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First Read: Focus on immigration consensus

First Read: Focus on immigration consensus.  “First Read” is an analysis of the day’s political news, from the NBC News political unit.

• Tuesday, June 6, 2006 | 2:25 p.m. ETFrom Alex Isenstadt

Focus on immigration consensus
President Bush traveled to Artesia, NM to speak about immigration reform at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center this afternoon. Despite criticism that lawmakers are deeply divided over how to address the immigration issue, Bush argued that while their "differences grab the headlines, the similarities in approaches are striking." For example, Bush said there is agreement that borders should be controlled; that illegal immigrants caught trying to cross the borders should be sent back; and that there should be a crackdown on employers who knowingly hire them. "See, there's common agreement - there's a consensus. We need to act on that broad consensus and deliver comprehensive reform that makes our system orderly, secure, and fair," he said. The problem for Bush, however, is there’s no consensus on the thorniest issue of all: a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid issued a statement responding to Bush speech and accused Senate Republicans of not compromising on the matter. Even though "Bush has made an important step by engaging on immigration reform," Reid said the president "must convince his party to enact the comprehensive immigration reform our nation deserves.”

• Tuesday, June 6, 2006 | 9:35 a.m. ETFrom Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Alex Isenstadt

First Glance
What a devil of a day in politics. Eight states hold their primaries today on this sixth day of the sixth month of the sixth year. And when the results come in, we’ll likely get some clues to these questions: Just how big of a political albatross is Jack Abramoff for endangered incumbents? How is the issue of immigration playing in competitive races? How will famous (but one-issue) candidates fare? Who will face Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) in the fall? And will a special election in California foretell what might happen in November?

Today’s marquee races are (in alphabetical order):
-- Alabama’s GOP gubernatorial primary between incumbent Gov. Bob Riley and Ten Commandments judge Roy Moore. Three years ago, after he was ousted as the states’ chief justice for refusing to remove his Ten Commandments monument, Moore was one of the most popular figures in the state, but he’s now trailing Riley by more than 40 points, according to recent polls. Former Gov. Don Siegelman (who’s still facing trial on corruption charges) and Lt. Gov Lucy Baxley duke it out for the Democratic nomination.
-- California’s gubernatorial primary between Phil Angelides (D) and Steve Westly (D) for the right to challenge Schwarzenegger in the fall. Polls show that the primary race is a dead heat.
-- Iowa’s Democratic gubernatorial primary between Chet Culver, Mike Blouin, and Ed Fallon; the winner will face Rep. Jim Nussle (R) in the fall.
-- And in Montana, Sen. Conrad Burns (R), who has been dogged by negative press due to his links to Abramoff, is facing a primary challenge from state Senate Minority Leader Bob Keenan and a couple of other Republicans. John Morrison and Jon Tester are the leading Democrats vying to challenge Burns (or whoever becomes the GOP nominee).
But the race that everyone in Washington is watching is the run off in California between Brian Bilbray (R) and Francine Busby (D) to fill the congressional seat vacated by jailed former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R). This contest has received attention because the two parties have poured millions into the race; because Busby is test driving a “culture of corruption” attack on Republicans (even though Cunningham isn’t on the ballot); because both candidates are battling over immigration (Busby supports the Senate bill that provides a path to citizenship, while Bilbray doesn’t); and because a Busby victory -- or even a narrow defeat -- in this GOP-leaning district might signal further trouble for a Republican Party looking to hold onto its control of Congress.

Amy Walter, who monitors House races for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, says that the significance of a Busby victory may depend on the margin. If she breaks 50% in this district, Walter says her victory could definitely foreshadow things to come in November. But if she wins with about 45% -- because the GOP vote gets split between Bilbray and independent William Griffith (a conservative endorsed by the San Diego Minutemen) -- then her victory might not be as telling, since that amount is close to what John Kerry won in this district in 2004 (44%). If that happens, "she won it because the vote gets split, not because she's picking up Republican votes," Walter tells First Read. Still, she says: "If Republicans lose this, it is a very, very bad story [for them]."

