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First Read: Bush on Guantanamo & N. Korea

Bush on Guantanamo & N. Korea. “First Read” is an analysis of the day’s political news, from the NBC News political unit.

Thursday, June 29, 2006 | 1:30 p.m. ETFrom Huma Zaidi

Bush on Gitmo & N. Korea
Overshadowing the purpose of today's summit between President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was news of the Supreme Court's ruling that military tribunals for prisoners set up at Guantanomo Bay are, indeed, unlawful. After meeting with reporters this morning for a joint press conference, Bush and Koizumi offered to take two questions apiece (as usual) from their respective press corps. Bush was tag-teamed on the ruling by two reporters, both of whom he told that he didn't have time to review the decision and could not fully comment on it. He did say, however, that his Administration would take the ruling "seriously" and review it thoroughly, and assured the public that he would not jeopardize "the safety of the American people."  Democrats, on the other hand, are hailing the decision as a well-needed admonishment of an Administration that has been plagued with controversy in its second term. In a statement, Sen. Russ Feingold said that the decision "is a major rebuke to an Administration that has too often disregarded the rule of law."

North Korea topped the agenda of the leaders' two-hour meeting.  The United States and Japan have been vocal about their opposition to North Korea using any nuclear weapons. Bush said any launch of missiles would be "unacceptable" and that he and Koizumi remain "united" in their approach toward the issue.  The two leaders spoke positively of their meeting as Bush said the discussion was "substantive" and "fruitful" while Koizumi said it was full of a "candid exchange of views." They also discussed Iran (they'll work to address conflicts through dialogue), Iraq (Japan will continue to help the country get back on its feet), energy cooperation (they want to work together to help "change the climate") and trade issues (Bush thanked Koizumi for opening their markets to US beef).

Bush and Koizumi will head to Graceland tomorrow and Elvis references were sprinkled throughout the newser as were constant reminders by both leaders that they are "friends."

Thursday, June 29, 2006 | 9:20 a.m. ETFrom Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Alex Isenstadt

In this morning's issue

First glancePresident Bush welcomes his friend the Prime Minister of Japan  to the White House this morning.  Their meeting will be followed by a joint press availability at 11:30 am.  Later in the day, the Bushes welcome Koizumi back to the White House for an official dinner.  Tomorrow, they head to Graceland in what those who are far more expert on this topic than First Read say is a big-deal trip that reflects not only the rapport between Bush and Koizumi, but also a rare case of a bond between Bush and a foreign leader that has strengthened rather than weakened during his time in office.

A real deal that defuses the tension between House Republicans and the White House over a guest-worker program and lets members vote to strengthen border security right before the midterms may still be a long way off.  But GOP members are at least outwardly receptive to the ideas being floated by leading Senate Republicans on how to end the intra-party stalemate on immigration reform, NBC's Mike Viqueira reports.  NBC's Ken Strickland adds that one Senate Democratic staffer working on the issue confirms that a line of communication between the chambers is open.

A compromise could entail quick passage of border security and employer enforcement measures, both of which have near-universal support on the Hill, along with a set of triggers to implement, over time, the controversial guest-worker and citizenship provisions for illegal immigrants.  Per Viq, one such trigger might involve having the Administration "certify" that the border is secure before these proposals could kick in.  "There probably has to be some metric there, so what probably Senator McCain's talking about has some substance," said Speaker Dennis Hastert yesterday.  "Some of our own members are floating ideas similar to that."

Hastert and other GOP leaders are taking care to appear open to compromise even as they move forward with an unusual series of field hearings in July and August that are designed to highlight what they see as flaws in the Senate's approach.  The first will take place on Wednesday in San Diego.  Like Hastert, Majority Leader John Boehner also declined to dismiss McCain's overture out of hand yesterday, saying there are "a lot of options" out there.  "It's interesting to note movement among Senators to a position closer to where the House is," he said.

That said, with roughly half of House Republicans opposed to any kind of "amnesty" at any point in the process, it's hard to see how far they'll get in these negotiations.  White House press secretary Tony Snow said yesterday of the House field sessions that "we're going to find out if they're House hearings or whether they're site visits.  I mean, there is still some discussion of what it's going to be."  Snow also said the Administration doesn't expect to send any representatives to the events.

