“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.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005 | 9:15 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Kasie Hunt

First glance
Having been turned down by the 11th Circuit panel, the Schindlers say they will appeal to the US Supreme Court, which has previously declined to hear the (then-state court) case.  NBC's Pete Williams says the Schindlers also have the option of appealing to the full 11th Circuit by 10:00 am today.

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Williams notes that the Schindlers and the Justice Department had argued to the 11th Circuit panel that the act of Congress requires a stay because it calls for a fresh look at the case, which is not possible with Terri Schiavo's death otherwise imminent.  But the panel's majority found that Congress could have required a stay to get the feeding tube reconnected, but didn't.  Williams notes that in fact, the ruling says that debate over the law shows that Congress considered requiring the stay, but decided not to.  Per the ruling, "Congress knew how to change the law to favor these plaintiffs to the extent that it collectively wished to do so."

At the legislative level, the Florida Senate convenes at 1:00 pm to consider a measure that could result in the reinsertion of Schiavo's feeding tube if it passes the Senate, passes the state House, is signed by Gov. Jeb Bush, and then prompts a state judge to issue an injunction based on new state law.  The last time the Florida Senate considered this measure, nine Republicans opposed it.

NBC's Ken Strickland reports that Bill Frist is now urging the legislature to act.  In a letter to Governor Bush, Frist writes, "given the uncertain judicial outcome of this case... it is all the more important that the Florida legislature act expeditiously on Terri's behalf."  Frist thanks Bush for his "courageous stand" on Schiavo's behalf, but adds that "the extraordinary nature of this case requires that every avenue be pursued to protect her life."

For all his very best intentions, Frist may have compromised his greatest strength as an oh-eighter last week when he used his authority as a physician to argue that, based on videotapes, "the facts upon which this case was based are inadequate," and to justify Congress weighing in.  Or, he is at least at risk of neutralizing this asset through overuse, as Kerry did with his Vietnam service.  Being a doctor is the uncharismatic Frist's means of connecting with voters and the basis upon which he hopes to foster trust among them.  Now he not only could be accused by opponents of using his Hippocratic oath for political gain, but he faces a potential slap from physician colleagues: As was reported yesterday, California members of the AMA are asking the AMA to condemn the new federal law at its annual meeting in June.

Meanwhile, the GOP-run Senate has not taken up health care, an issue on which Frist could shine, while Democrats complain about conflicts of interest for him, as an heir to an HMO fortune, over the upcoming debate on med mal reform.

Speaking of: Former Frist colleague, potential oh-eight rival, and trial lawyer John Edwards criticized Frist's behavior re: Schiavo in an interview with NBC's Campbell Brown.  Edwards called it "absolutely wrong" for Frist to "make a judgment based on a videotape, and pronounce about it."  More from the Edwards interview below.

And speaking of health care: Some Democratic policy types have been looking toward the 2008 primary as the party's chance to figure out what they stand for.  In which case it's fortunate for the party that the primary is starting now.  Edwards is doing poverty.  Kerry is doing kids' health care.  Bayh is doing a bunch of smaller measures.  And now, a Hillary Clinton-affiliated think tank is doing universal health care.  The Center for American Progress is proposing a plan which would be paid for by a VAT.  Talking with reporters yesterday, CAP president John Podesta called health care a moral issue on which CAP hopes to work with "partners in the religious community," as well as one directly aimed at the middle class.

The business community will have its eyes on President Bush's meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, at which immigration and trade will be hot topics.  A joint press avail will take place at Baylor University in Waco at 12:20 pm, followed by lunch at the Crawford ranch at 2:15 pm.

Beyond Schiavo and the Texas trilat, the big news today is Treasury Secretary Snow's 12:30 pm release of the Social Security and Medicare reports (online at 11:30 am).  Ranking Senate Finance member Max Baucus (D) hosts a 1:30 pm press conference call to give the Senate Democratic perspective.  Asked yesterday about the business community's role in pushing private accounts, Greg Casey of the Business Industry Political Action Committee told reporters that the community has the potential to affect the debate, but "right now... is not fully engaged on the issue."

Schiavo politics
On the policy front, the Washington Post sees a contradiction between GOP lawmakers moving "to trim billions of dollars from the Medicaid health program," while "simultaneously intervening to save the life of possibly the highest-profile Medicaid patient: Terri Schiavo."  When Democrats point that out, Republicans accuse them of tying "'a life issue to the budget process.'"  (But, we ask, what else should the federal budget for health coverage be about?)

The New York Times looks at how Democrats in the medical profession (Dean and Rep. Jim McDermott) are blasting their GOP counterparts (Frist, Weldon, and Rep. Phil Gingrey) for blurring the line between medicine and politics.

Now Frist’s office is saying he has a lot of clinical experience in the withdrawal of life support, says the New York Daily News: “‘On a regular basis, he's dealt with a diagnosis of brain death,’ [a Frist spokeswoman ] said…”

The Washington Post on public opinion: "Republican strategists were growing concerned that negative public opinion polls may indicate congressional Republicans made a costly political blunder...  Back home for the Easter recess, some Republican lawmakers found themselves confronted by skeptical constituents and talk-radio hosts."

The Washington Times says, "Republicans ignored polls showing public disapproval of congressional involvement in the Terri Schiavo case and instead acted on behalf of their party's pro-life base."

The New York Times says there are quite a few Republicans who are uneasy about the federal government’s decision to intervene.  “[T]he Schiavo case is illustrating splinters in the conservative movement that Mr. Bush managed to bridge in his last campaign, and the challenges Mr. Bush and Republicans face in trying to govern over the next two years, even though they control Congress as well as the White House.”

And, channeling First Read from yesterday, the Times writes how the battle over judicial nominations is merging with this story.

In the strange bedfellows department, the Boston Globe points out that "a critical piece of the coalition" advocating the replacement of Schiavo's feeding tube "is disability rights groups, whose ties to Democrats could produce bipartisan legislation creating a more extensive federal role in cases involving the removal of life support.  Having "struck an uneasy alliance with Christian conservatives," the groups "are prepared to use the partnership to press for broad legislation restricting the ability of families to remove life-sustaining treatments from patients unable to communicate their wishes."

The Washington Times, meanwhile, notes "virtual silence" in the debate from traditional Democrat-affiliated interest groups like NOW, "NARAL Pro-Choice America and other major pro-choice and feminist groups," as well as from Americans United for Separation of Church and State."

National Review Online's Jonah Goldberg points out in USA Today that "Republicans had a serious advantage in this debate: They had a real argument about the specific merits of this particular case and why it should be an exception to the rule.  Meanwhile, liberals were nearly silent on why Terri should die...  The Schiavo incident demonstrates that conservatives are going to use their legitimate power under the Constitution to act on their convictions...  If liberals don't like that, they'd better come up with a better strategy than simply borrowing arguments they never believed themselves."

The San Francisco Chronicle looks at the religious activists gathered in Florida who want Schiavo's feeding tube reinserted.  "Shouting through bullhorns, holding up crucifixes and American flags, the protesters held a vigil evocative of antiabortion rallies of the 1990s."

While many believe that the Schiavo case underscores the influence of Christian conservatives, Pew pollster Andrew Kohut has a New York Times op-ed noting that Americans “have a strong pragmatic streak.  While most Americans may say they believe in creationism rather than evolution, on issues that directly affect their own lives, like health and protection of the quality of life, science wins.”

Social Security
RNC chairman Ken Mehlman told reporters yesterday that Americans are beginning to embrace President Bush's Social Security plan because they're more educated about it.  "As Americans follow the Social Security debate, they are trusting the President at historic levels, both as a Republican and as compared to Democrats," Mehlman said.  He called the shift in poll numbers "dramatic" because historically, he said, Republicans have "been at a disadvantage on Social Security."  Mehlman also charged Democrats, including Senators Kennedy and Durbin, with changing their rhetoric in recent weeks from downplaying the problem to calling it a "crisis."

Mehlman also said they've received a "positive response" from the growing Hispanic electorate for whom "it's more important to modernize and save" Social Security.  Citing socioeconomic gaps between minority groups, Mehlman said Bush's plan will allow everyone to build a "nest egg" regardless of their income and ability to invest in other retirement programs.  "A personal retirement account creates more equality in ownership and more equality in wealth in this country and makes sure the American dream of having a nest egg for your retirement or for your children is available to everyone."

At the same time, the New York Times looks once again at how Bush arguably seems to be backtracking a bit from his insistence on private accounts.

After noting Bush's warnings to Democrats if they don't deal on private accounts, the Washington Post focuses on McCain, who "has been especially supportive of his onetime rival... in trying to prod Democrats into negotiations."  Yesterday, McCain specifically appealed to "his friends" at AARP.

The Los Angeles Times says McCain'sremarks, "which echoed statements made Monday by [Cheney and Thomas], reflected a recognition by White House strategists that unified Democratic opposition to the Bush-backed overhaul and the continued popularity of AARP are contributing to a decline in public opinion on the president's handling of Social Security...  An AARP official said McCain was wrong to suggest that the group wants to wait on a fix, but he added that private accounts were not a viable option."

