“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 22, 2005 | 9:20 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Kasie Hunt

First glance
US District Court Judge James Whittemore has denied the Schindlers' request that daughter Terri Schiavo's feeding tube be reinserted because the Schindlers did not meet the legal burden necessary to get the order, reports NBC's Pete Williams.  The Schindlers now take their case to the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.  Williams advises that the Atlanta court probably will take up the case on expedited review and could turn it around within a day.  Whittemore did not rule on whether the law passed by Congress and signed by President Bush is constitutional or not.

  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

Schiavo, charges of activist (Clinton-appointed) judges and judge-shopping, the threat of the nuclear option, and Rehnquist's return to the bench yesterday -- all fuel anticipation of the looming battle over Bush judicial nominees and turn what's usually a Washington fight between party bases and interest groups into a potentially much broader political story.

Schiavo, the nuclear option, Social Security, Tom DeLay, and the Bolton and Wolfowitz nominations.  While hampered by their reluctance to take up the Schiavo issue, at some point, Democrats may be able to weave the Schiavo case into their larger argument that Republicans are “drunk with power,” as Harry Reid put it.  While “drunk with power” might be a little over the top, Republicans may be developing the kind of arrogance that comes with being in the majority and holding the White House, suggests Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report.

Social Security: President Bush has an event in Albuquerque at 11:25 am, then returns to Crawford.  Vice President Cheney make remarks and does a town hall in Reno at 11:55 am.  Anti-private accounts Americans United brackets Cheney with a rally at 11:30 am.  In a press conference call yesterday prebutting Cheney's event, Sen. Jon Corzine (D) charged that Cheney only hits the trail when the White House needs to shore up its base.  The Delaware branch of Americans United also holds a presser today before GOP Rep. Mike Castle's town hall, to call on Castle to sign a pledge denouncing private accounts.

Playing defense by going on offense, the RNC hosts a press conference call with chair Ken Mehlman at 11:30 am, during which Mehlman will release a memo to RNC members (and the media) laying out "certain trends that have emerged" in the Social Security fight: that "more people have come to understand the structural problems facing Social Security’s solvency... and thus, the issue has become more important to them;" that "more Americans agree that Social Security needs strengthening;" that "support for Personal Retirement Accounts has increased;" and that "as Americans follow the Social Security Debate, they trust President Bush more than Democrats to find a solution."

On the GOP realignment front: At this writing, Mehlman appears with the Mayflower Compact Coalition, the group of African-American conservatives seeking to help the GOP win over some of that voting bloc.  Mehlman and the coalition will roll out the "Mayflower Compact," a nine-point plan to build on the civil rights movement and help the GOP win over African-American voters.  And, in advance of the President's meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox tomorrow, we consider whether future GOP candidates for president can replicate Bush's success with Latino voters.  More on this below.

And two oh-eight (D) items: Edwards convenes his first seminar at his made-to-order UNC poverty center in Chapel Hill today.  And John Podesta's think-tank, widely viewed in DC circles as a policy engine for a future Hillary Clinton presidential bid, gets ready to release a universal health care plan tomorrow.  But it's not Hillarycare II, a spokesperson tells First Read.  More on this below, too.

Schiavo politics
The New York Times, in tracing how the Schiavo case reached Congress, reports that Tom DeLay on Friday combined the case with his ethics issues.  “‘One thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo, to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America,’ Mr. DeLay told a conference organized by the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group...  ‘This is exactly the issue that is going on in America, of attacks against the conservative movement, against me and against many others,’ Mr. DeLay said.”

The Houston Chronicle examines the political benefits DeLay seems to have reaped from the Schiavo matter, including "fortified" support among conservatives.  Also, "DeLay shunned television producers' requests for interviews about the ethics questions early last week.  By Friday he was front-and-center before the news cameras with each turn in the Schiavo story..."

DeLay argues in a USA Today op-ed that Terri Schiavo "was being parched and starved to death;" "has been denied even the most routine medical treatment" and "confined to a hospice - by definition a facility where lives end rather than are saved;" and was denied "permission to even go outside and breathe fresh air...  That all of this was happening without so much as a single review of the evidence by a single federal judge was a clear and egregious violation of Schiavo's constitutional rights.  Congress' obligation to protect such rights... is absolute."

The USA Today editorial page, meanwhile, calls Washington's intervention "shameful political grandstanding," and "an appalling precedent for political interference in the most painful decisions any family can face."  The page notes, "Those most active in politicizing the case are Republicans who typically proclaim their devotion to reducing the interference of the federal government in people's lives."  The page blasts Frist for offering "his own optimistic diagnosis of Schiavo's prospects based on viewing a few clips from a family-provided videotape," and blasts DeLay, too.

The Los Angeles Times weighs the upsides and downsides for oh-eighter Frist in his physician background and his arguable overplaying of that background in the Schiavo case.

The Los Angeles Times covers critics' charges that a Texas statute signed by then-Governor Bush in 1999 is "inconsistent with the measure Bush signed in the early hours of Monday."  The statute "sets "conditions for how a patient's relatives or other surrogates may make end-of-life decisions, and... spells out procedures for cases where the surrogates and medical providers disagree on whether to continue or to suspend life-sustaining care."

