“First Read” is an analysis of the day’s political news, from the NBC News political unit. Please let us know what you think.  Drop us a note at FirstRead@MSNBC.com.  To bookmark First Read, click here.

• Friday, June 2, 2006 | 3:40 a.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

Safavian defends himself
This could very well be the first time the rapper Eminem has been linked to the Jack Abramoff scandal -- albeit indirectly. Today, former chief White House procurement aide David Safavian took the stand in his trial over whether he gave false information to investigators about his ties to lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Per MSNBC's David Shuster, when Safavian was asked by the judge whether he had decided to testify, he replied, "I will testify... There's an Eminem song called 'This Is Your Time,' and this is my time now to respond to all the grenades that have been lobbed at me the last two years."

We assume Safavian was referring to the Eminem song "This Is My Time." (We could be wrong, though -- after all, rap isn't our specialty here.) Of course, Eminem's "Lose Yourself," which was theme song from his movie "8 Mile," might also be apt. The lyrics in that song go:

"You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime yo."

• Friday, June 2, 2006 | 11:50 a.m. ET
From Huma Zaidi

The American budget diet?
President Bush used his remarks preceding the swearing-in of new White House budget chief Rob Portman this morning to re-emphasize the Administration's refrain that the economy is growing.  The economy is "powerful" "productive" and "prosperous," Bush asserted, largely because his tax cuts have spurred economic growth and will help to halve the deficit by 2009 -- a vow some economists and critics say will be hard to fulfill because of the mathematical improbability of it.  Still, the White House continues to forecast an optimistic future for the economy by citing new data out today which show that unemployment has fallen to 4.6% -- the lowest in almost five years.  Looking ahead, both Bush and Portman stressed the need to control spending as a way to help the Administration continue to strengthen the economy. Portman said that the government needs to "keep our budget on a diet" by cutting spending "while feeding economic growth."

In the meantime, Democrats have said little, if anything, about the economy today, but instead are focusing on Bush's low job approval rating and what they say is his "pandering" to the base. One of the ways Democrats say Bush is doing so is by pushing for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage -- an issue which will hit the Senate floor next week.  Bush will address the issue and ask Congress to approve the amendment on Monday.

• Friday, June 2, 2006 | 9:20 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Alex Isenstadt

First glance
Having anticipated a strong jobs report for May, the Administration will pivot to the unemployment rate, the lowest in almost five years.  Thirty-six scheduled economic events for Administration officials and President Bush himself today include Bush's presence at the swearing-in of his new budget director at 11:00 am, plus interviews for a bunch of Cabinet members.  In addition to that line-up, House GOP leaders earlier this week scheduled a press conference call for today with Treasury Secretary John Snow to discuss the jobs report.  The report is weaker than expected with 75,000 new jobs created, the smallest number since Hurricane Katrina undercut hiring last October.

The looming return of Congress, however, puts the spotlight back on the thorny issue it was debating before leaving town for recess: immigration reform.  Even as Bush was repeating his call for a comprehensive immigration bill yesterday, the odds were shrinking that conferees will be able to agree upon one that includes his desired guest-worker plan and path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.  At the same time, the debate is taking on an increasingly harsh tone.

NBC's Ken Strickland and Mike Viqueira report that it became even more apparent yesterday that the Senate and House are so far apart in their approaches to this issue that they might not even bother to try and convene a conference.  House aides are starting to talk about September as the earliest date for one, if it happens at all this year.  Meanwhile, early discussions on the Senate side have hit a Constitutional snag which some suspect involves election-year subterfuge designed to kill the bill and play the blame game.

The Senate version of the bill includes a measure requiring illegal immigrants to pay back taxes as part of their earned path to citizenship.  The House bill has no such provision, but the Constitution requires that any revenue-generating bill must originate in that chamber.  While this is hardly a new dilemma, a legislative fix requires bipartisan agreement upon a solution, and so far, the caucuses are unable to agree.  Without a fix, the bill will die -- at least until after the November elections.  If that happens, each party will attempt to blame the other as the party that killed immigration reform and border security.

