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Wednesday, June 8, 2005 | 9:25 a.m. ET
From Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi, and Michelle Jaconi

First glance
There’s plenty of political news out there: Bush is once again chatting up Social Security; a new Washington Post/ABC poll finds the public is concerned about the Administration’s handling of Iraq; Howard Dean has made another statement that has Washington buzzing; Republican Doug Forrester will now face Democrat Jon Corzine in the race for New Jersey governor; and Katherine Harris has decided to run for the Senate. But today we’re leading with a story that will surface in the next couple of days -- the special election in California.

  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

There’s one thing you can say about California: It sure does make off-years interesting. In 2003, the recall there captivated the nation’s attention. This year, it’s increasingly likely that in the next few days (the deadline is Monday), Gov. Schwarzenegger will call for a November special election to consider three of his reform measures, plus a few other initiatives. “It looks like a go to me,” a Democratic Assembly aide tells First Read. Adds GOP consultant Dan Schnur, “It is almost certain to happen. How it turns out is anyone’s guess.”

Yet how it turns out has important implications for how political districts are drawn there, how the state’s budget problems get solved, and if unions must get their members’ permission before using their dues for political purposes. It also raises the question of whether recalls and special elections are the best ways to choose leaders and enact public policy. And -- most importantly -- it could impact Schwarzenegger’s decision to run for re-election in 2006.

On the other coast, in DC, Bush meets with the Prime Minister of Turkey at the White House at 10:30 am, and then -- at the Capitol Hilton Hotel -- makes remarks on Social Security at 1:15 pm. This will be Bush’s 34th appearance discussing Social Security since his State of the Union address. Cheney, meanwhile, travels to Tampa FL to present medals and deliver brief remarks at MacDill Air Force Base at 2:00 pm, and then he delivers remarks at the closing ceremonies of SOCOM’s International Special Forces week at 3:05 pm.

In the Senate, NBC’s Ken Strickland notes that Janice Rogers Brown, after yesterday’s vote for cloture, will have her confirmation vote at 5:00 pm today. William Pryor's confirmation vote will happen on Thursday (time TBD). And the votes for David McKeague and Richard Griffin could come as early as Thursday night -- or perhaps Friday. The Senate is expected to confirm all of these nominees. Next week, Strickland says, Majority Leader Frist will likely call for a vote to end the Democrats’ filibuster on John Bolton, which takes 60 votes. But Democrats aren’t sure they can sustain their delay on Bolton. (Nevertheless, NBC’s Libby Leist reports that on Imus this morning, Sen. Joe Biden suggested that the Democrats might be able to stop Bolton’s nomination, and that opposition to the nominee is hardening.)

At 11:15, Sens. Reid, Levin, Reed, Dayton, and Pryor hold a press conference to discuss how Democrats are supporting the military and their families. In fact, their press release notes that "[w]hile the Republican majority has decided to spend another week on radical judges who already have jobs and health care, Democrats believe attention should be paid to the bipartisan Defense Appropriations Bill, which provides needed support to both our troops and military families."

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

In 2005 and 2006 news, RNC chair Ken Mehlman, in New Brunswick NJ, participates at a post-primary unity luncheon with the seven GOP gubernatorial candidates -- including winner Doug Forrester -- at noon, while Corzine has already held a presser at 8:00 am at Metropark Train Station in Edison, NJ. And, as we mentioned above, Katherine Harris says she will challenge Democrat Bill Nelson for his Florida Senate seat.

Finally, Rock the Vote celebrates its 15th anniversary tonight in DC, and it will honor Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, John McCain, and the Black Eyed Peas. But as Roll Call reports, some conservatives plan to protest the party because of Rock the Vote’s opposition to Bush’s plans on Social Security. More on this below.

It's the economy
The Detroit Free Press takes a look at yesterday's announcement that GM is cutting an additional 25,000 jobs.

The Wall Street Journal talks to analysts and union heads about GM's decision. Some unions think that GM's strategy will not work and that the company should instead work to increase its market share.

USA Today covers yesterday’s Senate hearing on the airlines’ pension programs, at which CEOs at Northwest and Delta said they’ll need bankruptcy protection unless Congress gives them longer to pay for pension obligations. “Such court filings would be a necessary step toward abandonment of their defined-benefit pensions to a government insurer.”

Social Security
Rep. Robert Wexler (D), who has broken Democratic ranks to offer a plan to fix Social Security, pens a USA Today op-ed detailing his proposal. It “is time for Democrats, the program's guarantors, to win the war of ideas by offering alternatives true to our values… My proposal would lift the cap on taxable earnings, requiring workers to pay a 3% tax on wages more than $90,000 a year. Their employers would match this.” He says such a proposal would entirely close Social Security’s funding gap.

But Rep. Mike Pence (R) counters with his own op-ed: “The American people now see a very clear choice before them: The president's bold vision for reform based on fiscal discipline and choice, and the Democrat vision for reform based on higher taxes. The cure for what ails Social Security is new ideas, not higher taxes. (Of course, Democrats would respond that Bush’s vision cuts middle-class benefits and would bloat the deficit.)

