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• Thursday, June 1, 2006 | 2:40 p.m. ET
From Mark Murray

  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

CAF vs. CPAC
A few months back, conservatives (both prominent ones and foot soldiers) stormed the nation's capital for the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. Liberals now take their turn later this month. The liberal Campaign for America's Future's "Take Back America" conference will occur from June 12-14, and it will feature big-wig speakers including -- get this -- Robert Redford. Among the others speaking at the three-day conference will be possible Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Russ Feingold, and Tom Vilsack; Dem rock star Barack Obama; congressional leaders Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi; and pols running in key 2006 contests (like Ohio's Sherrod Brown and Pennsylvania's Ed Rendell). "For years, the Right has had its way," says CAF spokesperson Toby Chaudhuri. "Progressives will challenge the limits of debate and offer a bold vision for change."

But Republicans aren't that impressed, especially with the celebrity lineup. "It's disturbing that Pelosi and Reid's Democrat Party take their cues from an organization that confuses Hollywood actors for legitimate leadership," Republican National Committee spokesperson Tracey Schmitt tells First Read.

• Thursday, June 1, 2006 | 9:20 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Alex Isenstadt

First glance
Although the week-long recess forced his colleagues to mark the occasion last Thursday, today is the big day for Dennis Hastert, now the longest-serving Republican Speaker in history.  The milestone comes as a series of scandals, internal policy disputes and a dissatisfied base have helped drive Republicans to their lowest point, statistically and psychologically, since they took control of the House in 1994.  It also comes at the moment when Hastert's longtime approach to running the chamber stands to block what may be President Bush's last, best hope for a major domestic accomplishment.

Hastert happens to be reaching this milestone on the same day that Bush is making remarks on immigration reform, the very policy that is threatened by Hastert's long-standing "majority of the majority" rule.  At this writing, Bush is at the US Chamber of Commerce touting a temporary guest-worker program and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants currently in the United States.  After Congress returns next week, conferees will struggle to come up with a bill which includes these provisions and gets the support of a majority of House Republicans; the measures are opposed by most conservatives and by moderates who face tough re-election battles.  If the final product doesn't have majority-majority support, Hastert may not bring it to the floor.

For seven and a half years, Hastert has guided his conference by this rule of thumb, which is based on the premise that the party should not -- or cannot -- count on Democrats for anything.  Democrats accuse him of being Speaker not of the "whole House," but only of Republicans.  Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told NBC recently that she would not employ the same rule should Democrats win the chamber in November.  Nonpartisan political analyst Charlie Cook says the rule "would be out of sync with the American people if practiced by either party," not just by Republicans.  It "increases dramatically the chances of legislation being inconsistent with what most Americans would prefer, because most Americans are between the two parties, not squarely in the center of either."

In terms of its effectiveness in getting Bush's priorities through the House, however, it has been undeniably successful, apart from the rare squeaker and even rarer embarrassment.  Rep. Tom Davis (R), a moderate who chaired the party's House campaign committee, told reporters recently that he doesn't believe the majority-majority approach should be a "hard and fast rule," but conceded that "you're not going to be a leader for very long if you roll your own conference."  Business and government strategist William Moore points out that that the majority-majority rule was used by Joe Cannon (R) and Sam Rayburn (D), who are generally regarded as the most successful Speakers of the last century.

With Bush's poll standing at its current depths, odds are slim that his desired immigration reforms can pass without serious Democratic help to compensate for a dearth of support among GOP conservatives.  There have been two exceptions during this Administration when presidential priorities passed without strong support from conservatives: No Child Left Behind and the Medicare prescription drug benefit.  Yet Bush's poll standing at the time kept them from howling.  NCLB passed the House in December 2001; in January 2002, the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showed Bush's job approval rating at 82%.  The Medicare bill passed the House in November 2003; the next month, boosted by the capture of Saddam Hussein, the NBC/Journal poll showed Bush's job approval at 58%.  In our most recent poll, it was 36%.

