Capital Briefs: April 23-27

TOUGH TIME FOR GONZO: U.S. Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales had a great opportunity last week to defend his actions in the U.S. attorney-firing imbroglio at a high-profile hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, but the consensus on Capitol Hill was that he flopped terribly. Committee Republicans harshly criticized Gonzales’s handling of the controversy that Democrats have successfully parlayed into a full-blown scandal. At the hearing, Gonzales admitted he “should have been more precise when discussing this matter” and that the process for managing the resignations was “flawed.” In a March 13 press conference, Gonzales told reporters that he had not been involved in any discussions about the firings. This was later refuted by many pages of documents released by the Department of Justice. He assured Senate Judiciary members, however, that “nothing improper occurred.” Sen. John Cornyn (R.-Tex.) said that the reason Gonzales needed to testify before Congress was that he had “injected a performance rationale” that later proved to be false. Gonzales said the issue of performance was “sort of a talking point.” He said, “We struggled, this was an endeavor . . . Where we made a mistake clearly is where we said ‘performance.’ We should have defined that because to me it means appropriate leadership [but] there are lots of things that fall into that category.” He said initial mistakes were made “because I hadn’t gone back and looked at the documents, I hadn’t gone back and looked at the calendar.” He said, “Maybe I got out there too quickly . . . The reason why my initial statements were incorrect was because I had not gone back and looked at the record.” Near the end of the more than three-hour hearing, conservative Sen. Tom Coburn (R.-Okla.) told Gonzales he should resign. Coburn asked him, “Why should you not be judged by the same standards that you judged these U.S. attorneys?” Gonzales told Coburn that “we all make mistakes,” but Coburn responded that that wasn’t good enough. “I believe there are consequences,” Coburn said, “And I believe this has been handled in a very incompetent manner.” He characterized Gonzales’s performance as “atrocious.” He told Gonzales: “I believe you ought to suffer the consequences that these others have suffered, and I believe the best way to put this behind us is with your resignation.” At press time, Gonzales had not yet stepped down.

PARTIAL-BIRTH BAN UPHELD: On April 18, the Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 to uphold the federal ban on partial-birth abortion passed by Congress. (See the cover article by House Minority Leader John Boehner.) Justice Anthony Kennedy, frequently a disappointment to conservatives, wrote the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. The decision said that a federal ban on partial-birth abortion would be unconstitutional “if it subjected women to significant health risks,” but “safe medical options are available.” “It is just a matter of time before the infamous Roe v. Wade will also be struck down by the court,” predicted Christian Coalition President Roberta Coombs in response to the ruling. The leading candidates for the Democratic nomination for President immediately released statements blasting the decision. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D.-N.Y) called the ruling an “erosion of our constitutional rights.” Sen. Barack Obama (D.-Ill.) said he “strongly disagrees” with the decision and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards said that he “could not disagree more strongly.” All the Republican candidates, including Rudy Giuliani, who has been weak on the issue in the past, hailed the decision.

H REID DECLARES DEFEAT: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) believes the war in Iraq is lost. Last Thursday, Reid said: “I believe … that this war is lost, and this surge is not accomplishing anything, as is shown by the extreme violence in Iraq this week.” His comments came in the middle of a week when some 146,000 Americans are serving in Iraq, of whom at least six had died, and at a time when the troop surge announced by President Bush has delivered only three of five brigades — about 60% of the planned 21,000 additional troops — to Iraq.

There is nothing about his conclusion that bothers Reid: He appears as resolute in pursuit of defeat as Winston Churchill was in pursuit of victory. Last November, the Democrats seized control of Congress on the pretense that they wanted to change our policy on Iraq but not — as they insisted — to merely cut and run. Now all pretense is being dispensed with and Americans can see the man behind the curtain. The fact that the surge hasn’t had a chance to work is much less important to the Democrats than the political mileage they may gain from declaring it a failure.

WOLFOWITZ HANGS ON (FOR NOW): With officials of the World Bank delaying a decision on the fate of beleaguered President Paul Wolfowitz, the former Bush Administration official appears to be hanging on to his job pending an “internal governance” probe into whether he violated any rules by recommending a major pay raise for a girlfriend. At the press conference during the World Bank/International Monetary Fund meeting in Washington last week, Human Events Political Editor John Gizzi asked Wolfowitz whether the White House or Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson were as supportive of him as they had previously said. “It’s a good try,” Wolfowitz told Gizzi, “but I’m not going to get into that. . . . [T]he board [of the bank] is looking into the matter.”
A day after Wolfowitz’s news conference, Acting White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said: “Let me just reiterate for you that the President does have full confidence in Paul Wolfowitz. He has done a very good job at the World Bank, where they are working to lift people up out of poverty around the world.”

ANYONE WANT TO BE ARMY SECRETARY? With the firing of Secretary of the Army Francis Harvey last month after reports of mismanagement at Walter Reed Hospital, the administration has yet to name his successor. Although there may be some reluctance on the part of potential secretaries to serve in an administration with only 19 months left, one name that has recently emerged for the job is that of retired U.S. Army Col. Hal Kushner, a onetime Vietnam prisoner-of-war. Kushner was highly regarded by his comrades at the “Hanoi Hilton” prison camp for defying guards in an attempt to help ailing prisoners.

WHITE HOUSE REFUSES GUN-CONTROL BAIT: As the President and First Lady prepared to join with families mourning the Virginia Tech tragedy last week, the White House rejected calls for new gun-control measures. At the morning press briefing after the tragedy, Ken Herman of the Austin American-Statesman asked about the need for more federal gun-control laws. “Look, we understand that there’s going to be an ongoing national discussion about gun-control policy,” Acting Press Secretary Perino replied, “Of course, we’re going to be participants in that conversation. Today, however, is a day that is time to focus on the families, the school and the community . . . What we need to do is focus on support of the victims and their families and then also allow the facts of the case to unfold before we talk anymore about policies.” When Herman pressed the question, Perrino said: “We will participate in that [discussion], but today is not the day.”