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

First Read: Dems' "New Direction" for 2006

Dems' "New Direction" for 2006. “First Read” is an analysis of the day’s political news, from the NBC News political unit.

Thursday, July 27, 2006 | 3:45 p.m. ETFrom Mark Murray

Dems’ “New Direction” for 2006
Back in March, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, who helped catapult House Republicans into the majority with his 1994 "Contract With America," told what Democrats should campaign on in 2006: "What they are going to try to do, what they should do, is say nothing except 'Had enough?'" It seems like Democrats -- whose first slogan was "Together, America Can Do Better" and who have also campaigned against a Republican "culture of corruption" -- are following Gingrich's advice to an extent.

At an off-camera briefing today, Democratic leaders unveiled their legislative agenda, "A New Direction," that they hope to campaign on in the midterms. Their message is simple: With polls like the newest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll showing that an overwhelming majority of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track, Democrats are offering a new direction, while Republicans are offering the same course. "This is an election about change, and the wind is at our back," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "And the number-one reason is that people are tired of the same course." Added Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, "We are the new direction of America."

The "New Direction" has six components -- "Six for '06" -- and Democrats say each has immediate deliverables if they take back control of Congress: 1) Real Security (implementing the 9/11 Commission's recommendations); 2) Better American Jobs, Better Pay (raising the minimum wage); 3) College Access for All (cutting interest rates on student loans); 4) Energy Independence (rolling back subsidies for oil companies); 5) Affordable Health Care/Life Saving Science (having Medicare negotiate for lower drug prices and pushing for embryonic stem cell research); and 6) Retirement Security (stopping efforts to privatize Social Security). Asked by reporters if this is the Democratic equivalent to the 1994 GOP "Contract With America," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said these six items were a road map, a beginning. "This isn't the sum total. This is the direction we're going in." She added, "The public wants to know where we are and what we'll do."

But Republicans pounced on this unveiling. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's office issued a press release mocking all of the previous slogans Democrats have used. "The New 'New Direction' Still Leads Nowhere," it said. Added RNC press secretary Tracey Schmitt: "The Democrats' 'new agenda' is nothing more than a rehash of tired policies that the American people have already rejected." A Democratic Party source admits to First Read that none of these agenda items is new, but says they serve as the playbook for Democrats to use this fall.

Thursday, July 27, 2006 | 12:40 p.m. ET
From Huma Zaidi

Bush renews Voting Rights Act
Standing in the South Lawn of the White House this morning, President Bush signed into law the Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendment Act of 2006 while flanked by lawmakers and civil rights leaders. "By reauthorizing this act, Congress has reaffirmed its belief that all men are created equal; its belief that the new founding started by the signing of the bill by President Johnson is worthy of our great nation to continue."

Exactly one week ago, President Bush was standing in front of the NAACP for the first time in 5 years admitting that his Party has, in the past, neglected the African-American community but vowed to improve their relationship by addressing issues relevant to their communities, such as education and healthcare. But what was on the minds on most of those in the audience was the debate that had ensued between conservatives and GOP leaders over the Voting Rights Act, which Bush promised to renew to resounding applause.

Today, Bush said his Administration will "vigorously enforce the provisions" of the law and "defend it in court." But, in a statement released shortly after the signing, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said the Administration has failed in the past to enforce the law's provisions. "Too often, political appointees in the Bush Justice Department have injected partisan bias into the Department's Voting Rights Act decisions, repeatedly overruling the non-partisan legal staff and hiring ideologues with no experience in civil rights for career vacancies. They have repeatedly failed to enforce the provisions of the Voting Rights Act that the President signed with great fanfare today."

With the midterm elections drawing dangerously close, the GOP is working hard to court the African-American vote which is evident in Bush's NAACP appearance and the fact that today's ceremony was held in the South Lawn, which is usually reserved for high-profile events. Also, Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman is in Atlanta today addressing the National Urban League, a group that works to economically and socially advance African-Americans.

