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Monday, June 20, 2005 | 9:23 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Kasie Hunt

There’s plenty on tap this week: Bush’s meeting with Iraq’s prime minister (on Friday), his remarks on the economy (Wednesday) and Social Security (Thursday), more Senate action on the energy bill, and (we’re sure) further talk about Iran’s election, Terri Schiavo, and Dick Durbin’s Nazi comparison. We lead, however, with today’s 6:00 pm Senate cloture vote on John Bolton’s nomination to be UN ambassador. Democrats say they’re delaying -- Republicans would use the term “filibustering” -- a vote on his confirmation until the White House turns over information regarding certain NSA intercepts Bolton received.

  1. Other political news of note
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      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

A strong argument can be made that this nomination battle is a microcosm of Bush’s entire presidency. You have the White House championing a cause (Bolton) that isn’t universally loved, especially by Democrats and other world leaders. You have nearly all Republicans backing the White House 100%. You have most Democrats objecting, to the point where it’s easy to label them as obstructionists. You also have the Administration trying to exert its executive-branch authority over Congress (not handing over the NSA intercepts to Senate Democrats). And in the end, as Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times wrote back in May, you have a Bush Administration that wins -- by an eyelash.

But maybe not this time. To get the 60 required votes to end debate, Republicans will need at least five votes from Democrats in the 55-45-split Senate. Yet as NBC’s Ken Strickland reported last week, not only have no Democrats defected since last month’s failed cloture vote on Bolton, it seems that one Democrat who sided with Republicans back then -- Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas -- won’t join them this time. Yet there still seems to be a way Bush can win (at least for a while): He can make a recess appointment, which would allow Bolton to serve in the post until January 2007.

Also today, Bush meets with EU leaders in the Oval Office (for still photos) at 10:35 am, and then holds a pres avail with them at 1:15 pm. This meeting comes after France and the Netherlands rejected the EU constitution, and after negotiations over the EU’s budget unraveled on Friday. NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell reports that part of today’s talks will also center on how the EU can further assist with the reconstruction of Iraq.

As we mentioned above, we’re sure the Democratic-Republican back and forth over Dick Durbin’s recent Nazi comment will continue this week. On Saturday night, Majority Leader Frist’s office put out a statement calling for Durbin to withdraw and apologize for his comment comparing the treatment of Gitmo detainees to the way Nazis and Soviets treated their prisoners. “Shameful does not begin to describe this heinous slander against our country ... and the brave men and women risking their lives every day to defend it.” John McCain, on Meet the Press yesterday, also called on Durbin to apologize, but it wasn’t nearly as harsh.

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

Finally, there was some interesting 2006 and 2008 news over the weekend. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison said she won’t challenge Texas Gov. Rick Perry in what would have been an entertaining and potentially nasty GOP gubernatorial primary fight. And Sen. Joe Biden (D) yesterday said he intends to run for president, although a Biden spokesman tells NBC’s Andrea Mitchell that the Senator didn’t actually declare; rather, he’s simply testing the waters. Nevertheless, Mitchell notes that people close to Biden acknowledge that what he said yesterday could politicize his role as a leading critic of the Administration’s foreign policy.

In Iran’s election for president, former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani will compete in a run off against the hard-line mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But Mehdi Karroubi -- another candidate for Iran's president -- said the election was rigged and made allegations of fraud. From The New York Times: "It was a bold move in a country that does not generally tolerate such forms of public dissent, and it threw an element of confusion and uncertainty into the race just as the authorities were finalizing the election results, planning for the runoff and pointing to the outcome as a validation of this country's religion-based system of government... 'I think some of the power bases have changed the decision,' he said at his news conference. 'I have documents. I can show tapes to prove there have been speeches to make people to vote for certain candidates.'" 

The Wall Street Journal editorial page argues that the “most astonishing aspect” of Friday’s presidential election in Iran was “that Tehran managed to convince so many in the West that this is a real demonstration of democracy. All power is held by Supreme Leader Ali Khameni, his Council of Guardians and the small clique of military officers and businessmen around him. The Council disqualified more than 1,000 candidates before the election, vetting only contestants who support the regime's ideological lines.”

