Roundtable: Judicial Nominees, Bolton, Stem Cells The major news out of the Beltway this past week included Senate wrangling over controversial judicial nominees, the vote to confirm John Bolton as U.N. ambassador and House approval of a bill that would expand federal funding for research using new stem-cell lines. Liane Hansen speaks to three journalists from around the country: Pat Yack of the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, Kate Nelson of The Albuquerque Tribune in New Mexico, and Mike Jacobs of the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota.
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Roundtable: Judicial Nominees, Bolton, Stem Cells

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Roundtable: Judicial Nominees, Bolton, Stem Cells

Roundtable: Judicial Nominees, Bolton, Stem Cells

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For reaction to the week's news from communities outside the Beltway, on the phone now are Pat Yack, editor of The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, Kate Nelson, the managing editor of the Albuquerque Tribune in New Mexico, and Mike Jacobs, the editor and publisher of the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota.

Welcome back, all of you.

Ms. KATE NELSON (Editor, Albuquerque Tribune): Thank you.

Mr. MIKE JACOBS (Editor/Publisher, Grand Forks Herald): Thanks.

Mr. PAT YACK (Editor, The Florida Times-Union): Good morning.

HANSEN: Well, first, we want to talk about what's happened in the US Senate and that fight over filibustering and the confirmation of the controversial judicial nominees and the vote to confirm John Bolton as UN ambassador. The national media devoted a lot of attention to these stories. Mike Jacobs, how interested are the readers of the Grand Forks Herald?

Mr. JACOBS: Interested but not obsessed. I would say actually, perhaps curiously, the Bolton nomination has drawn more interest than the argument about judges, probably because none of the judges are in our circuit. The prevailing attitude probably is `Let's do something,' rather than keeping this going. Of course, there's the usual partisan divide, but there's also a sense of impatience, I think, that nothing is getting done.

HANSEN: Kate Nelson, are John Bolton's nomination and the filibustering over the judicial nominees on the radar of the readers of the Albuquerque Tribune?

Ms. NELSON: It's certainly on the radar. It's not a daily top-of-the-fold, front-page issue for them. What I was hearing mostly from readers on the filibuster issue is a lot of the same impatience with Congress, along with actually some pretty intelligent discussion about constitutional issues. That was heartening.

HANSEN: Pat, are the stories--these stories getting column inches in Florida Times-Union?

Mr. YACK: I think the story here is playing out much as it is in the states of my colleagues. What's been interesting at least with respect to the Bolton nomination is that Mel Martinez, who's a first-term Republican senator, and Bill Nelson, who is a first-term Democratic senator, both on the Foreign Relations Committee, both with their vote on that committee, and where this may play out eventually is in the Senate race that's coming up for Bill Nelson. Already the National Republican Senatorial Committee is highlighting Nelson's vote on Bolton, and I think that it will start to emerge during the political season when Nelson comes up for re-election.

With respect to the filibuster, Martinez has been a very strong supporter of the president. Nelson has played his hand a little closer to the vest with respect to that issue. But when it came time to vote for Priscilla Owen, who was the first nominee to come before the Senate, Martinez voted for Owen and Nelson voted against.

HANSEN: There was movement on one important issue to many people. Tuesday, House Democrats and moderate House Republicans went against the Republican leadership and the president and voted to expand the federal funds provision for research using stem cells from human embryos. Pat, is your paper taking an editorial stance on stem-cell research?

Mr. YACK: Not on this vote that's come up.

HANSEN: Uh-huh.

Mr. YACK: We have editorialized on the issue about research. About a third of the Republicans in the state voted with the majority on this bill. In fact, a couple of them are even co-sponsors of it.

HANSEN: Hmm. Mike Jacobs, in North Dakota, how has your paper covered the subject and how are your readers reacting to the news of the past week?

Mr. JACOBS: This is a very, very difficult issue. We've not resolved it with any clarity editorially, and I think that our lack of clarity reflects how the public feels about it. There's a lot of hope among North Dakotans, as I think elsewhere, that this research can lead to improvements in conditions for diabetics, for example. On the other hand, there's an undeniable moral issue that I think troubles people, and I think that the feeling here is much what was reflect in the House in the debate.

