For Ronnie White, seat on federal bench is in reach, 17 years after his first nomination


Ronnie White, shown here in 2001, is on his way to the federal bench after a long wait. (Ray Lustig/The Washington Post)
July 15

A young 44 years old when first nominated, by President Bill Clinton, for the federal bench, a former Missouri judge may finally get his seat — 17 years later.

That’s a long wait for a job.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Ronnie White, a former Missouri Supreme Court judge who still practices law, was nominated for a U.S. District Court seat in his home state by Clinton in 1997, and the Republican-controlled Senate voted him down in 1999 along party lines. The African American nominee was criticized by Republicans as being soft on criminals, and some of his supporters charged that his race played a part in his rejection.

Friction over White’s treatment has been simmering ever since.

In 2001, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on then-Sen. John Ashcroft’s nomination to be President George W. Bush’s attorney general, Democrats grilled him about White.

“I’ve said this to the press, and I’ve said it to you personally: I think what happened to Judge Ronnie White in the United States Senate was disgraceful,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said, according to a CNN transcript.

White also testified at a hearing on Ashcroft, saying he was using the moment to reclaim his reputation.

President Obama renominated White for the job in November. (Sarah Binder of The Washington Post’s Monkey Cage wrote a great history explainer.) At White’s confirmation hearing in May, Durbin said, “It’s not often that the Senate gets a do-over. In your case, it’s long overdue,” according to Congressional Quarterly. The Senate Judiciary Committee moved his nomination along June 19 on a party-line vote of 10 to 8.

Majority Leader Harry Reid filed cloture on White’s nomination Monday evening, and a vote is expected Wednesday. Because of the “nuclear option” rule change that requires only 51 votes to stop debate and move to a floor vote, it looks as if — almost two decades later — White is on his way to the federal bench.

Minds in the gutter

A Republican congressman doesn’t want the White House staff to have any fun.

Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.) is offering an amendment to an appropriations bill barring the use of any federal money to renovate the mansion’s historic underground bowling alley.

The White House was seeking to modernize the alley, built for Harry Truman, Time reported last week. The General Services Administration wrote in a bid solicitation that it wanted to “replace the current, damaged and out dated lanes, approaches, pin setter platform (or pin deck) and gutters with new and modern products.” No price tag was attached, but pushback from critics moved the White House to announce it was withdrawing the request.

The lanes, located under the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, are apparently antiquated and in disrepair. Bowlers keep score by hand.

Candidate Barack Obama wanted to replace the alley with a basketball court, but once he became president he must have sensed that would have been an unpopular move. (He may have just said that out of embarrassment after rolling a 37 on the 2008 campaign trail in Pennsylvania.)

Meehan says taxpayers shouldn’t be funding such things.

“Smart budgeting means making choices and setting priorities. With our nation $17 trillion in debt, upgrading the President’s private bowling alley shouldn’t be a priority,” Meehan said in a statement Tuesday.

But if the congressman is looking to hold down the deficit, this effort isn’t likely to make much of a difference.

A bowling-industry type told the Loop that modernizing the two lanes would cost at least $10,000, with any added bells and whistles pushing the price higher.

Not the culinary institute

Ever wonder what secrets lie in the Central Intelligence Agency’s cafeteria? Of course you have.

It turns out, our colleague Abby Phillip reports, that some of the nation’s top intelligence officers want quality control in their cafeteria. Thanks to a 2010 Freedom of Information Act request by MuckRock, we have a glimpse of the culinary world at Langley circa 2011.

The FOIA request was for the “feedback” messages sent by CIA’s employees to cafeteria managers. Here’s a sample of responses. (Names are, of course, redacted.)

1. Attitude everywhere. The CIA’s Burger King didn’t offer a “dollar menu,” wrote one employee, who was also looking for a little courtesy. “Why can’t there be nicer food handlers?”

2. Bring back the ketchup packets. One complaint laid out the (many) reasons packets are better than the “pump box” dispensers that replaced them.

“Please put back the individual packets of ketchup, mustard & mayonnaise,” wrote [name redacted]. “The large pump boxes of these items are not convenient to use, causing frustration & are not liked by many people.”

3. The great Jazz Salad bait-and-switch: “The Jazz Salad was supposed to be a Sonoma Grape and Prosciutto salad,” wrote one person. Except that there were no grapes. Only cherry tomatoes masquerading as grapes.

“Grapes are in the title of the salad. I asked about them, and the server pointed to the cherry tomatos [sic], said they were grapes. I said, “no, those are tomatos [sic], soooo should I just get grapes from the salad bar.” The employee did so but was unhappy. “I do not condone putting salad bar items into a Jazz Salad.” (Neither do we.)

4. Faux Russian on the menu:

“First of all, to try to be cute with substituting a backward R, a ‘Ya’, for an R, is tacky,” wrote one employee. “Please recognize that many of us have really traveled to these countries and when you provide food like you did today, it causes me not to support this kind of cuisine in the future.”

5. The Great Chicken Leg Gambit: “As with the 1/4 Dark Platter being the leg and thigh,” one person wrote, “the 1/4 white should have been a whole breast and a wing. This needs to be corrected.”

It’s hard to gather intelligence when your stomach’s empty.

— With Colby Itkowitz

Twitter: @KamenInTheLoop, @ColbyItkowitz

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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