updated 7/12/2005 9:08:07 AM ET 2005-07-12T13:08:07

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First glance
The issues menu hasn't changed since Monday: We're still focused on security and possible SCOTUS nominees, and still lacking any word from Rehnquist.  President Bush met earlier this morning with Senators Frist, Reid, Specter and Leahy to discuss the confirmation process.  Per the Frist/Reid comments at the stakeout afterward, everyone wants a dignified debate.  Reid and Leahy don't appear to have heard names from Bush, as they had hoped.  "It's important the names come from him and not from us," Harry Reid said before the meeting took place, reports NBC's Ken Strickland.  And Leahy had said, "If there are no names, I would assume there's going to be a follow-up meeting."

  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

While the issues may not have changed much in 24 hours, the political climate has gotten hotter.  The Senate debate over homeland security funding should get underway in earnest today.  As we wrote yesterday, the London attacks have raised the stakes and given Democrats, who have long called for increased rail and port security funding, an issue to use against Republicans, who earlier called for $50 million in cuts to such funding.  Senate Democrats hold a presser at 10:00 am.

But Democrats are going for a double play on both homeland and national security, two issues on which they're typically at a disadvantage against the GOP.  Karl Rove's role in the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's name just might give them an opening to hit Republicans on national security in a way that will resonate beyond the Beltway.  Or, it might remain a classic inside-the-Beltway story.  To give you a sense of how the story dominated discourse at the White House yesterday, the table of contents for the transcript of yesterday's White House press briefing read, "Case of leak of name of CIA agent: 2-14."  Meaning that 12 straight pages -- with the occasional question on another topic mixed in -- out of a total of 17 were devoted to reporters' inquiries, and Scott McClellan's awkward stonewalling, about Rove's role in the leak and what Bush will do about it.  After the briefing, Democrats began piling on.

Two things are worth noting right about here: First, that while many two-term presidents see their second terms marred by some kind of scandal, the Bush White House has yet to see one.  And second, the Democratic Senate campaign committee, led by Judiciary panel member Chuck Schumer and fueled largely by the battle over judicial nominations, outraised Senate Republicans this past quarter.

Between Rehnquist's possible retirement and the fight over embryonic stem cell research funding, which is expected to heat up again today, it's also worth noting how Judiciary Committee chair Arlen Specter's fight against cancer -- he's being treated for Hodgkin's Disease -- is helping to shape his role in these two debates.  As a cancer patient, Specter clearly feels a bond with Rehnquist.  His own experience with the disease and his success in battling it come through in his speculation about whether or not Rehnquist will retire.

On top of that, even though Specter says he usually disdains personal references in pushing legislation, notes NBC's Ken Strickland, when Specter gavels in a hearing today on alternative methods of extracting stem cells, his motivation also will be personal.  Specter says he's "madder than hell" about delays in stem cell and cancer research, Strickland reports.  Referencing President Nixon's declaration of "war" on cancer in 1970, he said, "If we'd utilized the resources to fight that war as we have other wars, I think they would have found a cure for a prevention of lymphoma Hodgkin's cancer before I got it."  Specter says he expects a vote on his legislation making more stem cell lines available for federal funding and research within the next week or two.

In addition to his breakfast meeting today, Bush also meets with the Prime Minister of Singapore at 9:10 am and appears with the 2004 and 2005 NCAA champions on the South Lawn at 10:30 am.

SCOTUS greatest hits
Reid and Leahy may have wanted Bush to name names in their meeting this morning, but Republicans said that was unlikely, says the Chicago Tribune.

The Hill reports that per Senate GOP sources, Bush will announce his pick during the week of July 26, and that there may be hearings in August, though one source "said Republican lawmakers responded unenthusiastically when the notion was floated of an early return to Washington for hearings.  So the prospect of August hearings has dimmed."

The Hill also covers Harry Reid's comments yesterday that there's no reason to rush out a nominee -- that the court can operate for awhile without its full complement of nine justices.

