Compiled by Stephen Bach, CNN Washington Bureau
Making news today...
* The White House announced just after 8:30 am ET that the president will speak to reporters in the briefing room today at 10:31 am ET.
The president is expected to address a new report on Iraq benchmarks.
The Iraqi government has met eight benchmarks satisfactorily, eight unsatisfactorily and has made mixed progress on two as the United States tries to evaluate its progress as a government, according to U.S. officials.
* From CNN's Kelli Arena: Al Qaeda is the strongest it has been since the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a new U.S. government analysis concludes, according to a senior government official who has seen it.
* WH spokesman Tony Fratto "said Wednesday there is 'no credible intelligence' of a specific terrorist attack in the U.S. in the near future, despite Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's comment that he has a 'gut feeling' the nation faces an increased terrorist danger this summer." (Chicago Tribune)
Today on CNN's American Morning, Kiran Chetry asked Chertoff what the average person should be worried about:
CHERTOFF: "There's no specific threat that we're looking at right now for the near term or imminently in the homeland. This is more of a general strategic statement... If you see something suspicious, you've got to say something about it."
* "I hit a photographer. I am a pull hitter. He should have gotten out of the way."
- Bill Richardson, after accidentally hitting a member of the press while taking a few swings at the "Field of Dreams" in Dyersville, IA.
Full story on The Ticker
* "Stealing a page from Oprah Winfrey," Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) "launched book clubs in a dozen New Hampshire towns and online this week."
"His life story is the first topic of discussion." (Chicago Tribune)
* There's now a Ron Paul reggae ringtone.
Check out more here.
(h/t DC Examiner)
* And why has NJ Gov. Jon Corzine sworn off email? Find out in Hot Topics below!
* The president will hold a press briefing today at 10:31 am ET.
Also on the Political Radar:
* The NAACP holds Democratic and Republican Presidential Candidate forums at their 98th annual convention in Detroit, MI.
* The College Republican National Convention begins today at the Sheraton National Hotel in Arlington, VA.
* Actor Rob Lowe testifies on plug-in hybrid vehicles at a 10 am ET hearing of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming.
* Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John McCain (R-AZ), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Kit Bond (R-Mo), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) hold a 1:15 pm ET presser on Iraq in the Senate studio.
* Rudy Giuliani delivers 6:45 pm ET remarks at the Michigan GOP 2008 Victory Fundraiser in Novi, MI.
* John Edwards holds an 8 pm ET community meeting at the Fort Dodge (IA) Public Library.
* Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) attends the grand opening of his Nevada HQ at 8:45 pm ET in Las Vegas.
Political Hot Topics
(Today's top political stories from news organizations across the country)
WH IRAQ ASSESSMENT IDS "SOME POSITIVE MOVEMENT" ON IRAQ BENCHMARKS: A widely anticipated White House report on Iraq, set for release today, argues that the Baghdad government has made "satisfactory" progress toward nearly half of the political and military goals sought by Congress, while acknowledging that an equal number remain "not satisfactory," an administration official said yesterday. The report, ordered by lawmakers as an interim assessment of President Bush's troop-increase strategy, identifies some positive movement in eight of the 18 congressional benchmarks, most of them related to military issues; finds insufficient improvement in eight others, mainly related to political reconciliation; and judges mixed results in the final two, the official said. Washington Post: White House Gives Iraq Mixed Marks in Report
HAYDEN IN FALL '06 SAID IRAQ'S INABILITY TO GOVERN "SEEMS IRREVERSIBLE": Early on the morning of Nov. 13, 2006, members of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group gathered around a dark wooden conference table in the windowless Roosevelt Room of the White House. For more than an hour, they listened to President Bush give what one panel member called a "Churchillian" vision of "victory" in Iraq and defend the country's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. "A constitutional order is emerging," he said. Later that morning, around the same conference table, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden painted a starkly different picture for members of the study group. Hayden said "the inability of the government to govern seems irreversible," adding that he could not "point to any milestone or checkpoint where we can turn this thing around," according to written records of his briefing and the recollections of six participants. Washington Post: CIA Said Instability Seemed 'Irreversible'
