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Blog Home Page --> June 2009

Franken 'Excited' to Get to Washington

Senator-elect Al Franken said today that he is "excited" to finally get to Washington to serve the people of Minnesota as their newest senator.

"Let me say thank you to the people of Minnesota for your patience, for your thoughts and prayers, and for giving me the opportunity to work for you in Washington," Franken said. "I can't wait to get started."

Franken said he believed he would be sworn in early next week, when the Senate returns from a week-long Fourth of July recess. He played down the fact that he will become the 60th Democratic senator, giving them a potentially filibuster-proof majority.

"I'm not going to Washington to be the 60th Democratic senator," Franken said. "I'm going to Washington to be the second senator from Minnesota."

No matter who they voted for, Franken said, "I want the people of Minnesota to know that I am ready to work for all of you -- that I am committed to be a voice for all Minnesotans in the United States Senate."

Franken said he has a full staff waiting for him in Washington and that he'll serve on the following committees: Health, Education, Labor and Pensions; Judiciary; Indian Affairs; and Aging.

Statements on Minnesota Senate

The following statements were released today in reaction to the news that the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in favor of Al Franken as the winner of the Senate race, as well as Norm Coleman's subsequent concession.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.):

"I congratulate Al Franken on a hard-earned and long-awaited election victory. I welcome him as my new Senate colleague from Minnesota.

"I respect Norm Coleman for what I'm sure was a very difficult decision. He had the right to pursue a legal appeal, but he chose to do the right thing for Minnesota. Norm was my Senate colleague for two years. Although on opposite sides of the aisle, we often worked together on issues affecting Minnesota, in particular securing quick federal support for rebuilding the 35W Bridge. Norm is a dedicated public servant. As a Senator, he took to heart his duty to represent and serve the people of Minnesota. I wish him the best.

"I also thank my staff for their incredible work doing double duty for the past six months. I am very proud of the work they did during a tough time."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.):

"I know a thing or two about close elections, and I appreciate both that Norm Coleman fought hard throughout his race and recount, and that he is now stepping aside and letting the people of Minnesota have the full representation they deserve.

"I enjoyed my time working with Norm Coleman in the United States Senate, and wish him the best."

Speaker Nancy Pelosi:

"I congratulate Senator-elect Al Franken on his long and hard-fought victory. Minnesota now has the full representation in the Senate that its residents deserve. I look forward to working with Senator-elect Franken as the New Direction Congress works to turn the economy around by reforming our health care system and leading America toward an effective and affordable clean energy future."

RNC Chairman Michael Steele:

"I am deeply disappointed in the decision made by the state Supreme Court, and I share the frustration of Minnesota's voters. At the core of our democracy lies two concrete principles: No valid vote should go uncounted and all votes should be treated equally. Sadly, those principles were not adhered to during this election. While I would have proudly stood behind Norm Coleman had he chosen to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, I know that his decision to withdraw from this race was not an easy one, but one that he felt was the best decision for the people of Minnesota. For the last six years, Norm represented the people of Minnesota with distinction, earning a much deserved reputation as one of the hardest-working members of Congress. I, on behalf of all Republicans, thank him for his service and will miss his leadership in Washington."

Coleman Concedes Minnesota Senate Race

Norm Coleman has conceded the Minnesota Senate race to Democratic challenger Al Franken, following the state Supreme Court's 5-0 ruling today that Franken won the race.

"The state Supreme Court has spoken," Coleman said at an afternoon press conference. "I respect its decision and I will abide by its result. It's time for Minnesotans to come together under the leaders it has chosen and move forward. And I join all Minnesotans in congratulating our newest United States senator, Al Franken."

"The future today is that we have a new United States senator," said Coleman, who called Franken to congratulate him.

Coleman also thanked Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and her staff for carrying the burden of two senators for the past six months, calling her "an extraordinary public servant."

Coleman said he called Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) and "told him I was coming out here to make his life a little easier." Pawlenty has been pressured by Democrats to sign an election certificate, while feeling heat from the other side of the aisle to keep the fight going and prevent Democrats from getting the much sought after 60th Senate seat.

Following the court's ruling and Coleman's concession, Pawlenty released a statement saying he "will be signing the election certificate today as directed by the court and applicable law."

"I would like to thank Senator Coleman for his service," Pawlenty said. "As state solicitor general, Mayor of Saint Paul and United States Senator, he has been an extraordinary leader and public servant for Minnesota. I also want to congratulate Al Franken and wish him well as he serves the people of Minnesota."

President Obama also released a statement. "I look forward to working with Senator-Elect Franken to build a new foundation for growth and prosperity by lowering health care costs and investing in the kind of clean energy jobs and industries that will help America lead in the 21st century," Obama said.

Coleman, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native, was elected to the Senate in 2002 after serving eight years as mayor of St. Paul. His challenge to second-term Sen. Paul Wellstone (D) took a tragic turn 11 days before the November 2002 election when Wellstone died in an airplane crash. Coleman went on to win 50% to 47% for former Vice President Walter Mondale, who stepped in for Wellstone.

Coleman's concession speech can be seen here.

Politicizing Sanford: NJ Dems Want Christie To Denounce RGA

Gov. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) resigned as chair of the Republican Governors Association just moments after admitting to an affair last week. But now, the New Jersey Democratic Party is trying to tie Republican gubernatorial hopeful Chris Christie to the affair by demanding that he "publicly denounce" the national organization and refuse advertising support.

