Democrats Elect First Female Speaker, Pass Lobbying Reforms
"As Democrats retook control of the House and Senate after a dozen years out of power, they moved immediately to pass lobbying and ethics reforms in the House and to establish their top 10 legislative goals in the Senate. Republicans in both chambers tried to walk a line between graciousness and pushing to hold Democrats to their pledges to include them as full partners in legislating....
"The House passed the first portion of that package overwhelmingly Thursday night, 430-1, with Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., the only opponent. It largely would ban meals, gifts and travel from lobbyists. It also would ban members from taking free rides on corporate jets. A second portion of the package, which would require lawmakers to identify which "earmark" spending projects they request and to curb deficit spending, is to be voted on Friday." (McClatchy)
Duke Cunningham Reporting To Prison
"Imprisoned former Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham will soon have a new address ---- a work camp just outside Tucson, Ariz.
"The camp is 410 miles from San Diego, a six-hour drive that will allow the former Republican lawmaker's friends and family members to more easily visit him as he serves an eight-year sentence for taking more than $2.4 million in bribes.
"Cunningham was at an Oklahoma City transfer facility Thursday after having served the first 10 months of his sentence at a federal prison in Butner, N.C.
"As Cunningham was being transferred to Oklahoma after Christmas, federal prosecutors were issuing new subpoenas for documents from three House committees.
"Grand jury subpoenas were sent from San Diego to the offices of the House Appropriations, Intelligence and Armed Services committees, according to a notice published in the Congressional Record on Dec. 27. (North County Times)
Nuclear Agency Head Fired For Security Problems
"Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman on Thursday ousted the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, which maintains the nuclear weapons stockpile and oversees the nation's weapons research laboratories.
"'I have decided it is time for new leadership at the NNSA,' Bodman said in announcing that the agency's chief, Linton Brooks, would resign within the month.
"Brooks was reprimanded in June for failing to report to Bodman the theft of computer files at an NNSA facility in Albuquerque, N.M., that contained Social Security numbers and other data for 1,500 workers.
"Then in October hundreds of pages of classified weapons-related documents from the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico were found during a drug raid in the home of a woman who had worked at the lab." (AP)
Vern Buchanan Sworn In
"Just because Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida was sworn in Thursday doesn't mean the Democratic-controlled House is on his side in his contested election.
"Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., formally asked the House to recognize the court challenge in Florida's 13th Congressional District in the Sarasota area. Buchanan won by just 369 votes, but Democrat Christine Jennings contends the electronic voting machines didn't work correctly because 18,000 people who voted in other elections did not vote in the House race." (AP)
Bush Signing Statement Asserts Power To Open Mail â Snow Says It's Nothing New
"A signing statement attached to postal legislation by President Bush last month may have opened the way for the government to open mail without a warrant. The White House denies any change in policy.
"The law requires government agents to get warrants to open first-class letters. But when he signed the postal reform act, Bush added a statement saying that his administration would construe that provision 'in a manner consistent, to the maximum extent permissible, with the need to conduct searches in exigent circumstances.'...
"White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said there was nothing new in the signing statement.
"In his daily briefing Snow said: 'All this is saying is that there are provisions at law for â in exigent circumstances â for such inspections. It has been thus. This is not a change in law, this is not new.'" (AP)
Privately Paid Travel For Lawmakers In Decline
"As the House of Representatives prepares to vote Thursday on sweeping changes to its gift and travel rules, new data show that members of Congress and their aides are accepting privately funded trips at a precipitously declining rate.
"According to travel disclosure forms for a one-year span ending June 30, 2006, obtained by Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and analyzed by the Center for Public Integrity, corporations, trade groups and nonprofits spent more than $5.4 million to send lawmakers and congressional staffers on roughly 2,700 trips. During the previous one-year period, sponsors spent nearly twice as much â more than $10.3 million â on about 4,700 trips.
"Congressional watchdogs believe that the intense public scrutiny prompted by the Jack Abramoff lobbying and bribery scandal over the past two years has left some members gun-shy about accepting free trips, even for legitimate purposes.
"'Word got around pretty quickly that it was time to cool it off for a while,' said Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington-based public interest group." (Center for Public Integrity)
Finneran To Plead Guilty
"A former Massachusetts House speaker accused of lying during his testimony in a voting rights lawsuit plans to plead guilty Friday to obstruction of justice, a person familiar with the agreement said Thursday.
"The lawsuit had claimed that a 2001 state law that redrew legislative district boundaries discriminated against minorities in Boston while protecting incumbents, including the now-former House speaker, Thomas Finneran. A federal court panel eventually tossed out the legislative map, finding it 'sacrificed racial fairness.'
"Finneran's trial on perjury and obstruction charges had been scheduled to start Jan. 16." (AP)