Today's Papers

License To Drill

The Washington Post and New York Time s lead with President Bush’s nomination of Paul Wolfowitz to lead the World Bank—the administration’s second iconoclastic posting to a multilateral institution in as many weeks. USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal worldwide news box lead with the Senate’s historic nail-biter 51-49 vote in favor of oil drilling along 1.5 million acres of coastal plain in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that, with oil from the 19-million-acre refuge, the nation will import about 65 percent of its oil in 2025, as opposed to 68 percent without.

Although custom dictates that the U.S. gets to choose the World Bank head, and the LAT assures us Wolfie will likely get the nod, the WP says that there is (sadly, unsourced) “speculation” that the bank’s 24-member board, which operates by consensus, might torpedo the nomination. “The storm of enthusiasm in old Europe is muted,” the German development minister snarked in the NYT lead. In fact, her line was a favorite: She offered another variant (“The enthusiasm in ‘old Europe’ is not exactly overwhelming”) in the WSJ, the WP’s Paris-datelined reaction story, and a Reuters wire item, for good measure.

There are slightly different explanations why old Europe was so peeved. The WP says that Treasury Secretary John Snow had called his counterparts in several other nations to discuss qualifications for the presidency but didn’t mention any names, which the paper says is unusual. The NYT reports, however, that the U.S. did push Wolfowitz but found the Europeans asking for other names. Instead, Bush made a public announcement.

The Journal suggests (subscription required) that Wolfowitz may be a better and more substantive match than critics allow (he had a successful run as ambassador to Indonesia, described at flattering length in last fall’s New Yorker profile) but a worse practical one, noting that he is “widely viewed as an ineffective day-to-day manager” within the Pentagon. “Paul tends to be theoretical,” a critic told USAT. “He is much more confident planning 15 years ahead than in the present.” In any case, he’s good at getting press: Both the NYT and Post run surprisingly similar stories in which Wolfowitz and friends describe how his January trip to Tsunami-ravaged areas re-awakened a passion for development work, setting the stage for the nomination. 

If approved, the papers all note that Wolfowitz will succeed his Clinton-era lupine namesake, James Wolfensohn.

Senators actually voted against taking the controversial ANWR drilling provision out of the budget resolution, where it has been stashed as a parliamentary gambit to avoid a filibuster. The WP explains that if the final budget is approved by Congress, committees in both houses will still need to craft legislation laying out exactly how the drilling will work. The LAT lead says as well that both opponents and critics see drilling in the preserve as an opening salvo in a battle to permit such exploration in California, Florida, and elsewhere.

In other words, it was one small vote for the Senate, but one giant leap for hyperbole: “It’s as important to me as the first step Armstrong took when he stepped off on the moon,” said Sen. Ted Stevens, of Alaska, in the NYT. Knight-Ridder reports that Stevens was wearing an Incredible Hulk tie that he reserves for big legislative smackdowns.

As the vote came toward a close, the NYT was apparently in the Senate chamber, watching Sen. Mary Landrieu, D. La., who hung toward the back, talking to colleagues “with a conflicted look on her face.” Then she tapped Joe Lieberman on the arm, whispered something to him, and cast her vote. He said later that she had told him she was supporting drilling. “I was disappointed,” he said. “I feel it personally.”

The WP fronts another story on “extraordinary rendition.” In this one, a CIA official involved in the renditions calls the assurances the U.S. receives that rendered prisoners won’t be tortured “a farce.” Another U.S. official who visited several foreign prisons went further: “It’s beyond that. It’s widely understood that interrogation practices that would be illegal in the U.S. are being used.” And an Arab diplomat says that the U.S. doesn’t actually check up to see if the promises are kept, anyway. “Then you would know what’s going on,” he said. “It’s really more like ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’ “

The WP paints the first day of the Iraqi National Assembly as a quick, symbolic affair, punctuated by feisty outbursts from Kurdish reps, but no agreement on the new government. The NYT also consults random people on the street and finds that the enthusiasm of Jan. 30 has relapsed into cynicism. “Those politicians are looking for positions,” a 73-year-old fortuneteller told the Times. “Once they won seats, they forgot the Iraqis and the miseries of the people.” The LAT sums it up: “Iraqi Leaders Make History, Not Progress.”

The LAT says Bush had such fun at yesterday’s wide-ranging, 48-minute news conference that he wants to do it again next month. The papers all play up different topics, from Iraq to Social Security, to Hezbollah—about which Bush joked, “Maybe some will run for office and say, ’Vote for me, I look forward to blowing up America.’ ” He also reiterated his vocal support for embattled House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and defended the practice of producing government-funded “video news releases,” saying the it’s up to local stations “to tell their viewers what they’re watching.”

The NYT and WSJ note that the U.S. trade deficit grew significantly last year, as the dollar’s continued fall did nothing to water down U.S. demand for foreign products. The current-accounts deficit, the widest measure of international transactions, grew 25 percent to $666 billion, or 6.3 percent of GDP, according to the WSJ.

And, back on Capitol Hill, the WP’s Dana Milbank proves there’s still plenty of theatrics to keep him busy now that he’s left the White House beat. To wit: a brown 1935 Ford three-window Coupe, built the same year FDR rolled out the retirement system, parked on the sidewalk outside the Capitol, and supposedly as decrepit as the hoary system Republicans who parked it there mean to replace. But the vehicle’s owner had a different argument to make: “It’s in very good shape for a 1935,” he told Milbank proudly, popping open the hood. “It’s been improved with an updated engine, so it keeps up with traffic.”