“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 28, 2006 | 1:10 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

Early reaction to redistricting
As news of the Supreme Court's decision to largely uphold the Texas congressional map as redrawn by Rep. Tom DeLay and his GOP associates makes waves, the reactions are slowly trickling into our inboxes. DNC chairman Howard Dean issued a press release (a rare instance in which they've beat the RNC to the punch) calling the decision "disappointing" and accusing Republicans of "engaging in partisan political schemes that undermine our democracy." House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi agreed, saying "Republicans are willing to curtail the rights of minorities for partisan gain." She called on Congress to pass legislation to "conduct non-partisan redistricting" and "bar mid-decade redistricting." On the other hand, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) called the announcement a "clear victory" and said that officials will meet soon to decide how to address the one district the court said must be withdrawn.

• Wednesday, June 28, 2006 | 1:10 p.m. ET
From Mike Viqueira and Elizabeth Wilner

House Republicans plan to take to the floor tomorrow to excoriate the New York Times and other newspapers who recently reported on the government's monitoring of international financial transactions, part of the Bush Administration's approach to the war on terror. Republican members of no fewer than five House committees are currently drafting a "sense of the Congress" resolution, which will be non-binding but which will provide them with the opportunity to formally "condemn" both the reporting of what many on the Hill consider to be vital national security secrets, as well as the leakers themselves, according to a top House Republican speaking on background.

"What we are talking about is people who are leaking classified information," Speaker Dennis Hastert told reporters this morning. "This is not news; this is something that has been classified, something that is top secret, that we are trying to see in fighting the war on terror. And people who consistently leak this information to news sources and news sources insist on printing it, goes back to the old saying... Basically, loose lips kill American people."

This will be the second time in a month that House Republicans will take to the floor to blast a news organization. Just before Memorial Day, they lined up to criticize another media outlet for a report about Hastert which all included parties decried as erroneous. In the case of the paper knicknamed "the gray lady", however, Republicans may well be motivated as much by the prospect of firing up their base by flogging one of its favorite whipping posts as they are by national security interests.

• Wednesday, June 28, 2006 | 12:20 p.m. ET
From Mark Murray

The politics of redistricting
The Supreme Court's verdict on the Texas redistricting case is in, and here's what its decision seems to mean politically. First, it ruled that the change to one district, represented by seven-term Republican incumbent Henry Bonilla, violated the Civil Rights Act because it removed about 100,000 Hispanics from the district to help make it safer for him. As Amy Walter of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report points out, the Court's decision makes Bonilla potentially more vulnerable; in 2002, he won re-election by just a 52%-47% margin over Democrat Henry Cuellar (who's now the congressman for another Texas district). But Carl Forti, the spokesman at the GOP House campaign committee, adds that it's impossible to know how the decision will affect Bonilla until we see what the final district looks like. "It's also conceivable that it won't get tweaked until after November. Lot of unanswered questions out there still."

Second, the decision could also impact the districts surrounding Bonilla's, especially the one Cuellar now represents. "Anytime you redraw one congressional district it will effect those around [it]," Walter says. Matt Angle, a Democrat political consultant who used to work for former Texas Rep. Martin Frost (a Democrat who lost his seat in 2004 due to the redistricting), argues that the Texas county that the Court ruled was improperly divided up in the 2003 redistricting -- Webb County -- is Cuellar's base, and any significant change to it could possibly jeopardize his future re-election prospects.

Third, and perhaps more importantly, the Court ruled to uphold the rest of the map and rejected the argument that the 2003 redistricting was unconstitutional. This opens the floodgates to Democrats and Republicans to draw up new congressional maps anytime -- no longer just once every 10 years -- their political party takes control of state houses and governor mansions. Some potential targets for Democratic redistricting: Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey and New York.

• Wednesday, June 28, 2006 | 9:20 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi andAlexIsenstadt

First glance
Cutting four scheduled days of debate down to two, the Senate last night rejected a constitutional ban on flag-burning by one vote, 66-34.  President Bush in a statement praised the bipartisan support for the bill, just as he praised bipartisan support for the line-item veto legislation he urged the Senate to pass yesterday -- even though both issues were raised by Republican lawmakers as a means of firing up the party's base in advance of the midterm elections.

Currently lacking sufficient bipartisan support to pass: a partial estate tax repeal.  Senate Majority Leader Frist announced yesterday that the chamber won't vote on the House-passed measure before the Fourth of July recess because, although he didn't say as much, the necessary 60 votes for passage aren't yet there.

