Congress reconvenes today with Democrats in control of both chambers for the first time in 12 years. On Wednesday, President Bush welcomed incoming lawmakers after meeting Cabinet members at the White House.
President Bush: “I welcome their arrival into town. I’m looking forward to working with them, and so are members of my Cabinet. We’ve all been entrusted with public office at a momentous time in our nation’s history, and together we have important things to do. It’s time to set aside politics and focus on the future.”
Democratic leaders say they’ll prioritize congressional ethics reform and raising the minimum wage.
Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer: “We’re going to bring the minimum wage up so that people in the richest nation on the face of the Earth aren’t working 40 hours and living in poverty. We’re going to make sure that families can afford college expenses and that their young people can afford college expenses so we can remain competitive.”
As the Democrats pushed their domestic agenda, peace activists convened on the Hill Wednesday to call on the new Congress to end the Iraq War. Illinois Congressmember Rahm Emanuel held a news conference Wednesday on ethics regulations when he was interrupted by a group led by peace activist Cindy Sheehan chanting “Bring the troops home now.”
In Iraq, the Iraqi government has arrested a guard accused of filming Saddam Hussein’s execution. A widely circulated video shows guards and witnesses taunting Hussein just minutes before his death. At the White House, Press Secretary Tony Snow dismissed calls to join international condemnation of Saddam Hussein’s execution.
Tony Snow: “The government is investigating the conduct of some people within the chamber, and I think we’ll leave it at that. But the one thing you got to keep in mind is that you got justice. This is a man who killed hundreds of thousands and was executed for it according to the laws of the country, and in accordance with legal traditions that have made international scrutiny.”
Hussein was executed Saturday for ordering the killing of more than 100 villagers in the town of Dujail in 1982. Critics say the Bush administration helped encourage the rush to execute Hussein without trying him for his worst atrocities committed with U.S. support.
In the Occupied Territories, at least five Palestinians were killed Wednesday in new clashes between Fatah and Hamas. It was the worst day of violence since the two main Palestinian factions agreed to a truce last month.
Meanwhile, family, friends and colleagues of a Peruvian photographer kidnapped in the Gaza Strip this week have launched a new appeal for his safe release. Jaime Razuri was seized by gunmen after he returned from an assignment. He works for Agence France-Presse. Family members and friends held a news conference Wednesday in Peru. In Gaza, Agence France-Presse manager Sakher Abu El-Awn said Razuri’s life could be in danger.
Agence France-Presse manager Sakher Abu El-Awn: “We are worried about his life, about his health. He is sick. He has many health problems, heart problems and stomach problem. We call for urgent release for him.”
Meanwhile in Israel, an Israeli peace activist imprisoned for aiding a Palestinian militant has been released from jail. Tali Fahima had served more than two years of her three-year sentence for aiding Zakaria Zubeidi, the head of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Jenin. As part of her conditions for early release, Fahimi will be barred from visiting the Occupied Territories. As she emerged from jail Wednesday, Fahima said: “I don’t regret anything. I will continue to work against the occupation and for peace.”
Back in the United States, former President Gerald Ford was laid to rest Wednesday at a funeral service in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Former President Jimmy Carter was among those to speak.
Jimmy Carter: “'For myself and for our nation, I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land.' Those were the first words I spoke as president, and I still hate to admit that they received more applause than any other words in my inaugural address. You learn a lot about a man when you run against him for president, when you stand in his shoes and assume the responsibilities that he has borne so well.”
In voting news, The New York Times is reporting the laboratory responsible for testing most of the nation’s electronic voting systems has been barred from approving new machines after election officials concluded it hasn’t kept proper records. The company, Ciber Inc. of Colorado, is the largest tester of voting machine software in the United States. Experts say Ciber’s lax procedures could mean many current machines were not properly tested for crucial features like vote-counting software and security against hacking. Aviel Rubin, a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins, said, “What’s scary is that we’ve been using systems in elections that Ciber had certified. … This calls into question those systems that they tested.”
In news from Washington, National Intelligence Director John Negroponte is reportedly set to resign to become deputy secretary of state. Negroponte has overseen the nation’s 15 spy agencies since his appointment in April 2005. His career includes stints as ambassador to Iraq after the U.S. invasion and ambassador to Honduras, where he played a major role in the U.S. efforts to topple the Nicaraguan government. Former National Security Agency Director Navy Admiral John McConnell is expected to be named Negroponte’s replacement.
In Washington state, a 17-year-old student was killed Wednesday in a shooting at a Tacoma high school. Police have arrested an 18-year-old suspect, also a student at the school.
In environmental news, the British government’s weather and climate change office is already predicting 2007 will be the warmest year on record. A Met Office spokesperson says the forecast is based mostly on greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity and the residual effects of the 1998 El Nino storm.
Meanwhile, the oil giant ExxonMobil is again being accused of funneling millions of dollars toward public campaigns to discredit the science behind global warming. On Wednesday, the Union of Concerned Scientists said Exxon gave $16 million to more than 40 groups over a seven-year period. The group says Exxon used the money to help create a false debate to prevent governments from curbing global warming caused by human activity.
In other news, the television network CNN has apologized to Illinois Democrat Senator Barack Obama over a graphic that mistakenly listed Osama bin Laden’s first name as “Obama.” The mistake came in a preview for a segment on bin Laden that read: “Where’s Obama?” The incident is one of several that have raised questions about the media’s coverage of Obama as he mulls a possible presidential campaign. Pundits have begun highlighting Obama’s middle name “Hussein” as a potential political liability. And last month on CNN senior analyst Jeff Greenfield compared Obama’s style of dress to that of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
And newly released FBI documents reveal both the Nixon and Reagan administrations ordered the monitoring of witnesses set to provide critical testimony about former Chief Justice William Rehnquist. In 1971, the Nixon White House ordered the FBI to run background checks on witnesses in Rehnquist’s initial Senate confirmation hearing. When Rehnquist was nominated to chief justice 15 years later, the Reagan administration told the FBI to check on the witnesses and find out what they planned to say. The FBI obtained the names from then-Assistant Attorney General John Bolton. Bolton was the Bush administration’s U.N. ambassador until last month. The documents also show the FBI was aware in 1971 Rehnquist owned a home in Phoenix that was only allowed to be sold to whites. The clause was only disclosed 15 years later, and Rehnquist claimed he was unaware. The new files also reveal details of Rehnquist’s dependency on prescription painkillers. In 1981, doctors reported Rehnquist exhibited severe withdrawal after he stopped receiving the medication. Rehnquist was said to have tried to escape from a hospital stay in his pajamas after convincing himself of a CIA plot against his life. The FBI has withheld an additional 200 pages in Rehnquist’s file and says one entire section cannot be retrieved.