Tuesday, June 2, 2009

First Thoughts: Your Political Fix for the day... alot on the agenda today...


*** Bon Voyage: This evening, President Obama embarks on a trip to Europe and the Middle East, which will take him to Egypt (where he will give his big speech on the U.S. relations with the Muslim world), Germany, and France. But his first stop will be in Saudi Arabia, the religious capital of Islam. In fact, this stop was hastily put together. While the White House denies that the Saudis exerted any pressure on the administration after it announced Cairo as the spot for the big speech, other sources tell NBC News that the White House was reminded about Saudi Arabia's importance in the Muslim world, and that keeping a positive diplomatic relationship with the Saudis was important -- whether dealing with Iran, Israeli-Palestinian issues, or oil independence. Still, to pull this off, it's a reminder that it's proof once again that the U.S.-Saudi relationship has to trump just about every other relationship in the region.

*** Focusing On Health Care First: Before he departs for Saudi Arabia, however, Obama will meet at the White House at 2:30 pm with Democrats who sit on the two Senate committees that are drafting health-care legislation: the Finance Committee and the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. At today's briefing, the AP says, attendees will discuss a new report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers, which finds that health-care costs -- now at 18% of the nation's GDP -- will rise to 34% in 30 years, if left unchecked. Translation: Fixing the health-care system will help fix the economy. http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2009/06/02/white_house_frames_health_care_as_economic_problem/***

Sotomayor's Day On The Hill: Also today, Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor will be on Capitol Hill, where she will meet with top Democratic and GOP senators. Per NBC's Ken Strickland, she visits first with Majority Leader Harry Reid (at 10:15 am ET), then with Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy (11:30 am), then Judiciary Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (12:15 pm), Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand (1:30 pm), Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (2:45 pm), Majority Whip Dick Durbin (3:30 pm), Sen. Orrin Hatch (5:00 pm), and Minority Whip Jon Kyl (sometime this afternoon). As Roll Call reminds us, these meetings are much more than courtesy calls; they will play a role in Sotomayor's nomination battle -- if history is any guide. "Take the case of Harriet Miers, the much-maligned friend of President George W. Bush who saw her nomination to the Supreme Court yanked before her hearings could even get started in 2005. Republicans and Democrats alike credited her collapse to a poor performance in her meetings with Senators -- the lawmakers didn't feel she had the intellectual weight or experience to merit a lifetime appointment to the high court." http://www.rollcall.com/issues/54_138/roadmap/35395-1.html

*** Score One For Mitch McConnell And Dick Cheney? On the issue of closing Gitmo, have congressional Republicans and Dick Cheney come out ahead of Obama? For now, it appears that way, according to a new USA Today/Gallup poll. "By more than 2-1, those surveyed say Guantanamo shouldn't be closed. By more than 3-1, they oppose moving some of the accused terrorists housed there to prisons in their own states. It is one of the few subjects on which most Americans side with the views of the Bush administration over its successor. 'Coming up on eight years after Sept. 11, fear remains, and fear is politically potent,' says political scientist Paul Freedman of the University of Virginia, who studies public opinion. 'When it comes to the issue of terrorism . people are inclined to err on the side of that fear.'" http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2009-06-01-gitmo_N.htm

*** America's GM Exit Plan: In a briefing with a few reporters yesterday, leaders of the White House's auto task force attempted to clarify exactly how and when the U.S. could sell its shares of the new General Motors. In short, if everything goes swimmingly with the government's taxpayer investment, the government could be out of the auto business for good within five years, but that's probably an optimistic timeline. Let's explain further: The new GM will buy the necessary assets of the old GM sometime in the next 60-90 days, when a bankruptcy judge allows the sale to take place. After that, the actual sale of old assets to the new GM could take several more weeks. So at this point on the calendar, we're looking at October or November before this new private company, once again called General Motors, will come into existence. So at this point, New GM will be a privately-held company, not traded publicly on the New York Stock Exchange (or any stock exchange for that matter). However, it is the intention of the Obama administration to get New GM to become a publicly traded company as soon as reasonably possible.

*** Christie vs. Lonegan: In New Jersey today, Republican voters head to the polls to choose the person they want to challenge vulnerable Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine in the fall. As we've written before, this GOP primary contest -- between the more moderate Chris Christie and the more conservative Steve Lonegan -- is yet another chapter in the ongoing debate over the Republican Party's future. Does it aim for the political middle, or does it remain planted firmly on the right? Is being a moderate a virtue, or a curse? And what is more desirable, winning races or ideological purity? Polls show Christie, who's viewed as the bigger general-election threat to Corzine, with a comfortable lead. But it's a closed primary, and a low turnout could end up benefiting Lonegan, who advocates a flat tax. In the Democratic primary, Corzine faces only token opposition, and he will appear at a rally with Vice President Biden after the returns come in. Polling places open at 6:00 am ET and close at 8:00 pm.