The Hill covers House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas’s remarks yesterday that any Social Security legislation coming out of his committee would also address pensions and retirement savings.

Roll Call notes how conservatives plan to protest outside Rock the Vote’s 15th anniversary party, due to the group’s opposition to Bush’s Social Security plan. “‘We just think it’s hypocritical of them to say they’re nonpartisan and nonideological but then aggressively oppose personal retirement accounts,’ [said one of the group’s opponents]. He added, ‘I hope they have a good time tonight, because without reform, they’re not going to be partying when it’s time to retire.’”  Said Hans Riemer of Rock the Vote: “‘We’re delighted they’re coming. But only the cool kids are getting inside,’ Riemer joked, adding, ‘We thought about offering them free tickets to the after-party at Dream, but figured they’d be afraid to leave the Hill.’”

Judicial politics
The Hill reports that Frist has postponed Senate consideration of judicial nominees Myers, Saad, Kavanaugh, and Haynes, even though conservatives are pressing him to act soon to challenge the Gang of 14’s compromise. “Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) said Frist should bring the Myers nomination to the floor as soon as possible… ‘The sooner the better,’ Allen said yesterday... ‘It should happen before there is any vacancy on the Supreme Court.’”

Meanwhile, the Washington Post notes that many Democrats are questioning the Gang of 14’s deal that has resulted (or will result) in the confirmations of Owen, Brown, and Pryor. “‘Our problem with the compromise is the price that was paid,’ Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said yesterday. She and other Congressional Black Caucus members plan to march into the Senate today to protest the impending confirmation of Janice Rogers Brown.”

The Washington Times says Democrats still hold out hope that Brown will lose in a final confirmation vote.

To heal the partisan wounds from the battle over judges, Frist and Reid plan to conduct joint office hours each week to allow Senators from both parties address particular grievances, reports Roll Call. “The bipartisan meetings, which are scheduled to begin next Thursday, come as professional and personal relations have reached an all-time low in a chamber once proud of its clubby atmosphere.”

More Bush agenda
The latest Washington Post/ABC poll has troubling news for the Administration on Iraq. For the first time since war began, the poll says, the public believes the fight there has not made America safer; nearly three-quarters say the casualties there are unacceptable; and nearly six in ten say the war has not been worth the cost. “Perhaps most ominous for President Bush, 52 percent said war in Iraq has not contributed to the long-term security of the United States, while 47 percent said it has. It was the first time a majority of Americans disagreed with the central notion Bush has offered to build support for war: that the fight there will make Americans safer from terrorists at home… Overall, more than half -- 52 percent -- disapprove of how Bush is handling his job, the highest of his presidency. A somewhat larger majority -- 56 percent -- disapproved of Republicans in Congress, and an identical proportion disapproved of Democrats.”

The Washington Post also covers Bush and Blair parting ways “over how much money rich nations should provide to Africa and how they should ease global warming.” And it also notes that Blair defended Bush over the “Downing Street memo,” which alleges that the US was already manipulating intelligence in 2002 to justify war in Iraq. “This was neither the first time Blair has rushed to Bush's defense on Iraq nor the only time the president did not reciprocate by providing the prime minister complete cover back home.”

The Boston Globe notes that "Blair was unsmiling and appeared subdued as Bush devoted much of his time talking about what the United States is already doing to help Africa, rather than addressing Blair's ambitious proposal to double the $25 billion in international aid to the troubled continent."

The London Times covers the joint presser saying that Blair won key support from Bush on the issue of debt relief for Africa. And the Wall Street Journal thinks that the "deal provided a much-needed political boost for Mr. Blair, who suffered a big loss of power in recent United Kingdom elections, largely because of his support for the U.S. and Mr. Bush on the Iraq war.”

USA Today reports that yesterday’s question to Bush and Blair about the “Downing Street memo” was the most attention so far paid by the US media on the memo.

And former President Jimmy Carter called for the United States to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison to demonstrate its commitment to human rights yesterday, the Chicago Sun-Times says.

The Democrats
Another day, another Dean controversy. The San Francisco Chronicle covers Dean’s Monday speech in San Francisco, where he said that Republicans "are not very friendly to different kinds of people. They're a pretty monolithic party. Pretty much, they all behave the same, and they all look the same. ... It's pretty much a white Christian party.''

On the Today Show this morning, Dean stood by those comments, and said the criticism of his recent statements has been a diversion from the issues that really matter. “What I’m trying to point out is that Republicans don’t include people,” he told Matt Lauer. “They are out of the mainstream.” Dean added, “We are going to build the [Democratic Party] back.”

Roll Call gets reaction from Hill Democrats about Dean, some of whom continue to lavishly praise the DNC chairman, and others of whom criticize the comment he made last week that many Republicans don’t earn honest livings. Said House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer: “‘I don’t agree with those comments, and I share the view expressed by Edwards: I don’t think they express the views of our party’ … Hoyer added that he also believes that ‘upon reflection’ they probably don’t represent Dean’s views either: ‘I think they were overstated.’” The paper also notes that Dean will be the featured guest at Thursday’s Senate Democratic Policy Committee meeting.

