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Monday, October 31, 2005 | 9:20 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Ryann Gastwirth

First glance
Expect lots of talk today about President Bush "re-launching" his second term with his nomination of Judge Samuel "Scalito" Alito for the Supreme Court, which kicks off a carefully structured week for Bush of bully pulpit events and presidential travel.

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But what Alito really represents is an effort by Bush to relaunch his presidency among his party's conservative base -- by nominating a highly experienced candidate for the Supreme Court whose record may well inspire Democrats to filibuster, which in turn may prompt Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist to employ the nuclear option; by shifting his focus on immigration away from guest workers onto border security, as Bush has gradually been doing; and by starting a debate about tax reform, which may begin in earnest tomorrow when his tax-reform commission sends its recommendations to the Treasury Department.

NBC's Ken Strickland reports that Alito will be greeted by Senate Majority Leader Frist at 9:30 am photo-op outside the Russell Senate Office Building, and that Frist is likely to make a statement and maybe do Q&A at a second photo-op with Alito in the Mansfield Room at 10:15 am.

Alito's most obvious sticking point for Democrats: He was the lone dissenter in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1991 decision striking down Pennsylvania's law requiring women to inform their husbands before they had abortions.  He argued that the Pennsylvania legislature "could have rationally believed" that married women might seek abortions because of perceived problems such as finances or a husband's prior opposition that could be rectified if the couple talked before an abortion.  The case was appealed to the Supreme Court, which struck down the spousal notification requirement, reaffirmed the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion, and later found that the spousal notification part of the law was indeed unconstitutional.

The Republican National Committee is already trumpeting an early July Philadelphia Inquirer report that pro-choice Senate Judiciary chair Arlen Specter "offered praise" for Alito, as well as a 1990 comment by Sen. Ted Kennedy about Alito when he was being confirmed to the Third Circuit: "You have obviously had a very distinguished record, and I certainly commend you for long service in the public interest.  I think it is a very commendable career and I am sure you will have a successful one as a judge."  However, Kennedy spokesperson Laura Capps tells First Read, "That comment was made before his record as an appellate judge.  So it doesn't still stand."

Firing up conservatives nationally could give Republicans a needed extra boost in next Tuesday's elections.  In Virginia, GOP gubernatorial nominee Jerry Kilgore, who skipped a chance to appear with Bush last Friday in Norfolk, trails Democrat Tim Kaine by 3 points in the latest poll; see below.  GOP operatives are emphasizing what they say is a superior get-out-the-vote program, and one argues to First Read that Democrats have "nothing positive" motivating them to get out and vote.

But despite what's shaping up to be a multi-pronged effort to re-energize the base, the Alito nomination may represent Bush's best shot, as intraparty disputes threaten to complicate his efforts on immigration and tax reform.  The tax-reform commission's recommendations don't currently inspire conservatives, who see them more as tweaks to the system rather than the overhaul they believe is necessary.  Treasury Secretary Snow is making calls to influential conservatives like Pat Toomey of the Club for Growth to sound them out about the panel's suggestions, one source familiar with the outreach effort tells First Read.  This source calls it not only a sign of Administration concern but also one of "lessons learned in the recent few months."

In terms of reinvigorating his presidency for the general public, Bush's ability to pull that off may continue to be weighed down by the same millstones as before.  Public support for the Iraq war continues to wane; Reuters reports that four US soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb today.  The economy by many measures is doing fairly well -- but not by the everyday measures many Americans use: energy prices, the cost of health care, wages not keeping up with inflation, pension security, and credit card debt.  And to guard against inflation, the Fed is expected to raise interest rates by another quarter-point tomorrow.  Bill Clinton's approval rating during his second term never dropped below 55%, largely due to the booming economy.

Ethics issues may also continue to plague the White House and GOP.  An otherwise distracted press corps might not ask Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi any awkward questions about intel documents on Niger after his 11:05 am meeting with Bush today, but Joe Wilson probably will talk about it at the National Press Club at 1:00 pm.  On TODAY this morning, Wilson called for Bush to fire Karl Rove.  Democrats also will continue to call for Rove's ouster.  Tom DeLay faces another court hearing in Austin tomorrow.  And indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff's dealings with a Native-American tribe are the focus of a Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday.

