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Sweet Column: Hastert off base going after Durbin. Political powerplay over courtroom safety. CORRECTION

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I made a mistake. I paraphrased Joe Shoemaker, Durbin's press secretary and I made an error. I should have said Shoemaker said the problem is Hastert can't control House Republicans. Instead, I wrote Senate Republicans, when I intended to write House Republicans. I goofed. The column now reflects the correction. Shoemaker's whole point was that it is Hastert who can't wield his power among his House Republicans.

column starts here

House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) is lobbing grenades at Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) over something in which there is no disagreement: the need to beef up judicial security in the wake of the murders of the mother and husband of U.S. District Court Judge Joan Lefkow at her North Side home.

It got nasty on Tuesday.

In a Congress controlled by Republicans, weeks before an election, Hastert is blaming Durbin -- the No. 2 Senate Democrat -- for not having enough clout to move legislation objected to by a GOP Senate committee chairman.

You may say at this point, "huh?''

Meanwhile, as this political drama is played out, the legislation is in limbo. Nothing may happen, at least not right away. Lawmakers will leave Friday and not return until after the November elections.

I called Lefkow on Tuesday to tell her the situation. She impressed everyone when she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, in May of 2005, on the need for a number of measures to enhance the safety of judges and courtroom personnel.

Durbin, a member of the Judiciary Committee, has been deeply supportive and active on behalf of increasing safety for the federal judiciary in the wake of the Chicago murders.

Lefkow told me her ''hope'' is that nothing ''stands in the way of judicial security.''

Here's how it started.

Hastert issued an ultimatum on Sunday, through his spokesman, Ron Bonjean, who hoped to get some stories going to turn up the heat on three people: Durbin, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. John Warner (R-Va.). Warner is the chairman, Levin the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee. Warner and Levin operate as partners.

Concealed carry provision
On Sunday, Hastert vowed not to move this Defense ''authorization'' bill unless the court security language was added as well as provisions dealing with gang members who are illegal immigrants. Levin does not want the House language in the Senate bill. It did not help that the House version added a conceal carry section -- to let judges carry firearms.

Durbin, according to the Hastert camp, should show how powerful he is and pressure Levin to go along. That would bring Warner around.

On Tuesday, Warner said in a memo he is ''firmly opposed'' to adding on the House demands. Hastert said he would drop a section in the House bill giving judges the ability to have guns.

Said Bonjean: ''We hope Sen. Durbin is now putting pressure on Sen. Levin.''

Said Durbin spokesman Joe Shoemaker: ''The real problem here is not that Durbin can't control Sen. Levin,'' it's that Hastert, said Shoemaker, can't control the House Republicans.


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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on September 27, 2006 8:09 AM.

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