“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.

• Wednesday, June 7, 2006 | 2:45 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

Embattled Louisiana Rep. Bill Jefferson (D) has decided to accept House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's invitation/demand that he appear before a high council of House Democrats on their Steering and Policy Committee at 5:00 pm today to consider whether or not he should be hurled off his coveted/prestigious/powerful/sought-after seat on the tax-writing Ways and Means committee. Jefferson was asked yesterday to come and make his case. He has just announced that he will in fact do so.

If Jefferson does not voluntarily step down from Ways and Means, the steering committee could vote to throw him off. In that case, the entire Democratic caucus and then the entire House would have to vote him off for that to happen. But if that does happen, New Orleans -- which Jefferson represents -- would lose some congressional clout as it tries to rebuild from Hurricane Katrina.

The closed-door confab comes the day after court documents were unsealed that allege more Jeffersonian malfeasance. Jefferson is under investigation for accepting bribes -- most notably $100,000, nearly all of which was found in home his freezer. An FBI raid of Jefferson's office later sparked a protest by congressional leaders. Jefferson has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with committing a crime.

• Wednesday, June 7, 2006 | 1:35 p.m. ET
From Huma Zaidi

Yesterday's lessons learned
Now that we know who the winners and losers are from yesterday's string of primaries, political observers inside (and outside) of Washington have begun weighing in on what the results might mean for both political parties come November 7. In a briefing this morning with a handful of reporters, Bernadette Budde, senior vice president of the Business-Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC) -- an organization which traditionally supports GOP candidates, but also some Democrats -- shared her thoughts on the results and what both political parties should focus on as we head into November.

Based on yesterday's outcomes, Budde says she still believes that the following four factors are true: incumbents, despite their success in primaries so far, continue to remain vulnerable; voters are engaged but are tuning out candidates who appear too rehearsed and keep talking about the same issues; both parties need to focus on courting independent and split-ticket voters and not just their base; and there are still enough seats in play for Democrats to take over the House. If Democrats do win, Budde says it's because voters want change. But she adds that if Democrats don't solve problems, their reign may only last one term.

• Wednesday, June 7, 2006 | 9:25 a.m. ET
From Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi andAlexIsenstadt

First glance
After stumping for his immigration plan on the border yesterday, President Bush travels to America’s heartland in Nebraska to discuss the issue again. As of this writing, Bush has already visited a Catholic Charities center in Omaha, and he gives a speech on immigration at a local community college at 9:40 am ET. Per White House press secretary Tony Snow, Bush has used his past immigration events to focus on border security. But today’s event at the Catholic Charities center is intended to highlight other themes in the debate, such as immigrant assimilation (for example, learning English, US laws, and American culture).

However, the political news that will dominate Washington today centers on the results of last night’s primaries. In the ballyhooed race to fill imprisoned Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham’s congressional seat in California, Brian Bilbray (R) defeated Francine Busby (D), 49.5%-45% (with 90% of precincts reporting). This morning, Democrats are pointing out that national Republicans were forced to spend millions on this race in a GOP-leaning district, and that Busby outperformed John Kerry (who got 44% in the district in 2004) while Bilbray underperformed Bush. “In an election cycle that is shaping up to be a change vs. the status quo contest, Francine Busby has shown that a strong change message can make even former members of Congress vulnerable in deeply red Republican districts,” House Democratic campaign spokeswoman Sarah Feinberg tells First Read. Busby’s campaign says she will issue a statement to the media around 1:30 pm ET today.

But a National Republican Congressional Committee memo counters that there are no moral victories in politics (“A loss is a loss, is a loss”), that Democrats failed to capitalize on a friendly environment, and that Bilbray’s victory was a team effort (by the NRCC, the Republican National Committee, the White House, and even John McCain, who cancelled a fundraiser for Bilbray after he realized that their disagreement over immigration policy would be a distraction). In a statement, NRCC chairman Rep. Tom Reynolds (R) said, “National Democrats did not discover their shockwave in San Diego… The results in San Diego show that nothing has happened to alter the notion that House elections are about a choice between local personalities focused on local issues.”

