Today's Papers

Cloture Clash

The Washington Postand New York Timeslead with what could be the prelude to the filibuster battle: The Senate began debate on the nomination of Justice Priscilla Owen to a federal appeals court. Majority Leader Bill Frist kicked off the festivities by announcing in an opening speech that Democrats want to “kill, to defeat, to assassinate these nominees.” The Los Angeles Timeslead breaks down Antonio Villaraigosa’s mayoral win. He beat L.A.’s incumbent mayor by 17 points. Apparently fresh out of lead story material, the USA Todaygoes with a to-do list for communities that are about to be faced with the expansion of nearby military bases: Schools will have to ramp up, etc.

Owen, a member of the Texas Supreme Court, is known for strongly conservative and pro-business rulings. Democrats have promised to filibuster her nomination. But Republicans have warned that in turn they’ll change Senate rules, killing the filibuster, meaning nominations could pass with just 50 votes rather than the current filibuster-proof 60. 

A bipartisan group of senators is still trying to hammer out a deal. And no real vote is expected until next week. But as Slate’s Mickey Kaus points out, the whole thing might end up being as climactic as the opening of Al Capone’s vault: Democrats may well skip a filibuster—and allow cloture, as they say in Senate-speak—unless they’re confident they have the 50-plus votes necessary to defeat what would be the Republicans’ response: killing the filibuster rule. Better to hold their fire until the Supreme moment.

The Wall Street Journal goes high with a poll showing nothing good for Congress. Asked whether Congress shared their priorities, just 17 percent of respondents said yes. Sixty-five percent said no. The biggest drop was among self-described Republicans.

The NYT has an “Op-Chart” showing President Bush has had about the same percentage of judicial nominees confirmed as did that other guy, President Clinton. Over the longer term—about 30 years—the numbers have been trending downward. (The Journal’s news pages have a similar chart, behind closed doors.)

The NYT off-leads with chats it had with a handful of mostly unnamed top military officers who seem less than cheery about the state of things Iraq. “I think that this could still fail,” said one officer. “It’s much more likely to succeed, but it could still fail.” Another officer pointed out that there have been 21 car bombings in Baghdad so far this month; there were 25 all last year. The officers also said the state of the Iraqi forces is, at least according to the Times’ characterization, “more disappointing than previously acknowledged.” Meanwhile the stories’ reporters, John Burns and Eric Schmitt, get big gold stars for explaining why the commanders couldn’t be on the record (and it’s interesting!):

By insisting that they not be identified, the three officers based in Baghdad were following a Pentagon policy requiring American commanders in Baghdad to put “an Iraqi face” on the war, meaning that Iraqi commanders should be the ones talking to reporters, not Americans. That policy has been questioned recently by senior Americans in Iraq, who say Iraqi commanders have failed to step forward. 

Meanwhile, the LAT’s Solomon Moore (who filed some of the best reports from last week’s fighting in western Iraq) profiles two Iraqi brothers, one of whom joined the insurgency early and was killed. That’s when the next one started fighting and was killed too. The first brother had been caught by U.S. forces, tossed into Abu Ghraib—where he said he was mistreated—then released six months later after a review panel ruled that he wasn’t a fighter.

The NYT highlights a top Sunni cleric accusing Iraq’s largest Shiite militia of being behind the recent assassination of some Sunni clergy. “I charge that the Badr Brigade is doing all these assassinations,” he said. “Now there is no way to just stand by and watch.” Also yesterday a senior Interior Ministry official was assassinated.

The NYT reefers the White House and Republican senators putting the finishing touches on a bill that would allow the feds to poke around businesses’ records without a judge’s sign-off so long as they promise that the sought-after material is needed for a foreign intelligence investigation. The Times mentions that the bill’s backers said that the “subpoena power being sought for the FBI in terror cases was already in use in more than 300 other types of crimes, including health care fraud, child exploitation, racketeering and drug trafficking.” It sure would have been nice if the Times had explained whether that’s true.

USAT and WP front the FBI now saying that the grenade tossed near President Bush in Georgia last week was indeed the real thing. The grenade landed about 100 feet from the president, close enough to have potentially peppered him with shrapnel.

The only reason the thing didn’t explode was that the handkerchief it was hidden in blunted the impact when the grenade hit the ground.

The Journal’s Philip Shishkin is reporting from the Uzbek town where last weekend’s massacre happened. It’s the first dateline from there TP has seen in the U.S. papers. Shishkin gives a detailed account of the confusing events before the shooting, including a prison break and a hostage-taking. What happened afterward is clear: Soldiers fired at everyone. “An armored personnel carrier came up and started shooting without warning at the hostages, at onlookers, at women and children,” said one witness. “There was no return fire.”  

The NYT notices that the U.S. has “curtailed operations” at its base in Uzbekistan. Centcom commander Gen. John Abizaid said the Uzbek government shouldn’t take that as a bad sign. “It’s not designed to be a political statement at all,” he said.