The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times’ top non-local story lead with the escalating insurgent attacks in Iraq. The January elections ushered in a brief respite from violence as regular Iraqis rejoiced and insurgents sulked. But, after several months, power-wrangling in the newly formed Iraqi parliament has emboldened insurgents. The New York Times leads with a change in federal policy that will restrict Medicare beneficiaries whose claims have been turned down from scheduling a hearing before a judge. The hearings, which were formerly available at the 140 Social Security offices throughout the country, will now be administered in just four cities by the Department of Health and Human Services. As a result, most elderly beneficiaries will make their appeals for additional medication and care by phone or videoconference. The DHHS promises this will speed up decisions, but critics point out that face-to-face meetings are an important part of the judges’ evaluation process.
U.S. officials confirm that insurgent attacks are on the rise in Iraq, with roadside bombings and assaults on military targets up by as much as 40 percent in some areas since the end of March, according to one private estimate. The Post reports that “hundreds of Iraqis and foreigners have died in the last week” as “insurgents run relatively free.” New hideouts and a largely absent Iraqi security force have been key factors to the insurgency’s renewed success.
Meanwhile, American officials worry that pitched political battles are stealing focus from violence in cities like Husaybah, Mosul, and even Baghdad. Disagreements over how to split up authority among parliamentary blocs have stalled the appointment of prime ministerial nominee Ibrahim Al Jaafari and his cabinet. The WP opts for the usual take on bickering religious and ethnic factions, while the LAT spreads some of the blame for the delay to former interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who “may be working to derail the candidacy of al-Jaafari.” May 7 is Al Jaafari’s deadline to form a government. After that, he loses the appointment.
The papers all go inside with word that American soldiers captured six Iraqis yesterday in connection with last Thursday’s downing of a civilian helicopter. The arrests came on a particularly violent day in Iraq, with the NYT reporting that nine Iraqi soldiers died in a bombing near Abu Ghraib, while in Mosul an AP cameraman was killed by gunfire. The U.S. military says that one American soldier died after a roadside bomb detonated. Explosions in western Baghdad and Mosul also injured Americans and Iraqis.
Recently obtained travel invoices show that scandal-magnet lobbyist Jack Abramoff paid for Rep. Tom DeLay’s plane tickets to the United Kingdom in 2000, the Post reveals in a Page One exclusive. The House Majority Leader’s lawyer insisted that the National Center for Public Policy Research, on whose board Abramoff once sat, reimbursed the lobbyist for the charge, though even that would probably be a violation of House ethics rules. Receipts also indicate that another lobbyist footed the bill for food and phone calls.
The LAT considers Bill Frist’s struggle to please both of the “two pillars of Republican politics”—evangelicals and businesses. At the heart of this balancing act is the GOP’s proposal to do away with the filibuster in the Senate. Social conservatives support the change, since it will allow Republicans to approve conservative judicial nominees. But businesses dread the legislative repercussions, including the threat of Democrats holding up key bills. A video message from Frist advocating a conservative judiciary and an end to the filibuster will be shown in evangelical churches today as part of “Justice Sunday.”
Marking the 30th anniversary of the fall of Saigon (April 30, 1975), the Post fronts an engrossing look at the fate of three Vietnamese women who fled their war-torn native land for the United States.
Also in the Post is an excellent account of President Hu Jintao’s hard-line leadership of China over the past two years.
The NYT and the WP tease, and the LAT stuffs, MCI’s acceptance of a new merger offer from Qwest. The $9.74 billion deal trumps Verizon’s $7.65 billion overture, which MCI had agreed to in February. But it’s not over yet. Verizon has a week to counter, and then the wait for approval from regulators and shareholders begins.
The NYT goes above the fold with a litany of woes for Amtrak’s speedy Acela service. The superfast trains, which were recently taken out of service for brake repairs, have been overrun by technical glitches from the get-go. Poor design failed to account for the trains’ weight (similar models in Europe are much lighter), while a misguided marketing campaign befuddled potential riders. This latest expensive setback may also jeopardize Amtrak’s federal funding; Conservatives in Congress have long been pushing for the company to privative.
Pope Benedict XVI had his first colloquy with the world media yesterday, report the WP and LAT. Both papers offer similar, unfavorable comparisons between Benedict’s aloofness and papal predecessor John Paul II’s effusiveness. Benedict, according to the LAT, “took no questions, waved to the crowd stiffly, almost mechanically, and departed after less than 20 minutes.” John Paul, on the other hand, “waded into the sea of reporters and spent 40 minutes exchanging comments and quips with them” during his first press conference. The papers agree to call Benedict’s performance abysmal, but there is one point of contention—was his throne “simple” (LAT) or “gilt” (WP)? The LAT and the NYT also front longer pieces exploring the roots of Benedict’s conservatism in anticipation of today’s papal investiture.