“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 8, 2005 | 9:25 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Kasie Hunt

First glance
President Bush turns his attention to terrorism and seeks to capitalize on democracy's new footing in the Middle East with a speech at National Defense University at 10:15 am in DC.  The Washington Post quotes Jon Stewart as a representative liberal voice saying maybe Bush's approach "was right," and therein lies the problem for Democrats.  After the speech, Bush meets with the President of the Czech Republic at 11:15 am, then with 41 and 42 to talk about tsunami relief at 1:45 pm. 

  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

Governor Schwarzenegger visits DC today on the next leg of his $50 million fundraising effort.  Asked by NBC's Campbell Brown where the money is coming from, if not from the special interests he campaigned against, Schwarzenegger said he doesn't "look at exactly who is giving money."  Pressed on the fact that the contributors are "business people, Wall Street people, lobbyists who are writing big checks," he replied, "So what's wrong with that?" and then emphasized that the money is "to reform California.  I don't take any of this money myself."

Schwarzenegger also tells Brown that his agenda "is not to improve the image of the Republican Party, nor to change their strategy or what they are doing."  Asked whether he thinks the GOP would ever nominate a presidential candidate who supports embryonic stem cell research and is otherwise socially moderate, he says "that's really not what I'm concentrating on."  Much of Schwarzenegger's talk of his reform proposals in the interview is the same he used at last night's New York GOP fundraising dinner -- minus the jock-strap joke he used on Governor Pataki.  More from the interview below.

One of us got our Social Security statement in the mail, and check out what it says: "...the Social Security system is facing serious future financial problems, and action is needed soon...  Unless action is taken soon to strengthen Social Security, in just 14 years we will begin paying more in benefits than we collect in taxes.  Without changes, by 2042 the Social Security Trust Fund will be exhausted," and "there will be enough money to pay only about 73 cents for each dollar of scheduled benefits."  The 2004 statement says the same, it turns out, but the 2002 statement doesn't mention "serious future financial problems."  (We couldn't find our 2003 statement.)

NBC's Ken Strickland says to expect Democrats to hold a handful of Social Security events on the Hill this week.  At one, they'll literally punch holes in GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel's proposal, which would raise the retirement age by a year and allow for private accounts.  Another will highlight how the President's private accounts hurt African-Americans.  Countering Hill Democrats' claims about their numbers of Social Security town halls, an RNC aide tells First Read that "about 80 Republican members held over 268 town halls/events/etc. on Social Security during the recess a little while back."  The aide adds that such events are still being held.

The Senate could pass the bankruptcy bill as early as today.  The House has said it will accept the Senate version so long as it doesn't come with any pesky amendments -- like the minimum-wage increase that went down last night, or the one Sen. Chuck Schumer (D) plans to propose today which would bar people from using bankruptcy to avoid paying fines imposed for illegal protests, including violent pro-life protests.

Senator McCain lays out for his colleagues today why the FEC needs clamp down on 527 organizations like the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and MoveOn.org, and a couple of print folks use the peg to look at McCain's Schwarzenegger-like quandary about raising money from those castigated "special interests" to promote reform.  The New York Times looks at how McCain's Reform Institute raises hundreds of thousands of dollars, often in large chunks, to promote CFR.  And the AP notes how McCain "pressed" Cablevision's "case for pricing changes with regulators at the same time" the Reform Institute "solicited $200,000 in contributions from the company."

A few more California items: Today brings the Los Angeles mayoral primary and the Matsui special.  And TechNet is in town, which prompts us to ask whatever happened to the high-tech industry's love affair with the Democratic party.  More on all of this below.  

All First Glance links at bottom.

Social Security
The Washington Post (channels First Read a bit) and looks around the corner at what might be next: "at a time when many Democrats are congratulating one another, others are beginning to worry that their strategy of rigid opposition has not begun to pay any political dividends and that Bush could yet outflank them before this fight is over...  What worries some Democrats about the debate over Social Security is that Bush stands for something and they do not, other than opposition to the creation of private accounts."

