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First Read

“First Read” is a daily memo prepared by NBC News’ political unit, for NBC News, analyzing the morning’s political news and giving readers an inside look at NBC’s plans for covering the day in politics.
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December 2, 2003 / 09:30 AM ET

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi

With a repeal of the steel tariffs expected, but not until after he raises campaign cash with the unhappy chief of US Steel in Pittsburgh, Bush faces another news cycle of political debate over positive economic data vs. manufacturing job losses, and more specifically, Florida/Michigan/Wisconsin vs. Pennsylvania/Ohio/West Virginia.

We may get a SCOTUS decision on McCain-Feingold today — or it may come next week or December 15, per the folks at the Center for Responsive Politics, who note speculation has it being the 15th. Today’s Wall Street Journal considers “a shadow Democratic Party — an alliance of nonprofit groups that hopes to raise $200 million to mobilize voters and run ads slamming Republicans. It took months of struggle for the Democrats’ allies to figure out how to coordinate the left’s efforts, while abiding by the new law and not offending the party’s unruly constituencies.” Note that a lead coordinator of the “shadow” effort has joined the Dean campaign.

Speaking of Dean, he’s in Iowa talking about the economy at 12:30 pm while his Democratic rivals and Republicans carp that his sealed gubernatorial records belie his professed penchant for straight talk. USA Today on the heart of the argument: “Dean, who has criticized President Bush for too much secrecy in government, is facing criticism himself for sealing some of his gubernatorial records for the next 10 years.”

Dean on Hardball last night: “Our motivation was complying with the law. The law says that some records are to be sealed and that some aren’t. The extension of the six to 10 years, we negotiated 10 instead of six, certainly was with an eye toward protecting ourselves against the kind of stuff that has been going on up there the last six months... What we did was to comply with Vermont law which has a very strong open records component, and if you go up there right now more than half my records are open to the public and believe me people from the Republican campaigns and all the Democratic campaigns are rummaging through them. It is great for the Vermont economy.”

Cementing Dean’s frontrunner status from the GOP side, Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie in Vermont tonight will challenge Dean to unseal the records, based on Dean’s “I’ll unseal mine if Bush unseals his” comment. Gillespie speaks at 7:00 pm at the Champlain Valley Exposition in Essex Junction. An RNC spokesperson says Gillespie will challenge Dean on policy at St. Anslem’s in New Hampshire Wednesday night, also at 7:00 pm.

Putting his Internet success to the greater use of the party while also helping himself, Dean today will urge his e-mail list of supporters to contribute to Rep. Leonard Boswell (D) of Iowa. Clark’s campaign follows up on his Univision appearance yesterday with a conference call on his involvement with the Hispanic community; embed Marisa Buchanan notes daughter-in-law Astrid is Colombian and may play a role in Clark’s outreach. Gephardt does The Tonight Show. Kerry addresses a 2:00 pm rally at Boston University. And Lieberman campaigns in New Hampshire.

The economy

The Washington Post on Bush’s Michigan visit yesterday: “Bush suggested Monday that positive economic indicators have become a trend, as he traveled to a state with stubborn unemployment to declare his economic program a success... Bush has generally avoided trumpeting specific economic statistics, even as they began turning upward in recent months, because he wants to convey the message that he will not be satisfied until every person who wants a job can find a job.”

“The White House is energetically showcasing the signs of prosperity that have been absent much of Bush’s term. Bush has planned an economic event Friday near Baltimore to coincide with the release of November’s unemployment report. Administration officials expect it to show that jobs were added to payrolls for the fourth month in a row.”

“Several nonpartisan analysts in [Michigan] said an economic recovery would leave Bush well positioned to pick up the state in 2004, which would be a huge blow for the Democratic nominee.”

The Los Angeles Times on the “highly orchestrated event” itself: “each speaker briefly discussed his personal circumstances in a way that allowed Bush to tout his priorities, such as making the two across-the-board tax cuts permanent to imposing caps on medical liability awards.”

The Washington Post plays up the Institute for Supply Management report “that new orders, production, deliveries and other manufacturing activities achieved their best combined performances since December 1983,” but has one expert saying he doesn’t expect manufacturing jobs to have increased when the unemployment numbers come out on Friday.

USA Today: “When unexpectedly good job numbers suggested the long U.S. economic slump was finally over, it looked as if Democrats would lose one of the weapons they had planned to use to unseat President Bush next year. But persistently weak job markets in a handful of crucial states still pose a serious threat to Republicans.”

“The laggards include seven of the 14 most tightly contested states in the very tight 2000 presidential election: Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee and Wisconsin. Bush lost three of those states to Al Gore by less than half a percentage point in 2000, and he beat Gore in three others by margins of less than 4 percentage points. Those states could all be close again in 2004, and if Democrats rally behind a strong nominee, Bush may need every edge to prevail.”

Despite the Institute for Supply Management report, “an influential New York Federal Reserve Bank study last summer said many lost factory jobs are gone for good, lost to cheaper overseas workers or to huge efficiency gains that have allowed factories to cut payrolls. Economists say that while manufacturing orders and production are bouncing back, hard-hit job markets in states such as Michigan could lag for years while other states rebound.”

“Republicans say voters will look at the broader picture. Bush campaign strategist Matt Dowd says voters’ reaction to the economy is driven by other factors besides job losses or gains in their states.”

“But for now, it’s not... Charles Cook, an independent political analyst, says that what happens to employment around the Great Lakes ‘could be critical’ in determining the outcome of the 2004 election.”


The New York Times zeroes in on Thomas J. Usher, chairman and chief executive of the United States Steel Corporation, who is upset with the expected repeal and may speak his mind today as a host of Bush’s $1 million fundraiser. “‘I will be quite anxious to see the president,’ Mr. Usher said. ‘I haven’t heard anything from him of a decision. I intend to ask him where he stands on this.’”

