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Monday, June 13, 2005 | 9:25 a.m. ET
From Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Bill Hatfield

First glance
While Washington ponders (as Dick Cheney said) whether anyone besides Howard Dean’s mother actually loves the current DNC chairman, we’re in a California state of mind. Tonight, at 8:01 pm ET, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger holds a televised announcement, in which he’s expected to call for a special election set for November 8. As we said last week, this election has important implications in California for how political districts are drawn, how teachers receive tenure, and how much power the governor can wield to cut state spending. But it also raises the possibly that contentious measures unrelated to Schwarzenegger’s agenda -- initiatives on parental-notification and union paycheck-protection -- actually end up hijacking that very agenda. And, perhaps most importantly, it could impact Schwarzenegger’s decision to run for re-election in 2006.

  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

Ironically, an issue that once was a hot political topic in California -- energy -- becomes a hot topic in Washington as an energy bill (which has more bipartisan support than you’d expect) hits the Senate floor this week. With the attention on energy, Democratic Sens. Reid, Durbin, and Dorgan, and former CIA director James Woolsey hold a presser at 2:00 pm today to talk about one of the few things they think is missing in the bill: an effort to reduce US consumption of foreign oil. In fact, as one Democratic official tells First Read, the Democrats will use the focus on the energy legislation to talk about global warming, about energy independence, and about increasing production of clean, renewable energy. The Sierra Club also conducts a conference call at noon to brief reporters on the proposed energy bill.

The Senate meets at 2:00 pm; the House meets at 12:30 pm.

Meanwhile, President Bush -- who faces more discouraging poll numbers on Iraq (more on that below) -- participates in a White House photo-op with the presidents of Botswana, Ghana, Mozambique, Namibia, and Niger at 10:15 am, and then he makes a statement with these five men at 10:55 am. Finally, at 1:05 pm, Bush makes remarks to students in the Partnerships for Learning, Youth Exchange, and Study Program.

And on Social Security, the state chapter of anti-private accounts Americans United has a press conference at 1:00 pm to pre-but Bush’s Social Security visit tomorrow to Pennsylvania. Americans United will criticize Bush (and Sen. Rick Santorum), arguing that his Social Security plan will cut seniors’ benefits. In fact, the group says it will be holding a bake sale to raise money “to pay for the benefit cuts that are a part of the Bush/Santorum Social Security scheme.”

It's just a guess, but we imagine they’ll have to sell quite a few cookies…

“Caulifornia”
The San Francisco Chronicle previews what we can expect from the special election, which is estimated to cost between $70 and $80 million. “The ballot will include Schwarzenegger-backed measures to take redistricting from the hands of the Legislature, increase the length of time it takes public school teachers to get tenure and give the governor more control over the budget. Democrat-backed measures re-regulating the power industry and offering discounts for prescription drugs are nearing ballot approval, as is a separate prescription drug measure sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry. Two other conservative-friendly measures -- one requiring parental notification for abortion and another making it harder for public employee unions to raise political cash -- are ready to go.” The paper also says that Democrats today will present Schwarzenegger with a petition signed by 500,000 people opposed to the election.

The San Francisco Chronicle also reports on critics' charges that the governor is misusing California's initiative process to further his own political goals. "Even former Secretary of State Bill Jones, who backs Schwarzenegger, said California's initiative system is 'becoming a commercial process, not a political process' as special interests spend millions to qualify measures that will help them financially."

And the AP notes that many Republicans view the special election “as the best way to strengthen GOP presence in California, where Democrats held every statewide office until Schwarzenegger won the 2003 recall election.” Indeed, even Schwarzenegger’s effort to change how political districts are drawn, which he says is a non-partisan move, could “boost Republican power in Sacramento.”

It's the economy
In a meeting in Vienna on Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal says, OPEC will endorse efforts to maintain high outputs of crude-oil, and the cartel's president will try to "drum up support” for his proposal to raise OPEC’s official output ceiling by 500,000 barrels a day to 28 million barrels. “That would largely be a symbolic step, however, because it would simply align the output quota with current production levels… The limited options on the cartel's agenda this week underscore how [OPEC] is unable, at least for now, to fine-tune supply to force down world oil prices, even if it wanted to."

The Washington Post interviews the widow of a United Airlines pilot who lost his life in 9/11 to talk about the personal impact of the airline’s pension default. “‘My own situation is not a crisis -- I have my husband's life insurance to keep us secure in our house,’ she said... ‘But a lot of other people have real hardship -- medical costs they won't be able to afford, houses they won't be able to keep. If I can help draw attention to them, I'll do it in a heartbeat.’”

The Washington Times looks at the political and economical impact of CAFTA, which Congress will begin debating tomorrow.

Bush agenda
USA Today reports on a new Gallup poll showing that nearly six in 10 Americans believe that the US should withdraw some or all of its soldiers from Iraq -- “the most downbeat view of the war since it began in 2003.” Moreover, for the first time, a majority would be ‘upset’ if President Bush sent more troops… [And] 56% say the Iraq war wasn't ‘worth it,’ essentially matching the high-water mark of 57% a month ago.”

Despite increasing voices of concern (even among Republicans) about the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cheney says that there are no plans to close the detention center. “‘The important thing here to understand is that the people that are at Guantanamo are bad people,’ he said. ‘I mean, these are terrorists for the most part. These are people that were captured in the battlefield of Afghanistan or rounded up as part of the al-Qaeda network,’ he said in an interview to be aired Monday on Fox News Channel's Hannity & Colmes.” - AP

The Washington Post says the Senate Judiciary Committee is planning a Wednesday hearing on the detainee issue.

