In Congress

U.S. Sen. John Ensign of Nevada—who voted for hate crimes legislation in 2004 and cosponsored hate crimes legislation in 2001—voted against extending their provisions to gays, saying that such an amendment “has no business on” the defense bill it was aimed at. However, Ensign voted on May 10, 2005, to pass a defense bill with an amendment attached that imposed driver license provisions called “Real ID” on the states.

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic floor leader, is under pressure from Democratic groups and editorial writers not to cut a bipartisan deal for approval of a controversial nominee to the Federal Elections Commission, which polices election law (though not very well).

At issue is Republican nominee Hans von Spakovsky, who had a reputation as a political operative for suppressing turnout in Democratic precincts. He was described by a New York Times editorial as having “pushed shameful G.O.P. stratagems to crimp the voting power of minorities and the poor.” Reid has his own nominees, labor figure Robert Lenhard and Nevada lawyer Steven Walther. Six political reform groups have called on Reid to hold separate votes on each nominee so that von Spakovsky doesn’t ride in on the others’ coattails.

A Capitol Hill newspaper reported that Reid reached a deal with GOP floor leader Mitch McConnell to ease the nomination through the Senate if no one objected to it, a plan that went awry when Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold objected.

On another front, Reid is again pushing for civil service benefits for employees of the CIA front Air America that operated as an airline in Southeast Asia from the 1950s to the 1970s.

The airline, which historians say was used to transport opium and heroin for a Laotian Army leader, reportedly paid its pilots four times as much as commercial pilots for its dangerous missions.

Reid got a provision attached to the 2008 Intelligence Authorization Bill ordering the director of national intelligence to “submit to Congress a report on the advisability of providing Federal retirement benefits to United States citizens for the service of such individuals before 1977 as employees of Air America.”