Today's Papers

Labor’s Love Lost?

USA Today leads with widening criticism of several Bush Cabinet appointees, especially of would-be Labor Secretary Linda Chavez over allegations (broken yesterday by ABC News) that in the early ‘90s, she employed an illegal immigrant in her home. The Wall Street Journal’s front-page world-wide news box flags Chavez together with a report from the Jerusalem Post saying that shortly before the presidential election, Colin Powell gave a speech for a $200,000 fee put up by a wealthy Lebanese deputy prime minister with close ties to the Syrian government. All the other majors front the Bush Cabinet complications. The New York Times and Los Angeles Times lead with President Clinton’s first public presentation, in a speech last night, of some specifics of the Middle East peace plan he has been trying to implement. The papers also emphasize that Clinton expressed doubt he’ll realize any such plan before leaving office, and from the remarks of his they report, it’s not hard to see why. For instance, he’s quoted in the NYT saying that Palestinians should have the right to live in Palestine, but Israel could not be expected to acknowledge their right of return. The Washington Post leads with news that midweek, American Airlines will announce plans to buy struggling TWA, buy 49 percent of the new DC Air, and to jointly operate the East Coast US Airways shuttle with United. The paper says the deals, in making American comparable in size to the airline resulting from the United-US Airways merger, are being pushed as pro-competition. The NYT front and the WSJ also have the deals and make the same point.

USAT lead and the LAT Cabinet story see policy-based remarks by two leading Senate Democrats against proposed Attorney General John Ashcroft as playing a key role in widening the threat to the Bush Cabinet slate, but it’s apparent from the overall coverage that right now, it’s not policies but peccadilloes that are driving things. The WP Chavez story goes high with the admission by a Bush spokesman that she paid “hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars to an illegal immigrant from Guatemala” who lived in her house while performing chores. The coverage has Chavez’s defense: The woman suffered some sort of unspecified mistreatment and came to Chavez for shelter and a helping hand. The work was depicted by the Bush spokesman as the “kind of things that anyone who got food and shelter would do around a house,” and not a job for pay. The WP has a comment from an immigration lawyer opining that Chavez would have been breaking the law anyway if indeed the amount of money she paid was thousands of dollars, because that would make the chores into a job. The NYT quotes the Bush spokesman as saying that Chavez was not aware the woman was an illegal immigrant, but also quotes a friend of hers as saying Chavez did know this.

Most of the papers have disapproving Chavez comments from the top Senate Democrat and the head of the AFL-CIO questioning, in light of this episode, her capacity to enforce all the labor laws, which make it illegal to knowingly employ illegal immigrants. The WP digs up a remark Chavez made about the similar controversy with erstwhile Clinton attorney general appointee Zoe Baird (which cost Baird the nomination): “I think most of the American people were upset during the Zoe Baird nomination that she had hired an illegal alien. That was what upset them more than the fact that she did not pay Social Security taxes.” The Post adds that the illegal immigrant was living in Chavez’s house during the time of the Baird controversy.

The LAT explains that the Powell fee raises questions about his acceptance of money from a fund endowed by a foreign official. The paper has a Powell spokesman saying he didn’t know who paid his fee at the time of his speech Nov. 2, but then goes on to note that the Syrian-connected Lebanese man has funded the speech in his own name since 1991. The paper also quotes the Powell spokesman as saying, “All of this happened prior to the election … and when he was first asked, I might add, no one was mentioning his name as secretary of anything.” The paper didn’t add, but perhaps should have, that Powell could have turned down the fee at any time after he began being mentioned for secretary of state.

The WSJ and LAT Cabinet stories also mention the Chicago Tribune story claiming that on certain Nixon tapes, Bush secretary of defense appointee Donald Rumsfeld can be heard agreeing with various racially derogatory comments Nixon is making about blacks. The Journal doesn’t give any examples of this and the LAT mentions some unquoted tape passages that it says show this but the ones it quotes really don’t. Note to editors: When it comes to racism, a single actual example is worth a thousand accusations.

Lingering question about all this Cabinet stuff: Of course, no transition in history has ever been forced to do so much in so little time, yada yada, but doesn’t all this count against the steady-handed competence of the prime-minister-in-waiting in charge of all things transitional, Dick Cheney?