Compiled by Stephen Bach, CNN Washington Bureau
Making news today...
* "White House officials fear that the last pillars of political support among Senate Republicans for President Bush's Iraq strategy are collapsing around them..."
"[I]nside the administration, debate is intensifying over whether Mr. Bush should try to prevent more defections by announcing his intention to begin a gradual withdrawal of American troops from the high-casualty neighborhoods of Baghdad and other cities." (New York Times)
* The House and Senate are back to work today, and congressmen "are ready for battle with the White House, with Democrats decrying President Bush's commutation of former aide I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby's prison sentence and fighting Bush's latest claim of executive privilege." (AP)
* Cindy Sheehan has threatened to run as an independent against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2008 "if Pelosi does not file articles of impeachment against Bush by July 23." (AP)
* Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) lands on the cover of Newsweek, with a story about how the presidential candidate is "shaking up old assumptions about what it means to be black and white in America." (Newsweek)
* Rudy Giuliani attended his first NASCAR event Saturday at Daytona International Speedway after brushing up with a copy of "The Female Fan Guide to Motorsports."
He and Judi "were greeted with shouts of 'Rudy!' Of course, as one fan said, Rudy is a fun name to yell after a few beers." (New York Times)
* And some of the John McCain staffers laid off in Iowa and New Hampshire might soon be landing on the payroll of another campaign. Which one? Find out in Hot Topics below!
* The president participates in a 10:25 am ET "Conversation on the Americas" at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, VA.
Also on the Political Radar:
* Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) holds a 4 pm ET press conference on Iraq in the Senate studio.
* Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) holds a 6 pm ET kick-off fundraiser at the Sheraton Birmingham in Birmingham, AL.
Political Hot Topics
(Today's top political stories from news organizations across the country)
WH INTERNAL DEBATE ON IRAQ "IS INTENSIFYING": White House officials fear that the last pillars of political support among Senate Republicans for President Bush's Iraq strategy are collapsing around them, according to several administration officials and outsiders they are consulting. They say that inside the administration, debate is intensifying over whether Mr. Bush should try to prevent more defections by announcing his intention to begin a gradual withdrawal of American troops from the high-casualty neighborhoods of Baghdad and other cities. Mr. Bush and his aides once thought they could wait to begin those discussions until after Sept. 15, when the top field commander and the new American ambassador to Baghdad are scheduled to report on the effectiveness of the troop increase that the president announced in January. But suddenly, some of Mr. Bush's aides acknowledge, it appears that forces are combining against him just as the Senate prepares this week to begin what promises to be a contentious debate on the war's future and financing. New York Times: White House Debate Rises on Iraq Pullback
BACK TO WORK, READY FOR BATTLE: Congressmen returning from their Independence Day break are ready for battle with the White House, with Democrats decrying President Bush's commutation of former aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's prison sentence and fighting Bush's latest claim of executive privilege. Both events occurred around Congress' vacation, inflaming an intense battle between Democrats and Bush over his use of executive power. Several Democrat-led investigations are playing out this week as they head toward contempt of Congress citations and, if neither side yields, federal court. AP via Yahoo! News: Congress returns, ready to take on Bush
HOW VULNERABLE IS McCONNELL? All told, since the beginning of the year, six Republican senators have broken with Bush over Iraq. Four of them are up for re-election next year, including [Pete] Domenici. So is [Mitch] McConnell. On paper, he should be invincible: Democrats have yet to come up with a candidate to run against him next year; he won his last election with 65% of the vote, the highest margin for a Republican in Kentucky history. Now, he's even more powerful. McConnell has $2.7 million in campaign contributions already banked and an almost unsurpassed ability to direct federal largesse to his home state — a fact he underscored in his speech to civic leaders. Even so, some Democrats sense an opportunity. "I think he's the most vulnerable that he's been since he ran the first time," said [KY] state Sen. Joey Pendleton, a Democrat who represents Hopkinsville. USA Today: Senator in tough spot on Hill, in Ky.
