With the public image of Congress in the tank, House Republicans have vowed to focus on legislation that affects people's everyday lives, especially energy, tax and highway bills. But today the House will take up more red meat for the red states -- a bill "proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States authorizing the Congress to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States."
House Republican Conference Chairman Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) chuckled when asked if that was a conflict and suggested that anyone who sees one is looking at the world through blue-colored glasses. "You know, this is probably as relevant to people's lives now as any other time," she said, "because of what's going on with Democrats putting everybody in the world before our soldiers and the American safety. They're so worried about what's going on at Guantanamo Bay. And the flag has a place in that debate."
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.), a Navy fighter ace in the Vietnam War who has been the subject of news reports about his close relationships with defense contractors. Cunningham said that allowing the burning of the flag "is an insult to all those who perished" in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Frist on the Tyranny of AIDS
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), a surgeon, used remarks at a dinner last night saluting former senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina to say that he plans to return in 14 days to Africa, where he has traveled on annual medical mission trips beginning in 1997. Frist urged passage of his proposal to establish a Global Health Corps, which would aid other countries on the model of President John F. Kennedy's Peace Corps. The senator said that the HIV/AIDS pandemic is no longer "confined to the urban pockets of America or the bush of Sudan" but in a second wave is "pushing its way through China, India, Nigeria and Russia."
"The throes of disease -- like the iron fist of a tyrant -- can deny people their right to live free," Frist said. "And with the current trajectory of HIV/AIDS, let me ask this: At what point does the march of disease bring freedom's march to a halt? Without a doubt, AIDS is the greatest moral, social and humanitarian challenge we face."
Group Wants Voice for Religious Left
The Rev. Timothy Simpson was disappointed by the outcome of the 2004 presidential election. But even worse, he said, "was flipping on the radio and TV and hearing pundit after pundit tell us that the 'values voters' had spoken." Simpson, a Presbyterian Church (USA) minister in Jacksonville, Fla., said he believes "there are millions of us who also call Jesus Lord, love the church and love this country but don't feel like the politics of this country are going in the right direction."
Today in Washington, Simpson and a group of like-minded churchgoers will announce the formation of the Christian Alliance for Progress, which describes itself on its Web site, www.christianalliance.org, as a "movement to reclaim Christianity and transform American politics." It is the latest of several organizations attempting to counter the Christian right by building up a religious left. Others include FaithfulAmerica.org, the Center for American Progress, and the Clergy and Laity Network.
Call and Response Over Alleged Abuse
Four of the House's senior Democrats -- Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Reps. Henry A. Waxman (Calif.), Jane Harman (Calif.) and Ike Skelton (Mo.) -- called yesterday for the creation of an independent commission, similar to the 9/11 commission, to investigate allegations of abuse of detainees in U.S. custody in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. "It is a disgrace that the matters relating to the treatment of detainees have not been meaningfully investigated by this House," Pelosi said.
Ron Bonjean, spokesman for Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), replied: "Just who is the enemy here? American soldiers at Guantanamo Bay or terrorists in Iraq who would rather have Saddam and his torture chambers back?"
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a former Air Force lawyer, suggested last week that he supports a more active role for Congress, asking witnesses about possible "statutory provisions defining enemy combatant status and standardizing intelligence-gathering techniques and detention policy."
Staff writer Alan Cooperman contributed to this report.