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Wednesday, June 22, 2005 | 9:25 a.m. ET
From Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Katie Adams

FIRST GLANCE
Even though Sen. Dick Durbin has now apologized for his Nazi-Soviet comparison, today still seems to have all the ingredients for your classical -- and predictable -- Washington food fight. Among the tater tots, milk cartons, and sloppy joes that Democrats and Republicans might hurl at each other: Today’s House vote to ban flag burning, today’s Senate Indian Affairs hearing into tribal lobbying (read: Jack Abramoff), today’s DNC report on the conduct of the 2004 election in Ohio, and DeLay’s comment yesterday that Democrats are constantly “attacking people of faith.” And then there are the always-present debates over the economy, Bolton, and Iraq…

  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

Speaking of the economy, President Bush travels to a nuclear power plant in Lusby, MD to talk about energy and economic security. His remarks take place at 10:10 am. Staying with this theme,work continues today on the Senate’s energy bill, as it takes up a measure that would cap carbon-dioxide emissions. But the Boston Globe thinks this amendment might be in trouble (see below). Also today, at 12:30 pm, Sens. Tom Harkin, Blanche Lincoln, and Mark Dayton hold a presser to highlight how certain measures in the energy bill can strengthen rural America.   

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

But let’s return for a moment to the apology Durbin gave last night. While the criticism he was receiving from Republicans must have been taking a toll on him and his party (heck, it was taking a toll on our inboxes, due to the sheer number of GOP emails we were receiving on the subject), we have a couple of questions: If the tables had been turned, would the Republicans have ever apologized? And more significantly, in the future, how do Democrats respond when they criticize the Bush Administration’s handling of Iraq and Gitmo -- but are then accused of denigrating the soldiers there, or hindering the war effort? That said, Senate Democrats will have a pow-wow on Iraq today, and Sen. Ted Kennedy plans to give a Senate-floor speech on the same subject.

As we mentioned above, at 11:00 am at DNC headquarters, Howard Dean, Donna Brazile, and others hold a press conference to release the party’s commissioned report on the conduct of the 2004 election in Ohio. Per a DNC official, this report will not allege that the Republicans stole the election in Ohio. “This is all about looking to the future and protecting everyone’s right to vote.” Still, the report will apparently make some striking findings about what went on in the state. More on that below.

Finally, at a 10:30 am DC press conference, Bob Dole kicks off a speaking tour to promote the new Medicare prescription-drug benefit. Dole also appears on MSNBC’s Hardball at 7:00 pm.

THE POLITICS OF IRAQ AND GITMO
Roll Call writes up Durbin’s apology yesterday on the Senate floor: “‘I’m sorry if anything that I said caused any offense or pain to those who have such bitter memories of the Holocaust, the greatest moral tragedy of our time… I’m also sorry if anything I said in any way cast a negative light on our fine men and women in the military.’” McCain later “praised Durbin for his ‘heartfelt statement.’”

We’d note, however, that Senate Majority Leader Frist’s statement on Durbin’s apology was a bit cooler. “Senator Durbin’s apology was a necessary and appropriate step in repairing the harm his earlier remarks have had on the image of the millions of fine men and women serving in America’s military,” Frist said. “As Members of Congress we must always be sensitive to the fact that it is their struggles and sacrifices that keep us safe in the War on Terror.”

The Washington Post says the “week-long Republican campaign against Durbin shifted attention from the subject of the senator's initial statement: allegations that terrorism suspects are being mistreated at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Critics have called for the base to be closed, but defenders, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, say there are no alternatives.”

It was evident yesterday that Republicans and Democrats have very different views about the situation in Iraq. The question is, whose view is more accurate? And whose does the American public trust more? At his pen-and-pad presser yesterday, NBC’s Mike Viqueira reports, DeLay asserted that Iraq has been “an incredible success," as infrastructure and democratic institutions there are being put into place. "The ability of people to own businesses and develop commerce, all of that is going on. That is not being inhibited by any stretch of the imagination," DeLay said. In fact, the House Majority Leader argued that people get the wrong impression about Iraq from the news media. "If Houston, TX was held to the same standard that Iraq is held to, then nobody would go to Houston. Because all that is reported coming out of the local press in Houston is violence, murders, robberies, deaths on the highways." Houston is a great city, he added.