Knight Ridder does the same.  "Bioethicists familiar with the Texas law said Monday that if the Schiavo case had occurred in Texas, her husband would be the legal decision-maker and, because he and her doctors agreed that she had no hope of recovery, her feeding tube would be disconnected."  However, one of the authors of the Texas law says, "'It's not really a conflict, because the [Texas] law addresses different types of disputes, meaning the dispute between decision-maker and physician...  The Schiavo case is a disagreement among family members.'"

The Washington Post says that per analysts and polls, the GOP "have seized upon the Terri Schiavo case with such fervor that they may find themselves out in front of an American public that is divided over right-to-die issues and deeply leery of government intrusion into family affairs."  The story also details Democrats' nervousness about the whole thing.

The Los Angeles Times says the "extraordinary steps taken by congressional Republicans to save the life of Terri Schiavo have won plaudits from evangelical Christians and other conservative activists, but some Republicans worry about a potential backlash among others who view the intervention as an overbearing use of government power...  Still, some Republican analysts say the immediate poll results... are not politically significant because the activists pushing to keep Schiavo alive care more passionately than those opposing that view."

Schiavo and the courts
The Washington Post says that per constitutional lawyers, "Terri Schiavo's parents have only a slim chance of convincing federal courts that their daughter should be kept alive indefinitely."  Because of previous SCOTUS rulings, "even if the case goes to the Supreme Court, some of the conservative justices who might have the most sympathy for the Schindlers' claim have in the past sided with the states on similar cases."

The Boston Globe says the Schiavo fight is adding "new ammunition for religious conservatives intent on reshaping the nation's judiciary."  They "expressed the hope that the Schiavo case will add a human face to their movement -- on another right-to-life issue besides abortion -- as they press for like-minded judges."

Schiavo and the values debate
The California Medical Association yesterday "moved nearly unanimously Monday to condemn" the new law.  "Members of the group said they would ask the American Medical Assn. to approve the same resolution at its national convention in June in Chicago." – Los Angeles Times

The case "has triggered a surge of interest in living wills and other measures that can prevent the kind of bitter battle underway in Florida," says the Washington Post.

As the GOP's actions in the Schiavo case spotlight their support for the death penalty, the New York Times and other papers cover the Catholic Church's new effort to get rid of it.

Social Security
Previewing Bush's stop in Albuquerque today, the Santa Fe New Mexican says the "original reason for the Albuquerque stop was to give a boost to New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici, chairman of the Senate Budget Committee that will have a hand in any Social Security changes."  McCain, who was originally supposed to drop off the tour before now, will join Bush again today.

The New York Times says that on the road yesterday, Bush “emphasized the less provocative elements of his retirement proposals. He said personal accounts ‘ought to be considered,’ rather than considering them as nonnegotiable.  And he praised the Democratic president who has become synonymous with the benefits program.”

As Bush campaigned for private accounts in Tucson yesterday, "a conservative group expressed fear the administration would capitulate to Democrats on the role of private investment accounts," reports the Washington Times.  "Larry Hunter of the Free Enterprise Fund, in a memo widely distributed to conservatives, decried the talk on Capitol Hill about tax increases, benefit cuts and a separate add-on program of private accounts to address the program's pending insolvency."

But Vice President Cheney and House Ways & Means chair Bill Thomas, at their Bakersfield, CA event yesterday, "indicated they were opposed to lifting the cap on income subject to the payroll taxes, currently $90,000.  Bush has said he has not ruled out lifting the cap, which Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and others support as a way to pay for personal accounts."  - Washington Post

The Reno Gazette-Journal previews Cheney's stop in Reno, where former Governor and Sen. Richard Bryan (D) is pushing Cheney to talk about Yucca Mountain "and Bush’s desire to divert most of the windfall profits from public land sales in Clark County to the federal government."

In the midst of Bush's latest tour, USA Today leads, "President Bush has been talking about Social Security for weeks, but even some of his supporters have misconceptions and qualms about his plan to overhaul the retirement system."  The reporter interviewed attendees at Bush's Social Security event in Tucson yesterday and found "confusion" and lingering questions.

In addition to the memo being released today, the RNC issued one yesterday outlining "building momentum" on Social Security, based on the Senate resolution (the one that passed 100-0, not the one that split the Senate), the fact that Democrats are saying the system has problems, editorials saying something must be done, and GOP members saying it must be done this year.

The Wall Street Journal profiles William Patterson, the "55-year-old AFL-CIO official who has been warning financial firms that embracing President Bush's top domestic priority could become an issue when pension trustees review fund managers."  Also: "Next week, the AFL-CIO plans more protests in California, Pennsylvania and elsewhere outside the offices of Charles Schwab Corp. and Wachovia Corp...  Schwab itself hasn't endorsed the president's call for private accounts and considers the protesters 'misdirected.'"

USA Today's close examination of Bush's concept of an ownership society centers on Social Security, Gallup data, and questions about Americans' preparedness to take on more persona responsibility: "Financial and psychological resources are at the center of the ownership debate.  Who can afford to seize opportunities to save and own?  And how many people have the personal traits needed to do so?  Are they self-confident, proactive, forward-thinking?"

