Compiled by Stephen Bach, CNN Washington Bureau
Making news today...
* Sen. John McCain's top political strategists – campaign manager Terry Nelson and chief strategist John Weaver – stepped down Tuesday from their posts with the Arizona Republican's presidential campaign that has come under fire for poor management and lackluster fundraising.
From the Ticker: Despite turmoil, McCain expresses confidence in presidential bid
"The wheels came off Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) presidential campaign yesterday..." (The Hill)
His "presidential chances look increasingly grim..." (Arizona Republic)
"A close friend of McCain's" said the candidate "was upset the campaign had spent heavily on staff and consultants and had nothing to show for it." (Boston Globe)
"A staff that once numbered about 120 is now down to about 50, and more departures among senior staff members are possible." (Washington Post)
"McCain will refocus on the early primary states of New Hampshire and South Carolina in an effort to stay alive." (New Hampshire Union Leader)
* DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said yesterday "the nation faces a heightened chance of an attack this summer."
"'I believe we are entering a period this summer of increased risk,' Chertoff told the Chicago Tribune's editorial board in an unusually blunt and frank assessment of America's terror threat level." (Chicago Tribune)
* Larry Flynt's Hustler magazine claimed credit for exposing Sen. David Vitter's connection to the "D.C. Madam" Tuesday, saying Vitter confessed after a journalist reported finding the senator's number in the escort service's phone records.
* And an update on those strange Beantown ballot translations: in Chinese characters, Barack Obama "comes out as 'Oh Bus Horse' in Cantonese." In the Mandarin dialect it's "Oh Intellectual Overcome Profound Oh Gemstone" or "Europe Pulling a Horse." (USA Today)
Which top tier candidate's alias appears as "Upset Stomach?" Find out in Hot Topics below!
* The president and Mrs. Bush participate in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly-renovated James S. Brady press briefing room at 8:05 am ET.
Bush later makes remarks on the budget at 1:05 pm ET in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
Also on the Political Radar:
* Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) joins Harry Johns, Alzheimer's Association President and CEO, at a 9:30 am ET presser to welcome the formation of a bipartisan study group to examine the response to the growing crisis of Alzheimer's disease. Newt Gingrich will also attend the event.
* The Senate Judiciary Committee holds a 10 am ET hearing, "Preserving Prosecutorial Independence: Is the Department of Justice Politicizing the Hiring and Firing of U.S. Attorneys?" Former WH Political Director Sara Taylor will appear.
Taylor "will refuse to testify today about matters President Bush has deemed shielded by executive privilege, but she will offer to respond to other questions from senators that do not breach White House confidentiality." (Washington Post)
* The House Judiciary Committee holds a noon hearing on "The Use and Misuse of Presidential Clemency Power for Executive Branch Officials." Former Ambassador Joe Wilson will testify.
* Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) addresses the Greater Des Moines Partnership at 1 pm ET at the Hotel Fort Des Moines.
* John Edwards holds a 3 pm ET town hall at Sheet Metal Workers Local #88 in Las Vegas, NV.
* Bill Richardson visits the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, IA, at 10 am ET, and holds "job interview" events in Manchester (11 am ET), Independence (12:15 pm ET), and Waterloo, IA (1:45 pm ET). He also visits his campaign HQ in Cedar Rapids at 4 pm ET.
Political Hot Topics
(Today's top political stories from news organizations across the country)
"REPUBLICAN DISSENTERS" SEEK TO FORCE BUSH'S HAND ON WAR: Facing crumbling support for the war among their own members, Senate Republican leaders yesterday sought to block bipartisan efforts to force a change in the American military mission in Iraq. But the GOP leadership's use of a parliamentary tactic requiring at least 60 votes to pass any war legislation only encouraged the growing number of Republican dissenters to rally and seek new ways to force President Bush's hand. They are weighing a series of proposals that would change the troops' mission from combat to counterterrorism, border protection and the training of Iraqi security forces. Washington Post: In GOP, Growing Friction On Iraq
LOOKING FOR LEADERSHIP FROM McCONNELL: A virtual no-show during last month's divisive immigration debate, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) is expected by his fellow Republicans to emerge soon from the shadows and reassert himself as a leading face of the GOP. But at least in the early hours of this week's showdown over the Iraq War, that hasn't happened yet. McConnell was missing for much of the Senate's consideration of comprehensive immigration reform — a controversial measure that the Minority Leader quietly opposed and one that divided his party. But the Iraq debate is different, Republicans insisted, given that many Senators and McConnell himself are largely unified behind a message of giving the White House until September to demonstrate progress in the region. That unity, they said, should make it easier for McConnell to once again flex his leadership muscle despite a handful of well-publicized GOP doubters. Roll Call: McConnell Yet to Engage on War
