updated 8/18/2005 9:21:08 AM ET 2005-08-18T13:21:08

Please note:  First Read will taking some time off to prepare for the fall political season and will not publish from Friday, August 19 through Sunday, August 28 th .  But be sure to watch for First Read’s return on Monday, August 29 th .  In the meantime, you can always get you political fix at MSNBC.com’s politics page – www.politics.msnbc.com.

First glance
President Bush is still down at the ranch, but Vice President Cheney presumably will talk about Iraq in his remarks to the Purple Heart national convention in Springfield, MO at 1:45 pm ET. Supreme Court nominee John Roberts' "well-qualified" rating from the American Bar Association fails to move his Democratic critics, while the National Archives formally investigates the Reagan library's inability to locate some Roberts papers on affirmative action.

  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

Also in the news today are two issues that may loom large in the top contests of 2005, as well as in the 2006 midterms: ethics and illegal immigration.

Democrats in Washington are trying to build a national case against the GOP as unethical and corrupt, and Gov. Bob Taft (R) just cemented Ohio's role as ground zero in that effort. Taft is being charged with four criminal misdemeanors for accepting free golf outings and other gifts. He is also embroiled in a bigger scandal after a GOP donor persuaded him to invest millions of dollars in state funds in a rare coin collection, money which has since gone missing. Taft is expected to appear in court today but is not expected to resign. And Ohio Rep. Bob Ney (R), whose ties to indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff have had Democratic operatives talking tough about taking him out, now has a challenger. Republican operatives suggest Chillicothe Mayor Joe Sulzer isn't a strong candidate, but it may not matter.

Republicans, for their part, have long hoped that ethics would work against Democrats in New Jersey's 2005 gubernatorial race due to voters' frustration with previous corrupt Democratic administrations. Their hopes grew brighter when news broke that Jon Corzine (D) had loaned a girlfriend, now a top state union official, over $400,000 and then forgiven the loan, raising potential conflict-of-interest issues should Corzine become governor. But, as tends to happen in politics, word has since gotten out that Doug Forrester (R) has problematic business dealings of his own, potentially blunting the issue.

Unlike ethics, illegal immigration is a subject being forced on Washington by developments at the state and local level. As we've written here before, it is also one of the rare issues that divides the GOP, and one on which party lawmakers have little compunction about publicly disagreeing with President Bush. We refer once again to Sen. Rick Santorum telling reporters recently that "most of us see" that Bush "made a mistake" on immigration in pushing his guest-worker initiative without first addressing the issue of illegal immigrants entering the United States, after which Santorum added, "I think he has realized that mistake."

This division may emerge in the 2005 Virginia gubernatorial race. Last week, GOP nominee Jerry Kilgore said the state should not pay for a publicly funded day-labor center in Herndon, VA because it would reward illegal immigrants who are breaking the law. Some political observers believe that this was a shrewd move, since it might help Kilgore pick up votes in Northern Virginia -- a Democratic stronghold that has been dealing with a flood of immigrants. The Herndon Town Council voted yesterday to proceed with building the center.

But Kilgore's opponent Tim Kaine (D) argued to First Read in a recent interview that Kilgore's position could be "double-edged" for him, because it possibly puts him at odds with key supporter and fundraiser Bush. "If you asked what’s the real problem with immigration, the overwhelming problem is the federal government won’t enforce the federal immigration laws. And the head of the government is a guy who’s campaigning for Jerry," Kaine said. Bush's guest-worker proposal would seem to run counter in philosophy to a crackdown on day-labor centers. The Kilgore campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Immigration may also split California and national Republicans. State party chair Duf Sundheim predicted to First Read and other publications earlier this week that it will be a major issue in his state in 2006, but Sundheim had to pick his way carefully around differences between state and national Republicans, noting that "certain proposals are on the table at the national level, but that in the state, there is just "unanimity that more needs to be done." He called the guest-worker issue "a federal issue." Meanwhile, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) yesterday voiced support for the decision by the Democratic governors of Arizona and New Mexico to declare states of emergency along their borders with Mexico. More on this below.

The Columbus Dispatch reports that "Taft is expected to admit in court today that he failed to disclose thousands of dollars in free golf, meals and other favors." His hearing begins at 11:00 am, and he is expected to enter a "no contest" plea and apologize. "A no-contest plea would mean that Taft would be admitting to the facts of the charges, leaving the verdict and sentencing to Judge Mark S. Froehlich, a Democrat..."

