updated 2/21/2006 9:15:36 AM ET 2006-02-21T14:15:36

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First glance
President Bush is on the second day of a two-day campaign for his election-year energy policies, touring and participating in a panel at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, CO.  The 11:30 am ET panel is open-press.  Afterward, Bush returns to Washington.  Thanks to the holiday news vacuum (and the Vice President's apparently quiet weekend), Bush's effort on energy is getting far more coverage than his similar attempt to push his health-care proposals last week.

  1. Other political news of note
    1. Animated Boehner: 'There's nothing complex about the Keystone Pipeline!'

      House Speaker John Boehner became animated Tuesday over the proposed Keystone Pipeline, castigating the Obama administration for not having approved the project yet.

    2. Budget deficits shrinking but set to grow after 2015
    3. Senate readies another volley on unemployment aid
    4. Obama faces Syria standstill
    5. Fluke files to run in California

At Johnson Controls in Milwaukee yesterday, Bush reiterated his line about America's addiction to oil, 60% of which he said comes from other countries; warned the public against allowing the economy to be "held hostage" by oil-producing countries that aren't necessarily US allies; and pushed for expanded use of nuclear power and other alternative sources of energy.  As if on cue, the price of crude oil rose because of political upheaval in oil-producing Nigeria.  Absent from Bush's rhetoric yesterday was the earlier focus on Middle East oil.

Illustrating the trickiness for the Administration in deciding just when and how to bang the protectionist drum in the name of national security, these past few days have seen an outburst of bipartisan criticism of its decision to allow a company run by the United Arab Emirates to buy a company that operates six US ports.  As NBC's Pete Williams reports, the UAE is currently considered a US ally in the war on terror, but congressional critics point out that some of the money for the September 11 hijackers went through UAE banks, and two of the hijackers came from there.

Administration officials like homeland security chief Michael Chertoff say there are no particular security concerns about the deal, which had to be OKed by a special government panel, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States.  Asked about it yesterday, White House spokesperson Scott McClellan noted how "rigorous" that the CFIUS review process is -- a line Bush officials can be expected to repeat in the coming days.  Once again, the Administration finds itself in the position of arguing "trust us" and having to convince lawmakers, including an increasing number of Republicans, that its closed-door deliberations took the nation's best interests thoroughly into account.

The Republican governors of New York and Maryland are objecting to the sale, and more may follow suit.  Of the states that are home to the six ports (Baltimore, Miami, New Jersey, New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia), only Louisiana isn't hosting a key US Senate or gubernatorial race this year, meaning that we could see more high-profile Republican lawmakers and candidates question the Administration's decision.

Much of the rest of Bush's week can be broken down into the familiar parts.  The war on terror piece: remarks in Washington on Friday.  The fundraising piece: events on Thursday for two endangered GOP lawmakers, a House member from Indiana and a Senator from Ohio.  The science/technology/competitiveness piece: a photo op tomorrow with the crew members from the Space Shuttle Discovery.  There's also a trade piece: a speech to the Asia Society tomorrow and a meeting with the President of El Salvador on Friday.  On Sunday, the Bushes host the nation's governors -- including the governor of Maryland and, possibly, the appendix-free governor of New York -- for a rare state dinner capping off the National Governors Association meeting, which begins in Washington later this week.

Congress is out on recess.  Hill Democrats are spending the week focusing on problems with Bush's troubled Medicare prescription-drug plan, but argue that his energy policies are the second "vivid" example of "the cost of corruption," Nancy Pelosi spokesperson Brendan Daly tells First Read.  Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid issued a statement yesterday praising Bush's focus on energy but also charging, "...[W]e need more than just rhetoric from a president who let Big Oil write our energy policies."