An anti-Syrian alliance (headed by the son of Lebanon's assassinated prime minister) won a stunning majority in yesterday's elections there, the New York Times writes. "It was a startling change in the way politics have usually been carried out here - along strict clan and religious lines and long under the control of Syria - and perhaps an example of a greater yearning for democracy in the Arab world."  

USA Today covers Condoleezza Rice’s comment that the Senate should give Bolton an up-or-down vote. She also didn’t rule out that Bush might place Bolton in the UN through a recess appointment, if Senate Democrats continue to block his nomination. “Rice would not respond to whether Bush would consider a recess appointment of Bolton - a temporary appointment that does not require Senate approval - if Democrats were to continue to block his nomination.”

Bob Novak in the Chicago Sun Times, once again, highlights Sen. Chris Dodd's key role in blocking Bolton’s confirmation, noting that opposition to Bolton has become a strict party-line affair. Novak predicts today's vote to cut off debate on the nomination will fail, effectively ending any chance of Senate confirmation.

The Washington Post, meanwhile, writes that there have been several different policy changes in arms control since Bolton left his old post at the State Department. “For some of Bolton's fans, the changes appear worrisome, signs perhaps that the Bush administration may water down some of its most principled stands without a vocal advocate in the inner policymaking circle. But for many arms-control advocates and even fellow diplomats, Bolton's departure is a welcome relief and an opportunity to restore a more pragmatic approach to international relations.”

USA Today previews Bush’s meeting today with EU leaders to discuss a range of topics, including economic growth, the environment, and changes at the UN. The meeting comes after EU leaders “are still reeling from a collapse of budget and political negotiations Friday that plunged their alliance into crisis… The meeting also may reveal how the EU will act globally after the damage caused by the French and Dutch rejection of an EU constitution.”  

On the heels of a disappointing week for the president and another big week ahead, the New York Times says Bush's attempt to push his ambitious agenda may only get more difficult. "The cumulative effect of his difficulties in the last few months has been to pierce the sense of dominance that he sought to project after his re-election... To some extent, Mr. Bush's problems are a result of diverging political interests: the lawmakers he is asking to support him on difficult issues like Social Security, trade and immigration have to run for re-election … while he has the luxury of thinking about his place in history and reshaping, for the long term, politics and policy." 

The Wall Street Journal says that the Bush Administration is facing pressure, even from Republicans, to enact tougher measures to counteract global warming -- an issue that’s expected to be raised this week in the debate over the Senate energy bill. “In the latest sign of change, Senate Energy Chairman Pete V. Domenici is indicating support for legislation mandating limits on carbon emissions. That raises the prospect that Congress this year could pass global-warming regulations for the first time. And it comes as European leaders prepare to lobby President Bush next month to pledge stronger action against so-called greenhouse gases at the annual summit of the Group of Eight leading nations.”

USA Today reminds us that the energy legislation the Senate is considering has provisions important to Iowa (ethanol) and New Hampshire (the gasoline additive MTBE), which could have ramifications in these important 2008 nominating contests. “Of the five Democrats and six Republicans positioning themselves for possible presidential candidacies in 2008, three - Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., Rick Santorum, R-Pa., and John McCain, R-Ariz. - voted against the ethanol mandate last week.”

The Los Angeles Times’ Brownstein wonders why Congress and the Bush Administration aren’t acting more to solve the nation’s exploding health-care costs. “Self-preservation alone might encourage a president and a Congress with sinking approval ratings to confront the underlying healthcare problems … with even a fraction of the concern that they mustered for the treatment of a single Florida woman, Terri Schiavo.” 

The Los Angeles Times focuses on the liberal and conservative interest groups gearing up for a battle over a Supreme Court vacancy. “The prospect of a vacancy is drawing a generation of political activists that has come of age as bipartisanship in Congress has become increasingly scarce, especially on filling judicial posts. And this would be the first vacancy to occur at the height of a politically alert Internet and 24-hour news cycles. These changes have put a premium on advance preparations for a bitterly partisan fight that could begin moments after President Bush announces his nominee.” 

The New York Times focuses on the same: "Like hostile nations on the edge of apocalypse, Washington's political right and left are on code red over a Supreme Court vacancy that does not yet exist... In the meantime, Republicans close to the preparations say that the White House has assembled research on some 20 Supreme Court candidates, with more intensive research on a handful of the most mentioned, all federal appellate judges and all conservative." 

