“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, April 19, 2005 | 9:25 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Kasie Hunt

First Glance
GOP leaders work today to reach out to minorities, but a Senate debate over immigration reform could lay bare some issues Republicans face in appealing to Hispanics. 

  1. Other political news of note
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    3. Senate readies another volley on unemployment aid
    4. Obama faces Syria standstill
    5. Fluke files to run in California

Sooner or later, Washington is going to have to confront immigration -- as politically complex and loaded an issue as there ever was, starting with its impact on the US electorate itself.  Even there, the two parties sometimes oversimplify by assuming all Hispanics vote alike.  This is not a partisan argument.  The most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed no split between Republicans and Democrats, but that people's feelings about immigration depend on where they live, how old they are, how much education they have, what they do for a living, and how much they make.  The issue also divides the GOP between those like former border-state governor Bush, who support loosening immigration controls for the sake of the economy or of growing the party, and those who support tighter controls for the sake of the economy, homeland security, and the American culture. 

In this nation of immigrants, some aspects of this debate stretch back hundreds of years.  But some aspects are new, and the debate may be more emotionally charged and contentious than ever before:

-- because today's immigrants are mostly non-white;
-- because of September 11 and concerns about terrorists entering the United States legally or illegally, including across the US-Mexico border;
-- because the country is at a point where there's real competition for all resources, including government funds, social services, water, land, etc.;
-- because many immigrants now are unskilled and Americans, including many older Americans who were trained in old-economy industries, see immigrants as taking jobs away from them; and,
-- because of the difficulty for some people in separating their knee-jerk opposition to illegal immigration from all other aspects of the debate. 

President Bush appears at the dedication of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, IL, concluding his 11:35 am tour with remarks at 12 noon.  HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson lays out the Administration's case for why African-Americans should support private accounts in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.  And RNC chairman Ken Mehlman meets with "Hispanic and Catholic leaders," per the press release, at a town hall in Miami at 2:00 pm. 

Then there's the war supplemental.  As part of the effort to pass that bill, the Senate is expected to debate some immigration reform proposals today, including the "AgJOBS" initiative to legalize half a million immigrant farm workers and their families.  Opponents charge that the proposal amounts to amnesty.  Even if AgJOBS passes, the conference committee will have their work cut out for them to reconcile the Senate bill with the House version of the supplemental, which includes tighter immigration controls such as new restrictions on drivers' licenses.

The issue is also dominating the UK's short election season, in which the Tories face a situation that's the reverse of the GOP's: Conservative leader Michael Howard's tough position and recent inflammatory rhetoric in support of immigration controls have split his party in the face of an increasing lead for Labour.  More below.

Tom DeLay?  Lots on him below.  And UN ambassador nominee Bolton may face a tougher than expected road to confirmation as the Foreign Relations panel prepares to vote today.  More on this is also below.

The Senate meets at 9:45 am; the House meets at 12:30 pm.

It's the economy
Ron Insana's interview with President Bush runs in its entirety on CNBC at 5:00 pm.

The Washington Post says the House energy bill contains "$8 billion in tax breaks targeted to the energy industry," putting it at odds with the President's proposal, which includes fewer tax breaks and also devotes much more "toward renewable sources of energy and energy efficiency." 

The Hill says House Republicans "are expected to roll out a conference-wide communications strategy today to promote their energy bill and continue to try to shift attention from ethical questions surrounding" DeLay.  The "strategy corresponds with the expected passage later this week of the House energy bill, which most Republicans concede would do little to lower gasoline prices in the immediate future.  The initiative... will attempt to circumvent the national media, which has scrutinized DeLay in recent weeks, in order to sell the 'sweeping bill' to local newspapers and radio stations across the country." 

The GOP: DeLay, etc.
Several papers, including Roll Call, got hold of a “briefing document” e-mailed by DeLay to supporters, which "marshals his most comprehensive defense yet against a host of ethics allegations...  It included a '"fact versus fiction briefing document" that can be shared via e-mail or in clubs, organizations, or groups you are affiliated with'...  In a prefatory letter, DeLay blames the attacks against him on 'the Democrats, their syndicate of third-party organizations (Common Cause, Public Citizen, Move-On, etc.) and the legion of Democrat-friendly press...'  The letter is followed by a document, titled 'What the Press Isn’t Telling You,' addressing several different subjects...  The memo points out that 'Tom DeLay Has Never Been Found in Violation of Any Law by Anyone...'"

The Washington Post front-pages it. 

The Dallas Morning News: “One analyst called it remarkable that after 20 years in Congress, the No. 2 leader in the House would need to shore up support back in a district whose lines he personally approved during the last round of redistricting.  ‘I don't know about the wisdom of putting out a fairly detailed rebuttal,’ said Richard Murray, director of the University of Houston Center for Public Policy, adding that the memo reflects the view that ‘right now to survive, we've got to circle the wagons and rally the troops.’” 