But after a gaffe Busby committed at the end of last week -- she said at a largely Latino gathering that "You don't need papers to vote," a comment replayed on conservative local talk radio -- Republicans feel good about their chances to win. "Busby, with that misstep, helped shoot herself in the foot," says House GOP campaign committee spokesman Carl Forti. (Busby explains her comment last week was twisted by opponents and says she does not support illegal immigrants voting.)

If these races weren’t enough, other contests today that deserve mention include a California ballot proposition that would provide universal preschool to four-year-olds by increasing taxes on the wealthy, a primary challenge that California Rep. Richard Pombo (R) is receiving from former Rep. Pete McCloskey (R), and competitive Democratic and GOP primaries in Iowa for Nussle’s congressional seat. Today is also primary day in Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota.

Moving away from horse races to policy, President Bush -- a day removed from his remarks on marriage -- travels to New Mexico today to give a 1:00 pm ET speech on immigration at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center. He later heads to the Texas border to participate in a 4:30 pm ET briefing at the Laredo Border Patrol Sector headquarters. (Honest question: With Bush’s immigration bill on the ropes, and with him still stumping for it, is anyone else having flashbacks to his 2005 Social Security campaign?)

The values debate
The Washington Post covers Bush’s statement yesterday in support of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage: “The politics of same-sex marriage are complex: Polls suggest the country remains solidly opposed, but the public is more ambivalent about a constitutional amendment. The issue galvanized conservative voters in 2004, but pollsters believe the issue simultaneously weakens Bush's efforts to rebuild ties to moderate voters, who have abandoned him in recent months and have helped drive down his approval ratings.”

The AP: “Critics on both sides of the debate accused the president of playing politics with the socially sensitive issue by seeking to rouse social conservatives to support Republicans in this congressional election year even if the cause has no realistic hope of enactment."

NBC’s Ken Strickland notes that Republicans backers of the amendment expect -- for the first time -- to garner majority support when it comes up for a vote in the Senate on Wednesday, but they will still fall well short of 67 votes needed to amend the Constitution.

“With five months to go before Republicans try to hold on to their majority in congressional elections this November, however, the goal may not be so much to win as to raise this and other issues that energize conservative Republicans,” USA Today says.

The New York Times notes that religious conservatives plan to target lawmakers who don’t support the amendment. James Dobson’s Focus on the Family “is already running advertisements against senators who do not plan to support the amendment, including one against Senator Ken Salazar, Democrat of Colorado, that says, ‘Why doesn't Senator Salazar believe every child needs a mother and a father?’”

The Boston Herald says Massachusetts Gov. (and potential GOP presidential candidate) Mitt Romney issued a letter to senators yesterday urging them to approve the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. But "[p]olitical analysts said Romney’s letter - and its distribution to media outlets - was about his White House aspirations, not his day job."

The immigration debate
USA Today has the chief of the National Guard saying that the Guard will have 800 troops along the border by mid-June, and that all of the 6,000 Guard troops Bush promised will be deployed by August 1.

The Washington Post front-pages one of the sad realities in the immigration debate: the thousands of illegal immigrants who have died trying to cross the border. “Since 1993 … more than 3,500 people have died trying to cross into the United States through desert… Border Patrol statistics show that while the death toll mounts annually, the number of those apprehended while crossing the border has not changed significantly since 1993. But because federal agencies have tightened the border in urban areas, smugglers who move the men, women and children seeking to enter the United States illegally have funneled them onto increasingly perilous trails where temperatures are high, water is scarce and danger is abundant.”

Speaking at Princeton yesterday, Bill Clinton praised Bush's efforts on immigration -- specifically his "two-pronged push to tighten the U.S. border with Mexico and offer a path to citizenship for many of the 11 million illegal aliens already here," the New York Post says.

