SEN. NELSON, IN FLA., TALKS OF 'EVENTUALLY' LEAVING IRAQ
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
BRADENTON, Fla., Aug. 24, 2005 -- U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Fl;orida told a town hall audience here Wednesday that the Bush Administration ought to set deadlines for "eventually" leaving Iraq and defended his vote for the war, saying "I was not told the truth" about weapons of mass destruction and Iraqi drones that war planners told him would unleash "biological warfare" over the United States.
Nelson told an audience composed mostly of local Democratic activists, students and seniors that he is deeply concerned about Iran's development of rockets and nuclear technology that could lead to the outlaw nation's obtaining the ability to strike Israel with a nuclear-tipped rocket. North Korea's development of nuclear weapons is also a major problem, he said.
He also stated flatly that "The United States will be attacked again," and warned that the difference between the Sept. 11 attacks and a future nuclear attack would be "orders of magnitude" greater. "This is a great nation, and it can recover" from any such attack, he said.
Nelson, a Melbourne, Fla., native who is in a tight race with Rep. Katherine Harris, the former Fla. secretary of state who presided over the 2000 presidential election vote tabulation, spoke for more than an hour and answered several question from the audience at length. According to the a new poll by Atlanta-based Strategic Vision, Harris still trails him among likely voters by nine percentage points. Nelson serves on the Armed Services Committee, the Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee, some of the best assignments in the Senate.
The senator faced one questioner who told him of Americans and others in harm's way as they try to bring peace to troubled regions of Colombia, where the U.S.-led "Plan Colombia" is attemnpting to suppress coca crops and rein in fighting between Marxist guerillas and right-winf paramilitaries who sometimes have unofficial support from the Colombian army. Nelson acknowledged the predicament of peace activists caught in the middle of the fighting and said "Plan Colombia has not worked."
Nelson also promised to "look into" the possibility that Rev. Pat Robertson violated Federal law when, as a broadcast licensee, he advocated the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on Monday. Responding to a question from The American Reporter about the legality of Robertson's remarks that was interrupted by applause, Nelson told about 100 onlookers "It looks like you have your answer." However, Nelson also cited constitutional protections for Robertson's comments. "We have something called the First Amendment," the former Congressman and two-term Democrat said.
Nelson directed much of his time to responding to a question from Democratic activist Barbara Tomsik about the demoralization of American seniors faced with rising costs and complex decisions about health care, and answering a nursing instructor who criticized the administration's current rules for home health care that do not provide adequate child care and pay for home health workers who frequently must choose between children and patients when their charges need 24-hour care. That often leaves disabled seniors in the hands of caregivers hired for the day who do not know the patients, their needs or their medications, the instructor said.
The "town hall" meeting, one of several Tuesday for Nelson and one of many in a statewide tour that is separate from his U.S. Senate race, washeld in the Nursing building at Manatee Community College in Bradenton, a city of 50,000 people 60 miles south of Tampa on the Gulf of Mexico.
Nelson also responded to a question about illegal immigration by noting that in one section of the Arizona-Mexico border, more than 800 illegal immigrants cross the border without permission each day. Florida, he said, with the longest coastline in the continental United States, is also vulnerable to illegal incursions not only by immigrants but terrorists he said.
On one of the most contentious issues in the race, Nelson said that he was proud that he and newly-elected U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, a Republican, were able to defeat provisions in the recent Bush administration energy bill that would have allowed drilling off the cost of Florida, possibly imperiling its $50-billion-a-year tourist industry. The pair were not able to stop a planned "seismic inventory" of offshore oil deposits that will require deep-sea explosions to determine possible hydrocarbon formations. As a result of his efforts, Nelson said, drilling cannot take place closer than 100 miles to the Florida coast.
However, a controversial amendment to the energy bill that is coming before the Senate next month could lead to an encroachment on the so-called Alabama-Florida Line, an imaginary boundary extending into the Gulf of Mexico whoch has long served as the easternmost boundary of drilling operations. Nelson said the bill could lead to drilling on the Florida side of that line, and posed many problems. The area is known as "Hurricane Alley," Nelson noted, for the frequency of tropical storms and hurricanes that roar in from the Caribbean each year, and spills caused by the storms could foul Florida's beaches and contribute to global warming that increases the number of tropical storms.
The senator also supported one audience member's call for reduced gas emissions and said that the production of hybrid vehicles like the Toytota Prius need to be increased. "Hybrid vehicles should be made available" to all those who want to buy them, he said.
Nelson also recounted his recent one-hour meeting with Judge John Roberts, the Bush administration's nominee to the United States Supreme Court. He avoided asking question that Roberts would not answer, he said, but delved deeply into issues surrounding personal privacy. Roberts has been a leader in the small but influential group of judges including Chief Justice William Rehnquist who say the Constituion provides no "right of privacy."
The senator also lashed out at the growth of infomation databases that have invaded the privacy of hundreds of millions of Americans. "Pretty soon, there's nothing that they won't know about you," he warned.
Nelson, a fifth-generation Floridian, grew up in Melbourne, Fla., where a piece of property his grandparents homesteaded in the 18th Century - after his Danish great-grandfather ran from a barroom brawl in 1829 New York and stowed away on a ship in New York harbor that eventually deposited him in Port St. Joe, Fla. - was just three miles from the northern end of the Cape Canaveral runway where he later took off for space as a crew member on a flight of the Space Shuttle Discovery.
"I imagined the awe my grandparents might feel looking down on one of their ancestors leaving the Earth in a spaceship," he said.