“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.

Monday, March 14, 2005 | 9:20 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Kasie Hunt

First glance
Coordinated or not, the GOP effort to reach out to African-Americans now includes Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, potential candidate for Maryland's open US senate seat, and Condoleezza Rice, who gets big play for insisting she's not running for president.  Rice has become the Colin Powell of 2008: Shermanesque refusals, great personal story, hefty national security credentials -- and, we are reminded, "moderately" pro-choice.  We wonder if the DOS press corps will follow up on whether Rice's stance on abortion is at odds with Administration efforts to curb abortions abroad.  (Democrats have several potential African-American candidates for that Maryland Senate seat.)

  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

Condi, Rudy, Arnold: Beyond the President and Vice President, the GOP's most recognized and popular figures are pro-choice.  Which isn't to say that any of them could win the party's presidential nomination. 

Schwarzenegger does MSNBC's Hardball from Stanford University tonight, and officially gets his first Democratic challenger this week: California Treasurer Phil Angelides will announce his candidacy with stops in San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles, rolling out some key endorsements along the way.  He'll seek to poke holes in Schwarzenegger's reformer image. 

In DC, the Republican Party also continues to look like the party of change, helped by Bush's efforts on Social Security and to foster democracy abroad, while Democrats look like the party of the status quo.  But House Democrats will try to counter this from within by making Tom DeLay the poster child of an unethical GOP lust for power.  The House ethics panel remains deadlocked, with Democrats demanding that Republicans relax restrictions on starting investigations.  DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel told reporters last week that one way for Democrats to become agents of change for 2006 would be to emphasize ethics and try to change the institution. 

Asked whether Democrats might be able to pull a Jim Wright on Tom DeLay, a House Republican source tells First Read, "[DeLay] is Number Two, not Number One.  The Democrats may shake up our succession, but these types of attacks are unlikely to change the partisan balance of power in the House."  More: "Right now I would argue we are effective as opposed to ineffective," the source says.  Democrats "have to stand for something if they are to win...  Look at their inability to arrive at a common position on either Iraq or Social Security."

The House meets at 12:30 pm; the Senate meets at 10:00 am.

President Bush today makes remarks and participates in the presentation of the National Medals of Science and Technology at the White House at 10:35 am, then with Laura Bush co-hosts a reception in honor of the diplomatic corps at 6:00 pm.  Looks like some Social Security travel may be in the works for Friday, when Bush is scheduled to go to Florida.

Bringing us full circle, the ongoing battle over African-American voters continues today with a Congressional Black Caucus hearing at 1:00 pm "to examine the effects of President Bush's plan to privatize Social Security on African Americans."

But who are we kidding: This week will be dominated by anticipation over who will and won't show for the scheduled Thursday hearing on steroids and baseball.  And after winning praise from enviro groups last week for its new Clean Air Interstate Rule, the Administration will get boos from the same corner this week for expected new mercury regulations that allow utilities to buy pollution credits rather than force them to clean up emissions.

Social Security
The Washington Post points out that despite all the GOP proposals out there, "Notably silent on their preferences are the two lawmakers most critical to passing a Social Security bill: House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa)."

The Wall Street Journal looks at the perhaps unexpected opposition to Bush's private accounts from conservative Democrats.  "A source of support for Mr. Bush in the past, these Democrats so far sound unyielding in their opposition...  The explanation lies in both deficit politics, and in resentments over past grievances."  The story quotes Norman Ornstein suggesting Bush should have spent more time uniting than dividing over the last few years.

The Chicago Tribune covers the “unprecedented” coordinated campaign among the White House, RNC, and business groups, saying it's "the latest example of an aggressive, disciplined control of information flowing from the White House, which experts say dwarfs the communications efforts of previous administrations.” 

The Washington Times, covering the DNC radio ad campaign, adds that it "plans to release new polling numbers to Democratic members of Congress later this week, showing weaker support for Mr. Bush's proposal, and tout the poll's results in newspaper and TV ads in the midst of a continuing presidential sales trip for his plan to let workers under the age of 55 voluntarily invest part of their payroll taxes in broadly diversified stock and bond mutual funds."  (First Read note: check those survey dates -- the poll will be interesting, but not that "new.") 

