IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

First Read: Democratic dissent over Iraq

Democratic dissent over Iraq. “First Read” is an analysis of the day’s political news, from the NBC News political unit.

• Tuesday, June 13, 2006 | 3:55 p.m. ETFrom Alex Isenstadt, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi

Democratic dissent over Iraq
Sen. John Kerry, whom Republicans often criticized for flip-flopping on issues like the Iraq war during his presidential campaign in 2004, gave a speech to liberal Democrats at the "Take Back America" conference this morning that left no room for interpretation about where he now stands on the war. "I was wrong," Kerry said of his vote to support the war, adding that the future cannot be changed if you're not honest about the past ("Tell Hillary that!" one anti-war audience member shouted). Kerry, who spoke out against the Vietnam war after his service there, compared his opposition to that war to his opposition to the current one, arguing that dissent is a "patriotic obligation." He made other comparisons between Vietnam and Iraq, calling them two of the country's "most failed policies." He also called for a "hard and fast deadline" for withdrawing US troops. Parrying GOP charges that this is a "cut-and-run" strategy, he argued that the Republican party has "cut and run" from "honesty," "common sense," and "planning."

Speeches by Kerry, Sen. Hillary Clinton and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi weren't the only displays at the liberal (and anti-war/anti-Bush) confab. Before Clinton spoke, an audience member held up an "Impeach Bush" banner, which was quickly confiscated by security. Other convention-goers were decked out in "Impeach Bush" T-shirts. And we noticed flyers asking audience members to sign a pledge not to vote for or support "any candidate for Congress or president who does not make an speedy end to the war in Iraq." This perhaps explains why Clinton received some boos when she stated her disagreement with setting a specific deadline to bring US soldiers home from Iraq -- and also illustrates how Bush and Iraq still hangs over the Democratic Party.

• Tuesday, June 13, 2006 | 2:55 p.m. ETFrom Kelly O'Donnell and Elizabeth Wilner

Misled by the White House?
There's certainly no dearth of news today, as evidenced by our handful of recent postings.  But it has not been lost on the press corps that the White House, in their efforts to preserve the necessary high security of President Bush's trip to Baghdad, knowingly issued false information about Bush's schedule.  White House counselor Dan Bartlett told reporters this morning that the Baghdad trip was in the works for several weeks, planned by a small group of aides.  Last night, however, the White House went so far as to issue an official schedule for Bush that not only said he'd be at Camp David this morning, but included a late addition of a press availability in the Rose Garden at 2:30 pm.  The White House press office re-issued the same schedule this morning about one hour before Bush popped up in Baghdad.

The White House has pulled off similar surprise events before, but has not so broadly misinformed those covering the President.  Bush himself chose his words very carefully in talking about the scheduled videoconference with the Iraqi Cabinet this morning, always saying that the meeting would involve secure video, which it did.  He did not specify that he would be on the Camp David end of the videoconference, so his comments were essentially accurate. 

The Baltimore Sun correspondent who was serving as the pool reporter at Camp David this morning titled her report, "Teleconference at Camp David -- In Which The Intown Pool Discovers It Is Part of an Elaborate Ruse, And Is Never Actually In The Same Room As POTUS."  Per the reporter, Julie Hirschfeld Davis, "It was a few minutes after your unsuspecting pool had departed the file at Camp David in a minibus to head up to the compound, at 9:10 a.m., when Blackberries and cell phones began buzzing and chirping to herald the news that POTUS was not on the premises, or even in the country."  Hirschfeld noted, tongue in cheek, that "one of the White House’s 'In Case You Missed It' e-mails flashed across our Blackberry screens telling of Bush’s surprise trip to Baghdad, its subject-line taking on new meaning."

• Tuesday, June 13, 2006 | 12:45 p.m. ETFrom Mark Murray and Huma Zaidi

Dems blast Bush on Iraq
As President Bush was touching down in Baghdad for a surprise visit with newly elected Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, key Democrats addressing the liberal "Take Back America" conference in Washington were voicing their anger over the Administration's handling of the war.

The morning's first speaker, Sen. Hillary Clinton, accused the Administration of failing to properly equip US soldiers and adequately plan for the war. Clinton, who often stays out of the Iraq debate, said the new government should take responsibility for Iraq's "stability and security," but does not think the United States should set a definitive troop withdrawal date. Realizing that her position on the war is not her strong suit with liberal Democrats (she was repeatedly booed and left the stage amid a "bring the troops home" chant), Clinton focused on a more domestic agenda, including a minimum wage hike, electronic voting reform, and equal pay for women. The rowdiest applause came when she noted that many first responders in New York are suffering now from numerous diseases caused by "polluted" air at Ground Zero, against which the government did not warn or protect them.

