updated 9/13/2005 9:24:04 AM ET 2005-09-13T13:24:04

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First glance
Having announced that he will address the nation from Louisiana on Thursday night, President Bush meets with Iraqi President Talabani at 10:35 am, does a press avail with Talabani at 11:25 am, then heads to New York and the United Nations, where he'll mingle with foreign leaders in advance of his speech tomorrow morning. Bush meets with Kofi Annan at 3:10 pm, and at 4:30 pm he meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao after having postponed their meeting last week because of the hurricane.

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Bush heads to the UN summit politically diminished both nationally and internationally, with the opening of the New Orleans airport and John Roberts' expected confirmation as chief justice of the Supreme Court the bright spots in his present outlook.  Bush faces the lowest job approval ratings of his presidency; the federal response to Hurricane Katrina has undercut America's superpower image; the FEMA director he so recently praised has resigned; the extension he has long sought for his trademark dividend and capital gains tax cuts will have to wait; and he's now insisting that he can focus on more than one issue at a time.

Last Friday, we wrote that there's more going on with Bush's focus on foreign policy and UN appearance than an attempt to turn the page, burnish his global credentials, and get back to the relatively safe ground of national security.  "As vital as hurricane relief is..., there's also a walk-and-chew-gum requirement for any president -- a necessity for a White House to demonstrate an ability to focus on more than one pressing issue at a time," we wrote.  "In part, because this plays to the competency question Democrats are trying so hard to stir up.  But mainly because the world isn't linear and the White House -- any White House -- does not have the luxury of confronting big issues one at a time."

Also: "At some point, Iraq will make an unfortunate return to the front burner.  With the October 15 referendum looming, violence may escalate once again.  Also hanging out there: the 2,000 fatality mark."

Asked yesterday whether his time at the UN will take him away from hurricane relief, Bush replied:" "I can do more than one thing at one time.  That's what -- I hope you -- by the time I'm finished (being) President, I hope you'll realize that the government can do more than one thing at one time, and individuals in the government can."  And Vice President Cheney, in remarks to the National Restaurant Association, said: "As we answer the crisis on the Gulf Coast, we are going to continue working on other great priorities for the country..."

For the White House, the process of digging out from the political aftermath of the hurricane has been about as messy as the actual clean-up.  While the Administration was engineering David Paulison's replacement of Michael Brown yesterday, Bush was in Gulfport, MS telling the traveling press corps that he hadn't talked with Michael Chertoff or with Brown and didn't know about Brown's resignation.  Bush: "You know, I -- you probably -- maybe you know something I don't know, but as you know, we've been working, and I haven't had a chance to get on the phone."  White House spokesperson Scott McClellan then clarified that when Bush "had been informed earlier today about Mike Brown's decision...  What he was saying is that he didn't know it had been made public."

Opening statements over with, today the Senate Judiciary Committee begins questioning Roberts, whose assertion that he has "no platform" leads all the coverage today.  Committee chair Arlen Specter kicks off the 30-minute rounds at 9:30 am; the session is expected to wrap up around 8:30 pm.

As the Senate braces for a partisan fight today over how best to help hurricane victims, it looks like Congress won't be tackling Medicare, energy or tax cuts until much later this fall now that Senators Frist and Gregg, chair of the Senate Budget Committee, have announced that the committee won't report its recommendations, which contain those and other GOP priorities, until October 26.

More doings in New York today: Democrats head to the polls to choose a candidate -- between Fernando Ferrer, Virginia Fields, Gifford Miller, and Anthony Weiner -- to face Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R).  Consistent with other surveys, the latest WNBC/Marist College poll of likely Democratic voters has Ferrer leading the field at 35%, five points below the 40% he needs to avoid a runoff that would take place two weeks from today.  Weiner, who has begun to pull away from the pack, is at 29%, followed by Fields and Miller at 14% each.  Polls open at 6:00 am and close at 9:00 pm.

Also today, the major-party candidates in Virginia's gubernatorial race face off in their first debate hosted by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce and moderated by NBC's Tim Russert.

The Roberts (re-)nomination
Two Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in their opening statements yesterday, linked the government's response to Hurricane Katrina to racial and class inequities.  Judiciary ranking member Patrick Leahy said that Katrina has highlighted the importance of having government, and is a reminder that there's a racial divide in the country.  Ted Kennedy then said that Katrina unmasked the "gross disparities" that exist in the American culture and said that in the aftermath of Katrina, many Americans were "left out" and "left behind."  Kennedy also said the country needs an effective government to step in when states can't handle these situations on their own.

USA Today says the opening statements yesterday made it clear "that a subtext to the question-and-answer sessions that begin today... will be rival ideas of the Supreme Court's role in American life."

The Washington Post: "The confirmation hearings are now only partly about Roberts and what he thinks about the law.  Instead, they have become a prelude to the coming battle over President Bush's as-yet-unnamed successor to [O'Connor] and a forum... for a debate about deep philosophical differences between Republicans and Democrats over the role of government and the courts in American society."

