“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.

• Tuesday, May 16, 2006 | 4:15 p.m. ET
From Mike Viqueira and Mark Murray

  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

Cheney, Limbaugh & GOP’s mixed reaction
Reaction so far today among Republicans in the House to the president's speech on immigration is generally positive towards the border enforcement initiative, but noncommittal at best on the citizenship question.

Conservatives are angry. Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) took the floor today and said the National Guard proposal "must not be coupled with a thinly veiled attempt to grant amnesty," which is what conservatives consider the guest worker program to be. A GOP aide says the Guard initiative is like "the shiny piece of metal on the spinner lure," and adds that the president has "no credibility" on this issue with conservatives. Asked at his weekly presser for his views on the speech, Majority Leader Boehner praised the Guard proposal as a "good first step" toward border enforcement, but expressed concerns about the guest worker plan.

Recall that back in October 81 House conservatives wrote the president and insisted that any guest worker program come after passage of a border enforcement bill. In the wake of the massive street protests that have occurred in the interim, positions have only hardened on that score.

So the only way that a bill with "a path to citizenship" passes the House is without conservative support and with the help of (gasp!) Democrats, something that GOP leadership is loath to do: Speaker Hastert has said in the past that as a matter of policy, the only way any bill passes the House is with "a majority of the majority."

But there is precedent for rolling the conservative base and passing a bill with the help of the hated Democrats. Think back to No Child Left Behind (sponsored by none other the current majority leader, John Boehner), which had 34 mostly conservatives Repubs voting "no". A similar strategy was employed for the Medicare Rx bill, though Democrats remained unexpectedly unified on that vote. But all that was back when the president was flying much higher in the polls and could effectively twist arms among Republicans.

As for Democrats, with an election 6 months away they are going to be reluctant to give Bush and Republicans any kind of a victory. But remember, 36 Democrats voted for the House immigration bill - the enforcement-only measure that sent protesters into the streets.

The question remains, however, why Republicans would insist on pushing through a measure that so alienates the base in an election year. For one reason or another - perhaps the elusive goal of expanding the GOP constituency to include a significant number of hispanics - the president and about half the Republicans in Congress want this bill.

In an obvious attempt to placate angry conservatives, Vice President Cheney called into Rush Limbaugh's radio program today and defended Bush's plan. Immigration, Cheney said, "is a very complicated problem. We're talking just about one piece of it, just the border security part of it. But you've also got to address ... some of the basic economic incentives that attract people in the first place, all those folks who want to come here for the jobs that they can find working in the United States for a lot more than they can make in Mexico or someplace in Central America."

• Tuesday, May 16, 2006 | 1:45 p.m. ET
From Mark Murray

Bush immigration plan & the GOP
As we've mentioned many times in the past, President Bush's support for a comprehensive immigration bill that creates a guest-worker plan and enables illegal immigrants to earn citizenship deeply divides the Republican Party. So how will Bush’s demand Monday night for a guest-worker plan and a path to citizenship -- in addition to sending 6,000 National Guard soldiers to police the border -- affect GOP candidates this fall?  Rep. Tom Reynolds (R), chairman of the House Republican campaign committee, told reporters Tuesday that he's unsure. "I think we've got to see how the country reacts," he said, adding that if these candidates follow Bush's plan is up to them -- hardly a ringing endorsement of Bush's speech last night.

Also in his remarks Tuesday, Reynolds predicted that Republicans would retain control of the House after the November midterm elections. And he maintained, as he has in the past, that the current national political environment -- in which Bush's approval rating is in the 30s -- won't play that big of a role in the midterms. "I firmly believe that all politics is local," he said.

• Tuesday, May 16, 2006 | 9:20 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray and Huma Zaidi

First glance
Although he's scheduled to spend much of his day with the Howards of Australia, including a joint press availability with the Prime Minister later this morning, President Bush and the White House continue trying to push Congress toward broad immigration reform. The President sits down with Senators at 2:40 pm, and homeland security chief Michael Chertoff and assorted officials hold an on-camera briefing for reporters at 10:00 am.

The debate in the Senate will start in earnest today now that Bush has given his speech and voting on various amendments is set to begin. The already passed House bill and the expected Senate version may prove to be irreconcilably different, with the Senate bill expected to lay out a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants currently in the country illegally, a provision which the House bill does not contain and which many supporters of the House bill strongly oppose. As we wrote yesterday, Bush's proposal to deploy 6,000 National Guard troops along the US-Mexico border for one year is a bone for the party base but doesn't directly address critics' objections to the guest-worker plan as amnesty. In his speech last night, Bush said for the first time that guest workers should have to return home, but that's not where the Senate bill appears to be heading.

