Week in Review: Judicial Nominees, Africa Aid
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
Senator BILL FRIST (Republican, Tennessee): I remain optimistic the Senate is moving in a new direction on judicial nominees, rejecting the partisan obstructionism of the past and embracing the principle that all judicial nominees deserve a fair up-or-down vote. I urge my colleagues to join me in bringing the debate on this nomination to a close and ensuring that Judge Brown will get an up-or-down vote.
SIMON: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist speaking from the floor of the Senate on Tuesday. Judge Janice Rogers Brown was confirmed to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, DC, the nation's second most influential court. NPR's senior news analyst Dan Schorr joins us.
DAN SCHORR reporting:
SIMON: And the Senate confirmed Judge Brown this week, also Judges William Pryor, David McKeague and Richard Griffin. Priscilla Owen has already been confirmed. Now when the Democrats had agreed to broker this compromise with the Republicans, they said they would give up their right to filibuster, have some votes for judges, up or down, and clearly were saving their fire for eventual Supreme Court nominees. What is the value of a Supreme Court nominee at this point when the administration has been able to confirm five federal judges?
SCHORR: Well, this is an interesting and rather complicated subject. We had this deal that was made by the so-called Gang of 14, seven Republicans and seven Democrats, that immunized at least three nominees against a filibuster. Now the Democrats are committed not to use the filibuster anymore except in extraordinary circumstances. I suggest you study extraordinary circumstances 'cause I think you're going to hear that phrase a lot. This would presumably be if a vacancy turns up on the Supreme Court. Say, for example, and I am not predicting anything, if the ailing Chief Justice William Rehnquist were to retire at the end of this term of the court, I think that would be considered by some, at least, an extraordinary circumstance warranting the use of the filibuster if they want to do that.
SIMON: And let me ask about the controversy that seems to accelerate over Guantanamo. Senator Arlen Specter has announced that the Judiciary Committee is going to hold hearings next week to investigate charges of abuses there. There are increasing calls--former President Jimmy Carter, Senator Joe Biden, a Democrat of Delaware, to shut down the facility, even Secretary Rumsfeld now says that his eventual plan is for inmates to be transferred back to their home countries.
SCHORR: Yes, underline that word `eventual.'
SIMON: Maybe we should remind ourselves what arguments are there to keep detainees there at this point?
SCHORR: Well, the argument that Secretary Rumsfeld makes is that if you send them to their home countries, you're sending the countries that don't have the capability and don't have the facilities to handle this situation, at least to the satisfaction of the United States. But it is true, as you suggest, that this is beginning to come home and is really getting to be quite embarrassing with the worldwide reaction to it. And so it may well be that the administration is now beginning to look for some way out of the situation rather than have President Bush running against Jimmy Carter.
SIMON: British Prime Minister Tony Blair was in Washington, DC, this week. Of course, he has been trying to promote an accelerated agenda for development in Africa, which he sees as a major concern of the 21st century. Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair negotiated an agreement that would cancel about $15 billion in debt owed by the poorest nations in Africa and South America to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. That deal would still have to be ratified by the G8. If debt relief comes about, what effect can we expect it might have immediately in countries like Ghana, Bolivia, Mali, Ethiopia?
SCHORR: Well, if you relieve these countries of part or all of their debt burden, it does help a lot. But, again, as you suggest, this is not the full answer to the problem of the African countries. The idea here would be to take these debts, the rich nations would provide enough money to reimburse the lenders and they'd be compensated for that. But the United States is being asked also not to reduce aid to Africa in their regular appropriation which is sorely needed. The answer to your question is it would be much worse if they didn't get that relief. It's not very good as things are.
SIMON: Federal prosecutors began closing arguments this week in a racketeering trial against cigarette manufacturers. There was a surprise, though. Government lawyers scaled back the amount of money that it's seeking from tobacco companies. The Justice Department now says $10 billion over five years for a national stop smoking awareness program. That's quite a step down from the $130 billion over 25 years...
SCHORR: Yes, indeed.
SIMON: ...that one of the government's star witnesses had recommended. To what do you owe the change?
SCHORR: Well, first of all, the decision to make that change came from the upper reaches of the Justice Department--that is to say, the political appointees and not the hard-working people who've been working on this case for more than a year. So what they're saying now is that all they want now is to have enough money there to keep kids from becoming smokers, not any longer trying to help people already smokers in order to kick the habit. I'll tell you this. If this subject were marijuana instead of tobacco, I think we'd be getting a lot more enthusiasm out of our Justice Department.
SIMON: President Bush is asking Congress to renew and make permanent several provisions of the Patriot Act that is scheduled to expire later this year. The Patriot Act was approved by Congress after the September 11, 2001, attacks to improve intelligence on terrorist suspects. It allows for expanded surveillance, more use of material witness warrants and for secret proceedings in some immigration cases.
SIMON: Do people in Congress who are opposed to the Patriot Act, or think there have been abuses, have the votes to amend the act?
SCHORR: It doesn't look that way, the chances are. It's very difficult to find people brave enough to oppose and vote against a bill which is called an anti-terrorist bill. And it's true that the idea now is to expand the abilities of the FBI, to use surveillance. And a Senate committee had already voted to give the FBI some more of these powers, and I guess they'll get it.
SIMON: In line with that, there's a report by the Justice Department's inspector general this week that the FBI missed at least five opportunities to further investigate some of the September 11th hijackers before the hijacking in September 11th, said that once the FBI learned the men had entered the United States, there wasn't follow-up with much urgency.
SCHORR: Well, yes, but please remember that before 9/11, that's when our hearts were young and gay, or let me find another way of saying that. In any event, the report speaks to bureaucratic obstacles, communications breakdowns, lack of urgency and not even reacting when they were told there's very suspicious young men taking all this flight training. It won't happen again I guess.
SIMON: Recruitment figures are showing the US Army will miss its May recruitment goals by as much as 25 percent. Army's brought in about a thousand new recruiters. What are the implications of this shortfall practically?
SCHORR: One word, Iraq. First of all, you go to Iraq, and they have this retention where you may not come back when you thought you were coming back because they don't have enough forces. And now it doesn't look as wonderful to these young people as it did before. And so they're not being recruited.
SIMON: Dan, thanks very much.
SCHORR: Thank you.