyn said he believed this bill was an “important symbolic gesture to show that Congress is serious about protecting the border.” Cornyn ought to realize, however, that Americans want more than symbols at the border. They want impenetrable concrete and steel.

Following HUMAN EVENTS?:

It seems someone at the Washington Post might be taking cues from Human Events. On Page 3 last week, we reported that Senate Intelligence Chairman Pat Roberts (R.-Kan.) said the bill authorizing interrogation of terrorist detainees forbids “waterboarding,” the technique that extracted vital intelligence from 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. “That is one of the techniques that will not be used anymore,” Roberts told HUMAN EVENTS Assistant Editor Amanda Carpenter. Meanwhile, HUMAN EVENTS Political Editor John Gizzi has been writing on that the White House will not say one way or the other whether the bill forbids waterboarding. “Our position is that we do not ever discuss techniques, any techniques,” White House Spokeswoman Dana Perino told Gizzi. “It would be helpful to the terrorists because then they train to any of the techniques that we discuss openly. So that is a policy we hold fast to.” Walter Pincus wrote in the lead of his October 5 piece in the Washington Post: “Key senators say Congress has outlawed one of the most notorious detainee interrogation techniques—‘waterboarding’ in which a prisoner feels near drowning. But the White House will not go that far, saying it would be wrong to tell the terrorist what practices they might face.” No specific senator or White House source is named in the article.

Victory TBA:

In 2005, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) secured unanimous consent (there was no recorded vote) to slip a measure into the fiscal 2006 Defense Appropriation setting aside $20 million for a celebration commemorating victory in Iraq and Afghanistan. The measure would allow the President to “designate a day of celebration” to honor the troops who served in the wars. The money was not spent this year for obvious reasons, so Senate Republicans rolled it over into the fiscal 2007 Defense bill. Senate Democrats are now squealing. “If the Bush Administration is planning victory celebrations, Americans deserve to know what their plan is to get us to a victory in Iraq,” Rebecca Kirszner, spokeswoman for Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), told the New York Times. Carolyn Weyforth, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) retorted: “Republicans are confident we will be victorious in the ongoing War on Terror, and we look forward to a time when those funds can be used to honor the men and women who have risked and given their lives.” McConnell’s spokesman Don Stewart noted acidly that no Democrat opposed the provision last year. “Apparently [Democrats] were for honoring the troops before they were against it,” he said.

Rath, Romney and the Right:

Many conservatives inclined to back Mitt Romney for President in 2008 were taken aback last week when the Massachusetts governor named New Hampshire Republican National Committeeman Tom Rath as “senior adviser” to his Commonwealth PAC. Rath was a major promoter of David Souter for a Supreme Court vacancy when the elder President Bush was in the White House, and backed the ill-fated presidential campaigns of Howard Baker and Lamar Alexander. More recently, he pushed Republican senators to support the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers.

Reynolds on the Ropes:

A telling indicator of the tough sledding House Republicans face going into the final weeks of the campaign is the fact that Rep. Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), chairman of the House Republican Congressional Committee, may lose his own re-election bid. A SurveyUSA poll in his upstate New York district showed that Reynolds was leading Democrat Jack Davis by just 45% to 43%, and that was before the Mark Foley scandal broke and Reynold’s chief of staff, Kirk Fordham, a former Foley chief of staff, was forced to resign because of his involvement in handling the fall-out from Foley’s resignation. Meanwhile, columnist Bob Novak reported that Reynolds urged Foley to seek re-election this year, a month after learning about the “overly friendly” e-mails Foley sent to a former House page.

Santorum Still Struggling:

After closing to within seven points in mid-September, Sen. Rick Santorum (R.-Pa.) has been losing ground to Democratic challenger Bob Casey, Jr. A Reuters/Zogby poll completed October 2 showed Santorum behind, 48% to 36%.

Dewine Reviving:

The Reuters/ Zogby poll in the Ohio Senate race completed October 2 put incumbent GOP Sen. Mike DeWine in a 41%-to-41% tie with liberal Rep. Sherrod Brown (D.). DeWine had been behind in every poll since June.

Allen Increases Lead:

The Washington Post assault on Sen. George Allen (R.-Va.) that HUMAN EVENTS detailed last week appears to have backfired. A Reuters/Zogby poll completed October 2 showed Allen leading Democrat James Webb, 48% to 37%.