updated 6/30/2005 9:27:34 AM ET 2005-06-30T13:27:34

“First Read” is a daily memo prepared by NBC News’ political unit, for NBC News, analyzing the morning’s political news. Please let us know what you think. Drop us a note at FirstRead@MSNBC.com.  To bookmark First Read, click here.

First glance
Our immediate questions as we near the July Fourth weekend: How will Bush’s Iraq numbers look when the next round of national polls comes out? Will Bush place John Bolton inside the UN through a recess appointment? And will we hear any retirement news from the Supreme Court?

  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

After a day without public events following his Iraq speech on Tuesday, Bush today makes remarks today at 9:35 am about the upcoming G8 Summit. The Brookings Institution holds its own preview of the G8 at 11:00 am. There’s an interesting link between Iraq and the G8: As we briefly mentioned yesterday, one thing Bush didn’t mention in his speech Tuesday is how America could improve its image to convince the world that we have the best of intentions in Iraq and the Middle East. Indeed, a recent Pew Global Attitudes poll showed that while 67% of Americans think US foreign policy considers other countries, citizens from most other nations (outside of China, Indonesia, and India) actually don’t think this.

Is there anything more the US can do at the G-8 meeting, which is scheduled to discuss aid to Africa and global warming, to convince other nations that the US is more altruistic than they think we are? Or are their minds made up? Some other international news from your usually domestically focused First Read: British PM Tony Blair assumes the rotating presidency of the EU on Friday. And also on Friday, Germany is expected to finish setting the stage for a September election that Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is widely expected to lose, and a slew of "meet expected winner Angela Merkel" profiles are probably in the offing.

As Washington still focuses on a possible SCOTUS retirement, the liberal Alliance for Justice holds a conference call with reporters at 11:00 am to discuss results from a new poll and focus group on the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, Sen. Arlen Specter (R) said yesterday he doubts Rehnquist retires. (More on that below.)  And First Read takes another weekly look at a possible SCOTUS nominee -- this time, we examine 5th Circuit Judge Emilio Garza, who (like Alberto Gonzales) could become the court’s first Hispanic justice. And it appears that conservatives like Garza more than Gonzales.

There’s also plenty of ink today about Social Security, CAFTA, and stem-cell research. And there's a double-dose of action in the world of election reform today: The privately formed Carter-Baker Commission on Election Reform holds a hearing in Houston TX, while the federally funded Election Assistance Commission holds a public hearing on voting machine guidelines in New York City. (More on those two events below.)

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

Finally, First Read will not publish Friday and Monday, but we’ll be back on July 5. During our break, be sure to check for all your political news at www.politics.msnbc.com.  Have a great July Fourth weekend.

The Washington Post, meanwhile, suggests there is a reason behind Bush’s full-speed-ahead message on Iraq: The White House has brought on public-opinion experts to its staff, who believe that support for war hinges mostly on the question of whether people think America can prevail. “For Bush … the public rhetoric matches the private conviction that his strategy will succeed. But it also leaves Bush in the difficult position of balancing confidence and credibility. The more optimism Bush expresses, the more criticism he draws from Congress and commentators that he is not facing the reality” of the situation in Iraq.

NBC’s Ken Strickland notes some of the Democrats’ tough words yesterday about Bush’s Iraq speech. Sen. Jay Rockefeller said Bush "failed the troops... He used them as a backdrop." The speech, the Senator added, was "not much use to the American people, and most importantly, not much use to the American solider.” Rockefeller also criticized Bush for linking Iraq to 9/11: "It had nothing to do with Osama bin Laden. It had nothing to do with Al Qaeda. It had nothing to do with September 11.”

The Boston Globe says that Democrats are aiming to find new ways to find a unified voice on Iraq.  "Republican support for the war also has shown some signs of fraying, but the party as a whole has been far more unified in support of the war than the Democrats have been in opposing it... Democrats see discontent with Bush as a powerful tool to use against incumbent Republicans in next year's midterm congressional elections. If they fail, some party insiders warn, they will have squandered an opportunity to gain seats in Congress and seize momentum heading into the 2008 presidential election."

The Los Angeles Times writes that Bush yesterday “handed Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte broad authority over America's disparate and often-competing spy agencies, bringing U.S. domestic and foreign intelligence operations more closely under White House control.”

USA Today says the changes “erode the authority of the FBI, retain the CIA's responsibility for foreign espionage and expand the powers of the new director of national intelligence.”

Meanwhile, the US Army surpassed its recruiting goal this month for new enlistees, but it still faces a daunting task to meet its annual target. – Reuters

More Bush agenda
The Los Angeles Times notes how Washington keeps bracing for a Supreme Court retirement, even though one still hasn’t been announced -- yet. “Vacation plans are in limbo. Kids have been plopped into camps. Million-dollar ad campaigns are stuck in their starting blocks. Sean Rushton, executive director of the Committee for Justice, a conservative group organizing support for President Bush's judicial nominees, wore a necktie to work Monday so he'd look nice for television interviews that never happened.”

