updated 10/4/2005 9:24:08 AM ET 2005-10-04T13:24:08

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First glance
President Bush has scheduled a Rose Garden press conference for 10:30 am.  Twenty-five hours after he nominated his White House counsel and former personal lawyer Harriet Miers to fill the O'Connor slot, here are the conclusions so far:

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1) This was a "circle the wagons" pick that emphasized loyalty above established conservative credentials and -- while Miers is clearly no slouch -- intellectual stature at a time when Bush faces the lowest approval ratings of his presidency and may not have the political capital needed to get a nominee through a tough confirmation fight.

2) Senate Democrats seem inclined to sit back and watch the White House try to corral some unhappy conservatives.  Minority Leader Harry Reid came about as close as possible to endorsing Miers yesterday, saying he likes her lack of experience on the bench.  After Reid's office initially seemed inclined to try to distance Reid from Miers yesterday morning, they pulled a 180 and started reminding people that Reid actually recommended her to the White House.

3) For booking and interviewing purposes, here's the current scorecard among prominent conservative activists and groups.  Dissenting: Rush Limbaugh, Bill Kristol, Gary Bauer, Pat Buchanan, David Frum, Manuel Miranda, and several bloggers.  Notably quiet: Judiciary Committee member Sam Brownback.  Brownback's Judiciary colleague Tom Coburn and Sens. Rick Santorum and John Thune say they are reserving judgment.  The Wall Street Journal editorial page, Paul Weyrich, Tony Perkins and the Family Research Council, and Concerned Women of America are waiting and seeing.  Approving: James Dobson and Focus on the Family, Jay Sekulow, the Christian Coalition, and -- natch -- Progress for America, which coordinates with the White House to back Bush's Court nominees.

4) Miers has been a trail-blazer.

5) The choice community has been largely silent, apparently because they can't quite figure out where Miers stands on abortion.  But they're nervous about signs that she's pro-life, including her participation in a Christian evangelical church and some of her other associations in Texas.  One e-mail from NARAL questions Miers' position on abortion and says, "If Miers' judicial philosophy is anything like Bush's, she would roll back core protections of Roe v. Wade as early as this year."

6) Democrats know better than to hope that the confirmation process will shed light on White House machinations on any particular political moves or policies they're interested in.  Most if not all of Miers' dealings with Bush as his personal attorney and as White House counsel can be expected to fall under attorney-client privilege.  White House spokesperson Scott McClellan yesterday also deferred a lot of questions about Miers' role in shaping White House policy to the confirmation process.  That said, we'd note that the Miers nomination may give Democrats another angle through which to raise, if not actually investigate White House aides' involvement in the Plame leak.  Recently, some new information was disclosed about Karl Rove's dealings with indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff through the normal confirmation process being followed by deputy attorney general nominee Timothy Flanigan.  One top Democratic researcher tells First Read that Miers "gives us a new angle to raise it, and there's always a chance something could drop in terms of timing, etc."

7) Beyond that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist wants a confirmation vote before Thanksgiving, and that Judiciary Committee chair Arlen Specter thinks it might take longer, nothing is known about the timetable.  Congress is out until Thursday for Rosh Hashanah and will also be out next week for Yom Kippur.

8) And finally, for now, even a Supreme Court pick can't drown out a DeLay (re-)indictment.  After DeLay's attorney filed a motion to dismiss the original indictment, another grand jury (the original panel expired last week) issued another indictment last night, using a different legal argument to levy more serious charges of money laundering.  DeLay and his supporters are charging prosecutor Ronnie Earle with seeking a do-over.  More on this below.

Two final lead notes for today.  First, the political climate in which Bush is trying to refashion his domestic agenda may be changing quickly.  Polling between early September and last week suggests that the public no longer thinks hurricane relief should be nearly the priority for the federal government that they thought it should be a few weeks ago -- and that Iraq and the economy are re-emerging as top concerns they want the government to address.  More on the polling data below.  Unclear what this might mean for Bush, since the war and the economy (read: gas prices) remain troublesome sticking points for him.  But these results don't bode well for his newly adjusted domestic agenda, which centers on rebuilding New Orleans.

