Here's a fun game for this week: Count the number of times Democratic supporters of the war-funding measure say their bill isn't a "blank check," and how many times Republican supporters of the immigration bill say their legislation isn't "amnesty."
That's what it's come down to for the leaders of the two parties in Congress -- a scramble to calm anger on the Democrats' left, and the Republicans' right. Compromise usually happens in the middle, so maybe the pieces are in place for major legislative accomplishments. But the political cross-currents are strong on these two measures; nothing motivates politicians like self-preservation, and nothing threatens primary challenges like the issues of Iraq (for Democrats) and immigration (for Republicans).
The early reviews of the new war-funding bill are in, and check out the verbs being used to describe the Democrats: "flinching," "blinked," "abandoned," "gave up," "relented," "capitulate." Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, R-Calif., is saying she'll probably vote against "such a thing," since it has no timetable for troop withdrawal. Democrats had little choice, and they tossed in some sweeteners for their base -- Katrina aid and a minimum-wage increase. With Republicans declaring victory, the measure is on track to pass this week. But the liberal base is not staying quiet on this one, and this is hardly what Democrats had in mind when they won control of Congress. "The decision to back down was a wrenching reversal for leading Democrats, who saw their election triumph in November as a call to force an end to the war," writes Carl Hulse of The New York Times.
The immigration bill survived a key test vote yesterday, with the "guest worker" plan staying intact. But proponents know they're still on shaky ground -- and grass-roots opposition from all sides is likely to grow over the Memorial Day break. "The intensity of the debate signaled steep challenges for the bipartisan group of senators who wrote the bill and were working to protect its core features, which they think are essential to draw enough votes to pass," Nicole Gaouette writes in the Los Angeles Times.
President Bush, who has perhaps the biggest stake in the current congressional debates, speaks at the Coast Guard Academy's graduation at 11:15 am ET today, an hour after Monica Goodling (finally) testifies on Capitol Hill on the US attorneys scandal.
Bush today is planning to rally support for the war by citing intelligence reports that have Osama bin Laden ordering "a terrorist unit to hit targets outside Iraq, and that the United States should be first [hit]," per the Associated Press' Deb Riechmann.
ABC's Brian Ross reported last night that the president has signed a "nonlethal presidential finding" authorizing "a CIA plan that reportedly includes a coordinated campaign of propaganda, disinformation and manipulation of Iran's currency and international financial transactions." Makes us feel safer already.
On the 2008 front, former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., gets the spotlight today with a 1 pm ET speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Get ready for an Edwards doctrine of "smart power" that leans heavily on diplomacy, though Edwards will not be diplomatic when it comes to the Iraq-funding bill. "Any compromise that funds the war through the end of the fiscal year isn't a compromise at all -- it's a capitulation," Edwards plans to say, per his campaign.
Anyone remember ethics reform? It sure is easy to forget, what with the Democratic House voting along party lines yesterday to block debate on whether Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., violated House rules over an alleged threat that he has not denied making. "During the vote, Murtha sat in a darkened corner of the House floor, laughing with colleagues who surrounded him," writes Politico's Patrick O'Connor.
The New York Times editorializes: "The House's new Democratic majority is flirting with disaster as it guts key provisions of the strict lobbying reform it promised voters."
Former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson writes in The Washington Post that the abortion position of former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., is indefensible: "Giuliani has chosen an option that is not an option -- a belief that unborn life deserves our sympathy but does not deserve rights or justice. This view is likely to dog him in the primary process, not only because it is pro-choice but because it is incoherent."
Bloomberg's Heidi Przybyla examines the role of New Hampshire independents, who broke heavily for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in 2000, but now look more likely to vote in the Democratic primary -- something all candidates need to be mindful of. "They'll crash the party on the Democratic side and leave the Republicans pretty much alone," said St. Anselm College's Dante Scala.
The Boston Globe's Scott Helman looks at why former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., is mired in the single digits in polls in the South, and sees the Yankee governor's difficult calculus getting tougher if/when former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., gets in the race. "He will have difficulty overcoming the disconnect between Dixie culture and his own, and persuading Southerners that a former social moderate from Boston can be their champion in the White House," Helman writes.
Romney's launching a new ad in New Hampshire and Iowa that plays off of his Massachusetts roots. "In the toughest place, Mitt Romney's done the toughest things," the ad says.
Why is McCain missing so many Senate votes? And where's the "Straight Talk Express" been? The answer is money, money, money, report Michael Shear and Paul Kane in The Washington Post. "It's the new McCain: Working furiously to rebound from a lackluster fundraising effort in the first three months of the year, he is forgoing many opportunities for public campaigning and sharply cutting back his role as a high-profile legislator with a knack for brokering deals."
As McCain and Romney snipe with each other, Giuliani is staying above the fray, writes The New York Times' Michael Cooper. "Mr. McCain's willingness to engage Mr. Romney directly appeared to stem from a combination of tactical, political and, to a lesser extent, personal considerations." We'd emphasize the personal over the tactical.
Edwards is the first on board for August's YearlyKos convention in Chicago -- a decision announced (online, of course) by the candidate's wife.
Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., is unveiling a new ad in New Hampshire claiming that the other Democrats are following him in demanding a troop withdrawal from Iraq. "Now, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have changed their position to follow Chris Dodd," the ad says, per the Union Leader's John DiStaso.
"This bill is drawing opposition from business, labor, Democrats, Republicans, theists and nontheists, American League and National League baseball fans," Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., the Senate's chief vote-counter, on the immigration measure.