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says Sen. Arlen Specter (R) of Pennsylvania, who will be travel with the President, “said he too would urge Bush to keep the tariffs in effect despite the WTO ruling and the threats of retaliation from the European Union and other U.S. trading partners.”

“If that lobbying doesn’t get the president’s attention, he may notice a small band of steel workers who intend to make their pro-tariff position known from the street outside the hotel’s entrance, said Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers of America.”

The Washington Post editorial page says that in theory, Bush’s fundraiser in Pittsburgh today and his forthcoming move to repeal the steel tariffs “should have nothing to do with one another... But in practice, the steel tariffs had everything to do with fundraising and everything to do with winning votes in Pennsylvania.”

“While debating whether to repeal the tariffs, once again no one in the administration pretended that any economic or trade principle was at stake. When faced with a choice between Florida orange growers, Michigan car manufacturers and Pennsylvania steel workers, the president simply made a political decision in favor of Florida and Michigan.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial page: “Presidents rarely admit their mistakes, so Mr. Bush may well claim that he can now afford to repeal the tariffs because they have worked as planned.”

“Whatever global steel glut existed in 2002 has vanished as a booming Chinese economy sucks in more steel imports. U.S. Steel, Nucor and other companies have all signaled price increases for 2004 shipments. By the way, yesterday’s blowout November report from the Institute for Supply Management shows that U.S. manufacturing is rebounding nearly across the board... This will help Mr. Bush in the swing industrial states of the Midwest far more than will continuing steel protection.”

“All of which brings us back to the misguided politics that persuaded Mr. Bush to impose these tariffs in the first place. The illusion is that a President can somehow mute domestic calls for protectionism by indulging in a bit of it, as if getting a flu shot. The reality is that unless an American President stands up for the broader national interest in free trade against narrow business and regional interests, no one else will. Certainly none of the Democratic Presidential candidates is giving Mr. Bush any credit for helping the steel industry.”

Speaking of. Clark on the expected move to roll back the tariffs, per embed Marisa Buchanan: “This is yet more evidence that President Bush does not have a strategy to reverse the massive declines in American manufacturing jobs.” And: “Our economy has hemorrhaged manufacturing jobs each and every month of this administration, adding up to a total of more than 2.5 million manufacturing jobs lost.”

Gephardt, per embed Priya David: “I am alarmed by reports that President Bush intends to lift the relief that was granted to our nation’s steelmakers and their workers. The industry and its workers are living up to their side of the bargain and are taking the tough steps to consolidate and become more competitive and the president should live up to his side of the bargain by allowing the steel relief program to run its course.”

Embed Karin Caifa says Kucinich, of hard-hit Rust Belt state Ohio, chastised Bush for “buckling” to the WTO.

Lieberman, per embed Dionne Scott: “He did something that was essentially a grandstand political pledge by imposing these tariffs on steel. And the fact is that they haven’t work. The fact is that independent reports have shown that they have cost more American jobs in steel consuming industries, like automobiles than they’ve saved in the steel industry.” In New Hampshire yesterday, Lieberman named three possible ways Bush could have addressed the difficulties within the industry: dealing with the retirement plans for steel workers; jawboning other countries to open their markets to American steel; and/or providing financial assistance to the steel industry to modernize the plants to make them more competitive.

Scott notes Lieberman did say Bush would be making the right decision by repealing the tariffs, despite the political consequences: “He should’ve made it a year ago. And now we ought to work together to do some of the things that are less politically productive for the president, but actually would do more to help American steel.”

More 2004 notes (R)

Looking at the electoral map, the New York Times notes that if “President Bush carries the same states in 2004 that he won in 2000, he will win seven more electoral votes... In 2000, after Florida’s 25 electoral votes were awarded to Mr. Bush, he won the presidency with 271 - 5 more than Al Gore’s 266. Since then 18 states have either won or lost electoral votes, with 7 states that Mr. Bush won last time gaining a total of 11 electoral votes: Florida picked up 2, as did Texas, Georgia and Arizona. North Carolina, Nevada and Colorado each gained 1.”

“The Republican electoral cushion by no means guarantees Mr. Bush a victory. After all, Mr. Gore outpolled him by nearly 550,000 votes in 2000. More important, voting patterns may not repeat themselves. And notable demographic shifts are occurring within the states.”

“Because of those shifts, both sides predict that 15 states may be up for grabs: Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New Hampshire, Maine and Florida.”

More 2004 notes (D)

Candidates taking public matching funds “will get their first taxpayer-financed payments Jan. 2,” the AP notes. “Wesley Clark expects the biggest check, about $3.7 million, followed by rival Joe Lieberman with about $3.6 million.”

“Among the other hopefuls accepting public financing, Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina expects about $3.4 million in his January payment; Rep. Dick Gephardt, $3.1 million to $3.2 million; Lyndon LaRouche, $840,000; and Al Sharpton, $100,000. A total was not immediately available for Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio.”

“One candidate still trying to qualify in recent weeks, Carol Moseley Braun, was wrapping up her paperwork Monday and did not expect to make the deadline. That means she would get her first government payment in February; Braun’s campaign hopes for about $300,000 then.”

Embed Felix Schein notes that on Hardball last night, Dean laughed often and sat back comfortably as he exchanged barbs with Chris Matthews. Dean wouldn’t talk about being ahead in the polls or about the possible taste of victory, but did go so far as to say, “I have to admit I have enjoyed myself a bit more in the last two of three weeks.”