On the other hand, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who followed Clinton, blasted the Iraq war, getting tons of applause in the process. Citing the deaths of 2,500 US soldiers in Iraq and the injuries of 18,000 more, Pelosi countered the White House's assertion that conditions there are improving, especially after the establishment of a government and after al-Zarqawi's death. "Improving? I don't think so," she said. She also called the Iraq war "a grotesque mistake. It is not making our country safer. It is damaging America's reputation in the world." And in what seemed to be a reference to Karl Rove's comment last night that Democrats are advocating "cutting and running" in Iraq, Pelosi reiterated her support for fellow Democratic Rep. John Murtha's proposal, which she said calls for US forces to be removed "at the earliest practical date."

The House Republican campaign committee, responding to Pelosi, charged that Democrats are advocating a "cut-and-run" strategy and "are drawing their agenda plans in bright white for the American people: Democrats support surrender in the War on Terror."

• Tuesday, June 13, 2006 | 9:25 a.m. ETFrom Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Alex Isenstadt

First glance
In another welcome drop of good news for the GOP's rattling midterm election bucket, Karl Rove will not be prosecuted in the CIA leak case.  Most Americans probably haven't been factoring developments in the case into their assessment of the overall direction of the country.  But the news seems to be further emboldening Republicans who are already encouraged by recent developments in Iraq.  Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman is asking Democrats to apologize for "rushing to judgment" of Rove.  On NBC's Today Show this morning, Mehlman's Democratic counterpart Howard Dean argued that the news doesn't mean anything apart from Rove's ability to continue masterminding his party's approach to the midterms.

How encouraged are Republicans about recent developments in Iraq?  So much so that President Bush has scrubbed his planned videoconference with the new Iraqi Cabinet in favor of the real thing: He's actually in Baghdad.  Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are scheduled to brief members of Congress, Senators at 2:30 pm and House members at 4:00 pm.  The briefings come on the eve of floor debates in both chambers on the United States' role in the war.  The $94.5 billion emergency supplemental spending bill is expected to pass the House today, and possibly also the Senate, allowing Bush to sign the bill before the week is out.  Once that vote is out of the way, the Senate will take up the defense authorization bill, which is likely to spark a heated debate over the US role in Iraq.  Per NBC's Ken Strickland, the bill is expected to become a magnet for Democrat-proposed amendments that would change the course of the war, such as timetables for US troop withdrawal.

The House GOP resolution in support of the war in Iraq has turned into a dare to Democrats to vote against it.  A release from Majority Leader John Boehner's office yesterday said (and underscored), "There are clear differences between Republicans and Democrats on how best to confront the Global War on Terror, and the American public deserves to hear how their elected representatives will respond.  Will we fight or will we retreat?"  Rove himself sounded the same tune in a speech in Manchester, NH last night, in which he accused Democrats who are calling for US troop withdrawal, like Sen. John Kerry and Rep. John Murtha, of advocating "cutting and running."

Meanwhile, the liberal Campaign for America's Future conference in Washington ("Top Dems To Court Liberals," blasts the group's press release) is becoming a forum for high-profile Democrats to call for US troop withdrawal from Iraq.  Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid did so yesterday.  This morning, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is expected to repeat her endorsement of Murtha's proposal that troops be immediately withdrawn.  She'll also preview congressional Democrats' town hall meeting tomorrow, at which they'll lay out more of their domestic agenda for the country.  Kerry will tout his proposed amendment calling for troop withdrawal by the end of the year.

On the other hand, Sen. Hillary Clinton, who is addressing the gathering at this writing, and who's at odds with many liberals for her position on the war, was booed when she talked about Iraq, saying the United States can't set a specific date to bring US soldiers home.  She was introduced to some polite applause and scattered boos; the MC, in introducing her, actually asked for the crowd to be courteous and respectful.