The Chicago Tribune takes its look at the SCOTUS interest-group battle, and it notes that this battle comes as a "convergence of technology, record levels of funding and a polarized political climate" have all changed since the last Supreme Court retirement.

NBC’s Strickland reports that Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter (R) yesterday repeated his belief that that Chief Justice William Rehnquist won’t retire any time soon. "My continued speculation is the Chief Justice is not going to leave because I think that everyday he goes to work knowing he has very important work to do.”

The Washington Post reports that House Republicans leaders are promising a vote on legislation creating private accounts from the surplus in the Social Security trust fund, perhaps as early as next month. Moreover, they say they will act on private accounts without concern for when the Senate would act. But: “The leaders acknowledged that the measure they are considering would make the deficit worse, and do nothing to deal with the president's rationale for bringing up the issue in the first place: projections that the system will run out of money for scheduled benefits when the baby boomers retire.”

The New York Times: "On issues like tax cuts and flag burning, House Republicans have made a practice of passing legislation popular with their conservative base even if the bills are likely to die in the Senate. Republicans are convinced that the Social Security legislation will be politically popular, whether or not it becomes law."

The AP: “House leaders believe their plan taps into a concern expressed consistently at town hall meetings: Disbelief that money targeted for Social Security is being spent for other purposes.” (Again, we’d like to point out that since Republicans control both the executive and legislative branches, they already have the ability to not to tap into the Social Security trust fund.)

Roll Call writes that congressional Democrats and Republicans will be heading to their districts and states during the July Fourth recess to discuss Social Security with their constituents. “For the first time since the Social Security push began, House Republicans will go home to their districts with a substantive plan to sell. At the same time, the GOP’s introduction of a specific reform package has given Democrats a clearer target to sink. Both parties are sending their Members home with detailed recess kits and talking points to achieve their aims.”

After a round of partisan exchanges, the Washington Post says, the Senate unanimously approved $1.5 billion in emergency funds for the VA’s health care. “The developments yesterday marked the failure of the administration and GOP congressional leaders to force tough spending constraints on the department… With the 2006 midterm elections approaching and President Bush's favorability ratings at low levels, Republicans in the House and the Senate clearly had no stomach for risking the wrath of former service members in the cause of deficit reduction.”

The Washington Times: "Democrats called it a major 'I told you so' moment, since they had been pushing for more funding for months.

It’s the economy
USA Today reports that the Fed today is expected to raise interest rates by a quarter of a percentage point. “It would be the ninth-consecutive increase by the Fed since it began raising rates a year ago.” Moreover, the paper says that economists “expect the economy to continue to grow solidly in the next year. But growth will not be so rapid as to spur huge increases in job creation or ignite a dangerous inflationary cycle.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that the economy grew faster in 2005's first quarter than originally stated specifically because of a "sizzling housing sector."

The Christian Science Monitor examines some of the growing concerns in Washington about China -- especially over the Chinese bid to take over a US oil company. “Many lawmakers are calling for retaliation against a nation they believe has long flouted the rules of fair international trade. The White House, for its part, has been reluctant to publicly criticize a deal that may never be consummated. And in general, say analysts, attempts to hobble China's economic rise would be as futile as using ropes to try to restrain a rocket. They would only earn the enmity of the nation that may be most likely to emerge as the world's next superpower.”

The Senate Finance Committee passed CAFTA yesterday, and a vote on the Senate floor could come as early as today. The AP: “Passage in the Senate, traditionally more sympathetic to trade agreements, could give CAFTA some momentum in the House, where there is stiffer opposition.”

Ethics and institutions
The Hill says that Reps. Doc Hastings (R) and Alan Mollohan (D) seem to have resolved the staffing dispute that has virtually shut down the House Ethics Committee. “Mollohan predicted that the committee would be able to fill the vacant staff positions over the next three weeks, meaning it will likely be fully operational when Congress returns in September from the August recess. Once staffed and organized, the committee is expected to undertake an investigation of overseas trips taken by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).”

However, Roll Call reports that Hastings isn’t quite ready to say a deal has been made. “‘I remain hopeful this can be resolved soon, but we are not there yet,’ said Hastings in a statement released by his office.”

Roll Call also reports that the yacht that Rep. Duke Cunningham (R) lives on, and which is owned by a defense contractor, may be up for sale.

The values debate
The Hill mentions that some conservative groups, who have been pressuring Senate Majority Leader Frist not to bring an embryonic stem-cell bill to the Senate floor, have now lifted their opposition, “to test Bush’s vow to veto the bill.” The paper also notes that Sen. Tom Coburn (R) -- a doctor -- is threatening to filibuster the legislation if it is brought to the floor.

USA Today looks at the Senate debate over stem-cell research by focusing on Pennsylvania’s two GOP Senators, who have very different views on subject. “Their conflicting positions, despite shared constituents and political affiliation, illustrate the rift within the Republican Party over the matter.”