Nevertheless, Schein says, Dean did make news. First, after repeated questioning about his medical deferment, Dean said that not only was he less than eager to serve in the military, but that he was in some respects looking to avoid being drafted altogether. Second, Dean was asked whether or not he would seek to break up media conglomerates should he become president, and initially responded in a roundabout affirmative way. However, Schein says, when questioned after the broadcast about whether it was indeed his intention to re-regulate the media and limit media ownership, Dean said media organizations “are going to have to be confined by size to certain penetrations in the market. That doesn’t mean you need to break up media organizations, but we do need to limit media penetration in particular markets so you can get all points of view in a democracy. That is critical for a democracy.”

Also on Hardball, per the Boston Globe: “Asked whether Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein should be tried in the United States or the Hague should they be captured, Dean responded that the issue was premature for discussion because ‘the president can’t find either one of them.’” (Cue this morning’s reports on the possible US capture of a Hussein deputy...) The Boston Herald and the AP focus on Dean’s draft deferment comments.

The Washington Post front-pages a look at Dean’s staff and what it reflects about the candidate: “as much as Dean and his staff insist that he is open to consulting others before making decisions, Dean’s reliance on just a few key aides plays to one of Dean’s weaknesses: his tendency to speak first and apologize later.” Another Post story rounds up Dean’s formal and informal advisors.

Edwards embed Dugald McConnell reports that after Edwards focused Monday on jobs and trade, his campaign policy director suggested Edwards has laid out more specifics on trade deal standards than most of his rivals. Nevertheless, Gephardt told the AP Edwards is “a Johnny-come-lately” on trade. While it would be hard to out-protectionist Gephardt, McConnell notes (especially if you say in a debate that it may be time to ease off the tariffs on steel), both candidates are using a populist message to appeal to working-class voters, and Gephardt also saw fit to respond to Edwards on trade last week and in one of his recent Iowa mailings.

“The dispute between the candidates, both of whom campaigned in Iowa on Monday, shows that the economy remains a key issue in the race for the nomination, despite signs that the manufacturing sector is growing,” says the Des Moines Register.

Edwards’ latest Iowa ad, running outside Des Moines, focuses on taxes and kitchen-table issues. McConnell says the Edwards media team filmed him Monday for future ads, though without a script or specific message — they simply shot a town hall.

Clark’s latest New Hampshire ad opens with the question, “What kind of leader will he be?” and features these lines: “He was never a yes man,” and, “He fought for better healthcare and better schools for those he led.” Kerry yesterday, per embed Becky Diamond: “I’m going to compete for every vote in the state of Iowa and I think we’re doing extremely well here... And I’m going to campaign on the leadership that I offer the country at a time when America needs real leadership. We’re in a dangerous time. We’re in a war that many people understand us being badly managed without a plan for peace. I have a plan for peace and I can provide leadership that makes us safer and not weaker in the world. I think Americans want leadership at home so we’re not driving up the deficit and losing jobs... The voters in this state will decide who’s going to win.”

The Des Moines Register covers Gephardt and Kerry’s homeland security proposals and criticisms of Bush, outlined yesterday in various corners of Iowa.

Clark campaigned in “Lieberman country” yesterday, “drawing hundreds to hear him talk about his Jewish roots and his support for Israel” in Florida, where he also called “the Bush administration’s approach to the Middle East ‘halfhearted,’ and said he supports Israel’s right to establish security through preemptive strikes” says the Miami Herald . “Local Democratic leaders said Monday the turnout for Clark illustrates potential weaknesses for Lieberman’s campaign in what was once considered a stronghold.”

Lieberman embed Dionne Scott notes that on Monday at a New Hampshire day care center where Lieberman planned to focus on expanding health care for kids, 3-year-old Becca out-talked the candidate, redirecting the conversation onto umbrellas she saw at the mall, her ponytails and her friends. When Lieberman asked if the tots wanted him to read a book, Scott says, Becca halfheartedly agreed, while playing in her hair, saying, “Yeah, sure.” At one point, Lieberman observed, “I was just thinking, that these other four... with Rebecca know what it’s like to be one of nine candidates in a presidential debate.”

The centrist New Democrat Network offers reporters a sneak peek at new TV ads at 1:30 pm. NDN is keeping quiet on the subject matter, but says the ads are the “next step” in its Campaign for a Better America — its campaign to enact an agenda for the nation and more clearly define the differences between the two parties.

Like Republicans, Democrats now are also considering a theater-in-the-round set-up for their Boston convention. - Boston Globe

The House and the courts

Now on trial for manslaughter and arguing he was suffering a diabetic reaction as his defense, Rep. Bill Janklow (R) would not have to quit the House if convicted, but he could not vote in committee or on the floor, and polls have shown South Dakotans think that if convicted, he should resign. A resignation would trigger a special election Democrats could win. The Sioux Falls Argus Leader notes Janklow “was in good spirits” yesterday in court. “Although he looked pale, Janklow greeted people he knew... He also made a point of greeting members of the news media, often saying, ‘Longtime no see.’”

The Colorado Supreme Court yesterday struck down the GOP’s attempted mid-decennial realignment, saying “redistricting can be done only once every 10 years in response to new census data.” The Washington Post: “The ruling had no immediate impact on a similar effort in Texas, where the state constitution says nothing about redistricting. But Democrats hope the spirit of the Colorado decision will impress judges there.”

The Austin American-Statesman: “The [Colorado] ruling gave Texas Democrats encouragement, although Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office said it has no bearing on the redistricting lawsuits in Texas.” The Texas case will be heard on December 11.


