“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, May 11, 2005 | 9:25 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Kasie Hunt

First Glance
While everyone else in DC talks about the belatedly detected, unexploded grenade found near the stage after President Bush's event in Tbilisi yesterday, Bush discusses other details of his trip with Members of Congress at the White House at 3:00 pm. Invited, per NBC's Mike Viqueira: Hastert, DeLay, Pelosi, Frist, Reid, and chairs and ranking members of both chambers' international relations and approps panels.

  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

Some breathing room has been carved out on Bush's hottest nominees. Bolton will get his Senate Foreign Relations vote tomorrow, after committee Democrats had threatened to hold it up again, and Republicans may be slowly getting their unpredictable few panel members in line. And Bill Frist has laid out a rough timetable for his move to eliminate the filibuster on judicial nominees.

Democrats like to say that if Frist had the votes to eliminate the filibuster, he would have done it by now. That overlooks one key to a successful congressional life: roads. As Frist himself said yesterday, he's waiting on Senate passage of the transportation reauthorization bill before (not his words) going nuclear. Without that bill, the GOP record of accomplishment in this first session of Congress would be pretty light on stuff to tout back home.

One certain casualty of a nuclear winter: Senate efforts to draft a Social Security bill, which didn't seem destined to get far anyway. If Frist pulls the trigger, the Senate will be all but officially forfeiting the issue to Bill Thomas and the House Ways and Means panel. We're not sure many among his ranks will protest.

It isn't just that the filibuster war is sucking all the oxygen out of the room. Compared to previous full-court presses by the collective White House/RNC/Hill/interest groups machine, there seems to be real fatigue on the GOP side over Social Security, an issue which the party -- beyond the President himself and proponents of private accounts -- never felt passionately about. We've seen the Democrats release new ads, hold press conferences, and launch a new "Take A Stand" campaign, and release poll after poll -- including one of African-Americans today, and guess what it shows. But we've heard hardly a word from Republicans on the issue this week. And again, Progress for America, the main 527 pushing private accounts, is now going full-bore on the filibuster.

Tom DeLay pen and pad: 2:55 pm. Under the new rules for these sessions, questions about his attire for tomorrow night's tribute dinner may not get answered.

The Senate meets at 9:30 am; the House meets at 10:00 am.

The Senate and the judiciary
Roll Call notes that in his remarks yesterday, "Frist declined to say specifically which (judicial) nominee would be brought up first, but he seemed to confirm media reports... that the plan would be to call up Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen." The paper also reports that GOP Sen. Mike DeWine likes the general tenets of the bipartisan compromise currently being forged.

The New York Times says, “Worried by reports of a possible compromise, conservative groups... were moving to scuttle any deal. Dr. James C. Dobson… denounced the notion of a compromise in a radio broadcast over the network," saying it would be "'a betrayal of the millions of people who put George Bush and the Republicans in office.’”

Related events today:
-- Republican women in Congress and from around the country will gather on the Cannon terrace at 2:00 pm for a rally in support of Owen and fellow nominee Janice Rogers Brown.
-- Pro-nuclear Progress for America has launched an "Around the Country in Eight Days" campaign to "flood" nine states with spokespeople pushing the message that "all judicial nominees with majority support deserve an up-or-down vote before the full U.S. Senate." The nine-stop tour: Providence, RI; Portland, ME; Philadelphia; Omaha; Fargo, ND; Baton Rouge; Little Rock; Tampa; and Wilmington, DE.
-- Some of the Princeton students who have been staging a mock filibuster at Frist's alma mater come to DC today to continue their protest at the Reflecting Pool starting at 10:00 am, and ending tomorrow at 11:00 am with a press conference and rally. The Princeton students will be joined by folks from DC-area colleges and universities.

It's the economy
"Old economy" labor takes another hit: A bankruptcy judge has ruled that United Airlines can hand its pension-fund responsibilities over to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. in the largest pension default in US history; United faces a pension shortfall of $9.8 billion. Because of a PBGC cap, the deal will result in reduced pensions for many United employees. Struggling Delta may try the same.

USA Today: "United follows US Airways as the second domestic airline in recent years to hand over pension responsibility to the government... Unions for the flight attendants and the mechanics have threatened to strike if United changes their contracts unilaterally, although United has vowed to fight any job action in court. IAM, United's biggest union, will announce today results of a strike vote by members. Also today, another court proceeding over whether United has the right to undo all its labor contracts is scheduled to begin in Chicago."