Thursday, July 27, 2006 | 9:30 a.m. ET
From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi and Alex Isenstadt

In today's issue:
NBC/WSJ poll: Deep public pessimism about the future tied to Iraq and BushJohn Bolton's confirmation: round #2
Bush signs the Voting Rights Act
Democrats try to set the stage for August

First glance
More of the same today will likely mean change in November, the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll indicates.  Three and a half months before Election Day, the poll shows little to no movement on some key barometers, suggesting that barring some major unforeseen event, an ominous framework for Republicans is locking in.  But perhaps even more problematic for the GOP is that the striking degree of pessimism Americans express about the future, as reflected in the poll, is being driven largely by the war in Iraq and by the Bush Administration itself, both of which will extend beyond November.

The public's estimation of President Bush, Congress, and the two parties hasn't moved much.  In this latest poll, taken from July 21-24, Bush's job approval rating is 39%, a bump of two points since our June survey, but continuing his nearly year-long streak below 40%.  Congress' job approval rating is 25%, also up two points since June, but still well below their high this year of 33%.  Those surveyed say they'd prefer a Democrat-run Congress over a Republican-run Congress by 10 points -- about the average margin in our poll this year.  The percentages of people who say their vote is meant to send a signal of support for Bush and a signal of opposition to Bush remains unchanged since last month.  And in two different versions of the same question, almost exactly the same percentages say they are more concerned that Republicans will retain control of Congress and there won't be enough change than they are concerned that Democrats will win control of Congress and there will be too much.

By this point in the election cycle, Republicans will find it "pretty hard to change the dynamic," NBC/Journal co-pollster Peter Hart (D) said, "especially when you consider that the last five weeks have been aimed at changing the dynamics."  During that time, the GOP levied its "cut and run" onslaught against Democrats over Iraq; House Republicans stood up to Bush and their Senate colleagues to demand that border security be addressed before a new guest-worker plan; and the party leadership held a series of votes on social issues that were intended to inspire their base.  "The events that happen on the front page count a lot more than the events that happen on the political page," Hart suggested.

Agreeing that this dynamic is locking in "failing some substantial unpredictable event," NBC/Journal co-pollster Bill McInturff (R) predicted that Republicans will try to stave off losses in November by being "very pointed and very aggressive" in confronting their Democratic challengers early.  Those who do so will be "in stronger and better shape" than those who wait until October, McInturff said.

One relative bright spot for Republicans in the poll is another key measure that hasn't shown any improvement: the fact that the public still doesn't seem to regard the Democratic party as an appealing alternative.  McInturff points out that both parties, not just the GOP, are looking at some of their lowest ratings ever in our survey: 33% rate the GOP positively and 46% rate it negatively, which is near its record low, while 32% rate the Democratic party positively and 39% rate it negatively -- the second time Democrats have reached this low point in the survey.

But among the sizeable majority of those polled -- 60% -- who believe that the country is off on the wrong track, the top two volunteered reasons for this pessimism are the Iraq war and "President Bush and his administration."  "Bush is for good or for ill the 800-pound gorilla of American politics during his presidency," McInturff said.  Also among those who say the country is off on the wrong track, 81% say it feels like "a longer-term decline" rather than a "short-term blip."  And among all those polled, 65% say they do not feel confident that "life for our children's generation will be better than it has been for us."

With two such integral aspects of Bush's presidency driving this deep pessimism about where the country is going, the GOP faces the prospect that not only might the November elections produce an unfavorable result for them -- but that their problems won't end there.

The President has a full day of events, starting with the signing of the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act at 9:35 am -- which will allow Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman to tout the reauthorization before yet another influential African-American organization, the National Urban League, at their conference today in Atlanta.  Bush then meets with another US ally in the war in Iraq, the President of Romania, at 11:15 am.  At 1:15 pm he signs the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act.  And at 1:50 pm, he addresses the National Association of Manufacturers.  Listen for remarks on immigration reform.

