“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, May 1, 2006 | 4:15 p.m. ET
From Huma Zaidi and 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

Health care blitz
Revisiting a theme he highlighted in his State of the Union address, President Bush spoke before the American Health Association this afternoon about the Administration's health care initiatives, as well as about the growing economy -- a subject he's highlighting at every opportunity to try to counter Americans' dissatisfaction with high gas prices.  "Things are looking good for this economy," Bush said, but warned the country can't become too "complacent" -- that it needs to devote more resources to research and development in order to maintain a competitive economy. Investments in the nation's health care system, Bush said, is one way to do that.

Bush also stressed that all seniors who can sign up for the Medicare prescription drug program should do so before the May 15 deadline. "We want every senior who needs coverage to sign up," Bush said.  He noted that the Administration will encourage pharmacies nationwide to inform seniors about the program over the next two weeks. According to the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, perhaps that's just what the public needs. When asked to give their overall opinion of the program, a whopping 55% of those surveyed said they didn't know enough about it to answer -- about the same as back in January, despite the Administration's multimillion-dollar education campaign. Of those who did answer, 27% said they had an unfavorable opinion of the program while 17% had a favorable opinion.

The administration's other health care initiatives include expanding health savings accounts, creating more transparency in the health care system, developing electronic health records, and curbing the number of medical malpractice suits. Bush criticized Congress for not addressing medical liability reform and called on them to address it this year.

Monday, May 1, 2006 | 11:20 a.m. ET
From Kelly O'Donnell and Elizabeth Wilner

An early Snow
Incoming White House press secretary Tony Snow isn't scheduled to start work until next week, but showed up this morning for outgoing spokesperson Scott McClellan's press "gaggle," the off-camera huddle McClellan does with the press corps that's quicker and dirtier than the mid-day, formal on-camera briefing.  Snow sat off to one side and observed the room.  As for the on-camera version, new White House chief of staff Josh Bolten suggested on FOX yesterday that it will be up to Snow to decide whether or not to continue to allow it to be televised in full. 

Monday, May 1, 2006 | 9:15 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Holly Phillips

First glance
A nationwide work, school, and shopping boycott in support of immigrant rights returns the issue to the fore for the country amidst debate over whether the boycott will help or hurt protestors' cause. Fifty-seven percent of those adults surveyed in the April 21-24 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll say the boycott will do more to hurt the cause; only 17% say it will do more to help it. But in Washington, where the immigration debate splits the Republican ranks, the issue has shifted to the back burner as GOP leaders try to focus on measures which unite the party and could rally their base for the midterm elections, like extending the Bush tax cuts, and struggle with other pressing issues which divide them, like earmarks.

Earmarks remain front-and-center in both chambers of Congress this week. The House is scheduled to vote on lobbying and earmark reform, a vote which was postponed from last week after the proposed curbs on targeted spending nearly sank the measure. The Senate continues to debate the emergency supplemental bill, which has been loaded up by appropriators with non-emergency spending projects. President Bush has threatened to veto any bill that reaches his desk if it exceeds his $92 billion limit, which the House already has met. The Senate is poised to pass a fatter measure which would set up difficult negotiations in conference committee.

At the center of both debates is a dispute between Republican appropriators and some rank-and-file members who see the targeted spending projects as a means to gain favor in their states and districts for the midterm elections, and the White House, Hill GOP leaders and conservatives, who believe that cutting spending will rally their base for the elections. The NBC/Journal poll shows that among a list of issues currently up for consideration on Capitol Hill, a ban on earmarks tops people's lists as the most important one for Congress to act on before it leaves town for recess: 39% chose a ban on earmarks, while 32% said immigration reform and 10% said extending the tax cuts.

The Sunday shows were loaded with Bush Administration officials warning that there's no quick fix for high gas prices. NBC's Ken Strickland advises that the GOP energy plan is meeting stiff resistance from both within and outside Congress. Business groups don't like it because the proposed $100 rebate would be partially funded from their pockets; Democrats oppose it primarily because it includes a provision for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. House Democrats say they'll make gas prices their top issue this week and plan a joint press conference with Senate Democrats for tomorrow.

Bush himself fires on both domestic and national security cylinders today. At 9:00 am, he meets with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in the Oval Office to discuss their recent visit to Baghdad. The prospect of this meeting reminds us that thus far, new chief of staff Josh Bolten's personnel makeover has focused on the White House domestic policy and communications teams, and it's unclear if he'll eventually turn his focus to the foreign policy team. As one sharp-eyed national security analyst pointed out to us recently, per the news accounts, members of the core White House national security team don't appear to have participated in meetings about staff changes thus far.