But in his speech at the Brookings Institution yesterday, Sen. (and semi-official presidential candidate) Joe Biden said there’s a “disconnect” between the Bush Administration’s rhetoric on Iraq and the reality on the ground there. He called on the Administration to alter its policies, and to work to regain the trust of the American people by leveling with them. If it doesn’t do those things, he said, it risks failure in the region and abandonment by the American public. Among other things, Biden suggested that the Administration set realistic goals for Iraq, discuss progress every month, train more Iraqi forces, and ask NATO and foreign countries for assistance.

Last night on MSNBC’s Hardball, however, we a heard a more nuanced view on Iraq from Karl Rove. “I think Americans are concerned about war, its ugly, its dangerous,” he told David Gregory. “[B]ut the question is, ‘Is it in the American interest, will the world be safer, will the world be more peaceful if America and our coalition partners stand with the people of Iraq and move towards a democracy, or will we be better off if we turn tail and run?’ I know of only a handful of people in the United States Congress, and I suspect a relatively small number of Americans who say we ought to pull up stakes and pull out.”

Roll Call says that in Bush’s meeting with Republican Senators yesterday, Sens. Ted Stevens and John Warner pressed Bush to “‘make a better case’” to the American public of why the US is in Iraq. “‘They made the case that we are seeing some real fissure break with the president,’ said a Republican Senator, who spoke about meeting on the condition of anonymity. ‘Both of them had concerns about the Guard and Reserves and how we need to basically make a better case why we are there and [that] we need to do more for the soldiers.’”

Roll Call also notes that Democratic Senators are huddling today to discuss Iraq, “as some Democrats are now openly questioning why Congress has not been more forceful in pressing the Bush administration for an exit strategy… Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) noted that Senators are not even debating the Iraq occupation on the floor, which he said ‘is incredible,’ given that ‘this thing is imploding.’”

The Washington Post covers Biden’s speech yesterday, and it says that Sen. Kennedy today plans to give his own Iraq speech on the Senate floor. “Despite the notable surge in such comments, only the most left-leaning Democrats have called for specific changes to Bush's policies, such as setting a schedule for withdrawing U.S. troops. Most Democrats are sticking to familiar themes, such as urging allies to help pacify Iraq and to train Iraqi troops and police.”

MORE BUSH AGENDA
Lots of news here on Bolton and Social Security: NBC’s Ken Strickland notes that if Bolton is going to be confirmed by the Senate, the White House will be required to do most -- if not all -- of the heavy lifting. The first option would involve peeling away at least three Democrats to get the needed 60 votes to break the filibuster. (But not only has the GOP leadership failed to do this, Frist also lost one vote when GOP Sen. George Voinovich jumped ship, siding with Democrats in the last cloture vote.) The second option would involve some kind of deal regarding the Administration's release of documents on Bolton's work at the State Department. And the final option would be a presidential recess appointment. While several Republicans aren't in favor of such a move, Strickland says, the opportunity presents itself for Bush in less than two weeks with the July 4th recess.  

The Washington Post seems to suggest that the White House is moving ahead with option one. “[T]he president and Senate Republicans plan to step up pressure on the same Democrats who recently helped broker a deal to end the filibustering of federal judicial nominees, in hopes that they can strike a similar deal on Bolton.”

USA Today, meanwhile, covers Frist telling the AP yesterday that Bolton’s nomination was dead, but then reversing course after meeting with the White House. “‘The president made it very clear he expects an up or down vote,’ Frist told reporters in the White House driveway.”

Last night, however, Frist’s office issued a transcript of his earlier remarks, to suggest he never stated that Bolton’s nomination was dead. Frist said, according to the transcript: “[W]hether or not we bring it back to the floor depends on really what the President’s conversations with the Democrats are.”