Speaking at a fundraiser in Missouri yesterday, Bush again defended his Administration's international financial tracking program reported last week in the New York Times and other papers.  "There can be no excuse for anyone entrusted with vital intelligence to leak it and there can be no excuse for any newspaper to print it."  His statement was met with sustained applause, says NBC's Tammy Kupperman.  House Republicans will take it from there today, going to the floor to lambaste the papers -- though not by name.  Taking care to distinguish between leaker and recipient of leaked information, Republicans have drafted a "sense of the Congress" resolution which will be non-binding, but will provide them with the opportunity to formally chastise news outlets for reporting what many on the Hill consider to be vital national security secrets, as well as condemn the leakers themselves.  Hastert told reporters yesterday, "Basically, loose lips kill American people."

This will be the second time in a month that House Republicans will take to the floor to blast the news media.  Just before Memorial Day, they lined up to criticize another news organization for a report about Hastert which the mentioned parties decried as erroneous. House Democrats plan to offer an alternative resolution, introduced by Financial Services ranking member Barney Frank, that "expresses Congress' support for appropriate surveillance of terrorist financial transactions and our concern" about "unauthorized disclosures of classified information," per a statement from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

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

USA Today reports the price of gas is edging upward in advance of the holiday weekend.

The Fed is expected to announce its 17th interest rate hike in a row at 2:15 pm today.  The new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll asked respondents whether the Fed should continue to raise rates; 65% said no.  "Such sentiment won't sway Fed policy makers in the short term.  They're expected by economists to raise the benchmark U.S. rate... to 5.25 percent, the highest since March 2001.  That may slow the economy by taking more steam out of the housing market, where Americans are already contending with rising mortgage rates, some respondents said."

The new poll also shows more than half disapproving "of Bush's handling of the economy;" "36 percent strongly disapprove.  Almost half, 48 percent, say his policies have made the economy worse than it was when he became president; 19 percent say it's better...  Six in 10 Americans say rising costs for gasoline, home heating and electricity are forcing them to cut spending in other areas to compensate." - Bloomberg

"The findings suggest that there isn't much Bush can do to improve his standing on these issues in the short run because unemployment is low by historical standards and the price of energy is largely beyond the president's control," says Bloomberg's polling partner, the Los Angeles Times.  "The national unemployment rate has been steadily declining over the last three years, from 6.3% in June 2003 to 4.6% last month, the lowest rate since 2001.  Bush notes the economy's health almost every time he speaks on domestic issues."

The Supreme Court's verdict on the Texas redistricting case has several political implications.  First, the Court ruled that the change to one district, represented by seven-term GOP Rep. Henry Bonilla, violated the Voting Rights Act because it removed about 100,000 Hispanics from the district to help make it safer for him.  As Amy Walter of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report points out, the Court's decision makes Bonilla potentially more vulnerable; in 2002, he won re-election with just 52%.  But Carl Forti, spokesman for the GOP House campaign committee, adds that it's impossible to know how the decision will affect Bonilla until we see what the final district looks like.  "It's also conceivable that it won't get tweaked until after November.  Lot of unanswered questions out there still."

Second, the decision could also impact the districts surrounding Bonilla's, especially the one Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar now represents.  "Anytime you redraw one congressional district it will effect those around [it]," Walter says.  Matt Angle, a Democratic political consultant who used to work for former Rep. Martin Frost (D) (who lost his seat in 2004 due to the redistricting), argues that the Texas county that the Court ruled was improperly divided up in the 2003 redistricting, Webb County, is Cuellar's base, and any big change to it could possibly jeopardize his future re-election prospects.

Third, and perhaps more importantly, the Court ruled to uphold the rest of the map and rejected the argument that the 2003 redistricting was unconstitutional.  Not only did this represent a victory for former Rep. Tom DeLay (R), who had to resign from his House seat for several reasons related to his role in the redistricting, but it opens the floodgates to Democrats and Republicans to draw up new maps anytime -- no longer just once every 10 years -- their political party takes control of statehouses and governor mansions.  Some potential targets for Democratic redistricting efforts: Illinois, New Mexico, New Jersey and New York.  One top party House strategist says they won't rush to do anything in other states until they see where they are after election day.  All of which raises the stakes even higher for the 2006 midterm elections at the gubernatorial and state legislative level.