The Wall Street Journal combines the twin storylines of what the United default could mean for the airline industry, and "the already heavy strain on the [PBGC] from a spate of pension defaults in recent years... [T]he agency has taken on obligations exceeding its assets by $23.3 billion." The story adds, "The court's decision could have wide repercussions in the airline industry, which is struggling with high fuel costs, intense fare competition and overcapacity. Sidestepping its pension liabilities will help UAL attract additional funding, while giving it a huge cost advantage over many of its rivals, which are saddled with underfunded defined-benefit retirement plans of their own."

On military base closings, with the commission report expected on Friday, the Los Angeles Times covers the issue as partly Sun Belt versus Northeast.

One day before Bush is scheduled to meet with the leaders of CAFTA nations at the White House, the Commerce Department reports that "the US trade deficit fell sharply in March to the lowest level in six months," the AP says.

And the New York Post says that employers will see a huge spike in employee absenteeism next week with the release of the new Star Wars film. “That loss of productivity could cost employers as much as $627 million in the first two days...”

Bush II
The Los Angeles Times says Bolton will get his committee vote tomorrow.

Beyond nominating Bolton, whom he has labeled as a reformer, Bush and his Administration have proposed "relatively few ideas for changing" the United Nations, "apart from admitting Japan to the U.N. Security Council and endorsing a call by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to remake a discredited human rights commission," says USA Today. That said, "The administration has clearer positions on nuclear proliferation issues it may bring before the Security Council, issues on which Bolton has expertise."

The Washington Post calls the dismissal of the lawsuit to open up the Cheney energy task force records "a major legal and political victory for the White House, further solidifying the president's power to deliberate and seek advice behind closed doors without disclosing details."

Now that the President has decried the practice, USA Today reports that the Ag Department "paid a freelance writer $9,375 in 2003 to 'research and write articles for hunting and fishing magazines describing the benefits of" some ag programs.

The Washington Post reports that "House Republican leaders are considering asking the ethics committee to preapprove privately sponsored trips before lawmakers and their aides would be permitted to travel... Also yesterday, top officials said party leaders hope the ethics committee will get started on an investigation of DeLay so it can be completed by December, which could give the party a clearer slate heading into an election year."

The Boston Globe takes its long look at members -- leading with Democrats -- rethinking their acceptance of privately financed trips.

In advance of the DeLay tribute dinner at the Capital Hilton tomorrow night, "conservatives say the House majority leader is in better shape to weather ethics accusations now than he was six weeks ago," says the Washington Times, which reports that RNC chairman Ken Mehlman will attend and that DeLay will speak briefly.

The Los Angeles Times says "this $2,000-a-table dinner isn't about money. It's about sending a message." The story adds, "Leaders of many of the city's top trade associations and lobbying firms said they were not going to attend... Even some planning to attend the dinner privately acknowledged the possibility that DeLay might not survive as majority leader. DeLay, they said, is not indispensable to the conservative movement in the same way that earlier figures, such as Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich, were at various points in recent history."

Also in advance of the DeLay tribute dinner, First Read has come upon some research from the Democratic House campaign committee laying out fundraising connections between the co-sponsors and Abramoff.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel's motives in proposing the lobbying reform bill are being questioned by Republicans because he's also chair of the Democratic House campaign committee.

The Houston Chronicle reports that two DeLay associates who have been indicted in Texas “are scheduled to ask state District Judge Bob Perkins, a Democrat, to throw out the ethics indictments against them as being based on a constitutionally vague state law and as a violation of First Amendment free-speech rights. If Perkins rules against the pair, they will be able to appeal the motion to the all-Republican Texas Court of Criminal Appeals before any trial.”

Schwarzenegger submitted thousands of signatures yesterday for a special election, “and assuming they're certified, the next bit of suspense is whether he decides to call for the vote.” The paper notes one potential glitch in Schwarzenegger’s redistricting plan: “Several different versions of the redistricting proposal have been circulated by signature gatherers, and some of the petitions submitted to county registrars are no longer valid, registrars said." - Sacramento Bee

The Los Angeles Times counts eight potential initiatives so far on a special election ballot.

The values debate
With the House slated to consider legislation expanding federal funding of stem-cell research in the next few weeks, Sen. Orrin Hatch and Reps. Mike Castle, Mark Kirk, and Joe Schwarz -- all Republicans -- hold a press conference in the Senate Radio-TV press gallery at 12:30 pm today to declare their support for this legislation.

The Washington Times interviews the Rev. Jim Wallis about his sudden popularity among Democratic officials looking for new ways to reach voters through values.