Among the "many little-discussed logistical mountains" that would come with implementing private accounts, per the Wall Street Journal: 70 million introductory brochures, a new record-keeping system, start-up and operating costs, and the ability to handle "a minimum of 175 million calls a year."  "Supporters of private accounts acknowledge the task is daunting, but say it can be accomplished." 

Delay
The Washington Post front-pages: "With some members increasingly concerned that DeLay had left himself vulnerable to attack, several Republican aides and lobbyists said for the first time that they are worried about whether he will survive and what the consequences could be for the party's image."  On House Democrats' efforts to get Republicans to repeal the ethics rule changes, the Post reports that "they plan to try to force Republicans to publicly defend the changes at a time when the news media are reporting about DeLay's relationship with lobbyists now under criminal and congressional investigation."

The Washington Post editorial page considers the ethics panel deadlock and says the "GOP spin" that it's Democrats' fault is "hard to take from the people who rigged the rules and changed the players when they didn't like the result."

The Sunday New York Times looked at DeLay's growing legal defense fund, thanks to corporate contributions and checks from his House colleagues, including two GOP members of the Ethics Committee. 

Time and Roll Call cover DeLay's extensive reach into the lobbying world, known as DeLay Inc.

On a related note, in a story not mentioning DeLay but involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the Sunday Washington Post mapped out in intricate detail Abramoff's effort -- involving a rival tribe; US senators and members of Congress; James Dobson; and Ralph Reed, who is now running for Georgia LG -- to keep a band of Choctaws from getting a casino.

The values debate
The Washington Post says lawmakers in 19 states are "weighing proposals that question the science of evolution."  The carefully crafted proposals are "calculated pleas to teach what advocates consider gaps in long-accepted Darwinian theory, with many relying on the idea of intelligent design."  The Post says proponents of these measures "are acting now because they feel emboldened by the country's conservative currents and by President Bush."  More: "Some evolution opponents are trying to use Bush's No Child Left Behind law, saying it creates an opening for states to set new teaching standards."  But the "efforts are not limited to schools." 

Whither the Democrats
Kerry kicks off a national "Kids First" tour today with a town hall in Atlanta with Georgia health care providers and activists pushing his Kids First health care plan.  The event takes place at the Atlanta Academy of Medicine at 9:00 am.  This is the next step in Kerry's effort to use the grassroots and online networks built during his presidential campaign to promote children's health care.  After the town hall, Kerry does an ed board with the Journal-Constitution, then a state party event with former Sen. Max Cleland to thank Georgia Democrats for their work on his campaign.

The Boston Herald covers Kerry pondering "whether to pursue re-election in 2008, launch another presidential bid, or try to juggle both." 

The AP reminds us that today brings the Vermont Supreme Court hearing on whether now-DNC chairman Howard Dean's gubernatorial records should continue to remain sealed.

The media
The Sunday New York Times front-paged the Administration’s pre-packaged TV news segments.  “In all, at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years...  Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government's role in their production.”  The Times paints the most extensive picture to date of "a world where government-produced reports disappear into a maze of satellite transmissions, Web portals, syndicated news programs and network feeds, only to emerge cleansed on the other side as ‘independent’ journalism.”

On a more local note, the AP says California Democrats are crying foul over previously reported video news releases put out by the Schwarzenegger Administration -- and that news directors are "re-examining their policies about airing such material.  Aides to Mr. Schwarzenegger acknowledge using state money to produce [VNRs] that cast an entirely favorable light on some of the administration's most controversial policies." 

The new Project for Excellence in Journalism study gets widespread coverage.  The Washington Post's Kurtz begins with Fox leading the pack in terms of Iraq war stories including "the opinions of the anchors and journalists reporting them."

The Los Angeles Times gives it the headline, "Study Warns of Junk-News Diet," and subhead, "More Americans are getting information from blogs and cable TV, which tend to stress opinions, not reporting, a survey says."  "On one hand, the study's review of 250 randomly selected stories buttressed the complaint that President Bush got worse coverage than Sen. John F. Kerry" last year.  "Coverage of the war in Iraq, on the other hand, tended to be far more neutral than some critics had charged..."

And the New York Times also notes how one liberal blog, Democrats.org, is trying to reach out to the mainstream media by conducting conference calls “to counter what they regard as the much stronger influence of conservative pundits online… [B]loggers on all sides agree that the left has made less effective use of the opportunities to organize and wield influence afforded by the Internet.”

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