The Democratic strategist also said we'll start hearing ramped-up Democratic criticism of House Republicans' recent refusal to bring up the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, certain provisions of which expire next year.

The Houston Chronicle: "The likely result is the need for new primary elections in districts that will be redrawn.  Texas conducted its primaries in March.  The new round of elections, and runoffs, if needed, could swing some of the seats back to Democratic control.  But they are unlikely to dramatically alter the balance of power in the U.S. House, as Democrats had hoped."

Today's papers are full of other reasons why we may not see a rush to redistrict.  "The main deterrent to gerrymandering could be the sheer political bloodiness of redistricting battles.  In Texas, the GOP's plan was enacted after months of drama in which Democratic legislators twice fled the state in efforts to prevent it from being voted on," says the Washington Post.

The Washington Times cites a professor at George Mason University "who studies redistricting" and says he also "doesn't expect many states to press for new districts, in part because many states have laws or court precedents that specifically prohibit mid-decade redistricting."

The Los Angeles Times says that, "unlike DeLay and the Republicans, Democrats are ill-equipped to take advantage - hampered by long-simmering racial tensions and other structural problems that make it harder for them to agree on new maps."

The Chicago Tribune says the decision "is likely to provide a symbolic boost for Republicans, keep the Democratic goal of retaking the House elusive and ensure that the political legacy of former Rep. Tom DeLay will live on despite his downfall."

Democratic Rep. Chet Edwards of Texas said he will introduce "legislation barring states from redrawing congressional lines more than once each decade." – Dallas Morning News

The immigration debate
As Republicans make at least rhetorical progress toward a compromise, the leaders of the Democratic House and Senate campaign committees hold a 12:30 pm press conference to "warn Congressional Republicans that their plan to run their 2006 campaigns on immigration will backfire because of their abysmal record on the issue," per the release.

The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, which supports a guest-worker plan, hails GOP Rep. Chris Cannon's primary victory earlier this week.  "Republican leaders in the House have convinced themselves that a tough anti-immigration stance is key to holding on to their majority...  And they cite GOP Representative Brian Bilbray's special election victory earlier this month in California as evidence that demonizing illegal aliens is a political winner.  But Mr. Bilbray didn't even capture 50% of the vote in a safe GOP district against a Democrat, while Mr. Cannon has now survived a single-issue immigration assault from a well-financed fellow Republican.  GOP voters are smarter than GOP Members think they are."

The Houston Chronicle writes that some Republicans saw Cannon's primary victory as evidence for House and Senate lawmakers to cut some kind of deal on immigration reform.  "But Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., who formed a group that targeted Cannon for defeat, said the primary nonetheless showed that immigration is a tough election-year issue.  'If it takes the president's participation in a safe Republican district to get elected, he's got a lot of work cut out for him,' Tancredo said."

Ever since Bush "vowed days after the Sept. 11 attacks to 'follow the money as a trail to the terrorists,' the government has made no secret of its efforts to hunt down the bank accounts of Al Qaeda and its allies," says the New York Times.  "But that fact has not muted the fury of Mr. Bush, his top aides and many members of Congress at the decision last week by The New York Times and other newspapers to disclose a centerpiece of that hunt."

The Washington Post says Bush's scathing critique in Missouri last night of the reporting on the program, "combined with new moves by GOP congressional leaders, showed how both are working to fan public anger and reap gains from the controversy during a midterm election year in which polls show they are running against stiff headwinds.  Democrats, for their part, denounced Republicans for trying to divert attention from issues such as the Iraq war and high gasoline prices, and some terrorism experts said the White House is exaggerating the damage."

A San Francisco Chronicle news analysis notes that "the conservative critique of the Times and other media outlets may have worked, at least temporarily, as political diversionary tactic.  As the focus centers on whether to blame the leak and the leakers, any national debate that may have occurred over the ethics of federal officials peeking at bank transfers has been obscured by a red-versus-blue media scrum.  The question has become: Was it right to publish the story?"