"Christie has leaned on Sanford's support since the primary to curry favor with the RGA so they would run ads distorting Jon Corzine's record. Christie gladly accepted the support of the Mark Sanford led RGA and now he should call for the negative advertising created by Sanford to be pulled," Democratic chairman Joe Cryan said in a statement. "The hypocrisy of Christie's candidacy is exposed with every "advertising dollar he continues to accept in Mark Sanford's name."

The lengthy statement also tries to link Christie personally with Sanford's "far-right conservative agenda," specifically on abortion.

The RGA typically is active in supporting candidates with television advertising, though some state laws prohibit outside spending. Though the Garden State does have a generous matching funds program, Christie is likely counting on any additional support he can get to combat Gov. Jon Corzine's (D) personal fortune.

MN Supreme Court Rules 5-0 for Franken

Almost eight months since the November election, the Minnesota State Supreme Court ruled 5-0 in favor of Democrat Al Franken, who won the official recount by 312 votes.

Democrats had publicly pressured Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) to sign a certificate of election if the court ruled in favor of Franken, and they continued the push today. Pawlenty, who is in Washington today, has said he would sign a certificate if directed by the court to do so.

"I once again encourage Governor Pawlenty to respect the votes of his constituents and the decisions of his state's highest court," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) said in a statement today. "He should put politics aside, follow his state's laws and finally sign the certificate that will bring this episode to an end."

From the St. Paul Pioneer-Press:

It is U.S. Sen. Al Franken.

The Minnesota Supreme Court today decided that Franken, a Democrat, won the highest number of votes in last year's U.S. Senate race and deserves a signed election certificate.

The court said that Republican Norm Coleman didn't prove that a lower court made mistakes requiring a rehearing of the case. Coleman had asked the court to order thousands of rejected absentee ballots counted. He had hoped the counting would allow him to overcome Franken's 312-vote lead.

The court's decision brings to an end the seven-month state fight over the Minnesota Senate race. Franken has had a lead since January and a trial court decided in April that he won the highest number of legally cast votes.

Should Coleman not continue his legal battle in an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, and if Franken is certified the winner, Democrats would have a 60-seat majority in the Senate.

In a statement released shortly after the decision was announced, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (N.J.) said:

"Congratulations to Senator-elect Franken for today's courtroom victory affirming his electoral victory. As we've seen over the past 238 days, no matter how many times Norm Coleman goes to court, the result of the election never changes: Al Franken earned more votes than Norm Coleman. Al Franken was elected to the Senate and he ought to be able to get to work for the people of Minnesota. We've always said that Norm Coleman deserved his day in court, and he got eight months. Now we expect Governor Pawlenty to do the right thing, follow the law, and sign the election certificate. From health care to the Supreme Court to getting our economy moving again, the challenges facing us are complex and we need Al Franken in the Senate. In this historic and urgent moment in our history, Minnesotans have gone long enough without full representation. Al Franken will be an critical voice on the issues before us and it's time to let him get to work."

Independence Day Targets

Shortly after the House squeezed in a vote on the Waxman-Markey energy and climate change bill late Friday, Members hit the road for a week-long Fourth of July break. While back in their districts, though, some will be inundated by opposition efforts from the parties' House campaign arms.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is targeting Democrats in Ohio and Virginia that voted for the energy bill. Press releases went out to the formerly Republican districts of Ohio Dems John Boccieri, Steve Driehaus, Mary Jo Kilroy and Zack Space -- all of whom are in their first or second terms.

"Whatever favors Mary Jo Kilroy might have traded for her support for Nancy Pelosi's National Energy Tax, they hardly make up for the higher energy costs and lost jobs that will plague Ohio as a result of their Kilroy's Washington horse trading," NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said in one release. "Mary Jo Kilroy owes her constituents an explanation as to why she continues to back an agenda that is nothing short of destructive to Ohio families."

Releases also went out in the Virginia districts of Tom Perriello and Rick Boucher. John McCain won both of their districts in 2008. In separate statements, Spain said Boucher "sold out Southwest Virginia's middle class" because of the coal jobs some project will be lost, and Perriello showed an "utter lack of concern" for middle class families in his majority rural district.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is launching 60-second radio ads to run during drive-time in the districts of seven Republicans who voted against the supplemental appropriations bill, which among other things funds the wars through September. The House agreed to the conference report June 16 on a 226-202 roll call vote; the Senate approved it two days later.

Those targeted are: Ken Calvert (CA), Charlie Dent (PA), Jim Gerlach (PA), Dan Lungren (CA), Mike McCaul (TX), Lee Terry (NE) and Joe Wilson (SC).

"Republicans never hesitated to criticize those who voted against the previous supplemental bills that included funding for the troops, but now that they are trying to score political points, Republicans' votes have conveniently changed," DCCC executive director Jon Vogel said in a statement released Friday. "So this Independence Day, we are going district by district to hold these hypocritical Republicans accountable."

Pelosi, On Troop Withdrawal From Iraq Cities

Speaker Nancy Pelosi released the following statement today regarding the withdrawal of U.S. troops from most major cities in Iraq:

"Today marks a critical step toward the responsible withdrawal of American forces by December 2011 and the end of the war in Iraq, a war that tragically began more than six long years ago. This action is in keeping with the pledge made by President Obama and the Status of Forces agreement with the Iraqi government.

