updated 10/10/2005 10:06:36 AM ET 2005-10-10T14:06:36

“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.

FIRST GLANCE
President Bush's to-do list this week:

  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

Respond to past, present and potential future natural disasters.  Bush makes his eighth trip to the Gulf Coast later this afternoon.  He and Laura Bush dine with local officials in New Orleans to discuss the rebuilding effort tonight at 8:00 pm ET and appear on NBC's TODAY tomorrow morning.  Back in Washington, his Administration continues to send aid to Pakistan and, with new concerns arising about US preparedness and sick birds in Eastern Europe, to prepare for a possible avian flu outbreak.

Press his case for staying the course in Iraq, and prepare Americans for increasing US casualties -- including the looming 2,000-casualty milestone -- in the run-up to Saturday's vote on the draft constitution.  Unlike last week, which was chock-full of Bush and Cheney events focused on Iraq, Bush has no war-focused appearances or speeches this week, though he does have a photo op with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld scheduled for Friday.

Sell Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers in the absence of unified conservative movement, which means the job falls to Bush, his White House and Cabinet, the Republican National Committee, and a cadre of GOP consultants -- a job that will likely distract resources and energy from other efforts Bush needs to make this fall.  Congress is out this week and, in part for a lack of enthusiasm among GOP senators, no timetable for Miers' hearings has been set.  The Washington Times found almost half of Senate Republicans saying they're not sold on her.  Senate Judiciary chair Arlen Specter decries her critics' rush to judgment, but also wants to know what assurances the White House might have given conservatives about how she would vote on abortion.  Judiciary member and 2008 contender Sam Brownback told an anti-tax group in Iowa this past weekend that he doesn't know where he'll come down.   

Refrain from allowing various investigations and indictments of key GOP officials distract him from his domestic priorities.  Karl Rove is expected to make his fourth appearance before the Plame leak grand jury this week.  Given how central Rove has been to Bush's political and policy successes over the years, and how edgy the GOP base and lawmakers already are these days, the White House may need to start sending the message that it can function without him.

Last Friday, the scandal surrounding indicted GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff claimed a second victim tied to the Administration when Bush's nominee for deputy attorney general withdrew because of intensifying Democratic scrutiny of his ties to Abramoff.  Also on Friday, the Administration's former top procurement official pleaded not guilty to charges that he lied about his dealings with Abramoff.

And Tom DeLay's removal from his post may hurt the GOP in the chamber of Congress he has most depended on to pass his agenda.  House Republicans' hairline victory on the energy bill last Friday got plenty of coverage because of how party leaders held the vote open for an extra half-hour, a move which echoed the Medicare prescription-drug benefit vote from two years ago, when they kept the vote going so they could twist arms and get their members to switch. 

But as NBC's Mike Viqueira points out, in the case of the energy bill, temporary House Majority Leader Roy Blunt thought the GOP had enough support going in.  This vote marked Blunt's first time out in his new role.  Viq says it became apparent pretty quickly that Blunt was in trouble as 14 Republicans, mostly Northeast moderates, joined Democrats in opposing the bill.  As the overtime clock ticked, it was DeLay who was front-and-center in the well twisting arms, along with Speaker Hastert and other GOP leaders.  Blunt was somewhere along the back wall.  Not only did the vote give Democrats more fodder for their "abuse of power" argument, Viq says, but it didn't appear to be a good omen for Blunt, who has engendered animosity among some Republican members for what they see as his grasping ambition and apparent lack of skills as a vote-counter. 

Just before the vote on Friday, GOP House campaign committee chair Rep. Tom Reynolds told reporters that Blunt's appointment would help keep their members from getting distracted from the agenda in the event that DeLay gets convicted.  Blunt's miscalculations and DeLay's prominent role in securing the votes to pass the energy bill would seem to suggest otherwise.

By the way, when asked what that GOP agenda is, Reynolds answered: tax reform, issues currently being considered by Congress, and educating seniors on the Medicare prescription-drug benefit.  Asked whether Medicare and high home heating costs could prove to be a liability for the GOP, Reynolds said, "We're going to have to deal with it as it comes."  RNC chair Ken Mehlman may have more ebullient answers when he headlines the Connecticut GOP dinner tonight and talks about "Republican accomplishments, the future of the party, and upcoming elections," per the release.

ETHICS
The Wall Street Journal calls the CIA leak investigation the "most threatening" problem facing the White House right now because of the effect it may have on Bush's "architect" Karl Rove.  "Some Republicans even link the administration's recent setbacks on Hurricane Katrina and Harriet Miers to Mr. Rove's legal distractions -- and say they fear worse if he were forced to leave the White House over the investigation." 

