updated 7/5/2005 9:18:49 AM ET 2005-07-05T13:18:49

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First Glance
President Bush left Washington for pre-G8 activities in Denmark with his warning to the already battling interest groups to tone it down, and his defense of potential SCOTUS nominee and AG Al Gonzales, reverberating around town.  The White House gave the scoop to the nation's newspaper, USA Today.  Bush is not expected to indicate any progress toward selecting a replacement for Sandra Day O'Connor until after he returns from Europe on Friday and, maybe, confers with a bipartisan handful of US senators.  (It's doubtful that any consultation he does will meet Senate Democrats' notion of "meaningful."  DSCC chair Chuck Schumer just e-mailed supporters asking them to sign a petition demanding that Bush engage in "meaningful consultation with the Senate and the American people.")  Bush tells USA Today that he's starting with "a good-sized" group of prospects, eventually will hone it down, and then will do some interviewing.  That takes us well into July.

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But with his domestic agenda left starving for attention, Bush is likely to provide a name sooner rather than later.  Of course, SCOTUS nominees are also the stuff of presidential legacies.  Looking at the play Ronald Reagan is getting now for his nomination of O'Connor, the first woman on the court, Bush surely is tempted to try to seat the first Hispanic justice -- a pick that could be politically difficult for Democrats to oppose.  But as long as this vacancy is sucking up all the oxygen in Washington, presidential wish-list items like Social Security reform, tax reform, and asbestos litigation hang in limbo, and items the White House hopes to highlight at the G8 -- US aid to Africa, climate change, and debt relief -- are obscured.

Got something pending before Congress?  You might have to cool your jets for awhile.  The managing director of the Washington office of Public Strategies, a bipartisan strategic consulting firm with ties to Bush, tells clients, "Bush's first Supreme Court nomination will truncate the Senate agenda, forcing leaders to squeeze two or more months of legislative floor time into July."  Also, the nomination of a conservative justice "who will fundamentally shift the ideological balance of the court... will provoke a volatile fall confrontation crowding other priorities off the floor...  The immediate casualty of the pending battle is a bill to limit liability for asbestos manufacturers.  Should any additional justices retire in coming weeks the agenda could squeezed even tighter."

Lehman Brothers' DC office writes to clients, "We expect that a confirmation process would tie up the Senate Judiciary Committee for several weeks, likely well into September, and would therefore delay discussion of bills such as data security.  The Supreme Court focus takes attention away from asbestos reform talks...  Consideration of appropriations, as well as the energy and transportation bills, is likely to continue through July, particularly if President Bush focuses on a September confirmation process."

Another casualty could well be Congress' job approval rating, which already was heading south because of the public's perception that Congress' priorities don't match their own, and which is unlikely to be bolstered by a vitriolic nomination battle that only further emphasizes how polarized and hung up on social issues Washington has become.  The majority-party GOP might bear the brunt of this in 2006, but Democrats face risks, too.  Take abortion, for example.  High-profile Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean are trying to change the way the party talks about the issue, casting Democrats not as pro-abortion but as the party that supports personal choice and privacy.  Any progress on that front may well be erased.

Also eclipsed by SCOTUS developments: the settlement of the House Ethics Committee staffing dispute, which paves the way for probes of DeLay, Rep. Jim McDermott (D), and other members of Congress (see below).  And, China as a burgeoning political issue and possible campaign issue in 2006.  Senior Administration officials tell First Read that they expect China to be a big undercurrent at the G8.  But beyond the G8, July brings a bunch of China-related trade talks and legislative activity.  We'll get into this in much more detail tomorrow.

SCOTUS and Bush
USA Today's scoop.

The Wall Street Journal predicts little real consultation with lawmakers: "Mr. Bush's track record -- and a nearly unbroken record of presidential precedent -- suggest that in the end, lawmakers will have little say in whom the president nominates...  If anything, the lack of consultation has grown more pronounced in recent decades, experts said, as the power of the presidency has increased in relation to Congress, and as the political stakes involved in federal court decisions have grown."

