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• Thursday, June 22, 2006 | 3:30 p.m. ET
From Alex Isenstadt 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

Dueling Democratic possibilities
At nearly the same time today, two Democrats who might run for president in 2008 -- former vice presidential nominee John Edwards and former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner -- delivered dueling speeches in Washington. And their overall messages were different. Speaking to the National Press Club, Edwards (as he has done before) called poverty "the great moral issue of our time," and argued that America has an obligation to end it. With an eye towards reducing poverty by a third in the next 10 years and eliminating it altogether in 30 years, Edwards said the nation needs to embrace the idea of a "working society," which is "based on the premise that we should expect work and reward work." While he didn't address his political future, he suggested that ending poverty could be a winning political issue for him. "When I talked about poverty in the 2004 campaign, political types said it was futile. They said nobody cares about poverty except for the poor. Not true, and we saw it with Katrina."

Warner, on the other hand, focused his speech on America's ability to compete in the global economy. "The race is on for the 21st century," he said at the New Democrat Network's annual meeting. "India and China are not playing for second place." And Warner ticked off eight different ways to make America more competitive: improve education, promote more research and development, fix the country's health-care woes, strive for energy independence, improve the nation's infrastructure, promote more trade, balance the budget, and have stronger workforce development. "Politics in the 21st century [isn't] going to be left versus right," he said. "It is going to be the future versus the past."

• Thursday, June 22, 2006 | 11:25 a.m. ET
From Mark Murray

Politicking on Iraq
While Republicans have been trying to score political points on the Iraq war these past two weeks, at least one Democrat -- residing in a very blue state -- is now touting his own opposition to the war and hitting his Republican opponent. New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez (D), who's in a competitive Senate race this fall against Tom Kean, Jr. (R), is airing a TV ad hammering Kean on Iraq. "My opponent supports George Bush's war," Menendez says in the ad. "I couldn't disagree more." Just yesterday, Menendez said he would support both the Kerry and Levin amendments setting goals for troop withdrawal from Iraq. "We think this kind of choice [on Iraq] is to our benefit in New Jersey," a Menendez campaign spokesman says. "That's why we're doing it."

One caveat: This ad, which begins running today, is only airing on cable at a $100,000 buy -- very cheap by New Jersey standards. Still, the ad is the first one we know of in which a Democrat in a tight contest this fall is going on the offensive on Iraq. As Menendez airs his ad in New Jersey, Democrats in Congress are just beginning to counter the GOP "cut and run" onslaught in a coordinated way, charging that Republicans have a slogan but no plan to bring troops home.

Out in red-state Montana, it's the other way around: Vulnerable GOP Sen. Conrad Burns, who opposes both Democratic amendments, yesterday challenged his opponent to reveal how he would vote. "Would Democrat Jon Tester stand again with his liberal pals and vote in favor of a cut and run strategy for the War on Terror?" asked a Burns campaign spokesperson. "Or would he join Senator Burns in protecting American citizens from terrorism by allowing commanders on the ground to make these critical decisions?" Mark Murray

• Thursday, June 22, 2006 | 9:20 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi andAlexIsenstadt

First glance
The Senate will vote on the two proposed Democratic amendments to the defense authorization bill which would set goals for redeploying US troops from Iraq.  Neither proposal is expected to pass.  With the possible exception of some further, minor amendments, these votes will conclude Capitol Hill's two-week debate on the war, a sandbox fight which has had the political effect of halting Democrats' momentum and giving Republicans a much-needed psychological boost.  Subsequent polls will measure how much the GOP's oversimplified "cut and run" onslaught against Democrats has resonated with Americans when the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll shows that 54% of those surveyed would favor a candidate for Congress who wants to bring all US troops home within a year.  Democrats have struggled to counter the GOP's snappy slogan, and only now is the party leadership charging that a slogan is not a plan.  Senate Leader Harry Reid is expected to say on the floor today, "The Republicans in the Senate stand alone in insisting on 'no plan and no end.'  It isn't a position shared by the American people."

As Senate Republicans attack Democrats for their two proposals on withdrawing troops, House Democrats are skewering Republicans for convening hearings that will kill the chance of broad immigration reform passing this year .  The House GOP leadership will hold a 2:15 pm press conference to announce their July and August hearings on the Senate bill.  The House is expected to vote on two old GOP saws today, a line-item veto and a partial estate tax repeal.