"Last month during my visit to Iraq, I met with U.S. military commanders, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki, and Iraqi Parliament Speaker al-Samarraie. All agreed that Iraqi security forces have increased their capacities and are ready to assume responsibility for securing Iraq's cities. The Iraqi people have made clear their desire to assume responsibility for security in their country.

"All of us in Congress are forever grateful for the dedication and sacrifices of our troops, and to the brave men and women who continue to serve our country in Iraq, Afghanistan, and around the world."

FL Gov: McCollum +6 In Mason-Dixon Poll

The Florida gubernatorial race is likely to be one of the most-watched in 2010, and it starts now since the party nominees are essentially set -- Democrat Alex Sink and Republican Bill McCollum. A new Mason-Dixon poll finds that it's still a close race.

General Election Matchup
McCollum 41 (-1 from May)
Sink 35 (+1)
Undecided 24 (-2)

But Sink, the state Chief Financial Officer, is unknown to 39 percent of the electorate; only 13 percent were unfamiliar with McCollum, the state Attorney General who has also run for U.S. Senate. Most polls have shown McCollum with a slight lead.

The poll was commissioned by Ron Sachs Communications. The telephone survey of 625 registered voters was conducted June 24-26, and had a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.

NJ Gov: Another Double-Digit Lead For Christie

Nearly a month after winning the Republican primary, former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie maintains a double-digit lead over Gov. Jon Corzine (D), a new Public Policy Polling (D) survey finds.

General Election Matchup
Christie 51
Corzine 41
Undecided 9

Typically, New Jerseyans are late making up their minds in campaigns, owing to the fact that the state has no major television market of its own and coverage tends to be minimal among New York and Philadelphia outlets. But the survey found that 70 percent of voters are "solidly committed" to their candidate, with only 30 percent saying they could change their mind. Breaking those numbers down, Republicans tended to be more committed to their choice (81 percent), while more than a third of Democrats said they still could change their minds.

Christie is still unknown to a quarter of state voters, while Corzine maintains an upside-down favorability rating.

Favorability Ratings
Corzine 36/56
Christie 43/33

One promising sign for the incumbent: Corzine leads Christie 56-40 in the 201 area code. That zone covers most of Bergen County, which has proven to be the bellwether in state elections. Bergen is in the northeastern part of the state, home to many New York commuters.

The automated telephone survey of 1,094 likely voters was conducted June 27-29, and had a margin of error of +/- 3 percent.

The next critical step in this race will come later this month, when the candidates must choose running mates. It's the first time in a New Jersey gubernatorial election where candidates will have a running mate, with the creation of a lieutenant governor position years ago.

Strategy Memo: Countdown to the 4th

Today, President Obama will speak in the East Room to highlight "innovative programs that are making a difference in communities across the country," the White House says. He also meets with Energy Secretary Chu.

And tonight is the second quarter reporting deadline for federal candidates running in 2010. It's a key point in the cycle for some challengers and incumbents to demonstrate that they have what it takes for the long haul.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court overturned of an appeals court ruling endorsed by Judge Sonia Sotomayor and in favor of 20 white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., who had sued for reverse discrimination. The ruling comes two weeks before Sotomayor steps before the Senate Judiciary Committee for her confirmation hearings.

**President Obama
*The New York Times reports, President Obama "is trying to enlist the nation's governors and his own army of grass-roots supporters in a bid to increase pressure on lawmakers without getting himself mired in the messy battle playing out on Capitol Hill."

The paper notes, "While this outside-the-Beltway strategy lets Mr. Obama stay out of Democrats' internal fights -- for now at least -- there are risks. If Mr. Obama waits too long to exert his presidential muscle to forge consensus on Capitol Hill, his moment of opportunity could pass. He could also lose control of the final outcome if lawmakers cut backroom deals he dislikes, for example, by deciding to pay for the expansion by taxing employee health benefits, a move that worries Mr. Obama's political advisers because it could cause the president to break a campaign promise."

*Meanwhile, Tom Daschle yet again has outlined a potential health care framework, this time working with John Podesta.

*A CNN poll finds "that nearly three-quarters of all Americans support the plan to withdraw most U.S. combat troops from Iraqi cities and towns, even though most believe that the troop movements will lead to an increase in violence in that country."

*Former VP Cheney talks to the Washington Times about the Iraq withdrawal this week: "I hope the Iraqis can deal with it," he said. "At some point, they have to stand on their own, but I would not want to see the U.S. waste all the tremendous sacrifice that has gotten us to this point."

*ABC reports that Vice President Biden will serve as the West Wing's "high point of contact" on Iraq. "The new assignment was timed to the pullout of U.S. combat forces from Iraqi cities this week but the vice president's specific duties are still developing and the role is open-ended."

**Supreme Court
*The New Haven ruling reax, per AP: "Conservatives who cheered the reversal as a blow in favor of evenhanded application of anti-discrimination laws said it deepened their questions about the judge's ability to keep her personal opinions and background out of her decisions." But "liberals who denounced the ruling as potentially damaging to workplace diversity efforts countered that the decision should in fact end questions about whether Sotomayor is an 'activist judge.'"

*In not ruling on the Hillary Clinton movie case, the Court signaled "that it might be ready to give corporations a free-speech right to spend their money to elect or defeat favored candidates," the LA Times reports.

*WaPo: "The Supreme Court's rejection of a decision against white firefighters endorsed by Judge Sonia Sotomayor gives Republicans a renewed chance to attack her speeches and writings but is not expected to imperil her confirmation to the high court, political and legal sources said yesterday."

