All three papers ( Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Washington Post) lead with the most recent Cabinet nominations: former Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft for attorney general and New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Bush also tapped Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., a drug company executive who worked in the Reagan White House, for director of the Office of Management and Budget. The nominations were seen as a peace offering to conservatives disgruntled by the increasingly moderate turn of the new Bush administration. Ashcroft is a bona fide right-winger, and Whitman, a pro-choice moderate, will be isolated from social policy-making at the EPA.
All three papers front Ashcroft profiles. He is a deeply religious man who promises to apply his faith to his work as attorney general (in his acceptance speech he said repeatedly that he hoped to restore integrity to the office). Liberals are strongly opposed to Ashcroft and claim they will fight his nomination. They are particularly bothered by his strong opposition to abortion and support for capital punishment. Democrats also remember that Ashcroft led the controversial fight against Judge Ronnie White, the first black judge from Missouri who President Clinton nominated for the federal bench. Ashcroft called White “pro-criminal,” but the evidence showed otherwise, and Clinton blasted Republicans for a vote on partisan and perhaps racial grounds. Even so, most experts predict that Ashcroft will survive the nomination process. The Senate does not usually reject former senators, and his graceful November concession to Mel Carnahan (the governor who died during the Senate campaign and whose wife was appointed to fill the seat) has given him a lot of political capital.
The NYT and WP also run profiles of Whitman. The NYT piece claims that the EPA nomination demonstrates how far her star has fallen. She was once considered a rising Republican talent, but conservatives isolated her because she is pro-choice, and Bush gave her the EPA post because it gives her no way to voice her views on abortion. The paper suggests that her autocratic style makes her ill-suited for the job, which requires cooperation with numerous government agencies. The WP piece focuses more on what her environmental policy might look like. Although she enjoys a decent reputation as a conservationist, her overall environmental record is substantially more pro-business than that of the current EPA. She reduced the New Jersey environmental protection budget by 30 percent and has pursued a policy of voluntary compliance with environmental standards (instead of fining polluters). Bush said that she will help change the “central command-and-control mind-set” of the EPA.
The NYT and the WP front a U.N. dues reduction deal worked out by Ambassador Richard Holbrook, with a little help from Ted Turner. Congress insists that the dues are too high and has been refusing to pay since the mid-1990s, and so the United States is roughly $1 billion in arrears. Holbrooke convinced the U.N. to agree to decrease the U.S. share of the general operating budget from 25 percent to 22 percent and its share of the peacekeeping budget from 30 percent to 27 percent. Part of the agreement is that Ted Turner will pay $35 million this year to cover U.N. losses, and other countries will begin to pick up U.S. slack starting next year. Congress had wanted its share of the peacekeeping budget reduced to 25 percent, but experts think that Colin Powell (who has been working closely with Holbrooke) can sell the deal to Congress. Both papers point out that the agreement is the result of superhuman effort by Holbrooke and argue that it could be the defining moment of his ambassadorship. Even Jesse Helms, the leader of the anti-U.N. forces in Congress, is said to be reasonably happy with the terms. Growing countries such as Singapore and Brazil will have to pay more to make up for lost dues from the U.S.
The LAT and the WP front (and the NYT goes inside with) news that President Clinton granted holiday pardons to former Rep. Dan Rostenkowski and 58 others. Rostenkowski, former chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, pleaded guilty in 1996 to two counts of mail fraud when it was discovered that he had been using public funds for patronage salaries and personal gifts. Sixteen of those pardoned were drug offenders, and the rest were white-collar criminals. Clinton has used the power to pardon sparingly during his terms in office. Still lobbying for pardons are Whitewater figure Susan McDougal, junk bond king Michael Milken, spy Jonathan Jay Pollard, and American Indian activist Leonard Peltier.
The LAT fronts and the NYT and WP go inside with news that Russia has admitted wrongdoing in the death of Raoul Wallengberg, the Swedish diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. He was arrested by the KGB in 1945 because he was considered “socially dangerous,” but Russian authorities have yet to explain exactly why he was arrested or what happened to him afterward. It is generally accepted that Wallenberg was executed in 1947.