NBC political analyst Charlie Cook tells First Read that the issues with the prescription-drug program "could prove to be the bigger problem in the end for the GOP" -- bigger than the recent spate of scandals afflicting Capitol Hill -- "because seniors did provide the margin of victory in a number of recent elections."  They are "the highest-propensity turnout group and they are angry about the benefit."  Unlike the scandals, which are largely seen as bipartisan, the benefit "has President Bush's and the GOP's name all over it.  No confusion there."  Daly argues that the problems with the drug plan affect not only seniors, but Baby Boomers whose parents are trying to figure out how to use the program.  The Administration continues to emphasize its efforts to educate seniors about the plan and to tout cheaper-than-expected premiums as a sign that it's working.

Security politics
The Republican governors of New York and Maryland yesterday questioned the Administration's decision to green-light the UAE-controlled company's bid to operate six major US ports.  Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich says he "got no advance notice before the Bush administration approved an Arab company's takeover." – USA Today

"Karen Hughes, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, defended the deal and denied it was coming under fire in the U.S. because of anti-Islamic sentiment.  Mrs. Hughes said the Bush administration would seek to further reassure U.S. lawmakers that the takeover had undergone a thorough security review." – Washington Times

Former President Jimmy Carter spoke out in the Administration's defense, saying there's no real security issue here. – Miami Herald

The Washington Times covers Senate Judiciary Committee chair Arlen Specter's efforts to draft legislation to "curtail" the Administration's NSA wiretapping program.  "White House spokesman Scott McClellan said yesterday that the administration is continuing discussions with congressional leaders about how to beef up involvement in the program."

Roll Call reports that Hill Democrats are building an election-year platform of national security issues -- a platform that doesn’t necessarily outline a singular approach to Iraq, but takes a broader look.  “‘What’s going on is there’s a realization in the leadership of the party that there needs to be a focus on national security,’ said a Democratic leadership aide.  ‘We don’t have agreement on Iraq, but there are huge other issues [we do agree on] like North Korea and Iran and energy and nuclear non-proliferation.’”

The Boston Globe yesterday said that "Democratic Party leaders are beginning to coalesce around a broad plan to begin a quick withdrawal of US troops and install them elsewhere in the region, where they could respond to emergencies in Iraq and help fight terrorism in other countries.  The concept, dubbed 'strategic redeployment,' is... coauthored by a former Reagan administration assistant Defense secretary, Lawrence J. Korb...  It sets a goal of a phased troop withdrawal that would take nearly all US troops out of Iraq by the end of 2007, although many Democrats disagree on whether troop draw-downs should be tied to a timeline."  (First Read note: the plan's rollout was sponsored by the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress.)

In a front-page article, the New York Times writes about a secret program at the National Archives that has reclassified thousands of historical documents that had been available for years, including some that have been available and even published for years.  "Under existing guidelines, government documents are supposed to be declassified after 25 years unless there is particular reason to keep them secret.  While some of the choices made by the security reviewers at the archives are baffling, others seem guided by an old bureaucratic reflex: to cover up embarrassments, even if they occurred a half-century ago.”

The New York Post says that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez took on Condoleezza Rice in his weekly TV/radio broadcast saying, "'Don't mess with me, Condoleezza!  Don't mess with me, girl!'"

Bush agenda item of the week: Energy
The AP: “Bush is focusing on energy at a time when Americans are paying much higher bills to heat their homes this winter and have only recently seen a decrease in gasoline prices.”

Knight Ridder: "White House advisors hope that the president's focus on energy will reassure Americans that Bush shares their concerns over high gasoline prices and home heating bills.  Critics dismissed the trip as a publicity stunt and questioned the president's sincerity."

The Denver Post says Bush's trip "marks the most public attention Bush has devoted to energy issues since last month's State of the Union address, when he called for new technologies to reduce dependence on fossil fuels."

USA Today on Bush's event today: "Today, in Golden, Colo., the president visits the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a federal research facility that develops new energy technologies and helps move them to practical application in private business and industry.  Thirty-two jobs at the lab were eliminated by fiscal 2006 budget cuts earlier this month, but the jobs were restored two days before the Bush visit, due in part to heavy lobbying by the Colorado congressional delegation...  Bush's fiscal 2007 budget plan calls for further cuts in the lab's budget."