USA Today's analysis notes, as others have, "The selection could resolve a question in contemporary American politics: How conservative is George Bush?"  The story points out that Bush has a "history of compromising."

The AP looks at "hints" Bush has dropped over the years about who he might nominate.

The New York Times also tries to get a read on the type of justice Bush will select.  “If the past is any guide, Mr. Bush will prove vague as he nears a decision.  When considering other top appointments or big decisions, he has shown that he is not above sending conflicting signals to mask his intentions, or catering, at least rhetorically, to differing constituencies. And he has not shied from confrontation…”

SCOTUS and the groups
The Chicago Tribune focuses on the central issue of abortion.

But the Wall Street Journal has former White House counsel C. Boyden Gray, who is now organizing the business coalition, saying the fight isn't only over social issues: "'This shouldn't be an abortion debate.'"

The New York Times covers the latest in the interest-group war: liberal People for the American Way is planning a “preselection” TV ad campaign this week, while conservative Progress for America is gathering family photos of potential nominees in order to run positive ads of them in the first two days of their selection.

The Washington Post is the latest to say that fundraising for this battle may approach that of the presidential race.

As far as timing is concerned, Bill Frist and Senate Judiciary chair Arlen Specter have left open the possibility of confirmation hearings during the August recess.  Time-consuming FBI and American Bar Association vets mean the hearings probably couldn't begin anytime sooner than that.  The Gang of 14 has a meeting next week.

The New York Post writes up the latest CNN poll, which shows that 86% think it’s likely Democrats will use inappropriate political reasons to block Bush’s nomination, while 63% say it’s likely that Bush would choose someone who would inappropriately let religious beliefs influence his or her court rulings.

The Washington Post reminds us of what's at stake -- that the "abortion rights of teenagers, administration efforts to override a state right-to-die law, and the military's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy are all on the docket for the court term that begins Oct. 3."

The G8
The AP previews Bush's week in Europe.  Today, he becomes the second sitting US president to visit Denmark, where he'll "express appreciation for the several hundred troops the Scandinavian nation has sent to Iraq and Afghanistan.  Transatlantic relations and advancing freedom around the world also will be on Bush's agenda during talks Wednesday with Denmark's prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen."

The Washington Times notes that this marks Bush's "fourth journey to the Continent this year," and that he "already has trumped host British Prime Minister Tony Blair's first agenda item," financial aid to Africa.

The Los Angeles Times, among others, covers Bush's telling UK TV yesterday that he won't bend on climate change despite Iraq ally Blair's entreaties.  Also: "In the days leading to the summit, aides to Bush have sought to dispel his international image as a cowboy."

The San Francisco Chronicle says the clash over global warming is overshadowing “quiet progress” toward an agreement to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions in China and India.  “[W]ith China, India, South Africa, Brazil and Mexico attending for the first time along with the G-8 industrialized nations, the world's attention is focused more than ever on how to help these emerging industrial powerhouses continue to develop their economies without wrecking the planet.”

Governor Schwarzenegger, meanwhile, had an op-ed in the Sunday edition of The Independent calling for increased efforts to combat global warming, and seeking to position California as a leader in the fight.  The Los Angeles Times says this is "yet another example of how Schwarzenegger is staking positions at odds with Bush on key issues."

USA Today points out that how much gets accomplished at the summit "may depend on whether the eight world leaders who gather in Gleneagles are hindered or motivated by problems at home."  A sidebar lists exactly what those problems are.

The Washington Post front-pages that the Chinese government slammed Congress yesterday after the House passed a resolution late last week calling on the US government to reject Chinese state-owned oil company CNOOC's bid for Unocal.  "China's Foreign Ministry excoriated Congress for injecting politics into what it characterized as a standard business matter."

The New York Times looks at Chevron, which is competing with CNOOC to purchase Unocal, and the “fine line” Chevron must walk since CNOOC is its largest partner in China. “There, for example, the two companies have teamed up in a $35 billion agreement to ship liquefied natural gas over the next 25 years from several huge Australian fields where Chevron has part ownership to some of Cnooc's terminals in China.  But now, the partners appear to be on a collision course.”

