Thursday, July 20, 2006 | 12:05 p.m. ET
From Huma Zaidi

Bush speaks to the NAACP
"It's about time you showed up," Bush said. He was referring to himself and what he thought NAACP President Bruce Gordon might say to him before introducing the president to the group's convention for the first time in five years. But, as Bush said, Gordon was too "polite" to say that. The crowd was more initially cautious of Bush, who was greeted with scattered, yet polite, applause.

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Explaining to the crowd that he was there to celebrate the "heroism" of the civil rights movement, Bush praised the NAACP and Gordon for their leadership and work in furthering the movement. But Bush acknowledged he's aware that many in the audience and in the African-American community do not think the GOP has done the same. "I understand that many African-Americans distrust my party," Bush said to a smattering of applause and boos. ""For too long, my party wrote off the African-American vote and many African-Americans wrote off the Republican Party," he added. Bush discussed the country's history of slavery and discrimination as a "stain" on the country that has not yet been wiped clean.

Given these circumstances, Bush expressed his desire to build a better relationship with the African-American community by highlighting his commitment to several initiatives including improving education standards, raising rate of home ownership and ending waiting lists for AIDS medications. The most raucous applause came when Bush stated his commitment to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

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

In this issue:
Veto #1 followed by NAACP speech #1
Bush bears olive braches on voting rights and Darfur
Bill Clinton will campaign with Lieberman; new poll shows Lieberman trailing

First glance
As we wrote on Monday, it's a week of firsts for President Bush, who follows up on yesterday's veto with his first address as president to the NAACP this morning.  And you have to admire the White House's string-pulling ability, for Bush will have two olive branches to offer this crowd he hasn't addressed in five years: The Senate's fast action to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act, and Bush's meeting today with a top Sudanese official to talk about Darfur.  The Darfur meeting was announced yesterday.  The Senate floor action on the VRA today, with final passage expected by this afternoon, came out of nowhere.  Just last week, Majority Leader Bill Frist was saying he didn't know when they'd get around to it.  The House has already passed it, allowing Bush to say this morning that he looks forward to signing it into law soon.

NBC's Ken Strickland reports that NAACP chief Bruce Gordon played it straight when asked about it yesterday, saying, "The timing is perfect.  We will afford him the opportunity to be very direct -- from his lips to our ears -- in terms of where he stands of the Voting Rights Act."  He said Bush's appearance is "an indication that there's at least a willingness to have an open communications between our two organizations.  Heretofore there has not even been a kind of meaningful dialogue between the NAACP and the Administration."

As Strickland points out, will Bush do Q+A with this group, with whom he has been at odds since 2000?  He last addressed them that year as a candidate for president, in a speech in which he invoked the GOP's history as the party of Abraham Lincoln.  That November, he won 9% of the African-American vote.  Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman addressed the NAACP last year and apologized to them for the party's "Southern strategy" of appealing to white voters in a racially polarizing way.  He has made it a personal cause to win more voters and to field more candidates from the African-American community.  In 2006, the party is fielding black nominees for governor of Ohio and Pennsylvania and for the US Senate in Maryland.

At last year's convention, NAACP leaders sounded optimistic about their chances of having Bush address this year's event because of its location in Washington.  "Mr. President, we're extending the invitation a year in advance.  We want to see you, and we want you to see us we want to know you think you're our president, too," chair Julian Bond said.

These overtures have been mingled with flare-ups of tension, however, including over the Florida recount in 2000 and the government's handling of Hurricane Katrina evacuees last year.  Not long after Katrina, an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed Bush with a 2% job approval rating among African-Americans.  Every year that has passed since Bush last addressed the NAACP in 2000, his absence from the group's annual convention has rankled.

In 2001, Bush sent a videotaped message, just one day after Bond accused him of appeasing the "wretched appetites of the extreme right wing" and picking "Cabinet officials whose devotion to the Confederacy is nearly canine in its uncritical affection."  Bush indirectly referenced the criticism in his taped address the next day. "I believe that even when disagreements arise, we should treat each other with civility and with respect," he said.  In 2002, Bond accused Bush of failing to enforce civil rights laws and criticized his political ties: "We have a president who owes his election more to a dynasty than to democracy."  Bush spokesperson Claire Buchan replied that Bush was "focused on bringing people together and uniting the nation," and was "proud of the Administration's record of vigorous enforcement of our civil rights laws."  In 2003, when the NAACP held their convention in Florida, neither President Bush nor Gov. Jeb Bush (R) attended.

