“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, April 27, 2005 | 9:25 a. m.  ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Kasie Hunt

First Glance
Oil and power companies get the thumbs-up from President Bush, who proposes ways to facilitate the building of new refineries and nuclear power plants today in his address to the SBA's National Small Business Week Conference at 2:05 pm.  A Senate deal to avoid a deadlock over the filibuster gets a thumbs-down.  But a House deal to break the ethics committee impasse is on an upswing.

  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

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-IL, plans to talk about the Ethics Committee impasse with the House GOP conference at their weekly meeting this morning. But NBC's Mike Viqueira cautions that any "deal" being reported elsewhere is not yet done. Viqueira says that Hastert and several other House Republicans are not comfortable with the current situation, after Hastert changed the ethics rules earlier this year to make an investigation of DeLay more difficult. But all indications are that it's going to be a hell of a fight inside that conference meeting, Viqueira says. Conservatives don't want to reverse course; Hastert and others who do have their work cut out for them.

In the filibuster fight, Bob Dole headlines the effort to eliminate the filibuster today with a New York Times op-ed, while Al Gore serves up new sound in opposition with a 12 noon speech sponsored by MoveOn as part of their new campaign to preserve the procedural move. Per the release, Gore will talk about the importance of the filibuster and how attempts to end it are a "historic threat to the health and vitality of America and could perhaps be the beginning of the end of meaningful debate in the US Senate."MoveOn says Gore, who is giving his first policy speech since the election, is best suited to speak on this issue: "No one in the U.S.  has been affected more personally by your systems of checks and balances than Al Gore."

Regarding other doings on the Hill this week, remember the Republican realignment?The party's effort to win over younger voters by pushing Social Security private accounts may be slow going. But consider what else is happening right now. Even the most avid conspiracy theorist couldn't argue that the timing of these events is anything but coincidental, but the efforts do indeed threaten to impair the viability of the Democratic party: a possible GOP move to eliminate the Democratic minority's ability to filibuster judicial nominees; asbestos litigation reform, part of the President's overall tort reform plan which could financially cripple the trial lawyers; and the 527 reform bill.

The Senate Rules Committee today marks up S.  271, or McCain-Feingold II, which would extend many of the tenets of McCain-Feingold to 527s, unions, advocacy groups, and 501(c)'s that participate in nonfederal as well as federal political activities. The bill's sponsors are bipartisan, but Democratic strategists contend that the measure would cripple their party's campaign ground game -- and that Democratic members of Congress, including a few co-sponsors of the legislation, are realizing this too late. They also argue that the bill casts too wide a net, and that the effort to quash start-up 527s like the Swift Boat Vets for Truth has ensnared older, established groups on both sides of the aisle which have been around for years.

A bipartisan collection of interest groups told reporters yesterday that they don't think Congress should be trying to fix a problem that doesn't need fixing. James Bopp of the conservative James Madison Free Speech Council noted that there's no "public clamor" for regulating 527's. Liberal Alliance for Justice chief Nan Aron argued that there's no evidence of a corruptive influence by 527's, and charged that the bill is "so devastating" that it's turning "adversaries into allies" (i. e. , the strange bedfellows on the press call). The Club for Growth's David Keating said the bill would force 527's to change over to 501(c) groups, which are not required to disclose contributions or expenses -- after which, Keating said, the "anti-speech zealots" will charge the 501(c)'s with "hiding" donor information. Eventually, he said, "these regulations will apply to every group in America in the future. It's going to happen."

The Senate meets at 9:30 am; the House meets at 10:00 am. Tonight, Bush keynotes the GOP Senate campaign committee's annual fundraising dinner at a private residence at 7:00 pm. 

Minutemen Project organizers meet with the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus today. And the White House has come out in favor of the Real ID Act, which would toughen restrictions on drivers' licenses and is attached to the war supplemental. Which prompts us to roll out this quote from Bush's press avail with Vicente Fox in March: "I think we ought to have a policy that does not jeopardize those who've stood in line trying to become legal citizens. We want to reward those who have been patient in the process. . ."

