Today's Papers

Eat Your Oaths

The New York Times leads with the Republican and Democratic heads of the 9/11 commission saying any appearance by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, even one behind closed doors, should be under oath. The commissioners explained there were discrepancies between what Condi has privately told the commission and what current White House terror Richard Clarke has said. USA Today leads with a poll that has President Bush ahead of Sen. Kerry 49 percent to 45 percent with Ralph Nader at 4 percent. The poll claims that in 17 battleground states where Bush has launched an ad barrage, Kerry went from a 28 point lead to 6 points behind. But USAT decides not to headline any of that: “MAJORITY SUPPORTS BUSH ON TERRORISM.” That’s an especially odd choice considering that, as the paper notes, the support (58 percent) “is the lowest of his presidency.” The Los Angeles Times leads with three different court challenges filed yesterday to the ban on so-called partial birth abortions, which passed Congress last year. Opponents of the ban argue that it doesn’t provide a needed exception for the health of the mother and is too vague. The Washington Post’s top non-local story is an interview with Taiwan’s newly re-elected president in which he says that he will continue to push away from China. Even if it makes the mainland really mad, the president says, he wants Taiwan to be an “independent, sovereign country.”

Though the NYT’s lead headlines the commission’s call for Rice to testify under oath, the piece could have announced the opposite, since deep down it says the commission’s vice chair suggested they “would probably go ahead with the interview” in any case. He said, “If [Rice] decided not to be placed under oath, that would be her decision, and we are still going to want her testimony.” (For what it’s worth: Testimony usually means under oath.)

Everybody notes that the White House is looking for some sort of compromise, which would apparently entail releasing notes from Rice’s prior, private appearance. (The White House wouldn’t let a transcript be made of the appearance.) Only the Journal comes right out and says that the “compromise” falls “far short of the public testimony the panel wants.” The New Republic details that argument.

The NYT says that the pressure to back down is coming from WH political advisers. “It’s fair to say many of the senior political advisers understand the principle but have a more pragmatic view,” said one unnamed “outside adviser to the White House.” In keeping with its new hard-nosed sourcing policy, the Times explains that the adviser didn’t want to be named because … the adviser didn’t want to be named. As the paper puts it, “He wanted to keep his role behind the scenes.”

The LAT mentions that two Democratic senators plan to introduce a resolution calling on Rice to testify.

The Post’s commission piece mentions two other figures who have so far only agreed to meet with the commission privately: Bill Clinton and Al Gore.

The WP says inside that with a U.N. envoy heading back to Baghdad this week, the U.S. has given the U.N. the go-ahead to hash out whatever deal it can to create at least symbolic sovereignty by June 30. The Post notes that Iraqi Governing Council members are arguing among themselves between expanding the council and holding some sort of loya jirga-type convention.

The WSJ’s world-wide newsbox goes high with U.N. chief Kofi Annan firing his top security aide and reprimanding others for having left the agency’s Baghdad headquarters insufficiently protected before last August’s bombing.

A front-page NYT says that an increasing number of special ops troops seem to be retiring and taking the scads of money offered by private security firms, which are big now in Iraq. The Times acknowledges there are no hard numbers yet but notes that the Pentagon’s top official for special ops said it’s “starting to become a significant problem.”

Meanwhile, a USAT piece from yesterday that was little noticed (Paul Krugman excepted), says some key resources, including already thinly stretched CIA analysts and a special ops team, were transferred from Afghanistan to Iraq before the war.

AWP editorial looks at the work that should be done in Iraq before the official transfer of sovereignty 93 days away—job No. 1: improving the security situation—and mentions something TP hadn’t noticed: As part of the current big troop rotation, where many frontline troops are being replaced by national guardsmen, the U.S. is actually drawing down its forces by 20 percent.

Most of the papers front the Massachusetts legislature’s narrow passage of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and allowing same-sex civil unions. The amendment can’t take effect until at least November 2006, when another session of the legislature can pass it. But the state’s governor said that, given the vote, he will now ask the Massachusetts Supreme Court to stay its recent ruling that will make gay marriages legal come May 17.

Everybody notes inside that the U.S. acknowledged “responsibility” for the killing of two Iraqi journalists at a roadblock. It also said soldiers followed rules of engagement and wouldn’t be disciplined. Stuffed inside those articles is word that one U.S. soldier was killed by a roadside bomb near Fallujah. As TP has mentioned before, newspapers have a difficult task in deciding how to cover the trickle of daily casualties in Iraq. But is putting them in the 15th paragraph of a stuffed story the right solution?