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Morning Thoughts: Iraq Debate Above The Fold

Good Wednesday morning. Here's what's happening today in Washington:

-- The Senate is continuing to debate the Defense Department authorization bill, which is likely to take most of the week. How serious are they? They're dragging their Senatorial behinds in to begin debate at 9:30 a.m. The Senate Rules Committee meets at the same time to discuss S. 1905, the Regional Presidential Primary and Caucus Act, which would create a rotating schedule of presidential primaries and, sponsors hope, end the mess in which parties find themselves now. The bill is sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). Iowa Secretary of State Michael Mauro is among those set to testify.

-- On the House side, members take up the Terrorism Risk Insurance Revision and Extension Act and a bill to overhaul the Food and Drug Administration. The House Foreign Affairs Committee holds more hearings on the Bush Administration's status update on Iraq today, featuring testimony from Sen. Lindsey Graham and former Clinton UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.

-- The battle over Iraq, fought mostly in the Senate, is coming to a head. After failing to find common ground during negotiations, Reid told CNN yesterday that Democrats would move ahead with an amendment from Sens. Carl Levin (D-MI) and Jack Reed (D-RI) that would set timetables for bringing American troops home. The amendment won 52 votes in July, short of the 60 needed to end debate. Still, Reid spokesman Jim Manley told CNN, Democrats don't have the 60 votes to get the bill passed.

-- An amendment from Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) to give troops equal time at home and in combat zones appears to have 57 votes, though Webb is confident he can get to 60. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said this weekend he would urge President Bush to veto any such legislation. Other measures, including a bill to make the Iraq Study Group recommendations law, from Sens. Ken Salazar (D-CO) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) are still being perfected.

-- Senator Hillary Clinton is still making the rounds, with hits on the Today Show and NPR's Morning Edition. Ben Smith points out that none of the Sunday shows will comment as to whether Clinton will appear with them this week. It's been a while since Clinton was on one of those shows, hasn't it?

-- Remember that debate targeted at "values voters"? The one that no top Republican attended? Well, without the top four, Mike Huckabee won a massive majority in a straw poll following the debate, with 64%. Mitt Romney: 0 votes. Presaging trouble in South Carolina? We shall see. And Republican leaders, writes WaPo's Perry Bacon on today's front page, are worried about the message the party sends when top candidates skip debates targeted at minorities.

-- The scandal surrounding Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham was one of the straws that broke the Republican camel's back last year, and it's still hovering around the Capitol. Defense contractor Brent Wilkes, the man charged with bribing Cunningham, has subpoenaed 13 members of the House to testify at his trial, Paul Kane writes. The members include former Speaker Denny Hastert and Reps. John Doolittle (R-CA), Jerry Lewis (R-CA) and Jerry Weller (R-IL), already under scrutiny for some of their own actions. Democrats Norm Dicks (D-WA), Silvestre Reyes (D-TX) and Ike Skelton (D-MO) are also among those subpoenaed. The House counsel has written to Wilkes' lawyer protesting the summons as overly broad.

-- Also in Washington today, President Bush makes remarks at the NSA, in Fort Meade, documentarian Ken Burns addresses the National Press Club, Attorney General nominee meets Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (11 a.m. in the Ohio Clock Corridor, be there or be square) and Bob Novak signs his book, "The Prince of Darkness," today at Trover Books.

-- Larry Craig's Bad Luck Of The Day: As the Senator from Idaho returned to the Capitol for the first time since his Minneapolis airport bathroom incident became public, he wasn't in for a very lucky day. He immediately bumped into CNN reporter Ted Barrett, then, after hiding out in his private office in the Capitol, emerged to find, happily for them, camera crews from NBC and CBS, waiting to get b-roll of a meeting between Attorney General nominee Mukasey and Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Arlen Specter. Then, thanks to Carl Hulse, Craig got busted leaving the Senate floor and was surrounded by journalists.

-- Today On The Trail: Joe Biden is in Des Moines, Oskaloosa, Mount Pleasant and Burlington, Iowa. Bill Richardson talks to an anti-obesity conference in Washington. John Edwards heads to Seattle to fundraise. Both Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Sam Brownback will speak to the 6th Annual Women Impacting Public Policy conference in DC. On Brownback's side, Rudy Giuliani is headed to London to raise money from American ex-pats and meet with Prime Minister Gordon Brown and two of his predecessors, Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair (what, no John Majors?). Mike Huckabee begins a two-day campaign swing through South Carolina, while Mitt Romney is still in Florida and John McCain holds more fundraisers in Washington.