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Monday, June 27, 2005 | 9:20 a.m. ET
From Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi, Bill Hatfield and Katie Adams

First glance
After Washington politicos have spent the past month making Nazi comparisons, politicizing 9/11, and referring to their opponents anti-Christians, it’s fair to say that Washington now resembles that grungy bar scene from “Airplane!,” where Girl Scouts are slugging each other against a jukebox, and strange people are getting stabbed in the back. And the public, unsurprisingly, doesn’t seem to like it. Coming after a wave of national polls showing plummeting approval ratings for the White House and Congress, a new MSNBC “Ethics in America” poll notes that only 34% of the public trust the government in Washington to do what is right -- either always or most of the time. That finding is nearly identical to one from a similar survey in 1998. But it’s a steep drop from 1958 (when 73% said they trusted the government), 1968 (when 61% said that), and 1988 (40%).

  1. Other political news of note
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    3. Senate readies another volley on unemployment aid
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Furthermore, the poll -- conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates from June 16 to June 21, with a MOE of +/- 3.4% -- shows that a whopping 74% rate the ethical and moral practices of federal government officials either only fair or poor. In a similar 1964 survey, just 34% said that. (The poll also notes that we journalists have a problem, as 63% say our ethical and moral practices are fair or poor.)

Will American voters ever take out these frustrations on their politicians, as our friends over at The Hotline asked last Friday? More specifically, will they take them out on the party in power? And just how much worse will things get if we end up with a contentious Supreme Court battle this summer?

We may be getting closer to answering that last question. Today, the Supreme Court hands down its final opinions of the year, including the one on whether the Ten Commandments can be displayed in government buildings. And consequently, today is also the first day when we first might find out if a justice is retiring. Of course, it’s quite possible that no one will decide to step down.

This week, President Bush focuses almost exclusively on international affairs, and he kicks things off today by meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder at 11:10 am. (The European CW is that Schroeder won't survive a fall election.) And tomorrow, in Fort Bragg, NC, Bush gives his big primetime speech on Iraq.

On the Hill, the Senate will attempt to wrap up action on its energy bill this week. The Senate meets at 1:00 pm; the House meets at noon. Also, at 12:00 pm, the Pew Hispanic Center releases a new analysis of exit poll and Census data examining Hispanic voting trends and demographics.

The values debate
Also in the MSNBC “Ethics” poll, a majority (50%-36%) believes the federal government should fund embryonic stem-cell research. In addition, 60% say the death penalty is morally acceptable, while only 29% think abortion is. And a majority (53%) thinks that life begins when a man’s sperm fertilizes a woman’s egg; only 11% say life begins at birth.

The Chicago Tribune examines the upcoming Senate debate over stem cell research, noting that even President Bush's most reliable Republican supporters are looking at the issue through an "intimately personal lens" and may be prepared to part ways with the White House on the question of increased federal funding, despite a veto threat from the president.

The politics of national security
The AP covers Donald Rumsfeld’s swing through the Sunday talk shows, in which he said that he’s bracing for more violence in Iraq, and that defeating the insurgency there may take 12 years. “The assessment comes on the heels of the latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll showing public doubts about the war reaching a high point - with more than half saying that invading Iraq was a mistake.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial page, like the Bush Administration, sees progress being made in Iraq. “Six months after they repudiated the insurgency in a historic election, free Iraqis are continuing to make slow but steady political and military gains. Where the terrorists are gaining ground is in Washington, D.C.”

The AP also says that the "strength of the violent opposition to the U.S.-led coalition since the invasion in March 2003 has raised questions about whether the Bush administration understood such a sustained reaction was possible."

Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times takes a look at last week’s Pew poll noting America’s poor worldwide image. But he thinks that image could improve if the Bush Administration’s goal of spreading democracy works. “The Iraq war has so polarized attitudes that in many countries Bush may never be seen as a sincere advocate for freedom… But even if Bush's successors rethink his means, they may find it indispensable to follow him in elevating the goal of spreading liberty.”

