The July 11 Sunday Politics column incorrectly reported that the newly reconstituted Committee on the Present Danger supports preemptive strikes against nations with ties to terrorist organizations. The group has not yet taken an official stand on that question. (Published 7/14/04)

With time expiring on the decade-old assault weapons ban, gun control advocates are angry at President Bush for apparently doing nothing to extend it. In fact, the president never asked the House to continue the ban, which will expire in September, because he knew it was pointless, says Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.).

In his 2000 campaign, Bush said he favored extending the 1994 ban on 19 semiautomatic assault weapons. But now, "time is running out, and President Bush's strategy is to remain silent," said Michael Barnes, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, in a recent statement.

The Senate dropped efforts to extend the law in March, and the House never started. "We stated our position before the White House had to ask us," DeLay told reporters last week. The White House "knew not to [ask], because the votes are not there."

At the same news conference, DeLay took a different view on a proposed constitutional amendment to bar same-sex marriages. The House will vote on the question in September, he said, even though many Republicans say they are not close to rounding up the 290 votes, or two-thirds majority, that a constitutional amendment requires. "We feel like marriage is under attack," DeLay said, and amendment proponents can't wait for a guaranteed victory.

In Florida, the Trials of Martinez

Last week's Republican attacks on trial lawyers, which greeted Sen. John Edwards's ascension to the Democratic ticket, may inflict some collateral damage in Florida. Wincing at all the GOP bashing of wealthy personal-injury lawyers was Mel Martinez, the White House's handpicked Senate candidate and a past president of the Florida Academy of Trial Lawyers.

Former representative Bill McCollum, also vying for the GOP nomination to succeed Democrat Bob Graham, who is retiring, wasted no time in linking Martinez to the criticisms. His campaign dubbed Martinez the "John Edwards of Florida," and posted an online video that described the two men as "liberal trial lawyers. Both wrong. So wrong."

Aides to Martinez, who was Bush's housing secretary before resigning to run for the Senate, say McCollum's broadside actually might have helped their candidate. It prompted Gov. Jeb Bush (R), the president's brother, to defend Martinez even though he is officially neutral in the Senate primary.

"With all due respect to my friend Bill McCollum, Mel Martinez is no John Edwards," the governor said, and McCollum's assertion "is not going to be credible."

Ideology and Popcorn

Republican leaders have dismissed "Fahrenheit 9/11," the movie that bashes President Bush at every turn, as a diatribe with little appeal to wide audiences. But a recent national poll found that 44 percent of American voters say they have seen or plan to see the film.

The Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner questioned 1,000 likely voters from June 28 to July 1. Six percent said they had seen the movie and 38 percent said they planned to see it -- of those, 23 percent self-identify as Bush voters and another 10 percent say they are supporting Ralph Nader or are undecided.

"Contrary to Republicans' claims, it's clear that voters across the political spectrum want to see what [director] Michael Moore has to say," crowed Eli Pariser, executive director of the MoveOn PAC.

Meanwhile, Democratic Party staffers are soliciting money for the Democratic National Committee outside some theaters showing the film.

Playing Chicken in the House

The partisan storm that erupted on the House floor Thursday briefly spilled into the adjacent Speaker's Lobby, where startled reporters witnessed two lawmakers going toe-to-toe.

Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) was miffed at overhearing a fellow lawmaker calling him "a chicken" when he yielded to GOP leadership pressure and switched his vote from aye to nay on an amendment to anti-terrorism legislation.

The measure would have barred federal agents from secretly reviewing people's library and bookstore accounts. House leaders extended the roll call for 23 minutes to persuade Wamp and eight other Republicans to change their votes and kill the amendment, infuriating Democrats.

Wamp turned to Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), demanding to know, "Did you call me a chicken?" Brown replied she had not, then followed Wamp out of the chamber and into the Speaker's Lobby to chide him for falsely accusing her. If he had wrongly identified her, "then I apologize," said Wamp. He walked away, leaving Brown to finish the account for reporters.

"It was Eddie Bernice Johnson [D-Tex.]. She was the one calling him a chicken -- which he is," Brown said. "I told him to get out of my face." Brown, who like Johnson is African American, added sarcastically, "Of course, we all look alike."

Clear and Present Alert

The Committee on the Present Danger -- an off-and-on organization of anti-Soviet policymakers and strategists founded in the early 1950s and revitalized in 1976 -- is re-forming for a third incarnation. This time, the main target is terrorism, not Moscow-based communism.

The bipartisan group, co-chaired by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.), held a mid-June conference on the war in Iraq, which drew little attention beyond The Hill newspaper. Among the group's tenets is support for preemptive strikes against nations with ties to terrorist organizations.

Mel Martinez once led a Florida trial lawyers group.Bill McCollum likened his GOP rival to John Edwards.