Confronted with tough choices on budget cutbacks yesterday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) said now he understands the fiscal pain past governors warned him about, the Los Angeles Times reports. “Schwarzenegger said Monday that he would compromise on the details of his proposed spending cap so long as the final version proves tough enough to end a worrisome string of budget deficits. Schwarzenegger also sought to assure reelection-minded legislators that he was not working for their defeat, inviting them to join him this week on a campaign-style swing through Democratic districts up and down the state intended to rally support for his package of spending controls and bond proposals.”

“State Treasurer Phil Angelides, a Democrat expected to run for governor in 2006, is scheduled to launch a campaign against [Schwarzenegger’s] $15-billion borrowing plan at a Sacramento elementary school this morning.”

December 1, 2003 / 09:30 AM ET

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi

Win at the margins. As President Bush heads to Michigan today and Pennsylvania tomorrow, the White House weighs both and hopes they’ll gain more than they lose by dropping steel tariffs. Also tomorrow: a Bush photo op made for NASCAR dads. The Sunday Washington Post reeled off numbers that may have as much to do with a Bush second term as economic data or polling: 6 million (on the e-mail list), 3 million (hoped-for new registered voters), and of course, $200 million. And some in the press clearly spent Thanksgiving taking stock of the state of the Hill, determining all those party-line votes and procedural moves in the narrowly split Congress have fostered a lot of anger and partisanship.

Dean wants to teach Bush about defense; we hear Republicans say bring it on, Dean’s rivals cry “unelectable,” and liberals cheer. On the D side today, Clark makes remarks in Florida on World AIDS Day. In Iowa, Dean goes up with a bio ad; Gephardt gives a 10:30 am speech on homeland security in Cedar Rapids; Edwards tours, meets with activists, and touts his book; and Kerry at 7:00 pm announces a five-point plan for protecting individual liberties while fighting terrorism. In Iowa tomorrow, Dean gives an economic speech at a union hall in Cedar Rapids. Lieberman spends today and tomorrow in New Hampshire. Wednesday, embed Becky Diamond says to expect a major Kerry speech on foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Rep. Bill Janklow (R) goes on trial for manslaughter in South Dakota today, facing up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted. The Sioux Falls Argus Leader says it will be “the most-watched trial in recent South Dakota history.” Jury selection begins at 10:00 am. Roll Call notes Senate Minority Leader Daschle will be called to testify later this week. “Daschle was at a public event in Aberdeen, S.D., with Janklow” on the afternoon of the accident, “before the Congressman drove off for the deadly crash... Daschle was subpoenaed to appear on Janklow’s behalf, indicating that Janklow’s attorneys may want the Senator to talk about Janklow’s demeanor or what he might have seen the Congressman do or eat at the event... Sources said Daschle would not be a character witness for Janklow.”

And the Boston Globe notes US Supreme Court “justices appear ready to decide whether they will hear an appeal by Vice President Dick Cheney, who is defending his refusal to disclose files of the task force that he headed in developing the administration’s energy policy, which is now stalled in Congress.” If they do grant a review, though, a decision wouldn’t come for months.

Politics of steel

The Washington Post says the White House will drop the steel tariffs. “Bush advisers said they were aware the reversal could produce a backlash against him in several steel-producing states of the Rust Belt — including Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. That arc of states has been hit severely by losses in manufacturing jobs and will be among the most closely contested in his reelection race. The sources said that Bush’s aides agonized over the options to present to the president and that they considered it one of the diciest political calculations of this term.”

“Officials said the repeal could help Bush in Michigan, where automakers and parts factories are heavy consumers of steel and were hurt by the tariffs, but they said that was not the reason for the decision. In 2000, Bush won Ohio and West Virginia... He lost Pennsylvania and Michigan, and they are among his top targets in 2004.”

“Bush travels today to Michigan to make remarks on the economy. Tomorrow he flies to Pittsburgh, headquarters of U.S. Steel Corp., which... led efforts to pressure the administration to retain the tariffs. Bush is going there for a fundraiser for his campaign. One of the organizers is Thomas J. Usher, U.S. Steel’s chairman and chief executive.”

“A trade war could be used to bolster Democrats’ claims that Bush has been a poor steward of jobs and could force his campaign to focus on manufacturing states where he would otherwise be safe.”

The Wall Street Journal: “The White House declined to comment about its plans, but some steel-industry representatives say they believe the president will scrap the tariffs while reserving the right to reimpose some protections if imports of important steel products begin to surge. Industry representatives also expect Mr. Bush will promise to redouble efforts to get other nations to slash excess steel-producing capacity and to swear off subsidies.”

“Bush plans to address political supporters in Pittsburgh Tuesday and some industry officials said they don’t expect him to announce his decision until after that. Otherwise, an adverse steel decision would cloud his trip to Pennsylvania, one of the foremost steel states and one he lost to former Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 election.”

Politics of Iraq

USA Today notes a “triumphant trip to Baghdad doesn’t guarantee President Bush soaring poll ratings, the permanent defanging of his opponents or an end to his problems.” The report starts with Iraq — “Bush’s visit highlighted his concern for troops there. But his quick, secret trip to Baghdad’s airport also underscored the lack of security” — then broadens out: “The Republican-controlled Congress hasn’t given Bush everything he wants. Last week’s big win on Medicare obscured a loss on another Bush priority: A package of energy reforms was postponed until next year. Bush would like to begin the election year with more successes, but much of what happens in December is out of his control:”

“Congress will be in session briefly, but only to act on routine spending bills.”

“Democrats running for president will get attention as they campaign. Bush plans to hold off on campaign rallies until after his State of the Union speech in late January. But he’ll continue to raise money, beginning today in Michigan and Detroit.”

“Holiday parties at the White House will keep Bush in Washington and out of public view for much of the month.”

“Bad news gets more attention than good news, so the improving economy could be overshadowed by whatever happens in Iraq.”

