The New York Timesleads, and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, with the Senate voting 50-48 against a resolution that would have set a date for U.S. combat troops to begin withdrawing from Iraq. Meanwhile, the House appropriations committee approved the $124 billion spending bill that sets a deadline for the withdrawal of combat troops. The Los Angeles Timesleads with news that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation to move the state’s presidential primary to Feb. 5. Other large states are also considering moving their primaries to the first Tuesday in February, which means the day could become “a de facto national primary.”
The Washington Postleads with the House judiciary committee passing a bill that would give Washington, D.C., its first member of Congress with full voting rights. The full House is expected to debate the bill next week, and Democrats vowed to approve the bill. But the real battle will be in the Senate, where the chances of approval are slim. USA Todayleads with word that congressional investigators are looking into whether the ward for VIPs at Walter Reed takes away resources for the treatment of regular soldiers. The fancy accommodations on the top floor of the hospital are quite different from the conditions many veterans have to deal with, but officials insist the staff-to-patient ratio is the same.
The Senate vote illustrated how united Republicans are on the issue of the war, as only one of its members voted in favor of the resolution. Two Democrats joined the Republicans and everyone points out that Sen. John McCain missed the vote because he was campaigning in Iowa. As the LAT emphasizes in its own Page One story, the vote also shows how support for the war has eroded among lawmakers. Many Republicans were quick to point out their vote shouldn’t be seen as an endorsement of the war. It will be the House’s turn next week, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi is working to gather up the necessary votes. Democrats in Congress “seem bent on a course of a veto showdown,” a senior administration official tells the WP.
States are moving their primary dates to have more of a voice in deciding the nominees. Analysts warn this could actually increase the importance of the few smaller states that will hold their contests in January because the key to victory will be momentum. But if no clear front-runner emerges from the January contests, February should seal the deal.
The NYT is alone in fronting the latest in the growing controversy surrounding the eight fired U.S. attorneys. New e-mails released yesterday reveal that Karl Rove asked the Justice Department about the plan for firing U.S. attorneys in January 2005. D. Kyle Sampson responded saying they wanted to replace “15-20 percent of the current U.S. Attorneys” and pointed out that the majority “are doing a great job, are loyal Bushies, etc., etc.” But referring to the idea of firing all 93 U.S. attorneys, Sampson said, “if Karl thinks there would be political will to do it, so do I.” The e-mails illustrate that the administration was having discussions about the U.S. attorneys while Alberto Gonzales was still White House counsel, which is earlier than was previously acknowledged. A Justice Department spokeswoman said Gonzales “has no recollection” of any discussions about U.S. attorneys “while he was still White House counsel.”
Everybody notes the Pentagon released a revised version of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s confession that included claims he decapitated Daniel Pearl, a reporter for the WSJ. The Pentagon said the detail was withheld from the first transcript in order to allow time to notify Pearl’s family. The Post reports that Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., secretly flew to Guantanamo to observe Mohammed’s hearing.
The NYT takes a look at the confession and says that although Mohammed “may have effectively signed his own death warrant,” his statements might actually help other suspects. Mohammed took credit for so many different terrorist plots that others could use his testimony in their own defense strategy. In a separate story, the NYT talks to some American officials who believe Mohammed used the confession as his last chance to communicate with other al-Qaida operatives around the world and urge them to keep on fighting. For its part, the LAT wonders whether Mohammed was trying to use his confession as a platform to talk directly to the American public and explain his views.
On Page One, the NYT reports on Fatah al-Islam, a new militant Islamic organization led by Shakir al-Abssi. It is a perfect example of the type of group intelligence officials say are taking over after Osama Bin Laden’s organization was largely decimated. Now there are several smaller groups that operate independently but share in the same ideals as al-Qaida. In his first interview with Western reporters, Abssi emphasized that the United States needs to be punished.
In Iraq, everyone reports the mayor of Sadr City was seriously injured when gunmen ambushed his convoy. This underscores the difficult task faced by U.S. troops as they try to neutralize militias in the Shiite stronghold that is home to the Mahdi Army. The U.S. military announced four American soldiers were killed yesterday and another service member was killed on Wednesday.
Even though Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota is still recovering from the brain hemorrhage he suffered in December, his Democratic colleagues held three fund-raisers for his re-election this week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid hosted an event on Wednesday and allegedly said that Johnson is doing “really well” and his popularity in South Dakota is “higher than ever.”