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Monday, February 27, 2006 | 9:20 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Holly Phillips

First glance
With help from an amenable Dubai Ports World, the Bush Administration may be slowly getting up off its back on national security.  The United Arab Emirates-controlled company is basically giving the Administration a do-over by requesting a more extensive review by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States -- a review that lawmakers on both sides say should have taken place before the deal was approved because of its national security implications.  In welcoming DP World's request, White House spokesperson Scott McClellan was careful to note that the deal "was closely scrutinized by the appropriate national security and intelligence officials" on the first go-round.  Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist plans to recommend to the Senate that it hold off on any legislative action until after the new review is complete.  The deal is scheduled to close on Thursday.

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Whether or not Frist's colleagues heed his recommendation is a big question heading into this week.  Last Friday, a bipartisan group of them announced they will push for "emergency" legislation that would delay the deal and require final approval from Congress.  NBC's Ken Strickland suggests that this question will be addressed in floor debate all week and in two hearings on Thursday, a Banking Committee look at the legal underpinnings of the deal, and a Commerce Committee hearing designed to examine "what the proposed purchase means for terminal operations at ports."

The issue also has pushed to the back burner the previously raging debate in Washington over the NSA wiretapping program, an issue that was proving to be far less of a winner for Democrats, who have support from some of their GOP colleagues in demanding more congressional oversight, but not necessarily majority support among the public in opposing the program.  The Senate Judiciary Committee holds its second public hearing on the NSA program tomorrow.  Strickland notes that this week also will be critical for the Senate Intelligence Committee's negotiations with the White House on the program.  The White House has a little more than a week to agree with the committee on a legislative fix.  On March 7, the panel may vote on whether to launch a broad investigation if members aren't satisfied with the Administration's efforts.

Beyond it simply appearing to be a political loser for them, the Administration and the GOP have other pressing reasons to try to clear the ports controversy off Washington's decks.  For starters, tick-tock goes the legislative clock.  Congress didn't have a whole lot of legislative days scheduled to begin with for this midterm election year.  Time spent on this issue is time not spent working toward whatever accomplishments the Administration and GOP lawmakers hope to rack up in order to build a platform for the 2006 elections.  (And business and government strategist William K. Moore points out to First Read that of the relatively few legislative days scheduled this year, "a bunch of Tuesdays get thrown away because of primary elections.")

And second, the Administration clearly feels that it has a good story to tell about the state of the economy, but few are paying attention.  This is a topic on which they had a tough enough time just breaking through the din of the Iraq war.  The White House has issued an "economic week-ahead" schedule for this week, always a sign that they're trying to focus attention on positive economic data.  And their "morning update" e-mail notes a drop in gas prices and a survey of economists expecting economic growth to accelerate in this quarter.

Today, President Bush meets with the nation's governors at the White House 11:10 am.  At 6:55 pm, he headlines a reception for the Republican governors at the National Building Museum.  He meets with the Prime Minister of Italy tomorrow before departing for India and Pakistan.

Over at the J. W. Marriott, the governors will get down to business.  After meeting with Bush this morning to discuss "critical issues" on this year's legislative agenda, they'll devote the rest of the day to four topics: global competitiveness and innovation strategies, educating students for a global economy, federal Medicaid reform, and emerging energy technologies and energy policy.  Former President Bill Clinton will deliver the final keynote address before the meeting's closing news conference tomorrow.  Democratic governors may continue to carp on the DP World deal after their chief, Gov. Bill Richardson, a potential presidential candidate, fired a broadside at Bush via an e-mail to supporters on Friday afternoon.  Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman addresses the GOP governors at lunch.

Judging from the venues, Vice President Cheney seems likely to be talking about the war on terror over the next two days.  Later today, he heads to Norfolk, VA to headline a fundraiser for Rep. Thelma Drake (R) at 6:00 pm, and he addresses the American Legion convention in Washington tomorrow.

Lastly, the Supreme Court this week considers two cases of potentially huge import for the conduct of future elections: Vermont's spending caps and Texas's mid-decennial redistricting orchestrated by Rep. Tom DeLay (R) and Texas GOP colleagues.  And tomorrow, the Democratic National Committee sends its RFP to the 11 cities vying for its presidential convention in 2008.

