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Monday, March 6, 2006 | 9:15 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Holly Phillips

First glance
The White House today tries to turn the spotlight onto the strong US economy after the Dubai Ports World controversy occupied not only the mainstream media but also the financial press and obscured the latest round of positive economic data last week.  Bush today attends the 10:00 am swearing-in ceremony for the new chairman of his Council of Economic Advisers, Edward Lazear (former chair Ben Bernanke is now at the helm of the Fed).  Bush also has an event on his competitiveness agenda at 10:35 am.  Cabinet officials will hold economic events throughout the week, though with no single unifying theme.  On Friday, the treasury and commerce secretaries will both be in Pennsylvania holding events with endangered GOP incumbents.

  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

Bush also is expected to use the Lazear swearing-in today to repeat his call for Congress to give him line-item veto authority, a wish-list item he mentioned during his State of the Union address earlier this year.

After some events in Washington tomorrow, Bush will head to the Crawford ranch to cast his ballot in the Texas primary elections -- apparently someone forgot to request a mail-in ballot for him -- and will overnight there prior to a visit to the Gulf Coast on Wednesday.  The Administration's recent requests for emergency funding for Hurricane Katrina relief will be the focus for both House and Senate appropriators this week, including two separate Senate hearings.  On Tuesday morning, the governors of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas will testify before the Senate panel, and on Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and HUD Secretary Alfonso Jackson weigh in while Bush is visiting the region.

Senate Democrats today will kick off a new effort to highlight alleged shortcomings in Bush's budget that could affect national security, NBC's Ken Strickland advises.  Today at 2:00 pm, Minority Leader Harry Reid, Budget Committee ranking member Kent Conrad, and Homeland Security ranking member Joe Lieberman will call for a budget "that protects Americans from terrorism with real investments to make America secure," per the release.  House Democrats plan a similar focus this week on "Republicans having the wrong priorities on homeland security," per a House Democratic leadership aide.

And a Thursday Senate Appropriations hearing on the Administration's other big supplemental request, more funding for the war against terror, will likely become a referendum of sorts on the war in Iraq, Strickland says.  Scheduled to testify are secretaries Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld, Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace, and CENTCOM General John Abizaid.  Strickland notes that the appropriations panel doesn't include among its ranks some of the more recognizable names in the Iraq debate, but Minority Leader Harry Reid is a panel member and will likely attend.  House Appropriations also will consider the war supplemental this week.

The threat of a Senate probe of the controversial NSA domestic wiretapping program looms again as the Intelligence Committee prepares to hold a closed meeting tomorrow in which, Strickland says, committee Democrats will again attempt to bring the matter up for a vote after being thwarted last month by a White House commitment to work toward a legislative fix and give the panel more oversight over the program.  A final deal has yet to be reached, and in the absence of a deal, panel Republicans Olympia Snowe and Chuck Hagel remain noncommittal.

Also on the Senate floor this week, expect action on lobbying reform, a bill that would provide more money for a program that assists low-income people with heating costs, and possibly a measure to increase the debt limit, Strickland says.  The House is expected to hand Bush a victory by reauthorizing those provisions of the Patriot Act which are set to expire on Friday, and which Bush will quickly sign into law.  And the American Israel Public Affairs Committee meets in Washington this week, hearing from, among others, Sens. Evan Bayh (D) and Susan Collins (R) and Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman today, and from Vice President Cheney tomorrow.

Security politics
In advance of tomorrow's closed-door Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on the NSA wiretapping program, USA Today notes how, despite "widespread criticism" of the program, "even vociferous detractors in Congress stop short of calling for an end to the anti-terrorist eavesdropping."

In the wake of the Dubai Ports World controversy, "Senate Homeland Security Committee Chair Susan Collins (R-ME) and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA)... said they will introduce legislation "to revamp the review process to ensure bad actors aren't allowed to take control over major US operations." – AP

In his Sunday column, Bob Novak wrote that Republican House campaign chief Tom Reynolds, in a closed-door meeting with House GOP leaders, was “adamant” that Republicans distance themselves from Bush on the DPW deal.

The Chicago Tribune says that as the controversy over the ports deal goes on, “many of America's other key facilities”  -- from chemical plants to the nation’s airports -- “remain vulnerable to terrorists more than four years after the Sept. 11 attacks.”

"The chief executive of Dubai Ports World vowed to move ahead with the company's acquisition of terminal operations in five U.S. ports despite resistance in Congress."

Former Sen. John Edwards (D) and former Rep. Jack Kemp (R) laid out their report on democracy in Russia for the Council on Foreign Relations on NBC's Meet the Press.  The two present their findings to the CFR today in Washington at 12 noon.

Disaster politics
Twenty-four candidates have filed to run for mayor of New Orleans, including Mayor Ray Nagin, with the open primary on April 22.  The New Orleans Times-Picayune says it may be the "most crowded ballot for local offices in the city's modern history."

The Washington Post covers some candidates' plans to campaign in evacuee hubs outside the state.

Bob Novak, previewing Bush’s visit to the Gulf Coast this week, gets Louisiana Rep. Richard Baker (R) to speculate that the state’s Republican incumbents could be vulnerable in November because GOP-controlled Washington has bungled Katrina relief efforts.  “That bleak assessment turns on its head simplistic analysis after Katrina that predicted evacuation of Democratic-voting African Americans to the far corners of the nation would turn Louisiana into a deep red Republican state.  On the contrary, the performance of the last six months may return the state to Democratic blue.”