The Alito nomination
The White House bio of Alito, e-mailed to reporters at 7:30 am, emphasizes Alito's credentials, including the 12 cases he argued before the Supreme Court as deputy solicitor general under Reagan, his work as deputy assistant attorney general, and his unanimous confirmation (by voice vote) to the 3rd Circuit.  The bio also confirms that Alito is a member of the Federalist Society.

Barry Ahrendt of NBC's WIS-TV, who went to Princeton with Alito, points out Alito's entry in their 1972 yearbook: "Sam intends to go to law school and eventually to warm a seat on the Supreme Court."  Alito also noted, clearly tongue in cheek, "He spent his senior year as a Woodrow Wilson scholar, thinking great and ineffable thoughts."  (Clearly Alito has a sense of humor.)

"In contrast with Ms. Miers, Judge Alito... has a long and prominent paper trail of conservative judicial positions," says the Wall Street Journal.  "And while conservative activists worked hard to undercut the Miers nomination, they've made clear in weekend conversations with the White House that they'll enthusiastically back Judge Alito.  Democrats, however, have suggested that Judge Alito's nomination could trigger a bitter showdown -- including a possible debilitating filibuster."

The AP notes that "while Scalia is outspoken and is known to badger lawyers, Alito is polite, reserved and even-tempered.”

The AP also notes that Alito would be the fifth Catholic on the current Supreme Court and the 11th in the Court’s history.

The Washington Times says that "the demise of the Miers nomination" means there was "less political pressure for Mr. Bush to pick a woman."

The New York Times front-pages Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s statement yesterday warning Bush not to pick Alito.  But the article also contains Gang of 14 member and GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham’s warning that a filibuster against Alito will not stand.

Roll Call lays out the risks to either of two possible timelines Senate Republicans may seek for Alito's confirmation: "Republican leaders could try to quickly push through hearings and on to a floor vote - a fight that would run against the grain of historical timelines for confirmations and also require them to overcome an increasingly emboldened minority.  But if Republican leadership opts for a timeline more in line with history and settles for January hearings, the new nominee could be left dangling for more than two months before hearings commence while liberal interest groups attempt to attack and define the selection."

The Chicago Tribune writes up how Friday's indictment could further damage the Bush agenda, including immigration, repealing the estate tax and federal spending.  "Many longtime observers of Congress say they expect GOP lawmakers will continue to assert their independence, with Bush's popularity at a low level and the midterm elections a year away."

The Bush "re-launch"
A new Gallup poll "taken Friday through Sunday shows that" 55% of Americans "now judge Bush's presidency to be a failure," USA Today reports.  More: "analysts describe Bush's quandary as harder to fix than the scandals that raised questions about Reagan's... management and Clinton's personal behavior," because "the setbacks that have eroded his public support and political clout relate to developments that affect Americans' daily lives: Uncertainty whether the government will be there to help if a natural disaster strikes.  Violence being faced by 159,000 U.S. troops on duty in Iraq.  The price being paid for gasoline and home heating oil."

Roll Call's Stuart Rothenberg finds not one but "two general lines of argument" among GOP operatives over what Bush should do to turn things around.  Beyond the popular "fresh start" argument, a less popular "view is that the White House has little or no near-term control over the two major issues of the day - Iraq and Republican ethics problems - so the president should simply hang tough for the next few months in the hope that those issues will fade or at least become less toxic, allowing him to retake the policy initiative."

As Bush prepares to head to South America, the Wall Street Journal says his current problems don't "end at the water's edge...  The U.S. still wields enormous clout around the world, of course, and Mr. Bush still has hope for progress on some key issues this fall," including Iraq and Iran.  "Nonetheless, Mr. Bush's problems are creating the perception he is in a weakened state precisely as he enters a fall full of his most extensive stretch of international diplomatic missions yet."