*Roll Call: "The Supreme Court's decision Monday in a controversial affirmative action case officially joined the battle between Republicans and Democrats over the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the high court -- sparking a debate about whether the ruling is a rebuke of her judicial philosophy."

**Energy Bill Remains
*"The American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 passed by only 219-212, after an epic day replete with Republican ambushes, petty betrayals, hastily rearranged flights and disappearing acts. Yet for all the apparent chaos, the action was commanded by a House speaker maneuvering with the urgency of someone who knew her reputation was on the line," Politico reports.

*"Republicans believe a handful of junior House Democrats may have taken a career-ending vote by supporting the controversial energy bill last week and are planning to launch an ad campaign in targeted districts to try to seal their fate," Politico reports. "Those likely to find themselves with targets on their back after the 219-212 vote: freshman Reps. Harry Teague of New Mexico, Betsy Markey of Colorado, John Boccieri of Ohio, Thomas Perriello of Virginia and Alan Grayson of Florida and second-termer Zack Space of Ohio."

**In the States
*South Carolina: The Hill, quoting an e-mail from Gov. Mark Sanford to supporters: "Well beyond the personal consequences within my own family, I know that at so many different levels my actions have upset, offended and disappointed friends and supporters and for this I am most sorry," Sanford wrote in the email. "In the aftermath of this failure I want to not only apologize, but to commit to growing personally and spiritually."

Here's eyebrow-raiser from Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer's interview with The State: "During an interview Monday, Bauer, who is a bachelor, voluntarily brought up the subject of his sexual orientation, which he said has been the subject of rumors. Asked, then, if he's homosexual, Bauer said: 'One word, two letters. 'No.' Let's go ahead and dispel that now.'"

JMart reports that South Carolina Repubs aren't buying his suggestion that he'd take over as governor and not run in 2010. "The consensus among Bauer's GOP foes is that he made the move to shore up his statesman credentials and could still find a way, in the fashion politicians often do, to still run for governor next year. Also, that Bauer floated the idea knowing that Sanford isn't likely to actually resign."

But there are ever-increasing calls for Sanford to resign, CNN finds.

*"John Boehner is taking a day off from fundraising this week to hit the links with Tiger Woods," The Hill reports.

*FL Sen: "Gov. Charlie Crist's lead in the Republican U.S. Senate race is still better than a 2-1 ratio, but challenger Marco Rubio showed slight progress in a new statewide poll released Monday," Pensacola News Journal reports.

Club for Growth may jump in the race to run ads against Crist, Washington Times reports.

*NY Sen: "House Minority Leader John Boehner has tapped Rep. Pete King (R-Long Island) for a slot on the intelligence committee -- a move that is likely to put the outspoken security hawk on the sidelines for the 2010 GOP Senate primary in New York," Politico reports.

*A Rasmussen poll has bad news for Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, as he trails one Republican and barely leads another.

*A ruling in the New York State Senate disaster ordering the chamber to reconvene "was a victory" for Gov. David Paterson (D), the New York Times reports.

*During the Washington Times interview, Cheney also weighed in on the party's 2012 chances. "I think from the standpoint of the party, we've got some great talent out there, young people coming along that are going to do a superb job. I always remind people that in adversity, there's opportunity."

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Obama Promises To Do More For GLBT Community

At a reception in the East Room this afternoon, President Obama acknowledged some dissatisfaction in the GLBT community over his administration's record so far.

"I know that many in this room don't believe that progress has come fast enough," he told about 300 guests, according to a pool report. "We have made progress, and we will make more."

Obama asked the audience to judge him by the promises his administration keeps, and said that by the time he leaves office, he thinks they will have "pretty good feelings about the Obama administration."

He also listed what he said were his accomplishments so far, including the recent order extending benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees. He also listed urging Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, though the administration has come under fire for the language in a DOMA brief filed by the Justice Department.

FL Sen Poll: Crist Leads, But Rubio Gaining

A new Mason-Dixon poll in Florida shows that Gov. Charlie Crist (R) continues to lead former House Speaker Marco Rubio in the U.S. Senate race. But Rubio is gaining in the polls as he becomes more familiar to state voters.

Republican Primary Election Matchup
Crist 51 (-2 from May)
Rubio 23 (+5)
Undecided 26 (-3)

In the May survey, 56 percent of Republican voters did not recognize Rubio. That number is down to 48 percent in the past month. Among voters who recognize both candidates, the race is much closer: Crist leads with 33 percent, with Rubio at 31 percent and 36 percent undecided.

On the Democratic side, Rep. Kendrick Meek (D) still leads in what is a much more fluid race. The May survey tested Meek against state Sen. Dan Gelber, who has since decided to run for state Attorney General. Fellow U.S. Rep. Corinne Brown (D) has since suggested she will run.

Democratic Primary Election Matchup
Meek 27 (+1)
Brown 12 (N/A)
Undecided 61 (+3)

Crist wins easily in a general election matchup against both candidates, though his numbers have slipped from a May matchup against Meek.

General Election Matchup
Crist 48 (-7)
Meek 26 (+2)
Undecided 26 (+5)

Crist 55
Brown 24
Undecided 21

The survey of 625 registered voters was conducted June 24-26, and had a margin of error of +/- 4 percent. Each primary subset was of 300 likely primary voters, with a margin of error of +/- 6 percent.

