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Tuesday, August 16, 2005 | 9:25 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray and Huma Zaidi

First glance
Drafters of the Iraqi constitution missed their deadline and have been granted a seven-day extension to try to complete the job.  In a written statement, President Bush praised them for making "substantial progress."  Americans might not be as fixated on this effort as they were on the Iraqi elections back in January, but as we've suggested here before, the Bush Administration faces a gelling public perception that real improvement on the war will be measured only in US troop withdrawal, and NBC's Richard Engel observes from Iraq this morning that political progress is a necessary step toward the troops being able to come home.

  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

Democratic lawmakers' reaction thus far appears to be a measured effort to criticize while avoiding the appearance of talking down the democratic process.  On TODAY this morning, Senate Foreign Relations ranking member Joe Biden called the delay a "bump in the road in a serious process."

We've also written here before that pollsters are starting to view swing voters on Iraq as two distinct groups.  Beyond those who steadfastly support the war and those who steadfastly oppose it, those in the middle are either defeat-averse (not liking the circumstances, but wanting the United States to stick it out and win) or casualty-averse (wanting to cut US losses and avoid further casualties).

In his National Journal online column today, nonpartisan political analyst Charlie Cook says that according to pollsters he's spoken with, Americans who are steadfast in their support for the war make up about 25% of the electorate, meaning that the remainder are either flat-out opposed to it, or in some way critical of the President's approach to it.  Given how central the Iraq war was to Bush's victory in 2004, Cook notes, a cave-in of support for Bush on the war would be "devastating" to his second-term credibility and muscle.  Cook writes that "the occasional speech" before US troops or Saturday radio address about the war "is not going to salvage what has become a public relations and policy debacle" -- that Bush is going to have to repeatedly articulate why the United States went to war and how progress is being made.

Her cause inspired by tragedy, Cindy Sheehan, the anti-war activist mother of a US soldier killed in Iraq, is looking increasingly like a case study of how a national political lightning rod is born in this highly polarized day and age.  For her part, Sheehan has given dozens of interviews and has accepted help from national liberal groups and strategists like MoveOn and former Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi.  Bush supporters have done their share.  Example: one GOP group is now using Sheehan's remarks about Israel to try to drive a wedge between Jewish voters and the Democratic party; see below.

Per NBC's Kelly O'Donnell, Sheehan herself recognizes the situation she has been put in/has put herself in, saying earlier this week, "There's been a big smear campaign on me this week and I guess I put myself out on the forefront and I guess I have made myself vulnerable."  Sheehan is now attempting to "re-focus," as she says, attention onto mothers of US soldiers killed in Iraq.  O'Donnell notes that Sheehan lacks a candidate's discipline of staying on message, something the politically liberal PR professionals who have set up at Camp Casey are trying to help her with.

A man vandalized part of Camp Casey last night, driving through in a pick-up truck with a pipe and chain attached, and Sheehan and supporters have scheduled a press conference for 11:30 am ET.  Per O'Donnell, they charge that more than 500 white crosses at the campsite were in some way damaged in the incident; Sheehan herself was not present at the time.  The McLennan County sheriff confirms that an unnamed local man was arrested and is expected to be charged with criminal mischief this morning.

Lastly, when will serious expectations-setting efforts begin on the final vote tally to confirm John Roberts?  The White House strategy of gradually releasing documents seems to have succeeded in that even before everything's out there, Democrats have concluded -- while leaving themselves room to change their minds -- that Roberts will get a filibuster-proof total of more than 60 votes.  Still, all the talk we've heard right now is of 70 votes or possibly even more, and should the tally be lower than that, it could be interpreted as "weak."  Also, NBC's Ken Strickland lays out the latest expected schedule for the Roberts hearings below.

National security politics
USA Today reminds us that among the "outstanding issues" for the still-developing constitution are "autonomy for Shiites in southern Iraq and Kurds in the north, women's rights, and distribution of oil revenue."

The Washington Post has some analysts calling the delay "another blow to President Bush's attempts to show progress that would pave the way for U.S. troop withdrawals," but also says it "may not have much lasting significance if it leads to a document with broader support across sectarian lines."  More: "Some analysts saw the missed deadline as a sign that the Bush administration has lost control over the situation."

The Los Angeles Times also wonders "how significant and lasting" the setback will be.  The missed deadline could "be seen as little more than an unsettling glitch that temporarily caused heartburn at the White House and disappointment among Iraq's citizens.  However, if Monday's failure turns out to be the first in a series of delays that slows or even derails the effort to build a democratic state, the results could be catastrophic for both Iraq and the Bush administration."