The manner in which Hastert became Speaker echoes eerily in today's political climate.  On December 19, 1998, as Rep. Bob Livingston was about to replace Newt Gingrich in the top job, Livingston announced he was resigning.  As NBC's Mike Viqueira recalls, two possible replacements were mentioned, Hastert and Rep. Chris Cox, but two aides to then-Majority Whip Tom DeLay wandered the halls telling reporters "it'll be Hastert," who was at the time DeLay's chief deputy whip.  Those aides, Michael Scanlon and Tony Rudy, both recently pleaded guilty in the Jack Abramoff scandal.  DeLay himself was forced to give up his leadership post, and ultimately his seat, due to his ties to Abramoff and another scandal.

From December 1998 up until DeLay announced his own resignation a few months back, Hastert was plagued by the suspicion that DeLay was, behind the scenes, really running the show.  He's had to contend with kidney stones and adult onset diabetes.  He was persuaded by the White House to put off thoughts of retirement and stay through the end of Bush's term in 2008.  Stylistically more of a plowhorse than a showhorse, as Viq notes, Hastert now finds himself in the uncomfortable role of spokesperson for his conference because divisions within the ranks leave him no choice.  Beyond Majority Leader John Boehner, a newcomer to the national scene, there is no one else who can now profess to speak for the House majority.

Following his remarks on immigration this morning, President Bush has a 10:15 am meeting with his Cabinet, a work in progress these days with a new Interior Secretary and an outgoing Treasury Secretary.  At 1:05 pm, he takes part in the swearing-in of one of his more controversial judicial nominees, Brett Kavanaugh, a former Bush White House aide.

Disaster politics
On this first official day of hurricane season, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin will be sworn in for a second term.  The Times-Picayune says he's "looking to shed his lone wolf image by reaching out to a pair of politicians he has never counted as allies...  Gov. Kathleen Blanco and U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu will be featured speakers on a daylong schedule of inaugural events."  Nagin's invitation "offers evidence that the mayor does not intend to go it alone as New Orleans continues its long, slow recovery."  (Nagin also beat Landrieu's brother to win a second term.)

The paper also writes up Laura Bush's visit yesterday, during which she announced that her Preserve America initiative would "host an October summit in New Orleans to allow fresh discussion about improving federal policies.  The summit will mark the 40th anniversary of passage of the National Historic Preservation Act.  She also said the National Endowment for the Humanities will provide $750,000 in grants to recovering Gulf Coast museums and libraries and an $83,000 grant to the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities to support research on personal experiences during Katrina."

It's the economy
House Republicans seem to think the Friday jobs report will be good news, judging from the gigantic font they used in their press release announcing a conference call tomorrow for the media with Treasury Secretary John Snow and House GOP leaders to discuss the data.

Even if they're looking to take a rest from their streak of 16 interest-rate increases in a row, the Fed may have to raise rates another quarter-point in June. - Bloomberg

Although Treasury Secretary-designate Hank Paulson "likely will soon find himself pledging to work on behalf of a strong dollar and a smaller government deficit," the Los Angeles Times says Paulson will have a tough time carving out success on either.

Ethics
The Washington Post's Milbank remarks on just how much of former Bush Administration procurement chief David Safavian's trial on Abramoff-related charges is focusing on the game of golf.

Coin dealer and major GOP fundraiser Tom Noe, who is at the center of the biggest scandal plaguing Republicans in Ohio, "pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal charges that he illegally funneled about $45,000 to President Bush's reelection campaign...  The Bush-Cheney campaign donated $6,000 it received from Noe and his wife to charity.  The rest of the money donated at the 2003 Bush fundraiser remains with the Republican Party."  Trial is scheduled for August 29. - Washington Post

"Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid's spokesman acknowledged Wednesday night that Reid misstated the ethics rules governing his acceptance of free boxing tickets and has decided to refrain from taking such gifts...  The announcement came after the Associated Press presented Reid's office Wednesday with conclusions from ethics experts that the Senate leader misstated congressional ethics rules in trying to defend his actions."

Bloomberg looks at how the appropriations committees, some of whose members have gotten tangled up in the big influence-peddling scandals, are a breeding ground for lobbyists.

Security politics
From the New York Times analysis on the Bush Administration’s olive branch to Iran: “After 27 years in which the United States has refused substantive talks with Iran, President Bush reversed course on Wednesday because it was made clear to him - by his allies, by the Russians, by the Chinese, and eventually by some of his advisers - that he no longer had a choice.”

The Times also says Bush's attendance at Hayden's public swearing-in yesterday "seemed largely intended to lift morale inside an agency that has lost its place as the cornerstone of the American intelligence community.”

