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First Read: Democratic fundraising concerns

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

• Monday, June 19, 2006 | 3:30 p.m. ETFrom Mark Murray

Democratic fundraising concerns
As we mentioned earlier today, President Bush's fundraiser later tonight at the Washington Convention Center will rake in at least $23 million for the Republican House and Senate campaign committees. Indeed, despite the poor overall political environment for Republicans, money continues to be one of their few (yet powerful) advantages heading into the midterms. As of June 1 -- before tonight's event -- the GOP House campaign committee had raised a total of about $88 million, with $22.8 million cash in hand, per data from the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Meanwhile, the GOP Senate campaign committee had raised almost $55 million, with $17 million cash in the bank.

However, their Democratic counterparts have kept up or even surpassed them: The Democratic House campaign committee had raised more than $60 million, with $22.8 million cash on hand. And the Democratic Senate campaign committee had raised $59 million, with more than $32 million cash on hand.

But here's the key difference (and why some Democratic leaders have been upset at Howard Dean for showering all 50 state parties with money): As of June 1, the Republican National Committee had nearly $45 million cash on hand, while Dean's Democratic National Committee had just $9 million. And the danger for Democrats is that the RNC might be able to disperse these leftover millions to key House and Senate races. Democrats, of course, have always trailed Republicans in the money chase. But as we head into November, one of the more interesting storylines to follow is whether the GOP money advantage will be able to offset -- or at least minimize -- the current political environment. 

• Monday, June 19, 2006 | 9:15 a.m. ETFrom Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Alex Isenstadt

First glance
Amid the debate over how much of a boon he is to Republicans on the ballot this November and how much a burden, President Bush reminds his party of his biggest upside by presiding over a $23 million fundraiser for House and Senate lawmakers tonight.  The mood among the 5,000 expected attendees at the Washington Convention Center should be light in the wake of recent positive developments for the Administration at home and in Iraq, arguably the best run of good news of Bush's second term (good enough to inspire a new "week in review" e-mail from the White House last Friday).  Among the sticking points still hanging out there: staunch intraparty opposition to his desired immigration reforms at home and kidnapped US soldiers in Iraq.  European leaders have said they will ask Bush about Haditha when he meets with them in Vienna this week.

As of last Friday, when he appeared at two fundraisers for House GOP incumbents in Washington state and New Mexico, Bush had done 39 such events for individual members or candidates this year, per the White House.  As much time as Democrats spend pointing out when GOP candidates dodge the President when he visits their states, it must be pointed out that the two lawmakers who were benefiting from Bush's efforts on Friday dodged the vote on the war resolution to appear with him instead.

This week, it's the Senate's turn to hold some politically high-stakes votes on Iraq.  Consideration of the defense authorization bill will continue in that chamber, and Democrats will resume their efforts to unify behind a single proposal of a timetable for US troop withdrawal.  As NBC's Ken Strickland points out, Republicans are united in their opposition to a timeline but Democrats remain divided, with most leaning against setting a date for complete withdrawal.  John Kerry and Russ Feingold plan to propose an amendment requiring almost all US forces to pull out by the end of this year.  Last week, a GOP-engineered vote on an identical proposal intended to embarrass Kerry garnered only six supporters.  Kerry may offer his proposal as early as tomorrow, Strickland says.

At a news conference today, Senate Democrats Carl Levin and Jack Reed will introduce their own, less specific amendment which an aide said will call for "responsible redeployment" of troops.  While details aren't finalized, Democratic sources say it will likely have three key components: calling for the start of US troop withdrawal (numbers TBD) this year; requiring Bush to devise a plan for a phased redeployment of the remaining troops; and transforming the US military in Iraq into a force geared more toward training, logistics, and counterterrorism.  Unlike Kerry's proposal, this measure would not be legally binding, but instead provide a "sense of the Congress."

