Capital Briefs: Nov. 19-23

ROUGH SAILING FOR LAW OF THE SEA:  The Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST) is one of the relatively few issues on which there is a clear split between many Senate Republicans and the White House.  With the Bush Administration fully committed to securing ratification of the controversial treaty, Senate Republicans increasingly point out that LOST could endanger sovereignty and even lead to a global tax.  In response to the claim by the few LOST proponents such as Sen. Ted Stevens (R.-Alaska) that Ronald Reagan’s objection to the treaty were resolved by a 1994 amendment regarding deep seabed-mining provisions, two of the 40th President’s inner circle—former National Security Advisor William P. Clark and former Atty. Gen. Ed Meese—wrote in the Wall Street Journal last week that this was not the case.  Clark and Meese cited an entry in Reagan’s diary (June 29, 1982) in which he wrote: “Decided in [National Security Council] meeting—will not sign Law of the Sea Treaty even without seabed-mining provisions [emphasis added].” Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe (pictured), one of the leaders of the anti-treaty forces, quoted from testimony by then-Ambassador James Malone, who handled LOST negotiations for Reagan, that, despite the claims that its controversial provisions have been fixed, “[a]ll the provisions from the past that make such a [new world order] outcome possible, indeed likely, still stand.”  Senate sources told Human Events that 25 of the 34 senators needed to thwart the treaty are privately committed to opposing ratification, but the names are not being released because, as one GOP lawmaker put it, “the White House and Ted Stevens will turn up the pressure.” 

FOODFIGHT ON THE RIGHT?  That’s precisely what conservatives feared was starting to happen after former Sen. Fred Thompson’s endorsement for the ’08 Republican presidential nomination by the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) last week. Within days of the nation’s best-known pro-life group’s coming out for the Tennessean, a Washington Times story quoted veteran conservative activist Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation making the serious charge that the NRLC received money from well-heeled Thompson backers for their blessing. Weyrich told Human Events Political Editor John Gizzi that he had no specific evidence to support this charge but said, “I know that not too many years ago, [NRLC] did take money from the Republican National Committee to support general election candidates, and that’s the only reason I could see for their endorsement of Thompson.” Weyrich, a backer of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney for President, pointed out to Gizzi that while Thompson supports repeal of Roe v. Wade, the former senator “does not back a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution and wants to change the pro-life plank in the [national] Republican platform. Both Romney and [former Arkansas Gov. Mike] Huckabee back the amendment and retaining the platform plank.” A spokesman for NRLC strongly denied the suggestion that they received money for endorsing Thompson and pointed out that he had a near-perfect pro-life record while in the Senate. In the wake of this brouhaha, Human Events hopes the rest of the ’08 campaign will be free of incendiary charges within conservative ranks.

GOING, GOING, GONE? With Representatives Barbara Cubin (Wyo.) and Jim Saxton (N.J.) last week becoming the 15th and 16th Republican House members to announce their retirements in ’08 (See “Politics,” Page 24.), it’s becoming more probable that the number of House Republican retirees will surpass the 22 who called it quits in ’06. Rep. Tom Davis (R.-Va.), who recently ruled out a U.S. Senate bid, is expected to soon say he is exiting the House as well. Other prospects for “no-goes” in ’08 are Republican Representatives. Bill Young (Fla.), Elton Gallegly (Calif.), Vern Ehlers (Mich.) and Henry Brown (S.C.).

TO SHUT DOWN GOVERNMENT OR NOT? To no one’s surprise last week, the President vetoed the Labor and Health and Human Services Appropriations bill—$10 billion more than what he submitted in his budget request and brimming with more than 2,200 earmarks, including a prison museum and a Portuguese-as-second-language program. House GOP Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) assured Human Events that “we have the votes to sustain the veto.” With the White House now issuing veto threats on 10 of the remaining 12 appropriations measures Congress is now dealing with, Gizzi asked White House Press Secretary Dana Perino whether the administration would rule out a government shutdown if Congress failed to meet the President’s limits on spending. “I don’t know anyone who’s interested in the government’s shutting down,” Perino told Gizzi, adding that there are too many who receive “essential government services” to consider a shutdown. However, observers say that if a shutdown occurs, the public will perceive it as the fault of Congress for not working with the President—as it did for the Republican Congress and Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1995.

WHITE HOUSE MUM ON JAILED PATROLMEN: Although members of Congress ranging from Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R.-Calif.) to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D.-Calif.) and Rep. William DelaHunt (D.-Mass.) have repeatedly called on the President to commute the 11- and 12-year prison sentences of Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean, the White House won’t touch the issue of two former Border Patrol agents convicted in the shooting of a Mexican drug dealer who was in the U.S. illegally. Asked by Gizzi for a response to Rohrabacher’s recent letter calling for Bush to commute their sentences, Press Secretary Dana Perino said simply that “there is a process for people to apply for pardons” and “we’ve said all we’ll say on this.” Rohrabacher spokeswoman Tara Setmayer shot back: “That is the same song-and-dance they’ve given us for months. Where was that process when it came to commuting [former Dick Cheney aide Lewis “Scooter”] Libby’s sentence? Where was Libby’s clemency application? He didn’t have any. [Perino] is hiding behind a process that is irrelevant because of the President’s plenary power to pardon anyone or commute any sentence any time he feels like it.”

HASTERT OUT: With special elections already scheduled for December to fill vacancies in the House in Ohio and Virginia, former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R.Ill.), with this announcement last week that he was resigning early, set the stage for another special election—most likely early next year—to fill his seat. In announcing his early exit to House colleagues, the 65-year-old Hastert, fulfilled a prediction initially made by Human Events August 22. Hastert, who served as speaker from 1998-2006, bid the House farewell, saying, “I think I’ll be gone by the first of the year.” Although Democrats are likely to mount a strong effort, Hastert’s suburban Chicago district is considered strongly Republican and is likely to be held by one of the three already announced Republican candidates.