*** Elsewhere Today: Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the man tasked with taking up the command in Afghanistan, testifies before Senate Armed Services at 9:30 am ET;

Tom Daschle -- the man who almost became HHS secretary -- speaks at the National Press Club on the politics of health care reform at 2:00 pm ET; and the liberal "America's Future Now!" conference in DC continues for a second day, with Sen. Jeff Merkley on jobs and energy, the Rev. Jesse Jackson on making college affordable, Rep. Barney Frank on military spending, and Sens. Dick Durbin and Bernie Sanders, who host an awards gala honoring AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.Countdown to VA Dem primary: 7 daysCountdown to Election Day 2009: 154 daysCountdown to Election Day 2010: 518 daysClick here to sign up for First Read emails. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/7422971/

Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.SOTOMAYOR: Visiting Capitol HillThe Washington Post previews Sotomayor's visit to Capitol Hill, where she will meet with several Democratic and Republican senators. "As Sotomayor prepared for her Senate rounds, Republican leaders signaled that they will resist President Obama's push to confirm her by Aug. 7, the start of the Senate's summer recess. Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the panel's ranking Republican, have begun informal talks about the committee's summer schedule, with the aim of striking an agreement to minimize any procedural delays before and after the nomination reaches the chamber floor. But senior Senate aides in both parties are skeptical that a deal to expedite Sotomayor's confirmation can be reached." http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/01/AR2009060103541.html?hpid=moreheadlines

The AP writes that "Sotomayor is getting her first chance to make an impression on senators who will vote on her nomination to the Supreme Court, with a marathon set of Capitol Hill meet-and-greets that kicks off what could be a long debate." http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2009/06/02/sotomayor_to_make_her_capitol_hill_debut/
"But while these visits may seem like little more than courtesy calls, they will in fact play a central role in the fate of Sotomayor's nomination, if history is any guide," Roll Call reminds us. "Take the case of Harriet Miers, the much-maligned friend of President George W. Bush who saw her nomination to the Supreme Court yanked before her hearings could even get started in 2005. Republicans and Democrats alike credited her collapse to a poor performance in her meetings with Senators -- the lawmakers didn't feel she had the intellectual weight or experience to merit a lifetime appointment to the high court." http://www.rollcall.com/issues/54_138/roadmap/35395-1.html

Per Politico, "Conservatives are demanding that Senate Republicans take a harder line on Sonia Sotomayor, with new signs of tension between the Hill GOP and elements of the Republican base over the direction the opposition should move in the Supreme Court fight. In a letter to be delivered to Senate Republicans Tuesday, more than 145 conservatives - including Grover Norquist, Richard Viguerie and Gary Bauer - call for a filibuster of Sotomayor's nomination if that's what it takes to force a 'great debate' over judicial philosophy.""But in an interview with POLITICO, Manuel Miranda - who orchestrated the letter - went much farther, saying that Mitch McConnell should 'consider resigning' as Senate minority leader if he can't take a harder line on President Barack Obama's first Supreme Court nominee. Miranda accused McConnell of being 'limp-wristed' and 'a little bit tone deaf' when it comes to judicial nominees." http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0609/23212.html#ixzz0HH75862Q&B

OBAMA AGENDA: Talking health care"The report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers says that health care costs -- now about 18 percent of the gross domestic product -- will rise to 34 percent in 30 years if left unchecked, wreaking havoc on the federal deficit, businesses and working Americans," the AP says. "Obama administration officials, urgently seeking to build momentum for health care legislation, planned to discuss the report's findings at the White House on Tuesday with leaders of the key Senate committees drafting bills." http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2009/06/02/white_house_frames_health_care_as_economic_problem/"The

White House is privately reinforcing to Capitol Hill that health care reform is its immediate and top priority, prompting new questions about the timing and future of climate change legislation," Roll Call reports. http://www.rollcall.com/issues/54_138/news/35399-1.html

The Boston Globe: "Leaders of the country's largest and most influential liberal groups said yesterday they are poised to spend $82 million to help push through sweeping healthcare legislation this year."http://www.boston.com/news/health/articles/2009/06/02/liberal_groups_say_they_will_spend_82m_to_push_through_healthcare_legislation/Turning to

