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Tuesday, June 28, 2005 | 9:25 a.m. ET
From Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi, Bill Hatfield and Katie Adams

First glance
Karl Rove certainly teed up Bush’s Iraq speech tonight. Six days after he accused liberals -- especially MoveOn.org -- of being weak in responding to 9/11, MoveOn today launches a $500,000 TV and print advertising campaign calling to bring home US soldiers from Iraq. (“We got in the wrong way,” the ad states. “Let's get out the right way.”) As if on cue, Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) sent out a statement yesterday calling the ad “an utter disgrace.” “To politicize the War in Iraq at this critical juncture,” she said, “emboldens the enemy and does so at the peril of our men and women in uniform. I hope my colleagues from both sides of the aisle will join me in disavowing this poisonous ad.”

  1. Other political news of note
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A MoveOn spokesman strikes back at Sen. Dole, saying that if she has a problem with MoveOn, she also has a problem with fellow North Carolina Republican Rep. Walter Jones, who has called for timetable to bring home the troops.

That exchange provides part of the political backdrop to Bush’s 8:00 pm primetime speech tonight on Iraq, to soldiers in Fort Bragg, NC. Other elements include two new national polls, both of which contain some troubling numbers for the Administration; Democratic concerns that Bush is trying to politicize Iraq and link it to 9/11 (“The only way that he can stop the downward spiral [in public opinion about Iraq] is to make this become a political issue,” Jenny Backus, a Democratic consultant working for John Kerry’s PAC, tells First Read); and further reminders that we seem to be re-living the 2004 presidential campaign all over again.

Per the White House, Bush’s speech -- which marks the one-year anniversary since the transfer of sovereignty there -- will note that significant progress has been made in Iraq, that terrorists there are seeking to shake our will and weaken our resolve, and that the strategy for success includes beefing up Iraqi security forces and helping the country build a lasting democracy. Meanwhile, in a letter yesterday, Democratic Sens. Reid, Biden, Levin, and Rockefeller called on Bush’s speech to provide a detailed plan for success, to level with the American people about the challenges there, to provide information for congressional oversight, and to assure US troops that the Administration is addressing equipment shortfalls. John Kerry also has a New York Times op-ed outlining what Bush should say tonight (more on that below).

In other news, we didn’t get the Supreme Court retirement(s) we were all bracing for -- yet. Nevertheless, Washington remains ready for any type of announcement. On the Hill, NBC’s Ken Strickland says that the Senate is expected to pass its energy bill today, and could vote on the conference highway bill later this week. Strickland also says that this week could be a pivotal one for John Bolton’s UN nomination (more on that below). Furthermore, prior to Bush’s big speech tonight, congressional leaders Frist, Hastert, DeLay, Reid, and Pelosi already had breakfast with the President in the Oval Office at 7:00 am. The Senate meets at 9:45 am; the House meets at 9:00 am.

Also of note, John Edwards begins a three-day tour promoting ballot initiatives raising the minimum wages in four areas -- all of which are in battleground states. Today, he travels to New Mexico and Arizona; tomorrow to Michigan; and Thursday to Ohio.

Tonight’s speech
The latest USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll finds that just one in three Americans believe the US and its allies are winning the war; a record 61% don’t think Bush has a clear plan for handling the situation in Iraq; 50% see Iraq as separate from the war on terror; and a plurality (46%) says Iraq has made the US less safe.

A new Washington Post/ABC survey has more troubling findings for the Administration: only 22% say the insurgency in Iraq is getting weaker, and nearly six in 10 believe the US is “bogged down” in Iraq. However, the poll does have some encouraging news for the White House: only one in eight Americans favors an immediate pullout of US forces, while a narrow majority (52%) says the war has contributed to the long-term security of the US -- a five-point increase from earlier this month. “The findings crystallize the challenges facing Bush this evening… The goal is to reinvigorate public support for a war that has grown unpopular over time and convince Americans the administration has a policy that will lead to success over time.”

In addition, with Bush preparing to address the nation from Fort Bragg, NC tonight, the Raleigh News and Observer reports on a new poll showing declining support in the state for the Iraq war. The survey "found that 42 percent of active voters agree the war has been worth it, but 49 percent say it has not."

Gannett News Service writes, “What makes Bush's task now so difficult is that waning war support is the result of events on the ground. It's not because his critics have found their voice… ‘People are tracking the casualties,’ said veteran pollster Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center. ‘The bottom (of support) hasn't completely fallen out yet, but the American public is going to want to see some progress.’”

The San Francisco Chronicle calls tonight’s speech a "critical moment" for the president's strategy, given the recent drop in public support for the war. The paper adds that there’s "no signal from the White House that Bush plans to offer a new direction, acknowledge missteps or reach out to critics."