Where there is intriguing movement on the Senate side is toward a possible compromise on immigration reform that would establish some sort of timetable by which border security and employer enforcement, both of which have near-universal support, would be tackled first.  Under such a compromise, the controversial guest-worker and citizenship provisions for illegal immigrants, which are splitting the GOP and causing the current stalemate, would pass later.  Such a compromise could allow members of Congress from both parties to cast politically popular votes on the first two items shortly before election day.  It would also temporarily end the harsh rhetoric that has put the GOP at risk of alienating Latinos, and would relieve Republicans from having to run against Bush on this issue.  One House Republican facing a tough race this fall is already on the air with a TV ad criticizing Bush for supporting "amnesty."

Also somewhat alleviating the tension within the GOP on this issue: Rep. Chris Cannon (R) of Utah yesterday took 56% of the vote against a primary challenger who had campaigned against Cannon's support for a guest-worker program.  Critics of the program would have been emboldened by a Cannon defeat.

Today, Bush travels to St. Louis, where for the second day in a row, he meets with US military personnel who have returned from Iraq as well as Afghanistan.  That meeting takes place at a VFW post at 4:15 pm ET.  Bush then headlines a fundraiser for Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri in St. Louis at 6:20 pm ET.  Talent faces a strong challenge from Auditor Claire McCaskill (D) in what will be one of the top contests this year.  If there's a swing state anywhere that seems to reflect the nation's political mood, it's Missouri.  Indeed, in the 15 presidential elections since World War II ended, the state has voted for the winning presidential candidate every time but once (the exception: 1956, when Adlai Stevenson won it over Dwight Eisenhower).  Bush won the state in 2000, 50%-47%, and also in 2004, 53%-46%.

Is Missouri reflecting the nation's mood now?  A recent St. Louis Post-Dispatch/KMOV-TV/Research 2000 poll showed Bush's job approval rating at 39% and McCaskill leading Talent, 49%-43%.  "Talent's chief problem appears to be that he is from the same party as President Bush," Nathan Gonzales recently wrote in the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report, "so if the GOP senator is defeated, plenty of other House and Senate Republicans are likely to be defeated as well."  More: "McCaskill is a credible challenger, but she would be a clear underdog in a neutral national political environment in a state that has been moving into the GOP column."  Gonzales concluded that Talent will try to make the race about McCaskill.  But if it turns into a referendum on Bush, he said, "Talent is in significant trouble."

The Talent campaign expects the event to raise $1 million, half of which will go to the campaign and half to the state party.  Meanwhile, at the same time that Bush raises money for Talent, veterans and community leaders who support McCaskill "will be raising money at a spaghetti dinner for the Missouri Military Relief Fund, an organization that assists Missouri National Guardsmen and women and their families," per a McCaskill campaign release.  "'While President Bush is in town raising money for Jim Talent at the Ritz-Carlton, we'll be raising money for Missouri troops, veterans and their families,' McCaskill spokeswoman Adrianne Marsh said."

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

The immigration debate
The Salt Lake Tribune says of Cannon's victory yesterday, "Incumbency overcame the anti-immigration wave."  The paper says that Cannon's opponent, John Jacob, "blamed his defeat on President Bush's endorsement of Cannon."  Also: "During the campaign, Cannon often appealed to voters saying, 'racism and xenophobia are not Republican virtues.'  Effective immigration reform will require patience and reason, he said.  Apparently, voters agreed."

The Los Angeles Times says of Cannon's win, "The outcome is the latest in a string of failures by anti-immigration groups to unseat congressional Republicans who favor a guest worker program."  The story notes that Jacob "did himself no favors.  Last week he blamed Satan for his business problems, and despite attacking Cannon on immigration, he readily confessed he did not know what to do to solve the problem."

In a conference call with reporters yesterday, Sen. John McCain (R), lead co-sponsor of the Senate immigration bill, floated a possible if still uncertain compromise.  McCain suggested that the guest-worker and citizenship provisions in the Senate bill could be phased in later dates, while the border security measures which seem to have near-universal support could be accelerated.  "We want to negotiate and discuss," said McCain, who was joined on the call by co-sponsor Ted Kennedy (D).  McCain insisted that such a compromise doesn't detract from his determination to pass a comprehensive bill.

His comments come on the heels of Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter's interview with the Washington Times, in which he said he's open to the idea of enacting border enforcement measures before implementing a guest-worker program and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.  "It may be down the line that we will come to some terms on a timetable, with border security first and employment verification first," Specter told the paper.  Specter is scheduled to hold his first field hearing on the Senate bill on July 5.

"Left unclear in the still-emerging conversation is whether senators would agree that specific border security and law enforcement goals or targets would have to be met before a guest worker or legalization program could begin," says the Los Angeles Times.  "It is also unclear whether the House would accept a step-by-step approach." 

MSNBC.com’s Tom Curry looks at how immigration -- in addition to the Iraq war -- has become a driving issue in the midterm contests.  "The paradox: both parties believe the issues of immigration and Iraq will be winners for them."

Hotline On Call reports that Rep. Jim Gerlach, a vulnerable Republican incumbent who represents a fairly moderate suburban Philadelphia district, is running a hawkish TV ad on border security which attacks Bush for supporting "amnesty." 

