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Wednesday, September 6, 2006 | 12:20 p.m. ET
From 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

Mr. Lamont Goes to Washington
Meeting with about 30 Washington political reporters earlier this morning, antiwar Democratic Senate nominee Ned Lamont of Connecticut said he believes his general-election race against pro-war incumbent Joe Lieberman (I) will be a referendum on Iraq. If Lieberman wins in November, Lamont argued, that will be a sign that voters in even the bluest of states want to stay the course in Iraq. But if he wins, that will mean there are "going to be a lot of other people around the country wanting to change course." Lamont also said he opposes impeaching President Bush (although he believes in holding Bush accountable) and opposes cutting off funding for the troops in Iraq (even though he supports their withdrawal).

In addition, when asked if he would support Lieberman for Defense Secretary -- if Lieberman loses in November and if Bush nominates him to replace Donald Rumsfeld -- Lamont first tried to duck the question, saying he doesn't answer hypotheticals. But when pressed, he said he wouldn't vote for Lieberman. "He has been so wrong on one of the biggest issues of the day."

Lamont was also asked whether Lieberman's independent candidacy hurts the three Democratic challengers running in competitive House races Connecticut. He replied that it could be "tough," because their GOP opponents have all endorsed Lieberman. "But we're going to win and they're going to win... We have energized a whole group of people, and I don't think they're just Democrats." And asked about trailing in the polls to Lieberman -- and a new Lieberman campaign poll has the incumbent leading Lamont, 51%-35% -- Lamont said he trailed Lieberman back in the spring and early summer. His strategy, he said, is to "do what I've been doing."

Wednesday, September 6, 2006 | 10:40 a.m. ET
From Kelly O'Donnell

'An enormous amount of news'
More White House build-up to President Bush's third speech on the war on terror at 1:30 pm:
Senior Bush advisors say the speech and the accompanying proposal to correct the military tribunals for Guantanamo detainees, which the US Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional back in June, will generate an "enormous amount of news." When asked by the press corps if they're raising expectations, White House spokesperson Tony Snow responded, "We're gonna deliver today," and, "Trust me, it's better than you think." However, he would not provide any further guidance on the "enormous amount of news" of the speech. Hill lawmakers will be briefed before the speech today.

President Bush’s speech will be available live at 1:45 p.m. ET today from http://video.msnbc.com.

Wednesday, September 6, 2006 | 9:25 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray and Huma Zaidi

In today's issue:
Presidential speech #3 comes with a proposed bill on military tribunals
Democrats hit back on homeland security
Lieberman greets his Senate colleagues; Lamont faces DC reporters
Katherine Harris is official, plus other news on the voting front

First glance
62 days until Election Day...  President Bush meets with his Cabinet this morning, then delivers his third speech in less than a week on the war on terror.  NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports that the 1:45 pm speech, a late add to the schedule, will coincide with the White House's submission to Congress of proposed legislation to correct the military trials for Guantanamo detainees, which the US Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional back in June.  A fourth speech in Atlanta remains on the books for tomorrow.

White House officials say that Bush will talk today about how Administration policies are "keeping the American people safe" and why it's necessary to "keep terrorists off our streets while also providing a way to bring them to justice," O'Donnell reports.  The proposed legislation, meanwhile, will focus on a "new code of military commissions" which will use "existing court martial procedures where they make sense" for trying terror suspects.  But, advisors also say, the plan separates the military commission process from the court-martial process used to try US service members.  It provides "extensive due process rights to the accused," but "also "preserves flexibility to protect national security interests."  The drafting process took awhile, senior Bush officials tell O'Donnell, because they consulted with key members of Congress and military attorneys.

The audience for the speech will consist of key Cabinet members, September 11 families, first responders, former Administration officials, conservative opinion leaders, and think-tank members, O'Donnell reports.  (Some might recall news coverage in August of how conservative opinion leaders have become disgruntled with some of Bush's policies, including on national security.)

Reinforcing his assertion that the nation is still threatened by terrorists who themselves see Iraq as central to a broader war, Bush notified Hill leaders late yesterday that he's extending for another year the state of emergency he declared on September 14, 2001 because, he said, "the terrorist threat continues."  He also proclaimed Friday, September 8 through Sunday, September 10 as National Days of Prayer and Remembrance.

Democrats continue to hammer at their message that Bush and Republican policies have actually made the nation less safe.  Sens. Chuck Schumer and Bob Menendez of New York and New Jersey, respectively, headline today's event on homeland security.  Senate Democrats are also expected to offer a resolution today calling for the ouster of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, which they'll try to attach to the defense appropriations bill.