The New York Times: "Some Democrats have raised the possibility of impeachment proceedings against Mr. Taft... Other Democrats said it would be politically advantageous for them if Mr. Taft remained in office throughout the 2006 campaign," noting that "Republicans not only hold the governor's office but also command overwhelming majorities in both houses of the legislature."

The Wall Street Journal editorial page recognizes that 'the law is the law," but still questions the fuss over Taft's golf outings. "The no-free-golf rule strikes us as the triumph of a certain kind of modern ethicist who thinks even the small favors of everyday life such as a free lunch are corrupting. Ohio's real political crime is an economy listing under the burden of runaway spending and high taxes..."

"The public advocacy group Common Cause/Maryland called on Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) last night to release a list of his golf partners, citing" the charges against Taft. – Washington Post

Another defense contractor's home has been searched in the grand jury probe of GOP Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who has already announced he will not seek re-election in 2006, but who continues to serve on the House subcommittee that oversees the Pentagon budget. – Washington Post

Regarding efforts to curb illegal immigration at the federal level, the Washington office of economic research firm International Strategy & Investment tells its investor clients, "We doubt a majority can be mustered to do anything serious about those who are here illegally -- there aren't the votes to spend the resources to find and deport them nor to give them any kind of legal standing. We'd look for a minimalist approach to immigration reform -- perhaps tougher border security coupled with more permits for high-skilled workers. Continued stalemate is also a good possibility." ISI adds: "It's difficult for Democrats to capitalize politically on the GOP divisions unless the anti-immigrant wing drives policy, which won't happen as long as Bush is in the White House. Anti-immigrant stands cost the GOP dearly in the late 1990s and are a major reason why California Republicans rallied around George Bush early in the 2000 campaign primaries."

The Washington Post front-pages the Herndon Town Council vote and reports that several council members "said they did not want to sanction illegal immigration, the chief concern of opponents of the center... But council members said they were helpless in the face of what they called a federal failure to police U.S. borders." More: "In recent weeks, radio talk shows, cable news and Internet blogs fumed that taxpayer money would help immigrants who might be in the country illegally. They advised rounding up such immigrants instead. Some supporters of the site countered with accusations of racism."

The Los Angeles Times reports that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger "expressed support" for the decision by the Democratic governors of Arizona and New Mexico "to declare states of emergency along their troubled borders with Mexico," even as the move "has embarrassed the Department of Homeland Security, which scrambled Wednesday to defend itself from charges that it wasn't doing enough to combat the crime and violence associated with drug smuggling and illegal immigration." Schwarzenegger "said California did not need to declare its own border emergency at the moment but that he would consider it if conditions changed," and he "called the state of emergency 'a terrific idea' and said the nation must do more to secure its borders."

The Dallas Morning News says some Texans also feel that the federal government isn't doing enough to control the borders. Rep. John Culberson (R) "is pushing for creation of militias of armed volunteers to augment Border Patrol forces," while "Gov. Rick Perry is mulling a border neighborhood watch-style program."

National security politics
"A stream of bad news out of Iraq, echoed at home by polls that show growing impatience with the war and rising disapproval of President Bush's Iraq policies, is stirring political concern in Republican circles," says the New York Times in a story quoting GOP lawmakers and prominent activists. "Republicans said a convergence of events" -- including Cindy Sheehan, the missed deadline on the Iraqi constitution, and "the spike in casualties among reservists -- was creating what they said could be a significant and lasting shift in public attitude against the war." More: "Some Republicans suggested that the White House was not handling the issue adroitly, saying its insistence that the war was going well was counterproductive."

Sen. Russ Feingold, one of Democrats' more liberal prospective presidential candidates in 2008, yesterday "became the first senator to propose a specific deadline for pulling all 138,000 U.S. troops out of Iraq," says the Washington Post. "His comments also laid bare the rising tension within his party about how to respond to President Bush on the war," because he "criticized fellow Democrats for being too 'timid' in challenging the Bush administration's war policy... The White House had no comment, except to point to Bush's past statements rejecting a withdrawal timetable, a position shared by Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid."

