“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.

Thursday, April 6, 2006 | 4:55 p.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner

  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

Logjams broken?
Earlier this morning, Congress seemed to be heading into recess without achieving resolution on many of the items currently on their plate.  But two logjams have at least loosened up since this morning: Senators appear to be en route toward achieving a compromise bill on immigration reform, as we noted earlier.  And Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D) of Georgia apologized on the House floor for her role in the incident last week in which a Capitol Police officer, not recognizing her as a member of Congress (she has a new hairstyle and wasn't wearing her congressional pin), tried to stop her from going around a magnetometer and she allegedly struck him with her cell phone.  McKinney then accused the officer of racial profiling and of touching her inappropriately.  A federal grand jury convened today to consider the officer's allegations against McKinney.  It's unclear whether her expression of regret this afternoon will alleviate the situation, in which the result of the grand jury could be a warrant for her arrest.

GOP Convention update
The Republican National Committee today announced its decision to hold the 2008 Republican National Convention Monday, September 1st through Thursday, September 4th.

The DNC has already announced that its convention will take place the week before, which is the last week of August.

Republicans are breaking tradition by holding their convention after Labor Day.  The convention will start with some sort of opening program on Labor Day itself, and then business will be done on the following three days.

Both parties expect to select their host cities by late 2006 or early 2007.

Thursday, April 6, 2006 | 11:45 a.m. ET
From Chip Reid and Elizabeth Wilner

An Immigration breakthrough?
On the brink of a two-week recess, with otherwise little to show for the last few weeks they've been in session, a bipartisan group of Senators -- including the lead sponsors and point people for the various bills being considered by the chamber -- just announced that they have reached a tentative deal on immigration reform.  Per Sen. John McCain (R), President Bush will express his support for the tentative agreement at 12:30 pm today.  The Senate is scheduled to leave for recess tomorrow.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist called the fledgling deal a "huge breakthrough" toward achieving a compromise bill.  The tentative plan is essentially what's been described in the papers -- dividing the 11-12 million illegal immigrants already in the United States into three categories, with those here more than five years being put on a path to US citizenship.  Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid says it's too early to declare victory, that there are still some procedural hurdles, and that he believes some amendments by Republicans still could be deal-killers.

But clearly there's optimism that a deal is within reach -- though it might not be a sure thing until late tonight or tomorrow.

Thursday, April 6, 2006 | 9:15 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Huma Zaidi and Holly Phillips

First glance
Congress is about to depart for yet another recess -- this time a two-week break in observance of Passover, Good Friday, and Easter. As we've said here before, this stop-start schedule can't be helping Republicans build momentum for their party's legislative goals. President Bush has spent much of this week urging (Republicans in) Congress to get moving on extending his tax cuts, energy legislation, health care, and immigration reform.

With yet another "district work period" approaching, Republicans are touting what specific accomplishments they can against a backdrop of party leaders continuing to emphasize how the GOP is the "party of ideas." The House leadership issued a slew of statements last night praising the passage of what they're loosely calling lobbying reform legislation. The bill would simultaneously curb contributions to the 527 groups Democrats rely on to level the financial playing field with typically better-funded Republicans, and wipe out the limits on how much parties can coordinate with candidates -- again, a likely boost to the typically better-funded GOP. This first stab at reform legislation comes three months after the indictment of Jack Abramoff thrust the issue into the spotlight.

And after House Democrats spent the last two recesses criticizing their Republican colleagues for problems with the Medicare prescription-drug law, House Republicans finally figured out that they should hold a rally heading into this recess to emphasize how premiums have been lower than expected under the new law, which they'll do today at 2:00 pm. Yet they're still struggling to pass the tax cuts Bush nudged them on in his radio address last weekend, and to pass a budget. His ability to get a budget through has been set up as the first big test for new Majority Leader John Boehner.

House Democrats hold a press conference at 12 noon to criticize the GOP budget effort. For their part, they once again plan to focus on the Medicare prescription-drug drug plan during the break, as well as on their "Real Security" agenda. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has her weekly press conference today at 10:45 am.