Conference negotiations, likely to take place in June assuming the Senate approves a bill, will be thorny at best. It may simply be too late for this politically weakened president who has so often scored victories by courting his base to try to carve out a middle ground, particularly on such a contentious issue.

All the attention being paid to the split within the GOP obscures divisions among Democrats on the issue. Key components of the party's coalition, like some African-Americans and the AFL-CIO, have jobs-based concerns about a guest-worker plan. And back in December, 36 Democrats voted for the narrower bill passed by the House. On the Senate side, Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad of North Dakota, along with Bill Nelson of Florida and Robert Byrd of West Virginia, voted against allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain citizenship. Dorgan has called on US employers to pay better wages to give current citizens more motivation to take jobs; Conrad said the country's first priority is to secure its borders; and Byrd called the guest-worker program a "dangerous proposal."

Recognizing that he was "so off-message" on a day when his colleagues were focused on immigration, Karl Rove gave a speech yesterday that was intended to highlight the positive and growing aspects of the US economy -- but also spotlit the GOP's shift in focus away from the war in Iraq and onto domestic issues as the midterm elections loom larger on the horizon. Addressing a conservative think-tank in Washington yesterday, Rove asserted that the President's regimen of tax cuts, free trade and budgetary discipline are keeping the economy strong and that Americans' unhappiness with the way things are going in the country right now is because of the war. "We're in a sour time," he said in response to a question about the GOP's shaky standing in the polls. Other references to the war went hardly any further: "There is a disconnect" between how the economy is doing and people feel about the country. "And I think it's because the war looms on all political actors."

His comments were in notable contrast to his last big, much-covered address, a January speech to the Republican National Committee in January, in which he insisted that Republicans would win the midterm elections on national security and fighting terrorism. These two speeches clearly weren't meant as a pair, but Rove's reaction to questions about the polls emphasizes that Republicans have concluded the war is not a winning issue for them. The White House does seem confident, though, that a revival of the debate over the National Security Agency's domestic programs will work in their favor. That debate will heat up again as CIA director nominee Michael Hayden's confirmations hearings approach on Thursday.

The Bushes welcome Australian Prime Minister Howard and his wife to the White House at 9:05 am. The two leaders meet in the Oval Office at 10:00 am, with a joint press avail following at 11:45 am. Bush ducks out for a photo op with the 2005 WNBA champion Sacramento Monarchs at 1:25 pm and the aforementioned meeting with Senators at 2:40 pm, then hosts an official dinner for the Howards in the evening.

New White House press secretary Tony Snow holds his first televised briefing at 12:30 pm.

Tonight in New Orleans, MSNBC and NBC New Orleans affiliate WDSU co-host a nationally televised mayoral debate at 9:00 pm ET. MSNBC's Chris Matthews and WDSU's Norman Robinson co-moderate the face-off between Mayor Ray Nagin and challenger Mitch Landrieu, the state's lieutenant governor. A new poll on the mayoral race also is expected to be released today.

And it's primary day today in Kentucky, Oregon, and Pennsylvania. See below for details.

The immigration debate
Yuma, AZ will be the site of Bush's planned US-Mexico border visit on Thursday.

The Wall Street Journal on his speech last night: "Unlike abortion and other issues that neatly divide along partisan lines, the immigration fight mainly pits Republican against Republican... White House aides said the speech was designed to reassure both sides of the debate. In an attempt to defuse the criticism of the guest-worker provision, for instance, Mr. Bush for the first time stressed that the temporary workers would have to return home after their jobs in the U.S. came to an end."

"Most Republicans offered measured endorsements of the president's speech, and praised him for seeking to strengthen border enforcement. But they were generally silent on the more controversial areas of Bush's proposal." - Boston Globe

The Washington office of economic research firm ISI reminds us of how Bush's history of winning over Hispanics as governor of Texas helped boost him to the GOP presidential nomination in 2000 after many in the party believed it had incurred damage from Gov. Pete Wilson's re-election campaign in 1996. "Meanwhile, down in Texas in 1998, Bush was accruing nearly half the Hispanic vote. Bush was widely seen in GOP circles as having the cross-racial appeal needed to be successful in the 2000 election and won early support from California Republicans."

The Washington Post says that Bush, who "once saw the immigration issue as an opportunity to expand the Republican Party by attracting more Hispanic voters with a message of tolerance and inclusion," basically admitted with his speech last night that "the issue has now become a problem that, if not managed carefully, could quickly become a historic liability for his party."

