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Tuesday, June 7, 2005 | 9:40 a.m. ET
From Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Bill Hatfield

First glance
Both are Baby Boomers, both are leaders of two of the world’s most powerful nations, and both recently won re-election (albeit perhaps not as convincingly as they could have). Perhaps most importantly, both are inextricably linked to Iraq and the eventual successes or failures in that country. And today, both men -- President Bush and Prime Minister Blair -- share the stage together at the White House, first at 3:25 pm (for still photographs) and then at 4:45 pm (for a joint press avail).

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But as NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell and others report, Bush and Blair don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye when it comes to African aid, and that disagreement will obviously color today’s news coverage of their meeting. O’Donnell notes that, per Administration officials, Bush will announce a $674 million aid package for Africa that will target hunger and humanitarian needs. But the package is for urgent needs, not the broader kind of assistance Blair wants. Nevertheless, a senior White House official acknowledges that the move gives Blair some political cover and allows him to not leave empty handed.

In the Senate, meanwhile, the action on Bush’s judicial nominees continues. Priscilla Owen was sworn in yesterday; a cloture vote on Janice Rogers Brown’s nomination is expected today (with a vote on her confirmation also coming as early as today); and William Pryor, who also was included in the Gang of 14 agreement on judges, will be voted on later this week. Both Brown and Pryor are expected to be confirmed, says NBC’s Ken Strickland.

Strickland notes, however, that the fate of one nomination still remains unclear: John Bolton’s. Before the Memorial Day recess, Democrats were successful in delaying his confirmation vote on the grounds that the Administration was withholding key documents pertaining to Bolton. But as it becomes obvious that the Administration will not comply with Democrats' demands to turn over those documents, their strategy now seems to be in flux. Republicans, Strickland points out, would only need a couple sympathetic Democrats to vote with them to force Bolton's vote to the floor -- a very likely scenario.

Also in Senate news today: Sen. Rick Santorum and a bipartisan group of congressmen (caveat: all the Democrats present no longer serve in Congress) discuss the need to for bipartisan cooperation to save and strengthen Social Security at 10:00 am, while the Senate Finance Committee holds a hearing at 10:00 am to talk up pension reform and the lessons learned from United Airlines’ recent default. And Bill Frist gave a speech at 8:30 am to the CSIS Task Force on HIV/AIDS.

The Senate meets at 9:45 am; the House meets at 2:00 pm.

In Washington State yesterday, Judge John Bridges upheld Gov. Christine Gregoire’s (D) narrow gubernatorial victory last year, a decision that forced Dino Rossi (R) to end his legal challenge. Rossi said the political makeup of the state Supreme Court made it highly unlikely that Bridges’ ruling could be overturned. The question Rossi now faces: Does he run for Maria Cantwell’s US Senate seat?

Finally, it’s primary day in New Jersey, where seven Republicans -- led by 2001 gubernatorial nominee Bret Schundler and 2002 Senate nominee Doug Forrester -- compete for the chance to face Democratic Sen. Jon Corzine in November to be the state’s next governor. The wealthy Forrester has the financial advantage and a lead in the polls. Yet that lead has narrowed from 11 points according to a June 1 Quinnipiac poll, to a two-point lead in a Quinnipiac survey released yesterday. Nathan Gonzales of the Rothenberg Political Report explains that the more conservative Schundler could benefit from the expected low turnout. “I’m still leery of counting out Schundler in a low-turnout primary because of his ability to get out his votes.”

That said, experts say that Forrester is the candidate who has the better chance of beating Corzine, although Corzine will be a clear frontrunner against any Republican. “I believe that Forrester already has the money to compete, which means Corzine will have a race,” the Cook Political Report’s Jennifer Duffy tells First Read. “I think that Schundler has a harder time.” Polls open at 6:00 am and close at 8:00 pm.

Bush ‘n’ Blair
The New York Times says Blair has two items on the top of his agenda: increasing aid to Africa and combating global warming. “While the prime minister is under intense domestic pressure to show that his alliance with the president has yielded benefits for Britain, the view among some White House officials is that Mr. Blair will win political points at home on those issues on which he and Mr. Bush agree and that he will also win by standing up to him over issues on which they disagree."

