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First Read: North Korea sends a rocket

North Korea sends a rocket.  “First Read” is an analysis of the day’s political news, from the NBC News political unit.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006 | 1:50 p.m. ETFrom Huma Zaidi , Mark Murray and Alex Isenstadt

Immigration trumps North Korea
While North Korea's missile launch and Ken Lay's death were dominating the morning's news, President Bush instead brought immigration reform to the forefront by making an "impromptu" stop at a local Dunkin' Donuts shop owned by immigrants. As the New York Times reported this morning, the White House has suggested it's open to a compromise that pushes for an enforcement-first approach -- then implements the thorny guest-worker and citizenship provisions at a later time. Bush said he wants to find a "rational" way to work with Congress to address the immigrant population currently living in the US, but he also stressed that such an approach isn't amnesty. "I'm absolutely opposed to amnesty," he said. "Amnesty would say to somebody, all I've got to do is wait it out; all I've got to do is get here illegally myself and I'll become a citizen. That would be bad policy."

Meanwhile, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D), who was participating in the Senate's field hearing on immigration reform in Philadelphia, held a conference call with reporters and suggested that he, too, could possibly support a phased-in approach. While stressing that he supports "comprehensive" immigration reform, he said there's a recognition that "some of this will take longer to implement than others." But Kennedy argued that Bush would have to use his capital to get something passed. "President Bush is going to have to bring us all together to get this done." On the same conference call, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D) of Illinois accused House Republicans of deciding "to cut and run" on immigration reform by holding field hearings on the Senate's immigration bill instead of hammering out a compromise in a conference committee. Gutierrez said these Republicans were catering to the "anti-immigrant extremists" inside their party.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006 | 9:10 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Alex Isenstadt

In today's issue:
The red glare of North Korea's rockets
Congressional field hearings on immigration beginMexico's presidential election: Remind anyone else of the Florida recount?
Hillary won't back Lieberman if he doesn't win next month's Dem primary

First glance
The Fourth of July's rockets red glare this year included the space shuttle, 60 birthday candles for President Bush, and the unwelcome addition of a handful of North Korean missiles, handing Bush and his national security team another challenge as they contend with the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  On that front, after a string of unfortunate news, the Administration hopes to score some PR points today with a meeting between First Lady Laura Bush and members of the US-Afghan Women's Council at the State Department at 11:00 am.

Late last night, White House press secretary Tony Snow issued a statement condemning the North Korean missile launch.  "This provocative act violates a standing moratorium on missile tests to which the North had previously committed.  Regardless of whether the series of launches occurred as North Korea planned, they nevertheless demonstrate North Korea's intent to intimidate other states by developing missiles of increasingly longer ranges."

Beyond North Korea, eyes and minds are focused south of the border today, as Mexico's presidential election has come to a Florida-like non-conclusion and members of the US House and Senate convene field hearings in San Diego and Pennsylvania, respectively, on Bush's desired guest-worker and citizenship provisions -- which remain the most controversial aspects of the Senate's immigration-reform bill.  (However, the White House might be open to a compromise that secures the border first, and then implements the guest-worker and citizenship programs; see below.)  One of the Senate bill's co-sponsors, Ted Kennedy (D), does a press conference call today at 12:15 pm in addition to appearing at the Philadelphia hearing with Senate Judiciary Committee chair Arlen Specter (R).  House Democrats plan to try to highlight Republicans' border security-focused approach.

The White House's most recent comment on the Mexican election is from Monday, when Snow told reporters, "We are going to work with the government of Mexico.  It's an ally and neighbor, and obviously, we've got a great number of shared interests...  But at this point, like everybody else, when it comes to gaming out who's going to win and who's going to lose, we'll wait for the Mexican government to go ahead and the election commission to make the announcement."

Bush meets with the President of Georgia at the White House at 1:15 pm.  Bush marked his 60th birthday yesterday at the White House, but the big day is tomorrow.  Also on Thursday, he meets with Canada's Prime Minister.  And on Friday, he heads to Chicago to stump for Judy Baar Topinka (R), who's challenging incumbent Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D).

High-profile Democrats are choosing up sides -- sort of -- in their party's Senate primary in Connecticut, where incumbent Joe Lieberman has announced he'll seek re-election as an independent should he lose the early August balloting to anti-war challenger Ned Lamont.  Democrats like Democratic National Committee chair Howard Dean and Sen. Hillary Clinton -- who, like Lieberman, also supports the war in Iraq -- have announced they'll support the party's nominee.  NBC affiliate WVIT holds a primary debate between the two tomorrow night at 7:00 pm ET.