And lastly, in California today, 17 candidates are seeking their parties' nominations in the special congressional election to replace newly minted SEC chairman Chris Cox (R).  Polls open at 10:00 am ET and close at 11:00 pm ET, and the top finisher in each party will advance to the December 6 general election.  More on this below.

The Miers nomination
What the nomination tells us, per USA Today: Bush "isn't afraid to disappoint conservatives, prefers to promote trusted advisers and listens to his wife."  Also, "he didn't want a contentious confirmation battle as he tries to regain his own popularity and political momentum."

The New York Times also says Bush was trying to avoid a fight.  “‘The swagger is gone from this White House,’ said Charles E. Cook Jr., editor of The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan newsletter, citing a litany of other difficulties afflicting the administration..."

"The continued struggle in Iraq and the scramble to improve the federal response to Hurricane Katrina has taken a toll on Bush's image...; the president simply could not afford a protracted battle over the Supreme Court," writes the Boston Globe's Canellos.

The San Francisco Chronicle: “It is hard to think of another instance in which President Bush has had to defend himself against conservative accusations that he is bowing to the left.”

The Washington Post, in its Miers profile, says "lawyers and others who know Miers in Dallas and Washington say that [Miers] is not a conservative activist."

But the Los Angeles Times observes that "what is known of her life and her career indicates that she shares many of the values of the president...  That in turn suggests that, when it comes to forming opinions, Miers may have little in common with O'Connor, who was appointed by President Reagan and turned out to be a closet moderate who sometimes rejected conservative positions."

The Financial Times: "A Republican strategist involved with a judicial advocacy group said Mr Bush had come to the conclusion that Ms Miers was the most conservative person he could get through the Senate confirmation process.  While outside conservative groups may complain about her, they will have to prove she is not sufficiently conservative and find a Republican leader in the Senate to argue their case in order to derail her nomination, the strategist said."

Bloomberg says Bush is "suing for political peace instead of trying to energize his base of conservative Republican supporters" with his pick, and says Miers' "work as a corporate lawyer suggests she may be an economic conservative and a friend of business interests."

In an effort to rally conservatives to Miers' side, RNC chair Ken Mehlman "yesterday held a conference call with conservative leaders to address their concerns...  He stressed Bush’s close relationship with Miers and the need to confirm a justice who will not interfere with the administration’s management of the war on terrorism," The Hill reports.  The story also notes that Karl Rove "worked over" James Dobson of Focus on the Family, who endorsed Miers yesterday (whereas the Family Research Council did not).

"Many liberal groups reacted to Miers' nomination in much the same way they initially responded to the nomination of Roberts, whom they eventually opposed.  They did not declare opposition to Miers, but... demanded that the Senate push to have her describe her judicial philosophy."  - USA Today

The New York Times examines Miers’ record on abortion, noting her campaign to overturn the ABA's support of abortion rights and her $150 contribution to attend a pro-life group’s dinner.  Still: neither side appeared fully confident of where Ms. Miers stood...  The major abortion-rights groups largely withheld judgment on Monday, in contrast to quick opposition some voiced to John G. Roberts Jr. when he was first selected in July.”

The AP gets a hold of a survey Miers filled out for the Lesbian/Gay Coalition of Dallas when she ran for city council.  "Miers answered 'Yes' to the survey question, 'Do you believe that gay men and lesbians should have the same civil rights as non-gay men and women?'"

The Wall Street Journal rounds up reaction on the blogs.

USA Today says that "by choosing a friend, Bush ensures that his nominee will face questions about her credentials and whether she benefited from cronyism...  Stanford University law professor Deborah Rhode says Miers' limited résumé may play into criticism that Bush has received because of the administration's response to Hurricane Katrina."  And the paper has a sidebar on the strikingly similar language Bush has used in announcing promotions of longtime advisors.

The New York Post says that the White House is nervous about whether the American Bar Association will rate Miers as 'well-qualified' or the far less impressive 'qualified.'"