The Washington Times notes the party-line split "over whether [Roberts] must answer questions about his views on issues such as abortion and civil liberties."

The Los Angeles Times says Roberts' "short, simple statement showed the qualities that made him a well-regarded advocate before the Supreme Court as a lawyer, both for the government during the administration of President George H.W. Bush and in private practice."

The New York Times analysis notes how Roberts’ opening remarks smoothly addressed Democratic concerns -- on subjects such as his of view of precedent and his 25-year-old Reagan Administration memos -- “implicitly without appearing to acknowledge them.”

"The first independent study" of Roberts' voting record shows that "his voting record places him to the right of the average member of the US circuit courts, especially on civil rights and civil liberties, but that he has "a liberal streak on economic regulation and labor issues," reports the Washington Post.

Roll Call says conservative activists are starting to warm to Arlen Specter because of his handling of the Roberts hearings, because he "somewhat unexpectedly" objected to the idea of Bush nominating Alberto Gonzales to the Court, and because they "have had an easier legislative road this year thanks to Specter’s support for a large chunk of the Bush agenda and his avid support of his judicial nominations."

The Boston Globe: "Republican strategists" are "confident his feet will remain firmly planted on the GOP reservation.  All of which has Democratic foes whispering: Was this the price Specter had to pay to keep his committee chairmanship last year, after religious conservatives attacked him for supporting abortion rights?"

Like Specter, Republican Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio plans to aggressively question Roberts, and The Hill games out that this would "undermine a tactical rhetorical advantage Republicans maintain on the committee" because of their two-seat edge over Democrats.

Hurricane politics: The Bush administration
USA Today writes up the latest Gallup data showing Bush's approval rating at 46%, which is not a low for Gallup, but also showing that "the perception that [Bush] is a strong and decisive leader... has eroded to the lowest rating of his presidency, 52%."  The poll depicts "a stark racial divide" on numerous fronts.  As significantly, given Bush's trip to the UN, the story notes, "If Katrina has affected Americans' views of themselves, it also affected views of the USA from around the world."

The new Washington Post/ABC poll has Bush's approval rating at a new low for that survey, 42%.  "Bush aides privately view the latest poll numbers with gloomy realism but take heart from Bush's past ability to push the Republican Congress to follow his lead even when his popularity has flagged.  Despite his political problems, they note, the Senate seems almost certain to confirm" Roberts.

The Boston Globe's Canellos says that it's Iraq, not Katrina, that will cost Bush support among Americans.  "Bush may be weakened, and his agenda may be in trouble, but it's not just because of his handling of the hurricane."  Still: "the public doesn't need Democrats to tell them what went wrong with Bush's response to the disaster...  The public needs Democrats to offer fresh alternatives on the economy and security...  The public, at least according to polls, is ready and eager to think about new ideas.  The Democrats may not be."

The New York Post says Sen. Hillary Clinton blasted the Administration’s response to Katrina at a Manhattan fundraiser yesterday.

The Wall Street Journal reports that as FEMA chief Michael Brown stepped down yesterday, "government documents surfaced showing that vital resources, such as buses and environmental health specialists, weren't deployed to the Gulf region for several days, even after federal officials seized control of Hurricane Katrina relief efforts...  The documents highlight serious deficiencies in the Department of Homeland Security's National Response Plan."

Bloomberg reports that having named "R. David Paulison, 57, head of the U.S. Fire Administration, as acting director" of FEMA, Bush "is now looking for someone with a telegenic presence as well as proven management and leadership skills to take on the reconstruction-czar job," and "also plans to make a major speech to address Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath."

USA Today profiles Paulison, the man who "redefined the nation's emergency preparedness with just five words: duct tape and plastic sheeting."

The Washington Post covers questions about FEMA's ability to disburse funds for recovery, noting that the agency "will receive most of the $62 billion Congress has approved."

Hurricane politics: race and class
The Los Angeles Times notes that Bush yesterday "alluded for the first time to the disproportionate number of African Americans stranded by the flooding in the city, and he vowed to look into growing concerns among homeowners who lacked flood insurance coverage."

Condoleezza Rice defended Bush’s record on race relations yesterday, the New York Times writes.  “Ms. Rice rejected as ‘poisonous’ any suggestion that President Bush himself would discriminate racially against any victims of the hurricane and said that his record on education, including aid to historically black colleges and the setting of standards for schoolchildren, demonstrated that he believed passionately in racial equality."

The Los Angeles Times' Brownstein says it's "too soon to say whether" the newly energized debate in Washington about poverty "will lead to a new agenda for either party - or even remain a focus as the floodwaters recede.  But many analysts believe that the stark pictures of families trapped amid the rising waters have made the persistence of poverty tangible... in a way unmatched by years of government reports."

