Defense Debate Set

Aside for Gun Measure

Senate leaders were forced to halt work yesterday on a major defense bill, postponing a fight with the White House that threatened a veto because it restricted the Pentagon's treatment of military prisoners or delayed work on base closings.

After failing to get the 60 votes needed to restrict amendments on the bill that authorizes $442 billion in defense programs, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) moved on to legislation to give the gun industry broad protections from civil liability lawsuits.

Democrats criticized Frist for dropping the defense bill.

Congress is slated to leave this weekend and return Sept. 5 after a month-long recess. Frist declined to say when he will call up the defense bill again.

"It appears that the Republican leadership is more concerned about the gun lobbyists in three-piece suits than the men and women who are serving our country in uniform," said Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the Democratic whip.

But 12 Democrats voted to start debate on the gun liability bill, including Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev).

Sensenbrenner Aide

Quits in Controversy

With Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.) facing criticism and ethics questions for pressuring a federal appellate court to increase a defendant's sentence, a congressional aide closely tied to the controversy has been dismissed.

Jay Apperson, chief counsel of the Judiciary subcommittee on crime, terrorism and homeland security, was the staff aide who brought the case to Sensenbrenner's attention, and he has publicly defended Sensenbrenner's unusual intervention.

Apperson abruptly left the subcommittee last week. A spokesman for Sensenbrenner, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, did not return calls seeking comment.

But a Capitol Hill official familiar with the matter said Apperson's departure "had everything to do" with his role in the controversy, in which Sensenbrenner directly contacted the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago to demand an increased sentence for a drug courier.

Sensenbrenner could face a complaint before the House ethics committee because House rules prohibit communicating privately with judges on legal matters. In addition, general rules of litigation prohibit contacting judges on a case without notifying all parties, which Sensenbrenner did not.

For the Record

* On behalf of Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), Senate Majority Leader Frist has written to two members of the base closing commission, asking them to closely scrutinize the Pentagon's recommendation to close Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, S.D. "He doesn't regularly do this, but he did visit South Dakota last year and he feels like he has worked with the people of Ellsworth," said Amy Call, a spokeswoman for Frist. "He committed to Senator Thune as well that he would" write the letters. Thune defeated Senate minority leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.) last November, in part by saying that his clout with the majority Republicans would help to save Ellsworth.

* A bill designed to make the U.S. Postal Service more competitive -- and which might help head off the rate increase planned for next year -- passed the House, 410 to 20. The measure would relieve the agency from having to put $3.1 billion in Civil Service retirement savings annually in escrow.

-- From Staff Reports

and News Services