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Monday, June 6, 2005 | 9:25 a.m. ET
From Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Bill Hatfield

First Glance
What Washington is mulling today: Was Newsweek more right about the Koran abuses than the Administration has let on? Will (or can) the Democrats continue to hold up Bolton’s nomination to the UN if they don’t get the documents they’ve requested -- and if so, will that somehow imperil the Gang of 14’s deal on judges? And, out in Washington State, will Judge John Bridges actually overturn Gov. Christine Gregoire’s (D) 129-vote victory last year?

  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

Two political subjects that haven’t received the attention they probably deserve surfaced late last week, and surface again today: the economy and class. On Friday, the Labor Department reported that just 78,000 jobs were created in May, about half of what had been expected. During the 2004 presidential campaign, political reporters treated each jobs report like it was a message from the political gods. But Friday’s report, which also showed the unemployment rate dipping to 5.1%, has received scant attention, even though a strong argument can be made that it’s the less-than-stellar economy -- not Bolton, Social Security, judges, or Schiavo -- that’s responsible for the Administration’s sagging poll numbers.

The issue of class popped on Thursday when Howard Dean said that many Republicans “have never made an honest living in their lives.” While most of the attention on that “honest living” comment focused on whether Dean was correct (or wise) to make it, Dean’s remark brings up a bigger point: How do Democrats talk about class to win elections? In the last two presidential elections, Democrats talked plenty that Bush’s policies benefit the rich at expense of the poor and middle class -- but they lost. Has class become obsolete as political issue? Or do the Democrats need better messengers than Al Gore, John Kerry, and Howard Dean?

That said, Sens. Harry Reid and Byron Dorgan hold a presser at 2:00 pm that touches on class when they argue that the GOP Congress is out of touch with regular Americans. Per a press release from these Democrats: “From rising gas prices, skyrocketing health care costs to hundreds of thousands of our men and women fighting a war in Iraq, the American people remain confused as to why the Republicans have made radical judges their number one priority. Democrats understand the everyday concerns that families face and are working to find bipartisan consensus to address those concerns.”

Today, Bush will talk about how passing CAFTA can help boost the economy when, in Fort Lauderdale FL, he addresses the opening of the Organization of American States’ general assembly at 11:45 am. Bush then returns to the White House to make remarks on the South Lawn for the White House Black Music Month reception at 5:00 pm. Cheney, meanwhile, travels to Seattle to attend a lunch fundraiser at 3:30 pm for Rep. Dave Reichert (R), who is one of the Democrats’ top targets in 2006.

In Congress today, the Senate begins debating Janice Rogers Brown’s nomination to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, and it will conduct a cloture vote (which should pass) on Tuesday. A cloture vote on William Pryor’s judicial nomination -- the last of the three the Gang of 14 green-lighted for an up-or-down vote -- will occur later in the week. And NBC’s Ken Strickland advises us that another floor vote on Bolton’s nomination could come sometime this week. More on all of that below.

The Senate meets at 2:00 pm; the House is still on recess.

Also on the judges fight: A consortium of liberal-leaning organizations -- from the Sierra Club to the AFL-CIO -- holds a conference call at 1:00 pm to protest Brown’s nomination. And MSNBC’s Hardball (which is celebrating the show’s 8th anniversary) hosts the Gang of 14 Senators to talk about what they are going to do with their newfound leadership position.

It's the economy
On Friday, when the Labor Department reported that 78,000 jobs had been created in May (the smallest monthly increase in two years), the RNC issued an email entitled “Economy Talk,” which noted that May was the 24th-straight month of job growth, that the unemployment rate had declined to 5.1%, and that home ownership continues to increase. RNC communications director Brian Jones tells First Read that this “Economy Talk” feature is new. “We're going to try to do it from time to time, hitting on good economic news, which seems to be overshadowed a bit lately.”

But Stacey Bernards, a spokeswoman for House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, says she’s puzzled why Republicans are trumpeting the creation of 78,000 jobs. “It is half of what you need to keep up with population growth," she tells First Read.

The Wall Street Journal says the Federal Reserve will likely press ahead with another interest-rate increase on June 30, even though "the weak jobs report provides ammunition to market participants who think the Fed should halt its rate increases … until the U.S. economy shows signs of firming. The article also notes that individual job reports “can be misleading. The employment data have been exceptionally volatile, and monthly reports have regularly undergone significant revisions."

The Wall Street Journal: “After failing to pass an energy bill for years, Congress is positioned to send one to President Bush, but the legislation could be derailed before ever reaching the White House." But: "Proposals for expanding offshore drilling and ethanol mandates are among potential 'deal killers' -- measures that could be inserted when the full Senate takes up the bill this month or that could block agreement between the more Republican-dominated House and the more consensus-oriented Senate."

The Washington Post says that according to a little-known provision in the House energy bill, US automakers can take credit for producing vehicles that run on ethanol, even if the car owners still use regular gas.