After that Oval Office meeting, both Bushes appear at the "Preserve America" Presidential Awards in the Rose Garden at 10:30 am, followed by remarks from the President on his health care initiatives, including health savings accounts, at an American Hospital Association at 1:15 pm. Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin and Blanche Lincoln hold a 3:00 pm background briefing to criticize the measures. The Secretaries of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Treasury also hold a press conference today on the Medicare and Social Security Trustees Report at the Treasury Department at 3:00 pm.

And Vice President Cheney makes remarks -- on Iraq and the war on terror, presumably -- at a World Affairs Council of Philadelphia luncheon honoring historian Bernard Lewis at 12:10 pm. Presidential candidate and Sen. Joe Biden (D) also addresses the group at 9:15 am and plans to "lay out a new strategy for how to move forward in Iraq." Biden, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is proposing that Iraq be divided into three separate regions for the Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis, with a central government in Baghdad, per his New York Times op-ed this morning.

The immigration debate
The Houston Chronicle says the goal of the boycott organizers “is to stop what they consider legislation hostile to their people, but the protesters also want to serve notice to the U.S. public and its leaders that the swelling Latino population has birthed a new political reality.”

The Chicago Tribune: “In addition to a broad legalization plan, supporters [of today’s pro-immigrant events] say they want improved labor protections for immigrant workers and a smoother system for legal immigrants to bring relatives into the U.S.”

In advance of the boycott, White House chief of staff Josh Bolten said on FOX yesterday that "he didn't know if the protests would cause opponents to stiffen their resolve against immigration law changes backed by Bush." - Bloomberg

NBC's Strickland advises that immigration is still at least one week, and one big obstacle, away from resurfacing for votes in the Senate, but that negotiations between party leaders Bill Frist and Harry Reid continue to progress. Democrats, with some supportive Republicans, are confident they have the votes to complete a bill with guest-worker provisions that include various paths to citizenship. But those who drafted the House bill are loathe to back the Senate's approach, Strickland says. As a result, Reid is refusing to move forward until Frist assures him he'll tap Senate negotiators who will put up a strong fight against the House members in crafting the final bill.

The Washington Post says Bush is increasingly confident he'll get a bill that includes a guest-worker provision over the wishes of the House Republican leadership. "But the White House may be underestimating the degree of opposition from within his party... The new GOP leadership team -- which has promised to take its marching orders from House Republicans, not from Bush -- could prove an insurmountable obstacle." The story adds, "Bush is very sensitive to the anti-immigration sentiments raging among some conservative activists and lawmakers," and told a group of senators last week that "he supports giving illegal immigrants a shot at citizenship without leaving but did not want to trumpet his position in public for fear of alienating conservatives in the House."

GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander, Frist's colleague from Tennessee, plans to offer a non-binding resolution today essentially stating that the Star Spangled Banner should be sung in English, Strickland reports. In a statement of his intentions last Friday, Alexander said the resolution would "giving senators an opportunity to remind the country why we sing our National Anthem in English." "That is why the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag, the Oath of Allegiance for new citizens, and the National Anthem -- all important symbols of our national unity -- were written in, and should be said or sung in, our common language, English."

The New York Daily News reports that Condoleezza Rice, unlike her boss, is OK with the Spanish-language version of the National Anthem, per her appearance on CBS yesterday. “'From my point of view, people expressing themselves as wanting to be Americans is a good thing.’”

It's the economy...
The Wall Street Journal reviews the evidence and suggests that "prices would have to be higher than they are today -- and would have to stay high for a long time -- to meaningfully curb gasoline consumption by the nation's massive fleet of cars and trucks, which accounts for about 10% of global oil use. At the margins, there are some signs that high gasoline prices may be starting to alter consumer behavior," but what "influences gasoline use more quickly than gasoline prices, experts say, is a change in personal income... Incomes have been rising in the U.S., as they have throughout most of the industrialized world."

Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman on Meet the Press yesterday suggested, as other Administration officials did elsewhere, that there's no quick fix for current gas prices. – Los Angeles Times

The New York Times front-pages the angry reaction the GOP’s $100-rebate plan has received so far. “Aides for several Republican senators reported a surge of calls and e-mail messages from constituents ridiculing the rebate as a paltry and transparent effort to pander to voters before the midterm elections in November."