The Los Angeles Times writes, “When Prime Minister Tony Blair meets with President Bush today, he might feel justified in posing this question: What does faithful support through two difficult wars earn a loyal ally who is looking for help for the world's neediest continent?”

That said, the London Times reports that Blair's official spokesman said yesterday that there was no point in Blair spending his time today arguing over areas of disagreement with Bush.

The New York Times also says yesterday's announcement that Britain would suspend its plans for a referendum on the EU constitution -- along with Blair's meeting today with Bush -- illuminates the prime minister’s efforts to straddle both European and trans-Atlantic diplomacy.

Finally, the AP covers the controversy that Blair’s wife, Cherie, is expected to earn $54,400 from a Washington speaking engagement. “The main opposition Conservative Party has accused Cherie Blair of profiting from her husband's position by making the address at a time when the prime minister is going to the White House for official meetings.”

It's the economy
With the Senate looking at pensions today, the Washington Post notes that the nation’s private pension plans have been sinking into the hole, despite an upswing the financial markets. “The 1,108 weakest pension plans -- those whose assets are at least $50 million below the value of the benefits they promise -- were short by an aggregate $353.7 billion at the end of last year, figures from the government's Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. show. That was 27 percent more than the shortfall a year earlier, contrary to the hopes of many that funding would improve as the economy strengthens.”

The AP notes that Fed chairman Alan Greenspan said yesterday he was puzzled why long-term interest rates have been declining, even though he and his colleagues have been raising short-term rates.

The Wall Street notes that Greenspan said this decline in long-term interest rates “may signal economic weakness ahead, but argued that they aren't as reliable a signal of such weakness as in the past."

As the House returns to work today, The Hill previews the chamber’s potentially bruising debate over CAFTA. “Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who has been leading House opposition to the pact, said before last week’s congressional recess that he had amassed 40 to 50 Republicans and 190 Democrats to vote against the measure, well ahead of the 218 votes needed to sink it. Pro-CAFTA lobbyists said those numbers are inflated but nonetheless conceded that they face an uphill battle to muster support for the agreement in such a short time frame.”

Judicial politics
With a cloture vote expected today on Janice Rogers Brown’s judicial nomination, the Los Angeles Times profiles her, noting the her conservative beliefs and her fiery speeches to conservative groups -- but also her strong intellect and impressive work ethic.

The Los Angeles Times also covers yesterday’s Senate floor debate on Brown, and it notes how the debate over judges has taken a toll on Congress. “In a Gallup poll released Monday, 22% of respondents said they had "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in Congress - the lowest rating since 1997 and down from 30% last year.”

The New York Times says that as soon as the Senate finishes with Brown’s nomination, Frist intends to bring up Judge Pryor.

Roll Call reports that besides confirmation votes on Brown and Pryor, we should also see votes for less controversial filibuster targets David McKeague, Richard Griffin, and Tom Griffith. “But lest anyone think the Senate is done with its fight over whether Democrats should be allowed to filibuster judicial nominations … think again. After all, the White House appears to be gearing up to send as many as 30 new judicial nominees to the Senate…, a move that, given this White House’s general refusal to back down from any fight once it’s started, can only be interpreted as a shot across the Democrats’ collective bow.” Roll Call also notes that Frist still might bring up the nomination of William Myers, whom the Gang of 14 permitted Democrats to block, probably after the July 4th recess.

More Bush agenda
USA Today takes an in-depth look at the discrepancies in Social Security benefits -- between single heads of households and non-working spouses, between two-earner households and those with a single earner, and between those who have been married once than those who’ve been married several times. “As President Bush and Congress wrangle over how to keep the retirement system solvent and whether to add individual investment accounts, the issue of who gets what is getting increased scrutiny.”

The New York Times reports that Sen. Chris Dodd, in a letter to National Intelligence Director John Negroponte, said that Democrats will not block a vote on John Bolton’s nomination if the Administration compromises over access to information about his actions. In the letter, "Dodd suggested that Democrats could settle for something less than complete access to those names. As one possibility, Mr. Dodd proposed that Mr. Negroponte might instead assure the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that none of the names obtained by Mr. Bolton were among 'names of concern' to be listed by the panel."