Middle East peace. "President Obama, just days before traveling to the Middle East to deliver a key speech on U.S.-Muslim relations, on Monday reasserted U.S. support for Israel. But in an interview with NPR, the president also said he will continue to push for a Palestinian state and for a freeze on Israeli settlements in the West Bank. 'I don't think we have to change strong support for Israel,' Obama said during an interview with NPR hosts."More: "'We do have to retain a constant belief in the possibilities of negotiations that will lead to peace,' Obama said. 'And that's going to require, from my view, a two-state solution.' It will also require, he said, a freeze on Israeli settlements, including expansion to accommodate successive generations of settlers, and for Palestinians to make progress on security and end 'the incitement that understandably makes Israelis so concerned.'" http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104798978Politico says "the administration's escalating pressure on Israel to freeze all growth of its settlements on Palestinian land has begun to stir concern among Israel's numerous allies in both parties on Capitol Hill." http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0609/23207.html#ixzz0HH8gSshT&BPolitico looks at the Democratic National Committee's fundraising: "Ultimately, the DNC sold out the event and raised between $3 million and $4 million, but not before being reminded, once again, of the disappointing state of party fundraising. Indeed, at a time that was supposed to be a golden era of Democratic fundraising, with a popular president in charge and Congress firmly ensconced in Democratic hands, the early fundraising hauls have been, well, downright ordinary." http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0609/23200.html#ixzz0HGpaTbLH&B
Speaking of raising money, "Vice President Biden hit New York Monday night in a double-pronged 'stimulus' tour -- to raise cash for Democrats and talk up President Obama's $787 billion spending package," the New York Daily News writes. The fundraiser netted about $200,000, the paper writes. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/2009/06/02/2009-06-02_untitled__2bidens02m.htmlCONGRESS: Durbin spoke with BlagoThe AP yesterday: "Just two weeks before his arrest on corruption charges, then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich floated a plan to nominate to the U.S. Senate the daughter of his biggest political rival in return for concessions on his pet projects, people familiar with the plan told The Associated Press. Blagojevich told fellow Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin he was thinking of naming Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan to the seat vacated when Barack Obama won the presidential election, according to two Durbin aides who spoke on condition of anonymity."Roll Call: "Durbin spokesman Joe Shoemaker said the phone call between his boss and the former governor did occur but said the context of the AP story was seriously flawed," Roll Call reports. "Rather than a single 10-minute phone call between Durbin and Blagojevich that was strictly about Madigan, as the AP story suggested, Shoemaker said the conversation lasted about 15 minutes and involved a discussion about some 20 possible replacements to the seat. Blagojevich asked Durbin his opinion of the potential Senate appointments, and Durbin delivered a very brief response." http://www.rollcall.com/news/35377-1.htmlAs we reminded folks when this Blago story broke late last year, it shouldn't be surprising that top Illinois leaders would be talking to Blagojevich about replacing Obama's Senate seat.The Washington Post tees up today's confirmation hearing for Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Obama's choice to command U.S. troops in Afghanistan, saying he will answer questions "about the future -- including his plans for reshaping U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan -- and a past marked by both acclaim and controversy. During his confirmation hearings for his current position, lawmakers probed McChrystal's knowledge of alleged abuse of detainees by Special Operations task force members at a secret facility in Iraq known as Camp Nama and at other locations." http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/01/AR2009060103732.html?hpid=moreheadlinesAnd the TARP congressional oversight panel will be holding an oversight hearing of the auto bailout. "I am pleased that the Congressional Oversight Panel will hold this important oversight hearing in July," said GOP Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the lone congressional member of the panel. "While I opposed giving TARP money to the automakers, taxpayers deserve transparency and need to know that their tax dollars are being spent fairly and to promote financial stability."GOP WATCH: Mitt's 'hard-hitting' speechThe Boston Globe's lead on Romney's speech yesterday: "In a hard-hitting speech designed to build his credentials as commander in chief before a possible second presidential run in 2012, Romney said Obama has made a 'grave miscalculation' with budget cuts to a strategic missile defense system that would protect the nation and its allies from nuclear threats." http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2009/06/02/romney_assails_obama_on_national_security/
Nevada GOP Sen. John Ensign's stop in Iowa yesterday made the front page centerpiece of the Sioux City Journal with the headline: "Ready for 2012? Ensign: GOP can solve problems." Subheadline: Republican says he's a 'fresh face' but not seeking the White House." The paper's lead: "U.S. Sen. John Ensign's visit Monday afternoon to The Ice Cream Capital of the World Visitor Center in Le Mars looked every bit like a campaign stop, right down to the Fox News camera and boom mike that followed him around. But 'I'm not running for president,' the Nevada Republican said when asked directly if he was. 'I think it's really important the Republican Party has some new, fresh faces.'"http://www.newseum.org/todaysfrontpages/hr.asp?fpVname=IA_SCJ&ref_pge=lst