Judicial politics
On Sunday, the New York Times reported that Frist says he wants to advance Janice Rogers Brown and William Pryor this week, “along with up to four other less contentious candidates for the bench. He then wants to move on to energy legislation before considering court nominees left outside the bounds of the compromise, a move that could restart the judicial battle.”

Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times writes that it’s difficult to say that either Democrats or Republicans won on the Gang of 14’s compromise on judges. But he says it’s clear that Democrats were happier about it than Republicans were. The reason? Because it “threatens the ruling political paradigm among Republicans. Since 2001, energizing the conservative base, even at the price of straining relations with more centrist voters, has been the core of Bush's legislative and political strategy.”

The New York Times says that to strike back at Sen. DeWine (R) for joining the Gang of 14, “Christian conservative groups are buying radio advertisements criticizing him and trying to recruit a challenger to oppose him in the Republican primary. Meanwhile, conservative talk radio hosts around the state are exhorting listeners to vote against his son, Pat, a Hamilton County commissioner running in a special election for Congress this spring. Pat DeWine has said he disagrees with his father on the judicial compromise."

Roll Call profiles Sens. Ben Nelson (D) and Mark Pryor (D), who the paper says were instrumental in forging the Gang of 14’s compromise on Bush’s judicial nominees. “In essence, Nelson and Pryor have assumed the role long held by John Breaux, the retired Louisiana Democrat who served as lead Democratic dealmaker through the previous decade… But many Democratic aides privately noted that Nelson and Pryor were able to do something that Breaux found it increasingly difficult to do in his last years in office: deliver.”

Top officials at the liberal People for the American Way met with reporters on Friday to publicize a new report of theirs entitled "Courting Disaster 2005," which examines Scalia’s and Thomas’s dissenting and concurring opinions, and it concludes that the appointment of one or two new Justices who are similar to Scalia or Thomas could overturn important precedents regarding reproductive health, privacy, and civil rights. The study is a prelude to the group's ramped-up efforts this month in anticipation of a Supreme Court fight. The group will meet with editorial boards and reporters, run more advertisements, and conduct public events around the country. PFAW president Ralph Neas says the SCOTUS battle will be a "titanic struggle" over "two radically different interpretations of the Constitution," and he argues that Americans need to make sure that scores of fundamental freedoms don't "vanish" overnight.

The AP covers Joe Biden’s remark on ABC’s “This Week” that Democrats likely don’t have enough votes to continue delaying Bolton’s nomination to be UN ambassador. “Despite his prediction that Bolton will be confirmed, Biden said, ‘It reduces the confidence in the administration, and ... the president will have lost more credibility, and lost support.’”

The Los Angeles Times says it is uncertain how quickly Frist and the Republicans will be able to move Bolton’s nomination to the Senate floor again. “Republicans believe that they are only two votes short of the 60 they need to end debate on Bolton, and they are working to find them. Frist is unlikely to put the nomination back on the agenda until he is certain he has all the votes.”

More Bush agenda
Roll Call reports that when Chris Cox was nominated last week to become the new head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, he became the third House Republican member in nine months to be tapped to serve in the Bush Administration -- a reversal from Bush’s first three and a half years in office, when he named just one sitting House member. “White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said nothing should be read into the recent spate of House Members moving to the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue… Other knowledgeable sources noted, however, that the run on Members was due to an increased Republican majority and a desire to bring in individuals who could work well in Congress and also sell Bush’s policy priorities to the public.”

Bob Novak writes that even though Republicans control of Congress, President Bush "seems as much at a loss in dealing with the legislative branch as the day he entered the White House" -- as he faces congressional resistance on everything from stem-cell research to Social Security.

The Washington Times on Bush’s Social Security plan: "Bush has set forth few hard-and-fast principles about what he positively would not accept, including payroll-tax rate increases and benefit cuts.” But: “White House advisers and outside allies have made it clear that he may be willing to give up a great deal in his proposal to enact a minimum level of private investment savings in the Social Security system."

Ethics and institutions
The Washington Post looks at the “DeLay effect” -- how the public scrutiny of House members’ travel and relations with lobbyists might cost the GOP in 2006. “Nowhere is the impact of the ethics issue clearer than here in the Appalachian hills of eastern Ohio, where a thicket of weekly newspapers now gives regular coverage to revelations about House Administration Committee Chairman Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) and his ties to DeLay and Jack Abramoff.” More: “Republican officials who had said earlier this year that they would break even in the midterm elections are now talking about possibly losing seats.”

The Democrats
The AP gets Joe Biden and John Edwards to rebuke Dean for his comment last week that many Republicans have never made an honest living in their lives. “Dean ‘doesn't speak for me with that kind of rhetoric and I don't think he speaks for the majority of Democrats,’ Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday on ABC's This Week… Edwards responded that Dean ‘is not the spokesman for the party.’ Dean is ‘a voice. I don't agree with it,’ Edwards … said Saturday at a party fundraising dinner in Nashville.”

