USA Today and the Washington Post lead with the Ashcroft confirmation hearings. The New York Times' top nonlocal story is the reported murder of Congo's president. The Los Angeles Times leads again with the California energy crisis: Southern California Edison is nearly insolvent, and the state assembly has approved "stopgap legislation" to prevent further emergencies.
Hearings began yesterday to confirm John Ashcroft as attorney general. In his opening statement, Ashcroft pledged to separate his conservative beliefs from his job. The papers' fave quote: "I understand that being attorney general means enforcing laws as they are written, not enforcing my own personal preferences." Ashcroft faced a grilling. The papers say Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., were the chief inquisitors. Kennedy accused Ashcroft of opposing school desegregation. The Wall Street Journal says Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., will likely join Republicans in support of Ashcroft, sending the vote to the full Senate. All the papers run the hearing front-page. (WP headline: "Ashcroft Promises to Enforce U.S. Laws." Um, isn't that the job? Tomorrow: "Greenspan Vows to Oversee U.S. Monetary Policy.")
Congolese president Laurent Kabila has reportedly been shot and killed by one of his bodyguards. The assassination occurred during a "shootout" at the presidential mansion. The papers aren't clear on exact circumstances, motivation for the killing, or who's in power now, but early indications suggest this was not a coup. Kabila took power from longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997. Since then, Congo's economy has fared poorly, and Kabila has grown less popular. The NYT says Kabila's death will "dramatically alter the dynamics" of the ongoing war in Central Africa involving six different countries. All the papers give the murder front-page play. It's the off-lead at the Post and NYT.
The NYT and WP run front-page inauguration stories. For the Post, it's local news, centering on logistics: The federal government has asked 300,000 workers to take the day off. All event tickets are gone--snapped up by "Republican loyalists." The NYT says many Democrats feel celebrations should be muted given "the depth of resentment among some voters about the way the election was settled." With less time to plan, the inaugural eve gala has been canceled, but festivities will mostly mirror previous inaugurations. The big change is in celebrities. Out: Fleetwood Mac, Barbra Streisand. In: Bo Derek, Sly Stallone, and Ricky Martin.
A USAT front-pager says the Red Cross will soon reject potential blood donors who've lived in Western Europe. Why? Fears over mad cow disease. If you've lived in Western Europe for six months or more any time since 1980, don't bother giving blood--you'll be turned away. The move will eliminate about 360,000 donors--a major loss--but the Red Cross claims it can find replacements.
A front-page WP story says Colin Powell, nominee for secretary of state, is worth at least $27.3 million, thanks largely to speaking fees. Powell made $6.7 million in fees last year at an average of $60,000 a pop. Some fees went higher than $100,000. Powell also owns nearly $8 million in AOL options. The Post says Powell joins the list of people "who have rapidly converted their experience in public life into huge private gain." It can be problematic when an official returns to public life after a big payday.
The WSJ reports on a new "pre-moistened" toilet paper. The product, from the makers of Cottonelle and Kleenex, is basically a roll of baby wipes. "Rollwipes" will come with their own dispenser, which fits on a regular toilet paper holder. Company execs saw that "many adults quietly buy and use baby wipes." They're banking on Rollwipes to "normalize" this practice and expect huge sales.