The kicker: “If violence continues, the wisdom of Bush’s Thanksgiving public-relations coup may be eventually called into question.”

Dean’s reax to the President’s trip, per the Washington Post: “‘I think he’s made us weaker. He doesn’t understand what it takes to defend this country, that you have to have high moral purpose. He doesn’t understand that you better keep troop morale high rather than just flying over for Thanksgiving,’ as Bush did in visiting Baghdad. At another town hall meeting, in Manchester, Dean added: ‘Mr. President, if you’ll pardon me, I’ll teach you a little about defense.’”

“Blaming the war in Iraq on Bush’s ‘bullheadedness,’ he said the president is ‘incapable’ of winning international support for reconstruction efforts because ‘he managed to insult all the people whose help we need, gratuitously.’ And he took a swipe at Wesley K. Clark, lumping him in with rivals Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.), Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) and Sen. John Edwards (N.C.) as someone who ‘recommended’ the war.”

A Republican National Committee spokesperson said “‘Dean has chosen to attack the president rather than put forth a single proposal of his own that would make our nation a safer place.’”

The New York Daily News has Clark saying he would make a better wartime commander in chief than his Democratic rivals. “Clark, a West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran, took a whack at former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s anti-war stance, saying that a dove can’t beat Bush at war. ‘If the country wants a lawyer to lead it, elect a lawyer. If you want a doctor, elect a doctor,’ Clark told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, alluding to the fact that Dean is a physician.”

Embed Dugald McConnell gets Edwards charging Bush may have had politics in mind with his trip to Baghdad: “I think it was a good thing for the President to see the troops. I think it’s like a lot of things the president is doing now, it looks like it’s politically motivated. I think the public generally is happy that the president has gone to see the troops in Iraq at Thanksgiving. And they should be happy about that. But he should be doing more. More for the families, more for the troops whose families are struggling...”

Kerry’s statement, per embed Becky Diamond: “The President’s trip to Baghdad was the right thing to do for our country. We should all be giving thanks for the sacrifices our men and women in uniform give each and every day. But, when Thanksgiving is over, I hope the President will take the time to correct his failed policy in Iraq that has placed our soldiers in a shooting gallery, and, when they return home, treat them with the respect, dignity, and benefits they deserve.”

Another USA Today story focuses on the war-inspired surge from the left: “The sudden emergence of an outspoken left wing may be the most surprising political development of the year. Until recently, liberalism could not have been more out of vogue. But in the six months since Bush appeared under a ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner on a Navy aircraft carrier, the political dynamic has changed.”

The costs of Medicare

The Los Angeles Times’ Brownstein lists Medicare as a prominent factor in Bush’s “sticking the bill to the next generation,” but doesn’t leave Democrats out. “Several reliable analysts project the federal deficit will soar past $500 billion this year - and then remain near that unprecedented level for the indefinite future, even if the economy recovers.”

“Is anyone speaking for the next generation? At the national level, Democrats have condemned Bush’s deficits and highlighted the costs of his tax cut. But they’ve undercut their credibility by repeatedly demanding more spending on their favorite causes; it’s telling that the principal criticism from Democrats about the new Medicare bill is that it doesn’t spend enough to subsidize drugs for seniors.”

Sen. Trent Lott yesterday voiced fears the Medicare package will contribute to the deficit, though the Washington Times notes he cast the 60th vote to move things along.

The Wall Street Journal ties Medicare to the increasing partisanship on the Hill: “After a brief return next week to try to finish fiscal 2004 appropriations bills, now two months overdue, the Republican-led Congress resumes work in late January. Time won’t heal the wounds. Rather, both parties will use the time off to start crafting strategies to batter their opponent in the coming election year. Meanwhile, the landmark Medicare legislation, touching nearly every American family, becomes just the latest national policy to become law without anything near the bipartisan backing that could help ensure public support to last the decade in which the new program is to unfold. For the future, Congress’s ever-more-poisonous polarization bodes ill for action to bolster Social Security, or reduce deficits fast-approaching dangerous levels.”

“House Republicans, struggling to pass a conservative agenda with their slim margin, have junked internal reforms they promised when they took power in the so-called revolution of 1994. Instead of open debate, Republicans block Democrats from even offering amendments. Rather than end pork-barrel projects, Republicans have begun to allow only themselves at the spending trough.”

On the legislation itself, USA Today: “The Medicare legislation that passed Congress last week could speed the move by employers to boost the share workers pay toward their own health care.”

“Supporters say the law will allow more people to save for health costs and might reduce the number of uninsured. Critics say it mainly benefits the rich and could eventually lead to employers offering only savings accounts, not insurance, just as some dropped pensions in favor of 401(k) plans.”

Politics of gay marriage

Bob Novak says Bush Administration officials, and the GOP overall, are split on the issue. “Charlie Cook, a respected campaign handicapper, has called this issue ‘frivolous and insignificant’ when compared with casualties in Iraq and unemployment in America. Not in the opinion of Bush’s social conservatives, who over the last two weeks have made clear to the White House that this is their great concern.”

“These Bush backers see the president under worldwide assault as a Christian, particularly in Europe, where atheism is on the rise and religion on the decline. They cannot imagine he will not endorse a constitutional amendment. They cannot understand why he has not done so already on an issue that has been percolating for months.”

More 2004 notes (R)

Detroit Free Press on Bush’s trip to Michigan today: “The Dearborn lunch is Bush’s 12th visit to Michigan as president, and it underscores the state’s electoral importance for the 2004 election.” The last time Bush was in Michigan, he raised $2.6 million, less than his Democratic contenders have raised collectively.

From the Sunday Washington Post story: “Bush’s campaign has an e-mail list totaling 6 million people, 10 times the number that... Dean has, and the Bush operation is in the middle of an unprecedented drive to register 3 million new Republican voters.”

