“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, May 10, 2005 | 9:25 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Kasie Hunt

First glance
President Bush returns from Georgia, having wrapped up his bumpy pro-democracy tour on a high note, to grapple with a couple of tenets of democracy, American style. The Bushes are expected to touch down on the White House lawn sometime between 6:00 and 7:00 pm. The President currently has no public events scheduled for tomorrow, though that could change given looming committee votes on some of the most hotly debated nominees of his presidency: UN ambassador pick Bolton and some previously filibustered judicial nominees.

  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

With Bush weighing in from Moscow and Attorney General Gonzales from DC, Trent Lott rejecting a report of an imminent deal, and Bill Frist dismissing a minor gesture from Harry Reid, yesterday marked the biggest escalation yet of the battle over the still-untriggered nuclear option. Details on yesterday's efforts are below. Today, on the pro-filibuster side, Ted Kennedy, other Democrats in Congress, and civil rights leaders team up for a 10:30 am press conference, and former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D) has a New York Times op-ed.

Now that we're two days into the work week, Thursday looms just that much larger as the date of a scheduled Senate Judiciary vote on William Pryor's re-nomination, with Pryor expected to get voted out and, perhaps, finally prompt Frist to make the move. That said, the Washington Times reports that Frist seems to be waiting for Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen's nomination to hit the floor. Not that this is hard and fast confirmation, but an e-mail to supporters from RNC chair Ken Mehlman specifically touts Owen and decries Democrats' alleged obstructionism.

Also, again, Thursday is supposed to bring the scheduled Foreign Relations committee vote on Bolton -- but further delays remain possible due to Democratic dissatisfaction over requested documents they haven't received. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports that last night, committee Democrats said they had narrowed their request for State Department documents to try to meet Condi Rice's objection to their earlier, broader demands, and now it's up to State whether or not to comply. Mitchell notes that the Democrats could decide that Rice has not cooperated and boycott the Thursday meeting, preventing the scheduled committee vote.

Also, NBC's Tammy Kupperman has details of what former Powell chief of staff Larry Wilkerson told Foreign Relations staffers about Bolton last week -- which apparently was a more severe critique than Wilkerson went public with several weeks ago. Details are below.

Despite all this, Hill business proceeds apace: The Senate today may pass the war supplemental, which includes the Real ID drivers' license provisions. And as the highway bill wends its way through Congress, odds seem to be increasing that Bush will have to decide whether or not to make it the subject of his first veto.

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

Also today, while Senator Clinton has not been charged in this case and is not expected to testify, she will be in the spotlight as her former Senate campaign finance director, David Rosen, goes on trial in Los Angeles on federal charges of understating the cost of an August 2000 fundraising gala for Clinton's campaign. Longtime Clinton foe Judicial Watch has asked the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate, alleging that the Senator knew that the cost was underreported. Just a taste of things to come for the Clinton crew as speculation intensifies about a possible presidential bid.

And one week out from the LA mayoral run-off, a new Los Angeles Times poll shows Mayor James Hahn still trailing challenger Antonio Villaraigosa by 11 points, but gaining ground among African-Americans.

The Senate and the judiciary
The economic impact of an elimination of the filibuster: The folks at DC-based economic research firm ISI say that a successful move to eliminate the filibuster, followed by a stoppage of non-essential work in the Senate, "would be negative for the dollar." ISI also says that "the odds (of passage) on many economic policy bills would go down, but by how much and for how long is unclear."

Attorney General Al Gonzales, in a brief on-camera statement yesterday, echoed Bush's comment that "all judicial nominees deserve an up-or-down vote," NBC's Pete Williams reports. Gonzales claimed that if the nominees get a vote, they'll be confirmed because they're well in the mainstream. He also said that there are too many judicial emergencies -- declarations of overdue vacancies that hamper the workings of the court. Asked if he's doing anything himself to push the Senate, he said, "We're always talking with the Senate" but declined to say whether, as a former White House counsel, he's taking a more activist role on judicial nominees that other AGs have. DOJ officials say he is not leading the charge on this, Williams notes.

The Boston Globe says the timing of Bush's statement yesterday, reiterated by Gonzalez, "could make it more difficult" for Frist to avoid using the nuclear option. "Neither Bush nor Gonzales specifically endorsed the rules change that would outlaw filibusters, but it appears to represent the only way to guarantee yes-or-no votes on all judges."

Check out what Focus on the Family's James Dobson said on his talk-radio show yesterday about the filibuster and Bush's November victory: "We have to win this one," Dobson said. "Nothing good took place last November -- only the potential for something good. We still have as many babies dying. We still have a Supreme Court that's determined to change the definition of marriage. We still have the Ten Commandments at risk... This is the finish line." Also on the broadcast, Dobson said that a vote to eliminate the filibuster on judicial nominees could be pulled as early as this week, and that the vote on this will be very close.