Ethics and institutions
The Hill reports that two business groups with ties to Taiwan sponsored more than $230,000 in travel for 34 congressional lawmakers (both Democrats and Republicans) between 2000 and 2004, without registering as foreign agents as required by law. “The political nature of the Taiwanese congressional trips comes to light as both parties continue to point fingers across the aisle for lobbyist-funded travel… Among those accepting trips from [the groups] were DeLay, nine members of the House International Relations Committee and two co-chairs of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus. At least 12 of the beneficiaries co-sponsored bills condemning China for its aggressive stance against Taiwanese independence.”

The New York Times, meanwhile, ties Jack Abramoff to Rep. Doc Hastings (R), the new chair of the House Ethics Committee. While the records do not show that Abramoff and Hastings had any direct contact, they show Abramoff’s law firm, Preston Gates, "pressed Mr. Hastings and his staff several years ago for help on behalf of Mr. Abramoff's most important lobbying client at the time, the government of the Northern Mariana Islands, a small American commonwealth in the Pacific, in blocking the imposition of the federal minimum wage on the islands' clothing factories; human rights groups have long described the factories as sweatshops."

And the Dallas Morning News says DeLay will host "a high-dollar 'wine and cigar' fundraiser" tonight, which would be his first event in about two months.

“Caulifornia”
Schwarzenegger’s reform measures in a possible special election would include an initiative putting redistricting in the hands of a panel of retired judges (instead of legislators); a initiative requiring teachers to work five consecutive years before receiving tenure; and a measure capping state and local government spending (and giving the governor greater authority to cut spending).

But there would be other measures, too, including a paycheck-protection initiative on union dues, a parental-notification initiative on teen abortions, and a health-care initiative giving prescription-drug discounts. Indeed, GOP political consultant Dan Schnur says the paycheck-protection and parental-notification measures have the potential to “hijack” the special election away from Schwarzenegger’s proposals.

Democratic strategist Darry Sragow believes Schwarzenegger never intended to have a special election; instead, it was a maneuver to get a better deal in compromising with the Democrats who control the Legislature. But he says a more combative Schwarzenegger and more combative Democratic leaders made a compromise all but impossible. “Both sides are saying, ‘I don’t want a special election, but I am not scared, either,’” he tells First Read.

How would the special election turn out? Sragow: “I think Arnold loses in the special, but I could be wrong. I do not underestimate Arnold Schwarzenegger.” Even the GOPer Schnur thinks the Governor has a significant disadvantage -- that his initiatives are on the “yes” side of the ballot, instead of  “no.”  As Schnur points out, “It is a lot easier to get a ‘no’ vote than a ‘yes’ vote.”

That said, Schnur believes Schwarzenegger will go into the special election in a position of strength. “He’s on the offensive, and the Democrats are defending their turf.” But Schnur thinks the stakes are high for Schwarzenegger: If he loses, Schnur says he might not run for re-election in 2006.

The Los Angeles Times reports that city and county officials are opposed to Schwarzenegger’s budget initiative, because it would deprive them of hundreds of millions of dollars for police, firefighters, healthcare and social service programs.”

Today, Schwarzenegger delivers remarks at 11:00 am at the California Prayer Breakfast in Sacramento.

2005 and 2006
It’s Corzine vs. Forrester in the first race for NJ Governor since James McGreevey resigned after revealing he had a gay-sex affair. The Newark Star-Ledger says Forrester yesterday won 15 of 21 counties, after spending more than $9 million of his own money on a massive television advertising campaign. Modest Republican turnout helped seal Forrester's win, as he edged out conservative Bret Schundler, who, in an emotional speech, asked his supporters to get behind the GOP nominee.

The AP sizes up both Forrester and Corzine: “Corzine's name recognition and wealth - he spent a record $63 million of his own fortune to get elected to the Senate in 2000 - will make the former Goldman Sachs chairman the favorite against Forrester in this Democratic-leaning state.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Katherine Harris (R), who played a pivotal role in the 2000 Florida recount, is now running for Bill Nelson’s Florida Senate seat. In a statement, Harris said she’ll formally announce her candidacy and campaign team in July, and she indicated that she’ll be the underdog. “I am confident that I can accomplish more for the people of Florida, and experience reminds me I've always done best when I started out as the underdog, ready with all my heart and soul to tell it like it is, and do what's right.”

Roll Call: “Harris … might describe herself the underdog, but is certain to attract unparalleled national media attention. Her presence transforms Nelson’s first re-election race into a national contest - and potentially a referendum for both parties.”

The Miami Herald says Harris "is widely expected to be all but unbeatable in a Republican primary. But the same polls that show Harris a primary winner suggest that Nelson -- whom some polls suggest is vulnerable -- would fare better against Harris than against other prominent Republicans.”

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee put out this statement, "As a public official, Katherine Harris is better known for generating controversies than for her achievements on behalf of the people she represents. We look forward to hearing Rep. Harris explain why she has been such a polarizing figure."

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