On Capitol Hill, the Democratic-controlled House has failed to override President Bush’s veto of an Iraq War spending bill that sets timetables for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. After the override failed, President Bush hosted congressional leaders from both parties at the White House to discuss a compromise bill. The Washington Post is reporting the Democratic leadership is now backing down and has dropped their demand for including a timeline to bring troops home from Iraq. Democrats appear to be deeply divided over how far to give in to the White House.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: “I had hoped that the president would see the light instead of turning a tin ear to the wishes of the American people and a blind eye to what is happening on the ground in Iraq. The president is reporting that progress is being made in Iraq. Well, I don’t know what his definition of progress is, but sadly April was the deadliest month in Iraq, 100 of our troops killed there.”
Meanwhile, Republican Congressman Jerry Lewis of California urged Democrats to fully fund the war.
Rep. Jerry Lewis: “I say to my colleagues on the other side of the aisle: You have made your point. You’ve had your dog and pony show. You posed for political holy pictures on TV. Now, what is your plan to support the troops? It is time to put the posturing and political stunts aside and do what is in the best interest of our troops.”
In Iraq, nearly 4,000 more U.S. soldiers have arrived in Baghdad in an attempt to stabilize the city. Despite the so-called surge, another 85 Iraqis died on Wednesday. The heavily fortified Green Zone has come under mortar and rocket attacks for the past three days. Last night four Filipino contractors working for the U.S government were killed in a rocket attack inside the Green Zone.
Meanwhile, a two-day conference over the future of Iraq has opened in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh. The U.S., Syria and Iran are among the countries attending. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to meet with Syria’s foreign minister in the first high-level talks between the two countries in years.
Protests are continuing in Afghanistan for a fifth day in a row over the killing of civilians by U.S. troops. Afghan officials say over 50 civilians have been killed in raids by U.S.-led troops against the Taliban in the past week. In the city of Nangarhar 2,000 students rallied on Wednesday. The students burned and stomped on U.S. flags and chanted “Death to America.” One of the protesters, Jamaludding Khan, called for U.S. troops to leave Afghanistan.
Jamaludding Khan: “As the foreign troops failed to bring security to Afghanistan, we want them to leave Afghanistan as soon as possible, without any preconditions. If they do not take our demand seriously, we will continue our protest.”
Protesters have also called for the removal of the U.S.-backed Afghan president, Hamid Karzai. Karzai said that Afghans no longer have patience for the killing of civilians by Western forces hunting the Taliban.
Hamid Karzai: “Unfortunately, the suffering of Afghanistan in certain parts of the country has not ended. We still suffer, either by the operation of terrorists or in the consequence of operations by NATO. We still keep losing our civilian lives.”
Meanwhile, one of Afghanistan’s former prime ministers was shot and killed outside his home in Kabul on Wednesday. Abdul Saboor Farid briefly served as prime minister 15 years ago. He had been serving in Afghanistan’s upper house of parliament.
The Los Angeles Police Department is coming under increasing criticism for violently crushing a largely peaceful immigrant rights march on Tuesday. Police dressed in riot gear fired 240 rounds of rubber and foam bullets as well as tear gas. Officers were seen on video clubbing protesters and journalists with batons. Overall, 10 people, including several journalists, were taken to hospitals after being injured. The Spanish-language TV station Telemundo confirmed that one of its reporters and three camera operators had been injured by police. The Los Angeles Times reported four employees of KVEA-TV were injured. A KTTV news reporter suffered a minor shoulder injury. A camerawoman with KTTV also broke her wrist. Patricia Nazario of the public radio station KPCC was also injured. The police has launched a pair of investigations. L.A. Police Chief William Bratton admitted the actions taken by the police were inappropriate. He said, “I was disturbed at what I saw.” The police claim they were provoked by some protesters who threw small objects at them. Councilman Herb Wesson likened what he saw to the violent police response to civil rights demonstrators in the South half a century ago. Wesson said, “I had a flashback to 45 years ago. It was a nightmare to me.”
