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• Monday, May 8, 2006 | 5:30 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

Feingold on Hayden
Addressing the National Press Club earlier today, Sen. Russ Feingold (D), a possible presidential candidate who received attention and controversy after he called for Bush's censure over the Administration's NSA domestic spying program, commented on the nomination of Gen. Michael Hayden -- who used to oversee the NSA -- to now head the CIA. Feingold said Hayden's nomination makes the intelligence community "too political for the good of America."  Still, while he said he has some "serious concerns" about the nomination, he noted that he would be fair in the confirmation process. Feingold also indicated that he would ask Hayden if he believes that the president is "above the law," just as he did during the confirmation process of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. And in response to a question about his attempt to censure Bush over the NSA program, Feingold said what he is really looking for is for Bush to apologize.

"The greatest passion is for us to stand up on the critical post 9/11 issues from Iraq to the USA Patriot Act to the president violating the law by authorizing illegal domestic wiretapping," Feingold said during his speech. "The president likes to say in response to this sort of concern that some of us have a pre-9/11 perspective. Many Democrats and others around this country wants us to point out that the White House actually has a pre-1776 perspective and that we ought to have the guts to point that out." 

• Monday, May 8, 2006 | 9:25 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Holly Phillips

First glance
With the registration deadline for his Medicare prescription-drug benefit now one week away, President Bush heads to Florida later today for a series of speeches tomorrow and Wednesday to highlight the latest enrollment figures and drum up support for the benefit.  His first stop is a fundraiser for endangered GOP Rep. Clay Shaw at a private home in Fort Lauderdale tonight at 5:50 pm.

Before Bush takes off for Florida, two highly anticipated events will take place.  New White House spokesperson Tony Snow officially starts work today, holding his first off-camera briefing for the press corps (presidential travel today through Thursday means Snow is unlikely to brief on-camera until Friday).  And at 9:30 am today, Bush named Gen. Michael Hayden as his pick to replace Porter Goss at the helm of the CIA.  National Security Advisor Steve Hadley, in a rare turn on TV, emphatically confirmed on TODAY this morning that Hayden "IS" the pick.  NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports that other changes at the CIA will follow.

In naming Hayden, Bush will ignite another nomination battle that the White House hopes will give the party an edge over Democrats in the midterm elections.  The Senate's consideration of two controversial judicial nominations between now and Memorial Day will, they hope, help reinvigorate their base; one of those nominees has a confirmation hearing this week.

It's not the base that the White House has in mind with the Hayden pick, though, so much as a return to the national security theme which worked well for them in the 2002 and 2004 elections and which Karl Rove asserted would be a dominant theme in 2006.  Hayden was the architect of the controversial NSA domestic wiretapping program, and even just the prospect of his nomination revived that debate over the weekend.

The White House and its political strategists remain convinced that when the debate is framed in simplified terms as a choice between personal safety and personal liberties, a majority of the public will come down in favor of safety.  Polling conducted during the thick of the controversy in late 2005 and early 2006 suggested as much.  Yet Bush's standing in the polls is lower now than it was back in December, and the every-man-for-himself dynamic that is setting in among GOP lawmakers in advance of the midterm elections may make this a different battle than it was just months ago.  After the failed Harriet Miers Supreme Court nomination, it's hard to imagine how this politically weakened President could withstand another forced withdrawal of another high-profile nominee.

Democrats argue that the GOP-framed choice between personal liberties and personal safety is false, but have had difficulties articulating that argument forcefully enough to beat back Republican allegations that they're weak on national security.  The GOP also took note that many Senate Democrats studiously avoided commenting on their liberal colleague Russ Feingold's proposal to censure the President for authorizing the NSA program.  That proposal got a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee but never came up for a vote.

Yet the simplistic way in which the GOP frames the debate overlooks the fact that the program has detractors in its own ranks.  After the program's existence was revealed last December, some prominent conservative organizations and activists came out against it.  And Judiciary Committee chair Arlen Specter continues to publicly take issue with the Administration's refusal to give Congress more information about it.  The NSA program was already expected to come up in Specter's committee on Tuesday, during a new confirmation hearing for appellate court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, whose nomination stalled after his last hearing in April 2004.  Committee Democrats, and probably Specter himself, have new questions for Kavanaugh, who has been serving as White House staff secretary and, in that role, has handled all paperwork coming out of the Oval Office -- including on the NSA program.

Other prominent Republicans are objecting to Hayden's nomination for other reasons.  House Intelligence Committee chair Peter Hoekstra and committee member Saxby Chambliss yesterday suggested it would be inappropriate for a military officer to run the civilian CIA; Hoekstra offered his already much publicized "wrong man/wrong place/wrong time" line.  NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports that the Administration is planning to move the deputy CIA director, Vice Admiral Albert Calland III, out of his job to try to quiet critics who say the Hayden nomination looks like a military takeover of the CIA.

Security politics
The Boston Globe says "Hayden stands at the center of two major political battles involving the nation's intelligence community: Pentagon control of spy operations and Bush's domestic spying program."  Lawmakers say that the "nomination would intensify both disputes."

