House Republicans go on crisis mode; rescue efforts in China fall short.

House Republicans go on crisis mode; rescue efforts in China fall short.

House Republicans go on crisis mode; rescue efforts in China fall short.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
May 15 2008 6:11 AM

Panic at the House

The New York Timesleads with a look at the panic that set in among Republicans yesterday after their candidate lost a special congressional election in Mississippi. It marked the third-straight loss for a Republican-held seat this year, and GOP leaders are scrambling to figure out how they can prevent getting trounced in November. "The political atmosphere facing House Republicans this November is the worst since Watergate," Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., wrote in a memorandum. The Los Angeles Timesand the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox lead with the continuing rescue efforts in China, where the death toll increased to more than 19,500 with thousands of people still missing. Survivors at the earthquake's epicenter began to receive some aid, but "tens of thousands" continue to struggle to survive without food, water, or shelter.

USA Todayleads with word that sensitive U.S. military equipment, in particular night-vision gear, is being stolen and illegally exported in larger numbers, and some of it appears to be reaching fighters in Afghanistan and Iraq. In the last 18 months, "more than two dozen businesses and individuals" have been prosecuted for stealing military gear or illegally selling it abroad. The night-vision gear is seen as particularly sensitive because troops often launch their riskier missions when it's dark because that's when the U.S. military has a distinct advantage. The Washington Postleads with John Edwards endorsing Sen. Barack Obama. Both Democratic contenders had been seeking Edwards' endorsement, and yesterday he finally agreed to break his silence. The move helped Obama gain the media spotlight on a day when Sen. Hillary Clinton was busy touting her overwhelming victory in West Virginia.

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While trying to figure out how to prevent November losses, Republicans are finding themselves increasingly pointing the finger at President Bush and blaming him for their troubles. As a result, top GOP leaders are suggesting that candidates should try to distance themselves as much as possible from Bush. The WSJ points out that this likely means that more Republicans will be siding with Democrats in a few key pieces of legislation. The WP fronts the panic and says that House Republicans "turned on themselves yesterday" as several said the real problem is that the GOP leadership is out of touch with the changing political climate. In an attempt to "re-brand" their party, GOP leaders came out with a new slogan: "The Change You Deserve." But the fact that it so closely resembles Barack Obama's famous "Change We Can Believe In," not to mention that it's also the slogan for an antidepressant, meant that Democrats were able to spend the day making easy jokes. The WP's Dana Milbank also has some fun with it and notes that the warning label for the antidepressant "states that patients should be watched to see if they are 'becoming agitated, irritable, hostile, aggressive, impulsive, or restless.' "

Besides being a preview of what could happen in November, the NYT also points out that Tuesday's loss in Mississippi highlighted that the Republican strategy of linking Democratic congressional candidates in conservative districts to Obama doesn't seem to be working. It was once thought that Obama would be a liability for conservative Democrats, but now it appears that his candidacy "might have the effect of putting into play Southern seats that were once solidly Republican," says the NYT. Meanwhile, aides to Sen. John McCain said the special-election losses have strengthened their resolve to mark sharp contrasts between the senator from Arizona and Bush.

The WSJ's editorial board says the Republican defeat in Mississippi might "finally scare the Members straight, or at least less crooked." After their losses in 2006, Republicans ignored the need for change and thought they could gain ground by blaming Bush and "donning a Nancy Pelosi fright wig and shouting 'liberal, liberal, liberal.' " Republican lawmakers will be tempted to simply begin siding with Democrats more often, but that will only anger conservatives. "The better strategy is to offer a reform agenda of their own, especially one that begins to speak to the economic anxieties of the middle class."

The WSJ notes that even though "China quickly mobilized one of the largest relief operations in its modern history," the massive effort, which has included some 100,000 military personnel, "was falling short for many victims." The LAT points out that some citizens and groups have been trying to fill the gaps, illustrating how much China has changed over the last few years. But the fact that the quake affected such remote areas means that simply getting to some of the worst-hit regions has been a challenge. The WP notes that the Chinese government has sent hundreds of buses filled with rescue teams and volunteers to the disaster areas, where the extent of the devastation makes it likely "the death toll could eventually reach 50,000." The NYT highlights that thousands of soldiers were taken off rescue duties to "shore up weakened dams" that could make the disaster even worse. The government said a total of 391 of the dams in the disaster area have been damaged. The NYT points out that it's not clear whether any of the area's nuclear plants were also damaged.

While rescue workers struggle to reach survivors, the Chinese government is still refusing offers to help from foreign aid workers. And it seems there's no real agreement about whether that's a smart move. The Post says it reflects the government's "distrust of outsiders," while the WSJ says some experts think the "decision is understandable" because foreigners can slow down the rescue process. But in a separate piece inside, the NYT talks to some professional rescue workers who say that once the first 24 hours have passed, specialized skills are needed to get survivors out of the rubble. "Such needs raise questions about the likely effectiveness of the tens of thousands of soldiers being sent by the Chinese government," says the NYT.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Burma the military government has somewhat eased the passage of foreign aid but is still not allowing most foreign aid workers to enter the country. In two stories that really should have gone on Page One, the LAT and NYT describe how survivors of Cyclone Nargis are struggling to stay alive in some of the worst-hit areas. Most residents along the Irrawaddy River delta say they haven't seen any foreign aid workers and have received meager, if any, supplies from the government. The NYT says that in one city, the military began selling rice, while the LAT reports that survivors have received "wet, rotting rice." The government has set up checkpoints to prevent foreigners from reaching these areas, and the NYT's reporter writes about having to hide "in the bottom of a boat" in order to reach them and talk to the survivors. As if that wasn't bad enough, weather forecasters are warning that Burma could be hit with monsoon rains. In a separate story, the NYT talks to a few directors of relief organizations currently in Burma who say that some international aid has been "stolen, diverted or warehoused" by the army.

In other election-related news, the NYT reports that Obama's much talked about lapel hasn't been as naked in the last few days. Yes, Obama has been wearing a flag pin. The campaign said it was all much ado about nothing. "Sometimes I wear it, sometimes I don't," Obama said. The "sometimes" included every day this week and is coming at a time when Obama is paying more attention to winning the support of white, working-class voters.

In the WP's op-ed page, Marie Cocco writes about all the things she won't miss now that the Democratic contest is ending. Cocco then goes on to detail several items that display how deeply misogynistic some of the commentary during the campaign has been. "Most of all, I will not miss the silence" from Democratic leaders who "haven't publicly uttered a word of outrage at the unrelenting, sex-based hate that has been hurled" in Clinton's direction. "For all Clinton's political blemishes, the darker stain that has been exposed is the hatred of women that is accepted as a part of our culture."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.