Bloomberg checks on who's applying for Go Zone bonds, created by Bush's Gulf Opportunity Zone Act, which "help businesses recover and invest in Louisiana.  The answer: ""As of March 1, only one company had applied."  The story reminds us, "The bonds offer access to credit at lower rates than regular corporate debt.  That hasn't been enough."  According to "researchers, developers and officials, the main reason investors are staying away is that there's no funding to make the levees withstand a storm more powerful than category 3."

More on the Bush agenda
House Ways and Means chair Bill Thomas is expected to announce his retirement today in front of his Bakersfield, CA office at about 12:30 pm ET.  Rep. Jim McCrery (R) is the frontrunner to claim Thomas's chairmanship, which Thomas would have to give up after this year, anyway, due to term limits.  His GOP-leaning House seat isn't in danger of falling into Democratic hands.

The Wall Street Journal blogs on Bush's expected call for line-item veto authority.

Religious activists who support the Administration's proposal to allow undocumented immigrants to stay in the country with the possibility of gaining citizenship say the GOP has a chance to win over socially conservative Hispanics with their proposal, writes the Boston Globe.  "They contend that taking an immigrant-friendly approach could help social conservatives win the culture wars for decades to come."

Ethics
In advance of Vice President Cheney's address to AIPAC tomorrow, the Washington Post notes that "the much-trumpeted effort by the Bush White House to make deep inroads on the Democrats' historic claims on Jewish voters -- and, even more important politically, the campaign contributions of Jewish donors -- has not materialized in any convincing fashion."  The story suggests that "two new obstacles are hurting GOP efforts at cultivating Jews: the corruption scandals involving former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and his onetime friend and benefactor, Jack Abramoff...  Even so, Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman said the strong loyalty of the Depression-era generation of Jewish voters to Democrats is eroding."

Roll Call points out that Rep. Bob Ney (R), embattled because of his ties to Jack Abramoff, is temporarily in a safety zone: "Under House ethics committee rules, no complaints can be filed against a Member within 60 days of any election in which that Member is a candidate, including primaries.  The Ohio primaries are May 2."  The ethics panel could still begin investigating Ney on its own, though.

USA Today profiles freshman Sen. Barack Obama (D) in his new role as point person for his party on lobbying reform.  "For Obama, 44, his new, higher-profile role brings risks as well as rewards. It has pushed into the political hot seat a lawmaker who hopes to build bridges across partisan lines...  Criticism of Obama is news because there has been so little of it."

Looks like members of Congress and staffers will be doing less spring travel than usual.

The values debate
The New York Times front-pages an analysis showing that the states that have enacted parental-consent laws in the last 10 years haven’t necessarily seen a drop in teenage abortions.  “Abortion rates have been dropping nationwide since the mid-1980's, most precipitously for teenagers.  But in three states - Arizona, Idaho and Tennessee - the percentage of pregnant minors who had abortions rose slightly after the consent laws went into effect.”

The Chicago Tribune profiles an Illinois pharmacist who was fired for violating state’s law requiring pharmacists to dispense emergency contraceptives, and he is now suing the state.

The midterms
House Majority Leader John Boehner and newly declared Hillary Clinton opponent KT McFarland do MSNBC's Hardball today at 5:00 pm.

The New York Times front-pages how the Democrats’ top congressional challengers are campaigning on a host of different issues -- Iraq, Medicare prescription drugs, and cronyism and corruption.  “These scattershot messages reflect what officials in both parties say are vulnerabilities among Republicans on Capitol Hill, as well as President Bush's weakened political condition in this election year.  But they also reflect splits within the party about what it means to be a Democrat," and "complicate" Democratic leaders' efforts "to turn this election into a national referendum on the party in power.”

The Wall Street Journal looks at how Democratic party leaders "are keeping their distance from impeachment talk" about Bush.  "They remember how the effort boomeranged on Republicans in the 1998 midterm elections, when Mr. Clinton's adversaries expected to gain House seats but lost ground instead...  Impeachment advocates are undaunted," however.

The Washington Post reports on a new survey showing changes to the makeup of presidential campaign donors, who have "become more reflective of the middle class," with "a higher percentage of women" and a greater willingness "to contribute without being directly solicited."  The survey, which was conducted for the Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internet at George Washington University in advance of its big conference this week, finds that the Internet is "perhaps the single most important development in political fundraising."

The New York Post reports that Sen. Hillary Clinton (D) has been actively fundraising across the country, but seems to be struggling in the heartland.  "Clinton has just one campaign donor each in Idaho, South Dakota and North Dakota, and two in Montana, according to a review of federal records by PoliticalMoneyLine, a fund-raising watchdog group."

Regarding Rep. Tom DeLay's GOP primary in Texas tomorrow, the Houston Chronicle bills it as "a critical juncture for DeLay, for whom the past five months has been a spiral of negative news stemming from legal troubles in Travis County and the bribery investigation of indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a former DeLay ally.”

The Dallas Morning News says that while DeLay is expected to win the primary tomorrow, if his strongest primary opponent Tom Campbell "runs a closer race than expected, it could bode ill for Mr. DeLay heading into the November election."

The White House apparently forgot to request a mail-in ballot for Bush, explaining his stop in Texas on Tuesday to vote in the primary, reports the Dallas Morning News.

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