The Washington Times reports that Frist plans to employ the nuclear option on Owen's nomination, noting that Owen "has often been seen as the most likely nominee to be pushed though... Republican sources, both on and off Capitol Hill, say the choice of Justice Owen for the precedent-setting vote is based in part on the political calculation that she is a sure winner and, as one source said, 'a great face' for this issue."

Yesterday, Democrats offered to refrain from filibustering one nominee and give him a floor vote, NBC's Ken Strickland and Chip Reid report. In what Harry Reid called "a gesture of good will," Reid said Democrats would allow a full Senate "up-or-down" vote on Thomas Griffith, nominated for the DC circuit. Griffith was voted out of committee earlier this year and is ready for a vote on the floor. That said, Strickland and Reid note that this "gesture" wasn't too significant a move because Griffith had not previously been filibustered by Democrats. Still, they say, it does put some pressure on Republicans, because it shows a willingness by Democrats to give at least one nominee -- albeit a less controversial one -- a vote on floor.

George Mitchell in his New York Times op-ed: “During my six years as majority leader of the Senate, Republicans, then in the minority, often used filibusters to achieve their goals. I didn't like the results, but I accepted them because Republicans were acting within the rules... There were 55 Democratic senators then. We had the power to take the drastic action now being proposed, but we refrained from exercising that power because it was as wrong then as it is now.”

The Washington Post: "The president, who initiated the conflict by renominating judges whom Democrats had blocked during his first term and demanding new votes this year, is essentially guaranteeing a showdown that is as much about the power of the presidency as Democratic obstinacy, according to numerous government scholars. The result could be a more powerful White House, a weakened Congress and the possible erosion, if not end of, the most powerful tool available to the minority party, the filibuster..."

Rutgers political scientist Ross Baker asserts in a USA Today op-ed that "in the scorched earth aftermath, all will suffer... If nothing else, Senate leaders should be shamed into acting responsibly by the leadership of the House, which recently restored the rules of its ethics committee that had been altered to make investigations more difficult. To be adjudged less statesmanlike than the House is a reproach senators would not want to invite."

It's the economy
We don't mean to poke holes in the jobs data balloon from last Friday, but opinions certainly are mixed about how good the news really was. The Merrill Lynch research department wrote to clients yesterday, "Friday’s jobs data just belied too many other pieces of information to ring true. If job and income growth is really accelerating that strongly, then how is it that all five consumer confidence surveys were sagging badly in April? They should have been surging. Why was the retail sales picture mixed? And yet, hours worked in this sector rose at a 6.2% annual rate. Aggregate construction spending growth is moderating, and yet somehow construction payrolls jumped 47k and hours worked zoomed ahead..." You get the picture. "When we have more questions than answers on any given piece of data, our inclination is to sit back and assess whether it is to be confirmed."

In advance of the President's Thursday meeting with leaders of CAFTA nations, the AFL-CIO teams up with a couple hundred workers who traveled to Washington from the Dominican Republic to protest the trade measure. The group will hold a rally and press conference on the Cannon Terrace at 1:00 pm; AFL leaders also will meet with Nancy Pelosi and others this morning at the Washington Hilton. The Wall Street Journal says textile manufacturers are split over whether or not to support the measure -- which is what the White House was aiming for.

The Journal also runs a pro-CAFTA op-ed by newly minted US Trade Rep Rob Portman.

The New York Times notes, “With record trade deficits, concerns about lost jobs and an overarching fear that the United States is losing out in the accelerated pace of global changes, the sentiment in Congress is shifting away from approving new free trade agreements.”

Wal-Mart execs will be pleased to note a brewing split between labor and African-American leaders that could disrupt the anti-Wal-Mart effort. The SEIU whacked the usually labor-friendly Congressional Black Caucus for giving Wal-Mart "'an opportunity to fashion a false image as a friend of African Americans and of working people generally,'" per a letter obtained by Roll Call. The CBC has defiantly responded that Wal-Mart is the nation's biggest employer of African-Americans.

"This SEIU-CBC dispute comes at a time when Wal-Mart is significantly boosting its political contributions to Democrats," says The Hill.

The Washington Post front-pages its look at another facet of the offshoring trend: growing efforts in Pakistan to replicate the success India, Ireland, and the Philippines have had in providing offshore performance of "back-office," secretarial functions.

And on the anticipated base closings, the Boston Globe's Canellos makes an argument for geographic diversity, though from more of a political than economic perspective: "The cause of national understanding cannot be furthered by clustering military installations in warmer climates, any more than it would be furthered by having all universities pack up and move north."

Bush II
The Christian Science Monitor notes that for Bush, "staying on message" about liberty and democracy during his European trip "has proved more difficult than the White House anticipated" -- though his speech in Georgia this morning seemed to end things on a high note.

But Bush loosened up his early-to-bed image, per the Los Angeles Times.