Rounding up GOP and Democratic criticism of the expected Hayden nomination, Bloomberg reports that one "senior administration official said the lawmakers' comments, while troubling, wouldn't derail Hayden's nomination and that Bush still plans to go ahead with it.  The choice will be seen in the larger context of the war against terror, an area in which Bush has been traditionally strong with voters, the official said."

Per the Baltimore Sun, “‘Maybe after 36 hours of what I think is a pretty hostile response from the Congress, maybe they'll have another appointment,’ Hoekstra said.”

USA Today: "Hayden would not be the first military officer to head the CIA.  Walter Bedell Smith had been an Army officer and Stansfield Turner an admiral before heading the CIA in decades past.  Even so, the notion of a general moving to the CIA is sensitive at a time when the agency has been engaged in a turf battle with the Pentagon about civilian vs. military intelligence and increasing military involvement in clandestine operations."

In its profile of Hayden, the New York Times writes that he “has weathered intelligence catastrophes and controversies that might easily have ended his career: the Sept. 11 attacks, erroneous reporting on Iraqi weapons and domestic surveillance without warrants - all on his watch at the National Security Agency.  Instead, General Hayden's brainy command of facts and just-folks style of delivering them have made him not just a survivor, but the man the Bush administration turns to for solutions to its most difficult problems at the intelligence agencies.”

It's the economy...
With the Treasury Department scheduled to announce a high-stakes currency report this week, which will include a verdict on whether or not it's branding China as a currency manipulator, it once again seems like an awkward week for Treasury Secretary John Snow to announce his resignation, if he is in fact going to do so.

The Fed is expected raise interest rates again when it meets on Wednesday, Bloomberg says.

"President Bush told graduating students at Oklahoma State University Saturday that they were entering the best job market in years," the AP reports off Bush's first commencement speech of the year.  (Will he use the same message in his next scheduled commencement address at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Biloxi on Thursday?)

The new chair of Bush's Council of Economic Advisors, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, repeats his argument from his first big speech last week about wage growth and how the wealthy are not benefiting at the expense of the poor.

More on the Bush/GOP agenda
The GOP-run Congress is expected to agree soon on a deal that would extend the Bush tax cuts on dividends and capital gains for two years.  Bloomberg points out that "Republican lawmakers, facing the prospect that their power to cut taxes may soon be curbed, plan to extend breaks that mostly benefit the wealthy and Wall Street at the expense of reductions for middle-income households."  GOP leaders "won't push extensions of lower rates for all taxpayers and expanded breaks for married couples and families with children, which expire after 2010."

"Republicans are inclined to argue that the bill, notably its provision to extend beyond 2008 today's low tax rates on investment income, would particularly benefit the poor.  Nonsense, say most Democrats; the bill is tilted sharply to the rich," says the Los Angeles Times.

Continuing Democrats' effort to tie Bush's initiatives to "big" special interests (i.e., "Big Oil," "big drug companies"), two Democrat-affiliated organizations host a conference call today with Rep. Marion Berry to roll out a report on how then-Rep. Billy Tauzin (R), now head of the drug manufacturing companies' lobby in Washington, allegedly "looked out for the interests of big drug companies by inserting language" into the drug benefit bill "to prohibit Medicare from negotiating with drug companies to achieve lower prices for seniors.  At the time, Tauzin was negotiating to land a $2 million per year job as President of PhRMA."

Covering the other base, the Senate Democratic Policy Committee will hold an "oversight hearing" today on gas prices and energy trading.

Over the weekend, the Dallas Morning News examined the effects the immigration debate could have on the GOP in 2006 and 2008.  "Conservative proposals that would criminalize illegal immigrants and those who help them... threaten to isolate Republicans from a base of support that they have worked for years to court."  Some Republicans are predicting that in the short term, the party base "- demoralized by tough times for Mr. Bush, congressional ethics scandals and lack of progress on a host of issues - could be re-energized by the prospect of a border crackdown."  But a "shift in 2008 could help tip several presidential battleground states that Mr. Bush narrowly won in 2004...  If Hispanics tilt strongly to one party and increase turnout in areas where they make up a significant part of the population," Democrats could claim "New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado."

The New York Daily News: “Asked in an Oval Office interview with the German newspaper Bild to name the ‘most wonderful moment’ of his presidency, President Bush came up with a fish story.  ‘I don't know, it's hard to characterize the great moments. They've all been busy moments, by the way,’ Bush said, apparently trawling his memory for good times since 2001.  ‘I would say the best moment was when I caught a 7-1/2-pound largemouth bass on my lake,’ he said eventually.”

Disaster politics
With early voting for the mayoral runoff starting today, the New Orleans Times Picayune notes that this election is being conducted under less controversy than last month's primary.  No legal challenges have surfaced, and civil rights groups have initiated "wary cooperation with state election officials."

