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Monday, October 3, 2005 | 9:25 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaida and Ryann Gastwirth

First glance
President Bush has an opening to reassert control over the national political debate for the first time since July.  That month, Bush nominated John Roberts for the Supreme Court and got the energy and highway bills he wanted from Congress, developments which eclipsed the news that two top White House aides played a role in the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity.  Then Bush's August was subsumed by violence in Iraq and soaring gas prices at home, and Katrina and Rita dominated his September.

  1. Other political news of note
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    5. Fluke files to run in California

Today, Bush kicks off October by commandeering the morning shows with a typically well-oiled announcement that White House counsel Harriet Miers is his second Supreme Court nominee, and by watching Roberts take his seat at the center of the bench.  Bush attends Roberts' investiture ceremony at the Supreme Court at 9:15 am.

As he did with Dick Cheney in choosing his running mate, Bush ultimately decided to tap the person charged with leading the search for his second Court nominee.  Miers has no previous experience as judge and is pretty much a blank slate on issues beyond being pro-life, but she has known Bush since the 1980s and was his 1994 gubernatorial campaign lawyer, all further fuel for Democrats' charges of cronyism.  NBC's Tim Russert said on NBC’s Today Show that Democrats also are raising the question of whether Bush is placing loyalty above competence.

But given Miers' apparent lack of credentials beyond being an experienced attorney, pro-life, and loyal to Bush, the folks to watch today will be social conservatives, who so far have had little reaction to the announcement.

If confirmed, Miers would be the third woman to serve on the Court.  The White House bio emphasizes her trail-blazing achievements, noting that she was the first woman hired at her Dallas law firm; the first female president of that firm (and the first woman to lead a law firm of that size); the first woman to serve as president of the Dallas Bar Association; and the first woman elected president of the State Bar of Texas.  Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman actually calls Miers a "trail-blazer" in his statement.

The White House is also suggesting that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid urged them to consider Miers.  Reid's spokesperson tells NBC that Reid simply "urged the White House to take a look at her, but that is it."  But that sounds to us like pretty much the same thing.

Bill Frist said in his statement that he wants a floor vote on Miers before Thanksgiving, but it's unclear what kind of organized party-line responses we'll see today because Congress is out for Rosh Hashanah -- which will also help Bush seize control of the Washington agenda.  And after returning briefly later this week, Congress will leave again for Yom Kippur.  Tom DeLay, Bill Frist, and GOP conservatives riled up about hurricane relief spending are all temporarily beyond the spotlight.

Yet Bush's problems from late summer -- Iraq, energy prices, and his aides' role in the Plame leak -- dog him still.  In the Administration's latest effort to make a strong case for sticking out the war in Iraq and in preparing Americans for escalating violence in advance of the October 15 constitutional referendum, Cheney will visit Camp Lejeune in North Carolina today.  He gives brief remarks and takes part in a rally at 11:00 am, followed by a 12 noon luncheon to welcome home Marines returning from Iraq.  Yesterday, close observers noticed how the two generals overseeing the Iraq war struck a more optimistic tone on the Sunday shows than they did before Congress last week.  Bush himself gives what the White House has billed as a "significant" speech on the war on terror in Washington on Thursday.

Gas prices also spiked in several states over the weekend, part of the ripple effect from the refinery shutdown during Hurricane Rita, and the Administration also faces the prospect that natural gas and home heating costs will cause the widespread economic pessimism brought on by high gas prices to extend into the winter.

And the Sunday Washington Post reported that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald may be looking to build a case of criminal conspiracy against White House aides Karl Rove and Lewis Libby in the Plame leak investigation.  More on this below.

The Miers’ nomination
The AP on Miers: “Her lack of a judicial record makes it difficult to determine know whether Miers would dramatically move the court to the right.  White House officials... said Miers is conservative enough to satisfy the president's supporters and does not have a lengthy legal record that could embolden Democrats.”

More from the AP: "White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the president offered the job to Miers Sunday night over dinner in the residence.  He met with Miers on four occasions during the past couple weeks, McClellan said."

Roll Call's Stuart Rothenberg says a new Supreme Court nomination battle would be "an opportunity for Republicans at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to change the current national debate - away from ethics and Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), Social Security, Iraq and Hurricane Katrina.  Now, Republicans can sink their teeth into what is their own political version of a steak dinner: an ideological fight...  This is precisely the time for Bush to try to sucker Democrats into a bitter battle, even a filibuster.  And chances are, he won’t have to try too hard..."