In the House, with their week-long Iraq debate over, both sides will renew their focus on domestic issues.  The minimum wage in particular will re-emerge as a hot issue, after a bill recently made it out of committee with Republican support.  Democrats have made a minimum wage increase a key component of their "New Direction for America" agenda and plan to hammer Republicans for voting to raise their own pay every year but not supporting a minimum wage hike until now.  Around the country, Democratic challengers criticized their GOP opponents for voting for the pay raise last week.  Sen. Ted Kennedy (D) also plans to propose a minimum wage hike in the Senate this week.

Prior to speaking at tonight's gala, Bush will become the first president to deliver the commencement address at the US Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, NY at 10:00 am.  Between the venue and news of an aborted al Qaeda plot involving New York's subway system, expect a heavy emphasis on homeland security.

Vice President Cheney does the Gerald Ford hang today, making remarks at the Gerald R. Ford Journalism Prize Luncheon at the National Press Club at 1:30 pm, and making more remarks at the Gerald R. Ford Foundation Awards ceremony at the National Archives at 9:00 pm.

The Democratic party confab/mini 2008 cattle call of the week, at which the future of the party will again be debated, is the New Democrat Network annual meeting on Thursday and Friday in Washington.  Sen. Hillary Clinton, Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, and former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner are scheduled to speak.

And your new favorite political calendar can be found on by clicking here.

Security politics
Previewing Bush's commencement speech at the Merchant Marine Academy today, USA Today says "Kings Point has played a leading role in developing international training standards for maritime security."

Per the AP, the Japanese prime minister is expected to announce a withdrawal of Japanese troops from Iraq.  Unclear whether or not this will affect his upcoming date with the Bushes at Graceland.

The Boston Globe has more details on Senators Reed and Levin's soon-to-be-proposed, non-binding amendment calling for a withdrawal of US troops, which is intended to provide Senate Democrats with an alternative to the Kerry proposal that troops be withdrawn by the end of this year.

Democratic Rep. John Murtha told NBC's Tim Russert yesterday that Democrats increasingly are supporting his call to start withdrawing the troops from Iraq.  Murtha also offered a colorful response to Karl Rove's allegation that he supports cutting and running.

The New York Post has Republicans responding to Murtha.  "Republican National Committee spokesman Danny Diaz said Murtha's strategy means 'surrendering the central front in the war on terror by retreating to Okinawa' and ignoring progress like the killing of terror kingpin Abu Musab al-Zarqawi."

Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick's departure was not unexpected, NBC's Andrea Mitchell notes; Zoellick is known to have been frustrated in his job.

More on the Bush/GOP agenda
USA Today, previewing Bush's European trip this week, calculates that it will last 63 hours.  "While he's not known for his fondness for world travel and tends to keep his trips short, Bush's travel record is similar to that of predecessor Bill Clinton."

White House chief of staff Josh Bolten gave the Wall Street Journal his first interview in his new position, and talked about his efforts to improve relations with Congress.  "Another of Mr. Bolten's big impacts so far has been in guiding a series of well-received personnel appointments."  Bolten also "suggests Mr. Bush and his aides may have learned from their failed attempt to push through Social Security reform in 2005.  'There's a keen appreciation around here that something as big as entitlement reform will be near-impossible to achieve on a strictly Republican-vote basis, so we'll need bipartisan cooperation,' he said."

The Washington Times takes the latest look at Bush's string of victories, noting (as others have) that this era of good feeling may have its limits.

Bob Novak notes how Congress keeps beating back efforts to curb earmarks.  "Earmarks increasingly are the source of corruption and ethical transgressions on both sides of the aisle in Congress.  Yet, the cardinals defend the practice.  They argue constituents want pork, not reform."