Back to Cindy Sheehan.  Some Crawford residents have grown a little weary of the hubbub around Camp Casey, and "dozens of the farmers and ranchers neighboring Bush's 1,600-acre Prairie Chapel Ranch plan to petition a county court in nearby Waco" today, seeking "to prevent anyone from parking or stopping within two miles of the makeshift campsite." - Bloomberg

The Republican Jewish Coalition is seeking to use Sheehan's earlier remarks about Israel to charge that the Democratic Party is anti-Israel and drive a wedge between Jewish voters and the party.  In an e-mail to supporters, the RJC says that Sheehan -- who "has been heralded by Democrats such as Joe Trippi, campaign manager for Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean's campaign for President, Michael Moore,... Democrats.com, MoveOn.org, True Majority, and Democracy for America" -- is "yet another example of how critics of Israel within the Democratic Party have taken control of the party's agenda...  If Cindy Sheehan's ideas are what the Democrats have to offer, then more and more American Jews will continue to see that there is no place for them in the Democratic Party."

The AP reports that Sheehan's husband filed for divorce on Friday.

The Dallas Morning News on the "media circus" which Sheehan says is detracting from her message:

The Boston Globe's Canellos weighs at what's going on here, observing that "troops and their families are merely props intended to buttress existing arguments -- be they Bush's efforts to justify a war he started, or the Democrats' need to show how poorly conceived the whole exercise has been.  The fact that military families often choose to participate... gives them an added glow of poignancy: Their desire for an advocate, a voice in the process, is palpable.  So is their susceptibility to false friendship."  Canellos notes that "Sheehan feels her views were hard-earned -- bought at the highest possible price -- and she wants to share them with the president and the country...  With no airing of the issues in Washington, Sheehan's vigil in Crawford begins to fill a void."

MSNBC.com's Tom Curry reports on the role Democratic bloggers played in raising money for Ohio House candidate Paul Hackett: “The significance of what Democratic bloggers doing is proven by the attention Republican and conservative operatives are paying to them.”

The Roberts nomination
After surveying "legislators, Senate aides and party strategists," the Washington Post reports that "Democrats have decided that unless there is an unexpected development in the weeks ahead, they will not launch a major fight to block" Roberts' nomination.  The Post says Democrats "have concluded that he is likely to get at least 70 votes -- enough to overrule parliamentary tactics such as a filibuster that could block the nominee."  Still, "Democrats' plan is not without risk.  Outside strategists working with the White House said that if an overwhelming majority of Democrats vote for Roberts, Republicans will be able to argue in future confirmation fights that the opposition has taken ideology off the table...  In addition, many party activists outside Washington are eager for senators to show more backbone against... Bush."

Per NBC's Ken Strickland, Senate sources currently hope/envision that the hearings will play out over four days starting on the afternoon of Tuesday, September 6.  Under this scenario, the Senate Judiciary Committee could vote out Roberts' nomination as early as its next regular Thursday meeting, currently scheduled for September 15.  That could put the nomination on the floor for debate as early as the week of September 19.

Under the four-day plan, proceedings would go as follows, per Strickland's sources.  On Tuesday, September 6, hearings would begin around 2:00-2:30 pm and would consist of opening statements from Judiciary Committee members (18 members at 10 minutes apiece) and from Roberts.  There would be no questioning of Roberts on that day.  On Wednesday, September 7, the panel would meet at 9:00 am for their first round of questions to Roberts, with each panelist getting 30 minutes apiece.  On that Thursday, the panel would again meet at 9:00 am to finish the first round of questioning and begin the second.  At 7:00 pm that night, Strickland says, the committee would go into closed session to discuss Roberts' FBI file (this would not be unusual).  And on that Friday, start time TBD, the panel would hear testimony from outside witnesses.  Strickland says that a Saturday hearing that week is possible if the committee can't wrap things up by Friday.

Sponsored by the pro-Roberts 527 organization Progress for America, a group of friends, legal scholars, and Republican lawyers say they'll visit 14 states in the next few weeks to push for what they view as the proper limits for questioning Roberts during the hearings, NBC's Pete Williams reports.  With the motto "precedent, not politics," these Roberts supporters will travel to Michigan, Louisiana, Montana, North Dakota, Colorado, Maine, Florida, Oregon, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Rhode Island, Washington, and Nebraska -- states, they say, with moderate US senators who may be sympathetic.

The group is urging the Senate to follow the recent pattern of hearings for Supreme Court nominees nominated by Bill Clinton and confirmed by a Democrat-run Senate.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg, they say, was not required to discuss her legal views on abortion, gay rights, public education, labor laws, religion and the state, the Second Amendment, or voting rights.  When asked for specific opinions, Roberts' supporters note that Ginsburg said, "I prefer not to address a question like that," or, "I would prefer to await a particular case."

We'd add that Republican election lawyer Ben Ginsberg also said during the PFA-hosted briefing yesterday that those on the "left" are pushing Senate Democrats to obtain "privileged papers" while Roberts was deputy solicitor general to expand the scope of questions that can be asked of the nominee.  And Ginsberg suggested that the NARAL ad served as a reminder that the nomination process has "strayed" from the "dignified" processes of the past.

