“First Read” is an analysis of the day’s political news, from 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, May 11, 2006 | 5:45 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

No Democratic impeachment effort
According to Jennifer Crider, spokesperson for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Pelosi has told Democratic members in various meetings yesterday and today that if Democrats retake control of the House in November, there will be no attempts to impeach President Bush under her watch. 

There has been talk, including from Pelosi herself, that a Democratic majority would pursue congressional oversight of some Bush White House policies, like the energy policy.  But Crider says that Democrats under Pelosi will not pursue an impeachment effort because the "Democratic agenda is to unify the country."

Republicans have highlighted Democratic suggestions about future investigations of the White House in an effort to mobilize their base for the midterm elections. 

• Thursday, May 11, 2006 | 11:35 a.m. ET
From Mike Viqueira and Elizabeth Wilner

Boehner:  Hayden faces some explaining
House Majority Leader John Boehner, who earlier this week had endorsed Gen. Michael Hayden's nomination to become CIA director, now says Hayden will "have a lot more explaining to do" in the wake of USA Today's report that the National Security Agency has been secretly amassing the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, including under Hayden's watch as NSA chief from March 1999 to April 2005.  Boehner told reporters during his weekly press briefing that he knew nothing of this program before today, and says he is "concerned" and is "going to find out" what's going on.  "I'm not sure why it would be necessary to have that information," Boehner said.

As a member of the House and not the Senate, Boehner technically has no say on whether or not Hayden gets confirmed.  But his new objections, coming on top of Speaker Dennis Hastert's already stated opposition to Hayden's confirmation, send a signal that the House GOP leadership feels free to take exception to this latest move by their President.  The Senate Intelligence Committee has scheduled Hayden's confirmation hearings for one week from today.

• Thursday, May 11, 2006 | 9:25 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Holly Phillips

First glance
Just as the road to confirmation appeared to be growing smoother for CIA director nominee Gen. Michael Hayden, USA Today reports that the National Security Agency has been secretly amassing the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, including under Hayden's watch as NSA chief from March 1999 to April 2005.  Hayden's Senate Intelligence Committee hearing is scheduled to take place one week from today.

As early as today, the Senate is expected to pass an extension of the 15% tax cuts on dividends and capital gains for two years and a "patch" on the Alternative Minimum Tax, sparing an estimated 15 million Americans from the tax for a year.  The House passed the $69 billion measure last night.  Democrats argue that the bill benefits the wealthy and complain that they had to support it because they support the AMT fix.  Overlooking objections to the bill from members of their own ranks who are concerned that it will add to the deficit, Republicans are stepping up the rhetoric against Democrats on how a failure to extend the tax cuts would amount to a "massive tax hike that would be disastrous for small businesses, our economy, and working Americans," as Bush put it in a written statement commending the House.  Assuming the Senate passes it today or tomorrow, President Bush is expected to sign the bill before the week is out.

President Bush returns to the Gulf Coast to deliver the commencement address at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in Biloxi at 3:00 pm ET, marking the first time a sitting president has spoken at a community college graduation, per the local press.  Bush used his first commencement address in Oklahoma last weekend to tout the jobs market.  Prior to departing for Mississippi, he meets with Chinese human rights activists at the White House.

A legislative victory to boost morale within the ranks and at the base can't come soon enough.  With Bush's job approval rating at 31% in two national surveys (though it remains at 36% in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll), the Washington office of economic research firm ISI points out to clients that "a poll finding his approval in the high 20s could simply be within the margin of error."

Controversial appellate court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is scheduled to get his Senate Judiciary Committee vote today, and Bush budget director nominee Rob Portman is scheduled to have his confirmation hearing before the Senate Budget Committee today.

As the build-up to tomorrow's candidate filing deadline in Florida looms, could outgoing CIA director Porter Goss, a former longtime member of Congress from the state, be considering jumping into the GOP Senate primary against Rep. Katherine Harris?  Harris' troubled campaign has had Republicans publicly fretting about her chances who reason, not incorrectly, that incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson (D) could be vulnerable to a strong challenge because Florida is a competitive state.  But Harris' campaign has been plagued by a series of staffing and other problems, recently taking a hit when the defense contractor who pleaded guilty for bribing former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R) admitted to giving Harris an illegal campaign contribution.  State House Speaker Allan Bense deflated GOP hopes by announcing yesterday that he will not seek the nomination despite entreaties by Gov. Jeb Bush (R).

