Capital Briefs: May 14-18

NCLB BEING LEFT BY HOUSE GOP: Despite all-out administration support for reauthorizing the federal education measure known as No Child Left Behind, opposition continues to grow among House Republicans. A measure offered by Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R.-Mich.), pictured below, that would allow states to opt out of the standards mandated by the Department of Education has so far attracted 57 co-sponsors. One reason Republican lawmakers are increasingly turning against NCLB appears to be that the Democrats now in control are likely to write a new bill with even stronger mandates than the current one. As House Republican Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.), an opponent of the measure, told Human Events Political Editor John Gizzi: “If it passes at the end of the day, there will be more of [House Education and Labor Chairman] George Miller [D.-Calif.] in it that George Bush.”

FORT DIX SIX: After the FBI was tipped off by a Circuit City sales clerk that a patron was reproducing jihadist training videos, six foreign-born Muslims were charged with conspiring to attack Fort Dix in Burlington County, New Jersey, with assault rifles and grenades. Five of the men were described as “radical Islamists” by the federal authorities who arrested them. Three of them were ethnic Albanian brothers, who lived in the United States illegally and operated a roofing business. According to media reports, they trained on a shooting range in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains with the intent to kill “as many soldiers as possible” at Fort Dix. The group allegedly decided to attack Fort Dix because of the knowledge one of the planners, Seder Tartar, gained from delivering pizzas to the base from his family’s restaurant nearby. Another of the defendants had previously driven a taxi cab in Philadelphia and was quoted in the indictment as saying, “You can hit an American base very easily.” Investigators had been following the group for more than a year and had successfully infiltrated it with two informants. The six men were arrested when they attempted to purchase AK-47s, M-16s and other weapons from one of the informants.

APPEAL FOR COURAGE:  All the way from Iraq, two active duty military members, backed by thousands of fellow troops, delivered a well-needed message to Congress: Support their mission and stop calling for retreat. To do this, Navy Lt. Jason Nichols and Army Staff Sgt. Dave Thul, from their respective posts in Baghdad and Al Asad, coordinated an online petition that so far has been signed by 2,843 active duty, Reserve and National Guard military personnel. The petition, drafted in compliance with Department of Defense rules, was received by Republican members of the House and Senate. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.) and House Minority Leader John Boehner (R.-Ohio) accepted the petition at the Veterans of Foreign Wars headquarters in Washington, D.C. They, along with four other Republican members, asked their congressional colleagues opposed to the war to heed the petition. Petition supporter Sen. Jon Kyl (R.-Ariz.) said, “They supply the boots on the ground. All they need is the support from us back home. That is the least we can do.” Other Republican members who came to the VFW Headquarters to accept the petition included Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.), Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) and Rep. Adam Putnam (Fla.). No Democrats were present.

GANG OF ELEVEN: Despite their colleagues and polls showing strong support for the U.S. effort in Iraq among Republicans nationally, 11 non-leadership GOP House members—almost all of them from the moderate “Tuesday Group”—met with the President last week to tell him in no uncertain terms that the pursuit of his Iraq policy was endangering the party and that he could not count on unified support for it among Republican lawmakers for much longer. Held in the private quarters of the White House, the 90-minute session also included Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, and Press Secretary Tony Snow. The complaining GOP members were: Tom Davis (Va.), Charlie Dent (Pa.), Michael Castle (Del.), Todd Platts (Pa.), Jim Ramstad (Minn.), Jo Ann Emerson (Mo.), Mark Kirk (Ill.), Ray LaHood (Ill.), Jim Gerlach (Pa.), and James Walsh (N.Y.). House Republican Leader John Boehner (Ohio) also attended, but told reporters he was there to observe, not to take part. 

THOMPSON ON THE MOVE: Fresh from his well-received address to the Republican Lincoln Club of Orange County, Calif., last week, Fred Thompson looks increasingly like a Presidential candidate. Scheduled to address the Council for National Policy, a national group of high-dollar conservatives in Northern Virginia last weekend, the former Tennessee senator is sounding out a variety of political pros to help his still-unannounced campaign in ‘08. Although a widely discussed article by nationally syndicated columnist Robert Novak rated Thompson’s performance before the Lincoln Club as flat and uninspiring, Club President Richard Wagner sharply disagreed. “Novak’s column was not quite on,” Wagner told Human Events last week. “There was no big let-down in the room. There was a lot of energy in the room, and people are still excited even today based upon e-mails I’m receiving.” Wagner added. “I think he’s leaning toward running.”

ABORTION MONEY:  It is now known that two of the three leading candidates for the Republican nomination for President have been associated with donations to the nation’s biggest abortion advocate and provider, Planned Parenthood. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s old campaign finance reports show that he and his wife wrote personal checks totaling $900 to national, state and city chapters of Planned Parenthood on six different occasions. “Ultimately, there has to be a right to choose,” Giuliani told reporters after his donations surfaced. When asked if he thought the Republican Party would accept a pro-choice President, Giuliani said, “I guess we are going to find out,” and said he was “at peace” with his differences with his party on this issue. Soon after, it was discovered that Ann Romney, wife of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, had donated $150 to Planned Parenthood in 1994. Romney fielded questions about his wife’s donations at a campaign stop in Ames, Iowa, saying that he did not become convinced that abortion should be banned until 2004. “I’m not trying to have it both ways,” he said. “I was effectively pro-choice. And now I’m pro-life.” He also added that his wife’s donation was “for her and not for me” and that “her positions are not terribly relevant to my campaign.”

SHARPTON’S MORMON ATTACK: But attention to Mrs. Romney’s donations to Planned Parenthood diminished when civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton attacked Romney’s Mormon religion. In a debate with liberal author Christopher Hitchens, whose latest book is titled God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Sharpton said: “As for the one Mormon running for office, those that really believe in God will defeat him anyway, so don’t worry about that.” Romney responded by saying that Sharpton’s comment “shows that bigotry still exists in some corners.” Sharpton stood by his remarks. “I predicted that believers (not atheists) would vote against the candidate, in this case, Mr. Romney, for political, not religious reasons,” Sharpton said in a statement. “In no way did I attack Mormons or the Mormon Church, when I responded that other believers, not atheists, would vote against Mr. Romney for purely political reasons.”