Today's Papers

Frist: Cell Out

The New York Timeslead announces that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist will split with President Bush and support a bill to expand funding for embryonic stem-cell research. “I believe the president’s policy should be modified,” Frist will announce today, according to a draft of a speech that the senator’s office handed the Times. The bill, which the White House has threatened to veto, has already passed the House. It’s worth noting that the piece has no quotes from Frist or his draft speech explicitly supporting the bill in question, leaving open the possibility that he wants a different one or significant changes to it. In fact, he’s quoted as saying the bill has “serious shortcomings.”

The Washington Postleads with and others front the Irish Republican Army renouncing its 35-year-old campaign of violence and promising to disarm. The Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox and USA Todaylead with the House, as expected, passing the final version of the porky energy bill. The Senate is scheduled to do the same today, after which President Bush will add his signature. The bill, which has tax breaks for hybrids but won’t help conserve much energy, also has $14.5 billion in breaks for the energy industry (not as much as they wanted, notes USAT). The Los Angeles Timesleads with Federated, parent of Macy’s, announcing that when it purchases Robinsons-May it will close 68 total department stores. (If you’re wondering why this is the lead: 21 of those stores are in Southern California.)   

The IRA declared a cease-fire in 1997, but the peace process broke down a few years ago, partly over the organization’s refusal to give up its weapons. Unionist Protestant politicians said they were skeptical of the IRA promises. But the hope is that the IRA will keep its word and that eventually the power-sharing government, which was suspended in 2002, will come back to life. As everybody notes, the IRA had ticked off even supporters recently over its apparent bank-robbing ways and connection to a murder.

As the NYT fronts—complete with cool snapshot—the shuttle did a back flip, so NASA got a good look at the heat tiles on Discovery’s belly; scientists concluded that there’s not significant damage. “It’s a very clean orbiter,” said an agency official.

The LAT has today’s must read explaining how institutional pressures helped blind NASA to the risks it was taking with the foam on the shuttle. “We had precious little faith that they could stop this stuff from coming off,” said Adm. Harold Gehman, head of the independent board that reviewed the Columbia disaster. “And lo and behold, they couldn’t.” The story continues:

Gehman said neither his accident investigators nor NASA had any definitive explanation why foam even fell off the tank, let alone a proposal for how to stop it.

“At the time, we got mixed and inconsistent explanations why foam fell off,” Gehman said. “When we went into the body of research, it was inconsistent and unpersuasive.”

A piece inside the NYT says “driven by decades of momentum and many billions of dollars in contracts,” chances are the shuttle program will carry on.

The WP notices—on page A4—that among the “dozens of obscure special-interest provisions” stuffed into the energy bill is an amendment reversing the U.S.’s restrictions on exporting weapons-grade uranium. The Senate had rejected the move last month, but congressional negotiators tucked it back in during conference negotiations. The provision will benefit a Canadian company that uses the uranium for medical tests. The company once considered changing to lower-grade uranium but decided instead to lobby Congress for the loophole.

The WP goes Page One with the Senate getting ready to give gun-makers sweeping immunity for civil suits stemming from gun-related crimes. The bill is supported by most Republicans as well as a dozen Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. The Post misses a bizarre—and not widely reported—angle of the story: GOP Senate leaders brought the gun bill to the floor as part of a (successful) maneuver to block a bipartisan effort to set standards for treatment of military detainees. The blockage also resulted in the Pentagon’s whole appropriations bill being shelved for now.

The Post fronts two new government reports suggesting that reconstruction in Iraq is not going swimmingly. About $6 billion has been “committed” for electricity generation, which is still below prewar levels. Nearly a third of the money is now going to security.

The East-side papers go inside with a new study concluding that the combo of global warming, overfishing, and habitat destruction is causing a big decline in the variety of fish species being caught worldwide. Some spots have seen a 50 percent decline

The NYT fronts word that the administration’s intel czar has imposed regulations meant to ensure that top intel reports are, basically, not based on gossip. The new rules, for example, require each agency to vouch for the reliability of the sources it cites. The move comes a mere two years after it was clear that much of the intel community’s assessment on Iraq was full of single-sourced piffle.