The Washington Times covers Karl Rove's offense yesterday on DeLay's behalf.  "The broadside came in response to Republican complaints that President Bush has been too tepid in his defense of Mr. DeLay." 

On Imus this morning, Sen. Rick Santorum seemed to back away from his earlier criticisms of DeLay.  “He has answered the questions as far as I can see,” Santorum told the I-Man, although he admitted that DeLay’s links to lobbyist Jack Abramoff still seem to be unresolved.

Roll Call profiles expected repeat DeLay opponent Richard Morrison (D) and his efforts to capitalize on DeLay's problems. 

The Hartford Courant looks at the Democrats' focus on GOP Rep. Rob Simmons for what they say are financial transactions -- both donations given and received -- that link Simmons to Delay and Jack Abramoff.  "To Simmons, all these alleged indiscretions are nothing more than bogus guilt by association..."

Former centrist Democratic Sen. John Breaux, in a Roll Call guest column on how the tone has changed on the Hill, cites the House Ethics panel as one example: "Rather than working together across party lines, it almost seems as if the ethics committee in the House has become a committee of original jurisdiction to settle issues and political disagreements." 

The Boston Globe's Canellos compares today's climate in Congress to when Newt Gingrich threatened to "close down the government until he got a budget deal on his own terms," and says that "what Gingrich believed was a demonstration of principle, the public saw as an expression of hubris..."  In turn, Canellos says, Harry Reid's warning that Democrats could do the same may not play well with the public, since "average voters, casting one eye on the dispute while waiting for the start of 'Desperate Housewives,' are not likely to delve into Senate history to determine which side is correct.  They will judge by each side's behavior, and contrast Republican steadiness with Democratic fury in attempting to close down the Senate." 

Legendary GOP Rep. Henry Hyde announced yesterday that he's retiring after 16 terms in the House.  NBC's Mike Viqueira notes that Hyde's health has been poor in recent years and he has often needed help getting around the Hill.  In Hyde's footsteps follow like-minded but younger conservative members whose style and judgment haven't been tempered by time served in the minority. 

Social Security
The Washington Post covers Bush's push for private accounts yesterday in the face of Friday's Dow plunge: "Bush said history shows Americans will be much better off putting their money into stocks and bonds over the long haul...  Bush suggested it is not unreasonable to expect an annual yield of 9 percent on market investments, which is much higher than some economists forecast for coming years...  The president did not mention that personal accounts would make Social Security checks susceptible to precipitous dips in the market, which critics say is particularly troublesome for lower-income workers..." 

Pegged to the National Urban League report that "economic and societal disparities continue to separate black and white Americans," HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson lays out the Administration's case for why African-Americans should support private accounts in a Wall Street Journal op-ed: "The homeownership gap is closing. If we allow black Americans to build wealth through personal retirement accounts, another gap will close." 

Chief Bush economic advisor Al Hubbard said recently that the President would consider add-on accounts, but prominent House conservatives Pence and Shadegg "sent President Bush a letter Friday warning him against advocating" them.  – The Hill

Anti-private accounts Americans United holds a press conference at 2:00 pm today on the Hill "to announce its weeklong national 'Mobilization Against Privatization,'" per the release.

The Los Angeles Times says the Senate votes on immigration today "will be the first test of strength in years between senators who support legalized status for at least some of the estimated 10 million illegal immigrants in this country and senators who advocate reducing illegal immigration by tightening enforcement and border controls.  Each side said today's votes also could signal how much support there was in the Senate for the sort of comprehensive immigration reform President Bush had said he wanted Congress to enact this session." 

The head of the Minuteman Project declared victory yesterday and plans to "immediately begin recruitment efforts for the new nationwide border vigil."  He also plans to appear in DC "next week before the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus," where he will "detail the success of the Minuteman Project to the committee."  - Washington Times

Bush II
The second-ranking Democrat on Senate Foreign Relations, Chris Dodd, told NBC's Ken Strickland yesterday that he'll ask the committee today to bring Bush's UN ambassador pick back for more questioning about issues that have arisen since his hearing.  The committee is scheduled to meet at 2:15 pm to vote on Bolton's nomination.  Barring any changes on the GOP side, NBC's Andrea Mitchell advises, it's expected to be a party-line vote of 10-8 in favor of sending Bolton's nomination to the floor.  But now Dodd wants another opportunity to question Bolton about charges that have come up more recently, including that he pressured and abused other intelligence analysts.  One of the analysts, Mitchell says, is a former State Department officer who was allegedly transferred on Bolton's orders and now works for Foreign Relations member Chuck Hagel (R).  Hagel has criticized Bolton for this treatment.  We'd add that over the weekend, Hagel suggested that his support for Bolton may not be solid if new allegations surface.

The New York Times says Sen. Joe Biden (D) is also seeking to delay the vote, and notes that one of Colin Powell’s top deputies yesterday spoke out in opposition to Bolton. 

