Senate Switch?

Senate Switch?

Senate Switch?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 23 2001 7:49 AM

Senate Switch?

Both USA Today and the Washington Post lead with the strong possibility that Sen. Jim Jeffords of Vermont might quit the Republican Party today and caucus with the Democrats, perhaps as an independent, which would suddenly, in USAT's words, "deal a devastating political blow to President Bush," by costing his party control of the Senate. The papers report that Jeffords will announce his decision today. The New York Times fronts Jeffords but leads with the Israeli military's issuance of an order last night for their troops to fire at Palestinians only in self-defense. The Los Angeles Times fronts Jeffords and the Israeli order but leads with the House's endorsement of the White House-backed proposal of annual reading and math tests for elementary- and middle-school students nationwide, a major expansion of federal testing requirements. The paper says that annual testing is now likely to become law.

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USAT says Senate Democratic aides told their party leaders Jeffords was ready to leave the Republicans. Everybody reports that he has been discussing the possibility widely and that his schedule Tuesday included separate meetings with President Bush and Vice President Cheney. Everybody notes that Jeffords played a key role in the Senate's successful trim of the president's originally proposed tax cut, and that this angered the White House, which then didn't invite him to a ceremony honoring a Vermont teacher, an omission that angered Jeffords. One switch incentive the papers say Jeffords is perhaps being offered is the chairmanship of the Senate committee overseeing the environment. The papers say that as it became clear to Senate Republicans that they were going to lose Jeffords, an effort arose to convince Georgia Democrat Zell Miller, who often votes with the Republicans, to counterswitch. The NYT has one senator saying the White House has "gone into overdrive" to do this and is "prepared to name an aircraft carrier after him if that will help."

The NYT lead says that the unexpected Israeli military order appears to be an attempt to seize the initiative in responding to the recent American-led push for a halt to the region's violence. The story also reports that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon "apparently in another attempt to soften his hard-line stance," said Israel would not seize new land for new Jewish settlements in the West Bank, although development within previous settlements will be allowed. The LAT Israel/Palestinian fronter also plays the Israeli order high and puts it in the headline. But the WP puts its Middle East situation report below the fold and while acknowledging the new Israeli no-attack rule, says that the recent U.S. effort to contain the region's violence had already run "into a stone wall of Israeli and Palestinian resistance," with both sides sticking to fixed positions.

USAT and the WP front word of the latest brainstorm from Afghanistan's Taliban: decreeing that all non-Muslims must wear distinctive marks on their clothing. Both stories are reminded of the Nazi's requirement that Jews wear yellow stars and both report the State Department's quick condemnation of the Taliban policy.

The NYT off-leads word that three members of the Bush Cabinet--Tommy Thompson (Health and Human Services), Rod Paige (Education) and Spencer Abraham (Energy)--have backed out of previously arranged private meetings with big Republican donors. The paper notes the background: a recent meeting Thompson held in his office with donors and a party Dick Cheney had for donors at the vice presidential residence on Monday night seem to mean that the Bush administration is practicing the same sort of special access use of the executive branch that Republicans complained about when Bill Clinton was president. The story reports that nevertheless, one Bush Cabinet member, Donald Evans (Commerce) did agree to meet with donors this week.

Both the NYT and Wall Street Journal report that major German corporations, who together with the German government have established a fund for paying people forced to work as slaves during the Third Reich, announced that they were ready to begin paying out the claims because an American judge's ruling Monday appears to protect them from additional legal demands for money. The fund totals about $4.5 billion and will support payments of $7,000 to survivors held in slave labor camps or ghettos and $2,200 to those forced to work in factories or in agriculture. This process has taken so long that reporters and editors have become narcotized to important elements. For instance, neither story (like many before them) mentions how these paltry sums were arrived at (they are much smaller than the amounts paid by the U.S. government to Japanese-Americans forcibly uprooted and interned in the U.S. during World War II), nor is it explained what sort of sacrifice they represent for the German corporations and German government. Hey editors: For the next story on this, how about expressing the total in the fund as a percentage of the combined assets of the German corporations involved?

A WSJ "Politics and Policy" piece points to fancy but legal footwork being practiced by Mark Weinberger, the Treasury's top tax policy adviser. It seems that just a few weeks ago, he participated in a meeting involving some of his former clients to advise them on how to handle a U.S.-Europe tax feud. Doesn't this violate the federal conflict of interest rules that apply to presidential appointees? Well, no, the Journal explains. The rules limit Weinberger's professional contact with former individual clients and to his old audit firm. And they bar officials from working on "particular matters" with companies they had been involved with. But this meeting with his ex-clients was organized not by any particular companies but by a trade coalition that included them, and it only involved discussion of a broad range of issues, not particular ones. It is precisely such coalitions discussing broad agendas, explains the Journal, that lobbyists and interest groups use to legally "maximize their ability to influence government decisions."

The WSJ front features a literally nauseating national trend: Fast-food employees putting spit, household cleaners, and who knows what other yechhy stuff in food ordered by cops. The loathsome practice has generated warnings at police departments, lawsuits, and convictions. The story's most disturbing factoid: In North Carolina, it's not against the law to spit on someone's food.