Capital Briefs February 9

WILL COLEMAN GET LAST LAUGH?  In the still-unresolved Minnesota U.S. Senate race, Republican incumbent Norm Coleman could still emerge as the winner and get the last laugh over Democrat Al Franken. That did not appear likely when the Minnesota Canvassing Board, using dubious recount tallies, awarded comedian Franken a 225-vote victory out of more than 2.9 million cast. Coleman’s team felt robbed since the GOP incumbent had led election night and in a subsequent recount. But on February 2, a three-judge panel picked by State Supreme Court Senior Justice Alan Page (a onetime Minnesota Vikings football great) unanimously ruled that 4,800 rejected absentee ballots could now be examined for possible inclusion in the final vote count. Should the ballots prove to be valid and break for Coleman in big enough numbers to overcome his current deficit, as many think could happen, the Republican would retain his Senate seat. The Coleman campaign has been complimentary of the panel because it seemed to be open to their arguments on a wide array of issues related to their case. The Franken folks, however, have not conceded and are reported to be conspicuously glum about the way things appear to be swinging against them.  

PRESS DINNER CHUCKLES OVER MINNESOTA RACE: Partisan barbs about the Minnesota Senate race were frequently thrown by after-dinner speakers last week at the 65th annual Congressional Dinner of the Washington Press Foundation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.), told the audience that Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D.-Minn.) was part of “what will soon be the funniest team in the U.S. Senate” — an obvious reference to Democrat Al Franken, the former comedian locked in the unresolved Senate race with Republican Norm Coleman. Klobuchar, in turn, offered a tongue-in-cheek quote about Minnesota from her state’s unofficial poet laureate Garrison Keillor that “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the recounts are above average.” When it was his turn, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R.-Minn.) remarked that Minnesota comes from an old Indian word meaning “there are more recounts here than in Florida.”  

HOUSE GOP EXODUS? The surprise announcement last week by Rep. Adam Putnam (R.-Fla.) that, after five terms and at age 34, he would leave Congress to run for state commissioner of agriculture in 2010 has triggered more rumblings on Capitol Hill that a large number of House Republicans will be calling it quits. Putnam’s exit came on the heels of similar “no goes” from Republican Representatives Pete Hoekstra (Mich.), Zach Wamp (Tenn.), and Todd Tiahrt and Jerry Moran of Kansas, both of whom are competing for their state’s open Senate seat next year. (Hoekstra and Wamp are almost sure to go home and run for governor.) Others mentioned as possible Republican retirees include Representatives John Shadegg (Ariz.), Bill Young (Fla.), and Jim Sensenbrenner (Wis.), and Henry Brown (S.C.). Missouri Rep. Roy Blunt is also expected to run for the seat of retiring Sen. Kit Bond (R.-Mo.).  

ANOTHER KENNEDY AT ST. JAMES? That’s what one source on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee told HUMAN EVENTS last week: that fresh from her aborted attempt to be named to the Senate seat once held by her uncle Robert, Caroline Kennedy would soon be tapped to the choice diplomatic post of ambassador to the Court of St. James once held by her grandfather, Joseph P. Kennedy. The rumors about Kennedy came just as speculation started that Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney would be named by friend Barack Obama as ambassador to Ireland.

ANOTHER FIGHT OVER JUSTICE: With the confirmation of controversial Eric Holder as attorney general, the next big battle over the Justice Department will be over the  nominee for the No. 2 position. Last week, 30 pro-family groups signed a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee raising concerns about the President’s nomination of lawyer David Ogden to be deputy attorney general. Distrust of Ogden, who once served as Atty. Gen. Janet Reno’s chief of staff, centers on a brief he filed on behalf of the American Psychological Association in the landmark pro-life case Casey v. Planned Parenthood in which he claimed: “Abortion rarely causes or exacerbates psychological or emotional problems.… Those few women who do experience negative psychological responses after abortion appear to be those with pre-existing emotional problems.” According to Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America, one of the signers of the letter, Ogden “opposed the Children’s Internet Protection Act, a law to protect children from obscene materials in public libraries, and he opposed the Child Protection and Obscenity Enforcement Act, which required producers of pornography to personally verify that models were not minors. He argued that taxpayers should foot the bill to print Playboy in Braille.”