The Los Angeles Times also looks at how Bush and GOP leaders are now having to assuage their conservative base before reaching out to Latino voters. The story also points out that Bush's speech "was only one example Monday of the White House's recognition that it must court conservatives with just six months to go before voters decide who will control Congress. Just hours before Bush spoke, Karl Rove... made a rare public appearance to assure listeners at a conservative think tank that the administration was remaining true to their ideology" on spending.

Knight Ridder says Bush "is gambling that beefing up security at the border now will make it easier for conservative Republicans in the House -- who champion strict border controls and harsh punishment for violators -- to accept broader legislation later this year."

Govs. Bill Richardson (D) of New Mexico and Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) of California have issues with the National Guard proposal. Also, "several Congressional Republicans, former administration officials and Border Patrol agents warned that the Guard plan, by itself, seemed to amount to little more than a short-term fix to one of the nation's most intractable problems. And some questioned whether the Bush administration was truly committed to longer-term solutions.” - New York Times

The analysis from the Chicago Tribune notes that “[h]aving the National Guard serve on the border is a move almost certain to engender anger among Guard families, many of them taxed by lengthy and dangerous stints in Iraq... And it comes just as another hurricane season is to begin, which could strain the Guard even further.”

Roll Call says Bush's proposal could yield more support and publicity for pending "legislation that would elevate the Guard’s stature within the Pentagon and give it more budgetary power when it comes to homeland missions."

Security politics
Iraq may be off the front burner in Washington these days, but it's coming up in commencement speeches around the country, including in GOP Sen. John McCain's speech at Liberty University last Saturday (and in future McCain addresses, apparently) and with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's forthcoming appearance at Boston College. "About 20 percent of Boston College's faculty signed a letter opposing the Catholic school's plan to award... Rice an honorary degree when she addresses this year's graduates, saying it is morally wrong to praise a leader whose efforts promote an 'unjust war.'" - Washington Times

BellSouth said yesterday that it did not share its call records with the National Security Agency, “denying a report last week that it was among three major telephone companies to have done so,” writes the New York Times.

The Hill reports that Senate Judiciary Committee chair Arlen Specter, who has been frustrated by what he views as the Administration's refusal to provide him with more information on the NSA domestic wiretapping program, has struck a deal with conservative Republicans on his panel, "agreeing to drop the requirement that the Bush administration seek a legal judgment on the program from a special court set up by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978."

More on the Bush/GOP agenda
USA Today reports on the 11th-hour rush by seniors to sign up for the Medicare prescription-drug program, spurred on by the prospect of facing penalties for enrolling after the deadline -- maybe.

"Despite a stony silence from the White House, Congress is warming up to the idea of waiving the penalty for seniors who missed Monday's sign-up deadline for the Medicare drug benefit - and doing so in time for the fall elections," says the Los Angeles Times. "Even so, waiving the penalties for this year is unlikely to quell all critics of the drug benefit."

Disaster politics
Click here at 9:00 pm ET tonight to watch MSNBC/WDSU New Orleans mayoral debate on the web.

The New York Times reports that New Orleans’ displaced residents “appear set to play a significant role in Saturday's runoff vote - and one that could provide a boost for Mayor C. Ray Nagin. Election officials say that if current trends continue all week, the share of the vote by evacuees in the runoff will be larger than in last month's primary. Those votes could provide the critical margin in what is expected to be a close race between Mr. Nagin and his challenger, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu.”

The New Orleans Times-Picayune does a light-hearted Q+A with Nagin and Landrieu by asking them questions like when was the last time they cried, if they're on any prescription medications, and if there were another hurricane and they were in a lifeboat with room for one additional person and came upon Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie stranded on a rooftop, who would they rescue. "Landrieu: They both get left... Nagin: I give them the boat and get on the roof and wait for the helicopter."

Flooding in Massachusetts has turned the national spotlight onto presidential contender and Gov. Mitt Romney (R), and if he handles himself well, the exposure could do him good, says the Boston Herald. "Political pundits said images of Romney on network and cable news outlets and newspapers across the nation will stand in stark contrast to the high-profile blunders of other political figures... But the high profile can be perilous if Romney fails to deliver." Boston Herald

Indeed, problems may be arising already: "The Senate Post Audit and Oversight Committee is expected to issue a report today accusing the Romney administration of neglecting the state's dams by not inspecting and maintaining them." - Boston Globe

Ethics
Democratic Rep. Bill Jefferson of New Orleans says he isn't going anywhere in the face of bribery allegations, even if he gets indicted, and that the federal investigators examining his dealings on behalf of a broadband telecom business venture are "ignoring the facts." "I have come to declare, among other things, my continued intention to serve," he said at a news conference yesterday which he staged on the heels of a Washington Post editorial saying he should resign.