SCOTUS politics
The Washington Post reports that last Friday, chief White House aides gathered for strategy session to discuss a possible Supreme Court retirement. “The meeting, hosted by White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., his deputy Karl Rove and counsel Harriet Miers, was called to ensure that President Bush's supporters are ready for the high-stakes, high-intensity, high-dollar campaign that would follow a nomination. But some participants later told associates that they were not sure if any justice would retire.”

The New York Times notes that conservatives don’t want Bush’s nominee(s) to turn out like Justice Kennedy did. "With talk of a possible court resignation to follow the term that ends Monday, Justice Kennedy is looming in many conservatives' minds as just the kind of painful mistake they hope President Bush avoids. Showing few sharp edges in life or in law, the justice emerged as a consensus third choice, after President Ronald Reagan's first two selections failed. Demanding more ideological clarity in what could be the first Republican selection in 14 years, the right is now mobilized with a cry: 'No more Tony Kennedys.'"

Bob Novak warns that conservatives are experiencing "spasms of fear and loathing" over the prospect of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sitting on the Supreme Court. "Conservatives fear Gonzales will be another in a long line of justices who have proved more liberal than the president who appointed them expected... That is a view widely held inside the White House, but not by the occupant who counts most."

The Wall Street Journal writes that two potential SCOTUS nominees, the 4th Circuit’s J. Harvie Wilkinson III and J. Michael Luttig, have often disagreed with each other on that appellate court. “What is striking is how often the two have sparred directly, lacing dissents from one another -- and even some concurring opinions -- with rhetorical jabs.”

Over the weekend, the AP took a look at what’s on the Supreme Court’s agenda today, besides a possible retirement. “Justices have a few cases left to resolve, including two of the most-watched of the term: the Ten Commandments appeals from Texas and Kentucky and a case that will determine the liability of Internet file-sharing services for clients' illegal swapping of songs and movies. Also Monday, justices are expected to announce whether they will hear appeals from two journalists who may face jail time for refusing to reveal sources in the leak of an undercover CIA officer's identity.”

With the Supreme Court set to rule on government displays of the Ten Commandments, the Raleigh News and Observer reports on the debate's impact in North Carolina, a state that has seen its share of controversy over monuments dedicated to the commandments.

More Bush agenda
The AP says that in Bush’s meeting with Schroeder today, the two men will discuss Iraq, Iran, and proposals for reworking the UN. “Relations between Bush and Schroeder remain no more than businesslike after a period of estrangement over the Iraq war, which Schroeder vigorously opposed. The two leaders patched things up at a summit in Mainz, Germany, in February.”

In analyzing the Bush Administration's second term, the New York Times talks to members of both parties, who think the White House needs to get out of "campaign mode" and start producing results. "Mr. Bush still so dominates politics in Washington that there is little open criticism of him, and few Republicans are willing to challenge the strategy of Mr. Rove and other top aides. But behind the scenes there is increasing grumbling about the White House's political style.” Nevertheless, the White House insists that it’s on the "verge" of accomplishing some important goals.

The Washington Times looks at what some are calling the most hostile environment they’ve seen on the Hill in decades. "Several former members of Congress say that Washington's political climate has become so hostile and poisonous over the past decade that it is undermining the government's ability to deal with major problems facing the country.”

A Los Angeles Times news analysis suggests that the “central pillars” of Bush's Social Security proposal “have crumbled on Capitol Hill… Bush's struggle is a testimony … to how complex and politically risky it is to propose any change in Social Security. But some analysts say it is also a product of a mismatch between the president's leadership style and the challenge he faces. The uncompromising, provocative style that has made Bush a commanding leader in foreign policy is more problematic when he takes on a tough domestic issue that cries out for flexibility and bipartisan cooperation.”

The Washington Times: "Republicans hope a new plan to create personal retirement accounts using the Social Security surplus will attract fiscal conservatives who want government to be more truthful about spending, as well as Democrats and constituents who have urged Congress to stop spending the surplus." (Of course, as one liberal analyst pointed out last week, since Republicans control all branches of the federal government, can’t they decide not to spend this surplus on their own, without this legislation?)