The House returns to work today, and on the Senate side, Joe Lieberman greets his Democratic colleagues en masse at a weekly caucus meeting for the first time since he lost his primary.  Many of them have thrown their support to nominee Ned Lamont; a few continue to support him.  Lamont is doing the Monitor breakfast with about 30 Washington reporters at this writing.  In his opening remarks, he offered three reasons why he challenged Lieberman: the millions without health insurance, the debt, and the Iraq war -- in that order.  Check First Read online for more details later this morning.

MSNBC kicks off the fall campaign season with wall-to-wall politics from 9:00 am till 6:00 pm, starting with Washington bureau chief and Meet the Press moderator Tim Russert from 9:00 am till 10:00 am.  Russert will host the chairs of the party House campaign committees and political analysts Stuart Rothenberg and Chuck Todd.  NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams will host a special hour at 1:00 pm.  Also anchoring: NBC's Campbell Brown, David Gregory, and Lester Holt, and MSNBC's Chris Matthews, Joe Scarborough, and Tucker Carlson.  MSNBC correspondents and political correspondents from NBC affiliates will report on the hottest races around the country.  Other guests include the chairs of the Republican and Democratic National Committees; the Democratic Senate contenders in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Missouri; Republican Senate candidates from Washington state and New Jersey; Missouri Sen. Jim Talent (R); and Rep. John Murtha (D).

And right here tomorrow morning, First Read will introduce you to the new Politics page on MSNBC.com, powered by NBC News and National Journal, home to our friends at the Hotline and the Cook Political Report.

Got calendar ?

Security politics I
The Washington Post calls Bush's citing of notorious terrorists' own words yesterday "a dramatic new tactic to advance familiar arguments from Bush in defense of his strategy."  Also along these lines, the Administration's newly released plan to combat terrorism "calls the administration's policy of spreading freedom and democracy the best means of countering that threat over the long haul."  (The spread of democracy was, of course, Bush's stated top priority for his second term.)

The Chicago Tribune: "In a tactical and rhetorical shift, the president invoked the name of bin Laden 17 times to make his argument more vivid."

"The White House report reflected what one official said was an 'increased understanding of the enemy' and what others said were changes in the U.S. response since the first such report was prepared in 2003...  The strategy paper also implied that other nations had not done their share and had not fully cut off support for terrorists," says the Los Angeles Times.

The Washington Post reports that "[d]eepening Republican divisions over the future of" another Administration policy to combat terrorism, the NSA warrantless wiretapping program, "may jeopardize GOP leaders' hopes of making terrorism surveillance legislation a centerpiece of their final legislative push this month."

The Washington Times notes that "House and Senate Democrats yesterday endorsed a national security report penned by the Third Way National Security Project, a group founded by Democrats who support gun control.  The report... concluded that the Bush administration's foreign policy has failed in Iraq, the war on terror, Afghanistan and other countries.  The number of terrorist attacks and terrorist recruits is up worldwide, many enemy countries are now stronger and have better weapons, and America's influence with allies has weakened, according to the report."

The New York Times observes that "dueling appearances" by Bush and Democrats "laid bare a central fact about the changing politics of Sept. 11...  This week's politicking would have been unthinkable four years ago."

The Boston Globe: "The intense focus on national security in the final weeks before voters choose their congressional representatives reflects a strategy shift for both parties.  Months ago, Republican leaders hoped that the races for House and Senate seats would turn on local issues and not the widely unpopular Iraq war."

Presidential candidate and Gov. Mitt Romney (R) is criticizing Harvard for inviting former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami to speak there, and says the state won't spend any money or resources to provide protection for him, reports the Boston Globe.  Democratic Rep. Steve Lynch "said that while Khatami should not have been invited to speak at Harvard, the state should provide him with security, if for no other reason than to avoid the potentially grave consequences if he were hurt or killed on US soil."

Security politics II
The Administration closed ranks around Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld yesterday.  The Pentagon declined to comment on calls to remove him from office; NBC's Courtney Kube reports that spokesperson Bryan Whitman said the Pentagon is "not going to get involved in politics in the Defense Department."  White House spokesperson Tony Snow told reporters, "The President strongly supports the Defense Secretary...  Creating Don Rumsfeld as a bogeyman may make for good politics but would make for very lousy strategy at this time."

White House chief of staff Josh Bolten undertook the official response to the Democratic leadership's Monday letter calling for a "new direction" in Iraq; he also rejected their call for new civilian leadership at the Pentagon.  Of the Democrats' four-pronged proposal for a new course in Iraq, three of four elements, Bolten wrote them yesterday, "reflect well-established Administration policy," while the fourth, a phased redeployment of troops, "is dangerously misguided...  Your proposal... would have U.S. forces begin withdrawing from Iraq by the end of the year, without regard to the conditions on the ground."