The President's OMB director argues for the accounts in a USA Today op-ed that uses "real problem" instead of "crisis:" "Americans understand this simple fact: Social Security faces a real problem," Josh Bolten leads.  "Critics suggest that even with the benefits of early action, we can't afford the transition to a system with personal accounts.  But by setting up personal accounts, we prepay retirement benefits..."

The Washington Post also reports that a second big Wall Street firm has withdrawn from the business coalition backing private accounts, and notes that Wall Street in general is doing its work behind the scenes because of "fear that opponents will use their eagerness for change as a weapon against them -- and against the president's plan...  Unions accuse financial companies involved in the debate of attempting to profiteer at customers' expense."  

The New York Times notes Wall Street's issues in its look at the latest developments in the interest group war.  Pro-private accounts Progress for America Voter Fund has launched a $2 million TV ad campaign which shows “a scene of a fog-shrouded iceberg as an announcer intones, ‘Some people say Social Security is not in trouble, just like some thought the Titanic was unsinkable.’” 

The Hill reports that the Log Cabin Republicans are now lobbying the Hill in favor of private accounts. 

Roll Call reports on a senior Hill GOP staff retreat in West Virginia this past weekend at which the aides "received a sobering warning that the party needs to do a better job marketing its Social Security message to seniors."

The New York Times writes that the Social Security Trust Fund is one of the biggest misunderstandings in the debate over Social Security, and it explains exactly how the fund works.

And, USA Today editorializes against deficit spending which, it says, is the real cause of crisis -- "decades of irresponsible budgeting that threatens future retirees."

The values debate
The New York Times looks into the imminent debate over the proposed Schumer amendment to the bankruptcy bill, saying it’s the first abortion battle of the new Congress.  “[H]ow it plays out could set the stage for much larger fights over abortion restrictions and judicial nominees, including perhaps a nominee to the Supreme Court.”

The Washington Post reports, "Frustrated by Congress's failure to ban human cloning or place even modest limits on human embryo research, a group of influential conservatives have drafted a broad 'bioethics agenda' for President Bush's second term and have begun the delicate task of building a political coalition to support it."  Yet oddly enough, and to the quiet delight of embryonic stem cell research backers, "the nascent agenda is under attack by a variety of opponents of embryo research." 

Even though Gov. Mitt Romney (R) has voiced his opposition to embryonic stem cell research and cloning, Massachusetts Democrats are moving ahead with discussions on a "spending package of up to $100 million for human embryonic stem cell research facilities and education initiatives," reports the Boston Globe.  And "because Democrats... could override a Romney veto, [Senate President Robert] Travaglini and a few other ranking lawmakers have begun hashing out a stem cell spending bill as the second step..."

In his interview with NBC's Campbell Brown, Schwarzenegger also suggests that the drop in his approval rating is due to special interests being unhappy with his proposed reforms and attacking him for them.  Asked what he thinks of Bush's guest-worker program, Schwarzenegger says he thinks it's a good idea -- but "we have to really look at the -- all of the different ideas ...giving temporary working permits, we have that already."  He also says the US-Mexican border fence must be finished, that something must be done about children born in America to illegal immigrant parents, and that undocumented incarcerated immigrants "costs us almost $800 million" a year in California. 

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that the California arm of Dean-founded Democracy for America is planning a high-tech campaign opposing Schwarzenegger’s initiatives.  “They plan to use the Web and mobile technology to keep roughly 9,000 supporters abreast of the whereabouts of signature-gatherers for Schwarzenegger ballot initiatives.  Organizers say volunteers will then head to those locations to distribute the group's leaflets denouncing the planned special election…The group is also poised to raise money to oppose the governor's agenda.” 

In Los Angeles today, Mayor James Hahn competes against 2001 candidate Antonio Villaraigosa, former Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, former LA police chief Bernard Parks, and state Sen. Richard Alarcon in the city's nonpartisan (though all are Democrats) mayoral primary.  As we have suggested before, there's a chance that Hahn -- who has been plagued by low job-approval numbers -- might not make the May 17 runoff.  Polls open at 10:00 am ET and close at 11:00 pm ET.