The Washington Post leads its "one more from the inner circle" story with Andy Card surprising Miers by letting her know that Bush was considering her.  "In fact, senior administration officials said yesterday, Bush had Miers in mind for the court for two months without telling her."  The story notes that Bush's "faith in the people around him is not always shared by his supporters."

The Dallas Morning News re-runs a profile of Miers they did in 1991, as she was about to end her city council service and begin her term as the Texas State Bar's first female president.  At the time, the paper wrote: "Ms. Miers has a reputation for studying issues carefully before she votes.  But she has switched her stance on some crucial issues, and council insiders perceived her moves as indecisiveness.  Such key votes included the city's stand on the Wright amendment; the public-housing desegregation lawsuit settlement; and Dallas' recent, bitter redistricting battles."

Ethics: the GOP leadership
The Washington Post says yesterday's indictment of DeLay raises "new and more serious allegations than the conspiracy charge lodged against" him last week.  "One count of the new indictment accuses DeLay of conspiracy to commit money laundering... The other new count alleges that DeLay and the two associates 'did knowingly, conduct, supervise, and facilitate' the transfer of the $190,000 to Washington and back to Texas in violation of the state's money-laundering statutes.  Last week's conspiracy charge, in contrast, involved the state's election law, and it was that linkage that DeLay's attorneys challenged.

The Dallas Morning News: "Money laundering is a first-degree felony in Texas punishable by five years' probation up to life in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.  Conspiracy to commit money laundering is a second-degree felony punishable by two years' probation to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000."

The Houston Chronicle explains how these new charges popped up at the last minute.

The Washington Times notes, as First Read has, that the longer DeLay grapples with his legal issues, the less likely it seems that he'll get his job back.

Ethics: The Bush administration
The Washington Post covers Cheney chief of staff Lewis Libby's lawyer blaming Judith Miller and the New York Times for Miller's 85 days in jail yesterday, "reiterating that she was given permission a year ago to tell a prosecutor about private conversations she had with Libby."

The Hill says that FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford's "abrupt and mysterious resignation... has prompted questions" from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee "about the Bush administration’s vetting process."

It's the economy
CNBC reports that gasoline prices jumped 12.5 cents a gallon nationwide last week, according to data released Monday by the Energy Information Administration.  The average price for a gallon of gas (all grades) was $2.928.  Prices continued to rise overnight, by a couple of cents, in many Southern and Midwestern cities due to continuing gasoline supply issues.  According to CNBC, 12 refineries, about 18% of the region's total, remain offline.  The federal government has said 15% of refineries could be off-line for several weeks.

The New York Times front-pages evidence that housing prices have begun to decline.  “The question remains whether all of this represents a momentary cooling off of some overheated housing markets, or it presages a more pronounced downturn that would end a decade-long boom.”

Hurricane politics: The Bush administration
Back in early September, the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll asked respondents how great a priority the federal government should place on dealing with the aftermath of Katrina.  At the time, 49% listed it as a top priority for the government to address -- the highest-rated by far, with the war in Iraq a distant second at 30%, and job creation and economic growth ranking third at 28%.  The survey was taken from September 9-12 of 1,013 adults.

Based on results of a more recent national survey by part of the NBC/Journal polling team, Public Opinion Strategies, hurricane relief has dropped fairly precipitously as a federal priority in the public's mind in just the last few weeks: 26% now call it a top priority for the government to address, whereas the number-one issue is the Iraq war, at 38%, followed by jobs and the economy at 28%.  The cost and supply of energy now ranks fourth at 22%, edging out terrorism, which ranked fourth earlier this month in the NBC/Journal poll.  The POS survey was conducted from September 29-October 2 of 800 registered voters.  (Our pollsters note that non-registered voters have tended to rate hurricane relief as a top priority more often than registered voters.  Nevertheless, the drop-off is "still significant," they say.)

Unclear what this might mean for Bush, since the Iraq war and the economy (read: gas prices) remain troublesome sticking points for him.  Americans may come to see Iraq as less of a priority after the October 15 vote on the constitution, just as they did after the first round of elections there back in January.  But these results also don't bode well for Bush's newly adjusted domestic agenda, which centers on rebuilding New Orleans.