House Majority Leader John Boehner told reporters yesterday during an off-camera briefing that Rumsfeld is the "perfect person to be Secretary over the past five years," instituting much needed reforms, NBC's Mike Viqueira reports.  Boehner said it's because Rumsfeld "knows where all the bodies are buried" in the Pentagon bureaucracy.  He also indicated that he's unlikely to allow any Democrat-proposed resolution onto the floor that takes after Rumsfeld, Viq says.

Rumsfeld himself was out of the office for a few hours yesterday undergoing surgery for a torn rotator cuff at Walter Reed.  A spokesperson said the torn cuff was the result of a sports injury suffered years ago.

It's the economy...
Senior White House officials tell NBC's O'Donnell that a meeting between Bush and the Big Three automakers won't happen until after the election.  Advisors say the prospect of the meeting has gotten "too mired in politics."  Two scheduling attempts were made, they say; one meeting was canceled by the automakers, and the other was dropped due to a change in presidential travel.  The White House says it has "been in touch with all three" and they have agreed to meet later, O'Donnell reports.  Bush has a fundraiser in Michigan scheduled for Friday, and Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm has called on him to meet with the Big Three when he's in the area.  Republican gubernatorial nominee Dick DeVos has accused Bush of ignoring a struggling industry.  The party's Senate nominee, Mike Bouchard, who will benefit from the presidential visit on Friday, has issued a statement saying he looks forward to talking with Bush about issues of concern to Michigan families.

The news of a "landmark test of a deep-water well in a part of the Gulf of Mexico that could swell the nation's oil reserves by as much as 50% if production goes forward" is called "the best prospect for new domestic crude oil in 38 years."  That said, the project won't "shave oil prices in the near term."  USA Today says "it could take up to five years for production to begin.  And consumer demand and worldwide crises, such as tension with Iran, continue to exert greater pressure on oil prices."

The united steelworkers and steel manufacturers are launching a radio and print ad campaign in Ohio and eight other states urging voters to seek candidates who will support the steel industry.  One of the ads goes, "Help Wanted: Seeking a political candidate who will do something about the 44,900 manufacturing jobs American workers are losing every month.  A candidate who will get our government to start enforcing the trade laws it refuses to enforce now."

More on the Bush/GOP agenda
Although GOP leaders are determined to spend most of this month focusing on security issues, they're facing pressure from within and without to tackle other issues before leaving town to campaign for the midterm elections.  The Hill says "several vulnerable House Republicans" are pressuring GOP leaders "on an array of legislation that [they] have resisted for most of the 109th Congress, chief among them being an increase in the minimum wage."  "The priorities of these endangered incumbents... create pressure for leaders to revisit issues they would rather avoid, and together add up to too many items for the House to address before recessing for the elections."

And Roll Call reports that House Republicans leaders, mindful of "a disgruntled base and public demands for action to address illegal immigration,... are planning a push this month to shift the focus away from their inability to reach agreement with the Senate by passing smaller-scale initiatives to strengthen the border."

Saying that "House Republicans are placing self-preservation ahead of loyalty to" Bush when it comes to immigration reform, Bloomberg reports that the legislation "is doomed for 2006," and that the "plan's demise would mark the second- consecutive year in which a proposal identified by Bush's administration as its No. 1 domestic goal foundered. Social Security overhaul, his top priority in 2005, never reached a vote."

House Rules Committee chair David Dreier argues in a USA Today op-ed that Democrats haven't been interested in passing lobbying and ethics reform because they'd rather have the issue to campaign on this fall.  Dreier says Republicans "remain committed to achieving greater transparency and accountability in the lobbying and ethics process."  Meanwhile, an editorial in the paper places much of the blame for a lack of progress on the issue on the shoulders of the GOP majority.

President Bush is calling for a speedy confirmation of his new Transportation Secretary nominee, Mary Peters, whose first priority will probably be the airline industry. – Financial Times

The Los Angeles Times calls Peters' nomination and the departure of Bush's Medicare chief "part of ongoing personnel shifts as the administration prepares for its last two years."  The story notes that Medicare chief Mark McClellan's departure "comes just as growing numbers of seniors are expected to hit a gap in coverage, known as the 'doughnut hole,' that Congress built into the middle of the drug benefit to save money.  That particular problem, it seems, will land in his successor's lap."