The Los Angeles Times says the top candidates "toned down their harsh rhetoric in the campaign's final hours.  Instead, they stuck largely to promoting their candidacies as they fanned out to" work the ground game.

In Sacramento, meanwhile, 12 candidates (3 D, 5 R, one I, one Green, one Libertarian, and one Peace and Freedom) are all vying in a special election to replace the late Rep. Bob Matsui (D), who passed away in January.  But the candidate who leads the pack, and who very well might break the 50% threshold to win this race outright, is Matsui's wife Doris (D).  If she wins, according to Rutgers University's Center for American Women and Politics, she will become the 46th woman to be elected or appointed to succeed her late husband in Congress. 

If Matsui doesn't exceed 50% today, the top finisher from each party will compete in a May 3 runoff.  But House Democrats expect her to win outright, and Roll Call says they hope to swear her in "on the House floor on Thursday."

Whither the Democrats
TechNet leaders are in town and, earlier today, rolled out their "2005 Innovation Policy Agenda."  Participating execs included Cisco's John Chambers, John Doerr, NASDAQ CEO Bob Greifeld, and TechNet president Rick White.  TechNet and the industry in general have had a somewhat lower profile in DC since the start of this decade than they did in the late 1990s, in part due to the tech industry's downward spiral, and in part due to technophile Al Gore's loss in 2000 and the Bush Administration's roots in "old-economy" industries like oil and gas.  That said, TechNet spokesperson Jim Hock emphasizes that the organization has remained active in DC and is working with the Administration on various initiatives, like a national broadband plan.

Which got us wondering, especially in light of Democrats' ongoing search for their meaning of life: Whatever happened to the high-tech industry's future with the Democratic party?  The group is bipartisan, but it was Democrats who, back in the late 1990s, really engaged with Silicon Valley -- not only at the fundraising level, but in efforts to adopt the industry's sensibilities on economic and social opportunity.

"The party and the high-tech sector had a mad, passionate love affair and it burned out," says Wade Randlett, a TechNet co-founder and Democratic party fundraiser.  One reason, certainly, was the high-tech bust.  "When things got tough, people had their minds on business," made fewer trips to DC and "undertook fewer extracurricular activities," Randlett tells First Read.  Another reason: the tech industry was slow to develop a lobbying presence in Washington and lost out to "old economy" industries with larger, better established government affairs operations.  "The tech industry didn't try to influence policy much beyond its realm," says centrist Democratic Leadership Council president Bruce Reed. 

Randlett puts the latter down to tech executives' entrepreneurial approach -- that they "never had full-time lobbyists, never wanted to, never did.  They had a different substantive view of what was good for the country.  It wasn't, 'Give me something.'  It was, 'I want to make something that works poorly work better.'"  Which, Randlett suggests, was not a request Washington lawmakers were used to hearing.  And among lawmakers, the view was, "We could have this sector be a cornerstone of our ideology and appeal to rank and file." 

Randlett says it remains true of the tech industry that "there is no other sector that is as fundamentally Democratic, the leadership is much more Democratic, the employee base is fundamentally more Democratic, and the middle management too."  Whereas other sectors are "fundamentally Republican-oriented."

But, he adds, Democrats "got bored with it."  And, as in the case of many such onetime love affairs, "They still get along.  They see each other once in awhile."

As for the 2008 presidential race, Randlett says just about every would-be Democratic candidate has been out there since the election, except for Warner.  And Edwards was first. 

The media
The AP also notes blogger Garrett Graff's achievement of a White House press pass -- and also fails to mention that he blogged for Howard Dean's presidential campaign while at the same time noting Jeff Gannon/James Guckert's affiliations.

Armstrong Williams returns to talk-radio next Tuesday, co-hosting "'Drive Time Dialogue,' a daily political radio program for New York-based WWRL-AM (1600), with the show's other host, Sam Greenfeld, as the liberal counterpart to Mr. Williams' strong conservative views."  - Washington Times

First glance links
The Washington Post on Bush's speech
New York Times on McCain
Miami Herald on McCain


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