Karl Rove told students at Washington College yesterday that the press is now "applying the horse race style of campaign coverage to daily reporting on government, leading to adversarial reporting that can obscure the truth just to create conflict."  Which is food for thought, and perhaps also a smart attempt by Rove to capitalize on the public's fairly low opinion of the news media.  But it also conflicts with how much we heard from Republicans after the 2004 election about how the White House was going to approach the Social Security effort like a campaign, and how Social Security and other efforts are geared toward bringing about a political realignment.  – AP

As the Utah Senate prepares to vote today on "a bill to ensure that in a conflict between state and federal education regulations, Utah's rules will trump Washington's," USA Today rounds up the challenges to No Child Left Behind "in the courts, state legislatures, and local education departments."  The Utah House has already passed such a bill. 

The values debate
The Chicago Tribune reports that attorneys today plan to ask Texas Gov. Rick Perry R() to order DNA testing in the case of a man the state executed nearly five years ago when George W. Bush was governor.  Barry Scheck, co-founder of Benjamin Cardozo School of Law's Innocence Project, "is requesting DNA testing on a single strand of hair in the case of Claude Jones, who was executed in December 2000 for armed robbery and murder...  Jones' convictions were based largely on what Scheck says is dubious evidence." 

We'd note that President Bush called in his State of the Union address for more emphasis on DNA testing: "In America we must make doubly sure no person is held to account for a crime he or she did not commit -- so we are dramatically expanding the use of DNA evidence to prevent wrongful conviction.  (Applause.)  Soon I will send to Congress a proposal to fund special training for defense counsel in capital cases, because people on trial for their lives must have competent lawyers by their side.  (Applause.)"

The New York Times front-pages another look at the debate over whether pharmacists should be required to dispense morning-after pills -- this time with a focus on Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's (D) rule requiring pharmacies that stock the pill to dispense it without delay.  “Around the country, in at least 12 states, including Indiana, Texas and Tennessee, so-called conscience clause bills have been introduced...  Four states already have such laws applying specifically to pharmacists: Arkansas, South Dakota, Mississippi and Georgia.  Proposals in three states - California, Missouri and New Jersey - would have the opposite effect, compelling pharmacies to fill any legal prescription.”  And the story notes that Kerry is co-sponsoring legislation with Sen. Rick Santorum (R) that “would allow a pharmacist to refuse to dispense certain drugs as long as another pharmacist on duty would.” 

The AP covers Gov. Bill Richardson's address to the AP's annual meeting, in which he said Democrats "must reconnect with voters' core values... such as health care costs and education." 

Yesterday, we looked at the emerging dynamics in California's 2006 gubernatorial race.  Today, we once again turn our attention to the Los Angeles mayoral runoff between Democrats James Hahn, the incumbent, and Antonio Villaraigosa, which will be decided on May 17. 

If Hahn faced an uphill climb to qualify for the runoff, which he barely did, it seems he needs to scale K2 to beat Villaraigosa next month.  Per last week's Los Angeles Times poll, Villaraigosa has an 18-point lead over Hahn, including sizable advantages in just about every category except for Republicans.  Villaraigosa also has picked up endorsements from nearly all of the city's key political players, including former rivals Bob Hertzberg and Bernard Parks, former GOP Mayor Richard Riordan, Rep. Maxine Waters (D), and even Magic Johnson.

Is this race Villaraigosa's to lose?  "Right now, he's a heavy favorite," says Claremont McKenna College political scientist Jack Pitney, who adds that perhaps something could happen that would propel Hahn back into the running -- "but if that happens, it would be historic."  (Hahn bested Villaraigosa in their 2001 mayoral runoff -- though he pulled that off with substantial help from the African-American community, which seems to have abandoned him this time.)  Democratic political consultant Joe Cerrell agrees that Villaraigosa holds the upper hand in the race.  "Hahn has to go negative, but he can't overreach when" he does, Cerrell says.

If Villaraigosa holds onto his lead, he would be Los Angeles's first Latino mayor in modern times.  And while that would be fairly big political news, especially since the number of Latino voters in this country continues to grow, Pitney cautions that its importance would be mostly symbolic.  "There is a real limit on what any mayor can do."  That said, Efrain Escobedo of the non-partisan National Association of Latino Elected Officials points out that a Villaraigosa victory would "demonstrate the diversity that makes LA what it is."  He also says that, if the poll numbers prove to be true, Villaraigosa would win (in large part) due to Latino and African-American voters joining forces -- which doesn't happen often in local politics. 

The UK elections
Tory leader Michael Howard "has refused to back down over his uncompromising stance on immigration, which has threatened to hijack the Conservative Party's wider political agenda...  Mr Howard gave warning in a television debate last night that Britain could be torn apart by race riots if people believe immigration is out of control."  Howard's position has split the party and brought him criticism from Rupert Murdoch.  – Times Online

"Even the party's spokesman on asylum appeared lukewarm about the strong focus on the issue." – The Guardian

Meanwhile, the Muslim Council of Britain, one "of Britain’s largest Islamic organisations," will tell its members in its election guide being released today that "Labour has the most to offer Muslim voters despite the Iraq war." – Times Online


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