Sen. John Kerry (D) gives a speech on Iran, North Korea and Iraq at the Pacific Council on International Policy in Los Angeles today.

More on the Bush/GOP agenda
A new Quinnipiac poll shows 34% of voters saying Bush is the worst president in the last 61 years, with 43% of those people citing the Iraq war as the main reason for their disapproval.  Former President Reagan tops the list of favorite presidents with 28%, followed by former President Clinton at 25%.

The midterms
Although the effort doesn't specifically single out political polling, the Wall Street Journal covers a new attempt by public opinion research experts to keep low-quality survey research and poor reporting of polls out of the mainstream press.

The Federal Election Commission has voted to continue permitting 527 organizations to raise and spend unlimited sums of money.  The rules -- or lack thereof -- paved the way for the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, whose attacks severely wounded Kerry's presidential bid in 2004, but also permitted Democrats to stay competitive with Republicans in spending for the first time. - Washington Post

The Wall Street Journal covers a memo from the Democratic House campaign committee chair that's an effort to manage expectations for the outcome of the battle for the House.

The Los Angeles Times notes two "parallel" contests for the Democratic nomination for governor of California: the nasty one taking place on the airwaves, where the ads are mostly negative, and the more civil, less engaged one taking place on the stump as the candidates travel the state talking policy.  The paper also examines the business backgrounds of the two, former EBay exec Steve Westly and former developer Phil Angelides, now both statewide officeholders, in advance of the Tuesday primary.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports on how independent groups are helping Angelides compete with multimillionaire Westly's free spending.

In the special election runoff between Brian Bilbray (R) and Francine Busby (D) to fill the congressional seat of jailed former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R), the North County Times reports that Rep. David Dreier (R) filled in for Sen. John McCain (R) at a fundraiser for Bilbray.  As we reported yesterday, McCain cancelled his scheduled appearance because, he said, he feared that his differences with Bilbray on immigration would create a distraction for Bilbray, whom McCain still supports.

The Wall Street Journal looks at "one of the year's most improbable races" in California's usually safely Republican 11th district, where 78-year-old former Rep. Pete McCloskey is challenging incumbent Richard Pombo for the GOP nomination because of Pombo's ethics issues.  "Environmentalists, angered by Mr. Pombo's direction of the Resources Committee, are pouring money into efforts to help the McCloskey campaign, and Democrats hope the challenge will open the door for them against Mr. Pombo in the November election."

The Washington Post covers Senate candidate and Lt. Gov. Michael Steele's absence from Bush's $1 million fundraiser for the MARYLAND GOP last night, and the awkwardness it arguably created for Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R), who faces a tight race for re-election and did attend the event.

The Washington Times notes that Bush focused on Ehrlich and made just two references to Steele, even though "Steele is one of the most senior black Republican officeholders in the nation and is one of the party's high-profile candidates in November.  He has not been shy about disagreeing with Mr. Bush publicly in recent weeks, saying in particular that Mr. Bush mishandled the federal response to Hurricane Katrina."

In New Jersey, Sen. Bob Menendez (D) officially kicks off his campaign for a full term at events today in Union City and Collingswood.  Meanwhile, opponent Tom Kean Jr. (R) holds a press conference in Jersey City on ethics and corruption.

Former Yonkers Mayor John Spencer got the nod from GOP convention delegates in New York to take on Sen. Hillary Clinton (D), who kicked off her re-election campaign yesterday at her party's convention.  Her "appearance, while predictable in political terms, held important symbolic meaning: Her advisers hope that a strong showing in New York, particularly in Republican upstate areas, will convince Democrats nationwide that she holds bipartisan appeal.  In many ways her re-election campaign will be about beating expectations, or at least surpassing the 55 percent of the electorate she won in 2000.”  (Does anyone actually think she won’t get more than 55%?)  Republican KT McFarland also got enough support to qualify for the GOP ballot. - New York Times

In examining the state of the New York GOP, the New York Daily News gets one county chair to say, '"It is sad, how we have let our party go."'

Oh-eight (D)
The Daily News notes that Clinton's acceptance speech "did absolutely nothing to slow speculation about a 2008 presidential bid."

And, Bloomberg looks at why "no" doesn't seem to mean "no" when it comes to Al Gore and 2008.

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