“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.

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

First glance
It was already shaping up to be a banner Sunday for the talk shows before Peter Pace and Colin Powell were added to the mix. President Bush will name Pace as the new chair of the Joint Chiefs at 10:00 am. And there's no one the Sunday shows love more than Powell, who is now weighing in with key Foreign Relations Committee Republicans against Bolton's nomination to be UN ambassador.

  1. Other political news of note
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      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

Beyond Bolton, the partisan armament continues into the weekend on Social Security, in advance of Tuesday's Senate Finance Committee hearing, and on judicial nominations in the face of Bill Frist's upcoming four-minute turn as an anti-filibuster televangelist on Sunday. The Senate Judiciary's OK yesterday of Bush judicial nominees Owen and Brown seems to further set the stage for Frist to go nuclear and dare Democrats to stop non-essential Senate business. But views are mixed on when that would happen, and the possibility remains that Frist doesn't have the votes.

Several prominent Christian conservatives, and/including Frist, will appear in the Family Research Council's simulcast on Sunday night. "Justice Sunday: Stopping the Filibuster Against People of Faith" can be seen live on the Internet and some Christian radio and TV stations. Frist will pre-tape his speech for the event, which takes place in Louisville, KY. It starts at 7:00 pm, will last about 90 minutes, and will be followed by a media avail. This event is part of a broad FRC effort to end filibusters of judicial nominees; the group went up with radio and print ads earlier this week targeting lawmakers in 15 states to "encourage" them "to stop filibustering and allow a vote on all judicial nominees."

First Read took part in a wide-ranging interview yesterday with a senior Administration official, the fruits of which are scattered throughout today's edition. The highlights, per today's headlines:

-- Bolton's nomination as UN ambassador is going "full-speed ahead." The SAO said, "John is exactly the right guy." He added that he thinks Bolton has been "abused through the process," and asserted, "The UN needs somebody like John Bolton."
-- Senate Republicans have not effectively communicated their message on eliminating the filibuster, though the SAO declined to say whether he thus thinks it's too soon for Bill Frist to pull the trigger. He also maintained that Democrats "have changed 200 years of history" in filibustering judicial nominees.
-- While he noted that gas prices today still aren't comparable to the highs of the 1980's, he conceded that "when people have to pay a lot for gas, it's a political problem."
-- And, he has spoken with some "nervous" Democrats who have told him they hope something happens soon on Social Security.

Also for your weekend scorecard, the Dow closed up 206 points yesterday. CNBC's Ron Insana told NBC's David Gregory, subbing for MSNBC's Don Imus this morning, that it's not clear whether this was a one-hit wonder or if investors are actually changing their attitudes about the economy.

Today is Earth Day. President Bush travels to Cades Cove in the Smoky Mountains for a service event, which starts around 12:35 pm, then makes remarks to a crowd of about 300 at 1:20 pm. He then heads to the Crawford ranch for the weekend. The AP, this will be the first visit by a US president "to the 520,000-acre preserve on the Tennessee-North Carolina border since Franklin Roosevelt came to dedicate the park in 1940."

And, since its Friday, First Read looks at another aspect of the oh-eight race: the potential impact of the New York tabloids on a Giuliani run for president. See below.

Frist and the judiciary
The SAO we heard from yesterday said of the looming Frist-led GOP effort that "the message hasn't been effectively communicated." Asked, what message? he replied, that Democrats "have changed 200 years of history" in filibustering judicial nominees, and that they think "41 of them should be able to block and up or down vote." Why hasn't the message been communicated better? Because of some "reluctance on the part of our folks," who "hope it would be worked out."

If the Judiciary Committee chairman follows his own advice, he may reject his party's leadership and not support the elimination of the filibuster on judicial nominees, NBC's Ken Strickland says, noting that Arlen Specter hasn't publicly stated which way he's leaning. In a 30-minute floor speech yesterday, Specter pleaded with Democrats and Republicans alike to "vote their consciences independent of party dictation." Specter also offered up the possibility that a showdown could be avoided if less controversial judicial nominees, already within the confirmation process, were brought to the floor and confirmed.

