1. Archive

Conversational gambits from the nation's capital

As the 109th Congress convened last week, the news media once again turned their attention to Washington. Here are some stories they may have missed:

+ Alberto Gonzales, the White House lawyer nominated for the post of attorney general, has told colleagues that he fears further harsh treatment in the Senate.

"They're going to put me in stress positions," Gonzales is reported to have said. Gonzales has directed members of his staff to revise the White House definition of torture to include torture. In 2002, Gonzales had written a memo characterizing certain forms of torture as "conversational gambits."

Gonzales' confirmation hearings have ended, but the Senate Judiciary Committee has yet to send its recommendation to the full Senate for debate. One senior Democratic senator has said he intends to use Gonzales-approved interrogation methods to make the nominee squirm.

A senatorial aide who did not want to have his identity revealed because of possible repercussions, the intern Joe Weathers, confirmed that the senator was researching whether it would be legal to isolate Gonzales before the vote and force him to listen to hours of the liberal talk radio host Al Franken.

"It does seem brutal," Weathers said. "But we don't think it violates the Geneva Conventions."

+ As the result of a bureaucratic slip-up, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was inadvertently included in the U.S. government delegation sent to comfort tsunami victims in Southeast Asia.

"Waves happen," Rumsfeld told survivors. "Weather is untidy. Sometimes you have to make do with the weather you get instead of the weather you want."

Rumsfeld also criticized the news coverage of the disaster. "They just keep showing the same wave over and over again," he said.

+ In the House of Representatives, Democrats were horrified to learn that Republicans had adopted a provision requiring Sen. Barack Obama, Democrat of Illinois, to put the proceeds of his $1.9-million book deal into the legal defense fund of the House majority leader, Rep. Tom DeLay.

"Obama's not even in the House," complained Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader. She said Democrats would introduce a resolution that would require Bill Frist, the Republican leader of the Senate and a doctor, to provide free checkups to all House Democrats and their dependents.

+ n the Senate, Republican leaders adopted a new rule that would make it easier to limit Democratic filibusters of Bush's judicial nominees.

While the old rule required the approval of at least three-fifths of the Senate to end debate, under the new rule only seven Republicans are needed to end a Democratic filibuster _ or six if the support of seven Republicans cannot be found. Filibusters are also limited to 10 minutes.

Democrats, for their part, vowed to filibuster the rule change. Congressional scholars were researching whether Republicans could apply the new rule to the debate over the new rule, or the debate over the debate over the new rule.

Tom Burka, a lawyer, writes the satirical blog Opinions You Should Have.

The New York Times