Lawmakers in Oklahoma have sent the state’s governor a bill that has been described as one of the most sweeping anti-immigrant laws in the country. The bill would make it a felony in Oklahoma for anyone to harbor or transport people they know to be undocumented immigrants. Violators of the law could be punished by up to a year in jail. Critics of the bill say it could result in the jailing of medical staff and religious workers who offer aid to undocumented immigrants.
In Washington, there have been several developments in the growing scandal over how the Bush administration has tried to transform the Justice Department into a political arm of the White House. The Justice Department has launched an internal investigation into whether the department’s former liaison to the White House, Monica Goodling, illegally screened job applicants based on their political party affiliation. Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee has subpoenaed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to turn over all emails to or from White House adviser Karl Rove in connection to the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. The White House has claimed their copies of the emails have been lost.
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe is in Washington in an effort to win support for a new trade deal and continued support for Plan Colombia. The U.S. has given Colombia more than $5 billion since 2000. Some Democratic lawmakers and human rights groups have urged the Bush administration to reconsider its ties to the Colombian government following disclosures linking it to right-wing paramilitary death squads. Last month, Senator Patrick Leahy blocked the release of $55 million in aid because of Colombia’s human rights record. On Wednesday, President Bush urged Congress to OK the agreements.
President Bush: “This agreement is good for the United States. It’s good for job creators, farmers, workers. This agreement is good for Colombia. It’s good for job creators and workers and farmers. This agreement has strategic implications. It is very important for this nation to stand with democracies that protect human rights and human dignity, democracies based upon the rule of law.”
The Colombian government has hired the lobbying firm The Glover Park Group in effort to win congressional support. The lobbying firm has close ties to the Democratic Party. Its founders include former Clinton White House spokesperson Joe Lockhart and several former strategists of Al Gore.
Meanwhile, Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez urged lawmakers on Wednesday to approve new trade agreements with not just Colombia but also Panama, Peru and South Korea. Gutierrez attacked Latin American critics of trade deals with Washington.
Carlos Gutierrez: “There’s some in the region that seem to have hijacked the term 'social justice.' It’s almost as though it’s a copyright used by the socialist, radical left, as if they understood the real meaning of social justice, and under the guise of social justice, they’re implementing policies that we know are going to hurt their people and ultimately are going to hurt the economy, and at best they will make everyone poor.”
In other news from Latin America, the Bolivian government has moved a step closer to nationalizing its energy resources. On Wednesday, Bolivian President Evo Morales met with representatives from 12 different oil and gas companies to sign new contracts turning over production to the state. This is Carlos Villegas, Bolivia’s minister of hydrocarbons.
Carlos Villegas: “The nationalization, the history of the oil in the country in the past year, is entering a new phase. [It’s] a phase of expectation and hope. We hope that through the official ratification of the contracts we can solidify investments and count on higher volumes of oil and natural gas.”
And in news from Israel, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert held an emergency meeting of his Cabinet on Wednesday amidst growing calls for him to resign over his handling of the Lebanon war. Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has urged Olmert to resign. Earlier today, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu said the public has lost all trust in Olmert’s government. Palestinian senior negotiator Saeb Erekat said the political controversy in Israel would likely affect the Palestinians.
Saeb Erekat: “[I] hope that the complexities that we are witnessing in Israel will not have a negative impact on our attempts and the Quartet’s attempts to revive a meaningful peace process. I hope we will not find ourselves in a vacuum and everything that we’re trying to do in terms of Secretary Rice’s efforts to revive a meaningful peace process to open a political horizon will just be undermined.”
Israeli police have accused a former Arab member of the Knesset of treason and espionage. Israeli officials claim the lawmaker, Azmi Bishara, aided members of Hezbollah during last summer’s war. Bishara resigned his post and left the country last month. Police say Bishara will be arrested immediately if he returns to Israel. Bishara has described the charges as ridiculous. He said, “unlike those in Israel’s parliament who have been involved in acts of violence, I have never used violence or participated in wars. My instruments of persuasion, in contrast, are simply words in books, articles and speeches.”