Iowa Alert: Pence To Cedar Rapids Next Month

It's often said, but worth repeating: no politician heads to Iowa or New Hampshire by accident. The Des Moines Register reports that Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) will be heading to the Hawkeye State in late July, to the Cedar Rapids Area.

Pence, a recognizable face on cable news programs, recently has been a leading proponent of Iranian demonstrators and opponent of the climate-change bill passed in the House on Friday.

"Throughout his career in public service, Congressman Pence has been a forceful advocate for our party's principles of limited government, personal responsibility, and political, economic and religious freedom," Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn said about the news.

Pence was occasionally mentioned in VP speculation in 2008. He ran unsuccessfully for minority leader in 2006 but is now House GOP Conference chairman.

ABC/WaPo Poll: 62% Favor Sotomayor Confirmation

A new poll finds more than six in 10 Americans are in favor of the confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the United States Supreme Court. The Washington Post/ABC News poll, conducted June 18-21 of 1,001 adults, finds 62% think she should be confirmed and 25% don't think she should.

Going back to Robert Bork's nomination in 1987, Sotomayor receives the second most initial support of a nominee -- Justice Clarence Thomas received the most support in 1991, with 63%.

By party, 79% of Democrats favor her confirmation, as do 64% of independents and 36% of Republicans. Just 11% of Democrats oppose her confirmation, as do 26% of independents and 43% of Republicans.

The Supreme Court this morning overturned a ruling endorsed by Sotomayor when she sat on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, and Judiciary hearings on her nomination are set to begin next month.

Has Obama Found A Church?

Time reported this morning that President Obama would be following the example of former President George W. Bush and not select a church in Washington, DC, but instead worship in private at Evergreen Chapel at Camp David. A number of reasons were given, including this:

White House aides say that security measures required by the Secret Service have become stricter since 9/11 and would cause significant delays for parishioners -- and at significant cost to taxpayers -- on Sunday mornings. Given Obama's popularity within the African-American community, the President also worried that if he chose a local black congregation, church members would find themselves competing with sightseers for space in the pews.

But CBN's David Brody quotes deputy press secretary Jen Psaki in reporting that Time may have been premature.

"The President and First Family continue to look for a church home. They have enjoyed worshipping at Camp David and several other congregations over the months, and will choose a church at the time that is best for their family."

Supreme Court Overturns Sotomayor Ruling

As expected:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court has ruled that white firefighters in New Haven, Conn., were unfairly denied promotions because of their race, reversing a decision that high court nominee Sonia Sotomayor endorsed as an appeals court judge.

It's unclear if this will have any impact on Judge Sotomayor's nomination, however. Confirmation hearings were due to begin in two weeks, though Republicans have been pushing for more time to review her legal record.

You can read the full decision here.

Strategy Memo: Washington Slows Down

Good Monday morning, Washington. Today, President Obama welcomes Colombia President Alvaro Uribe to the White House. They'll meet one-on-one in the Oval Office this afternoon, with news from Honduras likely added to their agenda. Later, the president and first lady host a reception in the East Room to mark GLBT Pride Month, part of the administration's recent efforts to sooth tensions with a gay community that thinks it's being overlooked. Obama's day ends with remarks to his national finance committee at the Mandarin Hotel.

Congress is not in session this week, starting its 4th of July recess after a flurry of activity last week capped by the passage of "cap-and-trade" energy bill on Friday night. For the rest of Washington, it's at least a short week - Obama heads for Camp David on Thursday for some down time before heading overseas next week.

And today is the final day in session at the Supreme Court, where justices will likely announce their decision in the New Haven firefighters case. That outcome may add some sizzle to an otherwise sleepy confirmation process for Judge Sonia Sotomayor. Today is Justice David Souter's final day on the High Court.

Check out the RCP Video page for more highlights from the Sunday shows.

**President Obama
*The AP calls the passage of climate change legislation a major win for Team Obama, "just when he needed one. ... In the end, the president's furious lobbying -- coupled with a final push by allies including former Vice President Al Gore -- carried much weight. To a certain extent, the victory validated Obama's governing style -- and that could bode well for his other top domestic priority, health care. He faces an even more difficult test in shepherding the energy and climate legislation through the Senate."

*The Los Angeles Times looks at Obama's strategy in regard to the energy bill and asks, "Did Obama, Waxman and other supporters give away so much in the process that the benefits to the environment ended up being slim to none -- especially since the bill now goes to the even less sympathetic Senate?"

*The WSJ on what is becoming conventional wisdom in DC: "As Congress tackles President Barack Obama's top two domestic priorities -- climate change and health care -- he faces some of his most serious challenges from fellow Democrats." Despite strong majorities, the "unusually ambitious agenda" of Obama and the leadership has caused reps from red districts to "less likely to go along."

*Obama said in an interview with some reporters Sunday that "he understands that the 44 Democrats who joined Republicans in voting against the so-called 'cap-and-trade' bill have reelection to worry about," The Hill reports.

*Obama will be hosting a town hall meeting in Virginia Wednesday on health care, and is soliciting questions on the Internet.

*New York Times reports, "The Justice Department has advised an Obama administration panel trying to devise a new system for trying terrorist detainees that defendants have some constitutional rights if they are tried by military commissions in the United States, notably including protections regarding statements against them obtained through coercive interrogations, administration officials said Sunday."

