May 22, 2006


First glance (Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray and Huma Zaidi, 5/22/06, First Read)

President Bush has some accomplishments to tout and more expected wins queued up for this week before Congress departs for the Memorial Day recess. A new Iraqi government. A forthcoming broad immigration bill from the Senate, though it may not survive a conference committee. An emergency supplemental spending bill which will either adhere to his prescribed dollar limit, or provide him with a chance to encourage GOP conservatives by casting his first veto. A new CIA director and a new appellate court judge favored by his party's base.

NBC's Ken Strickland advises that Gen. Michael Hayden's nomination to head the CIA is likely to be voted out of committee in the Senate on Tuesday, with a floor vote probably on Thursday. Judicial nominee Brett Kavanaugh is also expected to win confirmation this week. The final vote on the Senate immigration bill could happen either Wednesday night or Thursday morning. A final vote on the emergency supplemental by both chambers is expected for Thursday, with a price tag close to what Bush has said he'll accept.

Elections Are Crux Of GOP's Strategy (Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei, 5/22/06, Washington Post)

Bush has turned his attention to the campaign. Six months before the election, he has made 36 fundraising appearances, more than at this point in 2002. He spoke at a party gala last week that broke off-year records for hard-money fundraising and later attended events in Virginia and Kentucky. Vice President Cheney has been even more active, making 62 fundraising appearances, including one in Nashville on Saturday, and he plans three more in California in the next couple of days.

With Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove reassigned from day-to-day policy management to concentrate on the fall campaign, the White House has begun setting an agenda. Bush focused on stopping illegal immigration with his National Guard plan announced in an Oval Office address last week, followed a few days later by a visit to the border. In between, he signed legislation extending $70 billion in tax cuts that he has made a signature issue on the campaign trail.

To address conservatives, who have been key to his election victories but have grown disenchanted with the administration, Bush and Senate Republicans are reviving their fight with Democrats over judicial nominations, and senators last week voted out of committee a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage to set up a floor vote next month.

The White House also appears eager for a battle over the nomination of Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden as CIA director. With a committee vote expected this week and a floor vote by next week, the White House hopes voters will see the warrantless surveillance program Hayden started as head of the National Security Agency as tough on terrorism rather than a violation of civil liberties.

And Bush remains a firm believer in the "Iraq first" strategy. The war has overshadowed everything else and, in the White House's view, to a large extent has poisoned the public against other messages -- to the point that many Americans fault Bush's handling of the economy even though economic performance has been strong. So the White House calculates that if the public sees any improvement in Iraq and a withdrawal of even some U.S. troops, Republicans will be rewarded.

Aides point to the president's last spike in the polls, which came late last year after Iraqi elections and a series of Iraq speeches by Bush. A top adviser said Rove and White House political director Sara M. Taylor are advising candidates not to duck the issue of Iraq but rather to make it a centerpiece of their campaigns.

The Rove-Taylor view is that one-third of Americans agree with liberal Democrats calling for immediate withdrawal and another third support staying the course. The middle third wants a new strategy, but would be leery of pulling out and leaving behind a volatile Iraq, a position strategists believe leaves those voters open to persuasion.

"Look, we're in a sour time -- I readily admit it," Rove said in a speech last week. "I mean, being in the middle of a war where people turn on their television sets and see brave men and women dying is not something that makes people happy and optimistic and upbeat." But, he added, "ultimately, the American people are a center-right country who, presented with a center-right party with center-right candidates, will vote center-right."

Perhaps the most important element of the emerging strategy will be to "move from a referendum to a choice," as Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman put it. Instead of a verdict on Bush, Republicans want to frame the election as a contest with Democrats, confident that voters unhappy with the president will find the opposition even more distasteful.

"We're moving from a period where the public looks at things and says thumbs-up or thumbs-down, to a time when they have a choice between one side or the other," Mehlman said.

Troops home. Gas prices down. Dow up. Interest rates down. Deficit falling. If you can get those forces converging in October/November you win again.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 22, 2006 10:59 AM

It's unlikely there'll be much movement in any of those things by Oct/Nov. The deficit will continue to fall, but slowly. Gas prices, interest rates, and stocks are unlikely to help much. Troops will come home but probably not many before November.

I think Republicans will do OK but only because, as people focus more on politics, they'll look more closely at the evidence and realize that things are going reasonably well.

Mehlman is exactly right. The Republican trump card is that the only alternative is the Democrats.

Posted by: pj at May 22, 2006 12:20 PM

The only two that matter are gas prices and calm in Iraq.

Posted by: David Cohen at May 22, 2006 12:31 PM

Whoa, you mean Bush is gonna run on Iraq? I thought it was a spectatular failure. Gee, you think they'd be trying to distance themselves from it.

Unless, of course, it's not a failure.

Hey, wait a sec . . .

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at May 22, 2006 12:44 PM

The Kos-kindern believe that Fitzmas soon-to-come will bring down Rove & Cheney and doom Bush to impeachment early next year after the liberate the house & senate from the evil dictator's control.

Posted by: Dave W at May 22, 2006 1:08 PM

"Elections Are Crux of GOP's Strategy."

That's a fairly intelligent choice of strategy crux for a political party. One wonders what exactly the crux of the Dem's strategy is...

Posted by: b at May 22, 2006 6:29 PM