HOUSE DEMS "NEAR UNANIMITY" ON IRAQ TROOP WITHDRAWAL BILL: House Democrats are inching near unanimity on legislation scheduled for floor action today to begin the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Members as ideologically diverse as anti-war liberal Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) and Southern conservative Rep. Lincoln Davis (D-Tenn.) both said Wednesday they were inclined to support the legislation, which Democratic leaders are confident will pass. "I'm probably a 'yes,'" Woolsey, co-chairwoman of the Out of Iraq Caucus, told reporters following a Democratic Caucus meeting to discuss the bill, sponsored by Armed Services Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.). The measure would upon passage begin troop redeployment within 120 days and require a complete withdrawal by April 1, 2008. Roll Call: House Iraq Bill Set for Passage
BOEHNER CALLS SENATE GOP WAR CRITICS "WIMPS": Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) called for comity yesterday during a meeting of the Republican Conference after House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) referred to Senate GOP colleagues favoring a change of course in Iraq as "wimps." Wilson declined to comment directly on what Boehner had said during the closed-door meeting. But she referred to a recent critical speech by Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) as "one of the more thoughtful speeches … in the Senate in a long time." The exchange came as Boehner tries to hold together his caucus. A fairly united Democratic caucus is seeking Republican defections to increase the pressure on Bush to change course on the war, and the House could vote as early as today on a resolution calling for withdrawal of most troops by April 2008. The Hill: War critics 'thoughtful,' not 'wimps'
MINIMUM REST TIME MEASURE DEFEATED, CALLED "MICROMANAGING": Senate Republicans yesterday thwarted Democrats" effort to set a minimum length for rest time for troops between deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan — saying it was another attempt to "micromanage" military operations. The measure — the first of several votes expected in the coming days to challenge President Bush's Iraq war plan — was defeated in a procedural vote, garnering only a 56-41 majority, four votes shy of the needed 60. "This is another example of how Congress over the years has periodically decided that we're going to micromanage a situation for our military," said Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican. "We cannot and should not do that." Washington Times: GOP foils minimum leave
WH: "NO CREDIBLE INTELLIGENCE" OF ATTACK: A White House spokesman said Wednesday there is "no credible intelligence" of a specific terrorist attack in the U.S. in the near future, despite Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's comment that he has a "gut feeling" the nation faces an increased terrorist danger this summer. "There continues to be no credible intelligence to suggest that there is an imminent threat to the homeland," said Tony Fratto, deputy press secretary at the White House, a day after Chertoff made his remarks to the Tribune's editorial board. Chicago Tribune: Terror threat downplayed
LADY BIRD JOHNSON'S "FINAL DAYS WERE GOOD ONES": Lady Bird Johnson, a former first lady, a Texas legend, a woman who used the humble wildflower to teach an entire nation to treasure and preserve the environment, died Wednesday. She was 94. In recent years, the widow of Lyndon Baines Johnson was virtually silenced by a stroke. She was nearly blinded by macular degeneration. Still, she lived her life with enthusiasm, dividing her time between the family ranch in Stonewall and an Austin home near the presidential library dedicated to her husband. She thrived on visits with friends and family and inhaled mystery books on tape. Family spokesman Neal Spelce said Johnson's final days were good ones, surrounded by loved ones who had been holding a vigil for the past few days. Houston Chronicle: Former first lady Lady Bird Johnson dies at 94
McCAIN'S MONEY PROBLEM: With just $2 million in the bank and a campaign organization in turmoil, Sen. John McCain now looks out on a vastly different landscape when it comes to financing a run for the White House. Every option before him carries a significant downside. Accepting public financing - an idea his campaign said yesterday that it was strongly considering after anemic second-quarter fundraising - could put McCain at a steep disadvantage in the early-primary states. The Republican senator from Arizona is barred from committing to the campaign a family fortune estimated to be worth as much as $53 million because the assets are held solely by his wife. She is limited to giving just $2,300 to his primary campaign, like any other donor. Washington Post: McCain Faces Finance Woes On the Stump
CLOAKROOM CELL PHONE CALL TO FUNDRAISERS MAY HAVE BEEN VIOLATION: About 3 p.m. Tuesday, Senator John McCain ducked off the Senate floor, entered the Republican cloakroom and took out his mobile phone. Just hours after accepting the resignation of his two top campaign aides, he was making a conference call to his top fund-raisers to urge them to keep up the fight. The call, however, may only have exacerbated an already tough week for Mr. McCain. Senate ethics rules expressly forbid lawmakers to engage in campaign activities inside Senate facilities. If Mr. McCain solicited campaign contributions on a call from government property, that would be a violation of federal criminal law as well. New York Times: McCain Call Raises an Ethics Question
