“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, April 28, 2005 | 9:20 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Kasie Hunt

First glance
Normally, the first 100 days of a president's second term aren't accorded much significance.  A senior Administration official tells NBC's Norah O'Donnell that "we are in good shape compared to the first 100 days of the first term," and that from a legislative standpoint, the 100-day marker is an "unrealistic" benchmark.  But the end of Bush's first 100 happens to coincide with the close of his self-prescribed 60-day campaign to build public support for changes to Social Security.  And a reformed Social Security system is supposed to be a cornerstone of his legacy.  Which could be why Bush has scheduled a news conference for 8:30 pm, in which he'll lay out more details of his Social Security plan.

  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

Another possible reason for the newser: The energy proposals Bush laid out yesterday would do nothing to resolve current high gas prices.  Still, crude prices happened to drop more than $2 per barrel yesterday, and Bush may be seeking to spread a little of that mojo to his effort on Social Security.

Also, the Senate is also about to head out for a short recess, during which anticipation will only build further about the next round of Bolton hearings; and Bill Frist possibly moving to eliminate the filibuster on judicial nominees.  NBC's David Gregory says that Bush tonight will begin to turn up the heat on Democrats by accusing them of obstructionism on Bolton and judges.  Democrats push back today with an event at the Jefferson Memorial.

Recently, we wondered here in this space whether the White House is going to have to scale back on its domestic agenda of Social Security and tax reform and revert to foreign policy before too long.  Again, the general rule of thumb for two-term presidents lately has been to tackle domestic priorities during their first four years, which gives them accomplishments on which to run for re-election.  Then in their second terms, after building up international relationships, they tackle legacy-building stuff like foreign policy.

But September 11 turned this equation on its head for Bush, who can claim just one major domestic initiative really undertaken and enacted after 2001: his Medicare prescription-drug law.  Otherwise, he spent the bulk of the remainder of his first term, including the duration of his re-election campaign, focused on homeland and national security, Afghanistan and Iraq.  And indeed, these are the issues which showcase the personal strengths that voters like about Bush: his perceived decisiveness, leadership, and straight-talking manner.

In contrast, giving Congress a set of vague parameters -- beyond a demand for private accounts -- for fixing Social Security doesn't show off these strengths quite as well.  So we ask again: Will Bush and his Administration have to renew their heavy emphasis on national security in order to build up a successful legacy?

Democrats are stepping up efforts to tie all the latest GOP moves into an "abuse of power" theme.  Senators Reid, Durbin, Clinton, Schumer, Kennedy, Boxer, et al hold a presser to "present the Democratic agenda" on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial at 11:15 am.  They also plan to use floor votes on the two uncontroversial nominees today to push a broad message on the filibuster heading into recess, says Reid spokesperson Jim Manley.  Barack Obama will join Reid in a floor statement, followed by a pen-and-pad briefing.  The event is currently scheduled for 2:00 pm.  Meanwhile, Reid argues GOP abuse of power on REAL ID, while House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer argues it to First Read on DeLay; see below.

A rollback of earlier ethics rule changes having been enacted last night, the House ethics panel is ready to proceed with an investigation of DeLay.  DeLay has said for weeks that he welcomes an investigation to clear his name, but because the committee hasn't organized yet, NBC's Mike Viqueira points out, we don't know for sure whether anything has been filed yet to actually trigger a probe, either by DeLay himself or by another member.  Some Democrats continue to insist that the committee must revert to a nonpartisan staff, but that seems unlikely to hold things up.  A lot of papers report House GOP concerns that an escalating ethics war of charges upon charges filed in retribution might now get underway.

We've noted that Arnold Schwarzenegger's political course in California is strikingly similar to Bush's.  Now Schwarzenegger seems to have dropped his proposed remap plan for the state's legislative and congressional districts in 2005.  Of all his plans, this was the most widely heralded on a national level as a real effort at reform.  More below.

And lastly, while age might be the Democratic party's friend when it comes rallying seniors against the President's Social Security plan, it isn't when it comes to rallying other parts of its traditional base.  First Read looks at how several of the longtime building blocks of the Democratic coalition -- labor, pro-choicers, and civil rights activists -- are suffering from attrition, and how this could affect the party's future prospects.

It's the economy
The Los Angeles Times says of Bush's energy speech yesterday: "for the most part, the president expressed a bedrock belief in the ability of the private sector to expand energy supplies and promote conservation, with modest government involvement to start...  As an accomplished politician, [analysts] said, Bush knows he must ratchet up his rhetoric to convince Americans that he too feels the sting of high prices.  But as a former oilman and business executive, they said, he was hesitant to embrace solutions that involved extensive federal intervention in the energy sector."

USA Today has Rep. Henry Waxman noting that "Bush 'never asked the American people to pitch in by cutting gasoline waste by excessive idling of their cars and other wasteful activities.'"

The AP says that some Democrats are calling on Bush to use reserves to bring down crude prices, a call the White House has rejected, and that Bush "did not mention the reserve in his remarks yesterday."

A day after serving up their look at the changed politics of the auto industry, the Wall Street Journal examines at "the dramatic changes in the politics of military-base closings" -- basically, that base-closings have now become brain-drain issues in addition to causing basic employment and local economic concerns.

