“First Read” is a daily memo prepared by NBC News’ political unit, for NBC News, analyzing the morning’s political news. Please let us know what you think. Drop us a note at FirstRead@MSNBC.com. To bookmark First Read, click here.
The Bush Administration's August squeeze of Iraq and gas prices continues. In Baghdad, three more car bomb attacks have killed at least 43 people and wounded 89, as of this writing. At home, AAA's national average broke $2.50 for the first time, and the Labor Department says that inflation "at the wholesale level increased by the largest amount in nine months in July, reflecting the hit consumers are taking at gas pumps," per the AP.
Other political news of note
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.
- Budget deficits shrinking but set to grow after 2015
- Senate readies another volley on unemployment aid
- Obama faces Syria standstill
- Fluke files to run in California
- Animated Boehner: 'There's nothing complex about the Keystone Pipeline!'
The Reagan library says that some of Supreme Court nominee John Roberts' correspondence on the issue of affirmative action from his days in the Reagan White House can't be located. The Washington Post reports that the file vanished after being reviewed by Administration lawyers in July -- that the lawyers returned the file, but the library now can't find it.
This is causing a minor explosion in Democratic ranks. Not only have Senate Democrats been arguing for weeks to see as-yet-undisclosed documents, but they may be especially eager to pounce on the missing file in the wake of yesterday's Washington Post report that many party officials and strategists have decided not to put up a major fight against Roberts, which upset some in the party's base. Senate Leader Harry Reid, after being pretty quiet about Roberts all month, issued a statement yesterday essentially rejecting the suggestion that Democrats have decided to give Roberts a pass.
As for the missing file, Senate Judiciary ranking member Pat Leahy yesterday sent a letter to the Reagan library demanding that the library release it. He also charged that what papers Senate Democrats have seen "paint a picture of John Roberts as an eager and aggressive advocate of policies that are deeply tinged with the ideology of the far right... In influential White House and Department of Justice positions, John Roberts expressed views that were among the most radical being offered" on civil rights matters. A White House spokesperson calls Leahy's criticism "distorted." Ted Kennedy is calling for a Justice Department investigation into the missing documents.
We wrote yesterday about how Cindy Sheehan has become a case study of how a national political lightning rod is born in this polarized day and age. As she herself has said, Sheehan is in this situation in part through her own doing, in her zeal to get her meeting with President Bush -- but also in (larger) part through the efforts of others seeking to capitalize on her in some way, whether they're liberal activists using her to legitimize and promote their cause, or conservative critics looking to undercut her and, through her, the Democratic party.
In the latest addition to the list of Sheehan promoters, Elizabeth Edwards e-mailed her husband John's supporters yesterday. In the lead graph, she notes that Casey Sheehan was 51 days older than Wade Edwards, her son who died in a car accident. Emphasizing her background as the mother of a son who was killed and as the daughter of a Navy pilot, Elizabeth Edwards charges that Bush "claims he understands how some people feel about the deaths in Iraq," but that he's wrong. The point of the e-mail is to ask Edwards supporters to join a call for Bush to meet with Cindy Sheehan. But perhaps most striking about the e-mail to longtime Edwards observers is the heavy emphasis on Wade Edwards, given how little the couple talked about him during the presidential campaign; the CW among their aides and the press corps was that they did not want to politicize their son's death.
And, as NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reported yesterday, Sheehan is now attempting to re-focus attention onto mothers of US soldiers killed in Iraq. The statement she issued yesterday in reaction to the act of vandalism at her campsite reflects this effort: "Nothing can shake our resolve as mothers of fallen soldiers to demand answers from President Bush about why our sons died in a war based on lies." Sheehan's PR advisors say she'll do a press call about the vandalism "with other mothers whose sons were killed in Iraq" at 1:00 pm ET. MoveOn, True Majority, and Democracy for America are sponsoring candlelight vigils around the country tonight "to show our solidarity with Cindy," per the MoveOn website.
Lastly, California GOP chair Duf Sundheim was in Washington yesterday and talked with reporters about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's action-packed tenure in office. Details below.
National security politics
Iraq, Iran, North Korea: The Washington Post notices that the Bush Administration is having difficulties with all three members of what Bush once called "the axis of evil."
The Dallas Morning News writes that between the missed deadline on the Iraqi constitution and the Israeli pull-out from the Gaza Strip, this could be pivotal week for the Bush Administration in terms of foreign policy. "The constitution and the withdrawal are distinct events, said administration officials and foreign policy analysts, but both are preludes to the even bigger tests of forming stable governments in Iraq and the Palestinian territories."
With Crawford tempers on edge, Cindy Sheehan and her supporters have agreed to move their campsite "to more a secure area that could better handle the ebb and flow of crowds and the parking problems that come with them," reports the Dallas Morning News. The move is expected to take place over the next day or so.
