Obama gets busy on promises, leaves a few for later.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 24 2009 5:06 AM

Checking Off the List

The Washington Post leads with a lightning-round survey of national economies, concluding that they're all getting worse faster than expected, particularly Britain. So is California: The Los Angeles Times leads with the state's staggering unemployment rate of 9.3 percent, up almost a percentage point from December, representing a loss of 78,000 jobs. The New York Times leads with President Barack Obama jumping into stimulus negotiations, seeking a final package that will act like jumper cables for the economy, flushing $825 billion through fast enough to make a real difference.

The Wall Street Journal leads with the news that Pfizer is set to acquire biotech giant Wyeth for a bunker-busting $65 billion, paying two-thirds of it in cash and the rest in stock. Pfizer needs the relatively debt-free company, which has several new products in development, as it faces the expiration in 2011 of patent protection on its main cash cow, Lipitor.

In meetings with both Republican and Democratic leadership teams, Obama worked to retain leadership of what could be the signature achievement of his first 100 days, putting his foot down on stimulus provisions, including tax credits for those who don't make enough money to pay income taxes. House and Senate Republicans are not united on this point or much of anything else, the NYT says, with some members continuing to fight while others—like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—try to meet Obama's attempts at compromise. * The WSJ plays up the partisan bickering of the proceedings more than the other papers, putting the hearsay "I won" comment by Obama in a subhead while the NYT and Post mention it in passing. The Journal also illustrates how although Obama was fast out of the gate in naming his Cabinet, Congress has given him more trouble than either of the last two presidents experienced. On the flip side, the Post fronts a strangely adorable picture of the thousands of new Obama appointees finding their way through federal office buildings, staffing up offices from scratch.

The NYT's off-lead story reveals that banks didn't stop asking for money after they got it, spending millions more to lobby legislators on various aspects of the bailout. That effort hasn't gone over well with some lawmakers; Sen. Dianne Feinstein took them to task for spending taxpayer dollars on lobbyists. Other lawmakers chose to lobby for their own home state banks: the Journal outs a pair of Illinois congressmen who put in an appeal for an institution that was in such bad shape that it didn't make the cut for aid, and later failed. Luckily for the banks, Congress and the president seem open to the idea of tossing even more money their way as losses continue to mount, with "trillion" on everyone's lips.

Which all makes this story about goats, which is also somehow about the Lehman collapse, almost too fantastic to digest.

Obama's commander-in-chief career has also started in earnest, with two strikes in Pakistan on suspected terrorist hide-outs. The administration is discussing tweaks to Pakistan's aid structure, which during the Bush years was heavily skewed toward the military over humanitarian funding. Meanwhile, the Post sketches out the minefield that Obama faces in dealing with Israel. As expected, he appointed former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell as his special envoy to the Middle East, whom some Israel activists fault for previous statements about the necessity of having a dialogue with the Palestinian leadership. But thus far, Obama has not broken from the Bush administration's line, repeating conditions for Hamas to meet before being considered a diplomatic partner. Hamas is just as strong as ever, despite having been bombed for 22 days straight. (Speaking of counterproductivity, check out the weekend Journal's retelling of how Israel fostered Hamas' growth from the beginning.) All of which makes it look unlikely that Obama will get around to Zimbabwe, where desperate refugees—many of them children—are fleeing to South Africa, a country that doesn't want them, either.

Following his announcement of the executive order to close Guantanamo Bay within a year, Obama issued another to repeal the global gag rule on federal financing for abortion providers overseas. He hasn't swung around so fast on federal funding for stem cell research, as the NYT's piece on the abortion order notes. Although the FDA just approved its first project using stem cell therapy—which does involve killing embryos—Obama is undecided as to whether to use his executive power to encourage such research or to let Congress write it into a law.

The new administration is also moving cautiously on greenhouse gas regulation: Obama is mulling what to do with an old fight left over from the Bush days, when the EPA denied California's request to place stricter limits on tailpipe emissions. Newly minted EPA administrator Lisa Jackson did not commit to a position in her confirmation hearings, and car companies have mounted a strong defense of the status quo. (In case you'd forgotten, the LAT fronts a reminder that it still sucks to be in the auto business.)

World, meet 42-year-old first-term Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Gov. David Paterson's pick to replace Hillary Clinton as the junior senator from New York. She's a politically savvy corporate lawyer with a political pedigree that's as much red as it is blue, and a short voting record that doesn't pin her as either. And in a credit to the way in which the NYT's Albany folks have been all over this story from beginning to end, the paper exposes just how badly the Paterson camp bungled the affair, ruining a year that was supposed to be the governor's display of competence to the country. The process turned into a public flap with staffers going rogue left and right, plus a considerable feat: angering the Cuomos, the Kennedys, and the Clintons in one fell swoop.

The NYT and the Journal both take a gander at how the credit crisis has hit nonprofits. The Journal focuses on the case of the Harlem Children's Zone, an ambitious early-education project that had started drawing as much as $15 billion annually in donations from Wall Street. Many of its biggest donors are now bankrupt, and another $2.7 million disappeared into Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme. The Times uses a broader lens, looking at nonprofits' troubles with securing credit from banks as well as their accustomed government financing.

And because it's Saturday … Hey, Wall Street Journal, got a Jersey complex or something?

Correction, Jan. 26, 2009: This story originally identified Mitch McConnell as the majority leader of the Senate. He is the minority leader. (Return to the corrected sentence.)

Lydia DePillis is a writer living in New York.

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