Security politics
Bloomberg on the DP World request for a more extensive US government review: "While the company's move has eased the controversy..., it doesn't end the dispute.  Bush administration officials still face criticism that they didn't keep Congress informed about their approval of the deal."  Also, "a lawsuit filed Feb. 24 by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to block the sale will go forward," and "Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, praised the company's announcement, yet said he would still introduce legislation as early as today to require the review."

The New York Post says that New York lawmakers on both sides spoke in support of the new review.  "'We expect this to be carried out in a rigorous and independent manner, giving us the opportunity to exercise our independent judgment,' Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) said alongside Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) at a Battery Park press conference."

"Mr. Bush will still have a final say on the transaction after the 45-day review," the Financial Times notes.

The New York Times traces how this deal transformed from a little-noticed business transaction to a political liability for the Administration.  “Sunday's agreement is likely to forestall, at least for the time being, a confrontation between Congress and the president over legislation… blocking the Dubai contract.  But with Republicans worried about their own re-election prospects, relations are clearly strained.”

Bob Novak also examines what went wrong with the deal.  “A second-term president hovering around 40 percent in popular approval cannot expect full support on sensitive issues even from his own party.  But Bush contributed to lack of GOP backing with faulty White House outreach to Capitol Hill, followed by his injudicious veto threat against still-undefined legislation.”

It's not just GOP lawmakers on the Hill who are separating themselves from Bush on the ports deal.  The controversy was one of several issues on which Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), chair of the Republican Governors Association and potential presidential candidate, criticized the Administration yesterday. – Boston Globe

(The Boston Herald points out that Romney will introduce Bush at tonight's fundraiser.)

USA Today looks at how increasing unrest in Iraq may "undermine the Bush administration plan for cutting the number of U.S. troops there, experts say, especially if negotiations in Baghdad fail to produce a national unity government."

Bush to India and Pakistan
USA Today previews Bush's trip to "two countries that nearly went to nuclear war within the past decade - twice."

"When President Bush makes his first trip to India," the Boston Globe says, "he is expected to fervently embrace India's ascendancy -- partly, analysts say, because of its potential as an economic partner and partly to blunt China's growing market strength."

The New York Times notes that "to the consternation of the Indians, he will not see the country's most famous monument, the Taj Mahal, a decision that Mr. Bush said was made by an omnipotent scheduler.”

Disaster politics
This week also brings two milestones for New Orleans.  Wednesday (think of it as "February 29") essentially marks the six-month anniversary since Hurricane Katrina struck, and Wednesday through Friday is the qualifying period for those candidates aiming to run for mayor.

Per the New Orleans Times-Picayune, a judge has refused to require the establishment of out-of-state polling places for Orleans Parish evacuees for the April 22 elections.  The two civil rights groups who filed the lawsuit calling for the satellite polling places say they're considering an appeal.

"The guilty plea on Friday by Mitchell Wade, a defense contractor who paid more than $1 million in bribes to former Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.), has raised new questions about Wade’s relationship with Reps. Virgil Goode (R-Va.) and Katherine Harris (R-Fla.) and the tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions he steered to" both, says Roll Call, which reports that some of those donations were made illegally.  "Since Cunningham pleaded guilty to accepting more than $2.4 million in bribes from Wade and others on Nov. 28, Goode and Harris have" donated Wade and related contributions to charity.  The story reminds us that "Cunningham, who faces up to 10 years in federal prison, is scheduled to be sentenced on Friday."

The paper also previews that sentencing in another story which notes that Cunningham's legal team filed a stack of testimonies to "the former lawmaker’s character and to his ill health," including from one expert who says Cunningham "'has numerous medical and psychiatric problems which currently impair his physical and psychological function.'"

The Houston Chronicle take stock of the millions the US government spends “every year shuttling members of Congress around the world on official trips…  The calculated costs for meals and lodging for these codels, or congressional delegation journeys, topped $5 million in 2005.  Similar figures have not been compiled for the Senate.  But the largest price tag is one that will never be known: the cost of transporting the lawmakers on planes owned by the U.S. military.  The trip disclosures that lawmakers must file omit the cost of military transport.”