USA Today does the Sheehan-as-lightning-rod story. "Except for a pro-Bush rally organized last weekend by a conservative talk-radio host in Dallas, there have been no public efforts by Republican groups to counter Sheehan's message. But some Republicans suggest that she's being co-opted by groups associated with the Democratic Party."
The Washington Post does it, too: "the same wave of publicity and political anger that she rode to become a nationally known symbol of the antiwar movement threatens to crash down on Sheehan herself."
And so does the Los Angeles Times' Brownstein, who writes that Sheehan's vigil "could scramble the politics of the war as much for her allies as for the target of her protest. An immediate effect may be to increase the pressure on liberal activist groups and Democrats - who have focused mostly this year on other issues - to challenge Bush more persistently and forcefully on the war... For Bush, a reinvigorated protest movement presents obvious dangers as he struggles to bolster flagging public support for the mission in Iraq. But such a challenge could present opportunities for the White House."
The New York Times does the recent events at Camp Casey straight-up.
Oil and gas politics
There's some dispute over whether the steep incline of gas prices lately is affecting consumer confidence. The latest ABC/Washington Post consumer confidence survey, out yesterday, shows that "confidence is virtually unchanged from last week despite the country’s single biggest one-week increase in the price of gasoline, suggesting either that consumers are toughing it out - or that the shock hasn’t hit home yet," per the poll release. At the same time, the Washington office of economic research firm International Strategy & Investment tells its investor clients that based on another set of public opinion surveys, consumer confidence is, in fact, being affected.
The Financial Times front-pages, "Sharp rises in fuel prices are eroding the spending power of consumers, heightening fears that record nominal oil costs may start to slow the global economy."
The paper also covers Wal-Mart's concerns, voiced yesterday, that gas prices will curb "spending by the discount retailer’s core lower-income customers..." – Financial Times
...which has led to the London markets opening lower today. – Financial Times
USA Today notes that yesterday's increase sent "AAA's national average past $2.50 for the first time, while experts are split in their predictions about when they might recede... White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, with President Bush in Crawford, Texas, noted the 'drag on the economy' caused by high gas prices, said they won't go away overnight and urged Americans to conserve energy." And, two days after we wondered in this space whatever happened to Democratic calls for Bush to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, "Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., renewed a request that Bush draw oil from the [SPR] to lower pump prices."
(From Monday's First Read: "As gas prices creep ever upward, an old stand-by Democratic argument is missing: their call for Bush to tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Bush's energy secretary, Samuel Bodman, told reporters a month ago that the Administration would consider tapping the SPR only in case of a serious supply disruption... Lately, a spate of refinery problems, terrorist threats and instability in the Middle East, and weather issues, have driven the price of oil to new records, but don't appear to meet the Administration's bar for a serious disruption. Bodman noted that the amount of oil in the SPR wouldn't cover the nation for a sustained period of time. Maybe Democrats want Bush to experience some of the pain at the pump and get themselves an election-year issue. Or maybe they've decided that such a proposal would be bad policy.")
The Roberts nomination
The Washington Post follows on its Tuesday report that Democratic lawmakers and strategists have decided not to put up a big fight against Roberts with this: "Major liberal groups accused Democratic senators yesterday of showing too little stomach for opposing [Roberts'] nomination, saying newly released documents indicate he is much more conservative than many people first thought... In a further bid to dispel an air of inevitability that liberals think too many Democrats have embraced, several organizations told allies that they will call for Roberts's rejection this month rather than wait for the Senate hearings to start on Sept. 6..."
The New York Times writes that Senate Democrats yesterday began to turn up the heat on the nominee. “The statements were a stark contrast to the Democrats' previously noncommittal comments and suggested a possible turning point.”
Bloomberg covers Pat Leahy's charges that Roberts has taken "radical" positions on civil rights, and the White House's response that Leahy is "distorting" Roberts' record.
"Leahy stopped short of announcing his opposition to the appointment, in keeping with a call from Harry Reid... for the rank and file to wait for confirmation hearings before making decisions. But his statement was by far the most critical he has made since President Bush nominated Roberts." - AP
The Washington Post also reports that Roberts "was interviewing for a possible Supreme Court nomination with top Bush administration officials at the same time he was presiding over a terrorism case of significant importance to" Bush. Roberts was "on the three-judge panel that eventually allowed Bush to resume the use of military officers to conduct trials of terrorist suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba." The panel decided unanimously in favor of the administration... Nobody is alleging that Roberts sided with the administration to curry favor with Bush, but some academics say Roberts should have, at the very least, considered stepping aside..."
