“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.

Monday, April 10, 2006 | 1:00 p.m. ET
From Huma Zaidi and Kelly O'Donnell

  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/Iran and CIA Leak
Speaking to a crowd of about 250 people at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Washington this morning, President Bush spoke about the war in Iraq and marked the third anniversary of the fall of Baghdad. But, the news that is garnering the most attention is what Bush said after the speech on Iran and the CIA leak investigation in a question and answer session.  Question and answer time with the president was once a rarity but now is becoming a staple at events especially at a time when questions about Iraq and Iran are dogging the Administration and while a usually united GOP is fractured over immigration reform, another topic that is dominating headlines today.

Bush was asked whether the Administration is considering military action against Iran for developing nuclear weapons.  Over the weekend, it was reported that the Bush Administration is considering using military force to destroy Iran's nuclear weapons facilities but Bush dismissed those reports as "wild speculation."  White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters earlier this morning that the Administration is committed to using diplomatic measures to deal with Iran but before adding that "No president takes options off the table."

The president was not specifically asked today about Vice President Dick Cheney’s former Chief of Staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and he leakgin of a CIA agent’s name, but he was asked about special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's assertion that there is evidence of a broad White House strategy to discredit Joe Wilson.  He told the crowd that he did authorize the declassification of a prewar intelligence report to substantiate the Administrations' reasons for going to war in Iraq, but did not say specifically when and did not say whether he authorized its disclosure to reporters prior to public release.  Bush also told the crowd that he thought it was important for people to get a better sense of the matter without jeopardizing intelligence matters. However, Bush said he couldn't comment on whether he authorized Libby to leak the information to reporters citing the ongoing investigation.

In the meantime, even though Congress is on a two-week break after failing to reach a consensus on immigration reform, hundreds of thousands of protestors are gathering today across the country to make sure the issue is not forgotten. 

Monday, April 10, 2006 | 9:25 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Huma Zaidi and Holly Phillips

First glance
Since the Senate left town for recess without passing a compromise immigration-reform bill that includes a guest-worker provision, the narrower and harsher-sounding House bill hangs out there as the GOP's contribution to resolving this highly emotional and complex debate, as Washington-based business and government strategist William Moore points out.  Hundreds of thousands of protestors of the tenets of the House bill -- i.e., a border security-focused approach to reform -- turned out yesterday and are scheduled to march today in cities around the country.

Typically, the scattering of members of Congress during a long recess provides President Bush with a prime opportunity to use the bully pulpit on any chosen topic.  But a pall hangs over GOP-run Washington, in part because of what Congress left undone on immigration and the budget last week.  Blame Democrats as they might, Senate Republicans failed to come up with a broad immigration-reform bill and House Republicans failed to come up with a budget as much because of divisions within their own conferences as because of Democratic obstructionism.

The pall is also cast by Iraq.  As Bush continues to try to persuade a skeptical public that the war is winnable, new revelations continue to dog his Administration about the case they made for going to war to begin with.  The latest: weekend reports that the information leaked to certain reporters by then-Cheney chief of staff Lewis "Scooter" Libby to help build the case had already been discredited by others in the Administration.  As questions about the case for war pile up, other weekend reports suggested the Administration is planning for a possible US military attack on Iran.  Per NBC's Andrea Mitchell, Administration officials view it as a contingency plan and continue to pursue diplomatic options.

In the wake of all this news, Bush makes remarks on the global war on terror at the School of Advanced International Studies at John Hopkins in Washington at 10:50 am.  Per the White House, he will mark yesterday's three-year anniversary of the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue.

After today, Bush devotes two days to plugging his Medicare prescription drug benefit, with events in Jefferson City, MO and Des Moines on Tuesday and in the Virginia suburbs on Wednesday.  Republicans believe they've turned a corner on problems with the implementation of the program and that participants are starting to see lower premiums.  Democrats, meanwhile, are counting down to the May 15 registration deadline, after which seniors who wish to sign up for the program will have to pay penalties.  One Democratic strategist also points out that the "donut hole," the coverage gap when no insurance for prescription drugs will be available, starts to kick in in August and September -- right when the fall campaign begins.

Washington is also filling the vacuum left by Congress' absence with chatter and speculation about 2008.  GOP Sen. John McCain is getting major-paper scrutiny of who he's cozying up to -- i.e., Bush advisors and Jerry Falwell -- as he prepares to run.  Sen. John Kerry (D) said yesterday on Meet the Press that one of his biggest mistakes in 2004 was accepting public financing, which limited his ability to control his own message.  Sen. Hillary Clinton (D) gives a big speech to the Economic Club of Chicago tomorrow night.