Treasury Secretary Snow tells the Wall Street Journal that "his department has done enough groundwork to turn the recommendations" of Bush's tax-reform panel "into a far-reaching administrative proposal at the start of next year -- if President Bush decides to do so to reinvigorate his domestic agenda...  Even if the panel's recommendations don't turn into legislation next year, they are bound to be part of the debate over the tax code in years to come."

The next phase of the immigration battle on the Hill could be inspired by the Senate's budget package, which hits the floor today and which "includes provisions that would make available hundreds of thousands of green cards for new permanent legal immigrants," says the Washington Times.

The Washington Times covers assertions by leading conservatives that Bush "should resist Democratic calls for an apology over the CIA leak scandal because he followed through on his pledge that those involved would no longer work in his administration."

Time magazine reported yesterday that Bush has lost confidence in three of the members of his circle he has relied upon the most: Cheney, Rove and Card.  "Rove will continue managing the intersection of politics and policy in the White House but will have to regain the unfettered powers he once held," the story noted.  Also: "Card could be named Treasury Secretary by the beginning of the year."

Bloomberg covers speculation that Bush may need or decide to bring in some new senior staff.

Ethics
A new Washington Post-ABC poll shows 55% believing "the Libby case indicates wider problems 'with ethical wrongdoing' in the White House, while 41% believes it was an 'isolated incident.'  And by... 46% to 15%, Americans say the level of honesty and ethics in the government has declined rather than risen under Bush."  Bush's job approval is at 39%, a new low for him in this survey.  "The survey found some areas of general agreement.  Most Republicans... said that the obstruction of justice and perjury charges are serious," as did most Democrats and independents.  "But once past the specifics of the charges against Libby, Republicans and Democrats differed dramatically.  While a large majority of Democrats (76%) said the case is a sign of broader ethical problems in the administration, an equally large majority of Republicans (69%) said it was an isolated matter."

The Boston Globe writes that Harry Reid's calls for the firing of Rove is "part of an effort by Democrats to broaden their political attack on the president."

Even though Rove escaped indictment, the Dallas Morning News says that his "involvement in the federal inquiry into the leak of a CIA operative's name may further distract a White House buffeted by Iraq, high energy prices, hurricane recovery and the failed Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers, the Dallas lawyer and White House legal counsel."

The Washington Post on Rove's status: "Republicans and White House officials expressed relief that Rove was not indicted Friday, and they take it as a sign that his chances of being indicted are remote...  But two legal sources intimately familiar with Fitzgerald's tactics in this inquiry said they believe Rove remains in significant danger."

Newsweek reported over the weekend on last-minute evidence presented by Rove's defense lawyer that gave prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald "pause" and contributed to his decision not to indict Rove last Friday.

The Los Angeles Times' Brownstein writes that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald on Friday "withheld much of the information the country needs to reach a political judgment about the administration's actions...  His cautious approach may be the appropriate strategy for a criminal prosecutor, but it leaves open important issues that are likely to be resolved only through congressional hearings, with the central figures testifying under oath."

The New York Times front-pages how NBC’s Tim Russert has gotten caught in the middle of the CIA leak case.  “For Mr. Russert… turns out to be a pivotal ear-witness to the only crime so far charged in the inquiry into the disclosure of a C.I.A. agent's classified identity that has consumed the intersecting circles of news organizations and politics in which he has been a prominent player for years…  Mr. Fitzgerald is clearly counting on the credibility of the 55-year-old Mr. Russert…  But he would be far from the only one.”

NBC’s Russert explained his take to MSNBC.com on Friday.

The Post's Howard Kurtz wonders if journalists might appear to be reveling in Friday's outcome: "the leak prosecution is shaping up as a test of media fairness and responsibility in a polarizing age when many people on the left and right think the news business is hopelessly biased."

Roll Call, summing up potential ethics-related landmines still out there for the GOP, notes that the House Ethics Committee may be close to completing the staffing up it needs to do before any probes of House members can get underway.