The accompanying Gallup data shows "mixed prospects for President Bush's goal of an 'ownership society,'" with people preferring that the government play roles in pensions and health insurance.

More judicial politics
EJ Dionne writes in his column that Harry Reid called a meeting of Democrat-affiliated interest groups last week because "he had learned from friendly Republican senators that Bill Frist... intended to push forward with" the nuclear option.  "Reid warned the groups that the Republican effort to curb the rights of the Senate minority would not stop with judges."  Dionne goes on to say, "Conservatives say that liberals are a strange bunch to be defending the filibuster -- and the conservatives have a point.  Liberals fought the filibuster when it was used by the Senate's Southern segregationist minority to stall civil rights bills...  But conservatives who support the nuclear option... defended the filibuster as long as they were in the minority."

The US Supreme Court said "yesterday that it will not hear three challenges to the right of one of President Bush's appointees to sit on the federal appeals court," so "Judge William H. Pryor Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, who was appointed by Bush during a February 2004 Senate recess, may remain on the bench" until his term expires in January. – Washington Post

GOP realignment?
We have looked at the politics of the immigration debate in this space before, but today we ask this question: Can future GOP candidates for president replicate Bush's success with Latino voters?  It isn't a trivial question: According to the William C. Velasquez Institute, a Latino think tank, approximately 7 million Latinos voted last November, and that number could double in the next 16 years.

In 1996, Bob Dole won 21% of Latino voters, according to exit polls.  In 2000, Bush increased that to 35%.  And November, exit polls showed him winning 44% of Latino voters -- although a later analysis by NBC News lowered that figure to a still-impressive 40%.  However, Latino advocacy groups say that, unlike Bush, the 2008 crop of potential GOP presidential candidates doesn't necessarily have strong ties to Latinos.  (One exception, they say, is McCain, who like Bush hails from a border state and is also sponsoring the Senate's guest-worker legislation.)

Nevertheless, Republican pollster Ed Goeas thinks his party’s gains among Latino voters will continue -- no matter who the nominee is -- because they share similar views on religion, tradition, and entrepreneurship.  “Now that the door is open, it is open to all Republicans.”  Fellow GOP pollster David Winston agrees that Latino support isn’t unique to Bush, noting congressional-level exit polls in 2004 showing that House Republicans received the same level of support from Latinos as Bush did.  “It’s just not Bush,” he said.  “It’s the entire party.”

But Sergio Bendixen, a Democratic pollster who specializes in surveying the Latino electorate, isn’t so sure.  On issues ranging from raising minimum wage to expanding health-care insurance, he says, the GOP is often at odds with many Latino voters.  Yet Bush has still gained with them because of his charismatic connection with these voters -- something that can’t easily be replicated.  “You either have it or you don’t,” Bendixen said.

Tamar Jacoby, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute who writes about ethnicity and immigration, believes that Latino voters are certainly an opportunity for future Republican candidates -- but not a given.  She agrees with Goeas that many Latinos hold conservative values like religion, tradition, and entrepreneurship, but she points out that they are also pragmatic voters.  “They vote for who does a better job on the issues they care about.”  One of those issues, she says, is the upcoming debate over immigration, which Jacoby notes is a "threshold" issue.  “They are not even going to listen to you if you are bashing immigrants.”

Matthew Dowd, the Bush campaign's chief strategist, believes it's now easier for future GOP candidates to collect Latino votes, because after people do something once -- like finally vote Republican -- it's easier for them to do it a second time.   Nevertheless, as he mentioned during the 2004 campaign, Republicans have to continue getting higher and higher percentages of Latino votes in order to win.  "Because Latinos are an increasing number of voters, you have to get a higher percentage just to stay even... Demographics is decisive."

Regardless of how the immigration debate turns out, however, there's little doubt that Bush has made real inroads with Latino voters.  And Democrats say they have their own work to do to bring them back into the fold.  “I think that ’04 was like getting hit in head with a bat,” Bendixen said.  “That 40 percent [that Bush received from Latinos] is a scary figure for the Democrats.”

MSNBC.com has more on this subject.

Whither the Democrats
The Center for American Progress, the Democratic think-tank run by John Podesta with (Hillary) Clinton roots (though some Edwards roots, too), will roll out a universal health care plan on Wednesday in Health Affairs magazine, CAP spokesperson Jennifer Palmieri tells First Read.  Palmieri says CAP sees it as a "moral imperative to cover the 45 million uninsured," and believes that the "economics are such that there's no real alternative."  But, Palmieri stresses, this is not Hillarycare II: CAP's plan "builds on the existing structure," unlike the 1994 Clinton health care plan.

DNC chairman Dean is at Vanderbilt in Nashville today speaking to a class, then addressing students, faculty and staff.  Tomorrow, he does a fundraiser for the state party, then a town hall at Tennessee State.  He caps off the trip with a "Gov. Howard Dean Goes to Washington" fundraiser tomorrow night at a club on the DC waterfront.


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