At the same time, Democrats are contending with a little unscheduled recess action: A federal grand jury will hear testimony today in the allegations surrounding Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D), who has been accused by a Capitol Police officer of striking him with her cell phone; McKinney has accused the officer of racial profiling and of touching her inappropriately after she attempted to walk around a magnetometer. The officer says he did not recognize McKinney, who has a new hairstyle and was not wearing her congressional pin. NBC's Mike Viqueira says that whether or not McKinney herself will testify today is TBD, but at least one witness to the incident, a staffer for a Democratic member from California, will be called.

On the Senate side, a GOP leadership aide e-mails First Read that the conference is planning a three-part focus for the break: 1) "War on Terror/border security, meaning success of Iraq elections, handover of control to Iraqis as they step up their role in the fight." On the immigration debate: the "GOP leadership is tackling a tough issue the Dems avoided for eight years under the previous Administration" (a line the aide said is "soon to come out in more partisan moments"). 2) "Health care: the success of the Medicare prescription-drug enrollment" and HSA's. And 3) "jobs/economy: good jobs numbers this month, positive job gains over the past 30 months, strong housing, strong minority homeownership, really low unemployment."

Uncertain to make their pre-recess accomplishments list: immigration reform. Today, Senate Democrats are forcing what will amount to an up-or-down vote on whether or not to allow temporary guest workers and illegal immigrants to pursue a path to citizenship while remaining in the United States. This is the bipartisan bill that was voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee a couple of week ago, a/k/a McCain-Kennedy. Most Democrats and several Republicans support it, but on Tuesday, Minority Leader Harry Reid announced he would block any amendments that would fundamentally alter the bill, which angered Republicans -- even those who support McCain-Kennedy, who now say they won't help Democrats get to the necessary 60 votes, NBC's Ken Strickland reports. The Senate will take another whack at it tomorrow, when a vote is scheduled on a compromise proposal introduced last night by Majority Leader Bill Frist.

After focusing on domestics issues for much of the week, President Bush returns to the war on terror today, traveling to Charlotte, NC for 10:45 am remarks, then he gets back to the White House in time to do a photo op with the 2005 and 2006 NCAA champions at 2:40 pm. After writing in a New York Times op-ed yesterday that Bush should give the Iraqis until May 15 to put together a unified government or withdraw US troops, Sen. John Kerry (D) plans to follow up with a floor speech today.

And the Republican National Committee is expected to announce its 2008 presidential nominating convention dates today. Democrats are holding their convention during the last week of August in 2008 -- but that doesn't preclude Republicans from going even later, despite the "conventional" wisdom that you can't hold one after Labor Day. The deadline for cities to submit their bids is May 22, with the host city scheduled to be selected by February 1, 2007.

Security politics
The Charlotte Observer previews Bush's stop there today, pointing out that his support in a state he won just 18 months ago is waning. "The main reason: an unpopular war, part of a foreign policy that he's expected to defend in a mid-morning speech at Central Piedmont Community College's Halton Theater."

One day after he joined Bush for a stop in his Connecticut district, the Washington Post looks at moderate GOP Rep. Chris Shays and the high hurdle he faces in getting re-elected because of his support for the Iraq war. "For nearly 20 years, Shays has distinguished himself as a reliably moderate House Republican... Not so with Iraq, the 'sentinel issue of our time,' as Shays describes it. He has strayed deep into loyalist GOP territory, and that could cost him his job... Republican and Democratic political operatives agree that, come November, [Shays'] contest is the one most likely to turn on voter perceptions of Iraq."

On Hardball yesterday, DNC chair Howard Dean said the committee's new website focused on informing the public about the Democratic veteran-candidates running in the midterm elections is a sign that the country's veterans believe in Democrats -- especially since, Dean argued, there is only one veteran running as a Republican this year.

The Washington Post, on Kerry's New York Times op-ed yesterday, notes that in "calling for strict deadlines for drawing down forces, Kerry joins several other Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. John P. Murtha (Pa.) and Sen. Russell Feingold (Wis.), in challenging Bush's contention that timetables will only strengthen the opposition and lead to possible defeat for the U.S. mission. Kerry found minimal support from Democratic colleagues for his latest proposal."

Knight Ridder says Kerry's proposal makes him "the most prominent Democrat pushing for early full withdrawal."

The immigration debate
The Los Angeles Times has details on the Frist compromise proposal, which "would require as many as 3 million illegal immigrants to leave the country in order to apply for legal status and eventual citizenship."