The North Carolina preacher accused of expelling church members for not supporting Bush, an action that prompted a group that lobbies for church-state separation to ask the IRS to investigate the church’s tax-exempt status, announced yesterday that he was stepping down. - AP

And the Pew Research Center has released its latest political typology survey examining voters' beliefs and values, which breaks down the American electorate into nine different groups. On the right: enterprisers (economic conservatives, not particularly religious but are conservative on social issues); social conservatives (agree with enterprisers on most issues -- except are more critical of business and more pro-environment; these are the white evangelicals); and pro-government conservatives (very religious, but support assistance for the poor; the waitress moms).

In the middle: upbeats (relatively young, well educated, moderate, and positive); disaffecteds (less educated and affluent; more cynical and unsatisfied with their economic situation); and bystanders (don't vote).

On the left: liberals (well educated, secular, dovish on foreign policy, support government assistance); disadvantaged Democrats (relatively minority and female, highly pessimistic); and conservative Democrats (religious, socially conservative, older, more hawkish on foreign policy).

Among the more interesting findings in the survey: First, the typology's two main middle groups -- upbeats and disaffecteds -- voted overwhelmingly for Bush. Upbeats supported Bush over Kerry, 63% to 14%, while disaffecteds went 42% to 21%. (Bystanders didn't vote.) In fact, according to the survey, Bush is the only national political leader to have broad appeal among upbeats and disaffecteds. One of the reasons for this is the Iraq war: 66% of upbeats and 50% of disaffecteds believe that using military force against Iraq was the right decision. And 71% of upbeats and 63% of disaffecteds support using preemptive force. Pew pollster Andrew Kohut said that if the 2004 election was "only about domestic issues, Kerry would have won. But it wasn't."

Also, the split among Republicans occurs on the role of government: 67% of enterprisers say the government can't afford to do more to provide assistance to the needy, while 80% of pro-government conservatives say it should do more. The split among Democrats occurs on social issues: A whopping 88% of liberals worry about the government getting too involved in moral issues, while 54% of conservative Democrats say the government should be doing more here. "Cultural issues unite the Republicans while they divide the Democrats," Kohut said.

More: Poor Republicans are much more optimistic than poor Democrats: Only 14% of disadvantaged Democrats think that people can get ahead if they're willing to work hard, compared with 76% of their GOP counterparts (the pro-government conservatives) who believe this. "This is a really important difference between the two parties -- the way in which the Republican party is the party of individualism." And lastly, Sen. Hillary Clinton gets strong favorability ratings from the left, the middle -- and even from the right: 51% of upbeats, 49% of disaffecteds, and 51% of pro-government conservatives view her favorably.

A boycott of Arizona businesses organized by a Hispanic group in an effort to protest recent state laws targeting target illegal immigrants was semi-effective, the Washington Times says: "most community and civic leaders agreed that yesterday's boycott was a failure because many potential participants could not afford to lose a workday or business income. But the real effort will take place in July, organizers said, when Hispanics in Phoenix and Tucson will be asked again to boycott businesses and stores and to stay home from work."

Still, the "work boycott affected some businesses in the Phoenix area, including restaurants that either shut down or offered limited fare because of staff shortages." - AP

Cardinal McCarrick announced yesterday that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops "will 'add the voice of the Catholic Church' to the call for major immigration legislation, including a guest-worker program and a path to citizenship for illegal aliens in the United States." - Washington Times

Concerned that Real ID will result in a big tab and an even bigger headache, the AP says "[s]tates are threatening to challenge in court and even disobey new orders from Congress to start issuing more uniform driver's licenses and verify the citizenship or legal status of people getting them."

Maybe it's because she's from New York, where immigration is in some respects viewed as more of a fact of daily life than in the rest of the country, and at the same time as more of a threat to it. Maybe it's because some of her earlier statements about immigration were covered by the Washington Times as being more hard-line than other Democrats'. But Senator Clinton issued six graphs explaining her vote for the Real ID provision in the war supplemental yesterday, decrying the Senate's having to vote up or down on the measure without being able to debate it. "I am in total agreement with those who argue that we need to address our immigration challenges and we must also recognize that we are still not doing what we should to fulfill the demands of homeland security... If we can’t secure our borders, we can’t secure our homeland. We need a much tougher, much smarter look at these issues... We need to make our borders more secure... We must continue our American tradition of welcoming immigrants who follow the rules and are trying to build a better life for their families... We clearly have to make some tough decisions as a country... However, a piecemeal attempt to address immigration problems window-dressed as national security is not the solution."


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