At an award ceremony on Capitol Hill yesterday, Goss was asked by NBC's Mike Viqueira about a possible Senate run.  "So what about the Senate?" Viq asked Goss.  Goss demurred, jerking his thumb toward the Senate side and saying, "It's that way."  But the Cunningham bribery scandal could undercut a Goss bid, as well, because of the emerging ties between a just-resigned CIA official and the defense contractor at the center of the case, even though those ties predate the official's arrival at the CIA.

The Cunningham case could wind up causing Republicans a heap more trouble than that, it seems.  The Los Angeles Times reports today that House Appropriations Committee chair Jerry Lewis is now entangled in the broadening federal investigation.

And, as the  Washington Post front-pages today, members of Congress from the Washington area will roll out a proposal today that would permanently give the District of Columbia a full vote in Congress by expanding the House from 435 to 437 seats, with the District claiming one seat and Utah, "the state next in line to enlarge its congressional delegation based on the 2000 Census," getting the other.  Utah's new seat would be an at-large seat -- not one representing a newly created district in the state.  The new seats would be immune to future population shifts that can result in states gaining and losing seats.

Security politics
USA Today reports that the National Security Agency "has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans."  Hayden "headed the NSA from March 1999 to April 2005.  In that post, Hayden would have overseen the agency's domestic call-tracking program.  Hayden declined to comment about the program."  The story also notes, "The NSA's domestic program, as described by sources, is far more expansive than what the White House has acknowledged...  In defending the previously disclosed program, Bush insisted that the NSA was focused exclusively on international calls" -- that "'one end of the communication must be outside the United States.'  As a result, domestic call records - those of calls that originate and terminate within U.S. borders - were believed to be private.  Sources, however, say that is not the case."

The AP reports that Hayden has said he is open to changing the law that allows the US government to eavesdrop on Americans.  "According to Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., Hayden indicated he could support a congressional debate on modifying that law.  The exchange came during a 35-minute meeting Wednesday about his nomination to be CIA director."

The Washington Times notes that two House GOP critics of Hayden yesterday "heaped praise" on their former colleague, outgoing CIA director Goss.

Bob Novak writes, “The surprise sacking and replacement of Porter Goss as CIA director obscured dissatisfaction with the official behind the change”  -- John Negroponte.  “In the view of members of Congress who oversee intelligence, Negroponte is the problem.”

With more and more Democratic presidential candidates staking out turf on what to do about Iraq (throwing into greater emphasis those who are keeping quiet, like Sen. Hillary Clinton), Sen. John Kerry gives the latest in his series of college-campus addresses on the war and dissent today at American University at 1:00 pm.  Kerry has staked out a position that the Iraqis should have a stable government established by May 22 or else the United States should withdraw its troops immediately, and that if a stable government is in place by then, the United States should aim to withdraw troops by the end of the year.

More on the Bush/GOP agenda
The Washington Post, looking at the recent drop in Bush's job approval rating, reminds us that Bush's approach to governing has been based on the theory "that the president would enjoy a floor below which his support would never fall.  It is now apparent that this floor has weakened dramatically -- and collapsed in places."  The drop is due to "a decline in support from almost every part of the conservative coalition over the past year, a trend that has accelerated with alarming implications for Bush's governing strategy."  The roots of this disaffection lie in what some conservatives see "as out-of-control spending by Washington," "an abandonment of core conservative principles," and "failure to tighten immigration laws, restrict same-sex marriage, and put an end to the Iraq war and the rash of political scandals."

The Orlando Sentinel has Bush remarking that the war in Iraq and rising gas prices “have created ‘battle fatigue’ among many Americans…  ‘There's a sense of disquiet because of the war in Iraq,’ said Bush, in an hourlong interview with the Orlando Sentinel and six other Florida newspapers.”

"In the midst of a last-minute push to get seniors to sign up for the new Medicare drug program, the Bush administration on Wednesday said 1 million more people have enrolled since figures were last released at the end of April.  Medicare officials say they hope to get about 90% of the approximately 43 million eligible seniors covered by the midnight Monday enrollment deadline." - USA Today

The Los Angeles Times looks at the debate between the Administration and critics of the drug benefit over the enrollment stats.