And in Virginia today, Democrats face the option of nominating either a Vietnam veteran whose military background and Republican roots might help him win crossover votes in this Southern state, or a more traditional Democrat.  It's also primary day in Maine, North Dakota, and South Carolina, but the only noteworthy contest is Virginia's Democratic Senate primary between former tech lobbyist Harris Miller and Jim Webb, who was Ronald Reagan's Navy Secretary.  Both campaigns say the race is a toss-up, anticipating extremely low turnout.  Webb, whom national Democrats like Kerry and Senate campaign committee chair Chuck Schumer have endorsed because they think he'd be the stronger general election candidate, has campaigned on his military experience and his opposition to the war.  Miller has hammered Webb for being a former Republican and for supporting Bush in 2000, while he bills himself as a "shorter, poorer version" of former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D).  Harris has come under attack for his past lobbyist work and his pro-free trade views.  Polls open at 6:00 am ET and close at 7:00 pm ET.  GOP Sen. George Allen is given the edge over either potential Democratic nominee.

Security politics
The new Gallup survey taken after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's death shows a boost in public confidence that the Iraq war is winnable.  "The new poll found that 48% believe the United States probably or definitely will win the war, up from 39% in April.  It also found that 47% believe things are going well in Iraq, up from 38% in March...  Still, 51% say the war was a mistake," and political "analysts cautioned that long-term public confidence will grow only if the death of Zarqawi is followed up by increasing Iraq's stability." – USA Today

The New York Times says yesterday’s Camp David meeting "came as Republicans began a new effort to use last week's events to turn the war to their political advantage after months of anxiety, and to sharpen attacks against Democrats.  On Monday night," Karl Rove "told supporters in New Hampshire that if the Democrats had their way, Iraq would fall to terrorists and [al-Zarqawi] would not have been killed.”

Rove's speech "was about sharpening the differences between the GOP and its opponents" on the war as well as on domestic issues, says the Washington Post.

The Washington Times covers Reid's call yesterday for US troops to start coming home, which the paper suggests was "more direct" than Reid's previous comments on this topic, though Reid's office disagreed.

Kerry's call to have all troops out of Iraq by the end of the year "has no realistic chance of passing but is designed as an outlet for members of Congress to express themselves about the administration's course of action in the war," writes the Boston Globe.  And, "[t]he fact that Democrats and Republicans are equally intent on debating the war in Iraq speaks to the volatile and unpredictable politics surrounding it."

Democratic Rep. Ben Cardin, who's running for his party's Senate nomination in Maryland, yesterday called for troops to start coming home immediately and to be completely out of Iraq by the end of 2007. – Washington Post

Condoleezza Rice addresses the expected 20,000 attendees at the Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro, NC tomorrow -- as NBC's Andrea Mitchell notes, hardly the usual forum for a Secretary of State.  Aides concede that it's an attempt to sell the war to the conservative base whose support for the effort is flagging.

In the wake of the suicides by three detainees, Bush "will hear new calls to shut" the Guantanamo Bay detention facility "when he travels to Vienna for a European Union summit on June 21, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said yesterday...  While Bush said last week that the administration 'would like to end Guantanamo,' closing the camp has been stymied by a challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court to the war-crimes trials the military plans to hold for some detainees, and by concerns that prisoners released from the facility might be tortured by their home governments or resume terrorist activities." - Bloomberg

Immigration politics
The Washington Times says some House Republicans who oppose the Senate immigration reform bill are especially irked over "a last-minute amendment that requires the U.S. to consult with Mexican officials before commencement of any fence construction along the border."

The Houston Chronicle notes that former California Gov. Pete Wilson (R) (who supported the controversial Proposition 187 in the 1990s) gave a speech yesterday in which he said that lawmakers who favor granting a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants “do so only because they are afraid of being labeled racists and nativists…  Wilson refrained from directly criticizing President Bush, a longtime friend who has appointed him to foreign policy advisory boards.  Bush supports a guest worker program and other facets of the Senate bill that includes an ‘earned citizenship’ program.  Instead, Wilson directed his criticism at the Senate.”

USA Today spotlights Colorado as a center of the storm over immigration reform due to its fast-growing Latino population and the prominent role being played by some Coloradans in the national debate.

NBC's Wendy Jones reports that US District Court Judge Paul Friedman instructed the jury in the Safavian case yesterday and closing arguments took place, but the jury was not expected to begin deliberating until today.  Former White House procurement chief David Safavian is the first Republican official to go on trial for his dealings with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

House Appropriations chair Jerry Lewis has retained a defense team amid scrutiny of his ties to a lobbying firm that specializes in getting earmarks into the spending bills which pass through Lewis' committee.