SENATE OBSTACLES HURT HOUSE DEMS, PELOSI: [If Nancy] Pelosi has succeeded in uniting her party during her initial months as speaker, she and the rest of the leadership have yet to convince the nation that the Democrats can govern. Pelosi, of California, has succeeded in getting all of her opening agenda through the House. But few of the initiatives have made it to the president, and only one has become law: an increase in the minimum wage. The obstacle has been the Senate, where Democrats hold only a one-seat advantage. But that failure has colored all of Congress, including Pelosi and the House Democratic leadership. The new Democratic Congress took office in January with a 43 percent approval rating. Since then, its rating has sunk to about the same low levels as President Bush's, a bit below 30 percent. Washington Post: Edging Away From Inner Circle, Pelosi Asserts Authority
SHEEHAN SAYS SHE MAY CHALLENGE PELOSI IN SAN FRANCISCO: Cindy Sheehan, the slain soldier's mother whose attacks on President Bush made her a darling of the anti-war movement, has a new target: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Sheehan, who announced in late May that she was departing the peace movement, said she decided to run against Pelosi unless the congresswoman moves to oust Bush in the next two weeks. "I think all politicians should be held accountable," Sheehan told The Associated Press on Sunday. "Democrats and Americans feel betrayed by the Democratic leadership. We hired them to bring an end to the war." Sheehan said she will run as an independent against the San Francisco Democrat in 2008 if Pelosi does not file articles of impeachment against Bush by July 23. That's when Sheehan and her supporters are to arrive in Washington, D.C., after a 13-day caravan and walking tour starting from the group's war protest site near Bush's Crawford ranch. AP via Yahoo! News: Sheehan threatens to run against Pelosi
CONYERS TO HOLD HEARING WEDS ON LIBBY COMMUTATION: House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) urged President Bush Sunday to waive executive privilege and let his lawyers testify in Congress on the commutation of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's prison sentence. "We're asking him to waive executive privilege and allow his pardon lawyers or other experts, whom it appears he did not consult, explain this in a little more detail," Conyers said. The lawmaker has scheduled a committee hearing for Wednesday to look into presidential powers with regard to pardons and commuting sentences. With regard to Libby, Conyers said on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" that "the suspicion was that if Mr. Libby went to prison, he might further implicate other people in the White House. The Hill: Conyers demands answers on Libby commutation
BUDGET SHOWDOWN LOOMING: President George W. Bush and congressional Democrats are headed for their first showdown over the federal budget. For both sides, more than money is at stake. Bush, who only vetoed one piece of legislation passed by the Republican Congress in his first six years in office, is now threatening to reject almost every spending bill sent to him by the Democratic-controlled Congress unless lawmakers abandon plans to spend $23 billion more than he requested. While the amount involved is less than 1 percent of the $2.9 trillion federal budget, the political stakes are greater. A little more than 16 months before the 2008 elections, Democrats and Republicans alike figure a fight may be in their interests. Bloomberg: Bush, Democrats Seek `Very Big Fight' With Each Other on Budget
CONGRESS WILL HAVE TO MOVE FAST ON APPROPS BILLS: While July is often reserved for appropriations bills in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has set aside very little time to complete even one or two bills this month, despite the fact that the chamber's conservatives appear in no mood to help smooth the way and President Bush is expected to veto the majority of spending measures that reach his desk. "Is it a challenge? Absolutely," said Tom Gavin, spokesman for Senate Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), of the limited floor time slated for spending bills. "Is it an insurmountable challenge? Absolutely not." Reid has scheduled the next two weeks of floor debate on the Defense Department authorization bill, largely to reinvigorate the debate over how to end the Iraq War. Following that, Reid is expected to move to a bill reauthorizing the State Children's Health Insurance Program. That could leave only a week, at best, for appropriations this month, with a limited amount of time in September to complete all 12 measures before the Oct. 1 start of the 2008 fiscal year. Congress is expected to recess, as usual, for most of August. Roll Call: Calendar Tight for Approps