Speculating on the potential political repercussions of DeLay's troubles, the Dallas Morning News notes, "Democrats hope that voters will be alienated against the party in power in next year's congressional elections rather than alienated from voting."  Also: "Political experts and GOP officials interviewed around the country concede that DeLay's problems compound what has been a bad stretch for Republicans...  But they also warn that it is premature to predict an electoral advantage for Democrats because of the unpredictability of events of the next year, a widespread public belief that both parties' lawmakers have ethical shortcomings, and the fact that few House seats are competitive..." 

The Washington Times reports that feelings in Austin toward prosecutor Ronnie Earle (D) are decidedly more mixed than DeLay's own.  But in examining Earle's record, the Times says that "several specific cases stand out that indicate he is not necessarily an outstanding prosecutor and that his judgment has been questionable at best." 

Bob Novak noted in his Sunday Chicago Sun-Times column how the conservative Free Enterprise Fund is running a TV ad blasting Earle.  The ad contends that “Earle's campaign against DeLay is aimed at '’the Bush free-market agenda.'’ 

The Saturday Washington Post covered deputy attorney general nominee Timothy Flanigan's withdrawal of his nomination because of Democratic scrutiny of his ties to Jack Abramoff. 

Bloomberg reports on some members' big spending on luxury travel, paid for by their leadership PACs, "which can take in higher donations from companies than can the campaign committees that all lawmakers set up to finance re-elections.  The PACs' expenditures also aren't regulated."  On the list of those who spend the most to travel in style: Michael Oxley, "whose name has been synonymous with good corporate governance since his sponsorship of the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley law;" House Majority Leader and Whip Roy Blunt; and DeLay.  House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer is the only Democrat in the top 10. 

THE MIERS NOMINATION
The Los Angeles Times' Brownstein puts forth "an alternative explanation" to the CW that Bush picked Miers out of political weakness: "Bush picked Miers because he felt strong...  Remember that Bush, throughout his presidency, has repeatedly demonstrated that he believes leadership is more about following his personal convictions, regardless of outside opinion, than building consensus.  When he has the power to implement his ideas, he usually does...  The backlash against Miers last week makes clear that not all conservatives agree; Bush simply overestimated their willingness to defer to him." 

The Dallas Morning News covers reaction from both sides to Focus On The Family's James Dobson's revelation that he had "spoken in confidence with Mr. Rove about the Miers nomination and that their conversation persuaded him to support her...  His remarks have triggered concern in both parties that Ms. Miers has revealed how she might vote, if confirmed, on sensitive issues such as abortion, school prayer and gay marriage.  Even if she hasn't, critics suspect that the president has some private knowledge regarding Ms. Miers' views that he is not sharing with those who must vote for her..."

Bloomberg covers how Judiciary chair and ranking member Arlen Specter and Patrick Leahy "made clear they plan to question Dobson and White House staff before the hearings begin." 

The Boston Globe, in its three-part series looking key evangelical leaders, yesterday profiled Dobson and today profiles Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention.

The Washington Times surveyed Republican state party chairs, many of whom told the paper that the base "across the country looks more favorably on President Bush's nomination of [Miers]... than the cluster of conservative critics who are opposing her inside the Beltway." 

One Washington lobbyist, William Moore of strategic consulting firm Public Strategies, advises his clients in a memo that "conservative opinion leaders don't take into account an obligation of Republican senators to consider the consequences of rejecting Miers in weakening the President.  Miers is likely to be confirmed to the disappointment of the conservative grassroots."

As best we can tell, Sam Brownback remains the only GOP senator to strongly suggest he may not vote for Miers.  That said, the Washington Times finds that "27 Republican senators -- almost half of his party's members in the chamber -- have publicly expressed specific doubts about Miss Miers or said they must withhold any support whatsoever for her nomination until after the hearings." 

Brownback on Miers during his fourth trip to Iowa: (Des Moines Register)

The AP focuses on the reaction Miers got at both churches she attended in Dallas over the weekend.  The Cornerstone Christian Church gave her a standing ovation, but the "scene marked a stark contrast to the services Miers attended at the Episcopal church, where she wasn't mentioned..."

The New York Times combs through Miers’ cases from her days in private practice, which mostly focused on business deals and contract disputes.  “Ms. Miers has come under fire from critics who say she lacks any substantive experience with weighty constitutional issues.  But she has plenty of practice with the less provocative legal questions posed in most of the court's cases.” 

NATIONAL SECURITY POLITICS
USA Today looks at how increasing security costs are siphoning US government funds away from rebuilding projects in Iraq.  "More than 2,800 projects have begun since the transfer of sovereignty in June 2004, and 1,700 of those have been completed, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.  They include refurbished schools, new police stations, hospitals, bridges and new roads.  It is the larger, more expensive projects such as water treatment plants, sewage networks and power grids that are being cut back...  If President Bush does ask Congress for more money, there will be tough questions about oversight and rising security costs." 

