Today's Papers

Plugging in a Speaker

House politics continue to dominate. The Washington Post leads with the de facto Speakerhood of Rep. Robert Livingston. The Los Angeles Times goes with the fractious Republican caucus he will try to lead, which the Wall Street Journal also addresses in a front-pager. The New York Times goes instead with yesterday’s Judiciary hearings at which scholars said middle-ground outcomes like censuring the president had no constitutional basis. The hearings are also the off-lead at the WP and make the front at the LAT and USA Today, which leads instead with the Supreme Court’s allowing the continuance of Wisconsin’s program of subsidizing poor children’s attendance at private and religious schools. This voucher story makes the LAT and NYT fronts, but is played inside at the Post.

The WP, LAT and NYT each give the who’s-up-who’s-down on the House GOP wrangle but there is no clear sense communicated about what it all means. The LAT bothers to tell us that to hold together the House GOP caucus Livingston may have to, to coin a phrase, “resort to scotch tape and bailing wire,” but doesn’t tell us much about the ideological differences operating except to say that Livingston has been slammed by the WSJ editorial page and is also disliked by something called the Traditional Values Coalition. The coverage tells us that Livingston is apparently all about tone and management and (could this be the Jesse Ventura effect?) that he’s a black belt in karate. But that’s about it. For a topography of the House GOP, turn to the Journal account, which nicely articulates the three main branches of its conservatism: pragmatic, economic, and social.

As for the lesser offices in the hierarchy, the papers don’t even communicate what they do. The reader has no idea what to make of learning that, for example, the vice chair of the House Republican Conference is challenging the Majority Leader. The one exception to this complaint is the Post’s reporting on the job of Majority Whip, Tom DeLay. Delay, it seems, was able to vector support to Livingston because he possesses the only really up-to-date list of members’ phone numbers and addresses.

The NYT observes that if the Republicans were looking for a way to gracefully abandon impeachment, this was not in evidence at the Judiciary hearings. The other papers see things the same way. Although it was Elbow Patch and Tweed Day at the committee, the NYT shows that often the academic witnesses were just foils for members’ speechifying. All the experts testified that the standards for impeachment should be kept very high, but some of the Republican members of the committee made it clear they felt that lying about sex qualified.

It’s a bit sobering to read that the WP’s political dean, David Broder, refuses to bury Newt Gingrich’s career in public life. His model for Gingrich in ‘98 is Nixon in ‘62–down but not out. If, writes Broder, the Democrats clobber the GOP in the 2000 presidential vote, Gingrich would be positioned for a comeback, this time as a presidential candidate.

As an apparent conflict with Iraq looms, USAT reports on a visit made last month to a Navy carrier now enroute to the Mediterranean. The paper reports that the ship is deployed with 250 fewer crew than it’s supposed to have, with the result that flight operations cannot be sustained at the tempo commanders would like. The paper reports that although the Navy denies that the carrier’s recent fatal flight deck collision had anything to do with shorthandedness, the service has experienced a rise in its flight accident rate. The story quotes one civilian defense expert’s assessment: there’s plenty of money, it’s just being spent on the wrong things–glamour weapons instead of parts and manpower.

For those wondering how long Kenneth Starr’s operation could stay in business, the WP runs a story inside about the independent counsel appointed to look into conflict of interest charges against Eli Segal, a one-time Clinton national service advisor. Nine months after getting the case, the IC recommended against prosecuting Segal, and no further action was taken against him. But more than a year after that, the office still exists, albeit down to one attorney working about half time. Why? Well, says, the Post, the office had to continue operating while those investigated or required to testify appealed for reimbursement of their legal expenses. And there’s the cost in time and money of, as the law requires, turning over all paperwork to the National Archives. And best of all, since any IC office must be audited by the government every six months, someone must be retained to preside over the office while it’s being audited. That’s how the Segal IC is still managing to spend more than $250,000 a year.