On the Bolton nomination, NBC's Tammy Kupperman has details of what former Powell chief of staff Larry Wilkerson told Senate Foreign Relations staffers about Bolton last week. Several weeks ago, Wilkerson went on the record about how he thought Bolton would be an "abysmal" choice for the UN ambassador post. Kupperman reports that according to a well-informed source, last week he went even further, telling Senate staffers that that he viewed Bolton as a "lousy leader" and that he feared for the morale and careers of the employees of the US mission to the UN should Bolton be confirmed. Per the course, Wilkerson also expressed concern over Bolton's propensity to see only the letter and not the spirit of the law. Still, despite what Wilkerson and others have told the committee, Kupperman notes that most observers expect Bolton will be confirmed by the Senate.

Social Security
The Hill focuses on Ways and Mean chair Bill Thomas' "major gamble" in tackling Social Security "as part of a massive retirement package" that will include elements meant to apeal to both sides, which may mean that both sides will find causes to reject the measure.

Americans United to Protect Social Security will roll out a new effort today, called the "Take a Stand Campaign," to get members of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means panels to participate in town halls to "take a stand on both components of the President’s plan - privatization and middle class benefit cuts," according to a memo directed to its coalition partners and state directors (and the press). The group plans to send letters to targeted members requesting their attendance at town halls which would be scheduled to take place during the congressional recess (May 27-June 6). After sending the letters and making phone calls, if a member does not agree to participate, the group will employ tactics like showing up at the member's office with press in tow, canvassing the member's district, appearing at events dressed up in costume, and writing letters to the editor in the member's district. The memo uses a lot of chest-thumping rhetoric.

Americans United says Bush's proposal will "decimate the retirement security" of millions and hit "middle class families particularly hard." According to the memo, the group hopes to "assure that anti-privatization members remain rock solid in their insistence of no negotiation until privatization is removed from the table."

The Houston Chronicle covers DeLay getting back to basics yesterday, promising to do everything he can to prevent the Ellington Field military base from being closed down.

The AP writes that while seeking help from DeLay, "other congressional leaders and high-level Bush administration officials" on his Northern Mariana Islands efforts, Abramoff "charged the islands for mundane tasks such as securing tee times at the right golf courses for Washington visitors and obtaining an autographed copy of a book by then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich."

The Wall Street Journal says that even watchdog groups can have partisan ties, focusing on one group that has been very vocal in criticizing DeLay -- and has deep Democratic roots.

More "everybody does it:" GOP Rep. Jerry Weller's 1999 trip to Louisiana "may have been paid for by former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff," Roll Call reports.

The values debate
The Spokane Spokesman-Review covers Mayor Jim West’s announcement yesterday that he would take a leave from office to prepare his defense against the accusations that he sexually abused two boys more than 25 years ago and that he used his office to offer favors to me he lured on a Gay.com chat room.

The Spokesman-Review also reports that West offered city jobs to two young men he met in the chat room.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State is pressing the IRS to investigate the tax-exempt status of a North Carolina church for allegedly expelling members who didn’t support Bush. The church has denied it ousted any members for their political views. – Chicago Tribune

House Judiciary chair Jim Sensenbrenner (R) leads his USA Today op-ed in favor of Real ID by noting that the September 11 terrorists used state-issued drivers' licenses "to avoid suspicion." Sensenbrenner argues, "This legislation would not create a national ID card or a national database. Rather, it would require states to improve the data security of the information they already hold and build upon the current interaction of the different states' motor vehicle departments."

But Lehman Brothers' Kim Wallace points out that Real ID "increases the risk of disclosure for the personal data of every driver in the country, as state motor vehicle databases are increasingly a focus of data theft. Linking all of the states' systems will make it easier for information to be stolen and could increase the possibility of unintentional leaks."

The Administration announced yesterday that it will start reimbursing hospitals for providing emergency care to illegal immigrants, the New York Times says.

The Democrats
Virginia Gov. Mark Warner makes remarks on education reform at the Center for American Progress at 1:30 pm.

In his ongoing effort to build a platform without being in public office, Edwards today announces a program to help elect Democratic state legislators, per an Edwards aide. The effort will take Edwards on fundraising trips to New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, Maine, Wisconsin, Missouri, South Carolina, and Michigan. The Edwards aide also says that Edwards' scheduled India trip has gotten pushed back to fall, but that he's going to Dubai and London at end of May.

DNC chair Howard Dean plans to warn Massachusetts gubernatorial candidates about a "scorched earth" primary in his speech Saturday to the state Democratic Party, but the buzz there is all about "the party's expected decision to add an explicit endorsement of same-sex marriage... Dean, however, said, 'States can work these issues out for themselves. I'm not going to tell Massachusetts Democrats what to do.'" – Boston Globe

Former DNC chair candidate Simon Rosenberg unveils a new think tank, the New Politics Institute, in a conference call at 11:00 am. The think tank, a spokesman for Rosenberg says, "will assemble some of the finest minds in progressive politics, the non-profit world and the private sector to study, master, incubate and promote new strategies, technologies and techniques for the rapidly changing politics of the new century."


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