NOMINATION WAS HIS TO LOSE, SO WHAT WENT WRONG? Six months ago, the consensus among many leading Republicans was that the party's presidential nomination was Sen. John McCain's to lose. By outward appearances, he has done just that. Republicans inside and outside his campaign say his epic descent from front-runner to political life support was triggered by a poisonous political environment, an undisciplined candidate and a campaign with all the chaos and casualness of McCain's happy-go-lucky 2000 bid - but without the excitement and charm. McCain, a war hero running in wartime, is effectively broke: His campaign reported a paltry $2 million on hand on June 30, and Republican sources say he has debt that wipes that out. The Politico: McCain meltdown months in coming
FIRST ASSIGNMENT IN OBAMA BOOK CLUB? OBAMA'S BOOK: Stealing a page from Oprah Winfrey - his close friend and fellow Chicago celebrity - Sen. Barack Obama launched book clubs in a dozen New Hampshire towns and online this week. His life story is the first topic of discussion. With their assigned reading being "Dreams from My Father," Obama's best-selling memoir that has become his unofficial campaign handbook, a small group of his followers settled in at the SecondRun used bookstore in this coastal city for a two-hour discussion. Chicago Tribune: Obama launches book clubs to win over voters
GOP CANDIDATES' ABSENCE FROM NEA CALLED "A FOOLISH SNUB": It was a bold political move: Republican Mike Huckabee , a conservative presidential candidate and the former governor of a largely non union state, standing in front of nearly 10,000 agitated members of the country's biggest teacher's union and talking about his vision for education. It paid off. Huckabee earned several enthusiastic standing ovations. The Arkansas Republican, the only GOP candidate for president who accepted the National Education Association's invitation to speak at its first presidential forum, captivated the teachers with his moving account of his own education in Hope, Ark., where Huckabee was the first male in his family to graduate from high school. The other GOP candidates, however, chose not to pitch to the 3.2 million-member NEA - a foolish snub, union leaders said, given that the group's membership is about one-third Republican. Boston Globe: GOP hopefuls skip chance to woo liberal groups
GIULIANI GETS IN FRONT OF IAFF'S "'SWIFT BOAT'-STYLE ATTACK": Rudy Giuliani's presidential campaign moved quickly yesterday to blunt what it sees as a sensationalist Swift Boat-style attack by a firefighters' union. Seeking to avoid the mistake of delay that so hurt the presidential campaign of Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004, the former New York City mayor's campaign went on the offensive before the attack was even formally released, dismissing the union as politically motivated. Before the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) was able to release a video in the afternoon full of angry testimony belittling Giuliani's support of New York City firefighters, the campaign fired off releases and held a press conference. "It's unfortunate but not surprising that the IAFF union bosses have once again taken the low road in a move clearly out of step with their membership," retired New York City firefighter Lee Ielpi said in a statement from the campaign. The Hill: Rudy dismisses labor union's 'Swift Boat'-style attack ad
OBAMA, ROMNEY SEEN AS CANDIDATES WITH "DEEPEST FAITH": Voters put Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Rodham Clinton in the back pew when it comes to religious faith, according to a Time magazine poll out today. Just 15 percent said they think Clinton is "of strong religious faith," and 13 percent said the same about Giuliani – the lowest numbers of any White House candidates in either party. By contrast, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama were seen as the 2008 hopefuls of the deepest faith. Twenty-six percent said Romney is strong on religion, while 24 percent said that about Obama. New York Post: GIULIANI & HILL AN UNGODLY PAIR: POLL
RICHARDSON HAS A "GOOD FEELING" IN HAWKEYE STATE: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson ended a two-day tour of eastern Iowa Wednesday, saying he was pleased with the crowds of Iowans who turned out to hear his pitch for becoming the next U.S. president. "I feel good about the response we're getting in Iowa," Richardson, a Democrat, told about 80 people gathered in front of his Cedar Rapids campaign office. The good feeling prevailed despite hitting a photographer with a line drive into right field Wednesday while visiting the Field of Dreams in Dyersville, he said. Richardson got a laugh after he assured the crowd the photographer was OK. Des Moines Register: Richardson pleased with response in Iowa
NO MORE EMAIL FOR NJ GOV.: He's logging off. Gov. Jon S. Corzine put New Jersey residents on notice Wednesday: If you want to get ahold of him, don't bother using your computer. In response to a lawsuit filed by Republicans seeking public disclosure of e-mail messages he exchanged with the state union president who is also a former companion, Mr. Corzine said he had decided simply to stop using e-mail. He has insisted that his e-mail messages from a private campaign account to the union leader, Carla Katz of the Communications Workers of America Local 1034, are private, and therefore insulated by executive privilege. To avoid any problems, he said, he has decided to rely on a mode of communication that was in vogue well before he was born in 1947. "We'll go back to the 1920s, and have direct conversations with people," Mr. Corzine said. New York Times: Facing a Lawsuit, Corzine Swears Off E-Mail