The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal world-wide newsbox lead with word that former Vice President Gore is endorsing Howard Dean. The endorsement, which will be formally announced today, gives Dean the kind of establishment cred he’s been seeking. The New York Times off-leads Dean and leads with the White House’s blunt warning to Taiwan not to go forward with a referendum that could increase calls for independence. The U.S. has for years followed of a policy of “strategic ambiguity,” purposely not spelling out how it would respond to attempts by Taiwan or China to change the status quo on Taiwan’s relationship to the mainland. One unnamed White House official told reporters, “What you’re seeing here is the dropping of the ambiguity for both sides because we cannot sort of imply to the Taiwan side that we’re sort of agnostic towards moves toward Taiwan independence.” The NYT and some of the other papers suggest the warning might be a quid pro quo for China’s help with North Korea. The Los Angeles Times’ national edition leads with a report that U.S. and other Western diplomats have been having “secret” meetings with a few rebel commanders in Afghanistan, urging them to quit fighting. The commanders are all affiliated with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a fundamentalist and one-time U.S. ally who has now sided with the Taliban and reportedly al-Qaida. USA Today also fronts the endorsement but leads with a poll on the Medicare bill that Bush signed Monday. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they don’t think the bill will “affect the amount of money” they spend on pills. Still, a slight majority, 52 percent, said they support the bill. The Post also fronts a poll on the Medicare bill: 32 percent of respondents said they support it, 38 percent disapprove, and 30 percent had no opinion.
In early morning news that most of the papers catch, thirty-one U.S. soldiers were wounded when an apparent suicide bomber in a car attacked their base in Mosul. The soldiers fired on the car before it could crash through the gates, and most of the injuries appear to have been caused by flying glass and debris. Another GI was killed yesterday in a drive-by shooting at a gas station in Mosul.
The WP fronts a piece on the return of long fuels lines in Iraq. “It’s a combination of a lot of little things,” said one unnamed U.S. official “responsible for oil issues.” It’s about sabotage, countered Iraqi oil officials. “If we had security, we would have fuel,” said the head of one refinery. The LAT has a similar story inside that puts some of the blame on black-market buyers.
A front-page LAT piece questions the White House’s claims that North Korea already has a nuke or two and is quickly developing other ones. The administration’s case “rests on meager fresh evidence and limited, sometimes dated, intelligence, according to current and former U.S. and foreign officials.” Last March, a top State Dept. official told a Senate committee that Pyongyang was within months of producing weapons grade uranium. But according to many (but not all) of the Times’ sources, the U.S. doesn’t have solid info on that or anything else Pyongyang is up to. “We don’t know what they’re doing,” said the State Dept.’s former top envoy to North Korea. The former officials don’t doubt that Pyongyang wants nukes, just whether it’s had success in making them.
The WP fronts the Republican-led House’s passage of a $328 billion catch-all spending bill ($820 billion, say the NYT and WSJ) that’s loaded with pork. The bill includes a few million dollars to help kids learn to play golf, $400,000 for the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, and some cash for a replica mule barn in LaSalle, Ill. The bill doesn’t include several provisions that originally passed both the House and Senate, such as language that would have blocked the White House from loosening overtime pay rules. The NYT emphasizes that the bill doesn’t extend unemployment benefits for those who are slated to lose them over the holidays.
The Journal emphasizes that Senate leaders have said they won’t call for a vote on the bill until early next year, meaning that for the time being some programs slated for increases—such as overseas AIDS funding—will have to stay at their previous lower levels.
The papers front Republican South Dakota Rep. Bill Janklow’s conviction for manslaughter. Janklow, who sped through a stop sign and hit a biker, immediately announced his resignation. A special election will be held to fill his seat.
A huge coincidence? The Gore endorsement stories in the LAT, NYT, WP, and WSJ all give their top reaction quote to Gore’s former campaign manager, Donna Brazile, who appears to have had trouble getting her creative juices flowing. “This is huge,” Brazile told the NYT, in the paper’s Quote of the Day. “It gives Dean what Dean has been missing most: stature.” She told the Post, “This is huge. This is huge. This gives Dean the credibility he’s been lacking. This will give Dean a tremendous boost in locking down the nomination.” The LAT’s Brazile quote: “This is a tremendous, tremendous boost to the Dean candidacy.”