Your favorite, constantly updated political calendar is always available on

Security politicsThe New York Times on North Korea's missile launch: "While the test itself was a sign of North Korea's defiance of the United States, for the administration, the outcome was as favorable as officials could have hoped for: the North's capacity was called into question, and the North's enigmatic leader, Kim Jong Il, has now put himself at odds with the two countries that have provided him aid, China and South Korea.  'Our hope is that the Chinese are going to be furious,' said one senior American official, who declined to be identified."

After North Korea fired six missiles yesterday, it fired another today. - AP

"One administration official told The Washington Times that the missile launches were expected, as preparations for them had been detected over the past two weeks, adding that the North Koreans appear to have timed the launches for a major U.S. holiday.  Still, the missiles were launched without any formal warning, U.S. officials said, and there were no recent official statements from the North Koreans about testing plans."

The Boston Globe reports that yesterday's tests "set off a whirlwind of diplomacy."  Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, "who was preparing to host foreign ambassadors for the State Department's annual Fourth of July party, placed urgent phone calls to her counterparts in Asia."

The New York Times covers Bush's remarks yesterday to soldiers at Fort Bragg, N.C.  "Bush warned on Tuesday that setting an artificial timetable for withdrawal of Iraq would be 'a terrible mistake' and took the rare step of mentioning the precise number of war dead.  'I'm going to make you this promise," Mr. Bush told a cheering throng under a blistering late-morning sun.  'I'm not going to allow the sacrifice of 2,527 troops who have died in Iraq to be in vain by pulling out before the job is done.'"

While Bush told the troops that victory will be achieved in Iraq because the insurgents are vulnerable, the AP notes that the "outlook was less optimistic in Baghdad," where another Iraqi government official was kidnapped.

The New York Times front-pages that the White House is signaling it's open to the idea of securing the border first, before addressing the more controversial guest-worker and citizenship provisions.  "The shift is significant because Mr. Bush has repeatedly said he favors legislation like the Senate's immigration bill, which establishes border security, guest worker and citizenship programs all at once.  The enforcement-first approach puts Mr. Bush one step closer to the House, where Republicans are demanding an enforcement-only measure."

But the Sacramento Bee notes that the congressional calendar "may be unforgiving" in trying to resolve differences between the House and Senate approaches.  "Congress is scheduled to adjourn Oct. 6, providing only about a month for the formal House and Senate negotiations to conclude.  That's tight, but not impossible."

In advance of today's Senate immigration hearing in Philadelphia, Commerce Secretary (and immigrant) Carlos Gutierrez outlines and defends Bush's immigration plan in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  He says Congress will hear that the "status quo is unacceptable, and comprehensive immigration reform is the best way to secure our border and our future... It's a false choice to think the immigration debate is a battle between America being a welcoming society and being a nation of laws.  We can do both."

"Republicans say that during the course of the field hearings they will stack their side of the dais with prominent immigration hard-liners," The Hill reports in advance of today's event in San Diego.  "House Democratic lineups in San Diego and at a hearing Friday in Laredo, Texas, will include several members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus."

Indeed, the San Diego Union Tribune reports that the 7,000-member Farm Bureau, which has advocated for a guest-worker program, will be shut out of today's House hearings in San Diego.  Sara Carmack, district director in Rep. Ed Royce's (R) office, who is heading the hearing, says they have "heard complaints from numerous groups that feel left out.  Carmack said the agenda was set in the interest of time and to focus the conversation on border security, not immigration reform."

It's the economy
The Wall Street Journal says the bipartisan call for "energy independence "may be among the least realistic political slogans in American history."  Energy experts say the concept lands "somewhere between pipe dream and economic impossibility...  Global oil markets are interconnected, with oil prices set internationally.  That means supply disruptions anywhere in the world will continue to have an almost instantaneous effect on the pump price of gasoline in the U.S...  Others say that achieving 'energy independence' -- even if it were possible -- would be far more expensive than has been estimated and wouldn't eliminate threats to the nation's economic security."

Other people's elections
Bloomberg: "About 4,000 Mexican electoral workers and private citizens will begin scrutinizing ballots today...  Arturo Sanchez, a board member at the Federal Electoral Institute, said he expects the recount to validate preliminary results that show a victory for ruling party candidate Felipe Calderon over Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.  Lopez Obrador's Party of the Democratic Revolution said it will contest the results in court unless electoral authorities recount each ballot...  Preliminary results based on 98.5 percent of ballots counted showed Calderon, who vows to maintain President Vicente Fox's pro-business policies, leading Lopez Obrador by about 1 percentage point...  Calderon had 36.38 percent while Lopez Obrador, who has promised to increase government spending to aid the poor, had 35.34 percent.  Both candidates claimed victory."