With the Medicare prescription-drug program now off the ground, Administration officials are focusing more on closing "a 'prevention gap' created by seniors' low use of preventive services...  The campaign will feature a special effort to reach minorities ages 65 and older - a group that is among the least likely to get preventive care and suffers higher rates of some chronic illnesses.  In addition, the 2007 Medicare handbook will focus on preventive care." – Los Angeles Times

The immigration debate
Leading conservative activists "have written President Bush telling him to drop his insistence on a guest-worker program and a path to citizenship for illegal aliens and instead support the 85 percent of congressional Republicans who want to tighten law enforcement first," reports the Washington Times.  "The immigration debate is the first major issue on which Mr. Bush finds himself opposing a majority of Republicans in Congress and depending on Democrats to deliver a victory."

"Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee plans a hearing, innocuously titled 'Immigration Enforcement at the Workplace: Learning from the Mistakes of 1986,' to grill senior Bush administration officials and activists on how the administration's plans for immigration enforcement will succeed where efforts 20 years ago failed." – Washington Post

The Dallas Morning News examines the effort to crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants.  "Cracking down on rogue employers and verifying workers' status are immigration-control concepts that have been around since the 1950s, advocated by one blue-ribbon commission after another.  Yet as Congress reshaped immigration law in the 1980s and 1990s, politicians fell short, hobbled by policy errors, weak enforcement and the rise of a potent fake-documents industry."

The New York Times front-pages that in "contrast to the typical image of an illegal immigrant - paid in cash, working under the table for small-scale labor contractors on a California farm or a suburban construction site - a majority now work for mainstream companies, not fly-by-night operators, and are hired and paid like any other American worker."

The Democrats
Roll Call looks at how the long-standing truce between the two parties over Congress' annual cost-of-living increases is ending, with Democratic candidates now hammering GOP incumbents for supporting the pay hikes.  "Since Members are never forced to take a yes or no position on the COLA, challengers can't run a TV commercial that claims the lawmaker voted to raise his or her pay.  The best they could do is try to hit their opponent for accepting the raise."

The federal judge who signed the search warrant allowing the FBI to raid Democratic Rep. William Jefferson's Hill office last month suggested on Friday that he's not inclined to find in favor of the argument by Jefferson and other members of Congress that the raid compromised the separation of powers.

Saturday's New Orleans Times-Picayune got reaction from Jefferson after he was booted off the Ways on Means Committee.  "He said he could fight the move in court, but probably would not.  Jefferson, who is black, predicted the decision will hurt the Democratic Party with African-American and Hispanic lawmakers, many of whom supported his fight to keep his slot on the tax-writing panel."  Jefferson also "reiterated his plans to run for a ninth term in November."

Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D) will not be charged for allegedly hitting a US Capitol Police officer with her cell phone after the officer, not recognizing her as a member of Congress, stopped her when she tried to go around a magnetometer a few months ago. - The Hill

More on the midterms
The Hartford Courant reports on how GOP candidates in Montana, North Carolina, and Michigan are campaigning on the issues of gay marriage, abortion, and flag burning.

The Wall Street Journal says big companies are starting to hedge their bets by increasing their campaign contributions to Democrats.  "The change among some companies and trade groups is helping Democrats gain a more even footing with Republicans in the race for cash...  In total, political action committees run by corporations are expected to contribute about $120 million to congressional candidates in this election, up from $91.6 million" in 2002.  "At least part of the Democrats' new gains can be attributed to the decline of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas and a Justice Department investigation into Republican lobbyists."

The San Francisco Chronicle look at how campaigns are increasingly turning to the Internet to generate money and votes.

On Saturday, the Harford Courant wrote that Ned Lamont (D), who is challenging Sen. Joe Lieberman (D) in Connecticut, contributed another $500,000 of his own money to his campaign, "bringing his personal investment in the race to $1.5 million."

In Florida, the Miami Herald reports that embattled Senate candidate Katherine Harris (R) blasted the Senate immigration bill (which provides a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants), even though the bill's cosponsor -- fellow Republican Mel Martinez -- was sitting just a few yards away from her.  "Asked about Harris' comments, Martinez was terse: 'She has a right to her opinion.'