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Political Notes

From Wire Reports

Newt: ‘Save the poor’


House Speaker Newt Gingrich called on fellow conservatives and Republicans Tuesday night not to “fixate” on White House scandals but to make saving the poor of the U.S. capital a top priority for the next two years.

In his first extended preview of the new Congress, the Georgia lawmaker told a dinner hosted by the conservative Heritage Foundation that the House would give President Clinton’s budget a “fair hearing” and work with him “if he governs on the principles he campaigned on - balanced budget, welfare reform, stop drugs, targeted tax cuts.”

Gingrich also promised hearings soon after the House convenes in January on a flat tax proposal made by a Republican commission chaired by Jack Kemp nearly a year ago. That work “has not been forgotten,” he said.

The low-keyed, studiously non-partisan speech was yet another sign of the evolving new role for the onetime Republican firebrand who is now battling an ethics investigation and low popularity ratings.

Noting the poverty, drug and education problems in the U.S. Capital, he called on conservative think tanks such at the Heritage Foundation to come up with plans to “drown” Washington with attention and resources for the next two years.

Wilson still running up debt


You thought the presidential election was over. There were those political conventions in San Diego and Chicago, President Clinton’s visits with wealthy Indonnesian campaign contributors, Bob Dole’s fall from a Chico stage. You voted, right?

But for Gov. Pete Wilson the presidential race lives on in the form of a $470,352 campaign debt, according to the governor’s office.

Working under federal fund-raising rules that limit contributions to $1,000 a person, Wilson is still asking people to make donations to his presidential campaign more than one year and two months after he abandoned his short-lived bid for the Republican nomination.

Cat got his tongue?


Losing your voice can have its advantages.

President Clinton, whose voice was so hoarse Tuesday he could hardly be heard, jokingly went along with a reporter’s suggestion that he was ducking questions.

After offering a barely audible “I have no comment” to a question about his former political aide James Carville, and then a flat “fine” to a reporter asking about his progress in selecting a new Cabinet, Clinton buttoned his lip.

“Are you glad you’ve lost your voice?” a reporter asked, only half jokingly.

“It’s a hoax,” Clinton teased.

Ruling today in Espy probe

A federal judge was to rule today on whether the wife of a former top aide to ex-agriculture secretary Mike Espy must testify before a grand jury here this week.

Chief U.S. District Judge John Garrett Penn listened to more than an hour of arguments from lawyers behind locked courtroom doors Friday before putting off a ruling on the fight over the subpoena of Sharon Blackley, wife of Ronald Blackley, who was Espy’s chief of staff.

Attorney Hiram Eastland of Jackson, Miss., who represents both Blackleys, said he argued that Sharon Blackley has a “spousal privilege” and asked Penn to stop independent counsel Donald C. Smaltz from questioning her.

Smaltz is investigating gifts that Espy received from companies the department regulated, and whether Ronald Blackley, as chief of staff, intervened on behalf of certain farmers seeking crop subsidy payments.

Eastland said the prosecutors conceded that communications between the Blackleys are protected. But he said the prosecutors are “somehow trying to slip around” the much broader protection under law that Eastland says prohibits the practice of forcing spouses to testify against each other.

Stephanopoulos to teach


George Stephanopoulos, one of President Clinton’s closest advisers, has decided to teach at Columbia University after leaving the White House early next year, an official said Tuesday.

Stephanopoulos, 35, whose service to Clinton dates to the 1992 campaign, made it known before Clinton’s re-election that he would not serve in a second term.

His ability to merge policy and politics made Stephanopoulos one of Clinton’s most trusted advisers. Considered a member of the administration’s liberal wing, his stock fell after Republicans gained control of Congress in 1994, but his influence in the inner circle revived as the 1996 presidential race proceeded.

Federal aid in wake of riots


President Clinton assured the city of St. Petersburg, Fla., on Tuesday that it will receive the federal help it needs to recover from two race riots and to ease the tensions that caused the violence.

Clinton directed seven federal agencies to begin providing assistance to address the economic, racial and other problems identified as underlying factors in the riots.

The agencies will follow recommendations from a federal task force that called for up to $20 million in aid that would include short-term disaster relief, job placement and training, environmental cleanup and upgrades to public housing.

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