“First Read” is a daily memo prepared by NBC News’ political unit, for NBC News, analyzing the morning’s political news. Please let us know what you think. Drop us a note at FirstRead@MSNBC.com.

Tuesday, March 1, 2005 | 9:10 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Kasie Hunt

First glance
The party of Washington continues to look like the party of reform, even if their proposals face long odds for passage.  Republican lawmakers do outreach on Social Security in DC as Democrats persist with their seemingly unified opposition.  In Sacramento, Governor Schwarzenegger is likely to lament, fairly or not, that Democrats have not sufficiently acted on his proposed government reforms and declare that he'll have to take his case directly to the people of Caulifornia via ballot initiative.  Schwarzenegger's presser is at 2:30 pm ET. 

  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

The Social Security train keeps chugging onward, destination TBD.  New Gallup data shows President Bush with his lowest rating yet on handling Social Security.  The Washington Post reports that the White House has given GOP lawmakers six weeks(-ish) to make progress before they rethink their game plan. 

All of which must be encouraging news for Democrats.  SenatorsCorzine, Schumer, and Boxer (all D) hold a 10:45 am presser today to share constituent feedback -- presumably all bad for Bush -- from their town halls last week.  But Marshall Wittman, formerly of the Heritage Foundation and now of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, warns Democrats that "defeating Social Security is not necessarily going to be devastating to the Bush Administration." 

NBC's Ken Strickland reports that on Monday, oh-eighter and GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel will announce his own plan, which will include personal accounts from payroll taxes, and measures directly targeted at solvency.  Colleague Orrin Hatch also says he has "a roster of ideas" for fixing Social Security and that he's looking for Democratic supporters -- implying that no plan to shore up the program will succeed without some Democrats on board. 

Revisiting his faith-based initiatives for the first time since a former White House official criticized his commitment to them, Bush makes 10:00 am remarks at the White House Faith-Based and Community Initiatives Leadership Conference at the Omni Shoreham Hotel.  Bush also hosts Hill leaders and key committee chairs at the White House at 2:00 pm for a meeting on what he learned in Europe.

US circuit court nominee William Myers, filibustered on his first go-round, appears before the Judiciary Committee once again.  Myers currently is expected to make it out of committee, then get filibustered again.  The Senate meets at 9:45 am; the House meets at 2:00 pm.

Democrats pay tribute to Tom Daschle tonight at 6:30 pm at the National Building Museum.  Speakers include the party's Hill leadership, Ted Kennedy, and former Sen. Max Cleland, the Vietnam vet who in 2002 lost his seat after the GOP charged him with being weak on national/homeland security, scarring the Democratic party and helping to pave the way for the nomination of Kerry in 2004.  More below on possible lessons for the party in Daschle's loss.

Democrats must shore up their standing on national security, say the folks at the centrist Democratic Leadership Council, who urge the party to "reject Michael Moore and the MoveOn crowd" and focus on ideas and becoming the party of reform again.  They also caution Democrats that blogosphere is "not representative of most of the American people" and that it could actually have a "pernicious effect" on how the party is viewed because it's polarizing and getting too much media attention.  More below from the DLC.  DNC chairman Howard Dean continues his red-state tour with a speech in Jackson, MS tonight at 8:00 pm ET. 

And the AFL-CIO executive council starts meeting in Las Vegas today to consider union proposals to combat declining membership and bolster their organizing might in the wake of their 2004 failures.

Social Security
New Gallup data shows President Bush with his lowest rating on handling Social Security since he took office: 35% approve, 56% disapprove -- down from three weeks ago.  "The poll showed that Democrats have made headway" among the public on "whether Social Security needs major changes in the next year or two."  And the "poll showed higher public approval for AARP... than for the president...  White House spokesman Trent Duffy said Bush is just beginning to educate the public." 

The Washington Post says the White House is giving GOP lawmakers and lobbyists a soft deadline of six weeks to make progress before they start reconsidering whether or not to pursue changes to the program this year.

The New York Times reports on Senate Finance chair Sen. Chuck Grassley's suggestion yesterday that, "‘Maybe in another two or three weeks I would like to see some movement’ in the opinion polls ‘or you might have some question about the president succeeding.’” 

USA Today also reports on the uphill slog Republicans face on winning over African-Americans on Social Security: "more than a dozen interviews with blacks yielded only one person who said he might like to try Bush's idea.  The rest wondered why Bush wants to inject risk into a program they think works well."  The story notes that Social Security is "the only source of income for four in 10 black retirees, twice as many as whites." 

An e-mail from RNC chairman Ken Mehlman to supporters touts GOP efforts to back up Bush's efforts: "Just last week, over 250,000 phone calls were made in targeted districts and states, over 3,000 people were mobilized to attend town hall events, well over 100,000 emails were sent to RNC Team Leaders, and hundreds of regional media interviews were conducted."

Roll Call, reporting on Republican and like-minded interest group memos touting progress on persuading the public, notes a concern "that continued negative press coverage of the issue could derail the president’s No. 1 domestic priority before a bill is even introduced in Congress."