And UN Ambassador John Bolton gets his second confirmation hearing today in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Have you checked out's political calendar lately?

Security politics
There's much coverage this morning of how Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's address to the joint session yesterday was overshadowed by the intensifying Middle East conflict and by Democrats' criticisms of what they call Maliki's anti-Israel stance.  "The vast majority of the House's Democrats skipped the speech, leaving scores of empty seats that were filled by aides, members of the diplomatic corps, and Iraqi officials who are traveling with Maliki," notes the Boston Globe.

OK, ours isn't the only national poll out today.  In the latest New York Times/CBS poll, Bush's approval rating is 36% (up five points from May), the generic ballot has Democrats leading Republicans by 10 points, and 56% say they support a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.  "Over all, the poll found a strong isolationist streak in a nation clearly rattled by more than four years of war, underscoring the challenge for Mr. Bush as he tries to maintain public support for his effort to stabilize Iraq and spread democracy through the Middle East."

The Washington Post also looks at how the Middle East conflict has disrupted Bush's attempted political comeback and has "imperiled" his second-term goal of spreading democracy.  "Now the president faces the challenge of responding to events that seem to be spinning out of control again, all but sidelining his domestic agenda for the moment and complicating his effort to rally the world to stop nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea."  The story notes the potential for the conflict to affect the public's view of Bush's leadership, either positively or negatively.

Senate Judiciary chair Arlen Specter has introduced the "Presidential Signing Statements Act of 2006."  The bill "would give either the [House] or the Senate the legal standing to challenge a disputed signing statement in federal court," and "would ultimately allow the Supreme Court to consider whether the statements -- and the legal claims the president has made in them -- are constitutional." – Boston Globe

Following up on its scoop from yesterday on a bill the White House has drafted on detainee rights, the New York Times writes that Administration officials are still debating certain aspects of it, "with some of the sharpest disagreements over provisions that would allow defendants to be excluded from their own trials.  The military's senior uniformed lawyers... are concerned that those provisions may prompt other governments to put captured American soldiers on trial in absentia."

Vice President Cheney keynotes the 2006 Korean War Veterans Armistice Day Ceremony today at 10:25 am.

Bolton, round #2
One year after he failed to win confirmation and Bush installed him via a recess appointment as Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton is back for another run.  And even though Bolton has won over his lone Senate Republican critic, George Voinovich, and has been immersed in high-profile world diplomacy, his fate before the panel is as uncertain now as it was a year ago, NBC's Ken Strickland notes.

With Voinovich now squarely behind Bolton, the debate becomes a partisan affair, Strickland says.  According to a senior Democratic aide, Democrats will devote less time to one of their main criticisms from last year, that Bolton was a lousy manager devoid of interpersonal skills, (a "kiss-up, kick-down sort of guy," as one witness testified.)  Instead, they will revive complaints that the Administration failed to turn over documents relevant to his nomination, including NSA intercepts Bolton had sought.  And while Voinovich says he was partially persuaded by the fine work Bolton has done, Democrats also will contend in the hearing that Bolton has squandered his opportunity there.  The senior Democratic aide says there's clear evidence from Bolton's colleagues, international organizations, and news accounts that he's "alienated other countries...  He's lived 'down' to expectations." –

A committee vote isn't expected until after the August recess, and will likely be along party lines, Strickland says.  The Democratic aide says when election-year politics are factored in, it's too soon to tell if Democrats will hold together, as they did last year, to block Bolton's confirmation on the floor.  And speaking of politics, six possible presidential contenders sit on the committee: Republicans Chuck Hagel and George Allen And Democrats Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, John Kerry, and Russ Feingold.

More on the Bush/GOP agenda
The Washington Times says that in signing the 25-year Voting Rights Act reauthorization today, Bush will be approving a measure he opposed 10 years ago while serving as Texas governor: the part of the law "that singles out 16 states as still practicing voting discrimination, including his state of Texas... and part of Florida, where his brother is governor."