MSNBC.com , meanwhile, reminds us that the Senate is considering two different stem-cell bills -- one funding embryonic stem-cell research, and another providing funding for research on umbilical cord blood. This second -- and less controversial -- measure was unanimously passed by a Senate committee yesterday (and it has already passed the House). The House also passed legislation on embryonic stem-cell research, but not by a veto-proof majority.

Just after Canada has moved to legalize gay marriage, Spain has now done the same. - AP

And a new Quinnipiac University poll shows that, by a 59%-30% margin, Florida voters disagree with Gov. Jeb Bush's order to ask a state prosecutor to investigate whether Michael Schiavo delayed calling 911 when his wife, Terri, collapsed. Fifty-eight percent say Bush's actions are more motivated by politics than by sincere conviction.

The Garza file
Judge Emilio Miller Garza, 57, currently sits on the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. A native of San Antonio, TX, Garza received a BA and Masters from Notre Dame, and then served three years in the Marines before attending law school at the University of Texas. Upon graduation, he went into private practice before appointments to serve as a state district judge (in 1987), federal district judge (in 1988), and in his current position on the 5th Circuit (in 1991). In both of his federal judicial nominations, Garza won Senate approval by unanimous consent and received “qualified” ratings by the American Bar Association.

Just five weeks after he was confirmed in 1991, however, Garza made national headlines when it was reported that he was on Bush 41's short list to replace Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court. He was flown to DC and interviewed by the US attorney general and the White House general counsel. In fact, it was reported that he was one of the two finalists for this position, but Bush ultimately went with Clarence Thomas. Garza has since added 14 years of experience on the 5th Circuit, and a recent AP profile noted that he is “an avid questioner in oral arguments” who “writes opinions that are clear and scholarly.”

According to most media accounts, Garza is a conservative, although his 1991 nomination was supported by home-state Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D) and the liberal-leaning Mexican American Legal Defense Fund. Colleagues, per these accounts, say the judge is a strong Catholic (he has been known to attend mass during his lunch hour) and a political conservative. Former Sen. Phil Gramm (R) of Texas had this to say back in 1987, when he first recommended Garza’s appointment to the federal bench: “Judge Garza shares with me a belief in the strict construction of the Constitution.” If Garza is chosen, Democrats and abortion-rights groups will likely question his views on abortion. (Indeed, NARAL registered the URL http://www.stopgarza.comb back in 2003.) He has twice reluctantly sided with 5th Circuit decisions striking down two different Louisiana laws that restricted abortion. But at the same time, he wrote concurring opinions in those cases criticizing the Supreme Court precedents he was forced to obey. Last November, LifeNews.com, which reports on abortion for the pro-life community, said:  “Judge Garza’s opposition to abortion is beyond question. He wrote two separate opinions explicitly criticizing Roe v. Wade and suggesting it be overturned.”

If Bush selects Garza -- or US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales -- he would become the first Hispanic to serve on the Supreme Court. Yet there would be some debate about it. As it turns out, Benjamin Cardozo, who was named to the Court in 1932, had Portuguese ancestors, and is listed in a book entitled “Hispanic Firsts” as the Supreme Court’s first Hispanic justice. But Minnesota attorney Frederick Ramos, who researched and analyzed this subject in a 2003 article in Minnesota Lawyer, concluded that Cardozo wouldn’t fall under the commonly understood term Hispanic.

Making every vote count
The Carter-Baker Commission on Election Reform hears testimony today from experts on voter registration and identification and voting technology. This is the second of three meetings the commission plans to hold before making its final recommendations on election reform on September 19. Ken Smukler, president of InfoVoter Technologies, testifies today about ways to improve the system. First Read actually obtained a copy of Smukler's testimony, which analyzes data collected from a voter telephone hotline. This hotline -- part of a joint project between Smukler’s group, NBC, and several other entities -- took calls from thousands of voters who either needed basic voting information or who wanted to report issues they encountered while voting.

Smukler will argue today that the data collected from the hotline should be analyzed by the Election Assistance Commission, to further understand the basic problems voters encountered at the polls (which appear to be simple questions about registration and voting locations). Per Smukler’s prepared testimony: "More voters are let down by our failure to communicate basic information to them in the days leading up to Election Day than are let down by the cumulative breakdowns in machines, provisional balloting, identification requirements, fraud, coercion, and intimidation." Smukler adds that the failure to fully analyze the issues in light of the data will complicate results in 2006 -- not because of a "failure of technology," but because of a "failure in leadership."

Meanwhile, the EAC also convenes a hearing today on its voluntary voting system guidelines, which will be a reference states can use when choosing voting equipment. Today's hearing is part of a 90-day comment period before the EAC officially votes on the recommendations. Yet because the states will have 24 months after the guidelines are released to make any changes, the guidelines actually won’t affect the 2006 elections.


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