Early voting in the New Orleans mayoral race begins at satellite polling places around Louisiana today and ends on Saturday (polls are closed on Good Friday).  The mayoral debate moderated by MSNBC's Chris Matthews and WDSU's Norman Robinson takes place one week from tonight and will be broadcast nationally on MSNBC; the primary takes place on Saturday, April 22.

And Vice President Cheney is hitting the fundraising circuit, first in Waco, TX at an event for House candidate Van Taylor, who's challenging Rep. Chet Edwards (D).  Taylor is the only Republican among the handful of Iraq war veterans running for Congress this year.  The event is at 1:40 pm ET.  Cheney then travels to Springfield, MO for a fundraising dinner for endangered GOP Sen. Jim Talent at 7:00 pm ET.  Tomorrow, he throws out the first pitch at the Washington Nationals' home opener.

The immigration debate
Coverage of immigration-rights protests around the country yesterday and today:
Atlanta
Charlotte, NC
Dallas #1 and Dallas #2
Des Moines
Hartford and New Haven, CT
Miami
St. Paul, MN
Salem, OR
Washington, DC

As protestors gather to demonstrate, activists are using the opportunity to register many Latinos to vote, says the Dallas Morning News.  But the Houston Chronicle says some experts don't expect the numbers to translate into an uptick in Latino voters.  "They predict the new activism is more likely to instill a political identity into a generation of Latinos who will become regular voters in five to 10 years."

The latest AP/Ipsos poll shows that "Americans are now about as likely to mention immigration as the economy when they are asked to name the most important problem facing the United States, though both rank behind war in Iraq and elsewhere."

House Majority Leader John Boehner spoke up in support of the House bill yesterday, and the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee "warned the Senate that they must not be intimidated by rallies in 60 cities this week against immigration reform legislation pending in Congress." – Washington Times

The latest prominent Republican to pen a Wall Street Journal op-ed deriding suggestions that the current debate presents a "false choice" and espousing a need to both strengthen the borders and show "compassion for the immigrant:" Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R).  "To pursue a policy of compassion, Congress must attack the problem, not people."

Roll Call reports on how each Senate caucus plans to blame the other for the breakdown on the compromise bill throughout recess.

Sen. Ted Kennedy (D) will address the crowd of protestors gathering on the National Mall today at 4:30 pm.  According to his office, he will criticize the House GOP bill.

The Chicago Tribune looks at how state governments are tackling the immigration issue in light of Congress' inability to pass immigration reform.  "Almost 400 immigration-related bills have been introduced in 42 states since January... according to the National Conference of State Legislatures."

The Los Angeles Times focuses on the tough spot in which GOP Rep. Mary Bono finds herself: "few places capture the changing face of California and the friction of clashing cultures as much as Bono's 45th Congressional District...  The region is one of the fastest-growing in the country, attracting many in the first wave of retiring baby boomers and big-city refugees...  At the same time, the large, long-established Latino population is growing, and immigrants - legal and illegal - are flocking here to seek jobs in the two biggest industries, tourism and agriculture."

Per the AP, independent gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman of Texas spoke out on immigration yesterday, charging that Gov. Rick Perry (R) has neglected the borders and is afraid to do anything about it because he doesn't want to "offend" the Hispanic population.

Security politics
The New York Times has a senior administration official confirming "for the first time... that President Bush had ordered the declassification of parts of a prewar intelligence report on Iraq in an effort to rebut critics who said the administration had exaggerated the nuclear threat posed by Saddam Hussein.  But the official said that Mr. Bush did not designate Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby Jr., or anyone else, to release the information to reporters."  The Times notes that the "explanation offered Sunday left open several questions, including when Mr. Bush acted and whether he did so on the advice or at the request of Mr. Cheney."

Senate Judiciary Committee chair Arlen Specter said yesterday that Bush talk publicly about his role in the declassification and the leak. – USA Today

Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman is e-mailing supporters touting an effort by the organization Families United for Our Troops and Their Mission, which he calls "a grassroots coalition of military families and Americans proud of the men and women in uniform and who are dedicated to honoring them."  Mehlman asks supporters to sign "the group's" petition "to members of the mainstream media asking them to tell both sides of the story when it comes to the War on Terror - including the incredible progress our troops are making."  The letter is addressed to the heads of most of the TV networks, NPR, and several major papers.

On Meet the Press yesterday, John Kerry came out in favor of fellow Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold's proposed censure of President Bush.

The Waco Tribune-Herald previews Cheney's stop in Texas today to stump for congressional candidate and Iraq war veteran Van Taylor.