“The entire project, which includes complementary efforts by the Republican National Committee (RNC) and state Republican parties, is designed to tip the balance in a dozen-and-a-half states that both sides believe will determine the winner in 2004.”

“The Bush team hopes to build on techniques first employed in 2000 and honed in 2002 through what is called the ’72-hour project,’ which is shorthand for mobilization operations during the final days before the election. Democrats acknowledge these techniques proved highly effective as a counter to their mobilization efforts in earlier campaigns.”

US News says, “As the first primaries near next year, look for the campaign to send out a surrogate team of national, state, and local officials to defend President Bush, under assault by the crowd of Democratic presidential hopefuls... The plan is to use influential pols and headliners like New York Gov. George Pataki and ex-NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani to talk for the campaign while Bush remains above the fray... Starting in January, ‘supersurrogates’ will join the team. They’re mostly former administration big shots like Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, Ari Fleischer, former Pentagon spokesperson Torie Clarke, the veep’s daughter and ex-State aide Liz Cheney, and outgoing strategist Tucker Eskew... There’s a simple goal, says campaign spokesperson Nicolle Devenish: ‘It allows us to create on a national level, a state level, and a local level an echo chamber for the president’s agenda.’”

Roll Call’s Rothenberg “can’t help but believe that things are lining up pretty well for the president:” “No, the nation isn’t going to replace 2.7 million manufacturing jobs before Labor Day, but the White House may well be able to make the case quite credibly that the economy - and the job market - is on the upswing.”

“Iraq certainly is a mess now, and there is no alternative to using U.S. military personnel and billions of dollars in the effort to stabilize the situations there and in Afghanistan. The United States may be part of a ‘coalition of the willing,’ but this country will certainly carry the overwhelming military and financial burden - and absorb most of the casualties - in the region for many months. Still, if (and it is a big ‘if’) Bush can make the case before Labor Day that Iraqi security personnel and governmental authorities are starting to shoulder increasing responsibilities in that country, then he can argue that the worst is over for the United States.”

“Of course, there are dangers for the White House. Increased casualties or terrorist attacks in Iraq will make it more difficult for the president to claim progress. And if the situation deteriorates toward civil war or the United States appears to cut and run from Iraq, Democrats will score more foreign policy points.”

“Whatever ultimately happens with the energy bill, the passage of a Medicare/prescription drugs bill means that Bush will seek re-election next year with two major tax cuts, a major education bill and a new prescription drug benefit for seniors to his credit.”

“Yes, Democrats will complain about the administration’s accomplishments, insisting that Republicans have underfunded education or sold out to the energy, insurance and drug companies. But Republicans begin with the advantage in that debate, especially with the AARP giving their seal of approval to Medicare reform.”

That said, the Boston Globe focuses on Bush’s 2000 campaign pledge to “change the tone in Washington,” and the hard feelings resulting from the battles to pass the President’ agenda and gain the GOP some political advantage: “an exceptionally bitter atmosphere in the nation’s capital, far from the harmonious world Bush promised as a candidate, and one that is widely expected to influence the dynamics of next year’s presidential race.”

On Democratic charges of a divisive White House: “Republicans mostly dismiss such criticism as the grumblings of a losing party, and say that the president’s legislative victories have been achieved with support from at least a few Democrats. Members of both parties also agree that the ‘tone’ was never quite as collegial as congressional veterans like to recall, despite nostalgic stories of disputes resolved over golf games and cigars smoked in back rooms... At the same time, said Amy Walter, who covers the House for the Cook Political Report,. there is little precedent for the current makeup of Congress.”

“But it is the manner in which Bush and Republican leaders have used their majority status that Democrats say irritates them most.”

2004 notes (D)New York Times outlines Clark’s $30 billion plan — twice what Bush has vowed to spend — to fight AIDS and other diseases in the developing world.

Gephardt embed Priya David, previewing the homeland security speech today, notes Gephardt has been critical of Bush in campaign stops across Iowa and has often alleged Bush has not made the nation any safer. He criticizes Bush’s lack of action on the Mideast and with North Korea. “If we’re worried about an A-bomb in a Ryder truck in New York, or Los Angeles, or Des Moines, which is what we’re worried about,” Gephardt has said on the stump, “I’m more worried about it coming from North Korea than from the Middle East.” He also argues there’s a continuing major security gap with the current Administration not looking into cargo containers coming into the United States. Gephardt previewing his own speech: “I think they’ve not gotten the job done in that as they’ve not gotten the job done in Iraq and a lot of other places. We’re not looking in the cargo containers that are coming into the country, at least many of them. We haven’t done what we need to do by the local police and fire departments. I’d set up a trust fund... so there’s a level amount of funding coming to state and local governments.”

David notes Gephardt calls this time “stretchpole,” meaning the last leg of the race. David says Gephardt now adds a couple lines to his stump speech about how it all begins in Iowa, and how Iowans need to come out to the caucuses: “Iowa will likely decide who the Democratic nominee will be,” he now says, before adding a list of reasons why he is the best candidate to beat Bush.

The Des Moines Register looks at a couple of Iowans whose personal circumstances have factored prominently in Democratic presidential campaigns. The Washington Post Style section considers New Hampshire’s potentially fragile first-in-the-nation primary status. And Roll Call calls Oklahoma Lieberman’s “last best chance to notch a win in his increasingly complicated route to the Democratic nomination... His decision to skip the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 19 and his inability so far to improve his standing in New Hampshire’s Jan. 27 primary put even more pressure on Lieberman to win resoundingly in Oklahoma” on February 3. But Dean and Edwards have advertised there, and Gephardt also is contesting the state.