The Miami Herald previews Bush's visit to the Miami-Dade area, where he'll arrive on Sunday and stay the night.  "The visit is the second in a series of summertime road shows the White House has dubbed 'drill downs' -- trips in which Bush, who prefers sleeping at home, hits a city for more than a few hours.  His first trip was a two-day jaunt earlier this month to Chicago where he celebrated his 60th birthday with Mayor Richard Daley and held a full-scale press conference."

GOP leaders are nearing agreement on pension-overhaul legislation.  "The bill, years in the making and under negotiation for five months, has the goal of strengthening traditional employer-based pension plans, crucial to the retirements of some 44 million Americans.  It would also provide for steps, such as automatic enrollment, to ensure that 401(k) plans and IRAs, increasingly the main savings option of younger workers, are utilized by more people...  The legislation also attempts to protect the fiscal integrity of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp." – USA Today

But the GOP's efforts to pass a partial estate tax repeal are complicating their efforts to get the pension bill, says the Wall Street Journal.  "To win over reluctant Democrats, the leadership is proposing to combine the estate-tax provisions, which have repeatedly failed in the past in the Senate, with a set of popular but expiring federal tax breaks that would be extended for one or two years.  But the same tax cuts have long been seen as an integral part of the pension package, and pulling them out at this stage has roiled top senators in both parties."

Bob Novak reports on upset conservatives who say the Administration and GOP Senate leaders are moving too slowly on appointing new federal judges.  "But one Judiciary Committee conservative (who asked that his name not be used) rated Specter and Frist as 10 percent of the problem and the White House 90 percent -- especially Harriet Miers, Bush's failed first choice for Supreme Court nominee."

Speaker Dennis Hastert tells Roll Call that if the GOP holds the majority in November ("if!" note Democrats), he will return to his post in January for another term.  If Democrats regain the majority, it's generally speculated that Hastert will retire.

The Democrats
Democratic leaders hold a string of events focused on the midterms today.  At 12 noon, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi join the party's Senate and House campaign committee chairs, Chuck Schumer and Rahm Emanuel, "to discuss the strength of the Democrats' message and preview events heading into the August Recess" in an off-camera briefing.  One senior House Democratic aide tells First Read that the caucus has scheduled over 200 "New Direction" events around the country during August in a campaign similar to their effort to defeat Bush's Social Security reforms.

And at 1:45 pm, after holding a big pow-wow, House and Senate Democrats will gather for a rally for their "New Direction" agenda.  A Reid aide e-mails that among his remarks will be this line: "Americans are tired of coming in second to Big Oil, Big Drug Companies and the radical right.  They're tired of been ignored by this Do Nothing Republican Congress, while their every day problems only grow worse.  They want a new direction, and with Democrats, they're going to get it."

Former Rep. Tom DeLay's old House colleagues are convinced that if he's forced to keep his name on the ballot in November, he will run for re-election.  We could find out as early as next week. – Roll Call

The Houston Chronicle says that GOP attorneys argued in a brief yesterday that allowing another candidate to fill DeLay's place on the ballot would be in voters' interest because it would give them a choice.

Remember that frenzy to enact lobbying reform in the wake of the Abramoff and Cunningham scandals?  GOP conservatives who oppose big spending projects pushed for earmark reform to be a major part of that effort.  House Republicans announced yesterday that although the overall lobbying reform effort has stalled, after the August recess, they will apply their own rules changes to earmarks in spending bills "during the current session of Congress."  As NBC's Mike Viqueira notes, what the House leaders aren't saying is that they aren't likely to see many spending bills before election day, since the plan has always been to tackle them during a lame-duck session.  Majority Leader John Boehner has said that the House will leave town by September 29 and will return in mid-November.

