“First Read” is an analysis of the day’s political news, by the NBC News’ political unit. Please let us know what you think.  Drop us a note at FirstRead@MSNBC.com.  To bookmark First Read, click here.

Wednesday, April 5, 2006 | 6:00 p.m. ET
From Huma Zaidi

  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

Democrats' national security battle
Republicans charge that Democrats don't care about the war on terror, and Democrats claim that Republicans don't know how to fight it.  With the midterm elections looming, Democrats are working hard to disprove the GOP-cultivated perception that they're weak on national security with a new campaign targeting members of the military, veterans and their families.  The Democratic National Committee today unveiled an outreach effort targeting this voting bloc, including a new website and a new DNC panel devoted to the program.  DNC chair Howard Dean says the new Veterans and Military Families Council will help Democrats reach out to military families who, Dean says, have been abandoned by the Bush Administration, and to work for issues that affect them like body armor shortages and health care. 

The DNC's new website seeks to educate voters about those veterans who are running for Congress as Democrats this year.  Some party strategists were criticized earlier this year when Iraq war veteran and Ohio Senate candidate Paul Hackett (D) claimed he was pushed out of the race by Democrats who wanted to avoid a bruising primary battle between Hackett and an Establishment candidate (though Hackett says Dean was always supportive of him).  Former presidential contender and Gen. Wesley Clark, who was present for today's announcement, disputed suggestions that these veteran-candidates might suffer for being seen as single-issue candidates.  "These are not single-issue candidates," Clark said, explaining that the candidates have life experiences which will serve them well in office.

Wednesday, April 5, 2006 | 2:15 p.m. ET
From Mike Viqueira, Sarah Irwin and Huma Zaidi

Capitol Hill’s partisan battles
With the partisan rhetoric and acrimony on Capitol Hill about as intense as it could possibly get, any turn of events, small or large, can become fuel for the fire.  If GOP Rep. Tom DeLay's surprise resignation was a white-hot explosion, the nearly week-old scuffle between Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D) and a Capitol Hill police officer -- in which the officer, not recognizing McKinney, tried to have her pass through a magnetometer and she allegedly hit him with a cell phone -- has been doing a slow burn.  Since the incident occurred, McKinney has accused the officer of racial profiling and of touching her inappopriately, though she told NBC's Ann Curry in an interview that she doesn't hold the entire U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) accountable for the actions of one officer.  The U.S. Attorney is now weighing a USCP request that an arrest warrant be issued for McKinney.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert and GOP Rep. Patrick Henry both rebuked McKinney's actions and spoke in defense of the Capitol Police today.   Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn, chair of the House Democratic Caucus and former chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, insisted that the American people should wait for an investigation into the altercation before deciding who was right and who was wrong.

And as the Senate continues to struggle toward a compromise bill on immigration reform, a debate which President Bush earlier said should be civil, and which has defied the usual party lines, has nevertheless turned partisan and is now the subject of sniping press releases from the two parties' national committees and Senate "war rooms."  Although Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman yesterday gave a speech touting the merits of a guest-worker provision, which is supported by both President Bush and the Democratic ranks on the Hill, Mehlman's RNC fired off a release today accusing Democrats of obstructing and playing politics on the issue.  Democrats, for their part, have been seeking to capitalize on the divisions within the GOP.

On the other hand, as the House waits to see how much the Senate's immigration-reform bill differs from the one the House passed last year, Hastert said today that he hasn't ruled out accepting the inclusion of a guest-worker program in the final legislation.  His comments were surprising given that his chamber's version, which passed back in December, did not include a guest-worker provision and is viewed as quite tough on illegal immigrants (the bill was an inspiration for the huge protests seen around the country in the past few weeks).  Hastert's comments came after Bush called the issue a "vital debate" this morning and urged Congress to come to a quick agreement on a comprehensive bill.

Wednesday, April 5, 2006 | From Elizabeth Wilner, Huma Zaidi and Holly Phillips

First glance
Let's try that health care thing again, shall we?  Amidst the ruckus over Rep. Tom DeLay's resignation, President Bush's health care event yesterday broke through only for his words of lukewarm support for Treasury Secretary John Snow, increasing speculation that Snow will soon depart the Administration.  Fortunately for Bush, he has a second health care event planned for today.  Having had breakfast earlier this morning with the GOP congressional leadership, Bush now travels to Connecticut for a panel discussion on health savings accounts (HSA's) in Bridgeport, CT at 10:55 am.  Per the White House, other participants in the discussion will include a local business owner, a bank official, and individuals who own HSA's.