The Hartford Courant looks at the “big ideas” employed by the Democratic contenders to woo voters, noting those “big ideas in the 2004 campaign are like that - matters of style, not substance.”

The Los Angeles Times considers his rivals’ criticism of Dean’s fiscal record as governor — that he “balanced his state’s budget by scrimping on key social programs for old, needy and disabled Vermonters — and determines that Dean was a pragmatist who “made economic stability his top priority. More than anything else, this focus on fiscal responsibility characterized his record... To the consternation of many, he all but ignored issues such as civil unions for gays and lesbians as he steadfastly based decisions on the bottom line.”

The Raleigh News & Observer outlines the “aggressive strategy that Edwards has crafted that makes book-hawking a fund-raising tool:” “You can plunk down the list price of $24 and stand in line at a book signing, as about 60 people did on a sleepy Sunday afternoon in this college town. Or you can get on the Internet and get one free — provided you first make a $250 contribution to Edwards’ presidential campaign.”

From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi

Two political stories today: the MSNBC Democratic Candidates Debate in Des Moines, moderated by NBC’s Tom Brokaw, for which six candidates will be present; and Senate Democrats’ seemingly DOA filibuster of the Medicare bill, which has two more candidates debating via satellite.

Brokaw starts things off at 4:00 pm ET at the Polk County Convention Center before a live audience of 900, an Iowa audience tuned to NBC affiliates, and a national audience on MSNBC. The debate re-airs at 9:00 pm ET on MSNBC. In between, Brokaw anchors NBC Nightly News from the debate stage.

These weekend developments have the candidates loaded for bear, sights set on each other and the president they want to replace:

1. The Republican National Committee TV ad running statewide in Iowa, touting Bush’s progress and Democrats’ alleged weakness on fighting terrorism.

2. The Saturday New York Times report on Democratic frontrunner Dean’s draft deferment, including Dean saying he “was in no hurry to get into the military,” and Dean’s mother saying “about his skiing after receiving a medical deferment, ‘Yeah, that looks bad.’” Dean’s statement following the story: “I was a young man with an unfused vertebrae in my back... I presented army doctors with x-rays and a letter from my physician explaining the condition... This injury didn’t keep me from leading a normal life, but it did prevent me from serving in the Army... [W]hile I did oppose the war, I fulfilled my obligation and I told the truth.”

3. This reaction to Dean’s deferment from Kerry supporter, Vietnam vet and former Sen. Max Cleland: “Now, at a time when young Americans are being killed and wounded by President Bush’s failed policy in Iraq... Our country can not afford to have another leader who took the easy way out like George W. Bush who hid out in the Houston National Guard. We can not afford to have a leader who weaseled out of going to Vietnam on a medical deferment for a bad back and wound up on the ski slopes of Aspen like Howard Dean.”

4. Gephardt’s new Iowa TV ad charging Dean with flip-flopping on the Iraq supplemental, and his attack on Dean in Iowa yesterday on Dean’s “willingness to sacrifice social services in an aggressive effort to balance the federal budget.” — Des Moines Register

5. Dean and Kerry’s new TV ads in Iowa countering the RNC spot and attacking Bush on the war. The New York Times: “It drew the Democrats into a debate on national security, which Republican Party officials believe to be the president’s strong suit.” The Washington Post has Tom Daschle calling for the ad to be taken down on Meet the Press.

6. President Bush’s personal intervention to get the Medicare bill passed, and Democratic ire over House Republicans’ successful procedural jockeying to buy time to pass it.

Add in:

7. President Bush today, flexing national security muscle, issues a pardon (albeit just of a turkey), signs the defense spending bill, appears with soldiers and their families in Colorado, then heads to the ranch. The AP: “Bush is defending U.S. involvement in Iraq and consoling relatives of fallen troops at a Colorado Army post grieving the deaths of 27 of its soldiers.” Tuesday for Bush is Medicare day, with events in Nevada and Arizona.

8. And this Des Moines Register lead: “Nearly a year of solid campaigning by Democrats running for the 2004 presidential nomination has failed to produce a solid favorite in the race for the Iowa caucuses.”

Now view the debate this way: The anti-war frontrunner (Dean); his top competition, in some eyes (Gephardt); and the retired four-star general (Clark) will be present in the hall, along with Kucinich, Sharpton and Moseley Braun. Participating by remote: the Vietnam vet (Kerry), and the candidate with the most optimistic message (Edwards).

Lieberman, who pulled out of the debate 10 days ago to campaign in New Hampshire today, is not participating. — AP

And First Read wishes everyone a very happy Thanksgiving. We will return a week from today.

MSNBC Democratic candidates debateThe Des Moines Register has Drake University political science professor Dennis Goldford offering “the following tips to debate watchers:”

“ANSWERS: ‘Have Joe Caucus ask himself if the candidate really answered the question or did the candidate use the question as a take-off point to go ahead and give a canned speech.’”

“SUBSTANCE: ‘If you want to understand if he or she is saying anything meaningful, ask yourself if anybody in their right mind would assert the opposite. If a candidate says, “I’m for a strong defense,” ask yourself if someone would stand up there and say, “I’m for a weak defense.’”

“DEMEANOR: ‘Do you get the sense the candidate respects who you are in the way he answers the question or does it sound as though he’s answering the question in condescending terms?’”

US News and World Report’s Simon builds anticipation: “Though some of the rules and format of the debate have been negotiated among NBC, the Democratic National Committee, and the presidential campaigns, Brokaw intends to do pretty much what he wants to do. And he has set an extremely high goal for himself and the 100 or so NBC employees who are actively working on the event. ‘I want,’ Brokaw tells the group, ‘to try to make it memorable.’”