The New York Times also front-pages a look at former Reagan aide Ed Meese, who has played an important -- but behind-the-scenes role -- in the recent judicial battles. It was Meese, say prominent conservatives, who urged Republicans to fight against the Democratic filibuster and who helped broker consensus between evangelicals and business conservatives.
We see nothing coincidental (not) in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's announcement yesterday of legislation plainly targeted at women: a victims' rights bill which would be, in his office's words, "the most stringent sex offender laws in the history of the state." At the same time, Gigi Goyette on Inside Edition denied that she was Schwarzenegger's mistress after the Los Angeles Times reported last Friday that American Media, publisher of the National Enquirer, paid Goyette $20,000 in 2003 to sign a confidentiality agreement about allegations that she and Schwarzenegger had an affair.
Also yesterday, California GOP chair Duf Sundheim told First Read and other reporters in DC that Schwarzenegger's dramatic drop in his approval ratings -- they're now roughly half what they were in some polls -- is due to Democratic attack ads and Democrats' efforts to distract attention away from Schwarzenegger's initiatives, and onto the man himself. "Everyone who tries to enact change goes through this," Sundheim said, touting Schwarzenegger as a reformer. The chair called the recent round of allegations about Schwarzenegger and women the "third time around" after allegations circulated in 2001 and 2003, though the latest Los Angeles Times coverage is new. He said he hasn't heard any concerns from GOP conservatives about the latest reports.
Sundheim also sought to poke holes in Democrats' suggestions that Schwarzenegger's political fate is tied to the fate of his initiatives in the special election. Although Sundheim wasn't "saying there isn't a connection," in his words, it's "not the case that his future depends on the outcome in November."
The Los Angeles Times previews Schwarzenegger's planned 17-event fundraising tour, noting his strong criticism on the campaign trail of then-Gov. Gray Davis (D) for raising too much money from special interests. "Schwarzenegger will be collecting campaign money from individuals and entities that have major Capitol lobby operations and are embroiled in legislative battles... The blitz opens today in San Bernardino" with an event that "is expected to generate $250,000 for Schwarzenegger's initiative campaigns."
When asked about the pace of Schwarzenegger's fundraising in the face of his earlier criticism of Davis, Sundheim told reporters that the issue with Davis' fundraising was the allegedly direct connection that could be drawn between Davis and his political contributors, whereas with Schwarzenegger, he said, "there is no showing whatsoever between decisions this governor makes and" his contributors.
The Hill reports that despite Jack Abramoff's indictment last week and the new spate of coverage of some GOP members' related ethical problems, "Republican stalwarts continue to demonstrate their support for (Tom) DeLay and his associates... Republicans have scheduled a golf tournament next Wednesday to benefit a legal defense fund set up for DeLay fundraisers Jim Ellis and John Colyandro, both of whom have been indicted on money-laundering charges." The invite "was sent with a one-page description of the fund as well as a letter from Donald McGahn, general counsel to the National Republican Congressional Committee, stating that it was technically correct for the fund to accept donations from political action committees."
The Washington Times says Abramoff is willing to talk to police... about the gangland-style killing of the businessman who sold the floating casinos, the deal that was central to Abramoff's indictment.
USA Today starts its coverage of Coingate and other scandals afflicting Ohio Gov. Bob Taft (R) this way: "Until now, the whiff of serious scandal has never touched one of America's great political dynasties, a family that has produced a president, two U.S. senators and a governor." One political scientist "says Coingate has given the Democrats their best chance in years to reclaim political control of Ohio, a state crucial in presidential elections."
2005 and 2006
In the Virginia gubernatorial race, the Virginia chapter of NARAL Pro-Choice America is opting not to endorse, "citing a lack of support for abortion rights among the two candidates." - Washington Post
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that Democratic nominee Tim Kaine’s campaign is still sticking with its media-consulting firm, Struble Eichenbaum Communications, even though it produced the controversial NARAL ad that blasted SCOTUS nominee Roberts.
The New York Daily News covers the first official debate between the four Democratic candidates -- Fernando Ferrer, Virginia Fields, Anthony Weiner, and Gifford Miller -- challenging New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The paper says these hopefuls “jabbed at” Bloomberg “but mostly kept the kid gloves on when it came to one another.”
The AP reports that former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld (R) is "likely" reveal his intent to run for governor in New York on September 8.
The Boston Globe writes that Weld is still contemplating the move. "According to a former aide who worked with him in Massachusetts, Weld is expected to use some money he is making there to help finance the next stage of his political career... Yesterday, some Republican activists said they were not convinced New Yorkers knew Weld well enough for him to mount a strong challenge to Eliot Spitzer..."
And Republicans are courting MSNBC talk-show host Joe Scarborough to run against for Rep. Katherine Harris in the 2006 Senate race against incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson. Scarborough, a former congressman, has met with "senior Republican officials" already. - AP