Bush's trip to Connecticut will be his first since 2002.  Centrist Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman, currently under attack from liberals for supporting Bush on the war and facing a primary challenge from the left, probably has Senate business to attend to in Washington today.  Moderate GOP Reps. Rob Simmons and Nancy Johnson, both of whom face potentially tough challenges to their re-election as Democrats target Northeastern Republicans, aren't expected to be present, either.  But per the AP, equally moderate and vulnerable GOP Rep. Chris Shays, whose district Bush is visiting, will fly to and from the event on Air Force One while Gov. Jodi Rell (R) will be there in Bridgeport to greet them.  Rell is considered to have a lock on her re-election later this year.  (Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman is also in Connecticut later today for an unrelated fundraiser.)

Prior to leaving for Connecticut, NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports that Bush will offer comments urging Congress to pass a "comprehensive" -- read: guest-worker provision included -- bill on immigration reform.  The Senate continues to struggle with immigration reform, with the fate of an effort to achieve a compromise uncertain.  Meanwhile, the House continues to struggle with the budget and is scheduled to vote today on proposed limits on contributions to 527 organizations, a measure some Republicans have pushed which would likely hurt Democrats' ability to compete with the GOP in fundraising.  The vote is expected to be close.

Washington remains fixated on names and faces and the potential larger meanings behind them, with the White House press corps continuing to ask about further staff changes and the two parties and their affiliated interest groups spinning the meaning of GOP Rep. Tom DeLay's looming resignation.  Democrats and liberal interests insist that the so-called Republican "culture of corruption" will live on despite DeLay's departure from the Hill, while Republicans hope/suggest that DeLay will take much of the party's image problem with him.

But an emerging undercurrent to the DeLay news is which party can claim the mantle of being the party with an agenda.  Up until recently, this was an argument that Republicans wielded against Democrats, charging that Democrats have none.  But yesterday, Democrats were linking DeLay's resignation to the GOP's allegedly being "out of ideas."  Republicans from President Bush on down, meanwhile, were wishing DeLay the best and noting that the GOP "will continue to succeed because we're the party of ideas," as Bush himself said.  Rep. Bob Ney (R), who has been struggling against allegations of corruption for months now because of his own ties to Jack Abramoff, pounced on Democratic opponent Joe Sulzer by using the same argument, that Democrats have "no positive ideas or vision on issues," after Sulzer tried to link Ney to DeLay. 

DeLay didn't help matters by telling reporters yesterday that the GOP doesn't have "an agreed agenda," and the Wall Street Journal editorial page today urges Republicans to "use the few productive weeks it has left to establish a 2006 record and 2007 agenda that are worthy of re-election."

And as NBC's New Orleans affiliate WDSU announced earlier this morning, MSNBC will provide the first live telecast of a New Orleans mayoral debate on Monday, April 17 at 9:00 pm ET.  MSNBC's Chris Matthews and WDSU anchor Norman Robinson will co-moderate the one-hour debate, which will take place five days before the mayoral primary on April 22.  Seven candidates will participate: business lawyer Virginia Boulet (D); Rob Couhig (R), also a lawyer and managing partner of Couhig Investments; Ron Forman (D), president and CEO of Audubon Nature Institute; current Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu (D); current Mayor Ray Nagin (D); Reverend Tom Watson (D), pastor of the Watson Memorial Teaching Ministries; and Peggy Wilson (R), former president of the New Orleans City Council.  The debate, which will take place at WDSU's studio, will air live on MSNBC and will be streamed live on MSNBC.com and WDSU.com.

Numerous forums and debates have been held in this unprecedented "mayoral gone national" election, including in cities other than New Orleans, as the candidates try to appeal to displaced residents who are eligible to vote in the election.  The WDSU/MSNBC debate, however, will be the first which evacuees around the country will be able to watch live.  NBC is undertaking this effort to provide evacuees with a chance to evaluate their mayoral candidates in the same spirit with which we're continuing our Making Your Vote Count series, an ongoing look at ballot access issues and election reform efforts around the country.  Information about the mayoral candidates and about how displaced residents can vote in the mayoral election will be posted on MSNBC.com.

A House without DeLay
"For Democrats, the Nov. 7 elections, even without DeLay on the ballot, will still be a national referendum on DeLay," says MSNBC.com’s Tom Curry , which also posts DeLay's Hardball interview from Tuesday.

Leaders from a coalition of liberal groups held a press conference call Tuesday to try to hammer home the point that the alleged GOP "culture of corruption" in Washington has not died with DeLay.  Roger Hickey, co-director for Campaign for America's Future, took credit for "blowing the whistle" on DeLay and called his resignation a watershed moment.  Chellie Pingree, president of Common Cause, said DeLay probably "saw the writing on the wall" (read: an impending indictment).  Tom Mattzie, Washington director of MoveOn.org Political Action, argued that is just the beginning of the "tidal wave."

The Democratic Senate campaign committee (DSCC), meanwhile, tried to dub GOP Sen. Conrad Burns "the new Tom DeLay."  Burns, who barely won re-election in 2000 despite his red state, faces a tougher road to re-election this year because of his ties to Abramoff.  A DSCC release charges that Burns "now lays sole claim to being the face of Republican corruption in Washington."