In 2004, Bush conceded to Knight Ridder, "I would describe my relationship with the current leadership as basically non-existent...  You've heard the rhetoric and the names they've called me."  White House spokesperson Scott McClellan emphasized that Bush had "great respect for the NAACP and its long and proud history of championing civil rights," and that he had "many friends who are members of the NAACP."  But then-NAACP chief Kweisi Mfume lashed out: "If you could not find 90 minutes to come by to address the issues affecting our nation, then you have no legitimacy over the next nine months coming into our communities and expecting our vote," Mfume said.  "Your political capital is now the equivalent of Confederate dollars."  That fall, Bush won 11% of the African-American vote, a slight uptick from 2000.

The other big announcement in politics today is the news from Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman's embattled campaign that former President Bill Clinton will stump with Lieberman on Monday.  Of course, Clinton happens to be married to another Senate Democrat who supports the war in Iraq -- even though she plans to support whoever wins the Democratic primary.  A new Quinnipiac poll shows challenger Ned Lamont leading Lieberman, 51%-47%, among likely Democratic voters; last month's poll had Lieberman over Lamont, 55%-40%.  Even though this primary will boil down to a question of who gets out his vote, that big a swing toward Lamont isn't good news for Lieberman.  In a three-way general election, however, Lieberman running as an independent gets 51%, while Lamont (D) gets 27% and Alan Schlesinger (R) gets 9%.

Have you checked your favorite political calendar lately?

Bush and the NAACP
Beyond the VRA, NBC's Strickland reports, the NAACP convention agenda will address disparities between whites and minorities in health care, education, criminal justice, and economics.  "I would hope that when the President arrives that he will give us an indication that understands that, see it, senses it, and is willing to use what I consider to be his conviction to help address those issues and close those gaps," NAACP chief Bruce Gordon said yesterday.

The Chicago Tribune notes that Democratic Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton yesterday "warned NAACP delegates to be cautious of any civil rights promises Bush offers when speaking to the group...  The senators criticized Republicans for allowing the landmark 1965 voting act to nearly expire and said the Justice Department has failed to aggressively pursue allegations of disenfranchisement."  Obama said, "'It's great if he commits to signing it, but what is critical is the follow-through.  You don't just talk the talk, but you also walk the walk.'"

The Washington Post notices that since the immediate aftermath of Katrina, Bush has said very little about combating poverty.  Tony Snow "said Bush is unlikely to invoke poverty when he addresses" the NAACP today, "and instead will focus on opportunities available to everyone."  Snow told the Post, "'There hasn't been a direct discussion of poverty, but he is focused on eliminating the barriers that stand in the way of people making progress.'"  The story quotes a critical 2004 vice-presidential nominee John Edwards, who has made fighting poverty his big issue.

Veto #1
The message and pictures coming out of the White House yesterday as Bush vetoed the stem cell research funding bill were highly reminiscent of the debate over this issue during the 2004 campaign, as Bush appeared surrounded by "snowflake babies" who were adopted as embryos and the press office fired off e-mails that looked almost exactly like those we received in 2004, highlighting how Bush was the first president to have authorized federal funding for embryonic stem cell research at all.

Coincidentally or not, the House began the vote to override the veto at 6:26 pm, four minutes before the start of the evening news broadcasts.

"Republicans had settled on a strategy of swift action to reduce potential political fallout for the party.  But Mr. Bush's decision to speak publicly was a sign he didn't want to hide from a debate that puts him on the side of many antiabortion and religious groups," says the Wall Street Journal.

Noting the local impact of Bush's veto, the San Francisco Chronicle says "the president's decision also means that California's $3 billion, voter-approved embryonic stem cell initiative -- itself held up by court challenges -- won't be able to leverage new federal money once its work gets started."