In covering Karl Rove’s speech in New Hampshire last night, the Manchester Union-Leader focuses on his refusal to comment about the 2002 New Hampshire GOP phone-jamming scandal.  The paper also notes that the state GOP expected to raise between $55,000 and $60,000 from Rove’s speech -- some of it to “help pay the state committee's legal defense bills in a civil lawsuit filed by the New Hampshire Democratic Party over the phone-jamming scandal.”

Steve Forbes defends former employee James Tobin, who was convicted in the phone-jamming scandal, in Forbes Magazine. – AP

Disaster politics
Sen. Ted Kennedy (D) is expected to give a floor speech today outlining his opposition to Richard Stickler's nomination to run the Mining Safety and Health Administration.  A Kennedy aide tells First Read that "Stickler's a former coal company executive who focused on profits and production, not worker safety.  Mines he managed had terrible safety records...  And, the Sago Mine families oppose this nomination."

The New York Times reports that the Education Department yesterday gave New Orleans $24 million in federal aid for the development of charter schools, more than doubling what the state has already received to help create such schools in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  "The grant is likely to cement the role of New Orleans - where the public school system is barely functional - as the nation's pre-eminent laboratory for the widespread use of charter schools.”

The Administration isn't the only one viewing the city as a place for some of its ideas to take root: The AFL-CIO plans to invest $1 billion in housing there. – USA Today

More on the Bush/GOP agenda
The Senate is one vote shy of being able to pass a constitutional amendment to ban flag-burning, which is closer than advocates have ever come before.  A vote is scheduled for the week before the Fourth of July.  Republicans plan to hold an event tomorrow, which is Flag Day. - USA Today

House GOP conservatives once again plan to "kick up a fuss" over what they see as profligate spending during debate on the transportation funding bill, scheduled for later today and/or tomorrow.

The Los Angeles Times looks at what appears to be a mini trend of not-so-conservative Republican officials switching parties -- three in the past nine months -- in very red Kansas.  "Political observers say the fracture within the Kansas GOP may foreshadow the future for the national party.  The division between moderates and social conservatives is expected to define the contest for the party's 2008 presidential nomination."

The Boston Globe gives examples of the White House's "style makeover" ushered in by new chief of staff Josh Bolten.  The White House now shows "a willingness to consider dissenting views and take a more deliberate approach to policy questions, a style change for a president known to keep close counsel, according to political observers and Republican lawmakers."

The Washington Post looks at the "provocative paper trial" left by Bush's newly minted Bush domestic advisor, including colorful remarks about certain high-profile Democrats, from his days as editor of the conservative American Enterprise magazine.

The Democrats
DNC chair Howard Dean addresses a DNC "grassroots fundraiser" at the Capital Hilton at 5:30 pm.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is refusing to comment on (which some see as a tacit endorsement of) Rep. John Murtha's prospective challenge to Rep. Steny Hoyer for the majority leader job should Democrats win back the House in November.  Meanwhile, House Republicans are issuing press releases mocking their Democratic colleagues for holding leadership contests before the elections have taken place, and press coverage of the prospective majority leader contest might give the impression that House Democrats are divided and arguing over anticipated spoils at a time when they need to appear unified.

Roll Call has details on congressional Democrats' town hall tomorrow, at which they'll talk about the domestic issues they plan to focus on for the duration of the campaign season.

At a Florida fundraiser last night, former President Clinton criticized the GOP's "claim to be the party of values and urged Democrats to spread a message that they are for equal opportunity," writes the Miami Herald.  Clinton also warned of global warming, which he says he and Al Gore were "ridiculed" for addressing.

More on the midterms
Laura Bush campaigns today for/with vulnerable GOP Sen. Rick Santorum in Villanova, PA and GOP Senate candidate Tom Kean, Jr., in Lakewood, NJ.

Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman does the Daily Show.  While in New York, he'll also make remarks on the midterms, "focusing on optimism and motivation," per an RNC aide, at a fundraiser for Rudy Giuliani’s PAC.

California's gubernatorial contest "could be the most expensive in state history," says the San Francisco Chronicle.  "Experts said the election totals... could surpass the $130 million mark set in 2002 when former Gov. Gray Davis defeated GOP challenger Bill Simon.  Ironically, voters are being asked on the same November ballot to consider public financing for state elections."

And the Richmond Times-Dispatch previews today’s Democratic Senate primary in VIRGINIA.  “Most observers expect a light turnout in a contest so close that no one was willing to predict a winner…  Because Virginia is an open primary state, anyone registered can vote in the Democratic primary, except in the 8th Congressional District, where there is a Republican primary.  One cannot vote in both a Democratic and a Republican primary.”