Compiled by Stephen Bach, CNN Washington Bureau
Making news today...
* MN Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) said the Interstate 35W bridge collapse "is a catastrophe of historic proportions for Minnesota." (Minneapolis Star Tribune)
Star Tribune front page
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) spoke about the bridge collapse on the House floor Wednesday evening. Video here
* "In even tones, mixed with occasional flashes of his trademark assertiveness," a "subdued" Donald Rumsfeld "strenuously insisted to a House committee Wednesday that he was not part of any cover-up or campaign to hide the truth in the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman." (Chicago Tribune)
* "The first Democratic-controlled Congress in more than a decade has kept its promise to spend more time in the Capitol, but many of those hours have been consumed by partisan bickering." (USA Today)
* "Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama issued a pointed warning yesterday to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, saying that as president he would be prepared to order U.S. troops into that country unilaterally if it failed to act on its own against Islamic extremists." (Washington Post)
"OBAMA: I'D INVADE ALLY" (New York Post headline)
* Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) arrived in Manchester last week "on a commercial flight." [GASP!] "He carried his own bags through the airport and his top two aides in the state drove him to his hotel. The entire event was captured for local television." (AP)
Also, Cindy McCain told San Diego Magazine about the senator's "most annoying habit":
"He's a remote-control freak. Once he gets hold of the remote control, forget it. If you want to watch something else, you're out of luck. You've got to go someplace else."
Read the full interview here
* And it may be the end of the secret "Mae West hold" in the Senate. What's the "Mae West hold?" Find out in Hot Topics below!
* President Bush meets with his Cabinet at 9:55 am ET in the Cabinet Room at the White House. At 11 am ET, Bush makes a statement with Cabinet members in the Rose Garden.
Also on the Political Radar:
* The YearlyKos Convention begins at the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago, IL.
* Mitt Romney holds an 8:45 am ET "Ask Mitt Anything – Kitchen Table Concerns" town hall at The Machine Shed Restaurant in Urbandale, IA.
* Newt Gingrich addresses the Young America's Foundation's 29th National Conservative Student Conference at the George Washington University at 9 am ET.
* Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) attends an 11 am ET fundraising breakfast at the Washington Athletic Club in Seattle, WA.
* Bill Richardson travels to Iowa for "job interview" events in Eldridge (3:45 pm ET), West Liberty (6 pm ET), and Coralville (7:45 pm ET).
* Rudy Giuliani meets supporters at the Ocean Bay Diner in Point Pleasant, NJ, at 2:15 pm ET.
* MN Senate Candidate Al Franken appears on "The Late Show with David Letterman."
Political Hot Topics
(Today's top political stories from news organizations across the country)
ROVE REFUSAL, GONZALES DEFENSE MAY "HEIGHTEN THE CONFRONTATION" WITH SENS.: The Bush administration pushed back against congressional Democrats on two fronts yesterday, as the White House formally directed senior adviser Karl Rove not to cooperate with a Senate probe into the firing of U.S. attorneys and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales declined to alter testimony that some senators have described as misleading. The actions seemed certain to heighten the confrontation between Congress and the administration over a pair of investigations, one looking into whether politics tainted the removal of nine senior federal prosecutors, the other involving the legality of a surveillance program operated by the National Security Agency. Washington Post: Administration Again Rebuffs Senators
AG'S LETTER JUST "WORD PARSING" SAYS CHAIRMAN: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said in a letter to Congress on Wednesday that the government's warrantless surveillance program raised substantial legal issues within the Justice Department, but he said he did not recall serious disagreement between the Justice Department and the White House. "It was an extraordinary activity that presented novel and difficult issues and was, as I understand, the subject of intense deliberations within the (Justice) Department," Gonzales wrote in a three-page letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. Leahy had asked Gonzales to clarify earlier testimony about the controversy surrounding an intelligence operation known as the Terrorist Surveillance Program. Other Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have called for a special prosecutor to investigate whether Gonzales lied. Leahy said Wednesday that he was not satisfied with Gonzales' response. "It is time for full candor to enforce the law and promote justice, rather than word parsing." USA Today: Leahy sees 'word parsing' in clarification by Gonzales