The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz covers Washingtonian national editor Kim Eisler's insistence that Jack Abramoff, a source of Eisler's for years, is "a decent man who has been unfairly demonized."

It's the economy
A new survey shows economists expecting that the "economy will grow this quarter at the quickest pace in more than two years, propelled by stronger consumer spending that may fade in the second half...  The projected pace of economic growth in the first quarter would be the fastest since a 7.2 percent rate in the third quarter of 2003...  The biggest risks to economic expansion are high energy prices, rising interest rates and declining home prices, economists said in the survey." - Bloomberg

More on the Bush/GOP agenda
The AP covers the governors' plan to push Bush and Congress to do something to curb illegal immigration.  "In states as far from the southern border as Utah, Missouri, Tennessee and Vermont..., immigrants have been costing them money and spurring legislation.  All agreed the solution's key was in Washington, and they hoped to provide a push as Congress weighed several competing bills...  Two years ago, Bush laid out guidelines for a temporary worker program, but the 2004 elections made the administration and some in Congress reluctant to address it."

The weekend Wall Street Journal used the governors' conference as a peg to look at how "state leaders increasingly are bypassing the gridlocked national capital and setting the agenda on key issues" at a time of "public discontent with Washington."

The Washington Times looks at GOP Sen. John McCain's apparent flip-flop in favor of extending the Bush tax cuts on dividends and capital gains.

The New York Times writes about the AFL-CIO meeting in San Diego this week.  Although Big Labor is on the defensive -- since wages are failing to keep up with inflation, since so many companies are resisting union organizing drives, and since several unions left the AFL -- labor leaders say they’re moving forward.  “They boast that they played an instrumental role in getting several states to raise their minimum wage and in blocking President Bush's plans to revamp Social Security.”  And they say the “damage from last summer's schism has not been as bad as feared.”

The midterms
The Washington Times covers GOP assertions, now apparently backed up by an executive at Gallup, that the generic congressional ballot test, on which Democrats have showed a wide lead lately, is skewed in their favor.

To catch Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) on Meet the Press Sunday, check out the videos and transcript on the MTP page.  The Los Angeles Times notes that "Schwarzenegger's allies blocked conservatives in the state GOP on Sunday from passing a broad condemnation of his 2006 agenda" at their convention in Sacramento, "but the party declined to fully embrace his fiscal policy and called on him to put more Republican judges on the bench."

Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle put it this way: “California Republicans leave their state convention today united in their support of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger but divided over his agenda.”

The New York Daily News covers Tom Suozzi's official announcement over the weekend that he will challenge Eliot Spitzer for the Democratic nomination for governor of New York.  Suozzi traded barbs with Spitzer: "'If Eliot and his friends want to make this campaign about contributors, I have no problem pointing out all the Albany lobbyists, trial lawyers, special interest groups and Wall Street executives who he did not investigate, who have contributed to his campaign,' Suozzi said.

The Texas primaries are one week from tomorrow.  The marquee primary is probably the battle between Rep. Henry Cuellar (D) and former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D) -- but watch to see how well Tom DeLay does in his primary against three Republican challengers.  There are rumblings out of Texas that DeLay might not crack 50% in the primary, in which case he'd be forced into a runoff on April 11.  DeLay would likely win that runoff, but it wouldn't help his standing in Washington.

The Chicago Tribune reports on the Texas redistricting case, which the Supreme Court will hear on Wednesday.  “Overall, the two sides present not just colliding legal arguments but entirely different pictures of recent history.  Democrats describe a naked, illegal power grab by [Tom] DeLay and the Republicans, and Republicans say Democrats for too long blocked Texans from getting true representation.”

And the Dallas Morning News reports that both candidates in the Democratic primary for governor of Texas are facing a losing battle with dwindling campaign chests and uninterested voters.  "Some worry, though, that a bad performance at the top of the ticket means more than just being shut out of statewide office.  It also could mean low turnout that could prevent the party from winning competitive House seats and other local races and capitalizing on voter anger over school finance."


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