Morning Political Note: Jan. 24

Two Democrats widely believed to be hankering for Bush's job will take measured shots at the administration today. On Capitol Hill, Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut will preside over the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee's Enron hearing featuring former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt. But he'll do so under heavy scrutiny given his own ties to the company.

As the Washington Post notes, "Lieberman has labeled the Enron story a 'corporate scandal,' and indicated he wants to use the hearings to explore the role of the SEC, the Department of Energy and other oversight agencies." ( )

USA Today adds, "Lieberman's role as chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee has led to a string of less-than-flattering news notes," then neatly lists them all. ( )

The other contender, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, today will deliver what his staff has billed as a major, forward-looking (i.e., does not address the current budget situation) economic speech, sponsored by the Democratic Leadership Council. A summary provided in advance includes some rhetoric intended to build expectations for Bush's State of the Union (and Gephardt's response to it).

The release, which hints at additional "major policy addresses," notes that Gephardt will elaborate on four goals: U.S. energy independence within a decade (calling John Kerry … ); better training and education of the workforce, including a "Teachers Corps" and income tax breaks for college tuition; pension reform (calling Enron … ); and investments in a "homeland security trust fund" and a "defense tracking system."

Attorney General John Ashcroft and the assistant attorney general for civil rights will hold a news conference today on an unrelated topic (human trafficking), but may address the war or John Walker Lindh.

From the ABCNEWS London Bureau: Pope John Paul II is leading other religious leaders in a day of prayers for peace in Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis … Former Lebanese minister and pro-Israeli Christian militia leader Elie Hobeika has been killed in an explosion outside his house in Beirut. First reports indicate that the blast was caused by a car bomb. No word so far as to who might have been responsible for the attack. Hobeika was heavily implicated in the massacre of hundreds of Palestinian refugees in the Sabra and Chatilla camps in west Beirut in 1982. It's been alleged that last week Hobeika met with the Belgian court officials, who are considering whether to accept a suit against Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon filed by Palestinian survivors of the massacre. Hobeika said in July last year that he is willing to testify, and he would have been a major witness.

Also: Afghanistan's national carrier made its first international flight Thursday in nearly two and a half years. Its lone Boeing 727 taking off from Kabul to New Delhi marked the latest milestone in the struggle to get Ariana Afghan Airlines off the ground again.


The Washington Post welcomes the opening day of Enron on Capitol Hill and probably drives business interests berserk by urging Congress to impose new disclosure regulations. ( )

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