“Though some of the moderators and questioners at prior debates have been people of considerable reputation and even some fame, Brokaw is the first superstar to moderate a debate this year, the first network anchor, the first moderator more recognizable than the candidates themselves. This gives him an advantage: Viewers see Brokaw as both likable and an authority figure and will not take it well if a candidate tries to be dismissive of him or slide away from his questions. And though Brokaw recognizes the debate is about the candidates and not about him, he does intend to facilitate things by getting in the candidates’ faces when necessary.”

Clark embed Marisa Buchanan gets this statement from Clark communications director Matt Bennett on Edwards’ and Kerry’s participation via satellite: “This makes an awkward process even more awkward.” Moseley Braun embed Angela Miles says the campaign thinks some no-shows could be to their benefit, time-wise.

In a likely warm-up for the debate, embed Priya David reports Gephardt focused for the final 10 minutes of a 30-minute speech yesterday on Dean and his record of cutbacks in programs like Medicaid and special education while he was governor of Vermont. David says to expect to more of the same today.

Dean embed Felix Schein, however, notes this statement from Team Dean: “A fundamental difference is beginning to surface between myself and Congressman Gephardt. As a Governor I worked hard to make the tough choices to deliver results. As a Member of Congress for nearly three decades Dick Gephardt has delivered empty rhetoric,” Dean said. “For too long Washington has failed to deliver expanded access to health care or assistance with prescription drug costs. Faced with the most damaging legislation for American education in recent memory, Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act, my opponents stood behind the President instead of standing up and asking tough questions.”

For our non-NBC friends in the broadcast media, the usage rules (web use prohibited):

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MedicareThe New York Times outlines: “some of the fiercest debate is focused on a section of the bill that prohibits the government from negotiating lower drug prices for the 40 million people on Medicare... Supporters of the provision say it is necessary to prevent the government from imposing price controls that could stifle innovation in the pharmaceutical industry. Critics say the restriction would force the government and Medicare beneficiaries to spend much more for drugs than they should.”

“Democrats acknowledged they did not have the votes to sustain a filibuster. But they said they would use points of order to slow the legislation, whose passage is a priority for President Bush.”

The Washington Post looks at the $125 billion over 10 years that the bill would steer to the health care industry and US businesses. “Whether this extra money, part of a $400 billion plan to redesign the program, is warranted remains a matter of intense debate. Regardless of whether the payments are needed, the bill’s generosity to employers and major sectors of the medical industry helps explain the aggressive lobbying campaigns for the legislation by groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Medical Association.”

Before the prescription-drug legislation passed the House in the wee hours of Saturday morning, Kucinich embed Karin Caifa got this statement from Kucinich on the bill: “It will privatize Medicare in order to dismantle it. It will take us back to the fifties. Our nation, and this Congress, must move forward, not backward, to improve Medicare, not tear it apart.”

The Boston Globe frames it this way: “With the White House determined to show that single-party control can get things done in Washington, Democrats, joined by a few renegade Republicans, are girding this week for the most bitter showdown of the Bush presidency over two major policy initiatives, an industry-friendly energy bill and a new Medicare drug benefit, that President Bush considers vital to his agenda.”

USA Today: “Passage would give President Bush and Republicans a significant domestic-policy victory on which to campaign next year. By delivering the long-promised coverage, Republicans hope to blunt the negative fallout from the administration’s policy on postwar Iraq and the lingering problem of joblessness in the economy. Democrats who vote against the bill could have to explain why they opposed such a popular benefit backed by the 35 million-member AARP.”

The Wall Street Journal: “Regardless of the outcome of the Medicare vote, the partisan nature of the debate will have a lasting political and policy impact. Exuberant Republicans say they are poised to deliver a huge win on what has been the Democrats’ traditional turf by expanding Medicare to cover drugs. Democrats, taking a populist line likely to be echoed repeatedly in next year’s campaign, maintain that the bill has been hijacked by profit-seeking pharmaceutical and insurance industries who will benefit more than Medicare’s beneficiaries, those who are 65 or older or have a disability.”

Kerry’s Saturday announcement that he will be in DC to help colleague and presidential backer Ted Kennedy filibuster the Medicare bill reflects Kerry’s recent rhetoric on fighting against special interests, embed Becky Diamond notes — in this case for senior citizens, who not coincidentally are the largest voting bloc in Iowa’s Democratic caucuses.

Edwards took to the Senate floor Sunday night to denounce the bill, embed Dugald McConnell says. In a rare Sunday session, the floor was almost empty, as were the galleries, except for McConnell and two Edwards aides. “He’s ad libbing a bit,” one of them said, but the speech was very similar to his stumping over the past week: “Lobbyists are popping champagne corks,” and HMO stocks and insurance company stocks are on the way up. His critique: billions in giveaways to the HMOs and insurance companies; no cost controls; and tax breaks for the wealthy that shift the burden to working families.

Lieberman announced Sunday that he plans to filibuster and vote against the Medicare bill. His Senate spokesperson told embed Dionne Scott Lieberman made his final decision over the Sabbath and told his staff Saturday night. Scott says that throughout the past week, Lieberman and staff pored over the bill language and consulted with lawmakers on both sides of the issue, including Sen. Ted Kennedy, and also spoke with unions, AARP, and the AMA. Lieberman then suggested to the Senate conferees how to fix some of the provisions of the bill he viewed as the most problematic. Per Lieberman, the bill raises the amount low-income seniors currently pay for prescription drugs under Medicaid; provides pharmaceutical companies and HMO’s with huge financial windfalls; lowers benefits for a number of seniors currently with coverage under retirement plans; and drives up costs for taxpayers to privatize Medicare. But the suggestions weren’t incorporated into the bill, so he decided to vote against.