The New York Times looks at the problems Medicaid faces. "President Bush has shown less interest in Medicaid than in Social Security, which is being destabilized by the same forces. But the administration has created a commission to suggest ways to cut $10 billion in Medicaid's growth over the next five years. A report is due in September."

Roll Call notes that anti-private accounts Americans United, which was facing “serious financial woes,” received a six-figure cash infusion from the union AFSCME -- keeping the organization operating in 33 states for the foreseeable future.

In the comings weeks, Roll Call says, Bush’s veto-free streak may come to an end on the highway bill and/or legislation loosening restrictions on stem-cell research.

The Washington Post looks at some of Bill Frist’s struggles in the Senate, like John Bolton’s stalled nomination and the Gang of 14’s deal on judges, which at first was seen as a defeat for Frist and Senate conservatives. The paper quotes former Senate Majority Leader (and presidential candidate) Bob Dole, who “is sympathetic to Frist's plight… But others … wonder whether he is up to the task.”

The Democrats
Sunday's Boston Globe took an in-depth look at fundraising within the Democratic Party and whether Howard Dean has much to do with the party's fundraising successes or failures.

The Washington Post notes that both Bill and Hillary Clinton attended Billy Graham’s “crusade” in New York. “The senator did not speak, but Graham called on the former president, who grasped the evangelist's forearm as he spoke. ‘What an honor it is for me to be here, as a person of faith, with a man I love and whom I have followed,’ Clinton said at a vast park near Shea Stadium. ‘He is about the only person I have ever known whom I have never seen fail to live his faith.’”

The partisan fighting has gotten so nasty in Washington that it has even spilled over to Major League Baseball. Roll Call reports that House Republicans are threatening retribution if a team that includes George Soros gets to own the Washington Nationals franchise. “‘I think Major League Baseball understands the stakes,’ said Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (R), the Northern Virginia lawmaker who recently convened high-profile steroid hearings. ‘I don’t think they want to get involved in a political fight.’ … ‘I don’t think it’s the Nats that get hurt. I think it’s Major League Baseball that gets hurt. They enjoy all sorts of exemptions’ from anti-trust laws.”

It’s the economy
More findings from the MSNBC “Ethics in America” poll: only 26% trust corporations to do what is right always or most of the time (that’s eight fewer percentage points lower than the federal government receives on this question), and 75% rate the ethical and moral practices of corporation leaders as either poor or fair.

The Washington Post reports that at a time in which traditional pension programs are becoming more scare, some CEOs receive extremely generous retirement plans. “Just as top corporate executives are in a different league than other employees when it comes to pay, so they are with retirement benefits. Negotiated individually, retirement packages in the tens of millions of dollars are common, as are many other retirement benefits such as consulting contracts and the use of offices and automobiles.”

The Wall Street Journal notes House’s mostly “symbolic” amendment, which passed, 219-185, to prevent the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp from taking over UAL’s pension program. “The provision would have little impact, largely because the insurer's budget comes from collecting premiums from companies -- not from money appropriated by Congress. Moreover, the Senate isn't likely to approve such a provision.”

The Wall Street Journal also reports that 41 Democrats and Republicans signed a letter to President Bush, “urging a stiff government review” of China National Offshore Oil Corp.'s offer to acquire Unocal Corp. “The 41 members of Congress don't raise any prospect for legislation, and fall far short of representing a voting bloc that could pass a bill in the House of Representatives. But they do show that there is a vanguard of China skeptics in Congress who could agitate against a deal if it were to progress.”

“Caulifornia”
With Californians poised to consider an initiative in November's special election that would restrict unions' ability to use dues for political contributions, the Sacramento Bee says organized labor has successfully combated the impact of similar "paycheck protection" laws in four other states.

The San Francisco Chronicle examines Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's record and finds that although some of his most ambitious policy proposals have failed, his "use of the bully pulpit -- often punctuated in public appearances with Hollywood spectacle -- dominates the debate in the Capitol and has sparked action."

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