RUMMY RETURNS FOR TILLMAN HEARING: Returning to an official forum for the first time since his departure last November, a subdued former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld strenuously insisted to a House committee Wednesday that he was not part of any cover-up or campaign to hide the truth in the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman, a former NFL star turned Army Ranger. In even tones, mixed with occasional flashes of his trademark assertiveness, Rumsfeld joined retired Gen. Richard Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and retired Gen. John Abizaid, former commander of the U.S. Central Command, in steadfastly maintaining their innocence regarding one of the most infamous episodes in the U.S. war effort in Afghanistan - the killing of one of America's best-known soldiers and the military's fudging of the truth surrounding it. Chicago Tribune: Rumsfeld, generals deny cover-up
GOP SENATORS EXPECTED TO "SWALLOW ANY RESERVATIONS" AND PASS ETHICS BILL: Ending months of stalls and internal struggles, the Senate is poised today to approve a major package tightening ethics rules and overhauling lobbying laws. After the bill swept through the House earlier this week, it faced a flicker of trouble from conservative Senators trying to rally opposition over earmark transparency rules they viewed as too weak. But GOP Sens. Jim DeMint (S.C.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.) — leaders of the conservative charge — saw their hopes for blocking the measure wither on Wednesday as most of their Republican colleagues indicated they would swallow any reservations to get behind the reforms. Roll Call: Senate Moves on Ethics Bill
LOTS MORE BICKERING, NOT MUCH ACCOMPLISHED: The first Democratic-controlled Congress in more than a decade has kept its promise to spend more time in the Capitol, but many of those hours have been consumed by partisan bickering. The Democrats' agenda — as spelled out in the first 10 bills Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced in January — has produced one law: a minimum-wage hike. Before the August break, Democrats are hustling two more to President Bush to tighten congressional ethics rules and to enact the 9/11 Commission's proposals. Many other promises have been stymied. On Iraq and immigration, Congress failed to reach consensus. One of 12 spending bills needed to fund the government for the next fiscal year has passed — and Bush has threatened to veto it. Congress' approval ratings in a Gallup Poll taken last month were at 27% — 1 point higher than in November, when voters ousted the GOP from power. USA Today: 110th Congress working longer and bickering more
END OF THE SECRET SENATE HOLD? Nowhere in the ponderous rules of the United States Senate is there any reference to the Mae West hold, the chokehold or the rotating hold. Yet over the past 50 years, all three variations on the Senate hold — one of the most secretive backroom weapons in Congress — have been used to tie the chamber in knots by allowing senators to block legislation and nominations anonymously, and to do so for reasons as simple as pique or payback. Now senators are considering bringing the secret hold into the open by requiring those who use it to disclose their identity and their rationale in The Congressional Record. The proposed rule, virtually revolutionary in the staid realm of the Senate, is part of the ethics and lobbying overhaul headed for a final vote this week. New York Times: Senate May End an Era of Cloakroom Anonymity
SENATE EXPECTED TO APPROVE SCHIP DESPITE VETO THREAT: The House yesterday approved legislation vastly expanding a federal health insurance program for the children of the working poor, shrugging off a fresh veto threat from President Bush and the fierce opposition of House Republicans. The Senate, where the legislation has strong bipartisan support, is expected to follow suit as early as today, voting on a more modest version of the program and probably setting up a showdown between congressional supporters and the White House, which says the measures are far too expansive. Washington Post: Children's Health Bill Approved By House
DEAN'S "REVELATION" ON RELIGION: Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean, who once criticized the GOP as a "white Christian party" and also said "my religion doesn't inform my public policy," is building a sophisticated infrastructure to woo so-called values voters. Dean has had the same revelation as many other Democrats since their demoralizing loss in the 2004 election: There are more people who vote because of their faith and values than Democrats realized, and Republicans have won a disproportionately large share of them. While attention has focused recently on public displays of religious faith by the leading Democratic contenders, Sens. Barack Obama (Ill.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and former Sen. John Edwards (N.C.), Dean has quietly built a nationwide program. The Hill: Dean woos faith voters