Per the FRC press release, other speakers on Sunday include FRC president Tony Perkins, founder and chair James Dobson, Dr. Al Mohler, head of the Southern Baptist Convention, and Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship Ministries. In the release, Dobson says Frist (in his role as leader, we presume) "needs the help of every values voter" and "[i]f this effort fails, the best we can hope for are likely to be mediocre judges who meet the approval of Ted Kennedy, Charles Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton. We must stop this unprecedented filibuster of people of faith."

The New York Times notes that religious groups, including the National Council of Churches and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, will hold a conference call today criticizing Frist’s participation. “Among those scheduled to speak in the conference call is the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, a top official of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., in which Dr. Frist is an active member.” In addition, the Times says there are signs that Frist won’t pull the nuclear for another few weeks.

The Chicago Tribune makes the same point about a delay. “‘Republican and Democratic leadership aides said Frist plans to call up highway legislation next week, not judicial nominations. The following week is a congressional recess...”

Other efforts to oppose Frist include a Clergy and Laity Network "Freedom and Faith Rally to Stop the Abuse of Power" at 2:30 pm on Sunday, just down the street from the site of the FRC event. Also, Sen. Ken Salazar (D) sent Dobson a letter yesterday, pointing out that Dobson's fellow "Justice Sunday" participant, Mohler, said in 2000 that "'the Roman church is a false church and it teaches a false gospel. And indeed, I believe that the pope himself holds a false and unbiblical office.'" Salazar called on Dobson to "repudiate Dr. Mohler's comments... The controversy has nothing to do with the faith of any Democratic U.S. Senator."

The Los Angeles Times reports that Dobson and Perkins, "at a private conference with supporters, laid out strategies to rein in judges, such as stripping funding from their courts in an effort to hinder their work." The story notes that Frist and DeLay, who addressed that conference, "have not publicly endorsed the evangelical groups' proposed actions." A Frist spokesperson "said Thursday that the Senate leader does not agree with the idea of defunding courts or shutting them down, pointing to Frist's comments earlier this month embracing a 'fair and independent judiciary.' A spokesman for DeLay declined to comment."

At a forum with fellow Justices Breyer and O'Connor yesterday (moderated by NBC’s Tim Russert) Justice "Scalia... focused on partisan disputes over judicial nominations that have blocked several of President Bush's nominees. Scalia also criticized his fellow justices' practice of looking at trends in international law and said he believed that may have made the difference in the court's recent ruling striking down the death penalty for juveniles." – USA Today

It's the economy
The SAO said of gas prices yesterday that, "even now, we're significantly below where we were in the 1980s" -- i.e., that oil would have to be at $80 a barrel today to be comparable. While noting that some in the Administration have been talking about energy for years now, he conceded that "when people have to pay a lot for gas, it's a political problem." That said, he also "feels good" about the economy "despite what we see in various quarters," pointing out that unemployment is now below 300,000. The weekly numbers jump around, he said, but "robust growth continues" and "inflation is under control." The interview took place before the Dow closed up 206 points.

The AP wraps up the House's passage of the energy bill yesterday.

Greenspan explicitly said for the first time yesterday in his appearance before the Senate Budget Committee that "he expects tax increases to be part of any eventual agreement to reduce the federal budget deficit." He "also acknowledged that his support for tax cuts in early 2001 unintentionally led to policies that helped swing the federal budget from surplus to deficits." – Washington Post

He also urged the committee to scale back promised benefits from Social Security and Medicare. “Mr. Greenspan warned that the federal budget was on an ‘unsustainable path’ that would lead to a vicious circle of higher deficits, higher interest rates and even higher borrowing," and he "described Medicare... as a much bigger and more unpredictable problem than Social Security.” – New York Times

Bush II
Along with the Washington Post, NBC's Ken Strickland reports that Colin Powell is weighing in on the Bolton nomination, having conversations with at least two key Foreign Relations Republicans: Chafee and Hagel. Strickland says that spokespeople for both Chafee and Hagel deemed the conversations private.