A new biography on Karl Rove reveals details about his relationship with his stepfather, Louis Rove, who "abandoned Karl's mother, Reba, to live as a homosexual," reports the New York Daily News.  One of the book's authors says Rove, "who obtained an early galley" of the book, "had an intermediary press the authors to leave out the section about his father."  The same author says "Rove himself called daily - 'one day, six times' - to lobby against a chapter about his connection with indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff."

The vote
The National Secretaries of State (NASS) is launching a website to help voters as they head to the polls in a new world in which key provisions of the Help America Vote Act will take full effect this year.  The website, CanIVote.org, gives voters a step-by-step guide to voting this year.

NBC's Scott Foster reports that the Pentagon has implemented a new absentee voting system that allows troops to request and receive ballots online through a secure server, in an effort to streamline the voting process for deployed US military personnel in the midterm elections.  The new web-based technology, according to Pentagon officials, will shorten the amount of time it takes for troops to receive necessary ballot materials from their home states.  Due to security risks, however, the website does not allow potential military voters to actually transmit their votes through the website.  Instead, troops must either fax their signed ballots, scan their signed ballots and e-mail them in PDF format, or send them through regular mail to their home states.  Since nearly all active-duty military personnel are not deployed or stationed at their local or county residence, all are eligible to vote by absentee ballot -- a pool of 1.4 million service members, Foster says.  Included in that figure are the roughly 225,000 troops who are currently deployed in support of combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Midterm mania
Roll Call points out some lawmakers' potentially awkward need to campaign on September 11 because of the spate of primaries the next day.

The Hartford Courant covers Connecticut Senate contenders Lieberman and Lamont as Lamont tries to broaden his message beyond the Iraq war and Lieberman tries to "recast his primary loss as a general-election virtue: evidence of his prizing bipartisanship and pragmatism over party loyalty."

Rep. Katherine Harris won the GOP Senate nomination in Florida yesterday, though views are mixed on whether her showing demonstrates strength or weakness.  Rep. Jim Davis (D) will face Attorney General Charlie Crist (R) in the state's gubernatorial race to replace outgoing Gov. Jeb Bush (R). – Miami Herald

Turnout in many Florida counties was low, but the AP says there were very few voting problems.

Iowa Rep. Jim Nussle, the GOP nominee for governor, seems to have moderated his position on abortion, Democrats charge.  The Nussle campaign disagrees. – Des Moines Register

In Missouri, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's political blog reports that the Democratic Senate campaign committee has launched a TV ad hitting Sen. Jim Talent (R) for "his votes for 'billions of dollars in tax breaks' for oil companies."  The ad comes after the Talent campaign launched its first negative ad against opponent Claire McCaskill (D), which says "that McCaskill 'calls Howard Dean her hero,' and 'supports the death tax,' the Republican name for the estate tax."

In New Jersey, former President Bill Clinton stumps with Sen. Bob Menendez (D) in Elizabeth at 5:30 pm ET, and former President George HW Bush appears at a reception for Senate candidate Tom Kean Jr. (R) in Bridgewater.

MSNBC.com’s Tom Curry writes that New York Republicans had one goal at the beginning of this election cycle: "to thwart Hillary Clinton's presidential prospects -- by defeating Clinton in her bid for re-election to the Senate, or at least coming close...  But with [the] Senate primary taking place next week, and after the GOP candidates in it have committed countless gaffes and bloodied each other in a divisive contest, the only thing they seem to have stopped in making the race against Clinton competitive."

USA Today looks at the potential for third-party candidates to become spoilers in some key races around the country, particularly the Pennsylvania Senate race, in which the Green candidate is the only one of the three who's pro-choice.

And in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry (R) and independent challenger Carole Keeton Strayhorn (a/k/a Scott McClellan's mom) are up with the first TV ads.  The Houston Chronicle notes that Perry's ad is even implicitly critical of the Bush Administration.  "'If Washington won't protect our border, Texas will,' Perry says in the commercial."

Other people's elections
Britain is buzzing over a tabloid report that Prime Minister Tony Blair "intends to resign as leader of the governing Labor Party on May 31, triggering a leadership election likely to take about eight weeks...  He would then be replaced as prime minister on July 26."  - Los Angeles Times

There are now five candidates to succeed UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, including one who would become "the first Muslim to hold the post if chosen."  Annan's term expires later this year. – Los Angeles Times

And a tribunal has declared conservative candidate Felipe Calderon the new President of Mexico.  Liberal candidate Manuel "Lopez Obrador sees the declaration of his defeat as one in a long line of corrupt acts by Mexico's elite, aides say."  - Los Angeles Times

“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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