Also, just what exactly are the deadlines for Arnold Schwarzenegger to get his initiatives onto a special election ballot for later this year?They're not as clear-cut as you might think. See below.

Lastly, Blair and Labour face voters one week from tomorrow. UK election coverage is at bottom.

It's the economy
Some highlights of Bush's forthcoming energy proposal: "Ask Congress to allow the Energy Department to provide federal risk insurance to companies that build nuclear-power plants... Instruct federal agencies to work with state and local governments to encourage construction of new oil refineries on former military sites... Ask Congress to clarify existing laws to ensure that the federal government has the final say in the locations of new liquefied natural gas terminals... Expand eligibility for a $2. 5 billion, 10-year tax credit now available to producers of hybrid and hydrogen fuel-cell cars to vehicles that run on energy-efficient clean diesel fuel."- USA Today

The Wall Street Journal looks at why Washington isn't hurrying to bail out GM and Ford: "Many of those plants are situated in southern states" which lean Republican, so "politicians have less desire to penalize foreign auto makers as a way of shielding traditional American auto manufacturers than they did in the past. In addition, both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue today are controlled by a market-oriented Republican party, which is reluctant to dive into the marketplace to favor one company or industry over others. The Bush administration has hesitated from jumping to the aid of sickly airlines, and most officials regret an earlier, controversial attempt to help the steel industry with import tariffs."

And the Journal handicaps the looming replacement of Greenspan at the Fed.

Frist and the judiciary
On Harry Reid's proposed deal to allow some judicial nominees to reach the floor unfilibustered, Roll Call says "many Republicans" are "turning a cold shoulder to the offer because they don’t trust Democrats to follow through on it."

But despite his saying he wouldn't cut a deal with Reid to approve only some of Bush's nominees, MSNBC. com reports that Frist said he's still continuing his discussions with Reid to avert a Senate shutdown.  

Making a counterargument to Gore and MoveOn, C.  Boyden Gray advocates eliminating the filibuster in a USA Today op-ed: "The filibuster is not enshrined among the Constitution's system of checks and balances. . .   Republicans should restore Senate tradition by ensuring filibusters cannot be used where they were never intended: against a president's judicial nominees." 

And although Bob Dole has previously urged caution in deploying the nuclear option, he writes a New York Times op-ed today that Democrats have created a “new threshold for the confirmation of judicial nominees…  Future presidents must now ask themselves whether their judicial nominees can secure the supermajority needed to break a potential filibuster.   Political considerations will now become even more central to the judicial selection process.   Is this what the framers intended?” 

The Hill takes the latest look at the difficulties for Frist in balancing a presidential bid and his leadership duties, while Roll Call reports that the issue is resonating in the GOP primary to replace Frist in the Senate.

The Washington Post says two SCOTUS rulings yesterday -- "that the government may not deny a U. S.  citizen gun ownership because of a criminal conviction abroad. . .  but may prosecute one for plotting to cheat a foreign government out of tax revenue" -- "shed indirect but revealing light on justices' views of a hot topic: the interaction between U. S.  and foreign law. . .   The court is embroiled in internal debate over the applicability of foreign court rulings and other international legal authorities to interpretation of the Constitution," and conservatives in Congress are weighing in against applicability.  

Social Security
The general take on yesterday's Senate Finance Committee hearing: no notes of compromise, all partisanship.   And a lot of reporters saw signs of cracking GOP support.   "By (Chairman) Grassley's own count, even holding Republicans together for investment accounts isn't assured - and with an 11-9 partisan split, Grassley can't afford to lose even one GOP senator."  - USA Today

On Bush's roundtable in Galveston yesterday, where "public employees began opening personal retirement accounts two decades ago," the Los Angeles Times points out that "the figures cited by the president clashed with the findings of several studies of Galveston County's retirement plan, including a new Democratic congressional analysis suggesting that most county workers would have been better off with traditional Social Security." 