The Washington Post notes that these rebukes come at a time when Dean and the DNC are being criticized for not raising enough money, and the paper also gets comment from Dean’s spokeswoman, who said “‘[Dean] is a voice of the party, not the only voice. We have different voices in our party. But we are all committed to rebuilding our party and getting our country back on track.’”

The Washington Times writes that the election of Los Angeles' first Hispanic mayor in modern times “endangers the political dominance of black Democrats there, and officials from both communities say they worry that tensions over political control of the city will lead to social unrest.” But political consultant Morris Reid notes that "[t]he story within the story was that the black community is still politically powerful because they punished Hahn. It gives Hispanics a reason to stay with the [Democratic] party and it shows black and brown folks that their destiny is tied together.'"

The values debate
A Democratic Hill aide tells First Read that congressional Democrats intend to pressure the White House and the GOP leadership on stem cells by launching a Web and earned-media initiative that features Democratic members like Reps. Lois Capps (a nurse) and James Langevin (who is disabled). Meanwhile, in the Senate, Sens. Orrin Hatch and Arlen Specter and other groups supporting the Senate stem-cell bill will hold a closed-door meeting on Tuesday to discuss strategy.

The Washington Post reports that researchers “have begun to assemble intriguing evidence that it is possible to generate embryonic stem cells without having to create or destroy new human embryos. The research is still young and largely unpublished, and in some cases it is limited to animal cells… Yet the gathering consensus among biologists is that embryonic stem cells are made, not born -- and that embryos are not an essential ingredient.”

An AP-Ipsos poll finds that Americans “profess unquestioning belief in God and are far more willing to mix faith and politics than people in other countries… Nearly all U.S. respondents said faith is important to them and only 2% said they do not believe in God. Almost 40% said religious leaders should try to sway policymakers, notably higher than in other countries.” Only Mexicans come as close to Americans in embracing faith.

USA Today notes that one of the important opinions the Supreme Court will hand out this month concerns whether the public display of the Ten Commandments is constitutional. “The disputes from Kentucky and Texas over presentations of the Ten Commandments have drawn nationwide interest, in part because of increasing tensions over efforts by local governments and Evangelical Christians to erect or maintain religious displays… The high court's decision could clarify rules for myriad types of religious displays on government property, including the Nativity scenes, menorahs and other winter holiday presentations that routinely draw protests.”

On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times reported that Gov. Schwarzenegger allows contributors to listen in on conference calls with aides and even the governor himself. And the paper actually listened in to one of these calls a few days ago. “In the latest such call … Schwarzenegger's media expert, Don Sipple, outlined a strategy ‘based on a lot of polling’ to create a ‘phenomenon of anger" among voters toward public employee unions… The Thursday discussion, involving multiple contributors and three top Schwarzenegger strategists, offered a rare glimpse of the governor's "donor maintenance" effort: insider information, solicitous compliments, invitations to exclusive parties. It was also a window on the governor's attack strategy ahead of an expected Nov. 8 special election.”

The San Francisco Chronicle examines the high stakes surrounding Schwarzenegger's plan for a November special election, which faces a deadline next week. "Win and he clears his path to re-election. Lose and his cloak of political invincibility disappears."

The Los Angeles Times notes that Schwarzenegger’s promise to call a special election this year “has sucked much of the air out” of the California Legislature’s session. “These political dynamics, coupled with the state's sorry fiscal condition, have led the Legislature to largely abandon its favored role as an incubator for sweeping ideas. Instead, lawmakers are embracing nonconfrontational, incremental changes that tinker around the edges of California's biggest problems.”

Finally, CQ Weekly notes that Laurence Leamer, in his new biography of Schwarzenegger entitled “Fantastic,” alleges that Schwarzenegger “knew the National Enquirer and other tabloids owned by American Media Inc. would not write anything negative about his past” during his gubernatorial bid in the 2003 California recall “because he had agreed to help promote its slew of bodybuilding magazines. Schwarzenegger’s treatment by the tabloids during the campaign was a complete reversal from when he first publicly contemplated running for governor in 2001.”

Washington state
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer looks at the possible consequences of Judge John Bridges’ ruling today on the legal challenge into Gov. Christine Gregoire’s victory last year. “The judge could declare that Rossi is governor, or he could void Gregoire's election, which could put Lt. Gov. Brad Owen in the governor's office until a new election is held, possibly this fall.” But the paper reminds us: “[N]o matter how Bridges rules, there's almost certain to be a D-Day II in Olympia. That's because the losing side is expected to appeal Bridges' verdict to the state Supreme Court.”

The Seattle Times, meanwhile, tries to analyze how Bridges will rule today. He thinks “it should be difficult to successfully contest an election”; he is deferential to the state Supreme Court and the Legislature; he assumes an appeal is inevitable; he thinks there were serious voting problems in King County and not enough done to fix them; and -- perhaps most important of all -- he will be glad when the case is over.


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