First Read: GOP losing Hispanic support?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006 | 4:35 p.m. ETFrom Huma Zaidi

GOP losing Hispanic support?
A new national poll of Hispanic voters commissioned by the progressive New Democrat Network shows that the GOP is losing ground with this burgeoning voter bloc, diminishing any recent progress the GOP has made in courting them away from Democrats. But, the poll also shows that even with a decline in Republican support, Democrats are failing to make any demonstrative gains within the community. The poll was conducted between June 24-July 1 of 600 "Spanish-dominant" speakers who are, per the NDN, voters who prefer to speak in Spanish even though many are "English competent."

In a briefing this afternoon, NDN president Simon Rosenberg said the downward trend in voter satisfaction with Republicans is due in part to dissatisfaction with the Iraq war, which 69% of voters said is their top concern. For example, in 2004, Bush had a 60% favorable rating among Hispanics. In the latest poll, this number dropped to 38%. Still, despite this trend and their support for immigration reform, Democrats have made only "modest gains." While more voters than not said that the immigration issue will not affect who they vote for, more than half of those surveyed said they are more likely to vote in this year's midterm elections as a result of the debate.

While Rosenberg underscored the need for Democrats to work harder to make effective gains among this voting group before the midterms, he emphasized that courting Hispanics is vital to the Democratic strategy in the 2008 presidential race. He believes that Democrats have a good chance of winning the White House if they can sweep the southwestern states.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006 | 2:55 p.m. ETFrom Mark Murray and Ken Strickland

Bush faces bipartisan disagreement
It just happened: President Bush issued the first veto of his presidency, striking down legislation that would have expanded federal funding for embryonic stem cell research; it is unlikely Congress will be able to override the veto. Surrounded by so-called "snowflake children" born from frozen embryos, Bush defended his veto, saying he wouldn't allow federal funding that would lead to the destruction of human embryos. "These boys and girls are not spare parts," he said, referring to the children around him. "They remind us what is lost when embryos are destroyed in the name of research... Americans must never abandon our fundamental morals."

But Democrats and even some Republicans were quick to criticize the veto, using their own examples of people who could be harmed without more stem cell funding. "Every family in America is one phone call or one diagnosis away from needing the benefits of stem cell research," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said at a news conference this morning. Added Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean in a statement: "With one stroke of his pen, President Bush has once again denied hope to millions of Americans and their families who suffer from Diabetes, spinal cord injuries, and Alzheimer's."

And Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist just released his own statement, saying: "I am pro-life, but I disagree with the president's decision to veto the [bill]. Given the potential of this research and the limitations of the existing lines eligible for federally funded research, I think additional lines should be made available."

Wednesday, July 19, 2006 | 9:20 a.m. ETFrom Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Alex Isenstadt

In today's issue:

Lessons from Ralph Reed's loss in Georgia
The head of the Fed updates Congress on the economy
Even presidential contenders not named Hillary or McCain are making headlines

First glance
If you keep your eyes trained on news out of the Middle East today, you risk missing the first veto of George W. Bush's presidency and the House vote that will sustain it.  Which may be what some Republicans are hoping as they seek to put the matter behind them.

Bush will debut his veto pen against a bill that would expand federal funding of embryonic stem cell research beyond the limits he set in his executive order almost exactly five years ago, a bill which is believed to have majority public support.  Per White House spokesperson Tony Snow, the veto will happen without ceremony, though there will be a ceremony for the two less controversial stem cell-related bills Bush is expected to sign into law.  After he vetoes the former and signs the latter, he'll make a statement at 2:15 pm.  The House will vote later today to override the veto, but supporters of the measure will come up short of the necessary two-thirds; the Senate yesterday produced 63 votes for the bill, also not enough to override.  Some Republicans on the Hill are trying to spin today's House action as a vote to sustain the President's veto, but that is the expected result of the vote -- not the reason for it.

As we have pointed out before, the fact that the Hill GOP leadership has chosen to cram all legislative action on this controversial measure into a span of a few days reflects Republican discomfort and a belief that, on balance, this isn't a terribly good story for them.  "It's not something that anybody wants to talk about for weeks on end," a GOP House leadership aide tells NBC's Mike Viqueira.  (Again, as we suggested yesterday, compare this attitude with House Republicans' view on immigration reform, which also splits their party but which they do appear happy to talk about, and hold hearings about, for weeks on end.)  A Democratic House aide suggests to Viq that many GOP-held seats thought to be in jeopardy in the midterm elections are in areas where voters support more funding for the research is supported by voters, including CT-02, PA-06, and WA-08.

