Historian retires; climate foes back chem bill

AP News
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Posted: May 07, 2015 3:15 PM
Historian retires; climate foes back chem bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate historian Donald Ritchie is stepping down from his "front-row seat to the best show in town."

That is the tradition, scandal and scholarly debate of the United States Senate, which Ritchie has observed and written about for all four decades the Historical Office has existed.

"He's the guy you see on TV you see explaining the historic significance of events like swearing-in ceremonies and inaugurations," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in bidding Ritchie farewell. "I don't think any of us would want to face him on 'Jeopardy.'"

Consulted by reporters, senators, staff and luminaries alike, Ritchie has authored more than a dozen books, including three textbooks, said Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Author Dan Brown contacted Ritchie for his best-seller, "The Da Vinci Code," and biographer Robert Caro did likewise for his voluminous writing about President Lyndon Johnson.

"Any person needing valuable insight into the United States Senate and its history has known where to go," Reid said.

Ritchie, 69, watched from a corner seat just behind the senators.

He has held the post since 2009, when he succeeded founding Senate Historian Richard Baker. Baker hired Ritchie when the office first opened in the mid-1970s.

"Historians never retire, Don says," McConnell added. "They just have more time to research."

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Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma and Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island don't agree on much. Inhofe calls global warming a hoax and came to the Senate floor earlier this year armed with a snowball to prove his point.

Whitehouse is a leading advocate for combatting climate change and delivers weekly speeches on the topic on the Senate floor, including one in which he repeatedly mocked Inhofe as "the senator with the snowball."

So it was unusual to see the two men standing next to each other at a news conference Thursday as each praised the other's efforts to advance a bill updating regulation of harmful chemicals.

The bipartisan bill would set safety standards for tens of thousands of chemicals that now are unregulated, while offering protections for people vulnerable to the effects of chemicals such as pregnant women, children and workers. It also would set deadlines for the Environmental Protection Agency to act and allow states to regulate a dangerous chemical if the EPA misses required deadlines.

Thirty-six senators — 18 from each party — have signed on as co-sponsors.

Inhofe noted the irony of his joining forces with Whitehouse, a frequent antagonist, but he said their mutual efforts showed the importance of the chemical bill, the first major update of the nearly 40-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act.

"This is a big deal," Inhofe said, calling the bill potentially the most important environmental law passed by Congress in a quarter century.

Whitehouse sounded a similar note. While the bill is not perfect, "what we have agreed to do is get started" on regulating toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde, styrene and bisphenol A, also known as BPA, Whitehouse said. "Action is better than a logjam."

Sens. David Vitter, R-La., and Tom Udall, D-N.M., the bill's chief sponsors, said they hope to bring the measure to a floor vote by the end of the year.

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Congressional Democrats are marking Mother's Day with research that they say shows working mothers earn less than women without children.

House and Senate Democrats on the Joint Economic Committee say that according to their calculations, mothers in the workforce earn three percent less than women without children. Working fathers, meanwhile, earn 14 percent more than childless men.

"This Mother's Day, let's acknowledge the essential contribution mothers in the workforce make to the economic well-being of their families," said New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the ranking Democrat on the House-Senate panel. "Public policy simply has not kept pace with dramatic increase in the participation of mothers - and women in general - in the labor force."

In advance of the 2016 midterm and presidential elections, the report highlights the priority Democrats are putting on maintaining their advantage among female voters. It also could provide material to bolster the national party's focus on income inequality.

The findings, based on federal labor and population statistics, are part of a report on how working mothers contribute to the financial security of their families. In 1975, less than half of mothers were part of the labor force; today, more than two-thirds of mothers work, the Democratic report showed. And one in three working mothers is her family's sole wage-earner.

Even though the earnings of working mothers have become more critical to family financial stability, women are penalized in the workplace for becoming mothers, the Democrats said.

Last year, median weekly earnings of mothers employed full-time were $744, compared to $765 for women without children. The opposite, the Democrats said, is true of fathers. Fathers earned a median weekly income of $962, compared to $840 for childless men, according to the report.

Associated Press Writer Matthew Daly contributed to this story.