updated 7/19/2005 9:12:58 AM ET 2005-07-19T13:12:58

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First glance
The Senate Judiciary Committee chair gets called to a meeting at the White House last night, and suddenly everyone's buzzing about a possible SCOTUS announcement today.  Arlen Specter isn't talking and, at this writing, the speculation appears to be based primarily on the fact that the meeting took place and had an air of urgency.  Other seemingly hard tidbits of news being reported include that Bush is seriously considering a woman, and that AG Alberto Gonzales is out of the running; see below.

  1. Other political news of note
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      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

Proportion of attention the Washington press corps paid to Karl Rove versus the Supreme Court yesterday: about 85%-15%.  Proportion of attention the Washington press corps seems likely to pay to Karl Rove versus the Court today, at least at this writing: 50%-50%.

President Bush today is scheduled to meet with the Prime Minister of Australia at 10:45 am, with an 11:50 am joint press avail scheduled.  His joint avails with foreign dignitaries have tended to yield Rove and SCOTUS comments, but this wouldn't appear to be the kind of venue in which he'd introduce his Court pick to the world.

As for Bush's comments on Rove from his Monday avail, once again, we may be looking at parsed words by a second-term president.  Lots of attention is being paid to Bush's raising the bar on the circumstances under which he'd let go of any White House staffer who turned out to be involved in the leak of Valerie Plame's identity.  A year ago, his bar was just that (though at the time, he was asked if he'd stick to a pledge that he had never made).  Yesterday, he said he'd fire anyone found guilty of committing a crime.  Spokesperson Scott McClellan has warned not to read anything into any apparent difference in Bush's comments over time.

Democrats and affiliated interest groups continue to try to make Rove an issue beyond the Beltway.  MoveOn plans to protest outside Rove's scheduled 6:30 pm fundraising appearance for GOP Rep. Jim Gerlach at an office building on Pennsylvania Avenue.  (We haven't looked, but wonder if the building has an underground garage.  Rove's car was parked inside his garage at home this morning, rather then outside on the driveway.)  The group also goes up with a new ad on national cable today featuring Scott McClellan SOT from White House briefings.  Democrats in Maryland have called on US Senate candidate and Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (R) to cancel a Rove fundraiser planned for July 26, and the party is seeking to make this stick with a few other lawmakers.

With the prospect of a SCOTUS announcement at any time now looming over the Hill, Congress is working to get some Bush priorities off its plate before the Senate becomes immersed in confirmation timetables, including the highway bill and the energy bill.  Also, Prime Minister Singh of India addresses a joint meeting of Congress at 10:00 am.  We wonder whether any Democrats will broach the subject of outsourcing, given what a big issue many of them sought to make it in 2004.

And the national party committee chairs address the National Council of La Raza conference in Philadelphia today.

SCOTUS greatest hits
The AP says the pick could come as early as today.  “[O]fficials said a leading candidate was Judge Edith Clement of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans.  The officials said all of the candidates on Bush's short list are judges, both men and women...”

The Washington Times: "At least two Republican strategists with close ties to the White House said they expect the nomination to come before the end of the week.  A third strategist said the White House wants to divert news coverage from Karl Rove..."

The Hill reports that the White House has assured conservatives that Bush will not pick Gonzales.  "Senior administration officials have told select conservative leaders that President Bush is likely to nominate either Edith Jones or Edith Clement, members of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals...  Conservative activists now say it would be better to nominate a conservative woman to the court, as the battle to replace O’Connor will revolve around the issue of abortion."

The Wall Street Journal also says Bush is taking a serious look at nominating a woman.

But the Chicago Tribune says “the White House also is weighing a different kind of history-making pick: nominating a strong conservative who would change the direction and future of the court."

The Washington Times notes that in the wake of the SCOTUS eminent domain decision, property rights "have become -- quietly and suddenly -- the battle cry for conservatives" in the effort to replace O'Connor.  "The ruling has united a broad cross section of activists -- from conservatives to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People -- outraged by the decision.  In Congress, bills have already been introduced in the House and in the Senate to remedy the ruling.  Many liberals worry that the new powers of eminent domain will be used mainly to seize the property of poor people in urban areas.  Conservatives are using the issue to rally around a conservative replacement for Justice O'Connor."

New York magazine focuses on wealthy GOP donors in the city to pose this question: Will a divisive Supreme Court battle (fought over social issues) obstruct the pro-business agenda these Republican donors are pushing for?  "In short, the Supreme Court nominating process will not only overwhelm the issues Wall Street cares about, it will force it into an ideological street fight with Evangelicals for which it has barely prepared."

Ethics (DC)
The Washington Post calls Bush's comments yesterday versus his comments in June 2004 "a small, but potentially very significant, distinction."

The Los Angeles Times calls it "the latest iteration of his stance...  By saying Monday that committing a crime would trigger dismissal, Bush appeared to be setting a narrower standard than he did in a statement made on June 10, 2004."

The Washington Times says "White House officials insisted that the standard has not been changed since September 2003."

USA Today provides the President's past words on the CIA leak.

The New York Times says “Mr. Bush's insistence on Monday that he would wait for a final legal verdict on his staff members seemed to set a standard of accountability for Mr. Rove that is different from the standards applied elsewhere in the government, some experts say."

The Boston Globe points out that the "standard that Bush indicated yesterday is significant; specialists and analysts say it is very difficult to convict someone of the federal crime of knowingly identifying a covert CIA agent."