Mayor Ray Nagin and Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu faced off in a forum yesterday in which they discussed their proposals for a "hurricane debris disposal site" in New Orleans.  The two "respectfully shared their views on issues such as education, crime and housing before hundreds of local residents, most of them from devastated neighborhoods in Gentilly and eastern New Orleans." – Times-Picayune

Patches' wild ride
Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D) of Rhode Island is expected to get a unanimous endorsement from his state party at its convention tonight.  Weekend coverage of his traffic incident last Thursday and his subsequent announcement that he'll enter rehab at the Mayo Clinic suggests that his constituents by and large don't hold his problems against him, at least not in a way that would endanger his hold on his Democratic-leaning House seat.  Indeed, the Providence Journal Bulletin's coverage suggests that the battle for the endorsement for secretary of state actually tops the convention agenda, not Kennedy.

Ethics
The Washington Post reports that CIA leak special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, wrapping up his investigation of Karl Rove's role, is considering the central question of whether "Rove, who was deeply involved in defending President Bush's use of prewar intelligence about Iraq, [lied] about a key conversation with a reporter that was aimed at rebutting a tough White House critic?...  Fitzgerald is weighing Rove's foggy-memory defense against evidence he has acquired over nearly 2 1/2 years that shows Rove was very involved in White House efforts to beat back allegations that Bush twisted U.S. intelligence to justify the Iraq war."  The story reports that "Rove expects to learn as soon as this month if he will be indicted -- or publicly cleared of wrongdoing -- for making false statements" in the case.

Roll Call reports that "Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), his wife and two top aides took a five-day trip to Spain in June 2004 that was paid for by a group of government contractors for whom Mollohan steered tens of millions of dollars in earmarked funds...  Mollohan’s trip to Spain was arranged by the West Virginia High Technology Consortium Foundation, a nonprofit organization Mollohan created back in 1990.  Mollohan has helped steer more than $30 million in federal funds to the foundation...  In a statement, Mollohan said his trip to Spain was proper and in accordance with House ethics regulations."

The midterms
In anticipation of recapturing control of the chamber, House Democrats are planning a series of investigations into Bush Administration decisions on gong to war in Iraq and on its energy policies, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said yesterday on NBC's Meet the Press.

The New York Times front-pages that Karl Rove is using the prospect of Democrats taking over Congress (and the resulting Democratic subpoenas and investigations) as a way to rally the GOP base for the midterms.  “Mr. Rove's playbook is drawn straight from the one that worked for him in 2004: first, get conservatives fired up enough to vote…  Second, make sure the election is not just about Mr. Bush's performance, but also about the choice between a Republican Party defined on its own terms and a Democratic Party defined on Mr. Rove's.”

The Washington Times covers the GOP's growing emphasis on local issues to try to counter "a sour national mood:" "this is the first time that party officials have begun to talk openly about changing the focus of their campaign debate away from national issues... to shift attention away from tougher issues such as the war in Iraq, immigration, corruption and rising gas prices that have dominated congressional debate in Washington...  Democratic campaign advisers say the Republican strategy will ultimately fail."

The Los Angeles Times (in a five-jump story) notes that "today's wave of dissatisfaction" with the majority party "is crashing into a political structure that is much more stable than in 1994.  It now is tougher to beat House incumbents or to win Senate seats in states that usually back the other party in presidential elections."

Friday brings the candidate-filing deadline in Florida, and many political observers are waiting to see if state House Speaker Allan Bense (R) -- or anyone else -- decides to join embattled Katherine Harris (R) in the race for the GOP nomination to challenge Sen. Bill Nelson (D).

Pegged to Bush’s fundraiser today for Rep. Clay Shaw (R), the AP reports on Shaw’s tough re-election race against Ron Klein (D) -- in a district John Kerry narrowly won in 2004.

Roll Call's Stu Rothenberg makes two assertions in his latest column: 1) that it's "more likely that Republicans will fail to pick up a single Democratic Senate seat in November than that they will pick up any at all," and 2) that New Jersey represents Republicans' best chance to pick up a Democratic-held Senate seat, because "voters’ desire for change and reform could as easily be tapped by [GOP challenger Tom] Kean as by incumbent [Bob] Menendez."

In Texas, the Houston Chronicle writes that independent gubernatorial candidates Kinky Friedman and Carole Keeton Strayhorn have until Thursday to turn in the 45,540 valid signatures to get on the ballot in November.  Strayhorn “has collected more than 115,000 signatures, her lawyers said last week, though it's not known how many of those will be valid.  Friedman, a musician and author, will not say how many signatures his campaign has gathered so far.”

The Chronicle also reports that GOP leaders in Harris County interviewed potential candidates over the weekend to fill Rep. Tom DeLay’s slot on the ballot in November.  “The leaders at the meeting did not say whether any candidate had broken out of the pack on Saturday, but several expressed disappointment that Sugar Land Mayor David Wallace, who many considered a leading candidate, did not fill out the questionnaire and failed to show.”

And with a big milestone for Sen. Robert Byrd (D) of West Virginia -- the point at which he becomes the longest-serving Senator in history -- just over one month away, his GOP opponent's campaign is insisting they will not try to make Byrd's age or length of service into a campaign issue.

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