Today's Papers

The Senate Spy Spat

The Washington Post leads, and the Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox, with the Senate’s last-minute approval of a Republican plan to overhaul terrorist surveillance laws, following a bitter row between the White House and Democratic lawmakers. The Los Angeles Times leads, and the New York Times off-leads, heightening tensions on the Hill, as Democrats wrestle with stalled legislation and struggle to contain the fallout from allegations of vote-stealing. The NYT leads  with the stock market’s continuing woes amid fears that ailing mortgage and debt markets could take a toll on the wider economy.

The new spy laws approved yesterday by the Senate would expand the government’s authority to eavesdrop without a court order on overseas phone calls and e-mails. Democrats initially said the legislation was too sweeping, and accused the White House of trying to wreck an existing deal; President Bush warned that he might seek to keep Congress in session until they passed the legislation. Senators eventually caved in, earning swift condemnation from privacy campaigners who predicted the laws would be used to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accused Republicans of rubber-stamping a flawed proposal, but noted that the measure would need to be re-approved in six months’ time. The LAT and the NYT both note that the House is expected to pass an identical bill later today.

The back-and-forth over the surveillance bill came as partisan tensions on the Hill reached new heights. With Democrats scrambling to pass legislation covering energy and defense spending, GOP lawmakers in the House staged a walk-out late on Thursday night, accusing the Democratic leadership of stealing a key vote. The LAT argues that the rancor risks casting a shadow over the Democrats’ first year of majority rule; the NYT traces the tension to an entrenched ideological standoff that has blocked progress throughout the year. The Post reports that the House will launch a special committee with subpoena power to investigate the vote-stealing charge—an extraordinary measure usually reserved for issues like Watergate or the Iran-Contra scandal.

Following a volatile fortnight, the stock market dipped sharply yesterday, with the S&P 500 falling 2.7 percent and the dollar declining against the euro. Analysts blamed the slump on mortgage companies’ reluctance to offer credit to high-risk borrowers, saying that a weakened housing market could impact on consumer spending. The WSJ notes that investors were shaken by bleak statements from executives at Bear Stearns, an investment bank heavily involved in mortgage securities. “I have been at this for 22 years, and this is about as bad as I have seen it in the fixed-income market,” the company’s chief financial officer said during a conference call originally intended to reassure investors.

Everyone fronts continuing rescue efforts in Minneapolis, where a fifth person was confirmed killed following the collapse of the Interstate 35 West bridge on Wednesday evening. Police divers struggled with changing currents and murky waters as they hunted for victims of the disaster, but admitted they had no idea how many cars—or bodies—remained in the water. “It’s a terrible mess, quite honestly,” the local sheriff told reporters. Investigations continue into the cause of the bridge’s collapse; the NYT looks at the race to inspect similarly designed bridges across the country. The WSJ editorializes against throwing public money at the problem; a columnist calls for increased privatization of America’s roads and bridges.

The Post fronts word of a pyrrhic victory for Rep. William Jefferson, the lawmaker accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes. An appeals court ruled yesterday that the FBI acted unconstitutionally in seizing privileged documents during a raid on his congressional office, but stopped short of granting his request that all the seized documents—privileged or otherwise—be returned. The NYT stuffs the story, noting dryly that the court also failed to compel the FBI to return the $90,000 found wrapped in tinfoil in Mr. Jefferson’s freezer.

The Post fronts a report on attempts to recruit Iraq’s Sunni tribal leaders in the battle with al-Qaida. Increasingly, the United States is entering into “rent-a-cop” agreements with local sheiks, hiring their men as security contractors to combat insurgents and protect key roads and oil pipelines. The LAT fronts a similar story, noting that the move risks fueling the country’s sectarian divide. The NYT reports on the increasing use of air assaults to gather intelligence in Sunni-dominated areas of Iraq.

The NYT fronts a look at Hillary Clinton’s deft treatment of the Iraq war, noting that by gradually distancing herself from her former hawkish stance the Democratic hopeful has defused much of the grassroots opposition to her campaign without attracting accusations of flip-flopping. The real test of Clinton’s rehabilitation, however, comes this weekend, as she woos the netroots at the YearlyKos convention.

The WSJ scores a front-page interview with Carlos Slim, the Mexican telecom tycoon who is now the world’s richest man. Mexico’s regulators have largely given up on trying to rein in the latter-day robber baron, whose companies now account for a third of the Mexican stock market’s total value.

The NYT reports on an artist detained for “marine mischief” yesterday after attempting to approach the Queen Mary 2 in a replica of the Turtle, a primitive wooden submarine thought to have seen action in New York Harbor during the Revolutionary War.

Get the siren out: The LAT fronts a report on Matt Drudge’s lucrative business as an almost-respectable gateway for the mainstream media; thanks to ad revenues, the man once described as “the devil of journalism incarnate” now lives in a million-dollar condo in Miami’s Four Seasons hotel.