The campaign manager for the Democratic nominee in DeLay's district, Nick Lampson, tells Roll Call that Lampson "has been about far more than running against DeLay."

And Travis County DA Ronnie Earle insisted that DeLay's resignation will have no impact on Earle's pursuit of his case against DeLay.  DeLay's indictment for money-laundering marked the beginning of the series of legal and ethical troubles that dragged DeLay down, yesterday issued a statement: "This changes nothing.  His criminal cases will proceed just as they would for any other defendant."  DeLay, his lawyers, and his supporters have decried Earle's case as weak and politically motivated.

Some report that DeLay's resignation won't end the GOP's problems:
Los Angeles Times
Boston Globe

The Wall Street Journal says "DeLay's decision to leave Congress is a wake-up call to his colleagues that anti-Washington sentiment is running high, which may dictate quick action on ethics legislation...  In 1994, powerful Democrats didn't respond to signs that their party had lost touch, and as a consequence lost control of the House that year to Republicans.  It is unclear whether House Republicans are moving aggressively to head off similar political currents in an election year."

But USA Today notes that the House Ethics Committee, "inactive for more than a year because of partisan disputes, has declined to launch investigations of [DeLay] and other lawmakers accused of ethical lapses...  Besides DeLay, the panel deadlocked last week over whether to launch investigations of Reps. Bob Ney, R-Ohio, and William Jefferson, D-La." 

Pegged to DeLay's resignation, the paper also weighs the odds of a Democratic tidal wave sweeping Republicans out of the majority in one chamber of Congress in November. – USA Today

DeLay told reporters yesterday that "House Republicans have no vision or agenda and have let the Democrats choose the GOP leadership."  He alleged that the party's "stupid" rule "that any Republican indicted for a crime give up his leadership post... is why the Democrats, who have no such rule, persuaded Ronnie Earle to seek a grand jury indictment of Mr. DeLay and keep seeking it until he got one." – Washington Times

The Hill, noting that DeLay's replacement as majority leader, John Boehner, met with Andy Card's replacement Josh Bolten on Monday, says DeLay's departure "comes at a pivotal time for Republicans, as both the conference and the White House grapple with significant changes and new personalities brought in to help boost their flagging poll numbers and reshape their respective images." 

And the Washington Post reports that DeLay "had considered resigning on several occasions over the past four months.  But he waited until after he had vanquished his challengers in the Republican primary to deny them the chance to become his successor," because "he considered his three Republican challengers gadflies and traitors."  A former top aide also tells the Post that DeLay waited to resign so he could raise more money, which could be put toward his legal fees. 

According to the Houston Chronicle, the four precinct chairs in DeLay's district will choose representatives to form a committee to select a candidate to run against Democratic nominee Nick Lampson.  In the meantime, some "GOP leaders also want to put off a special election to fill DeLay's unexpired term until the November general election, so the party-backed candidate can marshal resources for a single-day contest with Lampson...  After DeLay vacates his office, Gov. Rick Perry will have 20 days to set the special election.  If DeLay steps down in June, as he has said, Perry can either call the election to coincide with the general election on Nov. 7, or he can call an emergency special election sooner."

If Perry calls for simultaneous elections, the Dallas Morning News says "Republicans reduce the risk of a possible surprise winner in the special election becoming a front-runner, and with the district 60-40 Republican, a party nominee with no ethics baggage would be expected to win."

The Houston Chronicle has a comprehensive list of potential candidates.

Security politics
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to testify before a Senate committee that the proposed US-India nuclear deal is a good thing -- during which time panel members are likely to quiz her on her weekend talks in Iraq.  Also today, House Republicans who want US troops out of Iraq will hold a presser to call for 17 hours of floor debate on the war.  The effort is being promoted by the same PR firm that works with MoveOn.org and other anti-war organizations and causes.  In conjunction with the proposed debate, a coalition of anti-war groups including MoveOn will announce that they're launching a "national campaign" which will include a call-in effort today and some targeted radio and print ads.

Measures calling for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq passed in 24 of the 32 Wisconsin communities who held votes yesterday. – USA Today

As Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold's proposed censure resolution hangs in limbo, a new radio ad from GOP Sen. Conrad Burns' re-election campaign seeks to tie his aspiring Democratic opponents to the "national Democrats" in Washington -- or force them to stand at odds with their party.  The ad states that "many national Democrats want to censure, or impeach, President Bush," and that the Democratic candidates in his race have yet to say where they stand on the issue.  Burns has voiced his disapproval of the censure effort. 

Helping the unspoken but increasingly apparent Administration effort to link Iraqis' inability to establish a government to the potential withdrawal of US troops, Sen. John Kerry (D) calls in the New York Times for Bush to give the Iraqis until May 15 "to put together an effective unity government or we will immediately withdraw our military." 