In "the first known discussion between AARP and House members from both sides of the aisle," five House Republicans, four House Democrats, and AARP's Bill Novelli will meet tomorrow "to explore solutions to the contentious issue of Social Security reform," The Hill reports.  

Anti-private accounts ProtectYourCheck. org rotates two new TV ads into its national cable buy today.   One displays a slot machine, while the other shows a roll of the dice.   "Social Security -- it's a guarantee you earned," both ads say.   "Don't let them make it a gamble."

DeLay
Exiting Air Force One yesterday at Andrews AFB, DeLay commented on the President's show of support, saying he was "humbled" and that Bush "was very gracious."  He also commented for the first time on the Sunday Washington Post report that Jack Abramoff and another lobbyist paid for his 2000 trip to London and Scotland: "I didn't know that went on."  He said he always believed it was Abramoff's nonprofit that paid for the trip.

"President Bush is doing for Tom DeLay what he refused to do for Trent Lott... : taking a political risk to defend an embattled congressional leader's career," says the Washington Post, which then considers why: "Bush might...  feel boxed in and left with little choice but to help DeLay, who has won the devotion of social conservatives."  Also: "The president needs DeLay on Social Security, the budget and other issues.   If the White House did not work to defend him, Bush would risk a backlash not just from conservatives but from DeLay, who, if he survived, might not be as aggressive in helping pass Bush's agenda." 

Another drip, this time from Time magazine online, which reports that "Jack Abramoff gave expensive gifts to key members of then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay's staff, which the aides accepted in apparent violation of House ethics rules."  Also, a top DeLay staffer went on a weekend getaway using Abramoff's frequent-flyer and hotel points.   And Time reminds us that the House ethics committee, "which would normally be the body that would investigate such matters, has ceased to function." 

The Wall Street Journal focuses on how DeLay's travel "expenses far exceed the customary per-diem payments calculated by the State Department for most official, taxpayer-financed overseas trips.   And for a conservative who has identified more with small business than Wall Street, some of Mr.  DeLay's travel contrasts with his populist image. . ." 

USA Today reports, "All five Republicans on the House ethics committee have financial links to Tom DeLay that could raise conflict-of-interest issues should the panel investigate the GOP majority leader."  And the paper also looks at the gray areas in ethics rules that have allowed for relatives to get paid salaries by campaigns, etc.

Two GOP members of the ethics committee, the Dallas Morning News reports, are sponsoring a trade bill to help embattled rum maker Bacardi USA -- which is under indictment in case involving one of DeLay's PACs.   The lawmakers, Rep.  Lamar Smith of Texas and Rep.  Melissa Hart of Pennsylvania, claim their actions are routine, but "watchdog groups say the measure is special-interest legislation to assist a single company with deep ties to Mr.  DeLay." 

The Houston Chronicle notes that former Rep.  Nick Lampson (D) officially filed papers with the FEC yesterday to challenge DeLay for his seat.   “He has scheduled a Washington fund-raiser Thursday, turning an unrelated trip into a campaign kickoff. ” 

Rep.  Harold Ford (D) "took more privately funded trips than any other current Member of Congress over the past five years," which "may complicate his nascent Senate campaign" in Tennessee.   "Ford took 61 trips funded by private organizations from 2000 through January 2005, according to calculations made by Political Money Line."

Bush II
The New York Times front-pages that the Foreign Relations Committee, in its inquiry of Bolton, intends to conduct two dozens formal interviews in the next 10 days.   Prior to this, the committee had conducted just six interviews.  

The Washington Post covers the Administration's intensifying pro-Bolton push.   "The White House is providing detailed rebuttals to any allegations Republican senators find troubling.   Bush is also looking to make the debate over Bolton about reforming the United Nations, not Bolton's temperament, and working with Senate Republicans to produce a vote count this week showing there are enough votes to approve the nominee on the floor."