Democratic Rep. William Jefferson has won a small victory, NBC's Joel Seidman says, in that the DC Circuit Court of Appeals has granted him an administrative injunction preventing -- for the time being -- FBI agents from sifting through documents seized from Jefferson's Capitol Hill office in May.

More on the midterms
Coverage of the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.

The Hill reports on GOP Senate candidates' concerns as they weigh how close they should get to President Bush.  Meanwhile, in the latest of a string of examples of Republicans distancing themselves from their President or their party, the chair of the Republican House campaign committee ran his first campaign ad yesterday, and the ad makes no mention of his party affiliation.

The San Francisco Chronicle writes up a new Public Policy Institute of California poll showing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) with a 43%-30% lead over challenger Phil Angelides (D).

Looking at Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman's tough primary in Connecticut, the New York Times asks, will he win the Jewish vote?  "There is little question that Mr. Lieberman enjoys strong support in the national Jewish community, and several pro-Israel groups and prominent Jewish donors are rallying to funnel money and manpower to defend his seat...  But Mr. Lieberman's supporters also acknowledge that his challenger, Ned Lamont, is receiving substantial support from Jewish voters, as well as some prominent Jewish Democrats."

Florida Attorney General Charlie Christ, who is seeking the GOP nomination for governor, has lost his top fundraiser, "who is under federal investigation and has been linked to potential campaign-finance violations while raising money for Gov. Jeb Bush," reports the Miami Herald.  But a new Quinnipiac poll released yesterday shows Crist leads opponent Tom Gallagher 47%-29%.  Rep. Jim Davis, who is seeking the Democratic nomination, leads opponent Sen. Rod Smith by 39%-15%.

The Washington Post continues tailing Maryland Senate candidate Michael Steele (R), who's experiencing perhaps unwanted celebrity after telling a group of reporters on background on Monday that being a Republican is like wearing "a scarlet letter."

"Missouri Republicans working to re-elect Sen. Jim Talent yesterday" in one of the country's hottest Senate races "filed an ethics complaint against his Democratic challenger, accusing state auditor Claire McCaskill of failing to adequately disclose her finances," says the Washington Times.

The Financial Times says Sen. John McCain (R) is trying to lock down Wall Street early, "attempting to capitalise on a widespread perception... that [Bush]... has grown comfortable with the Arizona senator's candidacy...  Others on Wall Street continue to fear that Mr McCain's legendary temper may prove problematic in the Oval Office, especially when the US is already viewed as a bully in much of the world.  One prominent Wall Street Republican said there was still a significant 'anybody but McCain' faction eager to see another frontrunner emerge.  Nonetheless, Mr McCain has clearly made inroads."

As he faces the prospect of being the only high-profile presidential contender who accepts public financing, Sen. Russ Feingold (D) has introduced legislation to update the public-financing system to allow those who accept public funds to better compete with those who don't.  Note that the gang is not all back together on this one: McCain did not sign onto the legislation, even though fellow House campaign finance reform crusaders, Chris Shays and Marty Meehan, have.  McCain's absence further suggests he will forgo public financing if he runs in 2008.

Already feeling the heat for planning to attend two events in Iowa over the weekend in the midst of the Big Dig crisis, Gov. Mitt Romney (R) will fly to Washington tonight to have dinner with the Cheneys and several other guests, reports the Boston Globe.  Romney says he's not missing any crucial moments while he's away, and after holding off on political travel for several weeks, he said it's time to keep his prior commitments.

The Des Moines Register reports that former President Clinton will headline the Iowa Democratic Party's annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner this fall, and says that the visit "touched off speculation Wednesday about whether his visit would offer any indication about his wife's future political ambitions."

And the prospect of a Nevada caucus taking place before the New Hampshire primary is certain to trip up a few Democratic presidential candidates -- like Sen. Evan Bayh, who has had to clarify his position in favor of the Granite State's first-in-the-nation primary. – New Hampshire Union Leader

“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, .