WASHINGTON – Anger at the Bush administration for waging war abroad and attacking rights at home bubbled up at the Congressional Black Caucus 33rd Legislative Conference here Sept. 24-27.

“Collective Leadership: Challenging A Bold New World” was the title of the conference, which attracted thousands of participants in 53 plenary and workshop sessions.

A standing-room crowd at a session titled “The Iraq War: America Speaks Out” convened by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), cheered Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who recently accused Bush of “fraud” in tricking the U.S. into war. The White House reacted with rage to that blast.

But Kennedy did not apologize. “If your son or daughter is in the National Guard or Reserves, you know they are going to be called up and sent over to serve in Iraq,” Kennedy thundered. “They are asking $87 billion for the war in Iraq and they cannot find enough to fund ‘No Child Left Behind.’”

Kennedy read from the Pentagon’s 28-page draft plan sent to Capitol Hill after weeks of protests from lawmakers that the occupation is floundering. “Locate and secure weapons of mass destruction,” was the goal one week. A week later, again, “Continue to locate and secure weapons of mass destruction.” The crowd groaned and Kennedy flung the draft in the air, calling it “an insult to our troops serving over there.”

Democratic presidential contender Al Sharpton told the crowd that Kennedy “has nothing to apologize for” in his blistering attacks on Bush. Recalling Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation to the UN last Feb. 14 with spy photos allegedly showing Iraqi weapons sites, Sharpton demanded, “Where are they?” He said, “Our children were put in harm’s way. It is immoral to give this president $87 billion for this war.”

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) asked, “What do you do if a president has committed acts that should lead to his removal? Citing mounting calls to investigate lies and misuse of intelligence by the “unelected president and the people around him,” Conyers said, “How do we withstand the mood of people who are saying to us: ‘What are you waiting for?’”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said, “Every day people are dying. I am appalled and outraged that Republicans are blocking a full and fair examination of the facts.”

Civil rights leader Rev. Willie Barrow said, “Mr. Bush, you didn’t find Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, or weapons of mass destruction. We know a lie when we hear it.” She challenged the crowd to start now to register millions of voters. “It’s not enough to register people. We have to get them out to the polls on Election Day,” she said. “Let’s come together and show Bush the door.”

Conyers, ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, and other Black Caucus members convened a briefing on “Law and the Courts.”

One panelist was Judge Nathanial Jones, recently retired from the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals based in Cincinnati. He assailed a memo to U.S. attorneys from Attorney General John Ashcroft, “instructing them to monitor the sentencing policies of federal judges” Jones called it “a back-door way of interfering in the courts … clearly intended to have a chilling effect.”

The right-wing Judicial Watch is spearheading a drive to impeach Judge Boyce Martin Jr., chief judge of the Sixth Circuit. Meanwhile, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) has set up a Select Committee on Judicial Accountability with powers to subpoena judges’ records. Jones said it is “highly inappropriate for anyone in the legislative branch to be poking around in the files of the Sixth Circuit,” and called it “a directed attack” to undercut the decision that court handed down upholding affirmative action.

Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way, warned that the GOP drive to pack the courts with right-wing extremists is “the single most important issue facing the nation domestically” in the 2004 elections. If Bush wins a second term “he will almost certainly appoint two, three, or four Supreme Court justices,” Neas said.

“This administration, this attorney general, and the leadership of the Republican Party want to undo legal precedents going back to 1937,” Neas said.

At least one-third of President Clinton’s nominees to fill vacancies on the federal bench were blocked by then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.). “Now they want to fill all those vacancies with extreme, right-wing ideologues. We cannot rest. Everything we have fought for is at risk.”

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