*AP: "Despite questions about the legitimacy of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election and his belligerent anti-American rhetoric, the White House remains open to discussions with Iran over its nuclear ambitions." UN Ambassador Susan Rice: "It's in the United States' national interest to make sure that we have employed all elements at our disposal, including diplomacy, to prevent Iran from achieving that nuclear capacity."

**Sanford Saga
*Mark Sanford's other woman confirmed the relationship this weekend, but declined to say much more. In an e-mail to a TV station in Argentina, "she mainly criticized the leaking of e-mail correspondence taken without permission from her Hotmail account that described the relationship with Sanford."

*The State reports that "some Republican state lawmakers are privately saying they want Republican Gov. Mark Sanford to step down -- of his own volition -- this week." Meanwhile, a source close to Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer said Sunday that Bauer has approached members of the state Senate to discuss potentially serving as governor for two years, but then not running in 2010.

*Quote of the day, from an AP story this weekend about governors being accessible. "I talked to the governor 100 times while he was on his honeymoon." - Erin Isaac, communications director for Gov. Charlie Crist (R-Fla.).

*ABC's Challian reports on this weekend's DNC "Change Commission" discussions of the 2012 primary calendar, with the most interesting news being this: "Democratic Party activist and Harvard University lecturer and former superdelegate Elaine Kamarck suggested that it may be time to completely eliminate superdelegates since most of those party leaders clearly determined their role in 2008 to be one of ratifying the decision made by voters in primaries and caucuses."

*Jonathan Martin reports on how for Team Mitt, "it's not too much of a stretch to say that the campaign never really ended. In addition to the full-time employees the former Massachusetts governor has at his Boston-based Free & Strong America PAC, the early primary states and Washington are filled with former staffers and supporters who are in regular contact with one another."

*Gov. Haley Barbour, meanwhile, said he'd be very surprised if he ran for president.

**Other Campaign Stuff
*KS Sen: An early test of organizational strength for Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R), who overwhelmingly won a straw poll in Olathe.

*A J Moore Methods survey in California has Jerry Brown leading Gavin Newsom 46-26 in the gubernatorial primary.

*AP reports that North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven will decide by September whether to challenge Sen. Byron Dorgan in 2010. Dorgan, meanwhile, "is preparing for the possibility of a Hoeven Senate campaign. In an e-mail to supporters last week, Dorgan said he expected 'a difficult and challenging' bid for his fourth Senate term."

*The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that Rory Reid "is in it to win it" in the Nevada governors race. He's had a campaign manager on payroll for two months.

*Remember Ned? The Day reports on Lamont potentially running for governor in 2010. "Let's just say that we have lacked strong governance for a long time," he says. "It took us many years to get in the mess we're in right now."

*Gov. Jon Corzine (D) held a town hall meeting in Newark Sunday, defending his administration's record on urban issues. The Star Ledger notes that those urban issues "figure prominently in the 2009 gubernatorial race," as Republican Chris Christie "has made urban revitalization a campaign priority."

**Sports Alert: Congrats to Team USA, which nearly pulled off a huge soccer upset in yesterday's Confederation Cup Final. Expectations now rise for World Cup 2010.

Heartier congratulations still for Mariano Rivera, who secured his 500th save last night as the Yankees swept the Mets in the Subway Series at Citi Field. What's more, Mo got his first big-league RBI, a bases loaded walk in the 9th off K-Rod.

Haley Uses Potential Sanford Resignation To Attack Bauer

The candidates for South Carolina governor in 2010 have been walking a fine line this week, to say the least. But state Rep. Nikki Haley (R), who arguably stood to suffer the most by association to Gov. Mark Sanford (R), has just used the discussion over whether the governor should resign to attack a potential rival, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer (R).

Haley has been considered a close ally of Sanford's when it comes to fiscal issues. And she says today that the state couldn't afford a Bauer governorship."While the governor has clearly made a serious and costly error, the focus of what comes next should not be on how it affects Mark Sanford but instead on how it affects the people of our state," she said in a statement just released by her campaign. "I have major concerns about the viability of that movement [toward government reform, fiscal accountability, smaller government] and the direction our government could take under the Lieutenant Governor should Governor Sanford resign."

She said elected officials must act "in the best interests of the state," and cautioned that "South Carolina cannot afford to go back to the good-ole-boy system that so badly serves the taxpayers and undermines our government."

Sanford today held his first Cabinet meeting since returning to the state. After the jump, see the statement his office released afterward.

"More than anything, today was about letting my team in the Cabinet know how sorry I am for letting them down," Gov. Sanford said. "But more importantly, today is a reminder that our work goes on. Each of our agency directors has a job to do in serving the people of South Carolina, and despite how I have disappointed them and the people of South Carolina collectively, we all have important roles to fill in this larger Administration.

"I remain committed to rebuilding the trust that has been committed to me over the next 18 months, and it is my hope that I am able to follow the example set by David in Bible - who after his fall from grace humbly refocused on the work at hand. By doing so, I will ultimately better serve in every area of my life, and I am committed to doing so."

Floor Proceedings Getting Testy


Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) just gave a fiery speech in support of the Waxman-Markey bill now in its third and final hour of House floor debate.

"We send American taxpayer dollars overseas: to Russia, to Saudi Arabia, Lybia, to Venezuela, all the people you have chimed about today," Larson said, in response to Republican arguments that the bill is tantamount to a national energy tax. "That's the real tax we are paying."

In response, Ways and Means ranking member Dave Camp (R-Mich.) quipped: "I wish the gentleman would reserve his passion to bringing this bill before the Ways and Means Committee." The committee skipped markup on the bill.