In advance of Bush's trip to New Jersey this week, Progress for America is putting out Steve Forbes for TV interviews today and tomorrow.

USA Today covers congressional Democrats' charges yesterday that the Social Security Administration is spending too much time promoting Bush's plan..

And USA Today considers what a longer life expectancy means for Social Security. 

With Schwarzenegger likely to call for a special election today on measures including his redistricting plan, the Democratic leaders of the state legislature have formalized previous suggestions that they would agree "to give an independent panel the power to decide" district boundaries -- if Schwarzenegger waits till after the next Census in 2010.  Some experts doubt that the lines could be redrawn in time for the 2006 elections, as Schwarzenegger demands. – Los Angeles Times

The Sacramento Bee says a business-backed campaign committee closely tied to the governor, Citizens to Save California, is supporting his initiatives on pension reform and teacher tenure. 

The Wall Street Journal editorial page runs the CATO ratings of the governors' fiscal approaches and says Schwarzenegger "is the nation's best governor" in terms of learning "the dual lesson that you can't tax your way to recovery and that the best way out of a deficit is to cut spending."

A new Los Angeles Times poll confirms that Mayor James Hahn (D) really might not survive the primary next Tuesday, with rivals Bob Hertzberg and Antonio Villaraigosa possibly advancing to the run-off. 

Judicial Politics
The AP reports AG Gonzales' insistence yesterday that the "broken" judicial nomination process -- he must mean the part about Democrats filibustering -- must be "fixed" before Bush has to tap any SCOTUS nominees.

The New York Times says Republicans are trying a new argument with Myers this time -- that he is indeed a conservative and an advocate for less reach in environmental laws, and he would thus provide balance to a liberal Ninth Circuit. 

USA Today coins the term "political nesting" in considering how, "behind the scenes, Washington is preparing for Rehnquist's departure."  The fruits of the paper's three-dozen interviews: "Bush wants to give the Supreme Court its first Hispanic justice - but perhaps not now;" "Defining a nominee quickly would be crucial...;" the nuclear option could change things in the Senate; and with "Supreme Court nominations, underground campaigning is key."

Whither the Democrats: Daschle
Ever since Daschle lost his Senate seat last November, and with Congress gearing up for fights over Social Security and judicial nominees, some Republicans have argued that Daschle's fate is a lesson to Democrats who are up for re-election in 2006: obstruct the President's judicial nominees and agenda, and risk losing your seat. 

But not everyone sees it that way.  Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report suggests to us that while obstructionism was one theme Daschle's GOP opponent John Thune used (to help rile up his base), it didn't decide this race, nor will it probably decide others.  "It's not going to win you any swing voters," she explained.

So what are the lessons in Daschle's loss?  Duffy cites three:

1) Its never easy for a Senator to represent a state more liberal or conservative than the incumbent, especially in a presidential year.  Bush beat Kerry in South Dakota, 60% to 38%. 

2) "You need a better handle of your voting record."  Daschle hadn't faced a competitive race since he was elected in 1986, and when that happens, an incumbent's voting record begins to drift.  For example, Duffy says, some pro-life Democrats in South Dakota were very surprised by some of the pro-choice statements Daschle made in Washington.

3) Respect your opponent.  Although Daschle's team raised and spent a huge amount of money, and also ran a sophisticated campaign, Duffy thinks some in Daschle's camp underestimated Thune, especially after he (barely) lost to Tim Johnson in 2002.

Dan Pfeiffer, who served as Daschle's deputy campaign manager and now works for Sen. Evan Bayh, has a different take.  Pfeiffer believes a rare confluence of events and factors contributed to Daschle's loss: he ran in a conservative state, in a presidential year, against an incredibly well-funded opponent, and as the GOP's top target.  "If Tom Daschle and John Thune had run in different years or with a different president at the top of the ticket, Tom Daschle would have won."  He adds that there are perhaps some tactical lessons the Democrats can learn from the race.  "But I don't think there's a larger political lesson that applies to other states."

Whither the Democrats: the DLC
These days, the Democratic party appears to be pretty low on ideas, beyond their opposition to the President's Social Security plan and some effort at the margins on prescription drugs.  So First Read checked in yesterday with an organization which might seem well-positioned to fill that vacuum. 

Maybe it was the snowy weather that made the Democratic Leadership Council's Capitol Hill offices feel like a bunker.  But the fact that the energy in the party is coming from the left and is focused more on tactics than on policy, as evidenced by Howard Dean's election as DNC chair, is clearly unsettling the centrist group.  A representative of liberal, Internet-driven MoveOn recently accused the DLC of being "out of vogue" and irrelevant.  DLCers, meanwhile, await the 2008 presidential primary as the time when the party's direction will be determined -- just as it was when the DLC and a governor named Clinton gained prominence in the early 1990s.

"You've got to reject Michael Moore and the MoveOn crowd," DLC CEO Al From said in an interview about how the Democratic Party should rebuild after 2004.  From argued that the anti-war Moore and MoveOn have hurt the party on national security, the issue which he says the party needs to make "central to our cause."  Rank-and-file Democrats "are more like us than MoveOn," which From called a group of "elites, people who sit in their basements all the time and play on their computers." 