At the end of his speech yesterday, Bush once again called for the debate to be conducted in a civil and dignified tone.  But in recent weeks, advocates of tougher border security have sent thousands of bricks to Senate and House offices (to urge lawmakers to construct a fence along the border); the Washington state GOP has adopted a platform that would eliminate the constitutional provision granting citizenship to children of illegal immigrants born in the United States; and Sen. Conrad Burns (R) of Montana, one of his party's more vulnerable incumbents this year, is airing a TV ad charging that the Senate bill "gives illegals Social Security, and tuition, with your taxes -- and could cost Montana families over $600 every year."

"When discussing immigration reform, tone and language are extremely important," said GOP strategist Matthew Dowd in a memo last week addressed to Republican National Committee members and distributed to reporters.  "To continue to grow the party, we must conduct this debate with civility and respect for our nation’s heritage -- as the President has said, we are both a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants."

Again, the debate over immigration has the potential to alienate Latinos, who have increasingly voted for GOP presidential candidates -- and who represent the fastest-growing segment of the US population.  Gabriel Escobar, associate director of the Pew Hispanic Center, says that anywhere from about one quarter to one third of Latinos are concerned about immigration -- about the same proportion as the general public.  He adds that Latinos aren't the monolithic group some make them out to be.  But has the current debate changed that?  "We don't know," he says, but hopes to get some answers after his organization completes a poll on Latinos' views on immigration.

Along with swearing in new budget director Rob Portman, the President has a 10:05 am meeting with the Senior Minister of Singapore, a 10:40 am photo op with the American Society of the Italian Legions of Merit, and at 1:45 pm, a photo op with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Also tops on the Senate's agenda when they return next week: debate and a vote on a constitutional ban on gay marriage, which won't pass -- but that's not necessarily the point.  The hope among GOP officials and lawmakers is that the debate will stir up an unenthusiastic party base.  NBC's Kelly O'Donnell points out that as Bush himself does an event on the ban on Monday, Vice President Cheney, who disagrees with Bush on the issue, will be off fundraising in Illinois.  In our regular Friday look at the great oh-eight presidential race, below, First Read lists the candidates' positions on gay marriage and civil unions.

It's the economy
The AP: "Job growth faltered in May, with employers boosting payrolls by just 75,000.  Yet the nation's unemployment rate dipped to 4.6 percent, the lowest since the summer of 2001...  Wage growth, meanwhile, slowed, a development that should ease concerns about inflation getting out of hand.  The count of new jobs generated last month -- 75,000 -- was the smallest since October, when hiring practically stalled as companies were jolted by fallout from the Gulf Coast hurricanes.  Job gains for March and April turned out to be weaker than previously reported."

Whoops.  Economists told Bloomberg in anticipation of a strong report for May that the growth would be "enough to keep wages growing even as the economy shows signs of slowing...  Hiring and wage gains are helping Americans cope with near- record fuel prices, higher borrowing costs and a cooling housing market."

The New York Times says that because of a little-known provision in the federal tax code, Treasury Secretary-designate Hank Paulson “could receive a tax break of at least $48 million if he is confirmed.”

The immigration debate
In the same speech in which he called for the immigration debate to continue in a civilized tone, Bush turned up his own rhetoric a notch in chastising business owners who skirt the law and hire illegal immigrants, the Washington Post notes.

Bush will continue talking about immigration at stops on Tuesday in New Mexico and Texas and on Wednesday in Nebraska.  The Dallas Morning News notes that "there is a sense in some political quarters that any reconciliation of the issue will be pushed after the elections to a lame-duck congressional session at the end of the year, if at all."

The Washington Times reports that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's proposal to fix the aforementioned constitutional problem with the Senate bill, by attaching it to a tax bill "that has already passed the House," doesn't fly with Minority Leader Harry Reid.  Reid's "office said yesterday that the concerns raised by Mr. Frist and House Republicans are 'technical in nature' and can be ignored."