The AP says, “The phrasing was unusual for the president, who campaigned for office in 2000 on a pledge ‘to restore honor and dignity’ to a White House he implied had been sullied by scandals of the Clinton administration.”

While Bush has his supporters and critics, the Boston Globe's Canellos writes that the president has always had "a group in the middle, wavering on the war and on Republican policies generally, that gave Bush high points for honesty.  That group seems to be changing its mind about Bush's straight talk."  Canellos cites the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll showing shows that only 41% of Americans find Bush "honest and straightforward."  But Canellos notes that "the American public has been coming to grips with presidential obfuscation for decades" and " Bush can only hope for the same."

The Wall Street Journal reports that the classified State Department memo "made clear that information identifying an agent and her role in her husband's intelligence-gathering mission was sensitive and shouldn't be shared, according to a person familiar with the document."  The Journal says these details "make it harder for officials who saw the document to claim that they didn't realize the identity of the CIA officer was a sensitive matter.  Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, may also be looking at whether other crimes -- such as perjury, obstruction of justice or leaking classified information -- were committed."  Still the memo "doesn't specifically describe Ms. Wilson as an undercover agent."

The Journal also notes the new ABC News poll, which shows "how the matter has damaged the administration's credibility -- and the political peril Mr. Rove still faces.  Just 25% of Americans say the White House is fully cooperating with the federal investigation into the leak of Ms. Wilson's identity, down from about half when the investigation began nearly two years ago.  Moreover, 75% said Mr. Rove should lose his job if he leaked classified information."

Ethics (CA)
State Democratic party officials "intend to file a complaint today with a state watchdog agency over Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's lucrative consulting deal with a magazine publisher, saying that he ran afoul of conflict-of-interest and gift laws," reports the Los Angeles Times.  "The complaint, to be filed with the Fair Political Practices Commission, would contend that the governor's multimillion-dollar agreement with the publisher was barred under state laws designed to keep public officials from getting excessive gifts or using their position for personal gain."  A Schwarzenegger aide says there is "no need for hearings, or an FPPC inquiry," and that "the issue is 'moot' because Schwarzenegger ended the deal on Friday."

The Sacramento Bee says that despite the furor over Schwarzenegger’s now-severed deal with the bodybuilding magazines, his aides yesterday declined “to provide additional details on income he is receiving from 20 other businesses that each paid more than $10,000 last year to his personal holding company.  Schwarzenegger's financial adviser, Paul Wachter, and his communications director, Rob Stutzman, cited privacy concerns as the reason for keeping secret the governor's total outside income.”  The Bee adds that Schwarzenegger yesterday appeared to “make light” of the millions he won’t be earning from the magazine deal.  “‘I have no problem about the money, but my wife had a little problem with that,’ Schwarzenegger told reporters…  ‘She was worried - that means less diamonds or something like that.’”

Schwarzenegger and Randy Cunningham, California's two latest lawmakers to face ethics questions, have nothing on the city of San Diego, where a federal jury has found the "brand new acting mayor guilty of taking bribes from a strip club owner."  USA Today says, "Interim Mayor Michael Zucchet was convicted along with a city councilman and a Nevada lobbyist for trying to help the owner of Cheetahs weaken the city's 'no touching' law regarding strip clubs.  The convictions left it unclear who will be running America's seventh biggest city...  Zucchet, a councilman who was also deputy mayor, became interim mayor over the weekend after San Diego's elected mayor resigned Friday amid mounting problems at City Hall."

9 days to recess
The latest extension on highway funding reauthorization expires today, with conferees still working toward closing the deal at $286 billion.  Conferees also meet today, as well as later this week, to work toward hashing out an energy bill to send to Bush before recess.

Roll Call offers a status report on stem cells, the energy bill, and the permanent Patriot Act extension.  On stem cells, "Frist’s attempts to get a unanimous consent agreement to bring up a package of six separate stem-cell and anti-cloning bills continues to fall short."  On the energy bill, how to deal with manufacturers of the gas additive MTBE remains the big hang-up.  And on the Patriot Act, "One House GOP leadership aide acknowledged that 'some turbulence' is expected during floor debate this week, but that 'overall, it should pass with flying colors'...  House leaders are looking to pressure Democrats into supporting the PATRIOT Act extension by challenging their national security credentials."

Roll Call also says House Republicans hope to move GOP Rep. Chris Cox's nomination to run the SEC before recess.

Misc. (D)
The Washington Post reports that the Bush Administration plans to institute a merit-based government employee system across the board, after trying it out at the defense and homeland security departments.  "Gone would be within-grade increases and step increases, elements of the current system that move employees up the salary scale the longer they remain in their jobs.  That money would be redirected to raises based on annual performance evaluations..."  A blow to federal government employees certainly could be viewed as a blow to labor.

USA Today considers whether Sen. Hillary Clinton could be viewed as a woman commander-in-chief, and looks at her rhetoric and record on supporting the military.

In Iowa yesterday, Gov. Bill Richardson (D) said that while he hasn't made a decision yet, "if he does run for president, he does not plan to campaign heavily in Iowa if Gov. Tom Vilsack is also seeking the nomination."  Richardson also said Iowa is a key battleground state for Democrats in 2006.  – Des Moines Register

Al Gore talked to TV reporters in Beverly Hills yesterday, and "promised... that his long-awaited cable network would offer many enticements for the 'Internet generation.'"  He added that it's "'not intended to be partisan in any way.'"  - Los Angeles Times

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