"Philip Clapp, president of the National Environmental Trust, said the decision" to reinstate the jobs "restores only $5 million of the $28 million budget shortfall at the lab that forced the layoffs," reports the AP.  The article also notes that some of the laid-off workers are skeptical, with one saying he has yet to receive a call telling him to return to work.

The Washington Post on Bush's events yesterday: "Democrats and some Republicans criticize the Bush energy plan as failing to sufficiently address a leading cause of U.S. dependence on imported oil: the fuel efficiency of cars, trucks and sport-utility vehicles.  Under pressure from struggling U.S. automakers..., Bush has not proposed large increases in the gasoline mileage that U.S. automakers are required to achieve."

The Post also says the effect of high energy costs on the midterm election landscape may lead to the dismantling of federal bans on offshore drilling.

Ethics
Where is the Democrats' Gang of Seven? asked First Read's Elizabeth Wilner and the Hotline's Chuck Todd in a Washington Post Outlook piece on Sunday.  Why haven't a group of brash, reform-minded House Democrats emerged as agents of change, capitalizing on the Abramoff and other lobbying scandals occurring on the GOP majority's watch?  In part, it's because of House Democrats' top-down approach to ordering their ranks, with longtime liberal members still running things from above.  In part, it's because of the heavy pressure on all the ranks to stay unified against the Republicans.  And in part, it's because every opportunity to criticize the GOP that comes Democrats' way is instantly turned into a full-scale war, with no potential for it to become a cause championed by a reform-minded few.

Roll Call reports that the Senate Indian Affairs Committee has transferred nearly 100 pages of documents to the Senate Finance Committee regarding Jack Abramoff’s use of non-profit groups in his lobbying schemes.  That transfer, the paper says, opens “a second avenue into Congressional probes…  The recharged Finance investigation into Abramoff could provide more harmful publicity to the cast of characters in the Abramoff scandal, including Reps. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Bob Ney (R-Ohio).”

The Chicago Tribune notes how the congressional drive to enact lobbying reform has cooled considerably.

The Washington Post looks at how defense contractor Brent Wilkes, who has been implicated but not formally charged in the Randy Cunningham (R) bribery scandal, has "pushed the limits of" the process of earmarking, aggressively pitching potential clients on lobbying for earmarks that would benefit them and reap him big fees.

The Wall Street Journal reports on certain earmarks that are favorites over at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Early voting starts today in the Texas primaries, with Rep. Tom DeLay (R) facing three challenges for the GOP nomination in his district.

More on the Bush agenda
The latest Time magazine poll puts Bush's job approval rating at 40% and Cheney's at 29% (about the same as in November, when it was 32%).

The Washington Post front-pages a report that the Administration's $400 million campaign "to enroll low-income seniors in prescription drug coverage that would cost them just a few dollars per prescription has signed up 1.4 million people, a fraction of the 8 million eligible for the new coverage."

The Sunday New York Times front-paged a look at how problems with Bush's Medicare prescription-drug program may cost the GOP support among seniors, one of the few reliably high-turnout voting blocs, in the midterm elections.

The Wall Street Journal editorial page comes out in favor of Bush's health-care proposals, calling them "HillaryCare in reverse:" "The more we look at the fine print in the health-care reforms President Bush is now stumping for, the more we see the potential for the most sweeping and beneficial changes in half a century."

Senate Minority Leader Bill Frist agrees with the Administration that tax cuts result in more federal revenue in a USA Today op-ed.  "Total government collections, in fact, increased more after President Bush's 2003 tax cuts than they did after President Clinton's 1994 tax hikes."  The second point of Frist's op-ed, beyond pushing for an extension of the Bush tax cuts, is to call for entitlement reform.  The op-ed is countered by a USA Today editorial arguing that the government "doesn't have the money" to extend the Bush tax cuts: "Tax cuts, they say, force hard decisions and restrain reckless spending.  The last time we looked, though, Republicans controlled both Congress and the White House.  They are the spenders...  The irony is that their irresponsibility eventually will force tax increases."  and

The Wall Street Journal anticipates a wide range of difficulties facing House and Senate negotiators in reconciling their disparate pension-reform measures.  "Even naming the conference committee has been contentious."