Ethics and institutions
In its coverage of the resolution of the House Ethics Committee staffing dispute, Roll Call sums up the committee's "already-packed agenda...  An investigation of Rep. Jim McDermott’s (D-Wash.) 1997 leaking of taped phone calls between GOP leaders... will now continue under the new regime.  The ethics panel is also expected to launch a preliminary investigation of" DeLay's ties to Jack Abramoff.  "The relationship between Abramoff and Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) has also come under committee scrutiny."  And, "Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-Calif.) is the subject of a federal probe into his relationship with defense contractor Mitchell Wade, and a recent Los Angeles Times article raised questions about whether Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) did legislative favors for his brother’s lobbying clients.  Both issues could end up before the panel.  More broadly, the ethics committee is also expected to face calls from lawmakers to clarify House rules regarding privately funded Member travel."

To recap where things stand with Cunningham, on Friday, FBI agents searched his California home, and served warrants in DC at the yacht where he has been living, as part of a federal probe of a defense firm's purchase of Cunningham's former home.  The head of the defense firm at the time the purchase was made, close Cunningham friend and campaign contributor Mitchell Wade, paid $1.7 million for Cunningham's Del Mar house and sold it at a $700,000 loss shortly thereafter.  Cunningham sits on two House committees which oversee the kind of intel work done by Wade's firm for the Pentagon.  Cunningham has said he's guilty of poor judgment and nothing else.

The Washington Post adds another chapter, covering a Long Island developer's purchase of Cunningham's yacht and his help to Cunningham in financing the congressman's purchase of a house, neither of which are "fully documented in the public record or the congressman's financial disclosure."  The developer "pleaded guilty to what he said was a misdemeanor state fraud charge in 2002 in connection with alleged bribes to a local school superintendent in return for $6 million in computer contracts."

The Los Angeles Times says Cunningham skipped a scheduled July 4 pancake breakfast.  "Monday's event had been billed as his first public appearance in his district since the controversy began."

The values debate
The AP reports that the United Church of Christ's rule-making body "voted overwhelmingly Monday to approve a resolution that endorses same-sex marriage, making it the largest Christian denomination to do so."  The story notes that the UCC "has a tradition of support for gays and lesbians.  It is distinct from the more conservative Churches of Christ, which has some 2 million members in the U.S."

Concerned that their image is suffering and deterring potential new members from joining their cause by fall 2006, Christian conservatives are trying to focus less on politics and more on personal ministry, reports the Boston Globe.  "The National Association of Evangelicals -- a conservative group mostly known for its opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage -- joined other religious leaders meeting in London last week to urge those attending the upcoming [G8] to dramatically increase aid and trade benefits to impoverished nations...  But even as Christian conservatives enjoy unprecedented political influence... many leaders fear there is a widening perception that they are a harsh, and resented, presence in American public life."  Calling them "strange bedfellows", the articles notes that there is a new TV commercial featuring celebrities like Bono and Brad Pitt along with Pat Robertson to urge the US to fight poverty.

Now that the highway bill conference committee has come up with a spending figure Bush can live with, the bill to increase federal funding of embryonic stem cell research hangs out there as the possible subject of Bush's first veto.  But Roll Call reports that GOP senators are working toward a compromise on that, as well.  The compromise bill would increase funding but "would require that the embryo not be harmed during the process," says Roll Call, which also reports that Senators (and potential oh-eighters) Frist, Allen and Santorum are involved in the negotiations.  "Some Republicans grudgingly acknowledged that a presidential veto might not be received well by many voters.  They compared such a scenario to the GOP’s decision to involve Congress in the Terri Schiavo matter earlier this year."

The Hill says "some groups have decided to test Bush’s vow to veto the bill and lifted their opposition to allowing the legislation to reach the Senate floor."

Meanwhile, California's $3 billion stem cell initiative continues to take its time getting off the ground.


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