Roll Call notes that five months into their effort to overhaul Social Security, House Republicans are facing “discouraging poll results and no clear consensus on the timing, content or message strategy necessary to passing a bill… GOP leaders have not decided whether the House or Senate should pass a bill first, whether the House should press forward even if the Senate is unlikely to act and whether the White House should provide more specific guidance or step back and let Congress take the lead.”

Robert Pozen writes a USA Today op-ed touting his progressive indexing plan. “Progressive indexing is fair because it takes into account the large government subsidies to private retirement plans... High and middle earners are likely to supplement their Social Security benefits with income from these private retirement plans, including IRAs and 401(k)s.” Pozen also argues that calling his plan a “cut” is unfair, because there isn’t a legal entitlement to the current schedule of Social Security benefits; because benefits received by most workers would still rise over the next century; and because the system can’t afford these benefits.

Roll Call also previews Bush’s policy lunch next week at the White House with Senate Republicans. The meeting comes as the centerpiece of Bush’s domestic agenda, retooling the Social Security system, is being met with skepticism by the public...The president is also waiting for Congress to deliver on legislation to overhaul the nation’s energy policy as well as approve the Central American Free Trade Agreement, among several other priorities.”

The Washington Post looks into the efforts in Congress to reconcile the House’s call for a $284 billion highway bill (which the White House supports) versus the Senate’s $295 billion plan (which it threatens to veto). “Lawmakers have extended the previous highway and mass transit bill seven times because they can't agree on funding totals... But House Transportation Committee Chairman Don Young (R-Alaska) told his colleagues that the current deadline, June 30, is fixed. ‘There will be no more extensions,’ he warned.”

The same Post article also notes that the energy legislation hitting the Senate floor this week is “novel” because it has attracted broad bipartisan support. “That's a change of pace from the bitter partisan brawl over judges that has dominated the chamber for months. It is also a switch from previous Senate energy debates, which became partisan standoffs even though energy issues usually break down along regional, as opposed to political, lines… With few gripes about the bill itself, Senate Democrats will focus on what they believe it omits: more drastic steps to reduce U.S. consumption of foreign oil.

The Washington Times says GOP leaders “are optimistic they can overcome three years of failure and pass a national energy policy in the next two weeks, but they expect major battles over global warming, drilling royalties and nuclear production."

More energy news: Despite President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair's show of solidarity during Blair's Washington visit last week, Bob Novak reports Blair has launched an aggressive effort to change the president's position on the Kyoto climate change accord. – Sun Times

The Democrats
Ouch. Also in his interview on FOX, Cheney said that Howard Dean is “‘over the top’” and “‘not the kind of individual you want to have representing your political party.’” More: “‘I've never been able to understand his appeal. Maybe his mother loved him, but I've never met anybody who does. He's never won anything, as best I can tell,’” - AP

More Dean news: Sunday's Des Moines Register covers Dean's Saturday visit to Iowa, which was his first visit to the state since the 2004 caucuses. Dean gave a standard speech and didn't comment on last week's controversy, but he "reiterated the essence of the controversial comments, that Democrats are more morally responsible than Republicans."

And the Chicago Tribune writes about Dean's Sunday speech at the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition conference, where he said that until Bush and Republicans "reaffirm their support for the Voting Rights Act, they should stop courting black voters and showing up in black churches."

Over the weekend, the executive board of the SEIU, the AFL-CIO’s largest affiliate union, voted to give its top leadership authority to quit the AFL, if necessary. And the New York Times reports that five unions -- including the SEIU -- that are critical of AFL-CIO chief John Sweeney "are planning to announce this week that they are forming a coalition aimed at unionizing large numbers of workers, several union officials said yesterday... Labor leaders said they were planning this move because they want to form an aggressively pro-growth coalition and because they believe the A.F.L.-C.I.O. is doing too little to organize nonunion workers... But federation officials said yesterday that they feared that this new coalition would be competition and create an unnecessary distraction.”

Ethics and institutions
The New York Times examines the sudden rush for lawmakers to file travel reports, in some cases many years after the fact. "Roughly 214 lawmakers - half Republicans and half Democrats - have filed reports late since July of last year, some waiting up to five years after taking a trip to properly disclose their travels... Political analysts say the disclosures are an effort to head off political and legal difficulties as the issue of Congressional travel draws increasing attention." The article looks specifically at the recent travel of Reps. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R), Ellen Tauscher (D), and Luis Gutierrez, (D).

The New York Times also does a different take on the DeLay-Abramoff Tigua Indian tribe story -- this time from the Tiguas’ perspective. "How the Tiguas got their casino, lost it and have tried to get it back is a complex tale of gambling and politics involving newcomers to the political arena with money to burn and Washington lobbyists seeking profit."

Meanwhile, the AP looks at whether Ralph Reed -- who’s tied to the Tigua story -- can escape the scandal as he seeks "to become Georgia's first Republican lieutenant governor since Reconstruction, a largely powerless post that could serve as a steppingstone to higher office."

The values debate
The Christian Science Monitor chronicles all the current state efforts to curb abortion. “Abortion opponents have been pushing incremental limitations ever since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, and observers debate their effectiveness. Lately, however, more such bills are being signed, reflecting, in part, the nation's more conservative state legislatures, and perhaps also the opinion of many Americans, who want abortion to remain legal but would like some restrictions.”

USA Today also covers the Senate resolution today apologizing for never having passed anti-lynching laws. “Seven U.S. presidents have asked Congress to end lynching. The House passed three laws to do so, but Southern senators filibustered each one. In a country that has never formally apologized for slavery, the Senate resolution stands as Congress' only apology for an injustice done to thousands of African-Americans.”

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