The Los Angeles Times reports that House Ways and Means chair Bill Thomas plans to block the bill because of the constitutional issue, and also notes, "Many Republicans suspect Democrats would prefer... a delay so that they can keep criticizing the House's enforcement-only approach."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) approved a plan yesterday to send 1,000 California Guard troops to the border.  "The governor's decision to send troops ends a 17-day standoff with President Bush, who called on 6,000 state troops to help secure the border as part of his plan to address illegal immigration...  [The] federal government will pick up the $6 million to $8 million monthly tab, Schwarzenegger said." – San Francisco Chronicle

A Congressional Budget Office report says the US population "of legal immigrants would increase by nearly 20 million over the next decade if the recently passed Senate immigration bill becomes law, and taxpayers would spend more than $50 billion to operate a new guest-worker program and pay for extra welfare, Social Security and public health-care costs...  But the cost of absorbing the newcomers would be offset by a boost of $66 billion in federal revenue from income taxes and payroll taxes generated by the temporary guest-worker program, along with fees that immigrants must pay to participate."  Critics say the report leaves out certain considerations. – Washington Post

In his latest National Journal column, NBC political analyst Charlie Cook says he's "speechless" that congressional leaders have demanded that the FBI return the materials it took from Democratic Rep. William Jefferson's office.  "To the average American, the idea that a congressional office is a place that law enforcement officials cannot search... is ludicrous.  Perhaps Mafia bosses should get their lieutenants elected to Congress so their offices can become virtual safe houses."

A New York Times analysis tries to make sense of the battle over the FBI seizure of documents from Jefferson’s office, noting that “there is broad academic consensus that the constitutional protection for Congressional speech and debate does not extend to evidence of criminal conduct, even if it is in a Congressional office…  But having the legal power to conduct a search of another branch of government does not mean it is a wise or prudent thing to do.  No other administration has ever done it.”   More: “At the same time, Congressional leaders may have overreached in describing the search as a flagrant violation of the Constitution.”

The Los Angeles Times looks at "Dollar Bill's" admirable personal story and suggestion that his "thirst for wealth" after escaping "terrible poverty" is what's landed him in his current situation.

Potential presidential candidate Bill Frist's Senate campaign committee has been fined $11,000 by the FEC for failing "to properly report a $1.44 million loan taken out more than five years ago."  The FEC declined in its report to place any blame on Frist himself.

More on the Bush/GOP agenda
The AP notes Bush's support for the proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage that will hit the Senate floor next week.  “To become law, the proposal would need two-thirds support in the Senate and House, and then be ratified by at least 38 state legislatures.  It stands little chance of passing...  Several Republicans oppose the measure, and so far only one Democrat, Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, has said he will vote for it.”

USA Today rounds up the ways -- judicial nominations, gay marriage, border security, tax cuts and spending discipline -- in which the White House is trying to re-enthuse the GOP base.

The midterms
In a speech on national security issues yesterday, Sen. John Kerry (D) "predicted that rising public dissatisfaction with the Bush administration could translate into huge gains for Democratic candidates in" November. – Los Angeles Times

In California, a new Field Poll shows Steve Westly with a statistically insignificant 35%-34% advantage over Phil Angelides in the Democratic primary for governor.  But a whopping 26% are undecided.  "A record number of voters -- unable to distinguish between the main candidates, turned off by negative ads and just plain burned out on elections -- remain unable to choose between" the two.

The Wall Street Journal looks at how important a hard-line stance on immigration is for Republican Brian Bilbray, who's struggling to keep the once safely Republican, San Diego-based Duke Cunningham seat from switching partisan hands in Tuesday's special election.  Bilbray is being squeezed on the right by a third-party candidate who's more conservative on social issues and has the support of the local Minutemen.  On the other hand, Bilbray recently took "a softer tone than he often does on the campaign trail" with a local Hispanic organization, keeping in mind his need to avoid alienating Latino and moderate GOP voters.