Coverage of the vigils held around the country last night in support of Cindy Sheehan and against the Iraq war, and of the liberal leanings of the organizers:
USA Today
Los Angeles Times
Boston Globe

The Washington Post on the prospect of Cindy Sheehan becoming a nationally galvanizing figure for anti-war sentiment:

Yesterday, the conservative organization Move America Forward "announced a caravan across the country to counter those protesting the war. The 'You Don't Speak for Me, Cindy,' tour will end Aug. 27 with a rally in Crawford." - Dallas Morning News

Bob Novak criticizes DNC chair Howard Dean for his claim last Sunday that "Iraqi women were better off under Saddam Hussein's barbarous regime than they are likely to be under the nascent democracy... Howard Dean is not the first politician to distort facts in his own interests. But many activists in the party he now leads are puzzled over what he thinks he is accomplishing politically. Is it good politics to contend that Iraq was better off under Saddam than even a flawed Islamic republic?"

The Roberts nomination
After reporting on Tuesday that Democratic lawmakers and strategists had decided not to put up a big fight against John Roberts, and then reporting on Wednesday that the party's base was angry about that, the Washington Post now considers the risks for Democrats in whatever course they take. The story notes, "Some elected officials, according to critics, have been slow to appreciate how the power balance in the Democratic coalition has shifted -- away from established interests and toward citizen activists who tend toward a more aggressive brand of politics."

The Post also reminds us that the ABA's "glowing review of [Roberts] comes amid a major dispute between the White House and the ABA that began two months after the president took office. In March 2001, Bush substantially downgraded the organization's role in vetting judicial candidates," saying "at the time that it was unfair to allow 'any single group such a preferential, quasi-official role.'"

Also yesterday, "the Reagan Library agreed to consider releasing portions of 478 pages previously withheld, mostly under claims their release would invade personal privacy, according to Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Judiciary Committee's ranking Democrat who requested the review. The library also said the Archives' inspector general would investigate the disappearance of a Roberts folder labeled 'affirmative action correspondence' following its review by Bush administration attorneys. The Archives said it believes the folder was mislaid by library personnel..."

The Los Angeles Times covers the GOP argument that Roberts get the same treatment as Clinton SCOTUS nominee Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The Boston Globe reports that liberal groups like People for the American Way, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the Alliance for Justice plan to step up their criticism of Roberts, possibly with "television ads portraying him as a conservative with extreme views on abortion, affirmative action, civil rights, and equal rights for women... Firing back, Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman said ''extreme liberal special interest groups' are controlling the Democrats. He warned that Democrats who oppose Roberts but represent states Bush won in last year's election could face consequences at the ballot box."

Noting that she'll be favored to win re-election either way, Bloomberg.com weighs the risks for Sen. Hillary Clinton's prospects of winning the 2008 Democratic presidential nod in her decision on how to vote on Roberts. "The interest groups opposing Roberts aren't united in their attitude toward Clinton's vote."

Oil and gas politics
"Goldman Sachs Group Inc., the third- biggest U.S. securities firm by market value, raised its oil forecast for next year" from $55 a barrel "to $68 a barrel and said crude will stay at about $60 for years to come... The forecast... was raised from $45 because companies aren't investing enough in new supply." - Bloomberg

Reuters reports that the government of Ecuador will declare a state of emergency in two Amazon provinces where protests have cut crude oil production by state-owned Petroecuador to 29,400 barrels per day from the usual 201,000 barrels per day. Ecuador is the second largest South American supplier of oil to the United States.

The upcoming New York Times magazine cover? America's -- and the world's -- oil problem. Key points in the piece: that the Saudis don't know for sure how much oil they have left; that regardless, the supply concern is not so much about how much oil is left out there, but how much the Saudis (or any oil producer) can pump to the surface on a daily basis; and that their ability to turn on the taps to drive prices down is now in question. After quoting a Saudi oil expert saying, "'It's not our problem to tell a democratically elected government that you have to do something about your runaway consumers,'" the story concludes, "President Carter called for the moral equivalent of war to reduce our dependence on foreign oil; he was not re-elected. Since then, few politicians have spoken of an energy crisis or suggested that major policy changes are necessary... The energy bill signed earlier this month by President Bush did not even raise fuel-efficiency standards..."

The broken house of labor
The Wall Street Journal says international labor leaders will meet next week to talk about a plan to unionize Wal-Mart workers in other countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Germany and the United Kingdom. Attendees will include "the presidents of the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union, as well as the United Food and Commercial Workers, which has been unsuccessful in forming unions at Wal-Mart stores. Taking on Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer by sales, may serve as a unifying goal for American labor" after its big and at least temporarily crippling split earlier this summer.


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