It also seems fair to ask at this point just what the Bush/GOP domestic agenda is, beyond perpetual support for tax cuts.  Social Security private accounts are dead.  Major tax reform has been delayed at the very least.  Both the White House and the GOP Hill leadership seem interested in immigration reform, but have conflicting views.

Add to that: USA Today reports that per the latest Gallup data, "Most seniors don't understand the new prescription-drug program being offered under Medicare and don't plan to sign up for coverage, even after months of salesmanship by the Bush administration...  Administration officials call the numbers encouraging.  Only this week did insurers start marketing specific drug plans, they note...  The program is projected to cost $720 billion over 10 years, according to the latest calculations by the Bush administration.  Some members of Congress have suggested delaying the program's start to help offset the costs of recovery from... Katrina and Rita, but the White House has rejected those appeals."

The Wall Street Journal covers the White House's renewed push for conservation, with an eye toward anticipated high home heating costs.

The Washington Times covers Administration efforts to prepare for an avian flu outbreak.

The politics of national security
At Camp Lejeune yesterday, Vice President Cheney echoed Bush's earlier assertions that "the United States is now paying the price for two decades of weak responses to terrorist attacks," and used many of the same examples that Bush did.  – Washington Post

A new law will make it difficult for Sunni Muslims to defeat the draft constitution, and their leaders are angry about it.  "For the constitution to pass, the law said, more than half of those who turn out to vote must vote yes; for it to be defeated, two-thirds of registered voters in three or more provinces have to vote no.  The higher standard for a no vote would all but kill any chance for the charter's rejection in heavily Sunni provinces, even if everyone turning out there voted no."  - Los Angeles Times

The Schwarzenegger team is touting a new poll showing majority support for all four Schwarzenegger-backed ballot measures.

Lost in the midst of all the Miers/DeLay/Plame/Katrina news is today's primary to fill SEC chairman Chris Cox's House seat.  Seventeen candidates (10 Republicans, 4 Democrats, and 3 Independents) are on the ballot in this GOP-leaning district, with the GOP field led by state Sen. Jim Campbell and underdog Marilyn Brewer, who has been endorsed by John McCain.  But the one who has dominated headlines is Independent Jim Gilchrist, co-founder of the Minuteman Project, which has attracted publicity by enlisting citizens to help patrol the border against illegal immigrants.  Polls open at 10:00 am ET and close at 11:00 pm ET, and the top finisher in each party will advance to the December 6 general election.

There's been some thought that Gilchrist could siphon votes from the GOP nominee, giving a boost to the Democrat.  However, Amy Walter of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report throws cold water on that theory. "I don't think Gilchrist has been able to get the amount of attention that he needs to be a more significant force," she tells First Read.  But if Gilchrist's numbers are bigger than expected, she adds, it may very well underscore a growing anti-illegal immigration sentiment.

2005 and 2006
Also lost yesterday amidst the Miers frenzy was the fact that Republicans suffered another recruiting blow in the West Virginia Senate race, where Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (R) has decided not to challenge incumbent Robert Byrd (D).  Capito's decision comes on the heels of GOP Gov. John Hoeven's decision not to challenge Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad in North Dakota.  However, while Democrats may be faring better these days in Senate race recruiting, they still have lots of candidates to recruit for House races in order to put the House in play in 2006.

Turning to Virginia’s gubernatorial race, the Richmond Times-Dispatch covers Jerry Kilgore (R) blasting Tim Kaine (D) on gas taxes, while Kaine went up with an attack ad charging that Kilgore, as a lobbyist, unsuccessfully pushed legislation to raise taxes on natural gas.  “The continuing debate over gas prices suggests the candidates are trying to harness -- or shield themselves from -- consumer anger over the spike in fuel costs...”

The Newark Star-Ledger, meanwhile, covers both Jon Corzine (D) and Doug Forrester (R) courting Latino voters yesterday, and also notes the release of a new poll showing Corzine's lead might be wider than other recent surveys have suggested.


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