One expected vote which won't occur today is the re-upping of one of the nation's most significant pieces of civil rights legislation, which has gotten sidetracked by the objections of a handful of House Republicans who are taking advantage of Speaker Dennis Hastert's rule that legislation will only get to the floor with the support of a "majority of the majority."  In the process, Republicans may be serving up to Democrats another campaign issue -- along with immigration reform -- which will resonate with minorities.  The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was supposed to hit the House floor yesterday and receive a fairly smooth ride to reauthorization.  But as NBC's Mike Viqueira reports, GOP leaders had to pull it because of a revolt by Southern conservatives over the Act's relevance and by other Republicans who are objecting to multilingual ballots.  The temporary provisions of the Act expire in 2007; GOP leaders say there's plenty of time to revisit the issue.

Behind closed doors yesterday, House Republicans from Texas and Georgia objected to the reauthorization of the "pre-clearance" provisions of the Act, which require states and cities covered by the Act -- most of them in the South -- to get advance clearance from the Justice Department for any attempted changes in voting laws or to congressional district maps.  These members argued that times have changed and that the discrimination against minorities at the polling place no longer exists.  Per Viq, they said they're tired of having to jump through hoops every time a polling precinct location has to change or the congressional district map is redrawn.

Coincidentally, it was Republican lawmakers in Texas and Georgia who engineered the "irregular" redrawings of these states' congressional maps in 2003 and 2005, respectively ("irregular" meaning simply that the remap occurred mid-decade, rather than at the usual time right after a Census).  Indeed, the US Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision as early as today about the constitutionality of the 2003 Texas map, which wound up costing Democrats six seats in 2004.  And in Georgia, Republican legislators redrew their districts to weaken a couple of Democrat-held House seats whose incumbents will be put to their first test under the new lines this November.

Having been awake for much longer than most of us, President Bush has already taken part in an arrival ceremony, a bunch of meetings, a social luncheon, and a visit to the 1956 memorial monument in Budapest .  All that remains on his schedule before he heads back to Washington is a speech at 10:30 am ET, in which he'll talk about freedom and democracy, the promoted themes of the second Bush term.  Per White House press secretary Tony Snow, Bush's speech will be more of a tribute than a newsmaker, though he may compare what happened in Hungary in 1956 to what's going on in Iraq today.

Today also brings the latest in a string of gatherings at which Democratic lawmakers, activists and thinkers ponder the future of the party.  The New Democrat Network's annual meeting in Washington will feature speeches by potential presidential candidates Mark Warner and Joe Biden today and Hillary Clinton and Tom Vilsack tomorrow.  Also today, former Sen. John Edwards outlines how he thinks Democrats should fight poverty at the National Press Club at 1:00 pm.  Among his proposals: raising the minimum wage, "radically overhauling HUD," improving education and help for dropouts, and boosting savings.

Your new favorite political calendar can be found on MSNBC.com by clicking here .

Security politics
The AP notes that Bush, in Budapest, is following in the footsteps of his father, who was "the first American head of state to set foot in the country when it was on the threshold of democratic transition" in 1989.

USA Today covers "an angry-sounding" Bush's comments yesterday "that it was 'absurd' to call the United States a greater threat to world stability than Iran or North Korea, despite polls showing that's what many Europeans say."

The New York Times front-pages how Republicans, who once fretted about campaigning on the war, have now embraced it unequivocally.  "Republicans acknowledged that it was a strategy of necessity, an effort to turn what some party leaders had feared could become the party's greatest liability into an advantage in the midterm elections."

With so many Senators contemplating runs for the presidency, the Washington Post looks at how the debate within that chamber over what course to take in Iraq has "offered early hints of the 2008 presidential contest, with some potential candidates calling for a rapid drawdown of U.S. troops, some saying that only the president can decide such issues and others urging a middle ground."

At the bottom of its article on yesterday's Senate debate, the Times says that Sen. Joe Lieberman (D), who's facing a tough primary challenge in August from an anti-war Democrat, will vote against both amendments today.  "'The war to remove Saddam Hussein may have been a war of choice, but it is now a war of necessity,' he said.  'We must win it.'"