The Boston Globe's previews Sen. Ted Kennedy's upcoming book, ''America Back on Track," in which he criticizes Bush's reasons for going to war in Iraq and compares Bush's actions with those of his late brother, President John F. Kennedy, during the Cuban missile crisis.  The book is due out on April 18.

The immigration debate
The Wall Street Journal covers increasing pressure on Bush to "intercede more aggressively if he is to salvage a landmark immigration bill" that contains a guest-worker provision "and move it into negotiations with the House."

Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson will host a press conference call today to discuss the immigration bill pending before the Senate at 2:00 pm.  Sen. Ted Kennedy (D) holds a press conference with a group of evangelical leaders who support a guest-worker program in the Capitol at 10:00 am.  The Washington Post covers support among evangelical leaders for the guest-worker program.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Gov. Jeb Bush (R) e-mailed the paper saying "that the tone of the debate had been 'hurtful' to him and his Mexican-born wife, Columba."  Bush "reserved some of his sharpest criticism for conservatives in his own Republican Party, calling it 'just plain wrong' to charge illegal immigrants with a felony, as a provision passed by the Republican-led House would do.  He also opposed 'penalizing the children of illegal immigrants' by denying them U.S. citizenship, an idea backed by some conservatives but not included in the legislation." 

Addressing the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce yesterday, Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman voiced his support for a guest-worker program, as he has in the past -- but suggested that the various sides in the immigration reform debate have set up a false choice between a guest-worker program and border security.  Mehlman also asserted that immigrants throughout US history have made the country better, despite opposition to their presence, noting that 12,000 naturalized US citizens have served in Iraq.  But, he also said, border security simply "is a codeword for one thing: border security."

The crowd of union leaders listening to Sen. John McCain (R) talk yesterday about why the nation needs a guest-worker program began booing him, stopping only when he threatened to leave. – AP

The Wall Street Journal previews the scheduled Monday protests which will be an attempted repeat of the huge rally in Los Angeles two Saturdays ago: "At least 60 cities are scheduling events...  Turnout is hard to predict given that the events take place on a Monday rather than the previous Saturday protests.  But the events could be disruptive to normal business operations in places where Hispanics are a major part of the work force."

More on the Bush agenda
The Hartford Courant previews Bush's visit to Connecticut today, as Democrats prepare to pounce on not only his health care policies but on endangered GOP Rep. Chris Shays. 

While Bush touts HSA's in Connecticut, lawmakers in neighboring Massachusetts approved the nation's first bill requiring all residents to have health insurance, and GOP presidential candidate and Gov, Mitt Romney says he'll sign it.  "While at least eight other states have bills calling for universal health coverage,... Massachusetts is the first to propose requiring individuals to buy coverage.  Residents who can afford insurance and don't purchase it would face income tax penalties after July 2007." - Bloomberg

A New York Times analysis of IRS data from 2003, the most recent data available, shows that the Bush tax cuts "have significantly lowered the tax burden on the richest Americans, reducing taxes on incomes of more than $10 million by an average of about $500,000."  The story notes: "Because of the tax cuts, even the merely rich, making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, are falling behind the very wealthiest, particularly because another provision, the alternative minimum tax, now costs many of them thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars a year in lost deductions."

The New York Times says Treasury Secretary Snow is indeed thinking of leaving his job in the next few months.  "Names circulating... as possibilities for the Treasury job include Stanley O'Neal, the chairman and chief executive of Merrill Lynch, and Henry M. Paulson Jr., the chief executive of Goldman Sachs.  Some Republicans questioned whether either man would be seriously interested in the Treasury post, which in this White House has not been the powerhouse position it was when Robert E. Rubin held it under President Bill Clinton." 

Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D) told NBC's Ann Curry in an interview that she commends the Capitol Police and doesn't hold the department accountable for the actions of the one officer who, she charges, engaged in racial profiling when she tried to go around a magnetometer.  The officer alleges that when he tried to politely stop McKinney, not recognizing her as a member of Congress, she hit him with her cell phone.  NBC's Mike Viqueira reports that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had this to say yesterday about McKinney's altercation last week: "I don't think that anything justifies hitting a police officer."  Pelosi made those comments as a couple of House Republicans introduced a resolution supporting the Capitol Police for their efforts to maintain security on the Hill.

The Los Angeles Times: "In the post-Sept. 11 world, it seems, no security issue is minor.  And in the world of Washington politics, no incident is too small or too sensitive to be exploited as partisan cannon fodder...  By the end of Tuesday,... the last thing anyone involved with the case seemed to be looking for was an innocent explanation or a way to turn down the heat." 

Outgoing Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer makes it clear to Roll Call that he believes the blame lies with McKinney.


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