-- in Alabama’s gubernatorial primary, Gov. Bob Riley (R) defeated Ten Commandments judge Roy Moore (R). In the general election, Riley will take on Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley (D), who defeated former Gov. Don Siegelman (who is still on trial for corruption).
-- in California, Phil Angelides (D) edged Steve Westly (D) and will take on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) in the fall.
-- in Iowa, Chet Culver (D) won the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and now faces Jim Nussle (R) in the general.
-- and in Montana, with 98% of precincts reporting, Sen. Conrad Burns won 72% of the vote in his primary and will face Jon Tester, who beat John Morrison for the Democratic nomination.

A couple of questions we have this morning: The California and Iowa gubernatorial races will be competitive in the fall, but did Democrats choose the strongest general-election candidates for them? And is Burns’ 72% a sign of strength or vulnerability as he heads into a race Democrats that see as a prime pickup target?

On the Hill today, the Senate will finally vote on the constitutional amendment that defines marriage as a union between a man and woman. The vote is expected to fall well short of the two-thirds needed for passage. While much has been made (including here) about the amendment and its use to rally conservatives this fall, we wonder if Bilbray’s victory will convince some Republicans that immigration -- and not gay marriage -- is the way to mobilize their base. Facing a difficult environment (Cunningham’s conviction, a troublesome third-party candidate, and questions about his own moderate views), Bilbray devoted much of his campaign to attacking Busby on her support for giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship; he called that amnesty. And in the last days of the campaign, Bilbray and his GOP allies seized on reports that Busby had told a largely Latino audience that “You don’t need papers to vote.”

“I think you will see other Republicans look to immigration to help them run against the national environment,” Nathan Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report tells First Read. But he adds that the success of this approach will depend on geography. “I don’t think it’s going to work in every district.”

But a GOP strategy to run against “amnesty” and for tough border enforcement also raises questions: Will that alienate the Latino voters Republicans have made progress with in the past two presidential elections? How would it impact a possible presidential bid by someone like McCain, who favors earned citizenship? And how awkward is it having a strategy that opposes what President Bush -- the head of the party -- wants to do on immigration?

The immigration debate
Yet in his immigration speech yesterday in New Mexico, Bush sought to explain that he and his critics actually agree more than they disagree. For example, he said they believe that the border should be controlled; that illegal immigrants caught trying to cross the border should be sent back; and that there should be a crackdown on employers who knowingly hire them. "See, there's common agreement - there's a consensus. We need to act on that broad consensus and deliver comprehensive reform that makes our system orderly, secure, and fair," he said.

The Washington Post: “Bush sounded an optimistic note that agreement is possible on plans to increase border security, crack down on employers hiring illegal immigrants and help immigrants assimilate into U.S. society.” But: “House conservatives remain wary of any final bill that would make undocumented immigrants legal. Despite the president's statement, ‘most Americans’ consider his plan to be amnesty, said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), a leading conservative. ‘There's just no support at home or in my heart.’”

The New York Times adds that Bush’s “tough talk failed to persuade at least one House Republican, Representative Steve Pearce, who represents Artesia, [NM]. Mr. Pearce said he was ‘not on board with the comprehensive plan,’ even after flying here with Mr. Bush on Air Force One.”

The Dallas Morning News says that Bush's thinking that manning the border with more agents will increase the number of arrests of illegal immigrants is contradictory to recent statistics which show no correlation between increased manpower and arrests.

The values debate
The Washington Times on today’s vote on the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage: "Sponsors … expect about 52 votes today on a motion to cut off debate and force a final vote. The motion would need 60 votes to pass, and the amendment itself would need two-thirds, or 67 votes, to be approved." Democrats yesterday though "tried to force a vote on gas prices to show that other issues are more pressing and that Republicans are playing politics."

The Washington Post’s Milbank covers conservatives who yesterday were rallying against gay marriage. “What the marriage amendment indisputably does, though, is delight social conservatives, whose turnout in November will be crucial if Republicans are to retain their majorities in the House and Senate. And conservative activists have burst back on the scene to show their gratitude -- even if they know it's a losing cause.”

The New York Times reports on some Republicans who aren’t all that thrilled about the GOP’s renewed focus on social issues. “They say that voters are more concerned about the economy, health care and immigration, and that replaying the marriage debate in particular could do as much damage as good as Republicans fight to retain control of Congress. ‘I don't think the problem is primarily with social conservatives,’ said Pat Toomey, … who now heads the Club for Growth, a conservative political action committee. ‘The problem I see is with economic conservatives who see out-of-control spending, huge deficits and that Republicans can't make the tax cuts permanent.’”

