Today's Papers

Separation of Power Trips

All the papers lead with yesterday’s principal presidential election developments: filings by both sides in preparation for today’s Florida Supreme Court oral arguments on whether or not Al Gore is entitled to any further manual recounts of disputed ballots, and the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature’s decision to convene a special session very likely to produce a fallback slate of Bush electors.

Although Florida Republicans depicted the special session not as a Bush stratagem but merely as protecting the ability of the state of Florida–rather than the courts or the U.S. Congress–to select its presidential electors, the Washington Post and New York Times leads have a Florida Democratic legislator’s divergent comment: “Sadly, I have to say that I believe this is orchestrated, and the only thing missing from the proclamation today was the postmark from Austin, Texas.” The Los Angeles Times lead has a similar quote from the same Democrat. The WP describes the legislature’s move as being announced at a “hastily called” press conference and says that previously its Republican leaders “had appeared cautious” about taking the step. But the Post notes that Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court order emphasized to the Florida Supreme Court the primacy of state legislatures when it comes to voting law and says that the legislature’s action sends “an explicit message” about that to the lower court as it hears Gore’s recount appeal. In making the same point, the NYT lead calls the legislature’s move “a warning shot fired by one branch of state government toward another.”

The WP, NYT, and LAT leads summarize the briefs filed in the Florida Supreme Court case. They are another indication of how much influence the U.S. Supreme Court’s words are having: Each side charges the other with seeking to rewrite the election rules. The LAT at one point refers to the Bush brief’s “none-too-subtle reminder” to the Florida court that the U.S. Supreme Court is not likely to tolerate an “adventuresome” (the paper’s word) ruling.

The LAT says the Gore brief claims the current Bush margin in Florida is 103 votes. The WP and NYT note that the Gore papers say the case represents the “last chance for a legal judgment” regarding the election. The NYT lead reports that according to Gore’s legal advisers, there will be no appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court on this case if they lose. Which means, the paper concludes, Gore’s contest could end before the weekend. The Wall Street Journal main Florida story says, however, that not appealing this case doesn’t mean Gore would automatically concede, reminding the reader that he’s suggested he might wait for the resolution of three absentee ballot cases.

The Post lead gives middle play and the LAT lead gives high play to yesterday’s rejection by a federal appeals court of the contention of lawyers for George W. Bush that the manual recounts Gore is seeking violate the constitutional rights of voters in jurisdictions where recounts are not being sought. The WSJ’s main Florida story puts this decision in its first sentence and says it could clear the way for the Florida Supreme Court to order the recounts Gore wants.

The LAT lead reports that the slate of electors the Florida legislative leaders are proposing to send to the Electoral College are the very same people who were certified by state election officials. The paper adds that they include the two key legislators pushing for a special session.

The papers all report that yesterday, George W. Bush–after meeting with Condoleezza Rice, who is likely to be his national security adviser should he become president–warned terrorists against trying to take advantage of the election uncertainty and said that the “next administration, which I hope is the Bush administration, will do whatever it takes to send a chilling signal to terrorists.” The LAT is the only paper that puts this in its lead. The WP puts it on Page 25 in a story whose first sentence calls Bush “the prospective commander in chief” and which is accompanied by a photo caption (online at least) calling him “the probable president-elect.”

Everybody fronts a Russian court’s conviction yesterday of a U.S. businessman–and former Naval intelligence officer–on spy charges. Edmond Pope was sentenced to 20 years in prison for buying reports on a Soviet-era high-speed torpedo. Pope claims the reports contained only public information. Everybody notes that various U.S. officials harshly condemned the verdict. Most of the coverage mentions that this is the first conviction of a U.S. citizen for spying since U-2 pilot Francis Gary Powers was shot down in 1960, but nobody mentions that the U.S. government had denied espionage in that case, too, or that Powers was, well, spying.

The NYT reefers some highlights from the just-published Rolling Stone Bill Clinton interview. The paper goes high with Clinton’s view that the Republicans maneuvered him into the gays in the military controversy to keep him from having a honeymoon as a new president. During this part of the discussion, Clinton refers to “this dumb-ass ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ thing” that “I worked out with Colin Powell.” (Did Clinton really say “dumb-ass”? Slate’s Chris Suellentrop discovers the truth.) Clinton also endorses the decriminalization of marijuana and questions the strong distinction the law makes between crack and powdered cocaine. There’s also his fond reminiscence of a visit he had with Richard Nixon at the White House shortly before Nixon died. The early edition of the WP runs a AP blurb on the interview that mentions none of this but does mention that Clinton thinks he could have won a third term and that maybe the current restriction to two terms should be changed. The Post item ends with a quick reminder that Ronald Reagan said the same thing.

A little gem of a letter to the NYT raises an interesting point about this quotation from Sen. Phil Gramm that ran in the Times yesterday: “I’ve been waiting all my life to have a Republican president and a Republican Congress.” The correspondent notes that before 1983, Gramm ran for Congress as a Democrat.