MORAN TO PROPOSE PHASEOUT OF GITMO FUNDS: Members of Congress plan to push measures to stop funding for the Guantanamo Bay detention center and grant new legal rights to detainees when Congress returns this week. "As long as Guantanamo stays open, it undermines our defining principles as a nation of equal justice under law," said Rep Jim Moran, D-Va., author of a funding proposal that would give the Bush administration six months to close the Cuban facility. The Bush administration wants to close the 5 1/2-year-old camp if authorities can keep holding dangerous detainees who "should never be released" or put on trial, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said June 29. Administration officials, he said, were "working harder on the problem." Moran said the administration needs a deadline to focus on a situation that has "dragged on way too long." USA Today: Lawmakers to work on shutting down Guantanamo facility
GUY BEHIND THE FREEDOM FRY "DISAPPOINTED" WITH CONGRESSMAN: The guy who sparked the move to rename french fries "freedom fries" — remember those days? — is doing a little redecorating of his Beaufort, S.C., sandwich-and-chips joint. That includes taking down prominently placed photos of his local Congressman, the former freedom-fry-loving Rep. Walter Jones Jr. (R). Neal Rowland, the proprietor of Cubbies of Beaufort, tells HOH he's disappointed by Jones' vote (with Democrats, the horror!) for a timetable for withdrawal of troops from Iraq and by the Congressman's statements to a local paper that he thought the whole freedom-fry movement was a mistake. Jones, readers might recall, was one of the masterminds behind renaming the fries in the House's eateries, an idea he picked up at Cubbies and brought to the Capitol in a move that got plenty of cable airplay. Roll Call: Fry Guy Goes Cold on Jones
SURGEON GENERAL NOMINEE CRITICIZED AS BEING ANTI-GAY, PRO-EMBRYONIC STEM CELL RESEARCH: Homosexual advocacy groups are objecting strongly to President Bush's nominee for surgeon general, but Dr. James W. Holsinger Jr. also faces questions from conservative groups about his views on human cloning and embryonic-stem-cell research. Tom McCluskey, vice president for government affairs at the Family Research Council, said that Dr. Holsinger spoke to a Kentucky state legislature committee in 2002 and "testified in support of loosening regulations around cloning and embryonic-stem-cell research."... The anti-homosexual charge centers on a paper Dr. Holsinger wrote in 1991, when he was chief medical director of the Veterans Health Administration, that said homosexual sex posed higher risks of disease and bodily damage than heterosexual sex. In addition, Dr. Holsinger is a leader in a Lexington, Ky., Methodist church that, in addition to working with the poor, also works with former homosexuals who want to live as heterosexuals. Washington Times: Bush nominee runs into crossfire
"GAPING HOLE" AT HOMELAND SECURITY DEPT.: The Bush administration has failed to fill roughly a quarter of the top leadership posts at the Department of Homeland Security, creating a "gaping hole" in the nation's preparedness for a terrorist attack or other threat, according to a congressional report to be released today. As of May 1, Homeland Security had 138 vacancies among its top 575 positions, with the greatest voids reported in its policy, legal and intelligence sections, as well as in immigration agencies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Coast Guard. The vacant slots include presidential, senior executive and other high-level appointments, according to the report by the majority staff of the House Homeland Security Committee. A DHS spokesman challenged the report's tally, saying that it is skewed by a sudden expansion this spring in the number of top management jobs. Washington Post: Job Vacancies At DHS Said To Hurt U.S. Preparedness
MANY MONTHS TO GO, BUT VOTERS GETTING A LITTLE SICK OF '08 RACE: In dozens of interviews across the country, voters said the presidential campaign had become much too intense, much too soon. It is not unusual for Americans to profess irritation at campaigns that they say start too soon. But the sentiment this year appears notably different — and in some ways more complex — than in the past, reflecting the early start to the race, its intensity and, perhaps most of all, a sense in both parties that the country is ready to move beyond the Bush administration. In interview after interview, voters said they felt overwhelmed by the battle for their attention: the speeches, the attacks, the unceasing news coverage of celebrity candidates, and a fund-raising free-for-all that many described as unseemly. New York Times: Voters Excited Over '08 Campaign; Tired of It, Too