Chafee's spokesperson says Chafee initiated a call to Powell last week, before the most recent committee hearing, and spoke with him again on Wednesday, Strickland says. The Chafee aide called the talks "helpful." The aide said Chafee has moved his public stance from "inclined to support" Bolton to "keeping an open mind" while the committee investigates for the next three weeks. While Hagel's spokesperson downplayed the conversation, saying the two are close friends who "talk frequently," he did not dismiss the likelihood that Bolton was discussed, Strickland reports. At the committee meeting earlier this week, Hagel stated that he'd vote for Bolton to get him out of committee, but may not support him on the final vote.

Democratic and Republican Senate sources close to Powell point to a couple things that should indicate that Powell is not supporting Bolton, Strickland says. One, that Powell was the only GOP former secretary of state who did not sign onto a letter endorsing Bolton. And two, Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Powell's chief of staff, has publicly opposed Bolton in the past few days. The sources contend that Wilkerson's statements wouldn't happen without Powell's blessing.

The Washington Post front-pages and has more details on Powell weighing in with Chafee and Hagel: "Powell did not advise the senators to oppose Bolton, but offered a frank assessment of the nominee as a man who was challenging to work with on personnel and policy matters... Democratic committee sources said Biden and others are opening new lines of inquiry, including looking into a report posted yesterday on Newsweek's Web site that Bolton twice clashed angrily with Thomas Hubbard, a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea... White House officials are moving quickly to address concerns among Republicans."

The Washington Times calls Bush's remarks about Bolton yesterday an "escalation in the White House defense." And Move America Forward's ads against Voinovich are up.

The Los Angeles Times leads with Hubbard's assertion that Bolton "might have misled the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about a provocative and controversial 2003 speech on North Korea."

USA Today lists several other well-known tough bosses in DC and asks, "So why is it that allegations of abusive behavior to subordinates and colleagues by Bolton" have delayed the vote "and could spoil his chances altogether?" Of the charges against Bolton, the paper says, "detailed stories claiming mistreatment of people he worked with have gotten more attention." In other words, it's about management style and representing the nation.

Prominent Republicans and pundits, Pat Buchanan on Imus today being the latest among them, are increasingly predicting that DeLay will survive.

The Wall Street Journal says Speaker Hastert yesterday "committed himself to getting the House ethics process functioning again and didn't rule out allowing a vote that could reverse most of the Republican-backed rules changes adopted in January... Mr. Hastert, who has begun meeting with Democrats privately, said no decision has been made on what course to take. The comments were his strongest to date, signaling the pressure he feels to end the impasse that has prevented the Ethics Committee from even organizing itself."

"House Republicans yesterday called on Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to provide documentation to prove that a Washington lobbyist firm did not pay for a trip she and other Democrats took to Puerto Rico in 2001." – Washington Times

Social Security
"The President won't back off," the SAO said of Bush's push on Social Security, adding that he senses that "the other side is nervous," and that some Democratic members have privately suggested that they hope there's movement. "There will come a point when we put more out on the table," he said, but not yet.

The Washington Times covers Bush's speech yesterday, noting that he "promised that the White House will work in good faith with Democrats and not use the issue as a political club."

Democratic Senators Reid and Dorgan partner with a string of other federal and local Democratic lawmakers for a series of town meetings -- in DC today at 10:00 am, in Coraopolis, PA today at 2:00 pm, in Providence, RI on Saturday at 10:00 am, and in Columbus, OH Saturday at 2:00 pm.

The values debate
The Lawrence Journal-World reports on yesterday's gathering in support of the teaching of evolution in Kansas public schools. "Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' science adviser, Lee Allison, said when the state approved a $500 million bioscience initiative, it included a provision to recruit top scholars who met the standards of the National Academy of Sciences, which supports evolution without equivocation."

The upcoming issue of the New York Times Magazine ponders the Democratic party's "values" gap, even after the Schiavo matter. "Like Bill Clinton in 1992, Democrats now may have to confront some of their most powerful interest groups, which have grown accustomed to demanding absolute fealty on issues like abortion and obscenity, if they want their notions of morality to feel more consistent and inclusive to many Americans... Most Americans seem to understand that we are entering a time of complex, wrenching decisions that defy facile and self-righteous answers. Maybe it’s time for politicians to admit that, too."