At yesterday’s Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, Roll Call says, House Democrats asked embattled Rep. William Jefferson (D) to appear before them today to discuss stripping him of his seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. “If he accepts, Jefferson - who is embroiled in a months-long federal investigation into wide-ranging bribery allegations - will have a chance to argue the case for keeping his seat on the influential Ways and Means Committee as the legal process unfolds.”

The Hill also notes that House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer issued a “stinging assessment” of Jefferson’s situation: “‘He sits on a tax-writing committee, and he had $90,000 found in his freezer. I think he’s got a tax problem if nothing else,’ Hoyer said, responding to reporters’ questions about whether Democrats would seek to oust Jefferson forcibly from the panel even though he has yet to be charged with a crime.”

Tom DeLay’s last day in Congress is Friday, but he’s some fresh scrutiny. The Washington Post reports that GOP lobbyist Ed Buckham, who formerly served as DeLay’s chief of staff, opened a retirement account for DeLay’s wife in the 1990s and contributed thousands of dollars to it, while also paying her a salary to do work for him. “Buckham's financial ties to DeLay's family -- and the retirement account in particular -- have recently attracted the interest of FBI agents and others in the federal task force probing public corruption by lawmakers and lobbyists… [I]nvestigators are looking at Buckham's role in establishing the account and at whether the lawmaker may have performed official acts in return for any of the income arranged by Buckham, according to the source. DeLay denies any wrongdoing.”

In his exit interview with Roll Call, DeLay says he has no regrets. “‘I’m very proud of my career. I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish here. I’m proud that in our 12 years in the majority we’ve been able to advance conservative causes on very slim margins. I’m proud of the fact that we built one of the largest political coalitions in this town. I’m proud of the K Street strategy. I have no regrets, and I don’t think I’d change anything significant.’” The article adds that on Thursday, DeLay “will stand up on the House floor between votes and give a farewell address of roughly 20 minutes.”

DeLay tells USA Today that his departure will help the GOP and hurt Democrats come November and the GOP’s “panic, depression” risk losing the election.

Following up on its report on Saturday of lobbyist Letitia Hoadley White, a former top aide to Rep. Jerry Lewis (R) of California, the New York Times writes that White acknowledged yesterday “that the president of a military contractor had paid half the cost of a $1 million town house that they bought 11 months after she left the Congressional job… A spokesman for Ms. White said the purchase was a private arrangement between close friends.”

Security politics
Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R) announced yesterday that his committee won’t subpoena telephone company executives to testify about reports that the NSA obtained billions of customer calling records through so-called "data mining," NBC's Ken Strickland reports. Specter said he changed his mind because he was told that the executives wouldn't be able to speak freely about classified information, and because Vice President Cheney has expressed a new willingness to review pending legislation seeking to address issues involving warrantless surveillance. But Strickland also notes that Specter doesn't appear to have support from his GOP colleagues in the matter. Democrats weren’t happy with the announcement. "We'll have no more hearings and Vice President Cheney will just tell the nation what laws we'll have; he'll let us know what laws will be followed and which laws will not be followed," said ranking member Sen. Pat Leahy (D).

Meanwhile, NBC’s Mike Viqueira notes that House Majority Leader John Boehner (R) yesterday said that he will seek an extended debate on "the war on terror" later this month on the House floor. Boehner did not provide details on when, exactly, it would take place, nor did he say how long it would last. He only said it will happen before the Independence Day recess, which is set to begin on July 1. A group of Democrats -- and a handful of Republicans -- have called for a 17-hour floor debate on Iraq, but Boehner said that has had no bearing on his decision. It's unclear, Viq adds, what Boehner hopes to gain politically by planning what appears to be a free-wheeling discussion on the House floor.

More on the Bush/GOP agenda
The latest Cook Political Report/RT Strategies poll, conducted by pollsters Thomas Riehle (D) and Lance Tarrance (R), has Bush's job approval among registered voters at 37% (up one point since its last survey in April), Congress' approval at 27%, and respondents favoring Democrats over Republicans in the generic ballot by a 48%-35% advantage.

Senate Republicans have vowed to schedule a vote for full repeal of the estate tax on Thursday. But the New York Times says they are “split about whether to push for a full repeal that would probably fail, or seek a more cautious compromise with Democrats that could pass.”