Despite the focus by lawmakers and the media on social issues, the Court also regularly makes decisions in business cases that involve millions and millions of dollars.  The Wall Street Journal previews one such cases, on workers' comp, which the Court will hear this morning.

Ethics: The Bush administration
The Sunday Washington Post reported that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is expected to announce his intentions in his probe of the Valerie Plame leak "as early as this week" -- and that a "new theory about Fitzgerald's aim has emerged... from two lawyers who have had extensive conversations with the prosecutor while representing witnesses in the case.  They surmise that Fitzgerald is considering whether he can bring charges of a criminal conspiracy perpetrated by a group of senior Bush administration officials...  Fitzgerald would attempt to establish that at least two or more officials agreed to take affirmative steps to discredit and retaliate against (former Ambassador Joe) Wilson and leak sensitive government information about his wife.  To prove a criminal conspiracy, the actions need not have been criminal, but conspirators must have had a criminal purpose."

The New York Daily News says that “embarrassed Republicans and gloating Democrats” see Bush’s pick to head the Immigration and Customs enforcement agency, Julie Myers, “as the poster-child for political cronyism.”

Conservative commentator Armstrong Williams says he's "in negotiations to return some of the money he received under a Bush administration contract to promote the president's education law."  - USA Today

The Sunday Boston Globe covered Bush's latest round of 14 pardons, noting that he has "issued 60 pardons and sentence commutations during 56 months in office.  His father... issued 77 pardons during his single term...  President Clinton granted clemency to 456 people during his eight years in office, including 176 on his last day in the White House."

Ethics: The GOP leadership
The Washington Times writes up DeLay's appearance on Fox yesterday, in which he admitted "guilt" for wanting to defeat Democrats, and otherwise repeated his charges that the indictment is partisan politics, and said he'll continue to be de facto majority leader.

Bob Novak writes that DeLay's indictment by a Democratic prosecutor epitomizes how Democrats have used the criminal process as a political weapon.  “In today's polarized climate, both parties have contributed to the criminalization of politics.  But Democrats, losers in both elections and the world of ideas, have turned to using the criminal process over the last two decades."

Sunday's Dallas Morning News, on the other hand, has one of the grand jurors saying there was ample evidence to indict DeLay.

The Houston Chronicle senses a disconnect between DeLay and his colleagues about what his future role will be.

Roll Call reports that the possibility of a new round of House GOP leadership elections in January is "hardening into conventional wisdom among rank-and-file lawmakers," meaning that if the current investigation of DeLay is still ongoing at that time, or if new legal problems pop up, he's unlikely to get his job back next year.

The Washington Post runs a big-picture look at DeLay's lasting imprint on Washington and on American politics: Beyond his vast network of supportive House colleagues, lobbyists and operatives, DeLay "stood for a view of Washington as a battlefield on which two sides struggle relentlessly, moderates and voices of compromise are pushed to the margins, and the winners presume they have earned the right to punish dissenters and reward their own side with financial and policy favors."  The story notes that Democrats "increasingly are trying to emulate DeLay-perfected methods for enforcing caucus discipline..."

Roll Call also notes how Democrats in the wake of the DeLay indictment, "rather than scramble to devise a new strategy and communications plan for the party,... simply were putting a new headline atop their months-long offensive against the GOP for ethical misdoings and corruptive behavior...  Democrats also are privately encouraging Members not to go too far, recognizing the media will play a key role in advancing the DeLay story as details unfold."

The Saturday Wall Street Journal reported that Bill Frist started the process of selling his HCA stock on April 29, which "will likely be a key defense for Mr. Frist," whose shares weren't sold until July 1 and July 8, "since it suggests he started the process long before HCA knew of its financial problems."

It's the economy
Having watched gas prices all weekend, CNBC points out that supply problems continue to cause price spikes in the South, Southeast, Midwest and Upper Midwest.  Some notable examples: gasoline was up 20 cents per gallon over the weekend in Cedar Rapids, IA; and it was up 18 cents since Friday in Atlanta.  Detroit, Chicago and Cincinnati all saw double-digit increases over the weekend.  As CNBC reminds us, the supply chain is from oil rig to refineries to pipeline to service stations.  Right now, oil production in the Gulf of Mexico is at a standstill; refineries trying to turn what oil they have into gasoline are operating well below capacity; and as a result, pipelines are operating below capacity.