On Sunday, the Washington Post reported that the White House is mainly considering three candidates: John Roberts, J. Michael Luttig (whom First Read profiled last week), and Alberto Gonzales. "[A] Gonzales nomination could trigger internal dissension among GOP activists, some of whom have warned the White House against naming the attorney general. At a meeting of conservative groups last week to plot strategy for a possible Supreme Court nomination, one leader spoke out against a Gonzales appointment, according to people in the room." l

Moving to the debate on Social Security, First Read obtained a copy of a PowerPoint presentation that anti-private accounts Americans United gave to some of its member groups on Friday. The presentation warned that any Social Security bill coming out of the House Ways of Means Committee -- even if it doesn’t include private accounts -- could be a Trojan horse that could keep privatization alive. And it outlined a strategy to prevent this, such as targeting key Ways and Means Republicans (like Reps. Clay Shaw and Mark Foley of Florida, Jim Nussle of Iowa, Bob Beauprez of Colorado, Chris Chocola of Indiana, and Jim Ramstad of Minnesota) and unleashing an “intensive” grassroots campaign to make these Ways and Means members face anti-privatization protests everywhere they go.

Meanwhile, the Washington Times says, "Key Republicans, aiming to refocus the Social Security debate and unite their party, will introduce a new bill this week to create personal retirement accounts by using surplus Social Security funds the government currently spends on other programs."

The San Francisco Chronicle looks at the shaky status of President Bush's ongoing push for private accounts. Although the Republicans' Social Security point men in Congress -- House Ways and Means chair Bill Thomas and Senate Finance chair Charles Grassley -- "face unbroken Democratic opposition and disagreement and resistance within their own party," the Chronicle reports that Bush "shows no sign of backing off."

The Miami Herald examines the ongoing Guantanamo debate, calling Sen. John McCain "a voice of conscience and nuance" following his "Meet the Press" remarks that suspected terrorists at Gitmo should be put on trial, going against the Bush administration's view.

The Washington Post covers Biden’s announcement yesterday that he intends to run for president in 2008, and that he will spend the year testing his message and seeing if he can raise enough money to compete in a race that’s expected to include Hillary Clinton. “‘My intention is to seek the nomination,’ Biden said on CBS's ‘Face the Nation.’ ‘I know I'm supposed to be more coy with you. I know I'm supposed to tell you, you know, that I'm not sure. But if, in fact, I think that I have a clear shot at winning the nomination by this November or December, then I'm going to seek the nomination.’”

USA Today reminds us that “Biden dropped out of the 1988 presidential race after a series of disclosures that he had liberally borrowed from other politicians in his stump speeches and after questions about his law school records.”

The Los Angeles Times writes that even though Sen. Durbin regretted that his comment comparing the treatment of Gitmo detainees to how the Nazis and Soviets treated their prisoners was misunderstood, Republicans like Frist, McCain, and Newt Gingrich still blasted him over the weekend. “Democrats, asked about the controversy, said they accepted Durbin's statement of regret as sufficient. Some also argued that the controversy should not obscure the issue that he was raising about the need to investigate alleged abuses at the prison at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.”

Roll Call reports that approximately 50 liberal House Democrats are forming a new caucus, the Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus, to call for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. The effort “comes on the heels of bipartisan legislation by Reps. Walter Jones Jr. (R-N.C.) and Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) calling for a timeline for troop withdrawal.” The paper adds that top House Democrats will also turn their message this week to call for an independent commission to investigate allegations of prisoner abuse at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib.

The Boston Herald notes Kerry's silence on the Downing Street Memo, which he said he would discuss once returning to Congress from the Memorial Day recess.

The Washington Post front-pages a look at CAFTA’s impact on Central American workers. “CAFTA was negotiated with poor countries that have dismal histories of worker treatment. The pact's critics say it does not sufficiently protect the rights of workers … and as a result would provide incentives for companies to migrate to countries with the lowest wages and weakest unions. Its backers counter that by giving Central America assured access to U.S. market, workers … would be more likely to have jobs.”


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