Roll Call reports that Rep. William Jefferson’s (D) status on the House Ways and Means Committee (will he get the boot?) could be discussed when the Democrats’ Steering and Policy Committee meets today for a members-only session. “A senior Democratic aide … said that [Minority Leader] Pelosi is expected to broach the Jefferson subject but said that she is likely to tread carefully, perhaps only sampling opinion instead of calling for specific actions… Other aides also expressed doubt that Pelosi would ask for an actual vote on Jefferson’s status at the meeting, but in showing a desire to press ahead on the matter, she is testing, at least potentially, her relationship with the Congressional Black Caucus.”

Per a new study by the nonpartisan Center for Public Integrity, Republican and Democratic lawmakers accepted nearly $50 million in trips over a five-year period -- “often to resorts and exclusive locales, from corporations and groups seeking legislative favors,” says the Washington Post. “From January 2000 through June 2005, House and Senate members and their aides were away from Washington for more than 81,000 days -- a combined 222 years -- on at least 23,000 trips… About 2,300 of the trips cost $5,000 or more, at least 500 cost $10,000 or more, and 16 cost $25,000 or more.” – Washington Post

Knight Ridder: "While the travel isn't illegal, the report shines a light on how business is often done in Washington. It comes in a congressional election year when one of the biggest issues is corruption."

On the final day of his trial, the Wall Street Journal writes, David Safavian defended himself on the stand against accusations that he warned lobbyist Jack Abramoff to sell his shares of Tyco -- because government officials had decided to suspend Tyco from obtaining government contracts. “Tyco, which was battling corporate malfeasance charges at the time, was one of Mr. Abramoff's clients." Safavian denied that he advised Abramoff to sell his shares but admitted to warning him about the government's decision.

NBC's Joel Seidman says that Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle granted motions yesterday to extend the date for pre-sentencing status hearings for Abramoff and Michael Scanlon. The new date for their court appearances is September 6, 2006. Abramoff was scheduled to begin serving his sentence on June 28, 2006 (for the Florida SunCruz case in which he and Adam Kidan pleaded guilty to in January), but the parties plan to file a motion to continue Abramoff’s reporting date for a period of 90 days to allow him to continue cooperating with the government. In short, Abramoff won't begin serving his prison sentence until at least September 6.

It's the economy
Fed chief Ben Bernanke “expressed more concern about rising inflation than the cooling U.S. economy yesterday,” which sent stocks plunging, the Washington Post reports. “‘He came right out and said we're worried about inflation,’ said Arthur Hogan, chief market analyst at Jefferies & Co. ‘Just what the market didn't need to hear.’”

The New York Times adds: “In his toughest comments yet about the risks of inflation, Mr. Bernanke said consumer prices were rising faster than he would like. He gave short shrift to evidence of a slowdown in hiring, and he conspicuously avoided repeating his earlier suggestion that the Fed might consider a ‘pause’ in its two-year program of steady interest rate increases.”

The Wall Street Journal: "Investor attention now will focus on the government's next release of consumer-price data, due on Wednesday of next week. If the pace of inflation doesn't show signs of slowing, fears of more interest-rate increases will spread.”

More on the Bush/GOP agenda
From Congress’ objections to the FBI’s raid on William Jefferson’s office to its scuttling of the Dubai Ports deal, USA Today reports that “there are tentative signs that Congress and the courts are beginning to push back against what has been the greatest expansion of presidential powers in a generation or more.”

Roll Call writes that relations between the House and Senate Republicans seem to be strained.  They “will not only wrestle with their Democratic opponents, but in some cases with each other, as they look to complete an emergency supplemental spending bill for Iraq and Hurricane Katrina recovery, as well as a pension bill, immigration reform and a lobby overhaul package.”

Speaking of that Iraq/Katrina supplemental bill…While the Senate debated the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage yesterday, an Army official told NBC's Courtney Kube that the Army has already initiated some cutbacks -- and will begin others -- as long as the supplemental has not passed. As of May 26, there is no non-essential travel for anyone (i.e., no more conferences) and no one may purchase non-critical supply parts. As of today, there will be no new civilian hiring and no summer hires. As of June 15, the Army will release all temporary civilian employees at the garrison level (food servers, sanitation workers. And as of June 26, the Army will freeze all contract awards.