The Hill writes that at yesterday’s White House meeting with GOP Senators, Bush told Sen. Robert Bennett -- who has said he will propose a Social Security bill without private accounts -- “’to go ahead.’” But the paper adds that Sen. Rick Santorum “said that he wouldn’t interpret Bush’s response to Bennett to go ahead as an endorsement of Social Security reform that did not include personal accounts.”

Key members of the House Ways and Means Committee are expected to back a proposal that would use the Social Security surplus to finance private accounts instead of other programs, the Washington Times says. "The Ways and Means group was tight-lipped about the compromise, and it was not clear whether they would introduce an actual bill today or not." In the meantime, a similar proposal in the Senate is encountering some problems.

NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell reports that senior White House officials describe these new legislative ideas coming from Capitol Hill Republicans as a "tactical" shift, not a policy change. These aides maintain that Bush is still fully behind private accounts, but they acknowledge that the White House wants to give the Senate "some running room" in an effort to "unjam the process" and "reveal the true intentions of the Democrats." In addition, O’Donnell says, senior officials who spoke to the President about his "I like your bill" comment to Bennett claim Bush was not signaling a change in position but was instead being supportive of ideas.

It seems that Democrats who are opposed to Bush’s private accounts also see these new legislative ideas as a tactical shift. Brad Woodhouse, a spokesman for Americans United, released this statement regarding Bush’s nod to Bennett’s bill that doesn’t contain private accounts. "Bush is NOT backing a bill without private accounts - he is backing a political move by a political ally who is leading the effort to keep his flagging private accounts plan alive and who is leading the Senate GOP's Bait and Switch strategy."

The Boston Globe reports that an amendment proposed by Sen. Jeff Bingaman to cap carbon dioxide emissions that was expected to pass might be in trouble. "Senator Pete V. Domenici, the New Mexico Republican who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, had indicated he would support [the] proposal... But after meeting late last week with Vice President Dick Cheney -- and huddling Monday with about 10 GOP Senate colleagues -- Domenici opted out of supporting the amendment that was being prepared by his fellow New Mexico senator, Democrat Jeff Bingaman... That meant Bingaman's amendment apparently lacks enough Republican votes to pass, and he is considering withdrawing it today...”

The Washington Times says the bill’s fate rests on three political bargains: "oil drilling, global warming and, most of all, corn."

THE DEMOCRATS
The Washington Times covers last night’s DNC fundraiser with Dean and Durbin -- who, the Times says, "struck a patriotic stance in his speech." The paper also quotes the chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, who said he found Dean's recent controversial remarks "unfortunate" and hurtful to the party. Dean, it turns out, is expected to speak in that state later this month.

The AP notes that while Dean has been traveling and fundraising extensively, the DNC still trails the GOP in money by a 2-1 margin. (Of course, Republicans almost always out-raise Democrats.)

Today’s DNC report on the conduct of the 2004 vote in Ohio, First Read has learned, will find that there were systemic problems plaguing Ohio's voting process including:

-- evidence of voter suppression
-- negligent and poorly trained election officials
-- long lines
-- problems with registration status, polling locations, and absentee ballots
-- and unlawful identification requirements at the polls

At 12:45 pm today, Emily's List will release a study on women and politics, which will "identify key groups of women voters; determine which issues resonate with them; and track women's voting patterns and the gender gap in … elections," the group says.

IT'S THE ECONOMY
The Wall Street Journal says an effort to eliminate the estate tax except for America's wealthiest is nearing a compromise, ending a debate that has gone on for years. "Republican and Democratic senators say they are increasingly confident that they can iron out details to reach a compromise changing the estate tax by the end of the summer -- and win enough Democratic votes to avoid a filibuster on the Senate floor. A Senate Republican staffer close to the talks said key players have agreed on rough parameters." 

At 1:45 pm, Democratic Sens. Ted Kennedy and Jon Corzine and Rep. Anthony Weiner have a presser to introduce a bill that would shine light into how much money taxpayers spend on Medicaid for Wal-Mart workers (and other employees of large companies) who don’t receive health-insurance coverage. An excerpt of Kennedy’s remarks today: “Somehow, the biggest company in the world can’t manage to pay its workers a living wage. Thousands of workers in Wal-Mart can’t afford health insurance and have to rely on Medicaid to cover their families’ health needs. We’re here today to say there’s no place for that kind of bad corporate citizenship in America.  It’s time for Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest employer, to act responsibly.”