The Washington Times notes that "[m]ost of the Democrats on [Foreign Relations] opposed John Bolton's nomination as ambassador to the United Nations from the start, and the other two cited his and his opponents' testimony during hearings two weeks ago as cause to oppose him."  The story adds that "Republicans concede they made a mistake last week by not responding to those charges" of intimidating staffers "and by assuming that all 10 Republicans on the committee would vote to recommend Mr.  Bolton to the full Senate for confirmation." 

Might we finally see Bush veto a bill?  The AP covers the White House's threat to veto the highway bill, "saying the president would likely reject any legislation that exceeds a White House-set spending ceiling or adds to the deficit."

"Caulifornia"
Just what exactly are the deadlines for Schwarzenegger to get his initiatives onto a special election ballot for later this year?  They're not as clear-cut as you might think.   Per the California secretary of state's office, if Schwarzenegger wants to have a special election on November 8 (the date most often mentioned), then he needs at least one initiative to be certified by June 13 (148 days before the election).   To make this deadline, the secretary of state suggests the necessary signatures should have been turned in by April 19, to give the counties enough time to verify them.   Yet so far, just one measure -- on parental notification -- has actually made it to the verification process. 

Assuming one initiative qualifies by June 13 -- this parental notification measure, for example -- then other initiatives can be added to the special election ballot so long as they are certified by June 30.   To make this date, the secretary of state's office suggests that signatures be turned in by May 6.

USA Today leads, "Schwarzenegger's 'Year of Reform' is fast becoming a year of retreat. . .   Clearly, Schwarzenegger's troubles are part of a steep learning curve. . .   Yet Schwarzenegger's inability to outmaneuver an extremely unpopular Legislature also serves as an object lesson for 21st-century American politics: The coveted role of political outsider is not one of improvisation only, but also of close study. . .   Schwarzenegger overreached in his bid to recast California, most analysts agree, relying more on image and momentum to carry his agenda than time-tested political calculation.   Now, he must find a way to work with a Legislature he has so often derided - all while maintaining his maverick persona - or risk tumbling into the realm of political novelty." 

The values debate
The AP covers the evolution debate in Kansas, which "could heat up over the coming weeks, with the Kansas State Board of Education expected to revise its science standards in June."  The story notes the state board of education's hearings planned for May, which will be stacked with proponents of intelligent design.

On the National Academy of Sciences' proposed guidelines for national oversight of human embryonic stem cell research, the Los Angeles Times says the research is "advancing more quickly than the government's appetite for regulating it." 

As California lawmakers yesterday "advanced a bill to legalize marriage between same-sex couples," opponents "vowed. . .  to outlaw such unions with a ballot measure next spring, saying the issue will not be resolved in the Legislature."  - Los Angeles Times

The UK elections
"Millions of postal ballots are being sent to voters today in clearly identifiable envelopes marked by two purple flashes, in a repeat of the procedure criticised by a judge in Birmingham as being highly vulnerable to fraud."  - The Guardian

Times Online says Tory leader Michael Howard has called Blair a "liar," challenged his integrity, and "urged voters at a rally in Edinburgh to tell the Prime Minister 'where to get off' on May 5."  Meanwhile, The Guardian says a Labour strategist charged that Howard is trying to suppress the vote.   A new Tory poster has a photo of a "smirking" Blair and says, "If he’s prepared to lie to take us to war, he’s prepared to lie to win an election."

The New York Times notes how the social issues that Bush used to win re-election last year, like abortion and gay marriage, aren't appearing to work for Howard.   “In many ways, the Conservative Party in its post-Thatcher era is like the Democratic Party in the post-Clinton era.   Each is struggling to find a new defining theme in the face of an ideologically changing electorate and declining support. ”

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