The New York Times says that anyone expecting the latest batch of Roberts documents “to contain the key to the kind of Supreme Court justice that Judge Roberts would be is likely to be disappointed.  Whether abortion opponents should be permitted to bury thousands of fetuses in Arlington National Cemetery (no); whether a new appeals court should be created to ease the Supreme Court's workload (also no); whether the administration should endorse a new approach to raising the wages of women who work in heavily female occupations (emphatically no, with caustic commentary by Mr. Roberts) - these are only a few of the topics that documents in the files address.”

Roberts on equal pay in 1984. - USA Today

Roberts on memorial services for aborted fetuses in 1985. - Washington Post

Roberts saying voluntary silent prayer in public schools is constitutional: Washington Times and Dallas News

"The batch of documents released Monday show Roberts consistently articulating a conservative position that envisions a limited role for courts and judges," notes the Chicago Tribune.

Oil and gas politics
"Crude oil fell for a second day, its biggest two-day drop in a month, on speculation the U.S. is accumulating sufficient stockpiles of winter fuels." - Bloomberg

USA Today runs the price of regular gas, state by state:

The Merrill Lynch research department sees an emerging dichotomy between record gas prices and retail spending: "after driving the brand new car off the dealer lot and filling it up... on the way to the mall, the consumer quickly realized that there was no change left to go on a fashion buzz.  And we can also see vividly from the retail sales data that signs of fatigue are setting into the housing market because real-estate oriented retail sales such as building materials fell 0.4%, which was the first decline in five months, and furniture sales plunged 1.3% and are down in two of the past three months.  Note as well that the National Federation of Retailers just updated its survey of 6,487 consumers and found that back-to-school sales will likely drop 9.4% this year to $13.4 billion from $14.8 billion last year."

Bloomberg reports on Wal-Mart's unexpectedly high second-quarter earnings, but also notes how it's gotten hit by high gas prices.

The Bush agenda
The Wall Street Journal breaks news in reporting details on the White House's planned push to change the nation's immigration laws" -- including that they're counting on business "to lobby Congress to pass measures that give more foreign-born workers legal status while also toughening lax enforcement."  The Journal notes that this sets up a potential fight between "Bush's big-business supporters, who believe the economy needs more workers, and some Republican Party conservatives... who have made a top priority of clamping down on illegal immigration in the name of national security."

The New York Times reports that the Administration is expected to abandon plans to extend fuel economy standards to Hummers and other large SUVs: "domestic automakers are likely to see it as a victory, since the new plan will decrease advantages that some foreign automakers, like Honda have in the current system because they do not make the heaviest trucks and S.U.V.'s.”

The Congressional Budget Office announced yesterday that the "deficit will shrink this year to $331 billion from the record $412 billion last year, largely because of surging tax payments in a strong economy," though "CBO Director Douglas J. Holtz-Eakin said yesterday that much of the increase in tax revenue is likely to prove temporary."  - Washington Post

The Houston Chronicle: "President Bush won't come close to fulfilling his 2004 campaign pledge to cut the deficit in half in five years, from $521 billion to $260 billion, according to the congressional study."

The Sacramento Bee says that Gigi Goyette, the woman who claims that she had periodic sexual encounters with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, will go on Inside Edition today to claim that she was never Schwarzenegger’s mistress.  She also speculates that she was paid $20,000 by the publishers of National Enquirer so she’d keep quiet until after the 2003 recall election.  “A report about Goyette's alleged relationship with Schwarzenegger isn't new. But the old story sparked fresh controversy when the Los Angeles Times reported last week that just as Schwarzenegger was declaring his candidacy in 2003, AMI paid her $20,000 to promise she wouldn't talk about him with anyone other than AMI.  The Times reported that a friend of Goyette's was paid $1,000 for the same reason.”

Schwarzenegger holds a press conference to announce new victims' rights legislation at the state capitol in Sacramento today at 2:30 pm ET.

The Los Angeles Times reports that there's no sign of any emerging compromise in Sacramento to head off a special election on any of Schwarzenegger's ballot measures.

The Los Angeles Times says Bush is reading "Salt: A World History" by Mark Kurlansky, "Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar" by Edvard Radzinsky, and "The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History" by John M. Barry. 

2005 and 2006
While the CW in Virginia’s gubernatorial race has held that Russ Potts’ Independent candidacy might hurt Jerry Kilgore (R) more since both men are Republicans, the Richmond Times-Dispatch notes that Tim Kaine (D) attacked Potts -- for the first time in the race -- for holding up the process that would have prevented the state’s transportation trust fund from being raided.

In New Jersey’s gubernatorial contest, both Jon Corzine (D) and Doug Forrester (R) released their tax returns yesterday, showing that both men earned about $12 million in annual income, the AP says.

And one day after interviewing the former mistress of Jeanine Pirro’s (R) husband, who revealed that Albert Pirro had showered gifts and money on their “love child” over the last six months, the New York Post says that Alberto Pirro “called the 22-year-old daughter he had in an extramarital affair to blame her for not defending him more in the article.”


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