On the Hill today, Democratic Sens. Kent Conrad, Joe Lieberman, and Barack Obama will hold a press conference at 10:15 am to criticize the GOP for attempting to repeal the estate tax.

The Hill reports that the White House appears to be making a renewed effort to push for President Bush’s judicial nominees: “The greater focus on judges comes in the wake of privately expressed criticism from conservative leaders that the White House and the GOP-controlled Senate were doing little to defend high-profile nominees such as William ‘Jim’ Haynes and Terrence Boyle, both picked for the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, from attacks by liberals.”

The midterms
The Washington Post writes about one of the “lesser-known” technological perks at the disposal of congressional incumbents: taxpayer-funded databases that allow them to cultivate constituents more than ever. “Anti-incumbent sentiment, as measured by polls and voter interviews, is stronger than it has been in years. But so, too, are certain structural advantages that overwhelmingly favor incumbents.”

MoveOn Political Action will launch its third round of advertising today targeting GOP Reps. Nancy Johnson of Connecticut, Thelma Drake of Virginia, Chris Chocola of Indiana, and Deborah Pryce of Ohio -- all of whom are running in competitive races. The $1.3 million ad campaign accuses the foursome of voting to "protect war profiteering companies like Halliburton" and will call on them to "return all campaign contributions from defense contractors working in Iraq who may have influenced their votes," per a release from the group.

In Alabama, Gov. Bob Riley (R) and Lt. Gov Lucy Baxley (D) will go tête-à-tête in the gubernatorial race there after both beat their respective challengers, the Birmingham News writes. Riley beat the highly controversial Chief Justice Roy Moore by a 67%-33% margin; Baxley beat her opponent, 60%-36%.

The Los Angeles Times covers Phil Angelides’ (D) primary win in CALIFORNIA and his upcoming race against Schwarzenegger. “Facing no serious opposition, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger easily won the Republican nomination for a second term and planned to set out today on a bus trip through the Central Valley as the formal kickoff of his reelection effort.”

Here are the results from the paper’s exit poll.

Per the San Francisco Chronicle, the Democratic strongholds of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Alameda County pushed Angelides over the top. "It was the scenario that Angelides, the former Democratic Party chairman, had predicted: strong grassroots and labor support for a candidate who said he spoke for 'true Democratic values.'" But another Chronicle article says the bitter primary leaves Angelides with a tough road ahead.

The AP on the Bilbray-Busby race: “National Democrats spent nearly $2 million on the race; the GOP spent $4.5 million. President Bush and first lady Laura Bush recorded telephone messages for Bilbray, while the Democrats' last two presidential candidates -- John Kerry and Al Gore -- urged supporters to back Busby.”

The New York Times front-pages Katherine Harris’ struggling Senate campaign in Florida.

The Des Moines Register writes up Chet Culver's (D) gubernatorial primary victory in Iowa; Culver now faces Jim Nussle (R) in the general. "The match-up pits the self-styled 'progressive Democrat' and heir to a party icon against a member of the Republican congressional leadership. National analysts have identified Iowa as one of the best chances in the country for the GOP to pick up a governor's seat this year."

In Montana, Jon Tester beat his Democratic opponent by a 25-point margin in yesterday's primary, and will now challenge Sen. Conrad Burns (R) for his Senate seat, the Billings Gazette reports. "Burns … coasted to an easy victory over state Senate Minority Leader Bob Keenan to capture the four-way Republican primary. Burns topped Keenan by a better than a 3-to-1 margin."

In New York, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld (R) ended his bid yesterday to hold the same position in the Empire State. Part of Weld’s problem, the Boston Globe says, is that he "couldn't shake devastating news accounts about his involvement, as a private equity investor and then as chief executive, in a Kentucky trade school that was under investigation for possible fraud in connection with federal student loans. His performance on the stump drew mixed notices, and he seemed unable to negotiate the thicket of GOP politics in New York."

Are New York Republicans trying to force out another GOP candidate? The New York Daily News reports that KT McFarland is being pressured to abandon her Senate campaign to unseat Sen. Hillary Clinton." Republican sources said party boss Steve Minarik will try to pressure McFarland to get out of the race... If McFarland pulls out, former Yonkers Mayor John Spencer, the GOP's designated candidate for Senate, can avoid a divisive primary."


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