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Washington in brief

Split Senate discusses judicial nominee

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 6, 2003

WASHINGTON -- A bitterly divided Senate began debate Wednesday on President Bush's nomination of a conservative Hispanic lawyer to one of the nation's most influential courts, opening a partisan slugfest that will test how far Democrats will go to fight Republican efforts to reshape the judiciary for years to come.

Many Democrats, spoiling for a fight to block the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, are threatening to deploy a blunt weapon rarely used against judicial nominees: a filibuster that could prevent a vote on a nomination that probably would garner majority support.

But other Democrats oppose resorting to the tactic, fearing it could come back to haunt a future Democratic president in trying to install judges. After a closed-door meeting among Senate Democrats on Wednesday, it remained unclear how long and hard they would fight.

Patients' rights bill push renewed

Rep. Charlie Norwood on Wednesday revived the patients' rights legislation he has been proposing since he came to Congress eight years ago, but acknowledged that differences on HMO liability could block it.

Norwood, a Georgia Republican often at odds with his own party on this issue, also said passage could be difficult with lawmakers already focused on two other health care issues: prescription drug coverage for older Americans and the high costs of malpractice insurance.

Norwood's measure would ensure that patients in managed care programs have access to emergency and pediatric care and prescription drugs. It would guarantee a patients' access to information, protect the doctor-patient relationship and give every patient the right to an independent review when the doctor and insurance company disagree on treatment.

U.S. to hit debt ceiling soon

The government is expected to hit the $6.4-trillion ceiling on the national debt around Feb. 20, the Treasury Department said Wednesday, renewing its call for Congress to boost the government's borrowing authority.

Treasury asked Congress late last year to increase the government's ability to borrow, setting the stage for a political fight in Congress. Treasury, however, hasn't said exactly how much of an increase in the current statutory debt ceiling it wants.

Poll finds backing for race policy

By 55 percent to 27 percent, Americans approve of President Bush's call to strike down a race-based admissions policy at the University of Michigan and say that students should be judged only on their academic records, according to a new Los Angeles Times poll.

But when given an alternative, the respondents say they would support an affirmative-action policy that gives a preference to individuals who come from an economically disadvantaged background, regardless of their race, ethnicity or gender.

The Los Angeles Times Poll, supervised by polling director Susan Pinkus, interviewed a national sample of 1,385 people, contacted randomly by telephone, from Jan. 30 to Feb. 2. The margin of sampling error in the poll is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Lawmaker backs WWII internment

A congressman who heads a homeland security subcommittee said on a radio call-in program that he agreed with the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Rep. Howard Coble, R-N.C., made the remark Tuesday on WKZL-FM in High Point when a caller suggested Arabs in the United States should be confined.

Coble, chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, said he didn't agree with the caller but did agree with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who established the internment camps.

"We were at war. They (Japanese-Americans) were an endangered species," Coble said. "For many of these Japanese-Americans, it wasn't safe for them to be on the street."

The Japanese American Citizens League called Coble on Wednesday and asked him to issue an apology, while the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee demanded that Coble explain his remarks.

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