At 2:00 pm today, NBC’s Strickland says the Senate Judiciary Committee will resume its discussions about whether to subpoena phone company executives about the USA Today story regarding the NSA's collection of Americans' phone records.

The midterms
The Wall Street Journal: “As a bad year for Republicans keeps getting worse, expectations are growing that Democrats could capture at least one house of Congress, ending one-party dominance of the nation's capital and crippling President Bush for his final years.”

The New York Times writes that not only have this year’s congressional contests begun early, they’re also being fought over national issues. “Visits last week to three competitive districts … found incumbents and their challengers locked in debates over a strikingly wide range of issues, including the war in Iraq, tax cuts, immigration, stem cell research and raising the minimum wage. If this early pattern holds, it could undercut Republican efforts to prevent this election from becoming a national referendum on Mr. Bush and Republican policies.”

Another Times article notes that Bill Clinton “is scheduled to appear at more than two dozen fund-raisers for Democrats around the country, hoping to collect at least $20 million for his party's drive to recapture Congress.”

Polls in Alabama open at 8:00 am ET and close at 8:00 pm ET (for the tiny part of the state in EST, they open at 7:00 am ET and close at 7:00 pm ET). The Huntsville Times previews the races there: "State political experts predict a low voter turnout despite the controversial marriage amendment and a potentially high profile governor's contest."

Polls in California open at 10:00 am ET and close at 11:00 pm ET. The Los Angeles Times covers the final day of campaigning by Phil Angelides and Steve Westly in their contest for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. “The combination of a tight race and an unusually high number of late-deciding voters added suspense and, for the candidates, urgency to the campaign's closing hours… Secretary of State Bruce McPherson predicted that just 38% of California's 15.7 million registered voters would cast ballots.”

USA Today says the Bilbray-Busby contest “has become a test of voter discontent with Republican leadership and frustration over the porous border with Mexico.”

Roll Call: “Republicans, who have been apprehensive about their chances for weeks despite the 50th district’s solid GOP tilt … now feel cautiously optimistic that Bilbray will squeak out the victory.” But: Even if Busby loses today, some Democrats believe the race will have helped them toward their goal of taking back the House this November,” since Republicans had to spend millions of dollars to win in this GOP-leaning district.

Polls in Iowa open at 8:00 am ET and close at 10:00 pm ET. As Democrats in the state head to the polls to select a gubernatorial nominee, election officials expect a light voter turnout, the Des Moines Register says.

In Minnesota, First Lady Laura Bush attends a fundraiser for Senate candidate Mark Kennedy (R) at 6:15 pm ET.

Polls in Montana open at 9:00 am ET and close at 10:00 pm ET. Billings Gazette previews today’s primaries in tow stories.  Story 1 and Story 2

And Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman is in New York today making remarks at a fundraiser for Texas congressional candidate (and Iraq war vet) Van Taylor (R), who will face incumbent Rep. Chet Edwards (D) in the fall.

Oh-eight’s Tom Curry traveled to New Hampshire over the weekend to hear Sen. Russ Feingold (D) and former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner address the state’s Democratic convention. “Feingold was the candidate of emotion and passion… Warner played the candidate of reason and Electoral College reckoning.” More: “A few hours after Warner addressed the convention, the delegates defied the wishes of the state party leadership and passed a resolution calling for the impeachment of Bush.”

Salon's Walter Shapiro also hit the convention. "Hillary and probable non-candidate Al Gore aside, the two Democrats who have had the best run of it in 2006 are unquestionably Feingold and Warner, representing the purist and pragmatic wings of the party," Shapiro writes.

And speaking of Warner and other Democratic oh-eighters, profiles liberal DailyKos blogger Markos Moulitsas Zuniga just in time for his "Yearly Kos" convention in Las Vegas, where the likes of Warner, Wesley Clark, and Harry Reid will gather later this week.