Today's Papers

Sequel or Prequel?

USA Today leads with a behind-the-bench peek-a-boo at the Supreme Court since it robe-o-copped the election. The main findings: residual internal tension and plenty of hate mail. The Washington Post leads with a Bush curtain-raiser emphasizing the new administration’s reviewing of a recent Clinton order that restored federal funding to some groups offering abortion counseling overseas. The paper says the order is “likely to be overturned.” The Los Angeles Times leads with a new legislative proposal for addressing California’s energy crisis under which the state would help the two biggest private utility companies pay off some of their debts and in return would get ownership of their hydroelectric plants. The Wall Street Journal puts the proposal atop its front-page business news box and emphasizes that the same rising power costs that are now imperiling the utilities could, under the proposal, wreck the entire state budget instead. The New York Times leads with Pope John Paul II’s naming of 37 new cardinals, resulting in the largest College of Cardinals ever. The WP and USAT also front the story, which the LAT stuffs. The new cardinals include 10 from Latin America–reflecting, says the NYT, the pope’s view that the region is where the church’s future lies–and three from the U.S., including the son of John Foster Dulles.

The USAT lead says that it’s not only justices who are nursing grudges over the court’s election decision–it’s their clerks, too. As a response, justices and their staffs have conducted morale-boosting meetings. In between those, there’s always the “thousands” of letters from angry citizens, some of whom, the paper reports, have sent along their voter registration cards. The story implies all this has been a big reason the SC has this term only issued half its usual number of major rulings.

The WP’s lead notes high that the Bush White House is reconsidering the Clinton abortion-related funding order and also the Clinton FDA’s approval of the abortion pill, mifepristone. The story reminds that during one debate with Al Gore, George W. Bush said he was disappointed with the FDA’s decision, but added, “I don’t think the president can unilaterally overturn it.” The Post lead uses its headline and top paragraphs to single out these Clinton-era abortion-related orders while pushing lower down other such stated Bush administration objectives as education policy, encouraging individuals and church groups to do charitable work, and a tax cut. The story holds until the 21st paragraph its observation that the odds have increased that the major parts of the Bush tax cut will survive. The LAT also fronts a Bush story that gives heavy play to the abortion issues. The NYT Bush off-lead starts with the overnight redecoration of the Oval Office, then hits education policy and then abortion. USAT’s above-the-fold Bush story emphasizes education policy and doesn’t mention abortion.

The NYT goes above the fold with a report that according to senior U.S. intelligence officials, Iraq has rebuilt a series of factories, damaged by U.S. and British air raids in 1998, that have long been suspected of producing chemical and biological weapons. Is this the earliest bid ever for the “early foreign policy test” every new administration gets assigned?

There is scattered follow-up in the papers on the last-minute Clinton pardons. The WSJ has this excerpt from a letter sent to the White House last month by the SEC’s head of enforcement that might help explain why Michael Milken wasn’t among the lucky many: “In the commission’s 67-year history, few people have done more than Milken to undermine the public confidence in our markets.”

Peggy Noonan uses her WSJ op-ed space to give a rave to President Bush’s inaugural address, calling it “the speech of a compassionate conservative … full of shrewd softness.” Noonan shows herself to be full of something else, calling Bill Clinton “a disturbed and disgusting individual.”

Letter writers to the WP raise some good questions. One wants to know why a recent Post story about Clinton’s appointment of a federal appeals court judge never mentioned the appointee’s politics “but made references to race 23 times.” Another wants to know why both the invocation and the benediction at the inauguration explicitly referred to Jesus Christ as the lord.