HANSEN: Kate Nelson, in Albuquerque, how closely are your readers following the developments in this issue?

Ms. NELSON: This is a scientific community and we have editorially been strong supporters of sound scientific research and policy. This not excluded from that, along with the caveats of being very careful with it. This week, we carried an editorial lauding Albuquerque Congresswoman Heather Wilson for being one of the Republicans to break ranks with her party to vote for the stem-cell research. And she went through the process that I think a lot of people here are approaching. She talked to both sides of the issue and in her public comments acknowledged this was a very difficult decision for her to make, but in the end changed her mind.

HANSEN: The Base Realignment and Closures Commission, the acronym for that is BRACC, released its report. And, Mike and Pat, you both work in cities with military instillations and, Mike, the Grand Forks Air Force Base is slated to be realigned. Mike, explain what you understand is the term base realignment, what it means and what people are concerned about there.

Mr. JACOBS: Actually, I'm on word three of sentence four in a column about this. We are feeling a great deal of anxiety. The BRACC didn't really clarify what mission might be intended after realignment. Things are looking a little more optimistic this week as the Pentagon begins to release a little bit of information and begins to sort of flesh out the plan. There's a lot of concern. We stand to lose--worst-case scenario, and I stress worst-case--we stand to lose somewhere around 5,000 jobs, which in an economy the size of Grand Forks--I mean, we have a total population in the metro area of about a hundred thousand--you know, that's a lot of jobs.

But as I say, there's a sense of--mounting sense of optimism and even excitement that some of the missions that are being talked about, the unmanned vehicles, the Expeditionary Air Force and the like, have a pretty exciting potential for Grand Forks.

HANSEN: Pat, you seem to be on the other end of this issue because the naval air station in Jacksonville is actually set to expand under the base realignment and closure process.

Mr. YACK: Our community breathed a collective sigh of relief when the reports came out a number of days ago because there was a lot of anxiety around what might happen. Every time this discussion comes up, people in our community brace themselves for what could happen. So Jacksonville and the Jacksonville area, which we tend to include the submarine base just north of us, at St. Mary's, if you want to think about it in these terms, came out well.

HANSEN: Given the military presence there in Jacksonville, Pat, what are the big Memorial Day events that happen there?

Mr. YACK: It is a day of reflection for a lot of folks. But because it's a large area for not only active personnel but for retired military folks, this is a somber occasion and that's also a patriotic occasion and a time for taking your hat off, if you will, to those men and women who have served.

HANSEN: Mike Jacobs, what happens on Memorial Day in Grand Forks?

Mr. JACOBS: Well, this is a region of small towns. I guess most Americans would think of them as villages, and I would think that just about every small town has a ceremony that will go off sometime on Monday. Again, you know, we have a very large number of active duty as well as retired military, and so the day has a special poignance, and the air is pretty heavy with lilac fragrance, and all my life I've associated that with Memorial Day and with remembrance and nostalgia. So it's definitely the time for Memorial Day, I think.

HANSEN: Kate Nelson, in New Mexico, big Memorial Day events planned there? And, of course, it's the start of your summer tourist season so your population is probably going to swell.

Ms. NELSON: Actually, I usually call it the start of the drunken boating season, but that's just me. There are a lot of more serious Memorial Day events taking place, the fly-overs and the ceremonies at the cemeteries and so forth. What's interesting to me is I've noticed a raised awareness among non-military people as far as recognizing this as a somber day, and I think it has to do with the active military that is among us now. And seeing people looking at this weekend not as a shopping holiday but as a time to remember veterans.

HANSEN: Pat Yack is the editor of The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, Mike Jacobs is editor and publisher of the Grand Forks Herald, and Kate Nelson is the managing editor at the Albuquerque Tribune.

Thanks, as always, to all of you.

Ms. NELSON: You're welcome.

Mr. YACK: Thanks, Liane.

Mr. JACOBS: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: It's 18 minutes past the hour.

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