Earlier, Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) responded to one Republican who had argued the bill would disproportionately harm the poor.

"When the Republican Party becomes the protector of the poor, it's the day I've been waiting for," Rangel said, smiling.

White House Mum On Sanford

Gov. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) was one of the most high-profile critics of the stimulus bill, leading a charge among Republican governors to reject funds allocated to state governments. So I asked today whether President Obama has been following the developments this week, after his "disappearance" and then admission of an extramarital affair.

"I'm sure he's read it in the paper but he's not given me any particular reaction to it," press secretary Robert Gibbs said at today's briefing.

Gibbs did face several questions about the death of pop icon Michael Jackson -- a topic his spokesperson said he was surprised reporters did not bring up personally at today's press availability with Obama. The president told him that he thought Jackson "was a spectacular performer and a music icon."

"I think everybody remembers hearing his songs, watching him moonwalk on television during Motown's 25th anniversary," Gibbs said. "But the president also said, look, he had aspects of his life that were sad and tragic. And his condolences went out to the Jackson family and to the fans that mourned his loss."

Latham Brings Props to House Floor


As debate on the Waxman-Markey energy bill continues on the House floor, Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) brought a three-dimensional prop for his one minute of remarks in opposition to it. One of the most-used arguments by House Republicans has been the number of energy-producing jobs they say would be shipped overseas to China and India, and Latham's props were meant to illustrate that.

Latham's prop was a large, yellow, gift-wrapped box, one side of which read:
To: China
From: The U.S. Congress

When he opened the box, Latham pulled out a construction hard hat that read, "American Jobs," on one side.

(The screen shot above was taken from's live stream of the House floor proceedings.)

Romney Sails On As Others Sink

If anyone other than President Obama has benefited from the recent implosion of GOP 2012 hopefuls, the big winner has to be Mitt Romney.

This week, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford confessed an extramarital affair and resigned as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. His humiliation came a week after Nevada Sen. John Ensign admitted his own affair and resigned from the Senate leadership.

Other prospects have departed or seen their hopes downgraded under innocent circumstances. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels voluntarily took himself out of the running last month, and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman accepted a job in the Obama administration. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal's prospects cooled months ago after his widely panned nationally televised response to the president's address to Congress.

Sarah Palin has had a rough ride in the media since returning to Alaska as governor. She continues to be a controversial prospect given her uneven performance as John McCain's No. 2 and doubts about whether she has the policy chops.

Above the fray remains Mr. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts and unsuccessful 2008 candidate. A Pew Research Center survey released Wednesday found that 40% of American adults hold a favorable opinion of him, including 57% of Republicans. The numbers represent a significant increase from late 2007, when Romney looked to many like the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. His biggest increase is among independents -- 44% now view him favorably, up from 29% in February 2008.

This year Mr. Romney has appeared on talk shows, launched the first leg of a nationwide GOP "listening tour" and given a highly publicized speech on military policy. But despite his profile-raising campaign and steady string of public appearances, a third of voters still don't know enough to hold an opinion of him. Three years away from the next election, perhaps that's a good thing.

Remember Iraq?

President Obama was also asked today about a recent uptick in violence in Iraq, ahead of a June 30 deadline for U.S. forces to withdraw from major cities there. The issue has been largely under the radar as the administration and press have focused on Iran and major domestic policy battles.

Obama said that any attacks on American forces is of concern, but pointed to what he said was a positive "overall trend" toward decreasing violence.

"Despite some of these high-profile bombings, Iraq's security situation has continued to dramatically improve," he said.

Still, he said there is "still some work to do," particularly by Iraq's own government in strengthening its own security and making progress on political disputes.

"I haven't seen as much political progress in Iraq, negotiations between the Sunni, the Shia, and the Kurds, as I would like to see," he said.

The president caught himself as he at first said there "are always going to be" incidents of violence in Iraq, quickly changing to say there "will continue to be" violence there for some time. The greatest challenges ahead will not be from al Qaida, he added, but in brokering agreements among the three ethnic groups in Iraq.

"If those issues get resolved, then I think you will see a further normalization of the security atmosphere inside of Iraq," he said.

Obama And Merkel Talk Iran, Energy Bill

It's rare that a foreign leader would weigh in on legislation before Congress, but that's just what happened as German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered support for progress the United States is making on combating climate change.

Speaking to reporters in the East Room with President Obama after the two held private meetings, Merkel said the cap and trade provisions of the energy bill represent a "sea change" from the United States.

"That this really points to the fact that the United States is very serious on climate," she said. "The fact that with the United States we stand where we stand today is an enormous success, which I would not have thought possible a year ago," she later added, alluding to differences between the Obama and Bush administrations on this issue.

Obama looked ahead, saying if passed the legislation "indicates enormous progress from where we have been," but that there is more to be done globally to reduce greenhouse emissions.

"I'm the first one to acknowledge that the United States, over the last several years, has not been where we need to be," he said. "We're not going to get there all in one fell swoop, but I'm very proud of the progress that's being made, and I think that the energy bill that's being debated in the House is an example of that progress."

Asked about Iranian President Ahmadinejad's criticism for speaking out against violence aimed at pro-democracy demonstrators, Obama said he didn't take them seriously.