Unnoticed amidst the Libby frenzy last Friday, MoveOn executive director Eli Pariser was subpoenaed to appear in court in Austin, TX tomorrow morning as part of Rep. Tom DeLay's legal proceedings, NBC's Doug Adams reports.  At DeLay's last hearing, DeLay's attorney claimed that MoveOn was selling T-shirts with DeLay's mugshot on them.  Turns out the shirts were available on the website of a group called Public Campaign Action Fund, which has received support from MoveOn.  The group has since cancelled the T-shirt sales, Adams says.  Pariser will appear in court about one hour before the scheduled start of DeLay's hearing to determine whether Judge Bob Perkins, who has contributed to various Democratic organizations including MoveOn, should be allowed to continue as the trial judge in DeLay's case.

It's the economy
The Financial Times previews the Fed's widely anticipated interest-rate hike tomorrow, which would be its 12th in a row.  "The economy continued to grow at a healthy 3.8 per cent rate in the third quarter, according to the Commerce Department's advance estimate, providing further evidence to support the Fed's view that there is good momentum in spite of high energy prices."

The Wall Street Journal editorial page hails the big GDP news from Friday and chastises Democrats for claiming the Bush "tax cuts were a failure" -- and also "many Republicans" for being "so politically timid that they're afraid to argue for their own policy success" and push for more tax cuts.  "Especially amid rising interest rates, and an inflation bulge, the last thing the economy needs is an expectation of a tax increase within two short years.  Expected tax rates in 2008 will soon begin to affect investment decisions and investor confidence."

Energy politics
Joint congressional hearings on oil company profits are scheduled for next Tuesday.  The price of crude oil continues to drop "as production recovers and supplies build with the U.S. hurricane season nearing an end," Bloomberg says, and the "Northeast, where 80 percent of home heating oil is used, may be warmer than normal this week."  The news service also reports in anticipation of new Commerce Department data that "U.S. consumer spending probably rose in September as Americans paid more for gasoline after two Gulf Coast hurricanes sent oil prices soaring...  Incomes probably rose 0.3 percent in September, after a 0.1 percent decline the month before, as homeowners were spared another month of large, uninsured hurricane losses."

2005 and 2006
In the Virginia gubernatorial race, Tim Kaine (D) leads Jerry Kilgore (R) by 3 points in the latest Washington Post poll.  "The question for Kilgore, an ex-prosecutor and the state's former attorney general, is whether he can retake the lead in time, despite the political problems of his national party and President Bush," the Post says.  Still: "There are some bright spots for Kilgore in the poll...  The number of people who believe Kaine is too liberal has jumped nine percentage points, to 40 percent, since the September poll.  And more people believe Kilgore would hold down taxes, if elected."

The Kilgore campaign sent out a memo to supporters and the media calling it typical that "the final Washington Post poll of a Virginia gubernatorial campaign will be slanted against the Republican candidate in an effort to suppress Republican turnout."

Sunday’s Richmond Times-Dispatch noted that Kilgore has raised a record $21.1 million so far for his race, while Kaine has raised more than $18.3 million.

The Washington Post says Kaine playing up his Catholic faith is an example of how "religion's rising profile is persuading more politicians of all denominations to regard their faith as an asset to be promoted."  The story notes that Kaine's faith has created "delicate political challenges for him on two major issues: capital punishment and abortion.  On both matters, he has stated a willingness to accept the legal status quo even though it conflicts with his religious convictions.  Nowhere is this dilemma more evident than on the death penalty."

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger campaigns in Ontario, CA today.  The Los Angeles Times reported over the weekend that Schwarzenegger bought $1 million worth of TV ad time on Univision at "roughly the same time" that Univision chair A. Jerrold Perenchio gave $1.5 million to Schwarzenegger's initiative campaign.

And the New York Daily News writes up the first of two debates between Mayor Mike Bloomberg (R) and challenger Fernando Ferrer (D).  Ferrer took every opportunity to "chip away at the billionaire incumbent's multimillion-dollar TV ad campaign and link Bloomberg to the national GOP."  Bloomberg, meanwhile, questioned Ferrer's record on gun control and his association with DNC chair Howard Dean, who had been endorsed by the National Rifle Association.

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