The Washington Post's Jeffrey Birnbaum says that now that a probe seems to be in the cards, "DeLay is in serious danger of being declared in violation of House ethics rules, legal experts say...  These experts say the best chance for DeLay to be vindicated -- or to get little more than a slap on the wrist in an ethics inquiry -- is if he's able to convince a congressional committee that he was unaware of what the lobbyists did."

"Republicans maintained last night that the old rules are flawed and should be changed but said that it was even more important to have an operating ethics committee," says the Washington Times.

"The shift represents a new political calculation by House Republicans that the relentless news reports about Mr. DeLay's travels and dealing with lobbyists could hurt the party during next year's elections," says the Wall Street Journal.  "A shift of just more than a dozen seats in the 2006 elections could move the [GOP] back into the minority after a decade-long run in charge.  Republicans say an ethics investigation into Mr. DeLay could be embarrassing," and "hope to deal with what could be a messy investigation into Mr. DeLay long before Americans head to the polls."

The New York Daily News writes that “Capitol Hill sources from both sides of the aisle said the GOP's move was a ploy to buy time for DeLay amid daily headlines about alleged influence peddling by gift-giving lobbyists showering him with favors.  By opening the door to an official investigation, ‘DeLay can promise full cooperation,’ said one influential Republican.  More to the point, the top GOP source said, a serious investigation gives House leaders an excuse to dodge reporters' questions about the matter.”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer praised the return to the old ethics rules: "We had a victory for common sense and integrity in the House," he told First Read in an interview yesterday afternoon, before the anticipated vote.  "Every newspaper thought we were right, that the rules undermined the ethics process."  Hoyer raised the staffing issue -- that ethics chair Doc Hastings (R) fired the committee's professional, non-partisan staff and hired his own partisan chief of staff, and that needs to be changed.  "Changing the rules back to a partisan process does not reflect reform."

Asked if Democrats believe the committee's five GOP members can perform their duties without a conflict of interest, since they all have ties to DeLay, Hoyer replied, "I think the honest answer is that I don't have confidence in that.  I hope that's the case."  What will eventually happen to DeLay?  "I don't want to even speculate."

Hoyer on the GOP's earlier ethics-rules changes: "I think it was an arrogance of power -- an abuse of power...  They operate the House in a way that shuts down and shuts out democratic, free debate and oversight," he said.  "This is a no-checks-and-balances Congress."

Roll Call reminds us that last night's vote "marked the second time this year - the first being January’s reversal of a Conference rule change regarding indicted party leaders - that Republicans have backed down in the face of scrutiny and scuttled new rules governing the conduct of Members."

The Senate and the judiciary
The Hill previews Cheney's expected role in a vote to eliminate the filibuster on judicial nominees.  "Some observers say Cheney’s involvement will have the effect of elevating the seriousness of the debate - although it also could present an image to the public that the Bush administration is behind the effort to force the change in the Senate’s precedents.  That could play into Democratic efforts to characterize the nuclear option as part of an overall Republican strategy at all levels of government to 'break the rules to change the rules.'"

A bunch of liberal interest groups let Senate Democrats know yesterday through a joint written statement that they won't support a compromise that would result in some Bush judicial nominees getting to the Senate floor.  The statement came out after word leaked that such a compromise is unlikely at best.  Now Roll Call adds that the Congressional Black Caucus has decided "to mount an offensive to stop any compromise."

In his MoveOn-sponsored speech yesterday, "Gore said that his role in the bitterly contested 2000 presidential race gives him a unique perspective on the need to respect judicial independence."  - Washington Post

Schwarzenegger has dropped his proposed remap plan for the state's legislative and congressional districts in 2005.  "Lawmakers and political analysts interpreted the move as a sign that the governor would back away from a planned special election this fall on a wide-ranging government overhaul.  Schwarzenegger denied this."  The Times adds, "The governor has now backed off or compromised on each of the major proposals he introduced nearly four months ago in a confrontational State of the State address before the Democratic-controlled Legislature.  He dubbed 2005 the 'Year for Reform' and has traveled the state to hawk his plans in staged events like the Fontana meeting."

The latest poll by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California finds that only 40% of adults approve of the job Schwarzenegger is doing -- “a whopping 20 percentage point drop since January.”  Sacramento Bee

The Bee also covers the resignation yesterday of state education chief Richard Riordan, which came “amid bitter fighting between education groups and the Republican administration."  The PPIC poll "found that 28 percent of voters support the governor's education policies, 51 percent disapprove, and 21 percent are undecided.”

Bush II
The Wall Street Journal says that "Republican lawmakers are considering bringing John Bolton's nomination... to a full Senate vote whether or not the Foreign Relations Committee approves him -- another sign of White House determination to fight for the controversial nominee."

The Washington Times notes how the White House is now accusing Democrats "of opposing reform of the scandal-plagued United Nations by blocking" Bolton's nomination.

The Wall Street Journal editorial page says "the case against Mr. Bolton keeps morphing to suit the convenience of the accusers...  The real motives are a combination of ideological animus and bureaucratic score-settling."  And: "The deeper explanation is that he set out to explode the consensus views of the foreign-policy establishment -- and succeeded."

