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Morning Thoughts: Mending Fences

Good Thursday morning. We think Fall is finally upon us. Here's what Washington is frigidly paying attention to this morning:

-- The Senate considers a bill to improve the passenger rail system in the United States, while the House revives SCHIP, producing a version that makes clear that illegal immigrants are not covered, makes sure adults without children aren't covered after one year, and that no one over 300% of the poverty line is covered. Republicans call the changes little more than cosmetic, while Democrats hope the changes are enough to convince a few more GOPers to vote to override the impending veto.

-- President Bush is, as you read, on his way to Southern California to tour the fire destruction. He's going to join his FEMA Director, and we guess David Paulsen will not become "heck of a job, Paulie." DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff is also already on the ground, and has been there since Tuesday.

-- Henry Waxman is making the White House's life miserable, writes Jonathan Weisman in an A-01 story. Today, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, fresh off being harangued at a Foreign Affairs Committee hearing yesterday, appears before Waxman's Oversight and Government Reform Committee to answer questions about the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which could run to $2.4 trillion. "Waxman has become the Bush administration's worst nightmare: A Democrat in the majority with subpoena power and the inclination to overturn rocks," Weisman writes. More than two dozen investigations are already underway, and Waxman says these are just the "low-hanging fruit."

-- Rudy Giuliani is still doing his best to mend fences with the religious right today as he sits down with Sen. Sam Brownback, who dropped his own presidential bid last week. From the beginning, Brownback has predicted Giuliani would not be the GOP nominee because he's not pro-life, as he reiterated last week, to the LA Times' Andrew Malcolm. If Giuliani can somehow get Brownback on his side, he will have rebuilt one important bridge to social conservatives.

-- Howard Dean has some fences to mend as well. As the DNC's Rules and Bylaws Committee prepares to strip Michigan of its delegates for violating the February 5th window, Dean is headed to Oakland County to address the local party's annual Phil Hart Dinner, per WSJ's Susan Davis. For a small donation, Michigan Democrats can guarantee their spot at the dinner and speak with Dean. Here's betting more than a few give the former governor a piece of their mind.

-- And a new New Hampshire poll, from St. Anselm College and SRBI Research, shows Hillary Clinton well ahead of her Democratic rivals, and Mitt Romney widening the gap on the GOP side. Bad news for many front-running candidates: John McCain doesn't need to hear that 41% of undeclared voters will choose Democratic ballots, while just 19% will choose GOP ballots. McCain won the state largely on the strength of independent voters in 2000. Fred Thompson, already thinking the state won't be his best bet, saw his support shrink to 5%, good for sixth place behind Mike Huckabee (6%) and Ron Paul (7%!!!). For Barack Obama, his 22% is just over half of Clinton's support, and, writes Stu Rothenberg, a Clinton victory here "would all but guarantee her the Democratic nomination if she also wins the Iowa Democratic Caucuses."

-- Not exactly what Senate Republicans need right now: We heard rumblings about this last week, but it seems that Sen. Larry Craig has RSVP'd for a big NRSC fundraiser on Sea Island, Georgia, for early next month, according to The Sleuth. The NRSC had rescinded Craig's invitation, and their staff called the senator's staff to explain why. If he shows up, we've heard, the hotel will mysteriously be all booked up.

-- Stat Of The Day: Whatever Republicans say, writes Paul Kane, Congress has been anything but do-nothing this year. Yesterday, the House cast its 1000th roll call vote of the year, more than any previous Congress achieved. Still, Republicans say the number of votes means nothing, because House Democrats are "measuring quantity, not quality," said GOP Conference Chairman Adam Putnam.

-- Today On The Trail: Mitt Romney talks health care in Manchester, then holds town hall events in Hooksett and Exeter. John McCain holds a town hall meeting in Sioux Center, then meets residents in Le Mars, Iowa. McCain and Mike Huckabee also participate in an AARP forum in Sioux City. On the Democratic side, Bill Richardson is in Albuquerque with his local IBEW, Joe Biden and Dennis Kucinich are in Washington for a Kaiser Family Foundation forum, and John Edwards is in Corning, Bedford and Indianola, Iowa. Oh, and Hillary Clinton is celebrating her last day as a 50-something, with a birthday party including former President Clinton and some close friends -- headlined by Elvis Costello and the Wallflowers -- in New York. Her actual birthday is tomorrow.