Whoops. Cheney's Osama-Obama mix up: At the National Press Club, Cheney said, per The Hill while speaking about Al Qaeda: "The important thing is that I don't think he can have much impact in terms of managing an organization, because that link between Obama [sic] and the people under him is pretty fragile. I don't think he has the capacity to do as much harm as he did at one point, but we ought to still continue to chase him." http://thehill.com/leading-the-news/cheney-mixes-up-obama-osama-2009-06-01.htmlDOWNBALLOT: Tough questions for NormMINNESOTA: The Minneapolis Star Tribune writes that yesterday's "vigorous interrogations" by the state Supreme Court "left no decisive signals about the justices' thinking. They challenged the arguments of both candidates, but leveled their toughest questions at a lawyer for Coleman, who is appealing a lower court verdict awarding Minnesota's disputed Senate election to Franken." http://www.startribune.com/politics/national/senate/46621982.html?elr=KArksLckD8EQDUoaEyqyP4O:DW3ckUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aUnciaec8O7EyUslBoth the Coleman and Franken lawyers urged observers not to read too much into the justices' questions, the New York Times adds. "But an election law expert who listened to the proceedings online said Mr. Franken had emerged a very likely winner. The expert, Richard L. Hasen, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said that while Mr. Coleman's side might argue that the election had problems, 'the position of the justices appears to be: "You need to do more than that. You need to show us that whatever problems there were likely affected the outcome of the election." And that's a tough standard to meet.'" http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/02/us/02minnesota.html?_r=1&ref=politicsDNC Chairman Tim Kaine released a statement that called on Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) to certify the results once the Minnesota Supreme Court rules. "Today's Minnesota Supreme Court hearing hopefully marks the end of the line for Norm Coleman and his extensive legal battle that has left Minnesota without proper representation in Congress," Kaine said. "Nearly seven months after Election Day, the fact remains that Coleman has lost at every turn - he lost the recount, he lost his lawsuit to overturn the results of that recount, and we expect Norm Coleman to lose in the Minnesota Supreme Court.""Minnesotans realize that there is too much work to be done for their state and for the nation to allow divisive political tactics like Norm Coleman's legal battles to continue. The people of Minnesota deserve better, and I reiterate my call on Governor Tim Pawlenty to certify the result and bring an end to this should the Minnesota Supreme Court make a definitive ruling."2009: Primary day in New JerseyNEW JERSEY: "New Jersey voters go to the polls today to choose who they want to battle it out for the governor's mansion this fall," the Star Ledger reports. "Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine is seeking a second four-year term in office. He is opposed in the party's primary by three little-known Democrats: Roger Bacon, Carl Bergmanson and Jeff Boss. The more intense race is on the other side of the ballot, where Republicans will select the party's standard-bearer to run against Corzine. Former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie and former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan spent months sparring over taxes, spending, the state Supreme Court and a host of other issues."Also: "[P]ast primaries have been marked by low turnout. In 2005, just under 580,000 people -- or 12 percent of those registered -- turned out to vote. It's been 20 years since as many as one-fifth of New Jersey's eligible voters cast ballots in a gubernatorial primary." http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2009/06/gop_governors_race_tops_ballot.htmlPolitico: "With New Jersey Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine lagging in the polls, Republicans couldn't be more enthusiastic about their chances of ousting him in November. But first they must settle an intraparty conflict over who's best suited to do the job - former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie or former Bogota, N.J., Mayor Steve Lonegan. . The contest pits two wings of the Republican Party against each other...." http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0609/23193.html#ixzz0HGq0XwaD&BVIRGINIA: One week until the primary, Terry McAuliffe has a HUGE financial advantage over his opponents for the Democratic nomination, the Washington Post says. McAuliffe . raised $1.8 million in the two-month period ending Wednesday. His $6.9 million war chest allowed him to start airing TV ads in January and this week expand his TV blitz into the expensive Northern Virginia market. [Brian] Moran raised $844,000 during the same period, bringing his total to $4.8 million, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, a nonpartisan group that tracks Virginia political money. [Creigh] Deeds raised $676,000 and pushed his total above $3.8 million."More: "Moran had aired $43,000 worth of TV ads as of Wednesday, all of them in Norfolk and Richmond, according to Evan Tracey, who tracks political advertising for the Campaign Media Analysis Group. By contrast, McAuliffe spent $900,000 during that period, advertising in every Virginia market except the D.C. suburbs. Deeds had spent almost $400,000. Moran has added $85,000 worth of spots since then, and Deeds has purchased another $400,000 worth of advertising through next Tuesday, according to two sources who track TV ad buys for all three campaigns." http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/01/AR2009060103468.html
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