Reid will brief Democratic party activists about the SCOTUS nomination process and his meeting with Bush this morning via conference call at 4:30 pm, per an e-mailed invitation from DNC chair Howard Dean.

The Judicial Confirmation Network yesterday launched an Internet ad describing how the recent SCOTUS decision on eminent domain -- that the city of New London, CT could seize the private homes of local citizens and turn them over to developers to build office complexes and shopping malls in order to generate higher tax revenues -- has "violated the Constitution and undermined our democracy," per the group's chief.  More web ads to follow.

"Remember Bork, both sides cry," as noted by the Washington Post.  "For the left, he remains the archetype of judicial extremism...  For the right, he has become the martyr to treacherous leftist politics..."  The Post looks at how the "lessons of Bork are shaping the Bush White House deliberations," including in how "Bush has delayed announcing his selection to truncate the window of vulnerability," and in how Karl Rove "has called for limiting the scope of confirmation hearings, saying ideology should not be a subject of senators' questions as it was 18 years ago."

The New York Times notes that whomever Bush chooses, that person will probably take “the judicial Fifth" on hot-button questions at his or her confirmation hearing, which "is bound to frustrate some senators and interest groups, since the new justice will be the swing vote on important issues…  But as a practical matter, senators have no real recourse when a nominee declines to answer questions.”

Roll Call says the busy House is keeping an eye on the SCOTUS-focused Senate because the fate of CAFTA, the Patriot Act, and other House-passed measures will depend on whether the Senate is too hung up to deal with them.

The AP writes up how nasty the fight could get mainly because of the inner workings of the Judiciary Committee.  "The Judiciary Committee is where ideological battles play out.  It is not exactly a font of good will, say experts, lawmakers and activists. Both sides are well stocked with big egos and partisan firebrands.  Many carry grudges."

The Boston Globe's Canellos notes how "the notion of a politician joining the Supreme Court has fallen mysteriously out of favor," even thought "it was almost certainly O'Connor's tenure as a state senator and majority leader of the Arizona Senate that made her sensitive to the feelings of the country."

The politics of terror
USA Today speculates about the political impact the bombings could have on Blair's standing.  "After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Bush's approval ratings soared as people rallied around him.  It's not clear yet what impact the bombings will have on Blair's support, but they have rekindled the debate over Iraq and the prime minister's support for Bush's war on terrorism."

The Washington Post notes the rallying behind Blair yesterday among "leading members of Britain's House of Commons from a wide range of political parties."

USA Today writes up new Gallup polling data showing 55% of Americans believing that "terrorist acts are very likely or somewhat likely in the next several weeks."

The Washington Post, in its coverage of Bush's speech in Quantico yesterday, notes "strong public support for [Bush's] anti-terrorism policies even as his overall popularity sags," and says he "used his first speech since the London bombings to lobby Congress to endorse his agenda, including extending the USA Patriot Act...  Still, the central -- and most contentious -- focus of the Bush strategy is Iraq.  With public support for the military operation slipping, Bush said the London bombings... are designed to pressure the United States and its allies to surrender."

The Boston Globe says Democrats "had hoped that Bush would use the speech to lay out a plan to strengthen security on mass transit and railways in the United States...  But Bush instead added the attacks in Britain to buttress his strategy in Iraq, which he said was 'the central front' in a battle against those who masterminded the attacks of Sept. 11 and the assaults in Bali, Casablanca, Madrid, and elsewhere."

The Los Angeles Times covers the disagreement between the two parties over how best to spend the additional homeland security funds everyone now seems to agree are needed.  "Senators from urban areas, many of them Democrats, pointed to the attacks on London's mass transit system as evidence that it was time to focus on firefighters, emergency response teams and others who must deal with terrorist episodes...  On the other side were senators - many of them Republicans - who said money could be better spent on intelligence, tighter border security and other efforts aimed at preventing attacks in the first place."  Bush is inclined toward the latter side.

