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Wednesday, June 29, 2005 | 9:25 a.m. ET
From Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi, Michelle Jaconi and Katie Adams

First glance
Now raise your hand if you still think Karl Rove’s 9/11 remarks last week were unintentional.

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Facing mounting U.S. casualties, an increasingly skeptical public, and a growing chorus of criticism (even within his own party), a confident and resolute President Bush last night directly tied the situation in Iraq to 9/11 and the war on terrorism. To illustrate this renewed focus, he made five direct references to 9/11 and two references to Osama bin Laden. But in both his inaugural and State of the Union addresses this year, he never mentioned Bin Laden. And although he did mention 9/11 in that State of the Union, he didn’t do so until more than half way through the speech.

Some quick questions: Will this new focus reverse poll findings like the one from USA Today/CNN/Gallup, which shows that 50% of Americans now see Iraq being completely separate from the war on terror? Can the Democrats reverse the political setbacks they’ve encountered when Bush wields his 9/11 credentials? And for how much longer will 9/11 continue to be the dominant political story in America?

Other things Bush said last night in his nearly 30-minute primetime speech:

-- that the outcome in Iraq is “vital” to future U.S. security
-- that progress has been made in Iraq, both with its security forces and with its path toward democracy
-- that setting a timetable for U.S. withdrawal would be a mistake and a terrible signal to the Iraqis
-- that Iraqi security forces are being trained, but that they still have a ways to go
-- and that the U.S. will stay in Iraq “until the fight is won.”

And what he didn’t say:

-- how we will know when the fight is won
-- how much money it will cost to win this fight, and where that money will come from
-- what specific steps must be taken to win the fight
-- with recruiting down, where future U.S. soldiers will come from
-- how America can improve its image to convince the world that we have the best of intentions in Iraq and the Middle East
-- and how the U.S. got into Iraq in the first place

The other big story -- as it has been for the past several days -- is the Supreme Court. Will we have a retirement today? Or tomorrow? Or this year? Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist gave a speech at the Heritage Foundation, urging his Democratic colleagues not to “defame” the character of any nominee Bush selects. On the Hill today, House Republicans Hastert, Blunt, Pryce, and McCrery hold a press conference on reforming Social Security at 10:00 am; Sens. Ted Kennedy, Tom Harkin, and Diane Feinstein hold a presser on stem cell research at 10:30 am, and Sens. Harry Reid and Jay Rockefeller hold a press conference to respond to Bush's speech at 11:00 am.

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

Finally, some news on two high-profile Democrats: Howard Dean heads to Columbia, SC to attend a “low-dollar” fundraising reception at 5:00 pm. (The South Carolina GOP greets Dean with a “Howard Dean Scream” contest at 3:30 pm.) And Hillary Clinton has a fundraiser in Alexandria, VA at 7:00 pm.

Last night’s speech
USA Today says, “Bush offered no new strategy for Iraq. Instead, speaking firmly and somberly, he defended his policies, took on critics and tried to reassure Americans that continuing bloodshed in Iraq will ultimately be ‘worth it.’”

The Boston Globe says the speech “offered the most detailed explanation yet of the steps the United States is taking to help Iraqis run their own security and political system. However, the president did not disclose any significant new programs or initiatives, focusing instead on the range of U.S. efforts to improve training of Iraqi forces and to conduct joint US-Iraqi operations."

The Washington Post’s analysis notes that 9/11 took center stage last night. “Sept. 11 remains Bush's most reliable argument with the public when he faces political headwinds… Surprisingly, given how effectively he has used the collective emotion of that day in the past, Sept. 11 has been largely missing in the administration's discussions of Iraq this year.”

Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times notes this particular contradiction in Bush’s message last night: “More than two years ago, Bush argued that Saddam Hussein's control over Iraq could make the nation a haven for terrorists. But in his nationally televised speech, Bush asserted that the tumult that has followed Hussein's removal created the same threat.” Brownstein adds that Bush’s “heavy emphasis on Sept. 11 in his address followed a speech last week in which Karl Rove, his chief political advisor, dramatically raised the issue.”

The Wall Street Journal: "Although this isn't the first time the White House has attempted to tie the two together, it is one of the administration's more forceful and detailed efforts to date. The latest attempt marks a slight twist on the theme… In the past, administration officials had argued that the former Iraq regime's weapons of mass destruction might fall into the hands of Islamic extremists. Now, the administration is depicting Iraq as the home base of the extremists."