The fight has resulted in some strange bedfellows.  It was hard to decide which was weirder yesterday, MSNBC.com's Tom Curry observes -- Republican strategist Grover Norquist shaking hands with his adversary McCain at a pro-immigration event on the Hill, or Norquist not once but three times appearing to be on the brink of dissolving into tears.  Just last week, a report issued by McCain's Indian Affairs Committee on the Jack Abramoff/Indian casino scandals named Norquist 20 times, mostly in unflattering connections as a facilitator and profiteer.  Nonetheless, Curry says, so strong is the pro-immigration cause that Norquist showed up to join McCain and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D) to urge Republican House leaders to negotiate a deal.  McCain stood uneasily next to Norquist as event host Frank Sharry of the National Immigration Forum began the proceedings.  Then the Arizonan hustled away from Norquist to take a vacant spot in the row when Kennedy came forward to speak.

The crying: Norquist at first seemed to have something caught his throat, but then tears welled up in his eyes as he called on Congress to reach an accord.  Later,  when asked what caused him to choke up, Curry reports, Norquist again choked up, got teary, and said in a broken voice, "It's emotional.  It's an emotional issue because it's what it means to be an American.  We're not a race, we're not a religion, we're a people and guys who criticize that are really going after what makes us American.  It's offensive.  I was doing fine until you came up."  As for McCain, Norquist referred to him in his speech as a "great" Republican leader.

Was it hard to shake hands in the wake of the Indian Affairs Committee report?  "Nobody's wrong on everything," Norquist told Curry.  "He's wrong on taxes and guns and judges.  But he's good on immigration, so I'm delighted to be here with him...  He took a shot at me and missed.  You can't be mad at somebody who does that."

As his Republican counterpart did yesterday, Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean addresses the League of United Latin American Citizens in Milwaukee at 1:00 pm ET.  Later in the afternoon, Dean attends a Latino/Hispanic Democratic Caucus meeting, also in Milwaukee.

Flag politics
"Hours before the votes were taken" on a flag-burning amendment yesterday, "Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) thrust the issue into his reelection campaign.  Noting that Democratic challenger James Webb had said he opposed the amendment, Allen's campaign issued a press release linking Webb to Sens. John F. Kerry and Edward M. Kennedy..., who voted against the amendment." – Washington Post

"Eleven senators facing re-election this year opposed the amendment and several are facing potentially difficult races, including Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, a Republican, and the Democrats Daniel K. Akaka of Hawaii, Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia, Maria Cantwell of Washington and Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut." – New York Times

The AP points out that "[a]mong possible presidential contenders in 2008, six voted yes," including Democrat Evan Bayh and Republicans Allen, Sam Brownback, Bill Frist, Chuck Hagel and McCain.  Five Democrats voted no, including Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Chris Dodd, Russ Feingold and John Kerry. 

The San Francisco Chronicle notes that the failure to pass the flag desecration amendment marks "another setback for [Majority Leader Bill] Frist, who also had pushed the same-sex marriage amendment to the floor earlier this month."

In a vote that wasn't nearly as controversial as the Senate's flag-burning vote, the House yesterday passed a measure that would forbid condo, co-op, and any other homeowner associations from restricting the rights of US citizens to fly American flags on residential property. 

Security politics
Senate Democrats hold a press conference at 10:15 am to tout that they're in sync with the top US military official in Iraq, who has privately called for reductions in troop levels starting later this year.

"The House will vote today on a hastily written resolution that is expected to criticize The New York Times for its recent disclosure of the government's secret use of information from a massive international finance network to fight terrorism," says Roll Call.  "Republican sources said they expected the finished product would condemn both the leaking of the law enforcement program and its publication by the Times and a handful of other newspapers."

A New York Times editorial defends the paper's reporting of the government's tracking of international banking transfers and lashes out at those who say the paper is unpatriotic or treasonous.

More on the Bush/GOP agenda
Treasury Secretary nominee Hank Paulson, during his confirmation hearing yesterday, offered a "robust" defense of Bush's tax cuts.  He also "also raised the possibility of a renewed push on reform of entitlement programmes Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security," a mention will cause Democrats to prick up their eyes as they hear a possible motivator for their senior voters.  "The nominee said 'deficits do matter' and added that he hoped it would be possible to make progress on entitlement reform during the remainder of the Bush second term."  - Financial Times

As we've said here before, Bush's more controversial exertions of executive power are causing some in the Senate to balk at the idea of giving him more control over federal spending.  Yesterday, Bush literally pushed for line-item veto authority at the same time that the Senate Judiciary Committee was debating his use of executive authority in his signing statements. 