At the same time, former Bush campaign advisor and Christian Coalition spokesperson Ralph Reed's failure to win the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor of Georgia last night is a warning shot to the GOP, and not only because Reed is now the first campaign casualty of the Jack Abramoff scandal.  His loss suggests that evangelical voters will abandon a candidate or lawmaker they see as diverting from his or her socially conservative principles.  Reed's work with Abramoff included efforts to protect Indian tribal casinos.

The House GOP leadership will hold a press conference around 10:00 am today.  Rep. Mike Castle (R), co-author of the House bill, holds a press conference with the centrist Republican Main Street Partnership he chairs at 1:00 pm, at which they'll vow to fight a veto.

For his part, House Majority Leader John Boehner told reporters yesterday that advances in science will soon make this "a moot issue" and that, at any rate, he doesn't see "any huge consequences, politically," Viq reports.  Asked what it says about relations between GOP lawmakers and the White House, Boehner said, "Nothing."  Boehner will address the conservative Heritage Foundation at 12:30 pm today, giving a speech titled, "A Majority Agenda That Matters: Why Strength and Prosperity Triumph Over Hesitation and Big Government."

Also today, Fed chief Ben Bernanke is expected to offer some fairly gloomy testimony on the state of the US economy before the Senate Banking Committee.  And the Congressional Black Caucus is scheduled to meet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today at 4:00 pm, Viq reports.  Topics will vary; the Middle East was not specifically mentioned.

Have you checked your favorite political calendar lately?

Stem cells and the values debate
Since George Washington's day, presidents have vetoed 2,550 pieces of legislation.  Eight presidents, including Bush (at this writing), have never issued any.  This chart on shows the top vetoers, and those who haven't issued any.  The last president who never vetoed a bill was James Garfield, back in 1881, who was assassinated six months into his term.

The Boston Globe says a quick, unsuccessful attempt to override would "remove the issue from news headlines well ahead of this fall's midterm elections."

The New York Times notes that Bush has made nearly 150 veto threats, but up until this point, has never acted on them.

Perhaps previewing what Bush himself will say at 2:15 pm, HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt makes Bush's case for the veto in a USA Today op-ed: "Science can answer many questions about how nature works, but science alone cannot answer profound moral and ethical questions that policymakers and society must consider.  In formulating his policy on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, President Bush... considered the needs of science and ethics and chose a balanced approach that would advance both...  The bill passed by Congress would... for the first time use taxpayer dollars to offer an incentive for the present and future destruction of human embryos," and "crosses the moral line the president drew."

"Some Bush allies saw it as an appropriate emblem of the president's style of leadership that he probably will exercise his first veto on what he considers a matter of moral principle, even though polls generally show that a sizable majority of the public favors embryonic stem cell research," while "critics framed the prospective veto as a testament to how wedded Bush is to the agenda of religious conservatives."  The Los Angeles Times also notes, "GOP leaders may bring the bill back later this week for approval under routine procedures requiring a simple majority."

Roll Call says that the veto may not affect White House relations with GOP lawmakers.  "Republicans say that while their party is clearly split on the stem-cell issue, they do not take their disagreements personally," and that "Bush's opposition to embryonic stem-cell research has long been clear.  And unlike GOP positions on other notable issues such as tax cuts or the war in Iraq, there never has been a near-universal party view on stem cells." 

The San Francisco Chronicle has Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) urging Bush not to veto the bill.

The Chicago Tribune seizes on Karl Rove's statement last week that researchers have found more promise from non-controversial adult stem cells than embryonic stem cells.  "But Rove's negative appraisal of embryonic stem cell research--echoed by many opponents of funding for such research--is inaccurate, according to most stem cell research scientists, including a dozen contacted for this story."

The House yesterday voted down a proposed constitutional ban on gay marriage, 236-187.  The Washington Post's Milbank points out, as First Read has (less cheekily) in the past, how Congress seems to be devoting much of what little legislative time they have left to political posturing -- both when it came to the gay marriage vote and on stem cells, in light of Bush's promised veto.