"Many Republicans say Bush's extraordinarily long veto-free period is a tribute to how far the GOP-controlled Congress has gone to accommodate him - authorizing the war in Iraq, giving him almost every tax cut he proposed, meeting his overall budget targets," says the Los Angeles Times.  "But many conservatives, frustrated by the run-up in federal spending in recent years, say it also is a tribute to how unwilling Bush has been to confront Congress on its big-spending ways."

The New York Times says the issue "is in some ways the flip side of the Democrats' quandary over abortion.  Just as medical advances like ultrasound imaging have spurred greater opposition to abortion, leading some Democrats to recalibrate their views, the promise of embryonic stem cell research has pushed some Republicans toward positions in which black-and-white beliefs about the sanctity of life have given way to more nuanced and ethically complex stances."

Security politics
Bob Novak observes, "Never before have the United States and Israel been so close, and never before has support of Israel been so universal among American politicians.  That inhibits the leverage Bush is able to exercise, on behalf of his country, as an honest broker seeking a peaceful solution in the Middle East.  He is seen as Israel's uncritical supporter."

A possible PR problem for the White House?  The New York Times writes that Iraq's prime minister yesterday "forcefully denounced the Israeli attacks on Lebanon, marking a sharp break with President Bush's position and highlighting the growing power of a Shiite Muslim identity across the Middle East."

The Washington Post detects a shift in some GOP lawmakers' rhetoric on Iraq, not long after they hammered Democrats for allegedly wanting to "cut and run."  "Rank-and file Republicans who once adamantly backed the administration on the war are moving to a two-stage new message...  First, Republicans are making it clear to constituents they do not agree with every decision the president has made on Iraq.  Then they boil the argument down to two choices: staying and fighting or conceding defeat to a vicious enemy."

In a meeting with key Senate Republicans yesterday, the Administration laid out what attendees described as a framework for a legislative fix to the US Supreme Court ruling against the White House's military commission for detainees at Guantanamo Bay, NBC's Strickland reports.  Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley were among those representing the White House in the closed-door meeting.  The Senate Republicans included Frist, Graham, McCain, Cornyn, Kyl, Roberts, and Warner.  Attendees were tight-lipped about what approach the Administration was taking, but Kyl said the White House reps were unified "behind an approach."

It was a different story in Senate hearings last week, Strickland notes, when Pentagon and Justice Department officials were recommending that Congress ratify the Administration's original approach to the commissions, while McCain, Graham, and Warner said they were told by Hadley it wanted to work from the military's judicial system.  Warner, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said he plans to summon Pentagon and Justice officials before his committee for another hearing on the matter next week, Strickland reports.

"With crises popping up around the world, Congressional Republicans are looking to exploit their traditional political advantage on defense matters by placing a growing number of issues under the national security umbrella," Roll Call says.  Beyond the "obvious international hot spots, House Republican leaders also have been bringing up domestic and economic issues in the context of national security.  And Republican strategists said they expected the practice to become more frequent as Election Day approaches."

Perhaps UN Ambassador John Bolton's biggest GOP critic on the Hill, Sen. George Voinovich, marks a stark turnaround with a Washington Post op-ed and an announcement today, in which he calls on Democrats to likewise support Bolton, whose recess appointment expires this fall.

More on the GOP agenda
It's fair to call this a result of Democrats' pushing, as well as Republicans' gradual realization that it might be better to try to appropriate this issue than to risk being hurt by it at the polls in November.  "After resisting the idea of allowing a House vote on the minimum wage hike, Republican leaders now essentially are resigned to the idea that one must occur, according to GOP leaders and aides.  But the timing and substance of such a vote remains up in the air." – Roll Call

The Des Moines Register details a new Democratic House campaign committee TV ad in Iowa "slamming" House GOP candidate Mike Whalen -- a restaurant and hotel owner -- for opposing a federal minimum wage increase."

In another vote on another piece of legislation that isn't expected to become law, the House voted 260-167 yesterday to bar federal judges from issuing rulings in lawsuits claiming that the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion.

Ethics
Democrats' eagerness to force former Rep. Tom DeLay (R) back onto the ballot could backfire, the Washington Times says, reporting that DeLay "is willing to wage a full-scale campaign for the seat if Democrats succeed in preventing the Texas Republican Party from replacing him on the November ballot."