The paper also looks at how "President Bush has adopted a strategy of calculated ambiguity" on the citizenship issue "that some worry may increase the risk of a legislative stalemate... Those sympathetic to the White House approach say it is executing a sophisticated legislative strategy by allowing the Senate maximum flexibility to reach its own compromise... Others, on both sides of the issue, worry that Bush's reticence increases the danger that no bill will emerge from the complex legislative maneuvering in the Senate." – Los Angeles Times

The Administration announced yesterday that they're targeting the immigration debate from another angle. "Officials from the departments of Homeland Security, Justice, Labor, State and other agencies said they are setting up new task forces in 10 cities, including Dallas, to target manufacturers of fake driver's licenses, birth certificates, passports, green cards, work visas and other documents. The task forces also will go after those who lie to obtain documents that would help them obtain U.S. citizenship, political asylum or work visas." – Houston Chronicle

The nation's only Hispanic governor, also a border-state governor, chimed in on the immigration debate yesterday and had some critical words for the Mexican government. In a conference call with reporters yesterday, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D) called the immigration system "broken" and said the House bill, which doesn't allow for a guest-worker program, is a "disaster." Richardson, who is one of the handful of potential Democratic presidential hopefuls and who lived in Mexico as a young child, said he thinks the government there needs to step up and do more to curb illegal immigration and stop human trafficking and drug-smuggling across the border.

The Washington Post takes its turn previewing the pro-immigration protests scheduled for Monday.

More on the Bush agenda
"House Republican leaders said yesterday that it is unfair for outgoing Rep. Tom DeLay to say they don't have a vision or an agenda," says the Washington Times. "House Republican Conference aides yesterday provided a letter that leaders are sending party members this week outlining this year's agenda: keeping America prosperous, ensuring affordable and accessible health care, spending taxpayer dollars wisely and strengthening national security and border security."

The New York Times explains Bush's choice of Connecticut for his event to promote HSA's yesterday: "though it is unclear whether Mr. Bush will persuade Congress to approve the main elements of his proposal, the event... allowed him to address a pressing domestic issue in a state with notoriously high insurance costs."

The Hill says of the House GOP budget effort, "The political uncertainty created by the coming midterm elections, coupled with a new leadership team and a strong belief among members that the House and Senate will not reach an eventual compromise, make this year’s vote tougher than most." The story notes that new Majority Leader John Boehner "has vowed to pass a budget this year. If the vote is postponed, it will be viewed as a major political setback for" him.

"For the first time in weeks, lawmakers appear to be making progress on a bid to extend President Bush's lower 15% tax rates on capital gains and dividends," reports the Wall Street Journal. "Congressional Republicans want to give final approval to the legislation this week so that Mr. Bush can sign the bill into law by this year's mid-April tax-filing deadline... But it is unlikely that the bill will be able to clear both the House and Senate by week's end."

Reminding us of how Bush likes to talk up his support for small businesses, Bloomberg reports that his budget proposes cuts to small business funding as part of his effort to reduce the deficit. "His proposals hit at a constituency that is his natural ally on many of his other initiatives, such as cutting health-care costs and pruning government regulations -- and is the source of 70 percent of new jobs created in the U.S."

A House without DeLay
Appearing yesterday on MSNBC's Hardball, DNC chair Howard Dean sought to counter speculation that Democrats have lost their mojo on their "culture of corruption" campaign with Rep. Tom DeLay's resignation from office. "We don't need Tom DeLay as a poster boy for corruption," Dean told Chris Matthews before reeling off a list of Republicans, including Karl Rove and Lewis "Scooter" Libby, with whom they can try to get their point across.

House Democrats are crying foul over the GOP accusation that they can continue to serve in their caucus leadership if they have been indicted. "For more than 20 years," a House Democratic leadership aide says, "House Democrats have had a rule that chairmen and ranking members who were indicted must step down from their post. When the leaders realized that rule did not apply to them, they requested the caucus change the rules at the beginning of the 109th Congress."

"Several" conservative leaders "called [DeLay's] departure both a setback and a warning for their movement," says the New York Times -- though they also "balked at Mr. DeLay's assertion" in his Time magazine interview that "'the conservative movement is leaderless' and that he aimed to become 'a strong leader to pull the movement together.'"