DLC VP for policy and in-house blogger Ed Kilgore observed that the overall left-leaning, Internet-driven movement is focused on "debating tactics and attitude, not policy."  All the DLC officials interviewed refrained from criticizing Dean.

From took issue with one emerging tactic in particular: "There's some credibility developing behind the idea that the party can recede into its base and win," he said, with the ongoing discussion on the left clearly in mind.  The problem with that, he argued, is that the Democratic base isn't big enough.  "Karl Rove can have a polarizing strategy because he starts with a much bigger base." 

Per From, the Democratic Party is continuing a 40-year slide.  Referring to DLC-compiled data, he pointed to a nationalization of politics through a convergence of the presidential and congressional vote over the past four decades, and especially in the last one.  From also said that a 2-to-1 Democratic advantage in party ID in 1964 has become an even split, and that key voting blocs like women, Catholics, Hispanics, and even seniors are turning away from the party.  Only two Democratic presidential candidates have won a majority of the popular vote in the last 15 elections, the DLC folks point out: LBJ and Carter.  And the only Democrats who have won in recent decades, Carter and Clinton, have been Southern Baptists.

The DLC believes the party needs to emphasize values and reform, along with national security.  In talking about social issues, From said, "We don't show enough respect for people who might disagree with us."  Not surprisingly, the collective DLC conclusion was that Hillary Clinton gets this better than other Democrats.  Will Marshall, president of the DLC-affiliated Progressive Policy Institute, called her recent, controversial speech on abortion "an example of getting away from culture-war politics."  Asked whether cultural conservatives' negative feelings toward the Senator make her a flawed messenger, Marshall replied that "because she has been demonized by the right, she's in position to surprise."

Marshall also noted that even though the GOP is the party of Washington, "Kerry did an abysmal job of reminding people of that," and said Democrats need to offer some political reforms of their own.  In addition to redistricting and public spending proposals, PPI also has a deficit-halving plan and a "family-friendly" tax reform plan aimed at the middle class.

As far as the next two elections are concerned, From said he hopes "that the national Democratic party doesn't create baggage for Democrats in the red states" in 2006.  And he expressed confidence that "whoever wins the presidency will have a point of view pretty close to ours."

On the blogosphere in general, DLC senior fellow and longtime blogger Marshall Wittman sounded a cautionary note, arguing that the 'sphere "not representative of most of the American people," and that it actually could have a "pernicious effect" on how the party is viewed because it's getting "too much" media attention and is having a polarizing effect.  Marshall of PPI said that the blogs are a "new force in the Chattering Class," in that what's discussed and debated online now "finds a way into the mainstream press."  But he added that it's tough to tell how big a political force it is, noting that bloggers "haven't quite won any of their battles" except helping Dean get elected DNC chair. 

More whither the Democrats
As Dean prepares for a red-state speech tonight in Jackson, MS, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force announces they will honor Dean in DC on April 7. 

Donna Brazile writes in Roll Call that "Democrats must respond to the message coming out of the RNC" in its efforts to reach out to African-Americans.  "Black voters deserve - and the preservation of the party rests on - a strong response from Democrats, who have been the proud beneficiaries of the black vote...  While the GOP’s investment did not result in a majority of votes, it provided Republicans with an opportunity to join the dialogue."  Brazile writes that "some blacks are starting to believe the community is not well-served when one party takes their votes for granted and the other party doesn’t work to earn them."

Tale of two press conferences: At the bipartisan NGA presser yesterday, oh-eighter Governors Romney (R) and Vilsack (D) et al did their best "Kumbaya" rendition, with Vilsack talking up Bush's "impressive" demeanor and Romney touting gov love over Medicaid.  Two hours later at their own presser, Democratic governors turned up the heat.  Oh-eighter Bill Richardson asked why Washington is examining the tax code and Social Security, which has until 2042 before becoming insolvent, when there are more pressing needs on health care and education.

NGA chairman and fellow oh-eighter Mark Warner (D) "sees the Medicaid fight as just part of a broader dollars-and-cents debate that could carry his party back to power," the Wall Street Journal says.  "By presiding over a shift to record budget deficits from record surpluses, Mr. Bush has given Democrats an opportunity to make headway with a message of fiscal responsibility and straight talk..."  But the story also notes that "Democrats don't have a track record of exploiting deficits for political gain."

Speaking at an awards ceremony last night, Kerry "slammed" Bush's Amtrak budget cuts "incomprehensible" and vowed to be on the front lines to fight the cuts, says the Boston Herald.  "Kerry also took aim at the president's policies on child care, the environment, international relations and health care, declaring, 'Health care is not a faith-based initiative.'"  - Boston Herald

More oh-eight (R)
The Boston Herald says Romney "yesterday ripped the Bay State's all-Democrat congressional delegation for a lack of clout, saying the sharp partisan slant prevents Massachusetts from reaping its fair share of federal aid."  Those remarks "drew a mocking response from the delegation."  The back-and-forth is part of an "intensifying feud between the governor and the state's top Democrats as Romney seeks to boost his national profile..."


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments