“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.

Thursday, March 24, 2005 | 9:20 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Kasie Hunt

First glance
With the 11th Circuit and the Florida legislature no longer options, and a last-ditch attempt by Gov. Jeb Bush (R) to have custody transferred to the state having failed, Terri Schiavo's parents now await word from the US Supreme Court.

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NBC's Pete Williams advises that Justice Kennedy, who handles emergency appeals for the Southeast, most likely has referred the case to the full court, which could decide as early as this morning. Williams notes that the court clerk's office usually gives the staff a heads-up on when to get ready, but as of shortly before 8:00 am, no such notice had been given. The justices have a regularly scheduled, closed-door conference later this morning but, Williams says, we won't likely see any of them today.

Williams also reports the GOP leaders in Congress, who in the 11th Circuit's view did not do everything possible to request a stay, assert in a friend-of-court brief that they never intended to allow judges to deny Schiavo the feeding tube -- that their intent was the opposite.

The Schiavo case has kept the Social Security and Medicare trustee report off the media's front burner -- and the intense focus on Social Security has kept Democrats from making hay out of the grim forecast for Medicare, which is the real news in the report. The report suggests little change from last year on the status of Social Security. But both sides in the debate say they are pleased to see that the report is in line with their respective arguments that Social Security is a serious problem (R), and is not in crisis (D). (For now, we still look down the road and see a point at which the President has convinced the country that the system needs fixing and Republicans, not Democrats, look like the party of reform, whether nor not the public embraces the President's proposals.)

DNC chairman Howard Dean, for example, told the crowd at a DNC fundraiser last night that he is "delighted" to hear that the trustees agree with Democrats that Social Security is not in crisis. Charging that Bush's proposal is comparable to handing the future of millions of Americans to the likes of Enron, Dean accused Bush of trying to "tear down America" and said Bush should be "embarrassed" and "ashamed" of himself. That said, we noticed yesterday that the DNC's official statement on the report didn't contain a single comment from Dean. A sign of transition kinks over the DNC? Or another sign that Dean is skittish about injecting himself into a national debate?

Without mentioning Terri Schiavo specifically, Dean also told the crowd at the fundraiser last night that he is "sick" of being lectured by Republicans on moral values.

Pressing ahead with the attempted GOP realignment, Dean's counterpart Ken Mehlman attends a poli sci class at historically black college Virginia State University today. Per the RNC, "The class visit was organized to give students more information on how Republicans are working to ensure that every student has access to a quality education and a voice in the political dialogue of this country."

Meanwhile, a Center on Education Policy survey released yesterday on No Child Left Behind shows that test scores have improved, but concerns remain about human and financial resources for schools down the road, and about adjusted testing requirements for disabled and non-English-speaking students.

Fortunately for the White House, the Schiavo case is also keeping the immigration debate boiling within the GOP (see Bush's comments about "vigilantes" from yesterday) from becoming bigger news just yet. The President is at the ranch today with no public events. Vice President Cheney makes remarks and takes part in a town hall with Rep. Melissa Hart in Pittsburgh at 1:30 pm.

Schiavo politics
Still trying to get out from under criticism of his seeming diagnosis of Schiavo via videotape, NBC's Ken Strickland reports that Bill Frist and staff say the videotape he looked at was not the same footage that continues to be played on TV -- but rather footage (part of the court record) of a doctor performing an examination on her.  Frist and staff also say he has looked at the affidavits and other court records in the case.  In addition, Strickland reports that Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D) is unilaterally -- without en masse support from his colleagues -- asking the Senate Rules Committee to investigate the memo that was circulating among some Senate Republicans about the potential political benefits of the situation.

The Los Angeles Times says the case "is exposing what some see as a credibility gap for the Bush administration, Republicans in Congress and social conservatives who want to rid the federal judiciary of so-called activist judges and even strip them of authority... President Bush and congressional Republicans exhorted the judiciary to intervene." The analysis notes that the "extraordinary legislation" passed over the weekend "expanded rather than contracted federal power, and appeared to encourage the sort of activism that they had long condemned." The article specifically cites death-penalty appeals: "Congress in 1996 imposed limits on the ability of federal courts to review petitions from prisoners on death row."

The New York Times notes that even though Governor Bush and Congress have devoted a tremendous amount of energy to keeping Terri Schiavo alive, “all they have achieved so far is a bitter lesson in judicial supremacy."

The Washington Post on Jeb Bush's failed effort to have the state take custody of Schiavo and have her feeding tube reinserted: "Jeb Bush has spoken about the case repeatedly and emotionally. But his storied mastery of legislative arm-twisting failed Wednesday."

The Los Angeles Times' Brownstein ties the Schiavo case to the Minnesota school shooting by asking whether the "culture of life" extends to the victims of gun violence: "Although Bush made a special trip back to Washington from vacation to sign legislation" in the Schiavo case, "the president and his aides have said almost nothing about the mass shooting in Red Lake, Minn.... The Minnesota tragedy has increased alarm among some school safety professionals about Bush's efforts to eliminate funding for two major programs meant to prevent classroom violence..."

The Wall Street Journal reports that "at least six other states are moving to head off similar conflicts. Some, like Vermont and New Hampshire, are trying to ease access to living wills, to prevent the type of ambiguity surrounding what Ms. Schiavo's desires would be. Others, like Alabama, are looking at making it harder for relatives to discontinue life support for patients. Such a bill failed to pass the Florida Senate yesterday."

The Washington Post front-pages the close, "mutually beneficial" relationship that has developed over the years between the Schindler family and social conservative activists.

The New York Times says the loud outcry to keep Schiavo alive is another example of the alliance between Catholics and Protestant evangelicals, "among the most powerful forces molding American politics. Last year, conservative evangelicals cheered when a handful of Catholic bishops said that Senator John Kerry, the Catholic who was the Democratic presidential nominee, should not take communion because of his stance on abortion. Mr. Bush courted evangelical and Catholic voters in 2004 and benefited from their mobilization.”

The Washington Times, focusing on the ABC and Gallup numbers, observes, "Talk-show hosts and conservative media monitors have accused mainstream news organizations of emphasizing opinion polls and reports that imply the American public supports court decisions to withhold sustenance from Terri Schiavo."

Bob Novak writes that he got in an argument with “mostly mainstream” Washington journalists at Saturday-night dinner party over the Schiavo affair. “I had not engaged in such a heated debate with colleagues since the Vietnam War.”

Social Security (and Medicare)
The Wall Street Journal leads it coverage of the trustees report with the news that the Administration "is weighing a change in its proposal for private Social Security accounts that would make them more attractive to workers, though potentially more costly to the government." The Journal says the White House is "reconsidering" the formula for calculating benefit reductions: "National Economic Council director Allan Hubbard said in an interview yesterday that the administration is 'open-minded' about a lower percentage 'offset' than 3%" a year above inflation.

Coming at workers from the other end, business interests will use a poll conducted by a GOP firm to attack the AFL-CIO for "failing to represent its membership." Citing the poll's results, "the business groups argue that most union members favor the private accounts advocated by Bush even though union leaders oppose them. The unions and their allies say that the survey is biased and that most union members - and the general public - do not support Bush's proposal." -- Los Angeles Times

The Boston Globe writes up conservative unhappiness with Bush's effort to cut benefits and increase taxes to support his Social Security plan, adding that some "favor a plan by Senator John E. Sununu, the New Hampshire Republican who has become a major player in the GOP on Social Security because of his push for larger personal accounts. Sununu's plan is based on an idea that many conservatives embrace: using government spending cuts to fund the transition."

The Wall Street Journal also notes how Bush and Republicans are using Social Security to reach out to minorities, women, and young people in a greater realignment effort. "Democrats hardly seem worried, given their party's united front against Mr. Bush's approach and the reluctance of even Republicans to embrace it."

The New York Times points out this report was the first in years that actually predicted an earlier insolvency date (by one year) for Social Security.

USA Today: "The trustees' projections are more conservative than those of the Congressional Budget Office, which says Social Security will be able to pay full benefits until 2052."

"Taken together, both programs will grow from 7 percent of the U.S. economy to about 14.5 percent by 2040, the trustees say." - Washington Times

Despite the release of the report, “neither Republicans nor Democrats budged an inch in the raging political debate over how to fix it," says the Chicago Tribune.

The Washington Post notices a change from the usual at the Administration's press conference to announce the findings of the trustees report. "Unlike past years,... [no public trustees] attended yesterday's report release. Treasury spokesman Robert S. Nichols said any attendees of the trustees' meeting that preceded the release were free to attend the news conference... But in an interview, [trustee Thomas] Saving said the public trustees were purposely left out of the presentation," even though "Saving has emerged as a strong supporter of Bush's plan to add private investment accounts to Social Security."

We wonder what Schwarzenegger redistricting ally Common Cause thinks about this. A state court judge ruled yesterday that "California politicians can raise unlimited amounts of money to promote ballot initiatives,... handing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a significant victory as he promotes his political agenda this year," reports the Los Angeles Times. "Campaign finance watchdogs said the ruling would allow politicians to bypass contribution limits by setting up and promoting themselves through initiative committees."

The Los Angeles Times also says that "Schwarzenegger has picked on some powerful adversaries in his quest to change public pensions, alter teacher tenure, redraw legislative districts and expand his budget authority. Now, they are fighting back," using the initiative process to push for measures Schwarzenegger has vetoed. Democrats also are using the special election as an "organizing exercise."

And the AP notes that a British judge ruled that a lawsuit by a British journalist, who alleges that Schwarzenegger fondled her, can proceed. “High Court Judge David Eady agreed with a court official's ruling that journalist Anna Richardson could serve proceedings on Schwarzenegger at the High Court in London. He dismissed an attempt by Schwarzenegger spokesman Sean Walsh to stop the case from going ahead on the grounds that English courts had no jurisdiction."

Another Kennedy?
The Boston Herald says Sen. Ted Kennedy will fully support his son Patrick if he decides to run for Senate in 2006. The younger Kennedy is said to be more likely to run after Rep. James Langevin (D) announced yesterday that he would not. If Kennedy wins, it would be the second time in history that a father-son duo has served in the Senate at the same time.


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