updated 11/30/2005 11:01:39 AM ET 2005-11-30T16:01:39

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First glance
Both parties have diversity on their minds today. President Bush, continuing a push for immigration reform that is two-pronged but heavy on border security, visits the US Border Patrol headquarters in El Paso at 11:05 am ET. Yesterday in Tucson, Bush basically equated border security with national security -- an approach which, as we've suggested before, allows him to capitalize on the party's advantage over Democrats on the war against terror, and skirt the thornier cultural issues involved in the immigration debate.

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Opponents of stricter border controls charge that advocates use the security argument to cover up an anti-immigrant bias. It's hard to lob that charge at the former Texas governor, who has a fairly centrist track record on this issue and has long advocated a federal guest-worker program. But GOP officials and operatives do fear that the party will alienate Latinos in a "re-Pete" of what happened in California with Proposition 187. Given that the guest-worker proposal faces stiff opposition from some GOP lawmakers, Bush's talk of it this week may be aimed more at assuaging Latinos than at trying to actually win more support on Capitol Hill. Both the House and, now, the Senate are expected to focus on border security as their first whack at immigration reform. The House is likely to pass a bill next week, and just yesterday, presidential candidate and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist announced, "I plan on bringing up border security reform legislation as a primary legislative item in February. We must boldly address the challenges of border security first," before other aspects of immigration reform.

After his stop in El Paso, Bush travels to Denver for a 3:00 pm ET fundraiser for Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R), but the immigration debate may follow him there. Colorado is home to Rep. Tom Tancredo, the GOP lawmaker who is most vocally supportive of tighter border controls and most vocally opposed to a guest-worker bill.

Democrats are wrestling with a little diversity issue of their own, as will become evident today. In their final meeting a week from Saturday, the panel studying the party's presidential nominating calendar is expected to recommend that two to four additional states hold caucuses during the week in between Iowa's caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. This recommendation will be the commission's attempt to make the party's early nominating contests more diverse, both demographically -- i.e., minorities and union members -- and geographically. (The panel is not expected to recommend which states should move up. That job will likely fall to the Democratic National Committee's rules and bylaws committee, which would approve a more specific plan that would then be voted on by the entire DNC.)

New Hampshire Democrats seeking to preserve their first-in-the-nation status, not surprisingly, oppose the addition of more state contests before their primary, caucuses or no. They're holding a conference call at 11:00 am today to propose a compromise which, per one source, would entail a diverse group of states holding contests a week after theirs, rather than before. Democrats in Washington are already prebutting the proposal.

New Hampshire Democrats will also propose a more extended nominating schedule, which they say would "reverse frontloading" -- frontloading being shorthand for what happened with the Democrats' nominating calendar in 2004, when a lot of states bumped up their contests in hopes of having more influence over the outcome. The nomination was settled within weeks, leaving John Kerry open to Bush campaign attacks for the duration of the spring. Granite State Democrats argue that allowing some states to go in between Iowa and their primary would exacerbate the frontloading problem, whereas allowing states to go a week after their primary would not. They also argue that prolonging the nominating process would give each state greater influence.

Resentment is now boiling over on all sides of this teapot -- not just among New Hampshire Democrats. Members of the calendar commission are irked about their colleagues' resistance, suggesting that some changes to the calendar are inevitable and that Iowa and New Hampshire Democrats should be willing to work with the commission for the greater good of the party. New Hampshire's expected proposal is "a status quo plan," a party operative tells First Read. "Not only is it not a new idea, it is the same as the old idea." Some Democrats in Washington privately argue that the state seems to be suggesting that diversity is fine -- so long as it happens after their primary. Iowa is also resisting the expected proposal, though less publicly. Although it would continue to go first under the panel's expected recommendation, the addition of more caucuses just after Iowa's might prompt some candidates to skip that state.

At stake for both states, as anyone who has seen all the empty storefronts in Des Moines and Manchester in a non-presidential year knows, is the considerable amount of revenue generated by their early contests, as well as their cottage industries of campaign consulting and GOTV. Then there are the party's potential presidential candidates, who already have invested time and money in Iowa and New Hampshire. How many of them will visit New Hampshire in the coming weeks and get asked if they support the state's first-in-the-nation status? And then what would they say to the calendar commission or the DNC if asked whether they support diversity?

The New York Times notes that in his speech yesterday, Bush “tried to stake out a middle ground on an issue that has divided Republicans, saying the nation did not have to choose between upholding its immigration laws and being compassionate to the millions of workers who travel here desperate to make a living.” More: “Immigration is among the trickiest issues on Mr. Bush's domestic agenda, and it is in some ways similar to what President Bill Clinton faced in pushing for an overhaul of the welfare system a decade ago.”

Knight Ridder says "Bush delivered the get-tough talk at a time when polls show increasing frustration over illegal immigration, especially in the Southwest."