WAIT UNTIL SEPTEMBER, SAYS BUSH: Fearful of a Republican rebellion over Iraq that his own aides believe could force him to change course, President Bush said Tuesday that the United States would be able to pull back troops "in a while," but asked Congress to wait until September to pass judgment on a future military presence there... The administration's message was spelled out in remarks Mr. Bush delivered in Ohio, in which the president signaled more clearly than before that he might be open to shifting toward a smaller, more limited mission in Iraq in the future — without stating precisely when. New York Times: Bush Counters G.O.P. Dissent on Iraq Policy
CHERTOFF WARNS OF INCREASED RISK: Fearing complacency among the American people over possible terror threats, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in Chicago Tuesday that the nation faces a heightened chance of an attack this summer. "I believe we are entering a period this summer of increased risk," Chertoff told the Chicago Tribune's editorial board in an unusually blunt and frank assessment of America's terror threat level. "Summertime seems to be appealing to them," he said of al-Qaeda. "We do worry that they are rebuilding their activities." Still, Chertoff said there are not enough indications of an imminent plot to raise the current threat levels nationwide. Chicago Tribune: Homeland Security chief warns of 'increased risk'
BUSH'S UNFINISHED BUSINESS WILL BE "UNPRECEDENTED": The 44th president will move into the Oval Office with an agenda defined in large part by the 43rd president. In many ways, it will be George W. Bush's third term. Among pressing issues left on the table: What's next in Iraq. How to restore America's reputation around the world. Whether to extend tax cuts that expire in 2010. What to do about Medicare's looming shortfall. And how to complete the job of helping the Gulf Coast recover from Hurricane Katrina. No new president gets a clean slate — global politics and the economy don't run in neat four-year cycles — but presidential scholars say the unfinished business Bush will leave for his successor is unprecedented since at least World War II. USA Today: As Bush exits, his issues will linger
DEFICIT PROJECTED TO BE SMALLEST SINCE '02: The U.S. budget deficit this year will be the smallest since 2002, Wall Street economists forecast before the Bush administration's mid-year review of the nation's fiscal outlook. The gap will total $170 billion in the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, and $175 billion in 2008, according to the median estimate of 40 economists surveyed yesterday by Bloomberg News. Heading into an election year, the deficit would be the narrowest since the $158 billion sum in 2002 that ended the four-year run of surpluses after President George W. Bush took office in 2001. The White House Office of Management and Budget today likely will revise its February forecasts for a $244 billion deficit in 2007, a $239 billion gap in 2008 and revenue projections for both years, analysts said. Bloomberg: Bush Budget Aides to Lower '07 Deficit Forecast, Economists Say
VITTER "LYING LOW": Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) was Capitol Hill's invisible man yesterday, lying low even as his ties to the notorious "D.C. Madam" threatened to become a political crisis for the conservative lawmaker. Vitter acknowledged late Monday that he had contacted the high-end escort service of Deborah Jeane Palfrey before his 2004 Senate campaign. But Vitter's apology hardly quelled the controversy, prompting Hustler publisher Larry Flynt to claim credit for unmasking Vitter as part of his million-dollar search for congressional sex scandals. Normally a fixture at the GOP's weekly policy lunch, Vitter was nowhere to be found yesterday, and most sources believed the freshman senator remained in Louisiana to avoid the press onslaught. The Hill: Vitter hides as the Senate GOP circles its wagons
FORMER NOLA MADAM NAMES VITTER AS CLIENT: Jeanette Maier, the madam known for operating a high-end brothel with her mother and daughter, said Tuesday that U.S. Sen. David Vitter made occasional visits to her business beginning in the mid-1990s after the two met at a fishing rodeo where she and her prostitutes were hired to entertain local politicians. After the initial meeting, Maier said she saw Vitter at the bordello and knew him as someone who patronized her call girls. She denied having a personal relationship with him and said he had stopped visiting the establishment by the time it was raided by federal agents in 2001. "Sometimes we'd cross paths," Maier said of their encounters at the house. "He was not a big regular client that he's so clear in my mind that I can remember every time he walked in the door." New Orleans Times-Picayune: Former madam says Vitter was a client at Canal Street brothel
FORMER SURGEON GENERAL SAYS HE WAS "MUZZLED": Former surgeon general Richard H. Carmona yesterday accused the Bush administration of muzzling him on sensitive public health issues, becoming the most prominent voice among several current and former federal science officials who have complained of political interference. Carmona, a Bush nominee who served from 2002 to 2006, told the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that political appointees in the administration routinely scrubbed his speeches for politically sensitive content and blocked him from speaking out on public health matters such as stem cell research, abstinence-only sex education and the emergency contraceptive Plan B. Washington Post: Ex-Surgeon General Says White House Hushed Him
