TheWashington Post, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today lead with the Senate's approval of legislation yesterday afternoon that will make it a separate offense to injure or kill a fetus during a crime committed against a pregnant woman. Critics lambasted the bill—which was approved 61 to 38—as a Trojan horse aimed at undermining the constitutional right to abortion *. President Bush is expected to sign the legislation, which has already been passed by the House. The New York Times off-leads the vote and leads instead with the White House's offer for Condoleezza Rice to meet again with the 9/11 investigation panel, although in private and not under oath.
The Unborn Victims of Violence Act will supplement similar laws already on the books in 29 states and the papers report that it will apply to 68 existing federal crimes, such as kidnapping and Internet stalking. Although anti-abortion groups have pushed for versions of the legislation for years, proponents in the Senate insist that the law is not intended to undermine the right to abortion, and the text does explicitly exempt the procedure. "It's not about abortion," said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "It is about criminals who attack pregnant women."
Still, senators narrowly rejected a Democratic alternative, proposed by Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., that would have provided the same penalties for violence against pregnant women without mentioning fetuses. The version that finally passed will add a chapter to the federal code called "the Protection of Unborn Children," which deifines an unborn child as "a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb." According to Feinstein, whom all the papers quote, that language "will clearly place into federal law a definition of life that will chip away at the right to choose as outlined in Roe v. Wade."
Although the NYT's lead goes high with Rice's offer to testify again, it ends up focusing more on the White House's aggressive effort to deflect mounting criticism stirred by former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke—an angle that tops the Wall Street Journal's world-wide news box and that the LAT and WP both front. The WP and NYT both run separate pieces on the embattled national security adviser inside, and the Times' makes a rather surprising claim, almost as an aside: Rice is preparing "to leave her job at the end of the year." Since when? Is TP as out of the loop as Dick Clarke was supposed to be? And speaking of the loop, a NYT fronter says that those in D.C. who haven't perused Clarke's book are the ones who are out of it. The book is currently ranked first on Amazon, "outselling even The South Beach Diet," and Richard Armitage went so far as to admit to the 9/11 panel that he has given it "the Washington read"—i.e., he looked himself up in the index and then read "what was said about me." (The less well indexed can sneak the juiciest bits from Slate's summary.)
The WP, WSJ, and USAT front—and the NYT and LAT stuff—Sen. John Kerry's new proposal to create jobs with a "carrot-and-stick" approach that eliminates a corporate tax break on income earned abroad and at the same time cuts the overall corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 33.25 percent. The proposals, to be offered in a speech in Michigan today, will also include payroll tax breaks to small businesses and industries "affected by outsourcing." According to the WP and WSJ (subscription required), Kerry claims these proposals will create 10 million jobs and reduce unemployment to 4.1 percent by 2009—a date that no one mentions is conveniently after the next election.
Three U.S. soldiers have been killed over the last two days in Iraq, and the NYT, WP, and LAT all go inside with a new Army report showing higher-than-average suicide rates among U.S. troops stationed there. More than half of the troops surveyed in the report said their morale was low, and three-quarters said they didn't have confidence in their commanders. The report faulted poor counseling and suggested the Army appoint a mental health czar, who probably ought to look into the force's "Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training Reinforcer," a CD-ROM that the January Harper's excerpted in its Readings section.
The LAT fronts the PR battle over Wednesday's aborted suicide bombing by a 16-year-old Palestinian. Initially, a chapter of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade claimed it had planned the attack, but the main group later denied involvement after it became clear that many Palestinians opposed using teenagers as bombs. According to a piece inside the NYT, protesters even gathered at the boy's home, delivering what the paper calls "a rare rebuke to militant factions." The boy's mother said she was shocked and will punish her son if he is sent home. "No one the age of my son should be used to commit such acts," she said.
Tidbit No. 1 from the NYT's Page One story about Amhad Chalabi's so far fruitless efforts to court a constituency in Iraq: a fifth-paragraph description of his role as the "Pentagon's point man in the period before the war" that rings true enough but reads better if you replace "played a critical role in convincing the Bush administration that Saddam Hussein posed a grave and unavoidable threat to the United States and the region" with, say, "fed a load of fauxtelligence on Iraqi WMD that this newspaper swallowed whole." Tidbit No. 2: "the Department of Defense continues to pay his organization $340,000 a month to gather intelligence in Iraq."
Tony Blair shook Col. Muammar Qaddafi's hand during a short, televised exchange in a desert tent near Tripoli yesterday, according to pieces inside the WP, LAT, NYT, and USAT. The event was staged to reward Libya for giving up its nuclear weapons program—and also to allow the two leaders to engage in some surreal small talk, which the NYT quotes: "You did a lot of fighting on this issue and seem exhausted," Qaddafi said, wearing his trademark aviators. "There's been a lot to do," Blair allowed, to which Qaddafi added: "You are looking good. You are still young."
One of President Bush's jokes at the Washington press corps's annual dinner rankled some Democrats (including The Nation's David Corn), according to stories inside the NYT and WP. During a slideshow, Bush was depicted looking under furniture in the Oval office as he narrated, "Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere!"
Get these guys on The Apprentice … The WSJ fronts a piece (sub. req.) on touchy negotiations between a group of Iraqi Bedouins and the Japanese army, which is building a base on their land. Sensing that the Japanese were eager to avoid appearing unfair, the Bedouins have schooled them in "the Arab art of the deal" and will likely rent the salty and otherwise useless plot for $84 an acre—more than 20 times the initial offer. According to one landowner, when they realized the Japanese were not going to take the land by force like so many others, "it was time to begin negotiating, which is something we know well."