The Houston Chronicle says that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) plans to file a brief asking the 5th Circuit to overturn a federal judge's ruling that the Texas GOP can't replace DeLay on the ballot.

Embattled Democratic Rep. William Jefferson's attorney Bob Trout tells NBC's Joel Seidman that Jefferson will file an emergency motion with the DC Circuit Court of Appeals today, after Judge Thomas Hogan ruled yesterday that materials seized in the FBI raid in May of Jefferson's Capitol Hill offices can be reviewed by the Justice Department, though only after Jefferson has had an opportunity to examine the documents and raise any claims of privilege surrounding them.  The emergency motion will attempt to bar a "filter team" of FBI agents from reviewing documents which are now in their possession, Seidman says.  The May 20 raid of Jefferson's Hill office was the first such raid in US history and part of an ongoing political corruption probe that has targeted the New Orleans Democrat.

The New York Times writes that Nigeria's vice president "angrily denied" yesterday that he accepted bribes from or had a business relationship with Jefferson.

The Washington Post's coverage of Ralph Reed's loss in Georgia notes that "House GOP leaders are privately discussing a pre-election plan to compromise with the Senate on legislation clamping down on lobbyists and member perks."  If Rep. Bob Ney "or other Republicans are indicted, House leaders will drop their demands to include strict curbs on the special-interest election spending that favored Democrats in 2004 and quickly pass the lobbying bill to provide political cover to candidates."

The Democrats
The Chicago Tribune's political blog reports that Obama will be traveling to Iowa in September to headline Sen. Tom Harkin's annual steak fry.  "The venue is among the most sought-after platforms in Democratic politics...  Until now, Obama has taken great care to steer clear of Iowa, the state that traditionally launches the race for the White House.  But accepting the invitation to appear on Harkin's high-profile stage Sept. 17 underscores the notion that Obama is not intent on tamping down speculation about his interest in the 2008 campaign."

More on the midterms
Roll Call's Stu Rothenberg says it's just too early for anyone to be calling this a wave election.  "Democrats have a number of surprisingly good polls that suggest a wide range of Democratic challengers, from top-tier hopefuls to second- and third-tier long shots, have a serious chance of winning this fall.  But that's the problem.  Rather than reflecting the appeal of Democratic candidates, those surveys primarily reflect the national political landscape," and "the GOP strategy for holding the House is based on localizing the midterms, and that means making Democratic challengers unacceptable alternatives."

"As many as 24 Democratic-allied outside interest groups have launched attacks or waged other political activity in 82 congressional districts represented by House Republicans, according to data compiled the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC)." – The Hill

With Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) unable to run for re-election, "big name" state donors and President Bush's allies are splitting their support between the two GOP candidates fighting for the nomination, Charlie Christ and Tom Gallagher.  Per the Miami Herald, a "side-by-side comparison shows more Bush Rangers and Pioneers have donated to Gallagher's campaign than to Crist's, while Crist has lured more of Bush's young former staffers to his side."

The two also differ in their views on stem cell research.  Gallagher supports Bush's veto, while Crist says he supports expanding research.  The Herald notes that the issue comes up at "a time both candidates claim to be the conservative heirs to Gov. Jeb Bush."

The Des Moines Register looks at the fundraising numbers in IOWA's tight gubernatorial race, and says that Chet Culver (D) raised about $1 million more than Jim Nussle (R) in the past quarter, although Nussle still has more cash on hand.

RNC chair Ken Mehlman is in New Mexico for some closed fundraisers.

In New York, the latest WNBC/Marist poll has Sen. Hillary Clinton (D) leading possible GOP opponents John Spencer, 61%-34%, and KT McFarland, 61%-32%.  And it has Spencer leading McFarland in a GOP match-up, 36%-15%, with 49% undecided.  Clinton's job approval rating in the poll is at 52%.  In the gubernatorial contest, likely Democratic nominee Eliot Spitzer has a slight lead over Republican John Faso, 69%-20%.

In New York, the AP looks at Clinton's long list of Hollywood donors:

And the chairs of the Democratic House and Senate campaign committees are holding a 12:45 pm press conference call to announce their "election protection" efforts (as Democrats tend to call it) in Ohio for this fall -- Ohio being a key state for both committees and, of course, a sore point for the party on this front.

“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.

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