Today's Papers

The Great Divide

Everyone leads with news that Republicans have agreed to give the Democrats equal membership on Senate committees. The unprecedented arrangement–brought on by the chamber’s 50-50 split–is depicted as a big victory for the Dems, even though they had to give up several of their demands. Meanwhile, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times go high with a new jobs report that they say indicates the economy has slowed faster than expected. Everyone also fronts the leaking of secret memos that detail Chinese leaders’ internal deliberations just before the 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protestors in Tiananmen Square.

All of the papers agree that the Senate power-sharing agreement gives the Democrats the thing they wanted most: the same number of seats as Republicans on every single Senate committee and subcommittee. Until now, the majority party–which the Republicans will be once Dick Cheney is sworn in–has always had more seats on committees, so this really is quite a coup for the Dems. But to get their new seats, they had to give up their demand to co-chair committees and their demand for equal representation on conference committees, the groups that iron out the differences between House and Senate versions of bills. The Democrats also had to agree to new tiebreaker rules for votes within committees. Before, a bill died if it received a tie vote in committee.

The papers are as uncertain as the Senate over whether this agreement will curb partisanship. The New York Times offers the most optimistic view, going high with GOP leader Trent Lott’s description of the resolution as “miraculous.” But all three papers also quote Lott and Sen. Phil Gramm as saying that the whole experiment could lead to even more gridlock.

The NYT breaks ranks slightly in covering an employment report released Friday. The report indicates a significant slowdown in job creation. But the NYT notes that the unemployment rate did not increase and quotes a Clinton Cabinet member as saying the report shows the economy has slowed to a sustainable growth rate. The WP and the LAT are decidedly more negative. They agree that unemployment is steady, but they stress that the report does not reflect a spate of layoffs announced in December, a fact that the NYT does not report until late in its story. They also quote several Wall Street economists as saying the report is a cause for alarm.

All three newspapers give some free publicity to the Tiananmen Square papers, which will be published in book form next week. The memos show that China’s current leader Jiang Zemin pushed aside his main rival, a moderate who favored greater political liberalization, by convincing Communist Party elders to send in the military to break up the protests. That operation killed at least 218 people. The documents were leaked by an unnamed source, who is said to represent a group of Communist Party officials who also want more liberalization. None of the papers could verify his identity, though they say several prominent American scholars have reviewed the papers. The LAT says the papers’ release may be linked to the Chinese government’s plans to pick a slate of successors for its aging leaders next year.

The WP and the LAT also front news that a British doctor may have killed far more people than previously thought. Last January, the doctor was convicted of killing 15 of his patients through lethal injections, but a report from the British government now says the doctor likely killed 236 people, if not more, over the course of his 24-year career. The doctor is serving a life sentence, the stiffest penalty allowed under British law.

The WP reports that the once-unelectable Ariel Sharon now stands a very good chance of becoming Israel’s next prime minister. As defense minister, Sharon led the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, and his visit three months ago to a Muslim holy site atop Jerusalem’s Temple Mount touched off the violence that has brought down Ehud Barak’s government. Sharon leads Barak handily in the polls, but he is trying to distance himself from Barak’s most vocal opponents. The LAT says this is because right-wing Israelis have taken to calling Barak a “traitor” for agreeing to cede West Bank land to the Palestinians. Ultra-conservatives levied the same charge against Yitzhak Rabin before he was killed in 1995, and many Israelis now fear that Barak has become a target.

The unions are gearing up to oppose Linda Chavez’s nomination as labor secretary. The AFL-CIO claims it is upset over her opposition to minimum wage laws and affirmative action, but a WP article also ties the anti-Chavez campaign to John Ashcroft’s appointment as attorney general. Despite broad opposition from liberals, there is very little chance that Ashcroft, a senator until last November, will lose. The Senate rarely rejects former members nominated for Cabinet posts, so labor leaders are saying they will accept Chavez’s head as a peace offering from senators who do cave in and vote for Ashcroft.

Finally, Sgt. Po Boy’s Smokin’ Joe has retired from the Marines with full honors, the LAT reports. Joe, an 8-year-old English bulldog, had been the mascot for the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego. For his achievements there, Joe was awarded a meritorious service medal and promoted from corporal to sergeant. Pvt. Mac has been sworn in as his replacement.