Gannett News Service notes, “Whether Bush can staunch rising doubts about the war is the biggest question of the remaining three years of his presidency… Bush's speech ‘may help his (approval numbers) and buy him a little time,’ [pollster Scott] Rasmussen predicted, ‘but ultimately, success will still be determined on the ground in Iraq.’”

The New York Times’ analysis: "The questions now are how many more times over how many years [Bush] might have to deliver the same message of patience and resolve - and whether the American public, confronted with a mounting death toll, an open-ended military commitment, lack of support from allies and a growing price tag, will accept it."

A Washington Times recap of the speech notes that Bush "laid out a two-track strategy -- political and military -- that will take the fledgling democracy through the next six months, when the interim government must complete a constitution and Iraqis must ratify the document and elect a new government."

The Washington Post’s Tom Shales opines, “This was not a major speech by Bush, nor was it particularly well delivered until the end, when he seemed to be straining to hold back his emotions as he spoke of the U.S. troops fighting and dying in Iraq.”

The Washington Post also mentions what Bush omitted from his speech: that Iraq is breeding ground for terrorists (in part because of mistakes the Administration made after Saddam Hussein was removed); that a dozen countries have withdrawn their support in Iraq; and that many other factors besides have played roles in the political transformations in Libya, the Palestinian Authority, and Lebanon. But the paper also says that Bush accurately portrayed some of the progress in Iraq.

The News & Observer says, "Bush's talk to the nation came as polls show American support for Bush and the effort in Iraq flagging. Most national polls are showing that 6 in 10 Americans do not support the involvement in Iraq...  In North Carolina, where Bush has enjoyed broad support, polls also show him slipping."

Last night’s speech: the Democrats
The Chicago Tribune says Democrats were quick to pounce on Bush’s references to 9/11. “‘The president's frequent references to the terrorist attacks of September 11 show the weakness of his arguments,’ House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said. ‘He is willing to exploit the sacred ground of 9/11, knowing that there is no connection between 9/11 and the war in Iraq.’”

Pelosi also told NBC’s Brian Williams, “We did not hear the specifics of a plan tonight.”

In his statement last night, Minority Leader Reid said, “The President’s numerous references to September 11th did not provide a way forward in Iraq, they only served to remind the American people that our most dangerous enemy, namely Osama bin Laden, is still on the loose and Al Qaeda remains capable of doing this nation great harm nearly four years after it attacked America.”

On CNN’s Larry King Live, Sen. Evan Bayh said Bush “did a good job of saying things that the American people already agree on… We all want to be successful in Iraq. We all support the troops. We all want to be successful in the War on Terror. What the president didn't do as well at … was to lay out a clear plan with benchmarks for progress that will end in success... And in a word … we need accountability for progress and I think he could've done much better about that tonight.”

The Washington Times also recounts the Democratic criticism. “But House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert said the president was right to take "the war to the terrorists" after the September 11 attacks. ‘It is unfortunate that many Democratic leaders have chosen to politicize the war on terror and ignore the good work that our armed services are doing,’ the Illinois Republican said.”

SCOTUS politics
A senior administration official tells the Chicago Tribune that Bush aides are poised to take a short list of names into the Oval Office for a quick naming of a successor, should Chief Justice William Rehnquist step down. However, the official also cautions that the White House hopes to wait a couple of days after the retirement before announcing a nominee, so as not to take away from the coverage of Rehnquist and his legacy.

USA Today notes that Senate Majority Leader Frist said he’s had private meetings with Minority Leader Reid to discuss a possible Supreme Court vacancy. “Both Reid and Frist said they have offered lists of potential nominees to the White House… Reid said he has proposed four Republican senators as possible Supreme Court justices: Mike Crapo of Idaho, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Mel Martinez of Florida. All are experienced lawyers with conservative voting records.”

Roll Call: “It wasn’t clear how seriously Reid himself took his suggestion about those Senators taking seats on the court - Crapo and DeWine each broke into laughter when informed of Reid’s vote of confidence - but the Minority Leader signaled that there has been some early discussion on the general topic of a retirement.”

The Chicago Tribune has a senior Administration official saying that should Rehnquist retire, Bush aides are poised to take a short list of names into the Oval Office so Bush can quickly name a successor. However, this official also notes that the White House hopes to wait a couple of days after the retirement before announcing a nominee, to not take away from the coverage of Rehnquist and his legacy.