USA Today observes that "when it comes to managing money, studies done by a leading human resources firm to track the financial acumen of the masses show that most Americans don't know what they are doing.  That's a big negative for Bush, whose plan is based on his belief that most Americans want to, and are capable of, building a profitable portfolio made up of stocks and bonds."

Bush and business
Some think Bush won last November's election on values; some think it was due to September 11 and the war on terror; and others think it was simply that the Kerry campaign dropped the ball.  But in a briefing yesterday with a handful of reporters, BIPAC attributed Bush's victory to superior grassroots tactics -- especially from the business community.  "I think we had a significant impact on the election, and I don't think it's been reported," said BIPAC president and CEO Greg Casey.

BIPAC says its own grassroots project in 2004 involved 964 companies and associations sending 40 million messages (often by e-mail) to more than 19 million employees.  And according to polling BIPAC commissioned from Public Opinion Strategies (R), 13% of employed voters said the information employers provided them was the most credible information they received about the election, while an equal 13% cited that the Democratic labor unions gave them the most credible information.  "We tied labor, and they outspent us," Casey said.  "They were doing a good job over the years while we weren't.  We're now finding that we can deliver a grassroots punch equal to anyone in the game."  Next on the agenda, Casey noted, is applying these tactics to legislative issues.

The Senate: DEFCON 2
The Washington Times says Frist does not have the votes to go nuclear -- that among the 55 Republicans, "at least six are undecided or adamantly opposed."  Among those with "serious reservations:" oh-eighters McCain and Hagel.

The House: Delay
The Hill reports that House Republicans are fighting back against Democratic efforts to hang DeLay and his ethics problems around the caucus' neck, "circulating research that details" financial "links among Democrats, George Soros and government watchdog groups that have criticized [DeLay] and the House ethics process."

Oh-eight (D)
Pegged to the debut seminar at his UNC poverty center, NBC's Campbell Brown interviewed Edwards for TODAY.  Edwards talked about working to solve “one of the great moral issues in America today.”  He broke the poverty problem into three parts: raising income, creating assets, and preserving assets.  Raising the minimum wage, he said, is only the first step.  To fix the asset gap, he advocates considering baby bonds and matching savings accounts.  On asset preservation, he argues for cracking down on “payday lenders” who prey on the poor, and for expanding the earned income tax credit by eliminating the so-called marriage penalty.  He also called fighting poverty a function of his faith, noting that he "was born and raised in the Southern Baptist Church...  I know people in my faith believe strongly that we have a responsibility to those who are struggling.  And I think that goes across almost all faiths."

Edwards called Iraqis' willingness to go vote “an amazing uplifting thing.”  On Social Security, though, he claimed Bush’s plan “doesn’t make any sense" since it seems to be “taking away security to create assets.”  A trade-off doesn’t cut it, he said -- especially one that will send the nation deeper into debt.

Edwards was consistently positive about the 2004 campaign and particularly about his former running mate.  “I think John Kerry is a man of great strength,” he said when asked if Republicans were successful at labeling Kerry a flip-flopper.  And although he said he will stand by his past comments about the campaign being slow to deal with attacks on Kerry’s Vietnam record, he also said, “I think being on the ticket with John Kerry is something that I’ll always be proud of.”

He was also relentlessly noncommittal on 2008, despite persistent questions.  Will he decline to run if Kerry does?  His family is going to focus on getting Elizabeth well.  Has he talked to Kerry about 2008?  His conversations are private, and his family is going to focus on getting Elizabeth well.  Will he run if Kerry does?  He’s going to focus on getting Elizabeth well, and on his work on poverty.  Does he consider Hillary Clinton the frontrunner?  “Trying to decide who the frontrunner is four years before an election is just ridiculous.”  Meanwhile, he will focus on moving his family back to North Carolina -- and on getting Elizabeth well.  Does he expect to come back to Washington?  “Oh, I’ll come back to visit.”

Previewing the Edwards podcast, the Raleigh News & Observer says "Edwards created a mild flare in cyberspace... when he announced his podcast but didn't list the location stream.  We're told this is like asking someone to call you, but then not giving them your phone number."

Before oh-eight
Pro-life Rep. Jim Langevin's decision not to run for the Democratic nomination to challenge Sen. Lincoln Chafee in Rhode Island may clear the way for Rep. Patrick Kennedy to get in the race, says the Providence Journal-Bulletin.

The Georgia legislature has sent GOP Gov. Sonny Perdue a new congressional map, which he is expected to sign.  The map also will have to be approved by the US Justice Department.  But: "The current make up of the state’s delegation - seven Republicans and six Democrats - is unlikely to change much, if at all, if the new map is implemented," Roll Call says.


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