The New York Times: “ABC said it would carry the address live. CBS and NBC said they had yet to decide.”

The AP notes that Bush will meet with families of fallen soldiers for about two and a half hours before his speech, while war protestors plan to rally outside.

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank writes about Rumsfeld battling the polls at his news conference yesterday. “His foes were not the bloodthirsty killers in Iraq -- he leaves that part to the military professionals -- but domestic antagonists with names such as Gallup, Ipsos, Pew and Zogby.”

The Los Angeles Times also covers Rumsfeld’s presser yesterday. “‘Success for the coalition should not be defined as domestic tranquility in Iraq,’ Rumsfeld said … ‘Other democracies have had to contend with terrorism and insurgencies for a number of years, but they've been able to function and eventually succeed.’”

Tonight’s speech: the Democrats
John Kerry pens a New York Times op-ed that outlines what Bush should say. "So what should the president say tonight? The first thing he should do is tell the truth to the American people. Happy talk about the insurgency being in 'the last throes' leads to frustrated expectations at home... The next months are critical to Iraq's future and our security. If Mr. Bush fails to take these steps, we will stumble along, our troops at greater risk, casualties rising, costs rising, the patience of the American people wearing thin, and the specter of quagmire staring us in the face. Our troops deserve better: they deserve leadership equal to their sacrifice."

In addition to this op-ed, a Kerry spokesman says the Senator will also be going to the Senate floor to give a major speech on Iraq (time TBD) and will send an email to johnkerry.com's three million members, all in an effort to set the bar for measuring Bush’s speech.

NBC’s Mike Viqueira reports that House Democrats are planning an all-out effort to pre-but Bush Iraq speech. House Minority Leader Pelosi will speak at a stakeout around 2:00 pm; other House Democrats will make one-minute floor speeches; and they’ll all be doing even more after Bush’s speech.

In a Roll Call column, Donna Brazile scolds Karl Rove for his statement last week that liberals were weak in responding to 9/11, and she urges Bush to unite the country in his speech tonight. “Rove understands that when it comes to national security and homeland defense, the Republicans have played up their strength and downplayed Democratic resolve to stand with the president on winning the war on terror… Our nation looks to our president to extol our essential unity… As citizens, we deserve better than an administration and governing party that praises each other even when they are wrong, while scorning those who might differ with them.”

On the flip side, however, The Hill writes that liberal House Democrats are looking at several parliamentary maneuvers -- including impeachment -- to investigate the Downing Street memo and other documents alleging that the Bush Administration manipulated pre-war intelligence. The article goes on to mention, though, that such efforts will fail in the face of GOP opposition. In addition, it’s unclear whether the Democratic leadership would join these liberals.

The Wall Street Journal also covers the liberals’ focus on the Downing Street memo. "Their campaign comes at a dicey point for President Bush, who has seen support for his Iraq policy erode amid the insurgent violence that has followed January elections in that country... The current Internet pressure from the left is reminiscent of a publicity battle waged by conservatives during Mr. Bush's re-election run that questioned Democrat John Kerry's service as a Swift Boat commander in Vietnam and his antiwar activity that followed."

SCOTUS politics
USA Today on the Supreme Court today: “This morning, the court will issue a routine list of orders. It's unclear whether Rehnquist will make some statement about retirement then, or later.”

The Los Angeles Times: “Since 80-year-old Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist announced in October that he was being treated for thyroid cancer, many observers had assumed this term would be his last. Rehnquist had said nothing to confirm that view. And he said nothing Monday either.” Nevertheless, the paper notes that he “struggled to read an opinion in court. He paused often to catch his breath, and his voice was faint and scratchy at times.”

On yesterday's silence about Rehnquist’s possible retirement, the New York Times adds, "Seldom has the capital been so spoiling for a fight, and seldom has the only person with the power to ring the opening bell been so Sphinx-like. The combination has put senators and interest groups into a strange state of suspended animation."

NBC’s Pete Williams adds that if an announcement doesn’t come today, then it’s anybody’s guess as to whether we’re going to have a retirement.

Roll Call examines how a Supreme Court vacancy could affect Congress’ agenda. “While media coverage of any Supreme Court vacancy may make it seem like Congress isn’t doing anything else, GOP aides in both chambers say leaders plan to push on with regular agenda items and steer clear of any other measures whose significance would be drowned out by the noise over the high court.” A senior GOP aide adds that Congress’ work won’t be affected if Bush doesn’t send up a nominee right away, and even if a nominee emerges before August, the GOP is unlikely to move the nomination to the floor before the August recess.

More Bush agenda
The Wall Street Journal reports that the "Senate is set to approve a wide-ranging energy bill today as House lawmakers hope to find a middle ground on a fuel-additive provision that has derailed the bill for four years running."