Bloomberg looks at how high gas prices are undercutting Bush's standing not only at home but also abroad. "Record-high energy prices are weakening Bush's prospects of assembling an international coalition to counter Iran's nuclear ambitions. They are diminishing his chances of influencing energy-rich nations such as Russia and isolating troublesome ones including Venezuela and Sudan. And they are straining U.S. economic and diplomatic ties with China, whose oil needs are skyrocketing."

White House names and faces
Chief of staff Josh Bolten, making his Sunday-show debut in his new gig on FOX, "made no promises of pulling up President Bush's all-time low approval ratings, but he said he and Bush have decided they want to be more open with the media and the public," reports Knight Ridder.

That said, Bolten suggested that "the White House might stop allowing its daily news briefing to be televised in full in hopes of discouraging posturing for the cameras and toning down the confrontational atmosphere. Television cameras were permitted only for the opening minutes of the briefing until Clinton White House Press Secretary Michael McCurry allowed them to air the entire session beginning in 1995. Bolten said he would leave it up to new Press Secretary Tony Snow to decide whether to reverse that." He also "said Bush has 'full confidence' in Treasury Secretary John W. Snow without denying reports that he wants to find a replacement," and "praised Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, denying that he had clipped the adviser's wings by removing his policy duties." Washington Post

Security politics
As mentioned above, Sen. Joe Biden (D), along with Leslie Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations, pens a New York Times op-ed advocating that Iraq be divided into three different zones controlled by Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. "The idea, as in Bosnia, is to maintain a united Iraq by decentralizing it, giving each ethno-religious group... room to run its own affairs, while leaving the central government in charge of common interests." The authors also say Bush "must direct the military to design a plan for withdrawing and redeploying our troops from Iraq by 2008 (while providing for a small but effective residual force to combat terrorists and keep the neighbors honest)."

More on the Bush/GOP agenda
"President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution," reports Sunday's Boston Globe. "Among the laws Bush said he can ignore are military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, ''whistle-blower' protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research."

Bob Novak says conservative spending hawks defeated GOP appropriators in both the House and Senate twice last week. “Terrified by possible loss of their majorities in November, Republicans in Congress may have turned a corner in casting off the tyranny of the appropriators over the spending process.”

Novak also devoted his Sunday column to the potential Senate showdown over judges, writing that controversial appeals court nominee Brett Kavanaugh “is expected to be voted out of Judiciary on a straight party-line vote this coming week. Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid will come under heavy pressure to conduct a filibuster. Assuming that Republicans cannot get the 60 votes needed for cloture, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist then intends to invoke the so-called nuclear option to confirm Kavanaugh by a majority vote.”

Disaster politics
The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported yesterday that former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial will not endorse any candidate before the May 20 runoff election between current Mayor Ray Nagin and Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu. Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D), however, says she might and "implied that if she does take sides in the contest, the timing of her endorsement would be key."

The midterms
The Wall Street Journal takes its turn covering Democratic efforts to get minimum wage hikes on state ballots in hopes of boosting turnout this fall. "Six states are expected to have a minimum-wage increase on their ballots this fall, and efforts are under way in at least three more states to collect enough signatures to place it on those ballots... It's a strategy stolen straight from Republicans, who for more than two decades have used ballot initiatives to create wedge issues and whip up excitement among core voters."

State Treasurer Phil Angelides has won the California Democratic party's endorsement for the gubernatorial nomination. "But whether that victory translates into meaningful support outside the confines of the party's convention hall is a wide-open question... The Angelides campaign team sees little difference between the party hard core - those who would give up a sunny weekend to listen to hours of political speeches - and the ranks of everyday Democrats and independents who will vote in the June 6 primary." But self-funding rival Steve Westly, the state controller, is beating Angelides in the polls. Los Angeles Times

A Sacramento Bee analysis notes that the endorsement “will mean nothing if [Angelides] can't translate it to the outside world via television. In that world, Westly is soaring, thanks to spending $22.5 million of his own fortune on feel-good ads portraying himself as a 'new kind of governor' out to protect schools and the environment.”

Beyond Bob Casey in Pennsylvania, another pro-life Democrat is the party's certain nominee for a high-profile statewide office this year: former Denver DA Bill Ritter, who's running for governor of Colorado. – Washington Times

The New York Post previews potential presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani's fundraiser today for IOWA gubernatorial contender Jim Nussle (R).


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