The New York Timesleads with news that congressional Democrats and the White House agreed last night to toughen environmental and labor-protection standards in several pending free-trade pacts. The deal clears the way for some of the trade agreements to be approved and is likely to make it easier to pass other pacts in the future. The Washington Postleads, and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, with the House approving, 221-205, the two-part war-funding bill that would initially provide money for the Iraq conflict only through July. Bush once again vowed to veto the bill, and all signs indicate that Senate Democrats aren’t too excited about it, either.
USA Todayleads with a look at how hundreds of thousands of Americans are moving to places out West that are particularly vulnerable to wildfires, which are bound to increase in the future. According to the paper’s analysis, approximately 450,000 people have moved to these areas since 2000. Meanwhile, fire continues to dominate the news out of Southern California, where firefighters are now having to deal with a fire that has engulfed Santa Catalina Island, which the Los Angeles Timesputs in its lead spot. As of late last night, more than 4,000 acres had already fallen prey to the flames as hundreds of residents and tourists evacuated.
The agreement between congressional Democrats and the White House would add language to deals in order to protect the rights of workers to organize unions and ban workplace discrimination and child and forced labor. It would also force countries to follow certain environmental standards. In addition, the agreement would also increase access to generic drugs in developing countries. The agreement clears passage of free-trade pacts with Peru and Panama, although potential deals with Colombia and South Korea still face important hurdles. Also yesterday, the Commerce Department announced the country’s trade deficit jumped to a six-month high in March of $63.9 billion.
The approval in the House came after lawmakers voted against a bill that would have required combat troops to begin withdrawing in 90 days with a 255-171 vote. It was a large margin of defeat, but anti-war Democrats still got many more votes than they expected. Bush had said previously he wanted to receive a bill that didn’t include conditions but yesterday signaled he would be open to the idea of benchmarks and said his chief of staff, Joshua Bolten, will work with lawmakers to find “common ground.”
The Post says the White House wasn’t too happy with the fact that moderate Republicans leaked word of a meeting they had with Bush on Tuesday, which was reported in yesterday’s papers.
Meanwhile, the Post reports that U.S. lawmakers aren’t the only ones discussing the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. Yesterday, a majority of Iraq’s lawmakers signed a draft bill that calls for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. soldiers from Iraq. The LAT goes inside with word that the high tensions in Iraq’s parliament were put on display yesterday, as the session ended with a physical altercation between lawmakers when the Sunni speaker lunged toward another lawmaker and slapped him.
In what was probably the least surprising news of the week, British Prime Minister Tony Blair announced he would be stepping down June 27. The LAT fronts the announcement, which Blair made before a group of Labor Party members in his home district in northeastern England. “I ask you to accept one thing. Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right,” Blair said. Gordon Brown, the country’s finance minister, is set to become the new prime minister, and the Post fronts a look at how he is likely to try to maintain “a certain distance” from Washington, at least until Bush is out of office.
The WP and NYT front news that the manufacturer of the painkiller OxyContin and three of the company’s current and former executives pleaded guilty to charges of misleading doctors and patients about the addictive qualities of its drug. Purdue Pharma agreed to pay $600 million to resolve the charges, and the executives will pay $34.5 million in fines.
In other drug-related news, USAT goes inside with a look at how the senators who were responsible for making “industry-friendly changes” to the drug-safety bill that passed yesterday had received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry.
All the papers go inside with Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ appearance before the House judiciary committee. As opposed to last month’s Senate hearing, where the grilling came from both sides of the aisle, yesterday, several House Republicans expressed their support for Gonzales. Democrats got angry, but Gonzales remained calm. Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick says Gonzales has come to accept that “his only role in this scandal is as decoy: He’s the guy who runs out in front of the hunters and draws their fire so nobody pays any attention to what’s happening at the White House.”
Richard Perle is angry at George Tenet, and he makes no effort to hide it in an op-ed piece in the Post. He starts off by being angry at Tenet for writing in his book that Perle told him Iraq was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, a statement he denies ever making. He writes, “Tenet is not a careful reader,” which is a “catastrophe for an intelligence organization.” Perle then goes from personal to general: “The greatest intelligence failure of the past two decades was the CIA’s failure to understand and sound an alarm at the rise of jihadist fundamentalism.”
The WP and LAT front the Motion Picture Association of America’s announcement that images of adults smoking will now be considered a factor when deciding what rating a movie should receive. Raters will now pay close attention to “depictions that glamorize smoking or movies that feature pervasive smoking outside of a historic or other mitigating context.”