And the Los Angeles Times covers "several related but incomplete plans" at the state and local level that were "aimed in particular at the one-quarter of the city's population that did not own cars or have ready transportation out of town in the event of evacuation orders."

Hurricane politics: Congress
The Wall Street Journal on the delay in extending Bush's dividend and cap gains tax cuts: "congressional Republicans and the White House remain in favor of ultimately extending the... cuts, which they see as a boon to economic growth.  Still, a delay in extending tax cuts, coming at a time when [Bush's] popularity has dropped in polls, could introduce new doubts about whether the president's tax cut will outlast his presidency.  The White House has considered the early part of the president's second term its most auspicious window for action."

The Washington Post looks at the tax-relief package the Senate may "rush through" this week, and previews the Senate and House committee hearings tomorrow and Thursday on what went wrong.

Roll Call looks at how, "[w]ith Republican poll numbers falling and the nation focusing increasingly on domestic policy, House Democrats are feeling new political confidence and taking on a rare offensive posture against the GOP."

The Hill suggests that the loss of population due to evacuees not returning to the state may cost Louisiana a House seat.

Hurricane economics
"Crude oil traded near a three-week low on concern that rising energy costs and the lingering effects of Hurricane Katrina will reduce demand...  A U.S. Energy Department report tomorrow may show that the nation's gasoline stockpiles fell by 2.08 million barrels last week as hurricane damage prevents some refineries from processing crude, according to the median forecast of 10 analysts in a Bloomberg survey."

"The average nationwide retail gasoline price Monday fell to $2.967 a gallon for regular unleaded from $3.018 the day before, according to AAA."  That said: "Natural gas prices will be a big challenge this winter."  - USA Today

Economic research firm International Strategy & Investment tells clients: "Our contacts at the Department of Labor in Louisiana suggest that unemployment claims in the Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi states combined surge 150,000 this week, taking the national total to 470,000."  More: "This 470,000 figure is so big that it suggests a bigger hit to the" third-quarter GDP than the -0.5% hit "we'd been expecting."

The Wall Street Journal covers tension between evacuees who are seeking -- and in many cases being given -- jobs in their new areas of residence, and resentful "longtime unemployed locals."

More on the economy
Delta Air Lines asked its pilots for a second round of wage and benefit cuts to prevent the airline from bankruptcy, the New York Times says.  “People who have been briefed on the proposal said it would cut pilots' wages and benefits to roughly the levels of their counterparts at low-fare airlines."

Amidst all the focus on indicators affected by the hurricane, the Merrill Lynch research department highlights two which will affect the markets for months to come, and which have not been affected by the hurricane: 1) the negative personal savings rate; and 2) the deep overvalued condition in the housing market, a/k/a the bubble.

"Unite Here, which represents 450,000 apparel, hotel, casino and restaurant workers," may disaffiliate from the AFL-CIO "as early as tomorrow," says the Wall Street Journal.  "The federation stands to lose roughly $3.4 million a year in dues from Unite Here, on top of about $28 million it has already lost in annual dues from... three recent disaffiliations."

Ethics
Pegged to Karl Rove deputy Susan Ralston's appearance before the grand jury in the Valerie Plame leak investigation, the Washington Post looks at the emotional and financial toll often exacted on White House aides summoned to testify in such probes.  "Ralston declined to discuss her interview with the grand jury for this article, or the burden that it has caused.  Friends said she had not spoken with them about it."

Roll Call says that "frustration with politics as usual" may motivate voters in states like California, Florida and Ohio to focus more on redistricting initiatives on the ballot than they typically would.

2005 and 2006
The Los Angeles Times covers Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's campaign kickoff for his three initiatives on the November 8 special election ballot.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch previews today’s debate double-header in Virginia’s race for governor, and also notes that Jerry Kilgore (R) yesterday announced a $1.5 million contribution from the Republican Governors Association.

One of the most striking things about the most recent Newark Star-Ledger/Eagleton-Rutgers poll, which shows Jon Corzine (D) leading Doug Forrester (R) by 20%, is how Bush's standing in the state seems to be dragging Forrester down.  Per the poll, only a third of New Jersey residents approve of Bush's job -- an all-time low for the President.  Recall that there was a time when some analysts believed that memories of September 11, along with the ethical scandals involving ex-Gov. James McGreevey (D), might help Bush steal this blue state in 2004.  Indeed, Kerry won the state with 53% to Bush's 46% margin, substantially less than Gore's 16-point, 56%-40% win over Bush in 2000.

"Obviously, some of Bush's unpopularity is likely to rub off on any Republican," Ingrid Reed, the director of the New Jersey Project for the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers, tells First Read.  But it's not the only story: Reed says that Forrester's inability to separate himself on the issue of corruption -- given McGreevey's resignation last year and Corzine's loan to an ex-girlfriend who happens to be a local union leader -- has also hurt the Republican.  "Forrester was hoping he could be seen as the person who could best deal with corruption."  But, according to the poll, Corzine bests Forrester on that question, 31%-25%.

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