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Washington in brief

House committee to explore Cheney role in Klamath salmon die-off

Five years after approximately 70,000 chinook and coho salmon washed up dead on the banks of the Klamath River, the Natural Resources Committee in the House of Representatives will explore the role of Vice President Dick Cheney in a controversial diversion of water to Oregon irrigation farmers. The diversion preceded by only months, ''the largest fish kill ... ever seen'' in the Western states, according to a series of Washington Post articles that spurred committee Chairman Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.

The newspaper detailed Cheney's alleged behind-the-scenes efforts to overturn scientific findings on the impact a water diversion would have on the Klamath River salmon during a period of drought. Klamath River Basin farmers were clamoring for water in a state Cheney and his president, George W. Bush, had narrowly lost in the 2000 presidential election.

Responding to a cohort of lawmakers in the House from Oregon and California, Rahall announced that he will reprise a May hearing on the politicization of the Endangered Species Act.

''In light of the revelations being made over the situation in the Klamath River Basin, it is my intention to again convene the committee ... It certainly appears this administration will stop at nothing to achieve political gain from natural resources disasters. Ultimately, it will be hardworking Americans and their healthy environment that will lose if we fail to act.''

Immigration reform falters near finish line

Declared dead once but kept alive by compromise and procedural votes, a bill to overhaul immigration law finally expired in the Senate June 28. A strong consensus of commentators and analysts said the defeat on a vote to end a filibuster (prolonged partisan debate as a delaying tactic) against the bill and move to a vote also ended any chance of major immigration reform in the George W. Bush presidency.

Support for the bill collapsed under popular protests that the ''path to citizenship'' it proposed for immigrants working in the country illegally or without documents amounted to an ''amnesty.'' A last-minute compromise amendment would have forced the workers to leave the United States temporarily before returning for the citizenship process, but support for it was never strong. Concern had also grown over potential abuses of a guest-worker provision, already under scrutiny as a low-wage labor pool.

In the end, the compromises could not overcome enough objections in the Senate to win the 60 votes needed to invoke ''cloture,'' the closing of debate, and proceed toward a final vote. Already in the House of Representatives, where Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., had warned that she would need 70 GOP votes (to go with her majority Democrats) in order to pass the bill there if it got out of the Senate, indications had emerged that nowhere near that number of Republicans supported it. When a late spate of advocacy from President Bush couldn't bring them around, the Senate formalized the inevitable.

Vitter acknowledges prostitutes in his past

Sen. David Vitter, a staunchly conservative, family-values Republican from Louisiana who proposed legislation to redefine tribes as corporations in January and to outlaw off-reservation Indian gaming in 2005, has acknowledged patronizing the so-called ''D.C. Madam.''

Deborah Jeane Palfrey operated Pamela Martin and Associates in Washington, an alleged prostitution ring for elite Washingtonians that Palfrey herself describes as a fantasy-sex service. Facing prosecution, she has authorized the distribution of the business' telephone records to the media. A certain suspense, little distinguishable from titillation at times, has been building in the nation's capital for months over the telephone numbers that might appear on the list, which dates back to 1994. The list went public the week of July 4, with much of official Washington out of town for the Independence Day recess on Capitol Hill.

Vitter's office issued a statement July 9 admitting to sin in the singular past tense. That was before the Louisiana press weighed in July 11 with accounts of Vitter's alleged patronage of an upscale New Orleans brothel, as provided by ''Canal Street Madame'' Jeanette Maier. Maier pleaded guilty to operating the brothel in 2002, and other guilty pleas in the case meant few client names ever surfaced.

The Vitter legislative proposals that many tribes considered anti-Indian went nowhere. But the January amendment, defining tribes as corporations for the purpose of limiting their campaign donations, received enough votes in defeat to linger as a potential attachment to other bills, according to veteran observers on the Hill.