The Los Angeles Times says that Maria Shriver's efforts to "to refine the governor's message and... to ensure that her husband hears a broader range of voices" are a sign that Schwarzenegger is having serious staff issues. The paper adds that the stakes here are high for Schwarzenegger because he's "at a political crossroads where a stable, smooth-running office is increasingly important. Having promised that 2005 would be the 'year of reform,' he must decide within the next month or so whether to call a special election and bring to the ballot" his proposed initiatives.

Schwarzenegger has already raised $10.2 million for a November special election and his own reelection campaign, and that figure will "grow rapidly," the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Last year, we saw the impact a hometown paper can have in a presidential race when the Boston Globe -- fairly, according to some, and unfairly according to others -- continuously ran tough investigative articles about Kerry, his military record, and his career in public service. In fact, it might have been the toughest coverage a presidential candidate has ever received from his hometown paper. And already, the Globe is devoting the same close scrutiny to oh-eighter Mitt Romney over his apparent flip-flop on stem-cell research and other topics.

But what kind of impact would New York's two tabloids, the Post and the Daily News, have on the presidential race if Hillary Clinton or Rudy Giuliani runs -- or if both run -- for president in 2008? Andie Tucher, an assistant professor at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, believes their impact could be quite potent, especially because the intensely competitive rivalry between the two papers would compel them to one-up each other in their coverage. "I think they will use this in their circulation war. That would make them dig more dirt and use more innuendo." She adds that this impact could extend well beyond New York. "The echo chamber takes it a lot farther than Queens or Brooklyn."

Ann Lewis, communications director for Clinton's PAC, notes this key difference between the Boston Globe's campaign coverage and the New York tabloids' political coverage: "The Boston Globe compares itself to the New York Times. The Post and the Daily News know they'll never be the New York Times."

To focus on Giuliani for space reasons (we'll look at Clinton soon), due to his long tenure in New York politics, he already has sometimes looked like a victim caught in the crossfire of New York's tabloid gang war. Since first becoming mayor in 1994, both papers have covered his career with great flair, focusing on the political and personal issues surrounding him: the police sodomization of Abner Louima, the police-shooting deaths of Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorismond, Giuliani's handling of September 11, his extramarital affair and divorce, his battle with prostate cancer, his one-time gay roommates, and most recently, his relationship with Bernard Kerik after Kerik withdrew his name for chief of DHS.

Both the Daily News and the Post took plenty of shots at Giuliani on some of those issues, and Columbia's Tucher says the papers could easily dig up their articles on them if he tosses his hat into the ring in 2008. "They have long files and they have long memories," she says. For example, both papers whacked him for the Diallo shooting ("Battered Mayor Attends Service," said a Daily News headline in 1999; "Rudy Job Rating Hits a New Low: Bad News in Post-Diallo Poll," said a Post headline) and also for the Dorismond incident ("Hypocrite Mayor's in a Big Rush to Skew Facts," read a Post headline; "Slaying Aftermath Costing Rudy -- Poll," the Daily News said). Yet both papers also praised him after September 11 ("Give Us a Chance to Keep Giuliani," the Daily News said; "Giuliani's Already Won the Real Election," the Post wrote).

Nevertheless, Tucher points out that the Post, due to its more conservative bent, has generally been more supportive of Giuliani than the Daily News has. Indeed, the Post praised Giuliani when he admitted his relationship with then-mistress Judi Nathan, saying he had "guts... even he needs love... he is human... he is a man," while it also blasted ex-wife Donna Hanover. "Donna as Victim? Give Me a Break," a Post headline shouted.

But the New York tabs can sometimes wax surprisingly philosophical -- and take it easier on their subjects than the national press do. Or so they say. The Post wrote this after the scandals surrounding Kerik started to erupt: "Team Giuliani may have thought that because he and Kerik survived New York's tough tabloids, they could survive anything. But New Yorkers are pretty tolerant about complex personal lives. And stuff that never came out before got leaked when Kerik tried to go national."

Or to put it another way, the New York tabs, and New Yorkers in general, are probably a lot more understanding of these kinds of personal issues than the current GOP primary electorate is.


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