GOP Rep. John Doolittle, also of California, heads into his June 6 primary "burdened by two dubious fund-raising distinctions," Bloomberg notes.  He "not only got the biggest campaign check ever written by lobbyist Jack Abramoff; he also leads Congress in donations from a businessman involved in the" Duke Cunningham bribery case.  Democrats hope that the challenge Doolittle faces for renomination will soften him up for the general election.

After a debate last night, the Miami Herald notes that the two Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidates, Rep. Jim Davis and state Sen. Rod Smith, seem so similar that voters may make their decisions based on personality and the "rapport" each is able to build.  "When asked what distinguishes them from each other, both avoided direct criticism.  Instead, they focused on how they differ from the Republican leadership in Tallahassee."

Massachusetts Democrats will gather for their state convention today and the three Democratic gubernatorial candidates -- Chris Gabrieli, Deval Patrick, and Tom Reilly -- "all used the final, frantic hours... to shore up their base...  The three Democrats each need the convention's blessing to make the September primary ballot.  Each spent his final pre-convention day in telling fashion." – Boston Globe

The Billings Gazette writes up the latest TV ads on the eve of the June 6 Senate primary in Montana: incumbent Conrad Burns (R) has a spot on illegal immigrants and opposing “amnesty;" John Morrison (D) has one derailing corruption in Washington; and Jon Tester (D) has one on corruption, jobs, and health care.

The New York Times covers New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez (D) formally kicking off his bid to win a full term.  “[H]e referred to President Bush no fewer than seven times before about 500 students… Calling himself an ‘agent of change,’ Mr. Menendez… suggested that his opposition to the war in Iraq while in Congress and his recent campaign to stop the sale of domestic port operations to Dubai were signs that he has the will to oppose the president."  GOP opponent Tom Kean, Jr. "portrayed Mr. Menendez as a product of northern New Jersey's political machine.”

In New York, John Faso yesterday grabbed the GOP’s gubernatorial endorsement over former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, though Weld still received enough support to secure a place on the primary ballot.

In Pennsylvania, USA Today looks at how longtime Rep. Curt Weldon (R) is suddenly vulnerable in his suburban Philly district because of the national political climate.

With the Senate set to begin debate on the Marriage Protection Amendment (MPA) on Monday, here are statements the 2008 presidential candidates have made about gay marriage and civil unions.  Where applicable, we've also listed how they voted on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed in 1996, which states that "marriage" can only be between one man and one woman -- and also whether they voted for or against continuing debate on the MPA back in 2004.

The Democrats:
Bayh: Opposes gay marriage, but said last month that he will not support the amendment in a vote and believes that the Constitution should only be amended when "absolutely necessary."  In 2004, a Bayh spokesperson said that if the "Supreme Court ever strikes down the state or national laws prohibiting same-sex marriage, then he believes that a constitutional amendment should be considered."  Voted against the MPA.

Biden:  Has said he's against the amendment because it calls for revising the Constitution, which he does not support.  In 2003, said he supports offering gay couples benefits and that a constitutional amendment addressing the issue would only make it more "divisive."  Voted for DOMA and against the MPA.

Clinton: Opposes gay marriage but supports civil unions.  Has said she supports "giving people the right to enter into recognized relationships, that whether you call him civil unions or domestic partnerships, enable them to own property, to have hospital visitation.  To me, that's a human rights issue."  In 2004, told NBC's Tim Russert that the "Republican platform" to deny benefits "for people who are in committed relationships" was "appalling."  Voted against the MPA.

Edwards: Opposes gay marriage and thinks that any attempt to alter the Constitution would "divide this country."  Missed vote on the MPA.

