By Daniel Politi, Slate Magazine
The Washington Post leads with a look at how congressional Republicans are increasingly raising grievances about the economic-stimulus plan that President Obama wants to pass with broad bipartisan support. Republicans say Democratic lawmakers are high on power and have written the $850 billion legislation largely by themselves while ignoring their concerns that many items included in the draft bill wouldn’t do much to stimulate the economy. The New York Times leads with Obama’s nominee for treasury secretary, Timothy Geithner, accusing the Chinese government of “manipulating” its currency, suggesting the new administration will be more confrontational in dealing with Beijing’s controversial exchange-rate policies.
The Los Angeles Times and USA Today lead with Obama issuing a series of executive orders to reverse some of the most controversial counterterrorism policies of the Bush administration. Claiming the “moral high ground” in the fight against al-Qaida, Obama ordered Guantanamo closed within a year, the CIA prisons overseas shut down, and the use of harsh interrogation techniques prohibited. While the move sent a strong signal that the United States will change the way it fights against terrorism, “Obama put off many of the most difficult decisions,” notes the LAT. The Wall Street Journal banners news that former Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain was forced to resign from a top job at Bank of America. The bank’s chief executive was angry that Thain rushed out bonuses for Merrill executives and spent lavishly before the company’s sale to Bank of America closed, despite the brokerage’s $15.3 billion in losses during the fourth quarter.
The Democratic majority in Congress makes it unlikely that Republicans could actually stop the stimulus bill, no matter how much they complain. But the rising Republican doubts mean that Obama’s first major piece of legislation could pass on a party-line vote, “little different from the past 16 years of partisan sniping in the Clinton and Bush eras,” notes the WP. Democratic congressional leaders are basically saying, tough luck, that’s what happens when you lose elections. But Obama seems determined to prove that he was serious about all that bipartisan talk and will host a meeting with congressional leaders at the White House and is apparently even willing to discuss the prospect of including more tax cuts into the stimulus package. Some Democrats are hinting that Obama’s priorities are all wrong, and the focus should be on passing legislation, not on getting a few more Republican senators on his side.
Geithner made the comments about China’s currency in writing to the Senate finance committee, which later in the day recommended that the full Senate confirm him as treasury secretary. White House officials insist Geithner didn’t do anything except repeat something that Obama said during the campaign, but the statement will undoubtedly anger China at a time of economic uncertainty. Geithner’s words raise the possibility that the administration will explicitly label China a “currency manipulator,” which would require negotiations to take place with Beijing over its currency policy. Labor unions and manufacturers that have long cried foul at China’s exchange-rate policies are likely to be pleased if the administration takes a harder line on the issue. But China might decide it’s suddenly not so interested in buying U.S. debt if the White House begins a serious push to get Beijing to revalue its currency.
In signing the orders that signaled a shift from the previous administration’s methods of fighting against terrorism, Obama said he wanted to send a message that “we are willing to observe core standards of conduct not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard.” But most of the orders will take time to implement and left many unanswered questions, such as what will happen with the Guantanamo detainees who are identified as dangerous but can’t be tried in American courts. And while Obama declared that CIA interrogators must abide by the methods outlined in the Army Field Manual, he suggested these techniques could be expanded and appointed a special task force to look into the issue. The CIA secret prisons haven’t been used much since 2006, but their closing has raised doubts about what the agency would do with terrorist suspects captured overseas. The LAT also specifies that the CIA practice of “extraordinary rendition,” in which agents transfer suspects to other countries, will remain intact as long as detainees aren’t sent to countries that engage in torture.
Some Republicans criticized Obama’s moves, saying that the new administration is acting quickly without thinking through the potential consequences. Highlighting the difficult path that lies ahead to close Guantanamo, the NYT fronts word that Ali al-Shihri, a former detainee who was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007, is now the deputy leader of al-Qaida’s Yemeni branch. While the LAT points out that the Pentagon has said that 61 former Guantanamo detainees have taken up arms against the United States since their release, the NYT specifies that the “claim is difficult to document.” Still, “few of the former detainees, if any,” are thought to have become leaders of a terrorist organization like Shihri.
In a front-page analysis piece, the WP’s Dana Priest, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her reporting on the CIA’s secret prisons, declares that Obama “effectively declared an end to the ‘war on terror,’ as President George W. Bush had defined it.” And while the administration insists it will continue to pursue terrorists, the idea that a president can ignore the law “simply by declaring war was halted by executive order.” The executive orders marked a quick close to an era that was already ending, as the public had been growing wary of tactics that came to be seen as abuses of government power.
The LAT fronts, and everyone covers, news that Obama will get to keep his BlackBerry. Ever since winning the election, Obama has waged a very public battle to hold on to his beloved device and will now become “the nation’s first e-mailing president,” as the NYT puts it. But he had to accept certain restrictions. Only a small group of people will be allowed to send e-mail directly to the president—”one of the most exclusive lists ever created,” declares the Post. The LAT says that although the White House specifically mentioned the BlackBerry, some experts think Obama would adopt another kind of smart phone that has a higher level of security.
The drama surrounding the New York Senate seat left vacant by Hillary Clinton continued yesterday. But after what the NYT calls “a confusing and even embarrassing two-month ordeal,” it seems Gov. David Paterson will finally announce his choice today. Early this morning, the NYT confirmed speculation that Paterson has picked Rep. Kristen Gillibrand, a largely unknown lawmaker from upstate New York. But it’s still unclear exactly why Caroline Kennedy took herself out of the running, and there was some back-and-forth yesterday, with people close to Paterson saying that Kennedy gave up because of problems involving taxes and a household employee, but there was little evidence of the claim. They also took other shots at Kennedy, saying that she was never Paterson’s choice, but other people close to the governor say that’s not true. It seems clear that even if Paterson makes his announcement today, he may have permanently hurt his reputation, as many thought he was plagued by indecisiveness and appeared to enjoy being at the center of attention a little too much.
While the exact reason for Kennedy’s withdrawal remains a mystery, what is clear is that she has now become the latest in a growing number of women who have sought a prominent political office “only to face insurmountable hurdles,” notes the WP. In the past year, women seeking high-profile political jobs faced what many see as a double standard because of their sex. Some think it’s ridiculous to think that Kennedy’s woes were due to her sex, but others insist that she was treated differently than other politicians, primarily because much of the criticism centered on demeanor and style rather than substance.
USAT fronts a new study that says more trees are dying across Western states because of global warming. Over the last few decades, tree deaths have more than doubled in older forests in the West, and scientists expect the trend to continue.
The NYT reveals that the classical music played by Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, and two other musicians before Obama’s oath of office was previously recorded. The players and organizers said they had no other choice because of the weather. “No one’s trying to fool anybody,” a spokeswoman said. “This isn’t a matter of Milli Vanilli.”
While most of the media is deep in the Obama honeymoon phase, the NYT’s Paul Krugman says he became less confident about the country’s economic future after Obama’s inaugural address. Krugman was troubled by the “conventionality” of Obama’s speech, which followed typical Washington themes and could suggest that the new president will “wait for the conventional wisdom to catch up with events.” Of course, the speech might not mean much in the long run, but if “the platitudes” he expressed are a sign of what is to come, the country is in trouble. “If we don’t get drastic action soon,” writes Krugman, “we may find ourselves stuck in the muddle for a very long time.”