Even though Bush cast the Watergate story that resurfaced last week as something from the distant past, the Los Angeles Times writes that Watergate and its aftermath “have exerted a strong influence on the policies and attitudes of the president and others now in the White House - some of whom had front-row seats for the scandal as members of the Nixon and Ford administrations.”

Despite Bush's call yesterday for increased democratization in Latin America, the Miami Herald reports that OAS member nations are resisting U.S. efforts to give the alliance greater oversight over Latin American democracies.

The Democrats
At her first major fundraiser for re-election in 2006, Sen. Hillary Clinton attacked Republicans and the media yesterday in an effort to set her apart from her rivals, the New York Times says. Clinton "castigated" Bush and congressional Republicans "as being mad with power and self-righteousness, complained that the news media have been timid in taking on the administration, and suggested that some Washington Republicans have a God complex."

The Hill writes that three top fundraisers have left the DNC (although two of them did so because they found other opportunities), and that some Democrats are concerned that Dean isn’t paying enough attention to big donors. “But other Democrats say the first several months after a party’s losing presidential campaign are naturally a time of transition and it will take time for committee officials to get their ‘sea legs.’ Dean’s defenders also note that DNC fundraising is ahead of where it was at this point after the last presidential election, when Democrats could still raise unlimited amounts of soft money.”

In an interview with the Boston Herald, John Kerry "made it clear Dean's legacy as party leader is uncertain.” He said, “‘I obviously don't agree with some of the comments, but I think . . . he'll get a feel for what his role is and how he ought to play it as we go forward... I hope he's going to do constructive things for the party, but I would say the test is out.''

Moreover, the Boston Globe gets a hold of Kerry's Yale transcript, which reveals that he had a grade-point-average "virtually identical" to Bush's.

Those transcripts were included in Kerry's full Navy military and medical records, which Kerry has now released. The Globe says the documents "are mostly a duplication of what Kerry released during his 2004 campaign for president, including numerous commendations from commanding officers who later criticized Kerry's Vietnam service... The lack of any substantive new material about Kerry's military career in the documents raises the question of why Kerry refused for so long to waive privacy restrictions. An earlier release of the full record might have helped his campaign because it contains a number of reports lauding his service. Indeed, one of the first actions of the group that came to be known as Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was to call on Kerry to sign a privacy waiver and release all of his military and medical records."

The values debate
The Chicago Tribune writes that the Supreme Court's decision yesterday rejecting the use of marijuana for terminally ill patients was significant "not only because of the practical implications in states with medical marijuana laws, but also because it involved deciding the extent of congressional power."

The San Francisco Chronicle examines the impact of the Supreme Court's decision, writing that the federal government will have "free rein to disrupt" California laws protecting medical pot users from prosecution.

But the San Francisco Chronicle also reports that California's medical marijuana advocates do not expect federal drug enforcement efforts to increase in the wake of yesterday’s decision.

The Seattle Times reports that Judge Bridges, in upholding Gov. Gregoire’s election yesterday, thoroughly rejected the GOP’s claims that fraud and wrongdoing were committed. And as a result, Rossi ended his legal challenge, saying that due to the political makeup of the state’s Supreme Court, Bridges’ ruling likely wouldn’t be overturned. “That brought to a close seven months of legal and political wrangling over the closest governor's election in the nation's history. There were two recounts, five lawsuits, millions of dollars spent by both political parties and a historic two-week trial here to determine who the legitimate winner was.”

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer notes the pros and cons to Rossi’s decision to concede. “‘The pros about his announcement ... are that he relieves the citizenry of Washington from an enormous burden,’ [the University of Washington’s David] Olson said. ‘Citizens are exhausted by this contest over the governor's race… So, he's going to come off the statesman, the guy who took the high road,’ Olson said.”

Roll Call notes, however, that Rossi will be find himself under pressure by the GOP to challenge Sen. Maria Cantwell (D) next year. “So far he has declined, saying his focus is on becoming governor and that the Senate holds no allure for him.”

The Newark Star-Ledger previews today’s GOP gubernatorial primary in New Jersey, and it says "the neck-and-neck race … is likely to hinge on voter turnout.”


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