More on the Bush/GOP agenda
The Missouri News-Leader reports that Cheney will address "Bush's 2006 agenda" tonight at his $250-a-plate fundraiser for Sen. Jim Talent (R).

The Washington Times previews a possible GOP turnaround.  "With Mr. Bush's job-approval score sinking to 36 percent..., the focus among Republican pollsters and policy strategists has turned to the operational changes that" new White House chief of staff Josh Bolten "will be implementing in the coming weeks.  A Republican policy adviser who is close to the White House says the administration's new sales offensive to turn around its anemic polls 'will be significant,' as some Republican pollsters see emerging signs of an improving political environment in the economy and elsewhere."

Roll Call covers the problem facing House Republicans, and specifically Majority Leader John Boehner, after they broke for recess without reaching a deal on the budget.  House "Republicans will try again to cobble together a budget deal when they return from the two-week spring recess, though Boehner’s fellow leaders believe he did not help that cause Tuesday when he said: 'I will be frank with you: If we don’t do it this week, why do it?'"

The NAACP, despite long being at odds with Bush, is launching "a concerted media and grass-roots campaign to promote the new Medicare prescription drug program...  Specifically, the NAACP is teaming with the federal agency overseeing the program to execute a 'media blitz' of predominantly black media markets, airing public service announcements with prominent celebrities," including Bill Cosby and Danny Glover.  "Additionally, the NAACP is planning an 'enrollment Sunday,' when the looming deadline will be played up from church pulpits across the country."

Disaster politics
Today, the first votes will be cast in New Orleans' unprecedented mayoral election, which is taking place among an electorate that is dispersed around the country. Voters meeting certain qualifications can cast their ballot for one of the 23 mayoral candidates at select early-voting precincts set up around the state.  MSNBC.com has details on what will happen once the ballots have been cast -- or in thousands of cases, stamped, sealed and delivered.

Secretary of State Al Ater says the state is prepared in case of high turnout this week.  However, the "only available data on the whereabouts of registered voters, produced on contract for Ater's office, suggest that the majority of registered voters, both African-American and white, remain close to home and are most likely to vote in the city on election day." – New Orleans Times-Picayune

It's the economy...
Bloomberg covers rising gas prices and potential political problems they pose for Bush.

A house without DeLay
Outgoing Rep. Tom Delay named three possible successors to his legacy: Rep. Adam H. Putnam of Florida, Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana and Rep. Patrick T. McHenry of North Carolina.  "Overlooked by Mr. DeLay were more than 100 other conservative-voting House Republicans, some of whom are known beyond their home districts and even their states." – Washington Times

While some believe DeLay won't just become political history after his departure from Congress later this spring, some experts say "DeLay's ability to capitalize on his 21 years in Congress may be limited by his legal problems and his reputation as a polarizing figure," writes the Houston Chronicle.

Ethics
Voters in the San Diego area head to the polls tomorrow for a special election to replace jailed former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R).  Eighteen candidates are on the ballot -- two Democrats (led by 2004 nominee Francine Busby), 14 Republicans (including former Rep. Brian Bilbray, former state Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian, state Sen. Bill Morrow, and businessman Eric Roach), and two third-party candidates.  Assuming no one gets more than 50% of the vote, the top vote-getters from each party will advance to a June 6 runoff.

As one of us wrote a few weeks ago, Republicans are still expected to win this GOP-leaning seat, but the race provides Democrats with their first real opportunity to test drive their "culture of corruption" message against the Republicans.  Can Cunningham's past misdeeds tip the race to the Democrats, even when he's not on the ballot?  To distance themselves from Cunningham, many of the GOP candidates have proposed their own ethics-reform proposals and have run TV ads criticizing the former congressman.  They've also tried to whack Bilbray, who's of the GOP frontrunners, for his past work as a lobbyist.  Besides Cunningham and ethics, immigration has surfaced as an important issue in this race -- especially among the Republicans, who have all competed to tout their anti-illegal immigration credentials.

The midterms
Former President Clinton headlines a Democratic National Committee fundraising dinner tonight honoring outgoing DNC national Finance chair Maureen White in New York.  Clinton will be joined by former Vice President Al Gore, DNC chair Howard Dean and "leading New York Democrats," per the release.  Per the DNC, the event will be attended by 500 people and is expected to raise $1.3 million.

Sunday's Boston Globe wrote up how the Administration's recent troubles may endanger Republicans' control of the House.

Roll Call's Stuart Rothenberg says House Democrats have expanded the battlefield for 2006, adding seats they previously hadn't competed in, but that "the party is lacking strong candidates in some districts that Democrats have been talking about and targeting for years."

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