WASHINGTON -- President Bush's nomination of Harvard Law School professor Mary Ann Glendon as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican is being held up in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, raising the possibility that the post may be vacant when Pope Benedict XVI visits the United States in April.
The selection of anti-abortion advocate Glendon is opposed by Catholics for a Free Choice. No official holds on her confirmation have been filed, but failure to schedule a hearing blocks her confirmation. She is caught up in blanket Democratic opposition to Bush's final nominees.
Business tycoon Francis Rooney, current ambassador to the Holy See, has resigned and is expected to be gone by the time of the pope's American visit.
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has informed Congress it must actually pass alternative minimum tax (AMT) relief, not just promise help, for taxpayers to receive refunds next year.
On Oct. 30, chairmen and ranking minority members of the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees wrote Acting IRS Commissioner Linda Stiff that "we want to assure you that legislative relief is forthcoming so that no new taxpayers will be subject to the AMT for taxable year 2007." On the next day, Stiff responded that their assurance was not sufficient for the IRS to recalibrate computers. "We must ensure that our systems are prepared to process returns under the law as it exists now," she said.
This correspondence became known last week with Congress still having failed to "patch" the AMT. Refunds to income tax payers may be delayed 10 weeks.
Moderate Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, who normally promotes bipartisan amity, was furious Wednesday when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid declined to come to the Senate floor to answer Specter's charge that Reid had violated Senate rules in calling Republican colleagues "puppets."
"I have had my staff advise [Reid's] staff," Specter told the Senate, "that I intended to make some comments about him so that he would be notified and come to the floor. . . . His office is right adjacent to the floor. He is a minute or two away."
In decrying the Senate's year-end logjam, Reid on Tuesday declared on the floor: "President Bush is the man that's pulling the strings on the Republican puppets he has here." Specter responded, "I wonder if [Reid's] up to the job."
A WIN FOR MITCH
The election of Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee as Republican Conference chairman, third-ranking in the Senate GOP hierarchy, boosted Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell's authority.
McConnell was embarrassed last year when his choice, Alexander, was defeated by one vote for Republican whip by Sen. Trent Lott. When Lott last month announced his resignation from the Senate, Sen. Jon Kyl became the unopposed candidate for whip and left open his previous position as Conference chairman. Alexander beat conservative-backed Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina by two-to-one in the closed-door vote of Republican senators.
Burr's chance depended on a three-way contest among him, Alexander and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, but Hutchison dropped out. She contemplates running for governor of Texas in 2010, and colleagues believe she did not want to risk losing a party leadership race.
When Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean addressed the winter dinner of the Washington Gridiron Club, he did not declare the support for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan that is expected from politicians speaking to the journalists' organization.
Satirical Gridiron speeches often conclude with patriotic rhetoric. Republican National Chairman Mike Duncan, Dean's counterpart addressing last Saturday night's dinner, wound up his speech by commending troops in the field.
In contrast to anti-Vietnam War politicians a generation ago, most Democratic critics of President Bush's Iraq war policy go out of their way to praise the soldiers while condemning the policymakers. Dean did not follow that line in his Gridiron speech.