The AP: "The vote was mainly symbolic," but it "put lawmakers on the record on the politically charged issue less than four months before the November elections."

The New York Times writes that congressional Republicans -- with Education Secretary Margaret Spellings joining them -- yesterday proposed "to spend $100 million on vouchers for low-income students in chronically failing public schools around the country to attend private and religious schools... The proposal comes as Republicans are showcasing issues intended to energize their party's conservative base before the midterm elections."

USA Today casts conservative GOP Sen. Sam Brownback's fledgling presidential bid in the context of social conservatives' dissatisfaction with how their causes are being handled -- or not -- by their party.  "After delivering what they see as the decisive votes to elect and re-elect George W. Bush, they grumble that social conservatives haven't gotten all they deserved on the issues that matter most to them." 

Security politics
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will address a joint session of Congress next Wednesday during his visit to Washington.  – Roll Call

For the first time, the "nation's top fiscal watchdog," US Comptroller General David M. Walker, has issued the "the first full accounting of Iraqi reconstruction needs" which tops $50 billion, most of which the United States will probably end up paying, reports the Boston Globe.  The estimate comes as a surprise since the "Bush administration has not offered any recent estimates of Iraqi reconstruction expenses and had given no indication that costs could grow so significantly."

A San Francisco Chronicle analysis notes that the "oft-stated hope that a new Iraqi government would swiftly transform the [Middle East] region's fractured politics has been realized with unintended consequences: an emboldened Iran; the victory of Hamas in Palestinian elections; and Syria's departure from Lebanon."

The Wall Street Journal observes the contrast between the Clinton and Bush approaches to the Middle East, and says, "The Bush administration's attempts to use the current crisis to force long-lasting change carries high risks.  A prolonged Israeli bombardment of Lebanon could deepen support in the Arab world for Hezbollah and Iran, while further weakening the moderate and anti-Syrian Lebanese prime minister...  There is also the possibility that the hostilities will escalate if Hezbollah strikes Tel Aviv, potentially prompting Israel to strike back directly at Syria.  Meanwhile, the U.S. push for a no-compromise hard-line puts its Arab allies, such as Egypt and Jordan, in a tough spot." 

The Washington Post looks at Congress' rush to speak up in support of Israel.

The Los Angeles Times covers the "bitterly political" battle in Washington yesterday "over whether the evacuees" from Lebanon "should be billed for the costs of their own rescue."  Democrats cried "Katrina mentality" and the White House blamed Congress for passing "a 2002 mandate requiring the administration to recover evacuation costs 'to the maximum extent practicable.'"

Leading conservatives tell the Washington Post of growing dissatisfaction with Bush's seemingly new, more diplomatic -- or "timid" and "confused" -- approach to foreign policy.  "Most of the most scathing critiques of the administration from erstwhile supporters are being expressed within think tanks and in journals and op-ed pages followed by a foreign policy elite...  But the Bush White House has always paid special attention to the conversation in these conservative circles...  It is an odd irony for a president who has inflamed liberals and many allies around the world for what they see as an overly confrontational, go-it-alone approach." 

NBC's Pete Williams reports that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales yesterday testified before Congress that the President himself blocked a Justice Department investigation into the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program.

It's the economy...Inflation will top the list for Fed chief Bernanke's testimony before Congress today: "Bernanke testifies... 90 minutes after the government reports June figures for consumer inflation, which exceeded economists' forecasts in the prior three months."  -- Bloomberg

Potential presidential candidates and Sens. Joe Biden (D) and Sam Brownback (R) address a daylong bipartisan summit on energy issues and the nation's "addiction to oil," Biden at 9:15 am and Brownback at 11:15 am.

The Democrats
Addressing the NAACP today: Democratic Sens. Barack Obama, Ted Kennedy, and Hillary Clinton.  Expect lots of talk about the Voting Rights Act, which the House just voted to reauthorize for 25 years and which now awaits a Senate vote.

The New Democrat Network will hold a 12 noon press briefing to release a new national poll of Hispanic voters which they call the "first comprehensive analysis of one of the most volatile swing vote groups in American politics today."  Maria Cardona, who works for the NDN's Hispanic Strategy Center, says the poll will look at Hispanic reactions to the immigration debate and other relevant issues affecting the community.  Last month, NDN launched TV ads to encourage Hispanics to become more actively involved in the political process.  The ads ran during the World Cup.  Today, NDN president Simon Rosenberg and others will discuss the next phase of their media campaign.