The New York Times front-pages how “soccer mom” Margaret Spellings has become a brass-knuckled politico since becoming education secretary and confronting state challenges to No Child Left Behind.

Noting that "Republicans find themselves in an increasingly difficult spot," Roll Call's Stuart Rothenberg lays out "key decisions" that GOP officials and strategists have to make on Social Security, judges, DeLay, Bolton, and other fronts which could affect their prospects in 2006.

The Democratic base
Age might be the Democratic Party's friend when it comes rallying seniors against the President's Social Security plan.  But it isn't when it comes to rallying other parts of its traditional base.  Several of the longtime building blocks of the Democratic coalition -- labor, pro-choicers, and civil rights activists -- are suffering from attrition.  Twenty- and 30-somethings don't recall Roe v. Wade or the civil rights movement, and as the country shifts from an industrial, "old" economy to a service-oriented and high-tech "new" economy, fewer young people may be identifying with the labor movement (the growing service and government employees' unions excepted).

A look through the websites of organizations like NARAL Pro-Choice America and the NAACP show that these groups have programs targeting young people.  But one national Democratic pollster we spoke with confirmed a "drop-off in interest in these issues over years."  Younger voters "don't tend to feel as strongly about these issues as older people do."

Party strategists contend that Democrats in Washington mistake shows of force by interest groups for the actual voters they say they represent.  One strategist who recently observed focus groups of Democratic primary voters says that African-Americans in particular are treated by the party as GOTV targets, and receive a lot of attention from the party only in the final weeks before an election.  While older African-Americans are indeed GOTV targets because "they remember the fights," the strategist says, younger African-Americans are much more "persuasion targets."  "They don't have the same reflex of hatred of the GOP," and they also look at the Bush Administration and see promotion of black officials.

On another note, the same strategist says, "we still take it for granted that pro-choice women are driven by pro-choice issues," which is not necessarily not the case: "Look at what's going on with married women with children."  The party pollster pointed to California, saying "they're very pro-choice in California, but I'm not sure how strongly they feel about it."

So can these traditional, shrinking building blocks be replaced by others?  The party strategist noted that MoveOn represents "an important part of this party, which is college-educated people.  They're really becoming the new base for this party."  But, the strategist adds, none of these groups, "old or new," are necessarily talking to blue-collar women or other voting blocs.

Do Republicans face a comparable situation in which younger voters aren't as interested in their standard causes?  The Democratic strategist says the GOP has an advantage among younger people "that they may not keep:" "All those kids who grew up when Reagan was president, he was a winner" and "kids like going with winners."  But the strategist says Republicans may lose that edge over time.

The Democratic pollster says Republicans do face a similar situation to some degree, but also notes that Republicans these days are much better than Democrats at "thinking long-term."  Pointing to Social Security private accounts, he says, "They're investing in the future, doing a branding thing for the Republican Party."  The pollster suggests that despite an apparent lack of interest now, the GOP could see some gains on this issue among younger voters over time because "this group is very entrepreneurial."  That said, he adds that Democrats may make gains among younger voters because "they're libertarian at heart."

The Washington Post front-pages that former NAACP president Kweisi Mfume may have given "raises and promotions to women with whom he had close personal relationships while he was" head of the organization.  Mfume denies to the Post the allegations which were laid out by an outside lawyer in a confidential memo to the NAACP.

Mfume is running for Maryland's open US Senate seat, and the hefty role that African-American voters play in Democratic primaries there is expected to give him an advantage in his bid for the nomination.  Maryland Republicans are hoping that African-American Lt. Gov. Michael Steele will run as their nominee.  Consider the prospect of each party fielding an African-American nominee and the Democrat losing -- by virtue of losing swing voters -- to the Republican in this otherwise Democrat-leaning state...

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the US Catholic Conference, the National Conference of State Legislators, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association band together for a conference call at 11:00 am protesting the REAL ID Act.  Harry Reid also issued a statement yesterday "to make clear my total opposition to including the REAL ID Act in this supplemental appropriations bill.  I believe this legislation has no place on an emergency spending bill for our troops in Iraq and aid for tsunami victims."  Reid noted, as he did for reporters earlier this week, that "[t]his legislation has never been considered by the Senate.  It has not been subjected to any hearings, debate, amendments, or any votes at all by this body.  Democrats have been completely shut out of the backroom negotiations that I understand have taken place this week...  This is yet another example of the Republican leadership’s abuse of power."

The UK elections
Tony Blair is on defense over the Iraq war, "insisting the invasion was legal under international law because there was clear evidence Saddam Hussein was not in compliance with UN resolutions and was not cooperating with UN weapon inspectors."  he and chancellor Gordon Brown "were responding to opposition demands that they explain how and why the attorney general apparently came to change his mind about the legality of war," after The Guardian reported that "Lord Goldsmith's confidential minute shows he warned Mr Blair less than two weeks before the invasion of Iraq that British participation could be declared illegal."

The latest poll shows some bad news for Blair, but worse news for Tory leader Michael Howard.  – The Guardian


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