Feingold: Supports gay marriage and has called the bill "an extreme and unnecessary reaction."  "Enshrining discrimination in our state's constitution is, frankly, an outrage," Feingold said at a recent fundraiser.  Made headlines last month when he got into a spat with Sen. Arlen Specter (R) as the two discussed the bill in committee.  Voted against DOMA and against the MPA.

Kerry: Opposes gay marriage but supports "[domestic] partnerships and civil unions" and is opposed to any federal constitutional amendment forbidding gay marriage because he thinks the decision should be left up to individual states.  Voted against DOMA and missed the vote on the MPA.

Richardson: Opposes same-sex marriage but doesn't support a constitutional amendment banning it.  In 2004, said that it's a mistake to change "the Constitution on an issue like this that should be left up the states."

Warner: (Warner clarification at 4:40 p.m. ET) Opposes gay marriage and a constitutional amendment banning it but believes in the "legal recognition of domestic partnership rights" for same-sex couples, according to Ellen Qualls, spokeswoman for Warner's Forward Together PAC.

Vilsack: Has said he would sign a law allowing civil unions between same-sex couples if presented to him.  "My view is the state ought to pretty much stay out of the church's business," he said in February.  "I think there is a religious connotation to marriage that needs to be respected and understood...  'I don't think you necessarily have to redefine marriage to do it.  A civil union set of rights would honor that...  Marriage is already defined, and we don't need to change it."

The Republicans:
Allen:  Opposes same-sex marriage and has said through a spokesperson that he would only support a constitutional amendment if it's "absolutely necessary."  Otherwise, feels that DOMA is sufficient.  Voted for the MPA.

Brownback: Was instrumental in pushing the MPA through the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution, which he heads.  "None of us takes amending the Constitution lightly," he said in November.  "The plain fact is this amendment has been exhaustively studied and it really is time to act...  We are deluding ourselves if we think these ongoing challenges... will not bear fruit."  Voted for the MPA.

Frist: Opposes gay marriage and feels a constitutional amendment is necessary because marriage is "under attack" by "activist judges."  Announced in February that he would introduce the MPA in the Senate on June 5.  In a statement last week, said that the "American people deserve a full debate on this foundational issue before marriage is redefined for everyone" and said he wants to "ensure the definition of marriage endures and remains true to the wishes of the majority of the American people."  Voted for DOMA and for the MPA.

Hagel: Opposes gay marriage but does not support amending the Constitution to ban it, and thinks the decision should be left up to the states.  "Every American should be hesitant to let the federal government take rights away from the states," Hagel wrote in a 2004 statement.  "If court decisions take away the ability of states to govern the issue of same sex marriage, we may need to address the issue through a constitutional amendment one day, but not today," he said.  "Amending the constitution, the founding document of our nation, should always be a final option, not a first."  Last month when a district judge ruled that a Nebraska law banning gay marriage was unconstitutional, Hagel said he was "deeply disappointed" by the decision.  Voted for the MPA.

Huckabee: Said in 2004 that allowing gay marriages is allowing "lawlessness."  "That's my major concern, that we've just got a whole bunch of folks out there that want to make up their own laws," he said.  Later that year, said marriage "cannot be redefined to be something that culture wants it to be."

McCain:  Said last week that he is against same-sex marriages but would vote against the amendment because he believes states should decide whether to allow them.  "I believe in the sanctity of heterosexual marriage," McCain said.  But, "the people of Arizona, I hope, would decide that a union between man and woman has a unique status."  Voted for DOMA and against the MPA.

Pataki: Opposes gay marriage.  When one local mayor began marrying gay couples in 2004, Pataki told reporters, "I've always believed that marriage in New York is between a man and a woman.  That's the way it's been for 200 years."

Romney: Most recently, has said he opposes both gay marriages and civil unions. Last August, told MSNBC's Chris Matthews that "if you indicate as a society that you're indifferent between a same-sex couple marrying and a heterosexual couple marrying, then it means our schools and other institutions are going to have to indicate that there... is no difference whatsoever, and that obviously has societal consequences that are important."


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