USA Today, the Washington Post, and the New York Times lead with yesterday's 58-42 Senate vote confirming John Ashcroft as the Bush administration attorney general. Ashcroft is also the top national story at the Los Angeles Times, which leads with a nationally watched local story: California's signing into law a bond-selling plan that enables the state government to buy electricity for the public that the big private utilities can no longer afford.
In a rare move, USAT fronts a complete senator-by-senator Ashcroft tally, which the paper calls the closest roll-call vote ever on an attorney general nominee. But the LAT and NYT report that in 1925, a Calvin Coolidge nominee for the job was defeated. Those two papers also say that the Ashcroft nomination had the most bitter Senate course since Bush I Defense Secretary-nominee John Tower was defeated in 1989. The coverage reports that every Republican senator voted for Ashcroft, and every vote against him was cast by a Democrat. Nevertheless, the WP quotes Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer hailing the "bipartisan vote." The coverage explains that the 42 dissenting Democratic votes were meant to send President Bush the signal that Senate Democrats have the 41 votes it takes to filibuster future nominations.
The papers report that a few hours after the vote, Ashcroft was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, an old friend and former colleague in the Missouri attorney general's office. The LAT is alone in asserting that this mode of taking office "further infuriated some of his opponents." However, the paper only produces one incrementally infuriated person, the head of a liberal lobbying group, People for the American Way.
In its front-page business news box, the Wall Street Journalgives high play to some new numbers on the economy, many of which are not good: 1) Results of a trade group survey of executives showing that manufacturing activity "plunged" in January, after doing the same in December, to levels usually "seen only when the entire economy is in recession"; 2) the number of Americans filing first-time unemployment benefit claims rose by 32,000, "suggesting that economic weakness may be reaching labor markets sooner than anticipated"; 3) mass layoffs were up sharply in the fourth quarter of 2000, compared to FQ 1999, mostly in the manufacturing sector, with leading trouble spots being California, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. USAT fronts word that GE, in concert with its acquisition of Honeywell, is planning to lay off up to 80,000 people, 16 percent of the post-deal company's workforce. The story says the figure was first reported on BusinessWeek.com, and then was called "erroneous" by GE. But USAT says it confirmed the plan with an informed source.
Both the WP and NYT front Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi's welcome home for the man acquitted Wednesday in the Lockerbie bombing trial. Both stories report that Qaddafi rejected the murder conviction of the other defendant in the case and added that on Monday, he would reveal "proof" showing that the second man is also not guilty. The papers also have Qaddafi proclaiming that Libya shouldn't pay compensation to the families killed when the Pan Am flight was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. Both stories are good looks at what's going in Libya, with the NYT piece just a bit more completely capturing Qaddafi's manic haze, saying that he "darted in one direction and then the other, maintaining his outburst for about 30 minutes" and quoting him saying that after he reveals his evidence, "the judges will have only three choices: either to commit suicide, to resign or to admit the truth." And cheers to the Times for its headline: "QADDAFI RANTS AGAINST THE U.S. IN A WELCOMING AFTER BOMB TRIAL." Even (especially?) when a head of state rants, that's what a paper should say he's doing. And it should also have the courage to say it even (especially?) when he's not a conventionally accepted boogeyman.
The NYT front reports that a woman, sought for most of January by police in New York and California on suspicion of child abuse, allegedly did indeed physically injure her 7- and 8-year-old sons while taking the two across the country. The woman is now in custody, and the boys are recovering from severe facial gouges and slashes at New York's Presbyterian Hospital. The NYT reports that at one point during the ordeal, the housekeeping staff at a Los Angeles-area hotel found blood on the walls of the room the family had just checked out of but didn't notify police. And no one alerted the authorities at any time during the family's four-day, cross-country trip aboard Amtrak trains. The Times also wonders if NYC's children's services office, which previously had returned the boys to their mother after she did jail time for stabbing their father 18 times, could have done more to protect them. Today's Papers wonders something, too: Would you please contact the hospital to provide some money or something else the children need, especially if you are a talented plastic surgeon willing to donate your services?