The Boston Globe, which broke the story of how Bush has used more than 750 signing statements to circumvent the law, reports that Senate Judiciary Committee chair Arlen Specter "said yesterday that he is 'seriously considering' filing legislation to give Congress legal standing to sue [Bush] over" this practice.  "Bush has issued more signing statements than all previous presidents combined.  But he has never vetoed a bill, depriving Congress of any chance to override his judgment." 

The Washington Post says of Bush's push for line-item veto authority, "even if Bush had a line-item veto and struck every earmark, it would only carve a fraction out of a deficit projected to reach up to $350 billion this year.  And as Bush said yesterday, Congress has met every overall spending target he has given it, meaning that the president and lawmakers have agreed on the broad direction of federal spending since he took office." 

The White House will lose one of its top advocates for a more open relationship with the media when communications director Nicolle Wallace departs on Friday. – Washington Post

Ethics
The Tigua of El Paso, a Native-American tribe and former client of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, has released a photo of a meeting they had with Rep. Bob Ney (R), a meeting which Ney told Senate investigators earlier he did not remember having, NBC's Joel Seidman reports.  Ney is a focus of the ongoing Justice Department probe of Abramoff's business dealings.

The Boston Globe reports that longtime lobbyist Jeanne Campbell has paid for expensive trips for at least 26 lawmakers.  She "received millions of dollars in contracts to lobby Congress through her Washington-based firm, Campbell-Crane." 

The Democrats
Sen. Barack Obama (D) will deliver a personal speech on faith in politics at the Sojourners' Christian mobilization conference in Washington at 9:00 am.  Obama will talk about how he came to embrace his faith and about how, in his view, liberals need to learn to speak to people of faith.  "...[T]he discomfort of some progressives with any hint of religion has often prevented us from effectively addressing issues in moral terms," Obama will say.  "Some of the problem here is rhetorical - if we scrub language of all religious content, we forfeit the imagery and terminology through which millions of Americans understand both their personal morality and social justice."

Joining the effort by Senate Democrats to block a congressional pay hike unless the minimum wage is increased, Sen. Hillary Clinton said on a conference call with reporters yesterday that the entire issue is one of fairness.  "It's not fair to not help a hardworking person make headway," she argued.  Asked how much support she expected a minimum-wage increase would receive from Republicans, Clinton said that if the legislation faced a straight up-or-down vote -- and if Senate Republicans were "unleashed" from the majority leadership -- it would pass.

Channeling First Read, the New York Times says of Clinton's nuanced stance on flag burning (she supports a measure that would outlaw flag desecration, but opposes a constitutional amendment that would do the same), "The divergent views of her position reflect a broader rift in the Democratic Party over whether the key to electoral success rests in winning over centrists or by drawing clear distinctions with Republicans by staking out unapologetically liberal positions." 

Roll Call examines how Democrats are suffering for lack of a single messenger, calling it "a perennial problem for a minority."  "Democrats are denied both the bully pulpit of the White House and the instant credibility of a Speaker or Senate Majority Leader.  And many view the top national Democratic leaders as either too polarizing to unify the party or too obscure to command widespread attention."

First Read's favorite New Hampshire source e-mails about former President Clinton's appearance on behalf of the state party last night, saying the speech "highlighted how it's "obvious what was missing in the field of 2008 aspirants -- someone who could talk like Bill Clinton."  Clinton spoke about "why the Republicans are wrong;... why they operate on one mode - attack, without uniting the country; why the flag and marriage amendments were wrong;" and why the New Hampshire primary should retain its first-in-the-nation status. 

More on the midterms
The new Gallup poll shows that "Americans are paying unusually close attention to the congressional elections in November;" and "are more concerned about national issues than local ones - a situation that favors Democrats hoping to tap discontent over the Iraq war and gasoline prices - and prefer Democrats over Republicans on handling every major issue except terrorism."  The survey also shows that "Democrats are particularly engaged: 56% say they are 'more enthusiastic about voting than usual,' the highest level recorded since the question was first asked in 1994." 

In Connecticut, the New York Times says, Sen. Joe Lieberman (D) picked up the endorsement of the state AFL-CIO, "although many union leaders... complained of his support for the war in Iraq and foreign trade agreements.  Many sounded loud 'nays' when the voice vote was called." 

As GOP Gov. Bob Ehrlich and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D) formally kick off their campaigns in Maryland today, a new Washington Post poll shows "Ehrlich trailing O'Malley by 11 percentage points among registered voters and 16 points among those who say they are 'absolutely certain' to vote in the Nov. 7 election.  The deficit comes even though a majority of voters find Ehrlich likable, approve of the job he has been doing and believe that [he] has a vision for the state." 

Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman is in Michigan for a series of rallies today and tomorrow.

And the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which previews Bush's stop in Missouri today, says that the event "will be at least the fifth Talent event in the last year headlined by either the president, his wife, Laura Bush, or Vice President Dick Cheney."

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