The midterms
USA Today looks at the next stage in the electoral battle over gay issues: "Steps to pass laws or secure November ballot initiatives" to ban gay adoption "are underway in at least 16 states...  Republicans battered by questions over ethics and Iraq 'might well' use the adoption issue to deflect attention and draw out conservatives in close Senate and governor races in states such as Missouri and Ohio, says Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, University of Southern California political scientist."

In his Roll Call column, Stuart Rothenberg writes about candidates -- in particular, Rep. Sherrod Brown (D) of Ohio and Minnesota’s Patty Wetterling (D) -- who “have turned down pleas to run for Congress, only to change their minds after others got in races to fill the apparent vacuums.”

MSNBC's Hardball hosted Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett yesterday.  Hackett's last-minute decision not to seek the Democratic nomination to challenge vulnerable GOP Sen. Mike DeWine caused consternation among liberals who are criticizing party leaders for allegedly forcing Hackett from the race so that the party could field a single candidate, Rep. Sherrod Brown.  Hackett told Hardball host Chris Matthews that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and Democratic Senate campaign committee chair Chuck Schumer asked him to get into the Senate race, saying they would back him "financially and otherwise," and then eventually, after Brown got in the race, Reid and Schumer pressured Hackett to withdraw.  "They went from endorsement to neutrality to eventually pecking sides, which, you know, that's politics."  Asked about Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean, Hackett suggested Dean has always been supportive, but "I don't necessarily think that he is able to control elected officials."

Among those who are upset over how they view Hackett as being treated by party leaders is the Iraq and Afghanistan Vets PAC, which announced yesterday that Hackett has joined its board of advisors.  Hackett's statement in the release: "'Anyone who was upset about what happened to my Senate campaign should support IAVA PAC to help ensure it happens to no one else.'"

Cook Political Report Senate editor Jennifer Duffy sees some lessons in the circumstances surrounding Hackett's withdrawal:

-- "Lesson #1: It's about winning...  The job of a campaign committee chairman is not to preserve ideological purity or make sure each Senate hopeful gets an equal slice of birthday cake or the same number of turns at bat.  Their job is to win seats."

-- "Lesson #2: Blog enthusiasm does not equal votes...  In short, liberal blogs created a whole lot of enthusiasm for Hackett but it wasn't translating into cash or support from people who actually cast their ballots in Ohio.  Unfortunately, the mainstream media... does not yet appreciate this difference and has at times done its part to perpetuate the impression that a candidate has more support than exists."

-- "Lesson #3: Successful single-issue candidates are the exception to the rule...  It is questionable that Hackett, or other candidates running solely on their opposition to the war such as former Navy Secretary James Webb in Virginia... can gain traction among voters interested in issues other than the war."

-- "Lesson #4: Live to fight another day.  Everyone has a choice when exiting a stage...  Judging from the news reports, Hackett has decided to torch the bridge."

The California Republican Party has a new communications director in time for the midterm elections: Patrick Dorinson.  The state GOP's release calls Dorinson "an expert in crisis communications and political operations."

The Des Moines Register reports that “Republican Bob Vander Plaats' decision to quit the race for Iowa governor and become Jim Nussle's running mate seals the Republican ticket months before the Democrats will know who will represent them in the fall campaign.”

And the New York Daily News notes that New York gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer (D) picked up the endorsement of Planned Parenthood yesterday, and has also come out against parental notification for teen abortions.  "His comments appeared to be an effort to outflank potential Democratic primary rival Tom Suozzi, the pro-choice Nassau County executive who is slated to jump into the governor's race on Saturday."

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