The Wall Street Journal also notes that Veterans Affairs Secretary Jim Nicholson will testify that the department is facing a budget shortfall, which could make it difficult for the Administration to meet its budget spending caps. "Democrats, who warned earlier this year that the VA had underbudgeted its true costs, are pressing for floor votes in the Senate as early as today. With Mr. Bush preparing to give a prime-time address to the nation tonight on Iraq, the timing is awkward for Republicans. But the White House is loath to break the $842.3 billion cap on total discretionary appropriations agreed to this spring."

Americans United, which opposes Bush’s Social Security plan (and which just got a nice cash infusion from organized labor), will continue to push congressional lawmakers to take a position on private accounts over the July 4th recess. The group will begin targeting House Ways and Means Republicans by asking them to meet and to publicly take a stand on private accounts. It wants to prevent a bill that could "become a life boat of [privatization" from leaving that committee.

NBC’s Strickland reminds us that this week could be critical for Bolton’s nomination to the UN. With the Senate headed into its July 4th recess next week, some Senators believe if a deal can't be reached between Democrats and President Bush to release documents pertaining to his nomination, Bush could install Bolton at the UN through a recess appointment, thereby bypassing the Senate entirely.

Ethics and institutions
Outside watchdog groups are planning to pressure Speaker Hastert to step in and resolve the staffing impasse at the House Ethics Committee between its Republican chairman and Democratic ranking member, Roll Call reports. Common Cause, Public Campaign, Public Citizen, and U.S. Public Interest Research Group all plan to send a letter to Hastert today, urging him to become personally involved in the ethics dispute, and Common Cause plans to launch a radio ad (at a buy of $10,500) in Hastert’s district over the July 4 recess.

Roll Call also says that the liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has filed a complaint alleging that Frist didn’t properly disclose a $1.4 million loan he took out of his campaign committees almost five years ago. “Frist’s top political operative dismissed the complaint, which was filed with the FEC, as politically driven and incorrect in its primary assertion, noting that the loan in question was reported to the FEC in early 2001 and the commission has not raised a question about it in the intervening years.”

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee today is releasing a new web video, which mocks the game show Jeopardy, to highlight recent ethical complaints against Republican lawmakers like DeLay and Sen. Rick Santorum.

The values debate
After the Supreme Court ruled to allow a Ten Commandments monument outside the Texas Capitol, the Washington Post reports that Christian groups announced a nationwide campaign to install similar monuments in 100 cities and towns. “Groups on both sides of the issue predicted that the pair of Supreme Court rulings, rather than clarifying a gray area of the law, would spawn more disputes over Ten Commandment displays in parks, town halls and courthouses. They said the displays are now the front line of a proxy war, standing in for the bigger issue of the place of religion in public life.”

The New York Times breaks down yesterday’s split decisions on the Ten Commandment cases in Texas and Kentucky -- in which only Justice Breyer agreed with both decisions. “To the extent that the decisions provided guidelines for the further cases that are all but certain to follow, it appeared to be that religious symbols that have been on display for many years, with little controversy, are likely to be upheld, while newer displays intended to advance a modern religious agenda will be met with suspicion and disfavor from the court.”

Per the San Francisco Chronicle, "the court left few clues as to how the decisions would apply to future disputes over other religious displays or observances."

The Air Force yesterday appointed a rabbi, who had retired as one of the military’s chief chaplains, to help carry out recommendations to stamp out religious intolerance at the Air Force Academy. – AP

The media
The Supreme Court yesterday refused to hear an appeal by Judith Miller of the New York Times and Matthew Cooper of Time, who have refused to reveal their confidential sources to a special prosecutor investigating the leak of a CIA officer’s identity. The Washington Post: The high court's order leaves [the reporters] facing jail time. They may have to surrender to authorities within weeks if they continue to refuse to answer questions before a grand jury… With their appeals almost exhausted, the reporters will ask a federal trial judge to reconsider his decision last year to find them in civil contempt and order their imprisonment.” But the paper says that such reconsideration is unlikely.

The Chicago Tribune: "The Supreme Court's decision prompted an outcry from journalists and 1st Amendment supporters, who fear news-gathering will be severely hindered if the government can force reporters to violate promises of confidentiality made to sources."

The AP reminds us how this all started -- columnist Bob Novak wrote a 2003 op-ed unmasking Valerie Plame as a CIA officer, citing senior Bush Administration officials as the source of that information. “There has been no public explanation for why prosecutors are not pursuing Novak.”

And a New York Times news analysis says that with the court’s decision not the hear the case, “it appears that the first and perhaps only people who will serve time as a result of the inquiry had no part in the conversations that prompted it."

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