Murthquake

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Nov. 18 2005 4:04 AM

Murthquake

The New York Timesand Washington Postlead with a hawkish senior Democrat congressman calling for the U.S. to withdraw from Iraq within six months. Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, who is a Marine combat vet and supported the war, said the current strategy is "flawed policy wrapped in an illusion." The Los Angeles Timesalso leads with Murtha but goes feature-y, focusing on just how hawkish Murtha has historically been and what a shock his call was. "John is one of the most respected members of the body and certainly the most respected member of the Democratic Party on national security matters, so judgments of his should never be taken lightly," said one Republican rep. The only other national pol who has previously called for the U.S. to withdraw pronto: liberal Sen. Russ Feingold, and his plan has a longer time frame. USA Todayfronts Murtha but leads with many states considering small tax cuts since revenues are soaring.

Murtha's proposal was promptly denounced by the GOP leadership, including Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, who called it "a policy of cut and run." Hastert continued, "To add insult to injury, this is done while the president is on foreign soil."

While the papers' leads all play up Republican leadership having a conniption, it falls to the Post's Dana Milbank, writing inside, to point out that Democratic leaders didn't exactly start high-fiving Murtha. "Mr. Murtha speaks for himself," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. "I don't support immediate withdrawal," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. 

The Wall Street Journal goes high with and others front the House, in a surprise, defeating a Republican-sponsored $142 billion bill on health and education programs. The 224-to-209 takedown marks the first time in a decade the Republicans have lost such a vote. Most of the GOP defectors were moderate Republicans who objected to the proposed cuts in social programs. Some Republicans were also ticked off after GOP leadership, trying to placate fiscal conservatives, cut local earmarks (often pork) from the bill.

The Post sets the scene of the (latest) GOP defeat:

Once voting got underway yesterday, House leaders and whips engaged in arm twisting that usually works. After about 30 minutes—twice as long as the vote was scheduled to last—Acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) drew a finger across his throat, and the defeat was official.

According to early morning reports, caught by the LAT, the House early this morning passed $50 billion in spending cuts, which will take small slices from farm subsidies, student loans, and a few other domestic programs. A proposal that would have cut some school lunches for low-income kids was removed to make the bill palatable to moderates.

According to early morning reports, two car bombs in Baghdad targeted the Interior Ministry building at the center of the latest torture scandal. BBC says just six Iraqis were killed but also says the blasts "brought down residential buildings." Reuters says the blasts happened next to a hotel used by foreign journalists.

The LAT fronts the Iraqi interior minister's tepid response to the discovery of the torture center. "There has been much exaggeration about this issue," he said. "Nobody was beheaded or killed." Earlier this week, the NYT quoted a source saying the units in charge of the center directly to the interior minister. And indeed, as the papers have mentioned in passing, the minister is a "former" top member of the same Shiite militia that now makes up those units.

Also, the papers play up the U.S. Embassy saying, "We have made clear to the Iraqi government there must not be militia or sectarian control or direction of Iraqi Security Forces, facilities or ministries." Which is very nice and very misleading. The reality seems to be that the U.S. long ago acceded to such control.

The NYT notices inside—and nobody else covers so far as TP sees—a government report concluding that the military is way below recruiting targets for some of its most important positions, including intel specialists and translators.

The Post and NYT both front the arrest of two U.S. men for allegedly rigging rebuilding contracts in Iraq. But only the NYT picks up on the real shocker: One of the men was a U.S. government comptroller and financial officer in Iraq"despite having served prison time for felony fraud in the 1990's." He oversaw $82 million in contracts.

The WP also mentions the arrests and says it's the first of "what could be dozens of cases" alleging fraud within the reconstruction effort. "There are more coming," said a spokesman for the government office investigating. (The WSJ's wording is vague, but TP reads that as not necessarily meaning other U.S. officials.)

Everybody mentions that the tentative deal to extend the Patriot Act hit a snag as some Democrats threatened to filibuster. Also, a bipartisan group of six senators said they'll vote against renewing the about-to-expire law unless the civil-liberties protections are strengthened.

The WSJ notices that among those lobbying against the renewed Patriot Act are the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbies. Apparently they don't like the idea of the government snooping in company records.

The WP reports across the top that the CIA has created "joint operations centers in more than two dozen countries" where the U.S. and foreign spooks work side-by-side to "track and capture" suspected terrorists. A top CIA official apparently told Congress earlier this year that just about every AQ suspect who's been captured has been taken with the help of a foreign intel service. These centers, says the Post, are distinct from the secret prisons the paper reported on earlier this month.

And you smell like one, too ... The WP notices that the White House's pushback on the prewar intel debate now includes a 5,000-word rebuttal released in response to a NYT editorial. Explaining the length of the retort, a White House statement said, "As parents of young children and dog owners know, it takes longer to clean up a mess than to make one."

Eric Umansky, previously the "Today's Papers" columnist for Slate, is currently a Gordon Grey Fellow at Columbia University's School of Journalism.