Bayh versus Edwards!  Presidential candidate and Sen. Evan Bayh tells Bloomberg in an interview, on the heels of a speech on the same topic on Monday, that the party should be focusing on the middle class rather than the lower class -- a veiled shot at rival presidential candidate and former Sen. John Edwards' focus on fighting poverty.  "Bayh also said he was doing everything he could to aid Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, facing a tough Democratic primary fight because of his vigorous support for the Iraq war." 

EthicsThe Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "In the end, Ralph Reed couldn't do for himself what he had helped Republicans do all the way up to the White House: Get elected."  More: "Without a doubt, said state Sen. Cecil Staton (R-Macon), it was Cagle's ability to tie Reed to convicted Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff that sealed Reed's fate.  In doing so, Cagle cracked Reed's rock-hard base of Christian conservatives - whom Reed had led to the ballot box time and time again." 

The Miami Herald: "Win or lose, Reed's decision to run was a godsend for Democrats...  Some Democrats decided to vote for Cagle on a Republican ballot -- legal in Georgia -- out of distaste for Reed."

The US Capitol Historical Society holds its tribute to retiring members of Congress tonight, and there's been some controversy over who's on the roster of honorees.  Jailed former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R) has been dropped from the list, but former Rep. Tom DeLay (R) remains on it -- much to the chagrin of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who is refusing to appear at the event for that reason.

GOP Rep. John Doolittle's top fundraiser, who happens to also be his wife, is on track to double her usual fees from her work raising money for her husband, Roll Call reports.  "While Doolittle has not been considered a top-tier target by Democrats, he continues to battle allegations about his family's connections to ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff as well as lobbyists and contractors connected to the" Cunningham scandal. 

Bloomberg looks at how GOP Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri controls his own investments (using advice dispensed to the masses by CNBC's Jim Cramer).  But because he's on the Appropriations Committee, some good-government activists suggest that Bond should be letting others make his investment decisions for him.

Disaster politics
Presidential candidate and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) is seeking to oust the head of the Big Dig.  The Washington Post notes, "Romney's forceful role in recent days cloaks a far thornier relationship between the governor and the Big Dig...  After a campaign nearly four years ago in which he asserted he could fix the road project, Romney acknowledges that he has been unable -- or unwilling, according to his critics -- to assume control of the" project.

More on the midterms
Despite the political climate, the chair of the GOP House campaign committee is predicting 36 competitive House races this fall, about the same number as in previous cycles, says The Hill.

The former Republican member of Congress who ousted Democratic Speaker Tom Foley in 1994 writes in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that "[t]hose who predict a Democratic takeover of the House are wrong -- but maybe by just a couple of years."  His rationale: "voter unrest does not by itself portend wholesale electoral change.  Even disgruntled Americans are reluctant to 'fire' incumbents if they think they're just trading in one pol for another, regardless of party.  That's the lesson of 1994."

In the Connecticut Democratic Senate shoot-out, "Nedheads" are having their way with Sen. Joe Lieberman's campaign ads on YouTube.  – Hartford Courant

The New York Times profiles anti-war challenger Ned Lamont, who is trying to convince voters that he's not a single-issue candidate.  "Mr. Lamont breezed past Iraq the other night at a fund-raiser in Stamford...  Instead he delved into Israel, jobs, Terri Schiavo, and his beef with Don Imus," who has endorsed Lieberman.

Also in Georgia yesterday, controversial Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D) surprisingly failed to break the 50% threshold and will face DeKalb County Commissioner Hank Johnson in an August 8 runoff.  "Few political analysts expected McKinney to have much trouble in her re-election bid even though her longheld status as a political lightning rod reached new heights over her very public confrontation with the Capitol guard."  -- Atlanta Journal Constitution    

And Lt. Gov. Mark Taylor (D) will face Gov. Sonny Perdue (R) in November.  But Taylor's bid will likely be an uphill battle, says the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  "Conventional wisdom among statehouse veterans and political scientists is that voters need a pretty strong reason to dump an incumbent like Perdue."

“First Read” is an analysis of the day’s political news, from the NBC News political unit. Please let us know what you think.  Drop us a note at   To bookmark First Read, .