SHAKEUPS IN McCAIN CAMP: Sen. John McCain's top political strategists stepped down Tuesday from their posts with the Arizona Republican's presidential campaign that has come under fire for poor management and lackluster fundraising. Campaign manager Terry Nelson and chief strategist John Weaver announced their departures in joint statements released by the campaign. Several sources tell CNN that McCain met with Nelson and Weaver on Monday to discuss the campaign's direction. "Apparently [McCain] didn't like the answers and [said] this morning he wanted changes," according to a source familiar with the internal deliberations. Also Tuesday, Deputy Campaign Manager Reed Galen and Political Director Rob Jesmer resigned from the campaign, a campaign source told CNN. CNN.com: McCain's top political strategists forced out
NOT THROWING IN THE TOWEL: Sen. John McCain described his campaign for the White House as "going well" and vowed Tuesday to continue his bid for the GOP presidential nomination even as several of his senior staffers said they were leaving the campaign... McCain is already under fire from conservatives for his position on immigration as well as Independents for supporting the Iraq war. His bid for the White House took a hit last week when it reported only having $2 million in the bank after raising more than $11 million in the second quarter. Major campaign layoffs followed and the resignations Tuesday of several senior staffers further fueled speculation that McCain would drop out of the race. But after delivering a speech on Iraq from the Senate floor, McCain sought to silence any suggestions that he was throwing in the towel. The Ticker: Despite turmoil, McCain expresses confidence in presidential bid
CAMPAIGN TO FOCUS ON NH, SC: With his underfunded Presidential campaign in apparent disarray and struggling in the polls, Republican John McCain will refocus on the early primary states of New Hampshire and South Carolina in an effort to stay alive, a top aide said yesterday. Mike Dennehy of Concord, a McCain senior campaign consultant and former national political director, told the New Hampshire Union Leader that a major shakeup at the top of the campaign yesterday will result in a new approach that's actually much like the proven old approach of 2000. And that means that beginning Friday, Granite Staters will be seeing far more of McCain than they have so far this year, Dennehy said. New Hampshire Union Leader: McCain refocuses campaign on NH and South Carolina
"BALLOT CHAOS" IN BOSTON? Boston's 2008 presidential primary ballot could read like a bad Chinese menu. There might be "Sticky Rice" in column A, "Virtue Soup" in column B and, in column C, "Upset Stomach." Those could be choices facing some voters if the names of Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson and Hillary Rodham Clinton were converted into Chinese characters, according to Massachusetts' top election official. And that gives Secretary of State William Galvin heartburn. On Tuesday, Galvin filed a challenge in federal court to a Justice Department agreement requiring that ballots be fully translated to protect the rights of Chinese-speaking voters. Galvin says Chinese — which uses characters, not letters; has sounds with several meanings; and is spoken in several dialects — will create ballot chaos. USA Today: Candidates lost in Chinese translation
HILLARY AND OBAMA SQUARE OFF ON WAR IN DES MOINES: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had their own little war over Iraq in Iowa yesterday as the Senate debated the conflict back in Washington. The top Democratic rivals flew to the first-in-the-nation 2008 battleground on little notice, and spoke less than a mile apart in Des Moines. Obama threw the sharpest jabs, reminding people he opposed the looming war in 2002 when the idea was still popular. "This is a war that never should have been waged, it should have never been authorized," Obama said in a jab at Clinton, who voted for the war and supported it until late 2005... For her part, Clinton said, "America needs a President with the strength and experience to end this war," drawing a contrast between herself and Obama, who's only been in office since winning his post in 2004. New York Daily News: Hil, Bam trade jabs in battle over war
QUESTIONER OFFERS OBAMA "OUTSTANDING IDEA": An unemployed senior citizen and Army veteran from West Des Moines caught the attention of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama Tuesday when he pleaded for the United States to withdraw time limits on educational benefits given to soldiers. Obama, a U.S. senator from Illinois, said in front of a Des Moines crowd of about 600 people that John Strong had "an outstanding idea." The crowd cheered. "We might introduce legislation next week," Obama told Strong. "Maybe we'll name it after you." Josh Earnest, an Obama campaign spokesman, said the senator "was serious enough about it to ask his Senate staff to start figuring out questions" about costs and how it might work. Des Moines Register: Vet's idea intrigues Obama
"NO REASON" FOR RX WEED, SAYS RUDY: Presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani said Tuesday that people who want to legalize marijuana for medical purposes really just want to make the drug available to everyone. "I believe the effort to try and make marijuana available for medical uses is really a way to legalize it. There's no reason for it," the former New York mayor said during a town hall-style meeting at New Hampshire Technical Institute. He also said there are better alternatives. "You can accomplish everything you want to accomplish with things other than marijuana, probably better. There are pain medications much superior to marijuana," he said. "We'd be much better off telling people the truth. Marijuana adds nothing to the array of legal medications and prescription medications that are available for pain relief." AP via Yahoo! News: Giuliani rejects medical marijuana use