The New York Times and USA Today lead with Sen. Robert Torricelli dropping his bid for re-election. Torricelli was dogged by evidence that he illegally accepted gifts from a contributor and then lobbied on the guy’s behalf. The senator had been trailing badly in the polls against his largely unknown opponent. The Washington Post top-fronts Torricelli but in the traditional right-side lead goes with two top Republican senators announcing that they think the White House should make every effort to get international support and exhaust all diplomatic options before whacking Saddam. “I don’t understand why the president would not want all the congressional and international support he can get if, in fact, the last option is taking a nation to war,” said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. The Los Angeles Times leads with the continued lockout of dockworkers at ports along the West Coast. The paper says business groups have started to call for the federal government to intervene.
Democratic leaders said that within the next couple days they’ll announce a nominee to go for Torricelli’s seat. New Jersey law says parties can switch their candidates up to 51 days before an election; after that the law is unclear. The election is 36 days away. Republicans say they’ll go to court to challenge any attempt by Democrats to name a new nominee. One strategy Dems might use is to have Torricelli resign, which according to N.J. law would give them up to 30 days before the election to name a new candidate. Meanwhile, as everybody is quick to remind, Democrats have only a 50-49 advantage in the Senate.
The NYT has some good tidbits about the Dems’ scramble for a replacement candidate. According to the paper, former Sen. Bill Bradley has already taken himself out of the running, while former Sen. Frank Lautenberg floated his own name and has intrigued Dem leaders because he’s loaded and can bankroll his own campaign. One problem with Lautenberg: Torricelli apparently hates him and might not resign if he is the heir apparent.
The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with an Iraq debate update. The paper says that Secretary of State Colin Powell and other, unnamed, White House officials suggested that the administration may back down from the demand that any U.N. resolution include language authorizing military action. The NYT also mentions the possibility of a softer resolution but buries that point in an article about how the U.S. dismissed Russia’s criticism of the increasing number of U.S. and Brit airstrikes against Iraqi air defense sites.
The Post, which has started another one of those byline strikes, goes inside with word that British Prime Minister Tony Blair agreed to a compromise platform from his party pledging to move against Iraq only “after the exhaustion of all other political and diplomatic means.”
The WP fronts word that the judge in the case of alleged Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui delayed the start of the trial until next June so that Moussaoui, who is serving as his own lawyer, can have time to go through all the evidence. The judge also told the feds to give Moussaoui a bigger jail cell because confining him to his current tiny digs “is both inhumane and an unreasonable barrier to his ability to work with the materials produced to him.”
Only USAT fronts news of the stock market’s latest belly-flop. As the paper points out, the Dow has now completed its biggest quarterly drop since 1987.
The Journal has a good, short piece pointing out that in the past six months the FDA has sent out far fewer warning letters than usual to companies that it believes are defrauding consumers or otherwise flouting the agency’s rules. The drop is the result of a new policy implemented in February that requires local FDA offices to get approval from HQ before they can send out warning letters. Drug companies celebrated the move, saying the central office now makes sure the FDA has a solid case before sending out the threatening letters.
The NYT goes inside with news that the European Union announced that its member countries will all exempt U.S. soldiers and officials from any prosecution for war crimes by the new International Crimes Court if the U.S. in turn promises to prosecute such suspects in a U.S. court. As a wire story inside the WP emphasizes, the deal also allows any EU country to simply give the U.S. blanket immunity. The Journal, meanwhile, focuses on the fact that Germany said it won’t do that.
A front page piece in USAT says that Congress has cut funding for a program designed to help Russia destroy its chemical weapons, and thus the project has ground to a halt. Congressional critics of the program said they think Russia has mismanaged it and lied about it. One issue with the story: In what’s a well-worn habit among the papers, USAT trots out incredibly high casualty estimates for chemical weapons attacks: “Even the smallest [chemical-weapons] shells, which fit in a briefcase, can kill 100,000 or more if set off in a crowded city.” Such high casualty rates are theoretically possible but in the real world are incredibly unlikely. As both Slate and the New Republic have pointed out, many factors limit the efficacy of chemical weapons. They need perfect weather. They tend to disperse unevenly. They’re hard to deliver—missiles often end up incinerating the chemicals upon impact, etc., etc. Of course, chemical weapons are still dangerous. But they’re not superweapons, and for papers to suggest otherwise is needless fear-mongering.