The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Todaylead, and the Wall Street Journal tops its worldwide newsbox, with President Bush’s surprise news conference on Monday morning where he strongly defended the program to spy on some Americans’ international phone calls without a court order. Making a general case for provisions to fight terrorism, Bush urged the Senate to extend the Patriot Act and said “we cannot afford to be without this law for a single moment.” Meanwhile, Democratic lawmakers, along with some Republicans, on Capitol Hill questioned the legality of the government’s eavesdropping.
The New York Times fronts the president’s news conference but leads with early results from the Iraqi elections. With two-thirds of the votes counted, it seems Iraqis once again elected their leaders based on ethnic divisions. The big winners were the religious groups, particularly the main Shiite coalition, while the secular group led by Ayad Allawi garnered little support. These early results could still change, particularly after the electoral commission investigates the 692 complaints of campaign violations and voter fraud.
President Bush defended the legality of the eavesdropping program and said it had “been effective in disrupting the enemy.” He also criticized the leaking of the program, describing it as a “shameful act,” and said he presumed that the Justice Department has started investigating who might have been responsible for this information getting out to the public.
The president and Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez defended the program from accusations that it was an example of unchecked executive power by saying that congressional leaders had been briefed on it several times. But those that received the briefings said that it did not constitute oversight because they were sworn to secrecy and their opinions were never considered. Sen. John D. Rockefeller, D-W.Va., yesterday released a letter he sent to Vice President Cheney in 2003 in which he expressed concerns about the program. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said that he will hold hearings on the program.
All the papers mention, and the NYT emphasizes, that Bush and his aides defended the eavesdropping program by saying that he was permitted to carry out these actions after a congressional resolution in 2001 gave him the power to use all necessary force against those responsible for the attacks on Sept. 11. Administration officials said that they chose to go around the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act because they feared that in many cases they did not have enough evidence to get a court’s approval. These officials emphasized that the system was not designed to deal with the new realities of a war against terrorism and said it was inefficient.
In separate surveillance news, the NYT fronts, and the WP goes inside with, the release of papers showing that counterterrorism agents at the FBI have investigated and monitored activist groups, such as PETA and Greenpeace. The documents, released as part of a lawsuit by the ACLU, show how FBI officials gained access to several of these groups by using informants.
After a long night of waiting for official news, the New York Transit Workers Union held a press conference at 3 a.m. announcing that they will go on strike, effectively shutting down the nation’s largest public transportation system. The strike comes after weeks of tense contract talks broke down last night. State law bans striking by public employees, and the union and workers will likely face stiff penalties. Although threats have been common in the past, the last strike took place 25 years ago, when the system was shut down for 11 days.
The WP fronts its latest poll that shows a jump in President Bush’s approval ratings to 47 percent, an increase in 8 percentage points since November. USAT, on the other hand, goes inside with its own poll, taken in almost the exact same days, that says Bush’s approval rating is 41 percent. The polls agree that 52 percent of the population does not believe that the Iraq war is worth fighting or that troops should have been sent in the first place. The USAT poll also reveals that 55 percent of the population sees the war in Iraq as separate from the war on terrorism.
The WP fronts, while the rest of the papers go inside with, the latest from Capitol Hill, where predawn votes and amendments are ensuring that there will be enough political maneuvering to go around before the lawmakers head home for the holidays. A little after 6 a.m. yesterday, the House of Representatives approved a five-year budget plan that included almost $40 billion in cuts to programs such as Medicaid and student loans. An hour earlier, the House also passed a $453 billion military spending bill that included a provision to permit oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. The bill, which includes money for hurricane relief and preparations for an avian flu pandemic, might put lawmakers who are against ANWR in a tough spot if they do not want to be seen as voting against funding the troops. Also, some are pointing out that the legislation to help prepare the country for a possible outbreak of bird flu protects vaccine-makers from any liability, including the result of negligence.
USAT and the LAT front the crash of a seaplane off the coast of Miami Beach as it was traveling to the Bahamas, killing all 20 people aboard the plane. The FBI said there was no evidence of criminal or terrorist involvement.
All the papers mention that Afghanistan’s first democratically elected parliament in more than 30 years convened for the first time on Monday. “This assembly is a sign of us regaining our honor,” President Hamid Karzai said. Vice President Cheney and his wife were present to watch the ceremony.
The NYT fronts an in-depth investigation into a suicide bombing in Fallujah, Iraq, on June 23, which turned out to be “one of the worst days in the history of women in the American military” since three female Marines were killed. Despite assurances that the women had been protected, the investigation reveals that the bombing’s success was due to poor planning and insufficient armor.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger sent a letter to officials in Graz, Austria (located 10 minutes from his hometown village of Thal), demanding that they remove his name from the city’s stadium. Politicians in Graz had begun collecting signatures to remove the name from the stadium after Schwarzenegger allowed the execution of Stanley Tookie Williams to go on last week. The governor also said he does not want Graz to use his name in any promotional materials for the city and that he will give back the “ring of honor” that was given to him in 1999. Because “the official Graz appears to no longer accept me as one of their own, this ring has lost its meaning and value to me,” Schwarzenegger wrote. “It is already in the mail.”