The Washington Post front-pages how energy prices around the world are "throwing politicians on the defensive and forcing governments to resort to price freezes, tax cuts and other measures to soothe voter resentment."

Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman tells USA Today that "it will take six months for U.S. energy production and prices to return to pre-hurricane levels, and he hints at energy shortages in the interim."

"The rise in natural gas prices to record highs last week has replaced healthcare expenses for workers as the biggest cost concern to US manufacturers," says the Financial Times.

The AP reports that gas prices are making the US Postal Service consider another increase in postage rates for 2007, even though a 2-cent increase is already scheduled for 2006.  "The fact that it costs the mail agency $8 million for every penny increase in gasoline prices for its 212,000 vehicles is a major factor, Postmaster General John Potter said Friday."

The Los Angeles Times covers the renewed push by some members of Congress for increased offshore drilling in the wake of the latest energy supply problems, with opponents pointing to hurricane-caused oil spills in the Gulf.

Despite the bad news on the energy front, "stocks proved surprisingly resilient in the third quarter," says USA Today, which has "sparked some optimism that the market can continue to produce decent returns in the fourth quarter."

And Bloomberg profiles longshot Fed chair candidate Donald Kohn, whose apolitical background is seen as hurting his chances, but who's very close to Greenspan.

Hurricane politics: The Bush administration
The Los Angeles Times follows up on NBC's reporting from last Friday about Administration efforts to secure congressional support for preparations for a flu pandemic.  "The administration's pandemic plan is part of a broader effort to accelerate preparations for a potential health disaster...  Still, administration officials cautioned that even perfect planning would only lessen the devastation caused by a pandemic, not prevent it."

USA Today surveyed the nation's governors and reports there's "almost no support... for President Bush's suggestion that the Pentagon could take the lead in responding to catastrophic natural disasters...  Half the state chief executives said they were opposed or had reservations, including Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the president's brother."  One of the few who do support the plan: potential presidential candidate and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R).

The politics of national security
The Washington Post notices that the US generals overseeing the Iraq war sounded more upbeat on the Sunday shows than they did in appearing before Congress last week, but the Post also points out that it's "not unusual for the administration to send out its top military commanders to clarify or speak optimistically about operations after congressional testimony or independent statements to the media that appear more pessimistic than the administration's position."

"The generals said it was important that Americans not turn against the war and that defeat would be a catastrophic setback in the larger struggle against terrorism.  Their comments were aimed at steadying public support for U.S. policy in Iraq amid mounting troop casualties and as the insurgency, which they said may involve as many as 20,000 fighters, showed few signs of weakening.  Associated Press reported that as of Saturday, at least 1,935 American troops had died in Iraq."

The Sunday Washington Times took its turn reporting that Karen Hughes, during her listening tour of Muslim nations, "encountered high-running emotions rooted in deep mistrust and suspicion about most things American."

2005 and 2006
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) campaigns for his ballot initiatives in Sherman Oaks, CA at 11:00 am.  The Los Angeles Times says "organized labor has begun pressuring California corporations to withhold donations to his campaign," with their eye on the Schwarzenegger-backed Proposition 75, which would bar public employee unions from using member dues for political donations without prior consent.  "So far, polls suggest that Proposition 75 is the only Schwarzenegger initiative voters support."

The Sunday Los Angeles Times examined Democrats' efforts to label Schwarzenegger a "'Bush Republican' bent on opening California's door to far-right friends and a conservative agenda," but also noted that "Schwarzenegger's record after nearly two years in office is far more nuanced than his foes suggest...  Schwarzenegger's profile may be less a product of ideology than improvisation."

The New York Post writes that Sen. Hillary Clinton’s PAC and re-election campaign have hired a teen-marketing guru, Gia Medeiros, “who believes the supernatural can be used to pitch products to young people - and who dissed 9/11 victims in shocking comments.”

North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven's decision not to run for the Senate against incumbent Kent Conrad (D) is being interpreted as a rebuff of Karl Rove, who tried to persuade him to run.

The GOP Senate campaign committee is expected to start an ad campaign today against a Republican who's challenging moderate and vulnerable Sen. Lincoln Chafee in his primary.

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