Rick Santorum, the GOP's most vulnerable Senate incumbent this year, declared yesterday that the US military "has found the WMD in Iraq!"  NBC's Jim Miklaszewski reports that Santorum apparently was referring to a number of recently found artillery shells which showed traces of sarin.  Pentagon officials tell Mik that these are old shells that pre-date the Gulf War in 1991, the same kind of ordnance the US military has been gathering up in Iraq for the past several years, and "not the WMD we were looking for when we went in this time."

The campaign of second most vulnerable GOP Sen. Conrad Burns, who opposes both Democratic amendments, yesterday challenged his opponent to reveal how he would vote.  "Would Democrat Jon Tester stand again with his liberal pals and vote in favor of a cut and run strategy for the War on Terror?" asked a Burns campaign spokesperson.  "Will he stand with John Kerry and Ted Kennedy in favor of putting American lives at risk by giving the terrorists our country's playbook?  Or would he join Senator Burns in protecting American citizens from terrorism by allowing commanders on the ground to make these critical decisions?"

The immigration debate
Democrats are lashing out at Republicans for likely killing any chance of getting broad immigration reform this year.  Their argument?  That by failing to pass comprehensive immigration reform, Republicans are jeopardizing national security.  That said, if Democrats themselves simply cared about the security- and enforcement-only provisions, Congress probably could pass an immigration bill next week.  Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate support securing the nation's borders; where they differ is on the guest-worker and citizenship provisions.

The Los Angeles Times says the House GOP, in planning July and August hearings, have made it plain that they "are willing to scuttle Bush's top domestic priority rather than give ground on Senate legislation - backed by the president - that would provide a path to citizenship for many illegal immigrants."  Channeling First Read, the story notes that not only could the harsh rhetoric coming out of the hearings hurt the GOP's standing among Latinos, but the hearings "all but ensure another high-profile policy flameout" for Bush after his loss on Social Security.

Senate Judiciary Committee chair Arlen Specter announced yesterday that he'll hold his own field hearings on the Senate version of the immigration bill in July.  "The first Senate hearing would be held July 5 in Pennsylvania," and "would include participation from farmers, hotel workers and landscapers."

The Sacramento Bee has Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) criticizing House Republicans for delaying the passage of a bill this year.  "'I am disappointed at the idea that maybe the federal government would not come up with an agreement and with true reform of our immigration laws,' Schwarzenegger said.  '...It will be totally inexcusable for them to walk away from that and say this year we couldn't do it and maybe take this whole thing on the road show.'"

The national party committee chairs both address the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials today in Dallas, Ken Mehlman at 1:00 pm ET and Howard Dean at 2:30 pm ET.

The conservative Manhattan Institute, which supports a guest-worker program and possible citizenship for illegal immigrants, holds a press conference at 1:30 pm at the National Press Club to release new poll data showing that an overwhelming majority of likely Republican voters supports providing legal status to undocumented immigrants.

More on the Bush/Gop agenda
The Houston Chronicle says the effort to postpone today's planned vote to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act was spearheaded by opposition from Texas House lawmakers.  "'I don't think we have racial bias in Texas anymore,' said Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock...  Several Texas Republicans also objected to the law's requirement that jurisdictions print ballots in other languages if 5 percent or more of their voting-age populations have limited English skills."

The Chronicle also notes that the White House yesterday "intensified a last-minute campaign to win line-item veto authority from Congress, but a top administration official conceded that the outcome was far from certain...  The Democratic leadership in the House is mostly opposed to the plan, along with some Republican appropriators."

More Republican base-motivating votes appear be on tap in the Senate next week, including a proposed constitutional amendment banning flag-burning (timed to the upcoming July 4 holiday), a partial estate tax repeal, and pension reform, "issues sure to thrill both conservative voters and big-business donors alike."

And on Tuesday, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Specter will hold a hearing "on President Bush's use of signing statements to claim the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office.  Specter said he is asking the Bush administration to send an official from the Justice Department to testify before the committee about the president's legal contentions, as well as several constitutional law scholars.  It was not yet clear who from the administration would come, he said." – Boston Globe

The Democrats
The Democratic National Committee's rules and bylaws panel meets via conference call today to vote on the number of state contests that will be added to the first weeks of its presidential nominating calendar in 2008.  The panel has been exploring ways to increase the geographic and demographic diversity of those voters who get an early say over who becomes the party's nominee.  Exactly which states will get to move up will be decided later.

