Today's Papers

Negotiations Tabled, Tables Negotiated

The papers go their separate ways today, both with leads and front-page coverage. The New York Times leads with Secretary of State Colin Powell’s plans for his first official overseas trip–a five-day visit to the Middle East next month that the paper says signals the Bush administration’s “broad regional approach to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.” The Los Angeles Times leads with the latest in the California power crisis: the admission by Edison International that it collected $31.4 billion in excess corporate tax payments from its subsidiary, Southern California Edison. The money, according to a spokesman for Edison International, was funneled to Edison’s other companies and used to put power plants across the globe. One California assemblyman is now demanding that the holding company return the money to its nearly bankrupt subsidiary. And the Washington Post leads with the collision off Hawaii yesterday between the USS Greeneville, a naval attack submarine, and a Japanese boat carrying high-school students learning commercial fishing.

According to Powell, the primary aim of his trip is to “make an assessment of the situation” by consulting with newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as well as Yasser Arafat and the leaders of Jordan, Kuwait, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. The LAT also fronts developments in the Middle East, placing Powell’s announcement in the context of the “fiercest gun battle in weeks,” which erupted yesterday between Israeli troops and Palestinian gunmen, killing one Palestinian and injuring dozens more. President Bush, the NYT notes, has spoken both with Sharon and Arafat by telephone in recent days, urging calm and patience on both sides. But the paper also stresses the Bush administration’s clear attempts to distance itself from Clinton’s approach to the region, a strategy that Bush aides now claim has been effectively voided in the wake of Sharon’s election. The WP’s inside coverage, however, attributes this claim to Powell himself, adding that it “infuriated Palestinian negotiators.” Powell also plans to discuss with area leaders strategies for enforcing U.N. sanctions against Iraq’s government, for keeping its missile program in check, and for denying the country the potential to buy or build weapons of mass destruction.

The sub collision, fronted by the LAT and stuffed by the NYT, occurred as the 362-foot Greeneville surfaced during a routine training mission, hitting and immediately sinking the 191-foot Ehime Maru at around 1:45 p.m. Hawaiian time. Of the 35 people aboard the Japanese vessel (the WP says 34) the Coast Guard rescued 26 people from the water (again, the WP count is one lower), and the other nine passengers remain missing as rescue efforts continue.

A WP front anatomizes the changing look and function of National Security Council, whose role has been sharply redefined by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in the first three weeks of her new job. Rice has cut the NSC staff by one-third, restructuring it “to emphasize defense strategy, including national missile defense and international economics.” Gone are the international environmental and health divisions; newly consolidated are those that once managed Europe, the Balkans, and Russia separately. According to administration officials, Rice herself will place a more understated role in policy, focusing on preparing Bush to “play his role” in security issues and foreign policy and serving as “a honest broker of differences among the major policy players.” Such mediation could prove difficult, the coverage implies, given that current veep (and former defense secretary) Cheney is “assembling a mini-NSC on his own staff” and that Bush’s Cabinet is stocked with seasoned defense policy heavyweights. The real question, according to skeptics, is “how many national security advisers we will have.”

A WP report on Bush’s $1.9 trillion budget blueprint gives some indication of how the president plans to pay for his proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut, pay down the debt, and maintain his commitment to strengthen the United States’ defense and national education–by cutting spending increases on domestic programs besides Medicare and Medicaid from last year’s 12 percent bump to 3 or 4 percent in fiscal 2002. To the dismay of many conservatives, though, Bush plans to implement the Clinton administration’s planned Pentagon budget of $310 billion for next year.

A NYT front floats a lighter look at the nascent Bush presidency by dissecting President Bush’s emerging style as leader of the free world. The paper finds Bush’s manner laid-back and down-home, folksy and goofy, “measured” but “mirthful,” and at once unpretentious and confident. His staff meetings are short, but his working day is long, or at least longer than it was at the governor’s mansion in Austin: He arrives at the Oval Office around 7:30 a.m. and leaves around 7 p.m. The report can’t resist passing on a few of Bush’s more recent mangled syl-LAH-bles but notes with mixed emotion (and metaphor): “Although the reliable buffet of malapropisms from his days as a presidential candidate have trickled to a lean cuisine, his sometimes herky-jerky syntax and violent subject-verb clashes live on, and he seems none too troubled by that.”

Bubba has left the building: A WP front-pager follows up on the Clintons’ controversial White House exit strategy, revealing that certain pieces of furniture that the first couple had shipped from the White House to their new home in New York were, in fact, not the private property of the Clintons (as their counsel had previously determined) but government property, donations to a 1993 White House redecorating campaign. After questions were raised about the furniture origin, the Clintons this week returned the pieces–a coffee table, a center table, a TV armoire, and a custom gaming table–to the White House, as well as an additional $28,500 in furnishings, determined by the WP earlier in the week to be official White House property.