ETHICS AND INSTITUTIONS
Roll Call previews today’s hearing before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. “While Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he expects today’s hearing … to focus on former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s relationship with the Mississippi Choctaw tribe, it will be difficult for McCain and other Senators on the panel to avoid touching on other controversial topics, including the ethics problems faced by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).”

The New York Times notes that McCain has called on two of Abramoff's former associates to testify. These two men, however, have told the committee they'll plead the Fifth Amendment.

The DNC, meanwhile, is releasing a memo today about the committee hearing, pointing out that the tribal-lobbying issue expands beyond Abramoff to include prominent GOPers Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist. 

Roll Call also reports that the White House is still publicly and privately supporting DeLay. That support “stands in marked contrast to the White House’s decision to stay silent on Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott’s (R) controversial comments that ultimately led to his ouster as leader in late 2002… DeLay, according to sources at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, has benefited both from the complexity of the allegations being leveled against him and his status as the key contact in the House for the administration’s legislative priorities.” The paper also notes that conservatives’ support of him has been crucial.

The Washington Post also examines the explosion in the business of lobbying. “The number of registered lobbyists in Washington has more than doubled since 2000 to more than 34,750 while the amount that lobbyists charge their new clients has increased by as much as 100 percent. Only a few other businesses have enjoyed greater prosperity in an otherwise fitful economy… Once considered a distasteful post-government vocation, big-bucks lobbying is luring nearly half of all lawmakers who return to the private sector when they leave Congress, according to a forthcoming study by Public Citizen's Congress Watch.”

"CAULIFORNIA"
With a new poll showing Gov. Schwarzenegger’s waning popularity, the Los Angeles Times says that he “extended a conciliatory hand” to the California Legislature yesterday. “At a Capitol news conference the governor called to spur negotiations on the overdue state budget, Schwarzenegger acknowledged that the public was upset by the bickering between him and his Democratic opponents over a policy agenda he unveiled in January. “‘All of us in this building can share blame - all of us, including myself,’ Schwarzenegger said. ‘People make mistakes sometimes, and I think we learned there was a very clear message that we must work together. I am looking forward to that. The people … feel good when things work well.’”

THE VALUES DEBATE
The Washington Post previews today’s House vote on a constitutional amendment banning flag burning, and asks whether such legislation actually impacts Americans’ lives, like energy, tax, and highway bills do. “House Republican Conference Chairman Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio) chuckled … and suggested that anyone who sees [a conflict] is looking at the world through blue-colored glasses. ‘You know, this is probably as relevant to people's lives now as any other time,’ she said, ‘because of what's going on with Democrats putting everybody in the world before our soldiers and the American safety. They're so worried about what's going on at Guantanamo Bay. And the flag has a place in that debate.’”

Per NBC’s Viqueira, DeLay yesterday defended Rep. John Hostettler’s remark on Monday that accused Democrats of being part of a "war on Christianity,” a remark Hostettler later retracted. "It is quite obvious that Democrats are constantly attacking people of faith," DeLay said at his press conference. He conceded that Hostettler may have been "inartful" in his comments, but he said that Democrats are in league with the ACLU, People for the American Way, and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, all of whom "consistently attack people of faith."

The Christian Alliance for Progress will hold its inaugural press conference at the National Press Club at 10:00 am. This new grassroots national Christian group will play a role "in challenging the theological and political foundations of the Christian conservative movement,” says its press release. "They’re a Sojourners with teeth."

In this space yesterday, we mentioned an apparent private disagreement on the House floor (heard because their microphones were still on) between Reps. John Hostettler (R) and John Spratt (D) over an amendment preventing proselytizing at the Air Force Academy. As it turns out, Spratt wasn't the Democrat arguing with Hostettler. We regret the error.

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