The Los Angeles Times says of Democrats' effort to elevate a minimum wage increase as a campaign plank that some "in the party are hoping to frame it as a 'family values' issue that could draw Democratic-leaning voters to the polls, just as Republicans have tried to energize conservatives with proposals to ban gay marriage and flag burning."  Although GOP leaders in Congress seem determined not to let an increase come up for a vote, "even the potential for minimum wage to affect the November elections could be enough to pressure Republicans to compromise."

The Chicago Tribune adds that the battle is "spilling into the hard-fought congressional races, with several Democratic challengers staging campaign events on the issue and Democrats promising to increase the wage as one of their first acts should they win control of Congress."

Bob Novak says that some Democrats -- most likely ones who aren't enthused about his bid for majority leader -- were dismayed by Rep. John Murtha's recent performance on Meet the Press.

Ethics
The Senate Indian Affairs Committee, chaired by John McCain (R), will unveil the results of its two-year probe into "what federal investigators have labeled a $40 million-plus swindling of a handful of tribes by (Jack) Abramoff and his associates...  The report... is expected to be a thematic retelling of how Abramoff coaxed the tribes into paying tens of millions of dollars to his public relations associate, Michael Scanlon, who then funneled half of all profits back to Abramoff."

The Arizona Republic says "McCain's committee is expected to steer clear of any money trails that lead from the now-convicted Abramoff to some of McCain's colleagues in Congress, including Arizonans.  McCain... has insisted that the ethical behaviors of fellow members of Congress is not the jurisdiction of the Indian Affairs Committee he oversees but more the business of the Senate and House ethics committees."

Picking up the trail on Democratic Rep. Alan Mollohan, Bloomberg reports that Mollohan "helped funnel at least $179 million in U.S. government contracts over the last six years to companies that gave to [his] family-run charity...  The $179 million figure in earmarked funds includes projects touted in press releases by Mollohan's office, and by the companies and nonprofit groups that received the money."

The Washington Post looks at how some members, including Speaker Dennis Hastert, have benefited when earmarks for projects like new roads have raised the value of land they own in their districts.

It's the economy
Vice President Cheney addresses the U.S. - India Business Council's 31st Anniversary Leadership Summit at the US Chamber of Commerce at 12 noon.

Democratic Govs. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan and Ted Kulongoski of Oregon -- perhaps the Democrats' two most vulnerable incumbent governors running for re-election this year -- hold a conference call on energy independence at 1:45 pm ET.

More on the midterms
The Wall Street Journal notes that if the Supreme Court finds the 2003 Texas congressional district map constitutional, "the implications could be felt far beyond Texas as Democrats and Republicans rush to embrace the technique of strategically reallocating voters among congressional districts after each election."  (Note that we're so close to the next regularly scheduled redistricting that this may not prove true until the next decade.)  But while Democrats face particular obstacles to pursuing that tactic, "Republicans can't be sure of a win at the Supreme Court.  The court could rule the DeLay map unconstitutional on one-person, one-vote grounds, forcing a remapping in Texas that would almost certainly benefit Democrats."

Roll Call reports, coming soon to MySpace, potentially: a platform for politicians.

The Des Moines Register reports that Karl Rove will travel to IOWA on Monday to stump for two GOP House candidates: Mike Whalen and Jeff Lamberti, who are running in two of the most competitive House contests this year.

A Quinnipiac University poll has Democrat Eliot Spitzer beating Republican John Faso, 66%-20%, in New York's gubernatorial race. – New York Daily News

In Pennsylvania, Santorum, his party's most endangered Senate incumbent, announced yesterday that he's on the air with TV ads to stay through election day.  Meanwhile, the number of press releases issued by his Senate office detailing his accomplishments seems to increase with every point by which he lags behind Democrat Bob Casey, Jr. in the polls.

And the Washington Post front-pages the shift in favor of Democrats in heavily populated northern Virginia, which could complicate GOP Sen. George Allen's re-election bid.  Rep. Tom Davis (R) "blamed recent GOP losses" in the region "on the president's unpopularity instead of a new demographic of more liberal voters...  Strategists on the GOP side say candidates must steer clear of social issues and one-issue campaigns and focus instead on suburban concerns such as traffic and growth."

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