Hastert Says: 'Better

To Be Us Than Them'

Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) used a three-hour, closed-door meeting Wednesday with House Republicans to buck up a party buffeted by scandal, divided by legislative priorities and depressed by sagging poll numbers.

"I submit to you that even today, as tough as things seem, it is much better to be us than them," Hastert said, castigating his Democratic opponents. He noted that, "while the polling shows a slump for the president and for us, it does not show a boost for them."

Hastert's address was relatively honest about the problems facing the Republicans, aides say, but then again, they have become impossible to ignore. An indictment on money-laundering charges has forced Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) to temporarily step aside as majority leader, and a top White House aide was indicted last week.

A threatened confrontation over DeLay's continuing prominence in House matters failed to materialize at the meeting.

Oil Firms Urged to Back

Energy Aid for the Poor

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said he sent letters to the associations representing big oil companies to "embarrass" them into contributing to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

"The oil companies ought to contribute something to LIHEAP with the profits that they have," he told reporters. In the letters, Grassley said that the growth in industry profits are averaging from 50 percent to more than 200 percent. He said some companies have even amassed quarterly profits of nearly $10 billion. He reiterated that they have a responsibility to use a portion of these profits to help low-income Americans.

Last year, the program spent $2.2 billion to help poor and elderly Americans pay their winter heating bills, and Democrats say the fund should be doubled for this winter.

Senate Democrats last week made a similar request of oil companies.

Roberts Recuses Self

From Appeal in Court

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. took himself out of a patent-infringement case because of a conflict, acknowledging he made a mistake in taking part in the early stages of the appeal.

Roberts did not explain why he was recusing himself from the case, which justices on Monday announced that they would review.

His former law firm, Hogan & Hartson LLP, had filed the appeal on behalf of Laboratory Corp. of America. The company, based in Burlington, N.C., was accused of infringing on the patent for a test that helps predict strokes, heart attacks and dementia.

In February, the Supreme Court had asked the Bush administration to weigh in on the case. The administration recommended that the justices reject the appeal, so it was a surprise when the court agreed to take the case: Laboratory Corp. of America v. Metabolite Laboratories, 04-607.

-- From Staff Reports

and News Services