The speech “omitted what was once standard Bush rhetoric about the family values of hard-working immigrants and the aspirations of those seeking a better life in the United States. Instead, the president focused on the crime, danger and high costs associated with illegal immigration, and touted a requirement for new immigrants to learn English.” - Houston Chronicle

Bush "faces an uphill battle in the House and Senate to realize his vision of reform, which is drawing intense skepticism from many allies in his own party who believe his approach is not tough enough," says the Washington Post. "In the coming weeks, the White House must persuade lawmakers to forge several immigration bills, differing widely in scope, into a single policy." The story notes that "Democrats also are divided on the issue, as the Democratic governors of New Mexico and Arizona have declared states of emergency because of the influx of illegal immigrants."

"Democrats, eager to cast Republicans as hostile to Latinos, pounced on Mr. Bush's speech. Party Chairman Howard Dean issued a statement yesterday saying that Mr. Bush had 'allowed the extremist anti-immigrant wing of the Republican Party to dominate the critical debate on immigration reform.' But members of both parties are attempting to straddle the issue."

"By calling for a guest worker plan and tougher measures to stop illegal immigration, the president signaled that he aimed to please both constituencies," says the Los Angeles Times. But: "The increasing emphasis on enforcement could alienate some key Republican constituencies, including Latino voters that Bush and party leaders have tried to court and many businesses that depend on immigrant labor."

The Washington Times reports that "critics of Mr. Bush's immigration policy said he hasn't put any muscle behind the initiatives he touted." On his call to end the "'catch-and-release' policy under which non-Mexican illegal aliens are processed and released into U.S. society on the usually false hope that they will return to be deported," the story notes that "Mr. Bush's budget submission in February called for just 210 more agents and fewer than 2,000 new detention beds -- each amount less than a quarter of the totals that Congress and Mr. Bush agreed to just two months earlier."

A longtime Republican congressman with military credentials about as strong as Jack Murtha's took a hard fall yesterday. House Armed Services Committee member Randy "Duke" Cunningham's resignation from Congress had nothing to do with indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the federal probe of whom threatens to ensnare several other members. Nevertheless, Democrats are calling Cunningham's problems the latest example of a so-called GOP "culture of corruption." Cunningham, a former Vietnam War fighter pilot whose military background made him influential on national security policy, announced his resignation yesterday after pleading guilty to accepting bribes of at least $2.4 million in cash and other goods from defense contractors who wanted him to steer government business their way. The 63-year-old member faces up to 10 years in jail.

As NBC's Pete Williams points out, Cunningham has been in hot water for months, after it was learned that he sold his California house to a defense contractor for a price so high that the contractor ended up selling it for a $700,000 loss. The same contractor let Cunningham live rent-free on his yacht in Washington. Cunningham had already announced that he would not seek re-election in 2006, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) must now call a special election to replace him in his northern San Diego district; the election must take place within 120 days. Republicans are expected to hang onto the seat, but political analysts wonder if the case will further sour the public on the GOP or on all incumbents generally.

"[T]he scope of the corruption revealed yesterday was staggering," says Cunningham's hometown paper, the San Diego Union Tribune.

"Congressional bribery cases are rare. The last was in 2002, when Ohio Rep. James Traficant was expelled after a bribery conviction. Before that, the last instance was in the FBI's 1980-81 'Abscam' bribery sting." – USA Today

"Mark it down as another example of a Republican who went native after his party captured the majority," says the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which argues that "Mr. Cunningham's graft doesn't mean that all Republicans are corrupt, any more than former Speaker Jim Wright's machinations meant all Democrats were on the take."

And in the latest installment in the ongoing Abramoff saga, Bloomberg reports that Abramoff "sought the help of U.S. Interior Department officials to save the job of an Indian leader under fire for $37 million in fees his tribe paid Abramoff and a partner." A ruling by the Bureau of Indian Affairs "thwarted efforts by tribal members who opposed the payments to Abramoff and wanted the bureau's support in ousting" leader Lovelin Poncho.

The Washington Post front-pages the possible political ramifications of all the ethics scandals popping up lately: "After years in which big-dollar dealings have come to dominate the interaction between lobbyists and lawmakers, both sides are now facing what could be a wave of prosecutions in the courts and an uprising at the ballot box... Republicans, who control the White House and Congress, are most vulnerable... But pollsters say that voters think less of both political parties the more prominent the issue of corruption in Washington becomes, and that incumbents generally could feel the heat of citizen outrage." The story notes, "The worst of the blowback, both legal and electoral, could be blunted if ongoing probes turn up little or nothing."

The Boston Globe reports that Rep. John Murtha will host a DCCC fundraiser in Boston this Friday, featuring House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The event will raise money for Nick Lampson, Rep. Tom DeLay's 2006 Democratic opponent. The invite "asks donors to give or raise as much as $30,000 for Lampson's campaign or the campaign committee."

The AP writes up a rally for DeLay yesterday in suburban Houston, in which DeLay attacked Democrats for criminalizing politics and having no agenda.

On the CIA leak probe, the Washington Post also reports that Time reporter Viveca Novak is "central to White House senior adviser Karl Rove's effort to fend off an indictment in the" probe. "It's not clear why [Rove attorney Robert] Luskin believes Novak's deposition could help Rove... But a person familiar with the matter said Luskin cited his conversations with Novak in persuading Fitzgerald not to indict Rove in late October... The disclosure of Novak's impending testimony is the latest indication that Fitzgerald is still considering charges against Rove," and "also shows that Rove, who... was dragged into the case for talking to reporters, is now hoping that a reporter will help pull him out."

