Capital Briefs: Feb. 26- Mar. 2

It Ain’t Scotland:

Immediately after the House Ethics Committee briefed the media and members of Congress on exactly how the new lobbying rules passed by the Democratic Congress would work, the plans House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) had made for a Puerto Rican junket were revealed. National Public Radio’s Marketplace found that Hoyer, who had campaigned on ethics reform throughout the mid-term elections, booked 137 rooms for his lobbyist friends for a spring trip to the Rio Mar Beach Golf Resort and Spa in Puerto Rico for May 2. He’s legally funding it through his political action committee, AMERIPAC. Marketplace explained, “This is the way the leadership PAC loophole works: Hoyer’s guests give thousands of dollars to his PAC. Because there are few restrictions on how PAC money can be spent, Hoyer’s PAC uses some of the cash to pay for the congressman’s trip to Puerto Rico. The PAC also provides entertainment, golf, even nifty little gifts bags for all the guests . The lobbyists and donors who have supplied the cash for this party then pay their own way to Puerto Rico. And in return for their generosity, they get to golf and hang with the congressman in the Caribbean.” Joan Claybrook, president of the liberal special interest group Public Citizen that wrote the lobby reform legislation, told NPR: “I just don’t think members of Congress should be pulling lobbyists together to do this. Even for campaign events.” Hoyer’s office declined to talk to NPR about the event.

Union Payback:

Democrats are starting to hold up their end of the deal after Big Labor helped deliver the mid-term elections for them. Speaker Pelosi has already promised to bring up a bill to eliminate the secret ballots required to organize a workplace in favor of an open signing process, but hidden inside House and Senate bills that seek to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission is another gem for labor. Both contain provisions to guarantee collective bargaining rights for the Transportation Safety Administration’s 43,000 airport screeners. The Wall Street Journal explained that the TSA was created in 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, without union rights because the unions’ myriad work rules “would make it harder for the executive branch to hire, fire, train and reassign workers to best meet changing terrorist threats.” But according to the WSJ, the Bush Administration has “caught on” to labor’s latest ploy and is opposing the rule change. The Democrats still believe they have the advantage, though, and are willing to call Bush’s bluff on a veto since he would be forced to kill all of the 9/11 recommendations over this provision.

Brits Draw Down Troops:

Prime Minister Tony Blair announced his decision to withdraw 1,600 British troops from Iraq last Wednesday. There are roughly 7,100 British troops stationed in Shiite-dominated Southern regions of Iraq. Another 500 British troops could be sent home late summer. South Korea, which has 2,300 stationed in the city of Irbil in Northern Iraq, will send home 1,100 of its troops by April and is likely to completely remove all its forces by the end of 2007. Vice President Dick Cheney said the British draw-down was “an affirmation that there are parts of Iraq where things are going pretty well.” But Democrats are quick to note that while British troops are leaving Southern Iraq, President Bush is surging troops to Baghdad. Michael O’Hanlon, military analyst at the left-leaning Brookings Institution and advisor to the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, said, “If the Brits really do have the ability to redeploy forces, we obviously need them in Baghdad and environs. The decision reflects British domestic politics, which prevent Blair from even considering sending some of those freed-up forces toward Baghdad.”

McCain’s Irish Grassroots:

Sen. Teddy Kennedy (D.-Mass.) is readying the final 2007 version of “McKennedy,” the immigration bill he drafted last year with Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.) to give amnesty to illegal immigrants currently living and working in the United States. The new bill could be formally introduced before the month’s end. On February 16, McCain met in the Bronx with an Irish group that lobbies for illegal aliens called the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform. He entered their event while Rocky theme music played for him. Supporters chanted “Ole, Ole, Ole” and the signature Irish song, “The Fields of Athenry.” McCain told them: “But [the undocumented) have grasped the lowest rung of our ladder. They want to rise, and we should let them. Let them come out of the shadows, pay a fine, stay employed, pay taxes, and earn their citizenship. We all will be the better for it.” McCain also told the illegal aliens that “President Bush was governor of the state of Texas and he is familiar with this issue. There is a segment [in Washington] that is opposed to reform. He is not, and he is standing up for it.”

King Down on Jefferson:

The surprise decision last week of Speaker Nancy Pelosi to name embattled Rep. William Jefferson (D.-La.) to the House Homeland Security Committee created quite a stir on Capitol Hill—especially since Pelosi only last month denied a seat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee to Jefferson, who is the subject of a federal bribery probe. “It sends a terrible message,” Rep. Peter King (N.Y.), the ranking Republican on Homeland Security, told reporters. “They couldn’t trust him to write tax policy, so why should he be given access to our nation’s top secrets or making policy for national defense?” King said that Pelosi’s tapping of Jefferson—in whose home freezer an FBI raid uncovered $90,000—“shows how unimportant Democrats think homeland security is.” Pelosi’s decision to give the slot to Jefferson may have been an attempt to assuage criticism of her by the Congressional Black Caucus after she removed the Louisianan from Ways and Means.

Two Dems Diss DCCC Cash:

Two freshman Democrats who were upset winners of their House seats last year announced last week that they would reject support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s “Frontline” program, which is designed to help vulnerable incumbents. A spokeswoman for Kansas Rep. Nancy Boyda explained that she was declining the money because “she ran an independent campaign in 2006 and her constituents want to see her run an independent campaign again. “New Hampshire Rep. Carol Shea-Porter said she “appreciated the offer” of cash and assistance from the DCCC, but “I decided to run the [‘08] campaign the way I did before—retail politics.” Both could be very endangered next year. Boyda won in a district that gave George W. Bush 59% of its votes in ’04, and Shea-Porter’s district gave Bush 51%.