On the tax cuts, Bloomberg notes, "Democrats said they were being forced to support tax cuts for wealthy investors in order to prevent millions of families from being subject to the alternative minimum tax."

The AP says Democrats argued the tax cuts were “the second half of a GOP budget package that began with $39 billion in deficit cuts over five years, many of which came from programs for the poor such as Medicaid.”

The Wall Street Journal points out that oil companies come off fairly well in the bill.  A proposal that "would have stripped $700 million in tax incentives for large oil companies to explore for oil and gas... was dropped from the compromise bill."

Identity theft?  Internet predators and suburban youth gangs?  Open space?  With Bush and House Republicans focusing on small-bore, non-ideological issues, we're reminded of what Bush said during his 2000 acceptance speech at the GOP convention: "Our current president [Clinton] embodied the potential of a generation.  So many talents.  So much charm.  Such great skill.  But, in the end, to what end?  So much promise, to no great purpose..."  More: "We will write, not footnotes, but chapters in the American story."

Just in time for the campaign season, a previously unknown caucus of GOP House members emerged yesterday and called for action on issues important to "purple state" voters in the nation's suburban areas, NBC's Mike Viqueira says.  Rep. Mark Kirk (R) of the Chicago suburbs led a press conference packed with a Who's Who of electorally endangered Republicans from the "Suburban Caucus."  They unveiled a list of bills that seek to address problems like suburban youth gangs, Internet predators, open space and farmland preservation, and college financing.

The list read, Viq says, like the front page of the local gazette that's delivered free to your doorstep every week.  As he notes, many of the items would not be thought of as the province of the federal government, but House GOP leaders have promised floor action on the agenda nonetheless.  "We need to update the lens with which we look at the United States," says Kirk. "We are adding a third lens."

Later this morning, Senate Democrats plan to repeat their call from last week that Republicans bring the House-passed stem cell research legislation up for consideration during "health week."  It being Thursday, health week is just about over and the Senate is about to leave for the weekend.

The New York Times reports that there are more than 2,000 federal public-corruption investigations under way, highlighted by the Abramoff and Cunningham cases.  “The results suggest that wrongdoing by public officials at all levels of government is deeply rooted and widespread.  Several of the highest profile cases in which the F.B.I. played an active role involve Republicans.”

The congressional bribery scandal centering on the now jailed Cunningham is looking increasingly toxic.  The Los Angeles Times reports that the US attorney's office there has issued subpoenas "in an investigation into the relationship between" House Appropriations Committee chair Jerry Lewis and former member of Congress turned lobbyist Bill Lowery.  "It is not clear where the investigation is headed or what evidence the government has.  But the probe suggests that investigators are looking past Cunningham to other legislators and, perhaps, the 'earmarking' system that members of Congress use to allocate funds.  Lewis said Wednesday that he was not aware of any investigation, had not been contacted by any investigator and did not know why he would be investigated...  As chairman of the Appropriations panel, Lewis has earmarked hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts for many of Lowery's clients."  Lowery represents defense contractor Brent Wilkes, who's at the center of the Cunningham bribery case.

Also, "Kyle 'Dusty' Foggo, who resigned this week as the No. 3 official in the CIA, yesterday denied through his lawyer any improper relationship with [Wilkes]... The FBI and the CIA's inspector general have been investigating whether Foggo steered contracts to Wilkes while he served in Frankfurt, Germany, in the years before being named the agency's executive director in late 2004." - Washington Post

The New York Times reports that Cunningham isn’t cooperating with Pentagon investigators who want to talk to him "about who else was involved in efforts to influence the award of military contracts."

Embattled Republican Bob Ney made his case to his GOP House colleagues behind closed doors yesterday, two days after Ney's longtime staffer-turned-lobbyist Neil Volz pleaded guilty to supplying Ney with a "stream of things of value" in return for official acts.  After the meeting, Viq reports, House Speaker Dennis Hastert responded to a reporter's question about the session by saying it was "a heartfelt discussion" which got "a good response from our conference... and that's all I care to say about it."  Viq says Ney in fact got a standing ovation.