OBAMA: GET OFF "WRONG BATTLEFIELD" IN IRAQ, "TAKE THE FIGHT" TO AFGHANISTAN, PAKISTAN: Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama issued a pointed warning yesterday to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, saying that as president he would be prepared to order U.S. troops into that country unilaterally if it failed to act on its own against Islamic extremists. In his most comprehensive statement on terrorism, the senator from Illinois said that the Iraq war has left the United States less safe than it was before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and that if elected he would seek to withdraw U.S. troops and shift the country's military focus to threats in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Washington Post: Obama Says He Would Take Fight To Pakistan
McCAIN, EDWARDS OFFER "WIDELY DIFFERING VIEWS" ON TERROR FIGHT IN CA STOPS: Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain and Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards praised the high-tech leadership of the Bay Area and offered widely differing views of the battle against terrorists during Wednesday visits to the area. McCain, R-Ariz., and Edwards, a former North Carolina senator, also differed on a proposal by Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama to aggressively pursue terrorist groups in the mountains of Pakistan. "We have a responsibility to go find al Qaeda and (Osama) bin Laden wherever they operate," Edwards said after a fundraiser in San Francisco, appearing to agree with Obama's call during a major foreign policy speech in Washington for possible U.S. military action in Pakistan against terrorists hiding there... But McCain, following an address to 300 executives at the Stanford Summit on the Palo Alto campus, called Obama's view "a rather simplistic approach." San Francisco Chronicle: McCain, Edwards disagree on sending troops
McCAIN FLYING COMMERCIAL: John McCain's slide in the presidential race shows up everywhere on the campaign trail. His staff drastically reduced and his organization nearly broke, McCain flies commercial instead of on private jets, carries his own luggage and relies on supporters to drive him to events, including one that pulled away from a Rotary meeting last week with a flat rear tire. It's a far cry from the "Straight Talk Express" tour bus that once was packed with reporters, staff and hope... Now, the Arizona senator and Vietnam War hero travels without staff or with a single aide and rarely with national media crews. Last week, he arrived in Manchester, N.H., on a commercial flight. He carried his own bags through the airport and his top two aides in the state drove him to his hotel. The entire event was captured for local television. AP via Yahoo! News: McCain's woes evident on campaign trail
CLINTON "TAKING AIM" AT THE VEEP: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday accused Vice President Dick Cheney of falsely portraying her attempt to get Iraq planning information out of the Pentagon. The Democratic presidential front-runner has been hammering at the Bush administration for two weeks since a top Pentagon aide refused to tell her whether or how the military was planning for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. In a letter to the vice president, she accused Cheney of offering "inaccuracies" in opposing her request. She used even tougher language in an appeal sent to supporters of her presidential bid: "I couldn't care less what Dick Cheney says about me. But when he plays politics with the lives of our troops, you had better be sure I'm going to respond. And I know that you want to respond too." AP via Yahoo! News: Clinton says Cheney wrong on her request
BLOOMBERG DEFENDS SUV CARAVAN COMMUTE TO SUBWAY: Mayor Bloomberg didn't have much to say yesterday about his car rides to the subway, but when asked about reports of his morning commuting habit, he said: "Some people focus on important things, some people don't." In what it called a five-week investigation, The New York Times found that Bloomberg's driver passes two local stops before dropping him off at the express station at 59th St. and Lexington Ave. – 22 blocks from his townhouse. His spokesman, Stu Loeser, said a sport-utility vehicle brings the mayor to the train for security reasons. The mayor's security detail – including two SUVs – follows him everywhere regardless, Loeser said. New York Daily News: Mike: Pay no attention to SUV straphanger