The Washington Post looks at the interest groups who are gearing up for a SCOTUS battle. “In a calculation akin to the ‘golden hour,’ in which paramedics race to get a critically ill patient to a hospital, Senate strategists have concluded that the first four to six hours will determine which side is left on the defensive. These minutely detailed strategies are ready to be activated regardless of whom Bush nominates.”

USA Today also notes that Rehnquist often voted in the minority this term. “For Chief Justice William Rehnquist, it was a Supreme Court term that began with a battle with thyroid cancer that left his body frail and his voice raspy. By the end of the 2004-05 term Monday, it also was clear that Rehnquist's voice had been diminished on some of the nation's most contentious issues.”

More Bush agenda
USA Today reports on its latest USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll, which shows that 64% disapprove of Bush’s handling of Social Security. “Opposition to Bush is greatest among seniors, women, and people with lesser incomes and levels of education. Democrats disapprove by a ratio of more than 20-to-1, but Republicans back Bush's performance on the issue by a 2-to-1 ratio.” The poll also notes that a majority (53%-44%) opposes Bush’s plan for private accounts.

The Washington Post reports that the Senate passed its bipartisan energy bill yesterday, 85-12. But the article notes that the bill has some major differences with the House’s version, which could jeopardize final passage.

The Los Angeles Times: “One key sticking point this year is expected to be a House provision that would partially shield producers of methyl tertiary-butyl ether, or MTBE, from lawsuits arising from the gasoline additive, which has been found to contaminate groundwater. The Senate bill contains no such provision. A dispute over the MTBE liability provision between the two chambers helped kill the 2003 energy bill.”

The Wall Street Journal adds that the House bill is friendlier to oil and gas interests, while the Senate bill focuses more on energy efficiency and conservation. As a result, the paper says, it’s unlikely that House and Senate negotiators will be able to settle their differences before the August recess.

The values debate
Canada’s House of Commons yesterday voted to extend marriage rights to gays and lesbians, the New York Times reports. “When the Senate approves the measure, considered a formality, Canada will become the third national government, after the Netherlands and Belgium, to enact such rights. Though the vote was largely symbolic, advocates for gay rights hailed it as a milestone because it was the first time a Canadian legislative body had voted to change the traditional definition of marriage beyond a union of a man and a woman.”

The AP adds, “The legislation drafted by Prime Minister Paul Martin's minority Liberal Party government was also expected to easily pass the Senate and become federal law by the end of July.”

Responding to complaints about religious tolerance at the Air Force Academy, USA Today writes, the Air Force’s top general issued a statement warning that “mixing religion with the chain of command can break down the teamwork needed for military success.” However, a congressional hearing on this matter produced some tension. “‘I'm a Christian, and Jesus Christ is my personal savior,’ said Rep. Michael Conaway, R-Texas. ‘I hope that didn't offend you.’ Conaway and other Christian conservatives on the committee said the Air Force is going too far if it restricts free religious expression. Cadets are ‘men and women of strong character’ who don't need such coddling, Conaway said.”

“Caulifornia”
A new Field Poll shows that a whopping 57% of registered voters will not vote to re-elect Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger next year. The survey also shows the actor-turned politician running slightly behind in the head-to-head match-ups with two Democratic challengers, state Treasurer Phil Angelides and state Controller Steve Westly. “Head-to-head matchups show Angelides leading Schwarzenegger 46 to 42 percent, while Westly has a 44-40 percent edge over the governor. Schwarzenegger leads [Rob] Reiner, 44 to 42 percent, and [Warren] Beatty, 46 to 37 percent.” (A warning to those who might be excited to see those last two names: Reiner and Beatty have done nothing to suggest that they might actually challenge Schwarzenegger.)

The results provided more evidence of Schwarzenegger's slide since last October, when his approval rating stood at 65 percent. Another Field Poll released last week showed a statewide drop in Schwarzenegger's job approval after the governor called for a special election in November.

The media
NBC’s Mike Viqueira reports that at his weekly pen-and-pad briefing, DeLay was asked if believes that Matt Cooper of Time magazine and Judith Miller of the New York Times should go to jail for refusing to reveal their sources in a federal investigation into the leak of a CIA officer’s identity. DeLay responded with an answer that might surprise some people who paid close attention to the Schiavo controversy last spring: “The Supreme Court has made a decision along those lines. I haven't seen that decision or read it. And, in our process if the Supreme Court has made a decision then it needs to be carried out."

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