"Mr. López Obrador's challenge," the New York Times says, "made it clear that this country was about to live through its own version of the drawn-out legal battle that Americans experienced in the 2000 presidential race.  Mexico's dispute, however, instead of being focused on one state, could be nationwide."

The Los Angeles Times notes that discovery of previously missing ballots has further complicated matters.

The AP writes that due to the closeness of the race, "the Federal Electoral Institute won't declare a winner until completing a review required by law that begins Wednesday and could take days.  The count will be crucial to proving the election was clean in a nation that emerged only six years ago from 71 years of one-party rule sustained by widespread vote-rigging."

"The Justice Department has issued a new subpoena for e-mails from Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.), who is at the center of an ongoing bribery and corruption investigation," Roll Call reports.  "The subpoena was read into the Congressional Record on Thursday evening, as required under House rules, but did not specify that Jefferson was the target of the request."

Former Bush campaign advisor Ralph Reed's rival for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor of Georgia just launched a TV ad highlighting Reed's ties to Jack Abramoff.  The ad "shows Mr. Reed being played as a face card in a poker hand, an allusion to the casino-lobbying scandal that has sent Abramoff and two associates to federal prison...  'What's behind Ralph Reed's false attacks?' an announcer asks in the... ad being aired statewide.  'A record of betrayal he's desperate to hide.  Reed said gambling is "immoral" but took millions of dollars from convicted felon Jack Abramoff to help casinos.'"  Reed has denied any wrongdoing in the Abramoff scandal and his campaign charges that the ad is untrue. – Washington Times

The Democrats
The Los Angeles Times profiles Democratic campaign committee chairs Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer, big-city pols who "are injecting a dose of discipline and drive among traditionally unruly Democrats, who often suffer from the image that they are too soft."  They also will bear the blame for any failure to meet whatever bar is conventionally set for Democratic House and Senate seat gains in November.

In contrast to Republicans' highly coordinated approach to field and get-out-the-vote operations at the campaign committee level, the Democratic campaign organizations continue to fight over approach and finances.  Roll Call has the latest on the battle between the Democratic National Committee and the party's House campaign committee.

The Chicago Tribune also highlights the dispute between Howard Dean's DNC and Emanuel's House campaign committee.  "A feud within the ranks of party leaders is creating concern and consternation about Democrats' ability to capitalize on the bountiful political advantages the GOP has dealt them.  Democrats are beset by competing messages, quarreling messengers and conflicting visions for the future of the party, all of which could complicate and impede their fall election strategy."

More on the midterms
In his latest Roll Call column, Stuart Rothenberg looks at how wave elections don't hit with the same force in every state.  "Democratic operatives have been suggesting that at least a handful of states are ripe for a Democratic wave: New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Indiana."

Despite the Supreme Court's opening the door, the Washington Post sees House Democrats as unlikely to attempt the kind of mid-decade redistricting that Republicans used so successfully in Texas.

The San Francisco Chronicle examines the fundraising efforts in California's gubernatorial race, and says that while Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) campaign is leaning on its allies in the business world, the Phil Angelides (D) camp is tapping labor interests for cash.

The AP covers Hillary Clinton's statement that she won't back Sen. Joe Lieberman if he doesn't win his primary in Connecticut next month.  "'I've known Joe Lieberman for more than 30 years. I have been pleased to support him in his campaign for re-election, and hope that he is our party's nominee,' the former first lady said in a statement issued by aides.  'But I want to be clear that I will support the nominee chosen by Connecticut Democrats in their primary.'"

The New York tabloids also report on Clinton's statement.
New York Daily News
New York Post

The Boston Globe says that at an Independence Day parade yesterday, the "cheers for Lieberman still generally swamped the boos, but the senator saw up close what he's up against in the final month of the Democratic primary campaign."

Meanwhile, the New York Daily News looks at KT McFarland's troubled Senate primary campaign in New York, and notes that "Clinton ducks all questions about the Republican race, keeping to her talking points and doing a spectacular job of keeping a broad grin off her face."

The Houston Chronicle reports on the court battle in Texas to decide whether the GOP can replace Tom DeLay on the ballot for his former congressional seat.  "Republicans have told U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks that the state law that allows political parties to replace ineligible candidates - such as not living in their district - applies to DeLay's move from Sugar Land to Virginia.  Democrats claim DeLay's move is a facade and his eligibility as a congressional candidate is determined by the U.S. Constitution, not state law.  Sparks is expected to rule this week."

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