More on the Bush/GOP agenda
Attending to an area where conservatives have said they're lagging, the White House sent a slew of judicial nominations to the Senate late yesterday.

The Dallas Morning News breaks down what Bush and Prime Minister Koizumi will discuss during their visit, including North Korea, Iran and Iraq.

Bloomberg covers congressional Republicans' posturing, through pushes for a line-item veto and cuts in entitlement spending, among other efforts, "to burnish their election-year image by pushing the largest overhaul of the budget process in more than a decade," says Bloomberg.  "The proposals either aren't likely to be enacted or wouldn't have much effect if they were, budget experts said.  Still, they allow Republicans to portray themselves as tough on spending."

In his first foray into the blogosphere on, a site that says it's devoted to "blogging the waste out of government," McCain took aim at earmarking.  Noting that there has been a 240% increase in earmarking since Republicans took control of Congress, McCain said that's "not a record Ronald Reagan would have been proud of...  We need to stop this . . . now."  As of yesterday afternoon, McCain's post had largely received positive reader feedback.  One thanked him for "engaging" in an important issue.  (Another one also stood out: "You come to Porkbusters yammering about spending.  Yet you voted for that insane immigration bill which would cost us untold hundreds of billions or even trillions if signed into law.  Fortunately the House is onto ploys like that and will kill it.")

USA Today profiles an increasingly politically active Lance Armstrong, who has recently met with White House officials, and high-profile Democrats.  "Armstrong is careful not to criticize Bush directly but has voiced concerns that the war in Iraq and federal income tax cuts are diverting dollars that could be used in his war with cancer."

The Democrats
Senate Democrats hold a repeat press conference to try to tie a minimum wage hike to a cost-of-living increase for members of Congress -- this time with Sen. Hillary Clinton (D), whose invite to the previous one apparently got lost somewhere along the way -- at 2:00 pm. – New York Post

The Washington Post's Milbank profiles Sen. Barack Obama (D) after his big speech yesterday on faith in politics, calling Obama "enormously charismatic -- and utterly undefined.  Democrats who are worried about a Hillary Clinton debacle in 2008 think he could provide a fresh start after the fall of old bulls...  But he could also be portrayed as a neophyte, naive about the dangers in the world."

Now that the House Ethics Committee is up and running, the Wall Street Journal previews a potential influx of requests for committee probes, perhaps starting with GOP Rep. Charles Taylor, who is being accused by a good-government group of violating congressional rules "in his ownership of U.S. and Russian banks."  Taylor is vulnerable to a challenge from Democrat and former NFL star Heath Shuler in November.

Roger Stilwell, the "Interior Department official who oversees the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a key client of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, will plead guilty next month to filing a false financial disclosure report form."

More scandal -- and Coingate scandal fallout -- in Ohio: Four Toledo-area officials "were fined $1,000 each on misdemeanor charges of failing to report gifts worth more than $75.  They were accused of receiving money from prominent GOP donor Tom Noe, then contributing it to President Bush's reelection campaign in their own names in an alleged scheme by Noe to skirt laws limiting individual contributions to $2,000." – Los Angeles Times

More on the midterms
Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean appears today at a Pima County (AZ) Democratic party "unity event" in Tucson at 8:00 pm ET; Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman has events in Michigan.

A new Quinnipiac poll in Florida shows that Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist and Democratic Rep. Jim Davis hold "substantial double-digit leads in bids to win their respective party's nominations," reports the AP.  The survey began the day after Crist's GOP rival, challenger Tom Gallagher, "revealed an extramarital affair that led to the breakup of his first marriage" and that he had used marijuana.  Gallagher's poll numbers were not affected.

House Republican campaign committee chair Tom Reynolds holds a press conference call at 1:30 pm to talk about the race in the 8th district of Illinois, where one of the Democratic Party's most vulnerable incumbents, freshman Melissa Bean, faces Republican David McSweeney.  Reynolds' call with McSweeney is thought to be part of the committee's effort to promote its challenger candidates as much as it's emphasizing retaining its incumbents.

And in Maryland, endangered Gov. Bob Ehrlich (R) is expected to announce today that his running mate will be his state secretary of disabilities, who is blind from a degenerative genetic disease.  She has never run for public office. – Washington Post