White House visitor logs for disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff released yesterday show only two visits to the White House, NBC's Jim Popkin notes: on March 6, 2001 and on January 20, 2004.  The logs do not indicate who Abramoff saw while there.  NBC's White House troops report that at the time Abramoff visited on March 6, 2001, President Bush was in Chicago having lunch with Mayor Daley and touring the floor of the Mercantile Exchange, and when Abramoff visited on January 20, 2004, Bush was in a closed-door meeting with Iraqi Governing Council President Adnan Pachaci and Ahmad Chalabi.  He also delivered the State of the Union address that evening.

The New York Times says that Abramoff’s 2001 visit to the White House was a meeting with Karl Rove to discuss hiring two people at the Interior Department (neither of whom got the jobs).  And his 2004 visit involved meeting with a budget office aide to discuss his desire to buy the Old Post Office building in Washington.

The Los Angeles Times also reports on the quite friendly relationship -- as e-mails between the two suggest -- between Abramoff and former Administration procurement official David Safavian, who was charged last year with lying in connection to the federal Abramoff probe.

Disaster politics
In advance of Bush's speech today, the Mississippi Press reports that "Hurricane Katrina caused more than $15 million in damage to [Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College], with roughly $8 million on the Jackson County campus alone.  The school was closed for 16 days following the storm." - Mississippi Press

MSNBC and NBC New Orleans affiliate WDSU are teaming up again to host another nationally televised mayoral debate on Tuesday at 9:00 pm ET.  MSNBC's Chris Matthews and WDSU's Norman Robinson will co-moderate the face-off between Mayor Ray Nagin and challenger Mitch Landrieu, the state's lieutenant governor.

It's the economy...
The Fed has raised interest rates by another quarter-point to 5%, the highest in five years.  The Wall Street Journal says the Fed, "in its accompanying statement, struck a careful balance between concern about inflation and a willingness to consider pausing in its two-year rate-raising campaign."

The oil market is now wired so tightly that prices jumped yesterday upon news that a Texas refinery had to shut down unexpectedly.

The midterms
First Lady Laura Bush headlines a fundraising luncheon for the Republican National Committee in Louisville, KY; the event is closed to the media and is expected to raise $325,000.

The Washington Post says the heads of the Democratic House and Senate campaign committees are at odds with Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean over where and how to spend their money this fall.

Democrats are banking on some if their women candidates this year -- such as Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar, New Mexico's Patricia Madrid, and Illinois' Tammy Duckworth -- to help the party take back the House and Senate this fall.  EMILY's List, the Democratic group that helps raise money for pro-choice women, holds a luncheon at 11:30 am in Washington today to celebrate all of the Democratic women running this cycle.  Duckworth and Sen. Barack Obama (D) will speak at the luncheon.  This event comes a day after Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman delivered remarks in Washington to 250 Republican women attending a program designed to train and prepare GOP women who are entering politics.

Roll Call's Stu Rothenberg names the open House seats Democrats must win if they're to have a real shot at retaking control of the chamber: "Minnesota’s 6th (Mark Kennedy), Wisconsin’s 8th (Mark Green), New York’s 24th (Sherwood Boehlert) and Illinois’ 6th (Henry Hyde).  In each, national Democratic strategists are portraying the likely Republican nominee as ideologically extreme."  But, Rothenberg says, they "would be wise to treat the quartet of Republican nominees in these districts as serious, politically attractive candidates, not as crackpots."

First, he struck a $37 billion bond deal to fund construction projects that has muddied Democratic efforts to portray him as a failed governor.  Now, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has cut a deal "to repay schools billions of dollars he had borrowed to balance the state budget in recent years."  And with that deal, the Los Angeles Times says, he "has undercut the main argument that California's powerful education unions have made for driving him out of office." - Los Angeles Times

The Sacramento Bee covers last night’s debate between Democratic gubernatorial rivals Phil Angelides and Steve Westly.  “Angelides repeatedly attacked... Westly as a lackey for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Westly warned Angelides would burden Californians with excessive taxes.”

And after Florida House Speaker Allan Bense declined to get into the Senate race yesterday, Gov. Jeb "Bush said he was disappointed and agreed to support [Katherine] Harris, but suggested she still may not be the nominee.  'I'm going to support the Republican nominee, if she is the nominee,' Bush said.  'Sure. If there's no one else filing, she will get the support of all God-fearing Republicans.'" - Miami Herald


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