Valerie Plame is quitting her CIA job to become a full-time mom, the New York Post says. "Friends and colleagues told The Post the leak scandal forced Plame, mother of 5-year-old twins, to leave the CIA early... She remained at the CIA for the past year in order to be eligible for a full government pension."

National security politics
The Wall Street Journal previews Bush's speech at the US Naval Academy tomorrow. While he "is expected to emphasize progress in training Iraqi troops," the story notes that "Iraqi forces increasingly are operating as sectarian militias, targeting Sunnis on behalf of their Shiite political patrons and raising the possibility of all-out civil war." In his speech, "Bush will make the case that the U.S. is achieving substantive progress in training Iraqi forces that will soon be able to replace their American counterparts, according to administration officials. They said Mr. Bush will cite statistics showing a growing number of Iraqi army battalions capable of leading combat operations with limited American logistical support, and he will highlight areas that are now under Iraqi security forces' full control."

Centrist Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman argues against an immediate troop withdrawal in a Wall Street Journal op-ed:

Former Colin Powell chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson, who made news not long ago with a blistering critique of the Administration's Iraq war policy, gave an interview to the AP yesterday in which he said the President was "'too aloof, too distant from the details' of post-war planning, allowing underlings to exploit Bush's detachment and make bad decisions." Wilkerson also "said that wrongheaded ideas for the handling of foreign detainees after Sept. 11 arose from a coterie of White House and Pentagon aides who argued that 'the president of the United States is all-powerful.'" And that "Cheney must have sincerely believed that Iraq could be a spawning ground for new terror assaults, because 'otherwise I have to declare him a moron, an idiot or a nefarious bastard.'"

In an interview with USA Today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice "defended the indefinite detention of terrorist suspects as part of an unprecedented war to prevent massive attacks on civilians;" "neither confirmed nor disavowed the existence of secret CIA prisons abroad;" "said the potential withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq would depend on the wishes of the government to be elected next month and the Iraqis' ability to provide order;" "[a]acknowledged mistakes in U.S. policy in Iraq but rejected the idea that ousting Saddam Hussein had made the Middle East less stable;" and said, "'When I go back to Stanford in 3½ years, I can guarantee you I will probably oversee dissertations that look at' what went wrong and right in Iraq."

The Alito nomination
The Justice Department released approximately 470 pages of documents from Alito’s days at the agency during the Reagan era, and the New York Times says some of those documents show Alito playing an active role in advancing the Administration's efforts to expand law enforcement powers and limit restrictions on prosecutors. “Mr. Alito … wrote the memorandums as a lawyer enacting the policies of the administration, not necessarily expressing his personal legal opinions. But the disclosure comes at a time when liberal opponents of his nomination are buying television advertisements suggesting that as a judge on the Third Circuit, Judge Alito wrote dissenting opinions that would have reduced protections against police searches.”

Meanwhile, the Times previews the abortion case the Supreme Court will hear on Wednesday -- its first abortion case in five years -- and it says the topic is familiar: “a requirement that doctors notify a pregnant teenager's parent before performing an abortion… But in the current climate, with the court in transition and the abortion debate as raucous as it has ever been, there is no such thing as just another abortion case. As reflected in dozens of briefs filed on both sides, interest in this new case, from New Hampshire, is extremely high.”

The San Francisco Chronicle adds the case will be the first abortion case to come before Chief Justice John Roberts, and also says that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor “is scheduled to take part in Wednesday's hearing but will not cast a vote if the case is still pending when she leaves.”

It's the economy
Efforts by members of Congress to cast China as the United States' newest economic boogeyman may escalate now that the Bush Administration has "resisted pressure from manufacturers and prominent voices on Capitol Hill by refusing to brand China as a currency manipulator," as the Financial Times reports. "Monday’s decision touched off an angry response from members of Congress who had been pressing for a bigger revaluation of the renminbi and had expected action following tough language in the last Treasury report, issued in May... The question is whether a weakened President George W. Bush is now capable of fending off" legislative action.

2005 and the midterms
A staffer for one of the Democratic congressmen hoping to get picked to replace New Jersey Governor-elect Jon Corzine (D) tells First Read that all public and private conversations point to Corzine making a decision next week. With acting Gov. Dick Codey no longer in the running, signs also indicate that the frontrunners are Reps. Bob Menendez and Rob Andrews.

Despite his recent problems, the AP says Bush will go into campaign mode for various House and Senate candidates more often as the midterms approach. In the meantime, Democrats "are trying to make Bush's woes a liability for GOP candidates who have supported the president and his policies."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist announced the Senate schedule for 2006. Target adjournment date: October 6. The House schedule is TBD.

The Boston Globe examines the pros and cons of Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney taking over the Republican Governors Association chairmanship this week at the RGA meeting. The post "offers a useful vehicle for Romney's presidential aspirations, but" Romney's "stock could rise or fall depending on how Republican candidates fare in next year's elections."


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