The New York Times notes that former FBI director Louis Freeh’s new book settles scores not only with former President Clinton, but also with former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke.  Freeh asserts that Clarke “was ‘basically a second-tier player’ who had little access to power and was in no position to issue credible warnings in advance of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon." 

In the Washington Post Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson is once again focusing on Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, now accusing him of "negotiating with Iran for nuclear material and (sending) $1.2 million to terrorist Osama bin Laden."  

THE BUSH/GOP AGENDA
The Washington Post outlines the Administration's $300 million, grassroots-heavy campaign to educate seniors about the Medicare prescription-drug benefit, including a $25 million contract with Ketchum Inc. the PR firm which "produced a controversial series of prepackaged news stories for HHS last year that touted the drug benefit and featured actors posing as journalists."  The story also notes CNBC's November 19 town hall on the new benefit. 

Bob Novak in the Chicago Sun Times notes how Speaker Hastert has essentially embraced House conservatives’ Operation Offset, their call for cuts to offset spending on hurricane relief.  “The question will be how serious the leadership is in stuffing these offsets down the throats of free-spending senior Republicans who hold positions of power in the House.” 

A Wall Street Journal editorial on sources of market anxiety identifies one as "Republican disarray in Washington.  Post-Katrina, the GOP has been on the defensive and lacking any intellectual cohesion.  Some in the House want to cut spending to offset Katrina relief, while others in the Senate want to increase spending by federalizing Gulf Coast health care via Medicaid.  The House Majority Leader has been indicted, and [Bush] now has a conservative revolt over his Supreme Court nominee.  House leaders had to keep the vote open for 45 minutes on Friday to pass a bill to expand energy production that should have been easy...  The obvious market concern is that the pro-growth political majority of recent years is in jeopardy.  The plan to extend the 15% tax rate on capital gains and dividends to 2010... is running into trouble.  And looking into next year, the danger is increasing of big GOP losses," in which case, "making Mr. Bush's tax cuts permanent becomes impossible." 

IT'S THE ECONOMY
CNBC points out that while gas is up 10 cents over the past two weeks, it was up even higher one week ago.  So it's actually on a downward trend right now.

USA Today looks at how rising energy prices have emboldened oil-rich nations like Venezuela, Iran and Russia "to challenge U.S. foreign policy and given them more leverage with U.S. allies that rely on oil imports."

The Wall Street Journal lists energy prices as one of several dynamics that may prompt the Fed to keep hiking interest rates.  "Indeed, the Fed may raise rates even further than it had thought likely before Hurricane Katrina struck." 

2005 AND 2006
Pegged to recent decisions by high-profile GOP lawmakers not to run for the Senate in 2006, a couple of papers look at why the GOP might be having recruiting issues.  The Washington Post attributes it to a "lackluster performance" by GOP Senate campaign committee chair Elizabeth Dole, an uninviting political climate for Republicans, and the possibility that "preoccupied senior White House officials have been less engaged in candidate recruitment." 

The Los Angeles Times: "A confluence of problems that are driving down Bush's public approval ratings - high gas prices, ongoing violence in Iraq, Hurricane Katrina, the ethics problems hounding Rove and GOP congressional leaders - is also making it harder to persuade Republicans to seek Senate seats...  [P]olitical analysts see a White House that is more distracted and less effective at mobilizing the party's best candidates." 

Voting by mail has already begun for California's November 8 special election.  The Los Angeles Times covers labor's concerns about Proposition 75, the paycheck protection initiative that unions are having a tough time fighting. 

The Sacramento Bee takes an in-depth look at Proposition 74, which would require state teachers to work for five years, instead of the present two, before receiving tenure.  “Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger… contends that districts would hire better teachers if they had more time to decide which ones should receive permanent jobs.  Opponents say the proposal would strip new teachers of their rights and drive others away from the profession.” 

On Sunday, the Sacramento Bee examined Proposition 73, the parental-notification measure. 

Much of the coverage of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's move to put the subway system on alert late last week fails to mention that Bloomberg is up for re-election this fall.  DNC chair Howard Dean is back in New York campaigning with Bloomberg challenger Freddy Ferrer in Union Square this afternoon.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch covers yesterday’s Virginia gubernatorial debate between Tim Kaine (D) and Jerry Kilgore (R), who clashed over abortion, the death penalty, and taxes. 

The Washington Post says Kaine and Kilgore repeatedly used the same answers.  "From Kaine, it was that he is the logical successor to popular Gov. Mark R. Warner.  From Kilgore, it was that Kaine is a big liberal." 

The Newark Star-Ledger says New Jersey’s race for governor has turned into “the guilt-by-association game.  In... ads and public statements, Democrat Jon Corzine links his Republican rival to the policies and politics of the Bush administration at a time when the president's popularity is at an all-time low.  Republican Doug Forrester, meanwhile, rarely misses an opportunity to connect Corzine with the scandals of former Gov. James E. McGreevey's administration.”

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