Republicans jump off sinking ship

Posted: Tuesday, May 02, 2000

The following editorial appeared in today's edition of the Los Angeles Times:

Right on the heels of the federal seizure of 6-year-old Elian Gonzalez in Little Havana, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, demanded that Attorney General Janet Reno defend her actions at a hearing of his Judiciary Committee. Hatch was fired up and ready to scold. He gave the Justice Department just 24 hours to turn over all documents pertaining to the case.

Hatch wanted to scrutinize the rules of engagement given to the federal marshals, and he was not alone in demanding answers. Republican senators suddenly became sleuths. Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., wanted to know if it was true, as ``it appeared'' to him, that Gregory Craig, the attorney for Elian's father, had veto power over the decisions of the attorney general.

Things began to change when poll results showed most Americans cheering the return of the boy to his father. Almost immediately public opinion swung against a GOP call for a congressional inquiry. There was no more political fire in the cause.

Even Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., became reasonable, remarking, ``Why beat that horse with public hearings.'' But Helms had been happy to beat the horse so long as it paid off for his party and damaged President Clinton. When the camera lights went out in Miami's Little Havana, however, there was nothing left to be gained from what, at bottom, was a legally clear case of parental custody. The many in Washington, Miami and Havana who tried to make more of it should be ashamed.

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