The Dallas Morning News also looks at whether Christian conservatives will embrace him once he leaves office. "Some Christian conservatives say they see citizen DeLay as an effective advocate for their hot-button agenda... But others say they would be more comfortable once the former House majority leader... resolves his legal problems."

As soon as he retires, DeLay is eligible for a $67,000-a-year pension. – Houston Chronicle

Nick Lampson, already the Democratic nominee for DeLay's seat in November, says he'll run in the special election if it's held in May. However, since DeLay doesn't plan on retiring until June, it would mean a special election would be held later in the year, reports the Houston Chronicle, which also points out that Lampson is calling for DeLay to step down right away.

A "grand jury investigation into the matter does not mean McKinney will be charged with any crime, but it could potentially lead to charges and the issuance of an arrest warrant. The Georgia Democrat continues to mount a press offensive questioning whether she was a victim of racial profiling at the hands of the Capitol Police."

Outgoing Rep. Tom DeLay (R) is the latest GOP member to try to capitalize on the McKinney incident, issuing an open letter of support to the Capitol Police (USCP) last night: "For Rep. McKinney to blame the USCP for her reckless violence is an embarrassment. Beyond that, her imputation of racist motives to the officer in question is an act of extreme irresponsibility, disrespect, and ingratitude - a shameful culmination of Rep. McKinney's ugly history of racial and ethnic slander."

Democratic Rep. Barney Frank tells Roll Call that he occasionally doesn't wear his congressional lapel pin, and as a result, occasionally gets stopped by the USCP, and then shows them his ID and moves on.

The midterms
Reverting back to his days at the pen-and-pad-reliant GOP House campaign committee, Steve Schmidt, campaign manager for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) of CALIFORNIA, holds the campaign's first pen-and-pad for state press (no dialing in for national reporters) at 1:30 pm ET.

The Los Angeles Times reports that "Controller and gubernatorial candidate Steve Westly steered California's giant pension system to invest in a fledgling venture capital fund whose politically connected partners helped him raise campaign cash." His campaign says they'll return some contributions.

Covering the first Democratic primary debate, the paper also reports that Westly rival Phil Angelides changed his policy toward Westly and took the gloves off last night. A recent poll showed Westly faring a bit better against Schwarzenegger than Angelides, the state treasurer, did. – Los Angeles Times

And vulnerable Sen. Conrad Burns (R) has asked his party's Senate campaign committee chair, Elizabeth Dole, to come campaign with him in MONTANA next week. The reason Burns faces a tough road to re-election, "Republicans must grudgingly admit, is largely because of a successful effort by national Democrats to put Burns’ ties to Abramoff front and center in voters’ minds."

Speaking to the US Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Washington yesterday, The New York Daily News reports Sen. Hillary Clinton called the House immigration bill unacceptable. “Clinton, echoing her earlier claim that the House bill would make a criminal of ‘Jesus himself,’ said she could be in trouble for helping constituents. ‘I realize I would be a criminal, too,’ she said. ‘My staff would be a criminal.’” The paper also reports Clinton also swiped a line her husband used in his first inaugural address.

The New York Post reports that a high-ranking Pentagon official has been looking at information about Clinton’s investments and debts. “U.S. Joint Forces Command Deputy Legislative Director Cordell Francis dug through Clinton's records a week after news broke last month that Bill had advised Dubai leaders on how to navigate U.S. political concerns over its ports deal, Senate records show... Exactly what Francis was searching for, and who told him to do it, remains a mystery.”

The Hill looks at how "House Republican leaders have struck a deal with Sen. John McCain... to eliminate restrictions on coordination between national parties and federal candidates, a change in the law that would be of great benefit to the winner of the 2008 GOP presidential primary... Republican and Democratic campaign-finance experts alike believe the change would be a boon to McCain’s campaign" if he wins the GOP nomination.

Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani testifies today in the second phase of Zacarias Moussaoui trial. - New York Daily News

The Boston Globe examines the political implications of GOP Gov. Mitt Romney's universal health care plan (which was praised even by Hillary Clinton yesterday) for his possible presidential run. "Some observers expect Romney to be able to showcase the healthcare plan as an example of why governors make better presidential contenders than senators."

The AP says that Romney "now has a signature achievement on an issue that is a growing concern for U.S. voters. It also adds weight to the argument that his experience as a Republican in a Democratic state would help Romney break the partisan gridlock of Washington."


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