If it ever happens, the resignation of the eight-term House Democrat would likely exacerbate concerns among New Orleans residents about losing their political representation. Louisiana already was seen as getting short-shrifted in Washington compared to Mississippi because the former has Democratic lawmakers where the latter has Republicans (i.e., governor, senior Senator, House member representing the most afflicted region). Mayor Ray Nagin is already locked in a tight contest for re-election, with the election scheduled for May 20. Republicans already have one candidate challenging Jefferson -- Joe Lavigne, an attorney. Others may get in the race; the filing deadline is August 11.

Bloomberg offers its take on how the scandals afflicting Democratic members like Jefferson and Alan Mollohan undercut the party's efforts to cast Republicans' ethical issues as a broader "culture of corruption."

NBC's Joel Seidman reports that former White House procurement officer David Safavian will have his last pre-trial hearing today as he prepares for trial next week on charges of lying to investigators and obstructing justice in the Abramoff investigation. The charges center on an Abramoff-sponsored golfing junket to Scotland in August 2002; trip attendees included GOP Rep. Bob Ney and former Christian Coalition organizer Ralph Reed. If convicted, Safavian faces up to 25 years in prison and $1.25 million in fines.

And in the CIA leak case, Lewis "Scooter" Libby's attorneys and those representing several news organizations will face off in court this afternoon over demands for notes, e-mails and other documents the news organizations may have pertaining to the case, Seidman says. Libby's attorneys have argued in court filings that reporters have "no right -- under the Constitution or the common law -- to deprive Libby of evidence that will help establish his innocence at trial." Lawyers for NBC News, the New York Times and Time want US District Judge Reggie Walton to limit Libby's subpoenas. The media groups say the subpoenas are so broad that they threaten the integrity of their news gathering operations by targeting all of their employees, not just the reporters involved in the case.

It's the economy
Representatives of the Big Three automakers won't meet with Bush at the White House until June 2, though they "still plan to meet with congressional leaders on Thursday, where they will lobby for support for ethanol and other biofuels... Support is growing on Capitol Hill for investment in these fuels as an alternative to dependence on foreign oil. Four meetings are planned Thursday, with Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate." - Wall Street Journal

The midterms
A handful of races deserve mention as Kentucky, Oregon, and Pennsylvania hold their primaries today. Perhaps most noteworthy is the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania between Bob Casey Jr., Charles Pennachio, and Alan Sandals. Casey is expected to win easily, but by how much? Will some pro-choice Democrats shun the pro-life Casey and vote instead for Pennachio and Sandals? Recent polls show Casey leading vulnerable incumbent Sen. Rick Santorum (R) from six to 13 points, but this primary will be a key measure in gauging Casey's strength this fall. Democrats also have one of their Iraq war veteran candidates running in the primary in the state's 8th district. Polls open at 7:00 am ET and close at 8:00 pm ET.

Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski (D) also faces a test of strength from two challengers in his primary. A recent poll by the Oregonian found him at just 43% in this field, with Jim Hill at 30% and Pete Sorenson at 8%. Can Kulongoski break 50%? (There is no runoff.) And if he doesn't, what will that say about his re-election chances in November? But perhaps the best contest here today is the GOP gubernatorial primary. The leading candidates are former state party chair Kevin Mannix and attorney Ron Saxton, who some believe is the GOP's best chance to beat Kulongoski in the fall. The state hasn't elected a Republican governor in 24 years. Oregon conducts its voting by mail and all ballots must be received by 11:00 pm ET.

Kentucky, where Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R) was indicted last week for allegedly rewarding state jobs to political supporters, also holds primaries today, but the only notable contest is the Democratic primary in the 3rd district, where another Iraq war veteran is running. Polls open at 6:00 am ET and close at 6:00 pm ET in the eastern part of the state, and open at 7:00 pm ET and close at 7:00 pm ET in the western part.

GOP House campaign committee chair Tom Reynolds holds a pen-and-pad briefing for reporters on the midterm elections at 10:00 am.

The Hill covers GOP hopes that the prospect of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will motivate their voters to turn out.

Exploring renewable energy sources will be a hot political topic for Democratic candidates seeking to take over for Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D), notes the Des Moines Register.

Maryland Senate candidate Kweisi Mfume, who's giving his rival a real race for the Democratic nomination but is far from keeping up in the money contest, tells the Washington Times "that Democrats risk losing the senatorial election because 'old-line party bosses' are undermining his campaign and alienating black voters." He "would not say whether he would endorse Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, the front-runner for the Democratic Senate nomination, if he should lose" to Cardin in the primary.

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