TOP-TIER FUNDRAISERS REST OF FIELD "FORAGING FOR SCRAPS": The gap between rich and poor is growing — not just in American society, but also in the race for president. Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York are rolling in cash, having raised more than $100 million between them, while the other Democratic candidates are foraging for scraps. On the Republican side, former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani has $18 million in the bank and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wields a seemingly inexhaustible checkbook, allowing him to supplement contributions. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, meantime, is firing staffers and shrinking his campaign to three states after another weak fundraising quarter left him with just $2 million cash on hand. The rest of the declared GOP candidates are living on the equivalent of pocket change. Los Angeles Times: Presidential campaign money gap widens
OBAMA NAVIGATES "POLITICS OF RACE" IN "IMPROBABLE CANDIDACY": [I]s he black enough? It's [a question] that has long dogged Barack Obama's career, though he says he settled his own struggle with racial identity (as the son of an African father and white, Kansan mother) in his late teens. Questions about black "authenticity" are hardly unique to him; many successful African-Americans face them, too. Obama just happens to be grappling with the issue in full public view as he runs for the highest office in the land. To the candidate, the debate says more about America's state of mind than it does about him. "I think America is still caught in a little bit of a time warp: the narrative of black politics is still shaped by the '60s and black power," he tells NEWSWEEK. "That is not, I think, how most black voters are thinking. I don't think that's how most white voters are thinking. I think that people are thinking about how to find a job, how to fill up the gas tank, how to send their kids to college. I find that when I talk about those issues, both blacks and whites respond well." Newsweek: Across the Divide
ROMNEY HAS BEST-ORGANIZED IOWA TEAM: Six months before the Iowa caucuses, Mitt Romney has taken a commanding organizational lead in this traditional kick-off state. Arizona Sen. John McCain's financial difficulties have forced him to dramatically scale back his Iowa campaign, and it's not clear whether former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani or ex-Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson will fully engage in the Hawkeye State caucuses... The former Massachusetts governor has 20 full-time staffers, coordinators in most of the state's 99 counties, and a group of about 50 "super volunteers" that has already swept through the universe of likely caucus-goers with initial phone calls and have begun going door to door in key precincts. The Politico: Organization man may have Iowa locked down
LAID-OFF McCAIN STAFFERS MAY JUMP TO THOMPSON CAMP: The downsizing of Senator McCain's presidential campaign is coming at an opportune time for Fred Thompson, the former Tennessee senator who is likely to jump into the race officially any day now and seeking to build a campaign staff in the early primary states. Struggling with a shortage of cash, Mr. McCain's campaign announced last week that it was laying off dozens of staff members, including about half of his paid team in Iowa and New Hampshire. While there is no evidence of an outright pillaging of Mr. McCain's departed aides, Republican sources in those states say Mr. Thompson's emerging campaign is the likeliest landing spot. Aside from Mr. Thompson's obvious need for staff — assuming he enters the race — the two are closely aligned ideologically, and Mr. Thompson even endorsed Mr. McCain when he sought the White House in 2000. New York Sun: Fired McCain Aides May Be Hired by Thompson
RUDY COURTS THE NASCAR CROWD: Standing before about 200,000 die-hard racing fans who had spent hours sweating, drinking and revving up for the Pepsi 400, Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor who is much more Brooklyn than bayou, acknowledged on Saturday what many could have guessed. "This is my first live Nascar event," he told the crowd. When he was mayor, Mr. Giuliani was not shy about indulging in such New York treats as the opera or expensive Italian restaurants. But he now finds himself on different terrain as he runs for president, and so he has started educating himself on the sport that claims some 75 million fans who skew distinctly Republican. To that end, he told reporters that he had just finished reading "The Female Fan Guide to Motorsports." New York Times: An Introduction to the Nation of Nascar