A bunch of civil liberties organizations, including People For the American Way, hold a rally in New York at 12 noon to highlight what they say are weaknesses in the Patriot Act and tout their support for alternative measures.  Speakers include September 11 widow Kristen Breitweiser and representatives from the politically active group September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows.

Ethics and institutions
The Wall Street Journal: "The amplified Democratic attacks suggest that the White House and Mr. Rove will face turbulence in the days ahead whatever the outcome of Mr. Fitzgerald's criminal probe.  Under a 1982 law, it is illegal to knowingly expose an active-duty CIA covert agent, and federal prosecutors have been investigating.  It isn't clear whether or not Ms. Plame was an active-duty CIA operative at the time her identity was reported in Mr. Novak's column and in Time magazine."

The Chicago Tribune casts the Rove news in the context of ongoing Democratic efforts to make GOP ethical lapses a theme for the 2006 elections.  "The episode is also allowing Democrats to go after their opponents on national security issues, generally considered a Republican strength.”

The New York Times: “Because of the powerful role Mr. Rove plays in shaping policy and deploying Mr. Bush's political support and machinery throughout the party, few Republicans were willing to discuss his situation on the record…  But in private, several prominent Republicans said they were concerned about the possible effects on Mr. Bush and his agenda..."

The Los Angeles Times: "the new information about Rove's role was emerging as a potential embarrassment for a White House that had scrupulously sought to avoid the kinds of investigations that plagued the Clinton administration.  It has also given Democrats a political issue."  The story notes, "The only Republican to issue a statement on the matter Monday was Ken Mehlman, chairman of the Republican National Committee," who called it "'disappointing that once again, so many Democrat leaders are taking their political cues from the far-left, MoveOn wing of the party.'"

The Washington Post's Milbank says the press corps took Scott McClellan to the woodshed.

The Hill covers the fundraising boon that Tom DeLay and Randy Cunningham's ethics issues have proved to be for their Democratic challengers.

It's the economy
"Gasoline prices set U.S. records Monday and are likely to move higher this week because of worries that summer hurricanes will disrupt shipments of gas and damage oil rigs," says USA Today.

The New York Times is the latest to point out that today’s higher gas prices haven’t changed many Americans’ behavior -- that "oil shocks no longer seem so shocking.”

The folks in the Merrill Lynch research department wrote yesterday that despite positive signs about the economy, "there are also some unexpectedly negative developments bearing down on the U.S. economy that will exert some downward pressure on economic growth.  The recent reacceleration in oil prices to the $60/barrel range implies that our $50/barrel assumption for 2005 may be too optimistic.  Higher energy prices have negative implications for both consumer spending and profit growth."

The Washington Times reports from the NAACP meeting that the organization plans to "target private companies as part of its economic agenda, seeking reparations from corporations with historical ties to slavery and boycotting companies that refuse to participate in its annual business diversity report card."

China politics
The bid by a Chinese company that is 70-percent owned by the Chinese government to purchase California-based Unocal may not crystallize China as a jobs issue, or the China security threat, in a politically compelling way, as one national security consulting firm suggests to its clients.  But it may help crystallize the gas-price issue.  The Financial Times reports that Thursday's the day the Unocal board will decide whether to withdraw their support for Chevron's bid and back the bid by CNOOC.

It didn't take long for Wal-Mart Watch, the anti-Wal-Mart organization run by Democratic political operatives and funded by organized labor, to latch onto news yesterday that China’s trade surplus has risen to $9.68 billion.  The group whacked Wal-Mart for being "hugely responsible for growing China’s economy in its model of endless expansion and supplier squeezes."  Wal-Mart Watch also charged that: "at least 70% of non-food items sold at Wal-Mart stores have a Chinese component;" that "Wal-Mart imports an estimated $18 billion in products from China each year;" and that "Wal-Mart is China’s eighth largest trading partner, importing more goods than entire countries like England and Russia."

The values debate
The AP reports that Senators in favor of federally financed embryonic stem cell research are skeptical about federal funding for less controversial, but also less-proven alternatives.


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