"Particularly given the fact that the United States has gone out of its way not to interfere with the election process," Obama said. He also said he would not seek an apology after the Iranian leader compared him to Bush. "I would suggest that Mr. Ahmadinejad think carefully about the obligations he owes to his own people," he added. "He might want to consider the families of those who've been beaten or shot or detained."

Explaining his own recent comment that there "were few differences" between Ahmadinejad and Moussavi, Obama said that at the time, he was referring to their positions with regard to nuclear power. Since then, he said, Moussavi has shown he has "captured the imagination or the spirit of forces within Iran that were interested in opening up."

"He has become a representative many of those people who are on the streets and who have displayed extraordinary bravery and extraordinary courage," he said. "I continue to believe that ultimately it's up to the Iranian people to make decisions about who their leaders are going to be."

Why the GOP Says It's Pelosi's Bill, Not Obama's

House Republicans refuse to tie President Obama to the Waxman-Markey energy bill that is being debated on the House floor today. Recent polling may explain why.

"It's clear it's Speaker Pelosi, Mr. Waxman and Mr. Markey who are driving this train here in Congress," Boehner said this morning. "And so it's theirs -- they're the ones offering it, they're the ones putting it on the floor today, and they're the ones who are out of touch with American families and small businesses."

Why the insistence that it's Pelosi's bill and not Obama's? Well, Obama is far more popular than Pelosi, so Republicans want the bill to be seen as the offspring of a "San Francisco liberal" -- not the gentleman in the White House.

Gallup's daily tracking poll of Obama's job performance found the president with a 61 percent approval rating today, and he's now at 59.7 percent in the RCP Average. He's hovered around 60 percent since mid-May.

By comparison, Congress has a 36 percent RCP Average approval rating, and a Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week found Pelosi with a 38 percent approval rating.

Perhaps the most important of the Post poll's findings was its comparison of who voters trust more on the major issues: Obama or Republicans. On each of the four issues tested -- health care reform, the economy, the federal budget deficit and the threat of terrorism -- at least 55 percent chose Obama over Republicans.

GOP: Bill Pits Coast vs. Middle America

House Republicans this morning continued to frame the debate over the Waxman-Markey bill as an attack on middle America by the elite coasts.

Thirteen GOP leaders and rural Republicans railed against the bill at a morning press conference, with a vote expected sometime this afternoon.

"This is an assult on rural America and the poor in our country," said Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.). "We're voting no, and we're asking all our rural colleagues throughout -- especially the Midwest, from Pennsylvania to Wyoming -- to think about their constituents."

"Heartland Democrats are going to have a choice to make: Do they stand with middle class families and small businesses in their districts, or do they stand with Speaker Pelosi, Al Gore and the left wing special interests," said Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio). "There's a big difference between the heartland and San Francisco when it comes to Speaker Pelosi's national energy tax."

"This bill will hit middle-America family farmers the hardest," said Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kans.).

House Observes Moment of Silence for Michael Jackson

Moments ago, the House of Representatives observed a moment of silence in the memory of pop icon Michael Jackson, who died yesterday at the age of 50. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) led the observance.

Strategy Memo: A Thriller

Today at the White House, President Obama meets once again with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. They'll hold a joint press availability in the Rose Garden after their Oval Office meetings, and then have lunch. Obama will later host a picnic on the South Lawn for White House staff.

On Capitol Hill, there's a rush to finish business today before the week-long Fourth of July recess. As promised, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer has placed the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, better known as the Waxman-Markey climate change bill, on today's docket. Votes could begin as early as 9 a.m. House Republicans are holding a press conference on the bill at 10:30 a.m.

The House is also scheduled to complete consideration of the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010. The Senate confirmed Harold Koh yesterday as legal adviser to the State Department, and today it considers the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act.

**President Obama
*The National Journal Insiders Poll finds Democrats more optimistic than Republicans that health care will pass this year; 62 percent of Democrats say it's "very likely" to pass, compared to just 13 percent of Republicans. Only a third of Dems and just 5 percent of Republicans felt the same about cap-and-trade.

*The New York Times reports that Obama and Congressional Democrats "are deeply split" over how to pay for health care. "House and Senate leaders do not like his ideas but cannot agree on alternatives. Other proposals that could reduce health care spending would take too long to show savings for purposes of Congress's budget scorekeeping, and many would require big investments initially, such as for research into cost-effective treatments. Meanwhile, special interests like insurance companies, employers and even sugar beet and corn growers are on alert to oppose anything that could hurt them."

*Immigration: "President Obama told congressional lawmakers Thursday that he would push for a sweeping overhaul of the nation's immigration system by early next year. But during the White House meeting, a new political obstacle came into view: how to regulate the future influx of foreign workers," the Tribune reports. "McCain challenged Obama and other Democrats to stand up to labor unions that are pushing a plan business groups fear could be overly restrictive in admitting future immigrant workers."

*Joe Biden tried to claim progress on the stimulus front, saying yesterday that all 50 states easily beat a June 29 deadline to have half of their road and bridge projects approved. Per AP, more than 5,300 projects worth more than $19 billion have been approved, and states have broken ground or taken bids in 1,900 of those, he said.

*Biden spoke at a GLBT fundraiser to benefit the DNC last night. AP notes that the gay community is increasingly frustrated that the Obama administration has not lived up to its promises. "I hope you don't doubt the president's commitment," Biden said, adding that the president would keep the nation focused on "the unfinished business of true equality for all our people." "I don't blame you for your impatience."

*"Straw huts, hula dancers and kids playing with hula hoops were all on display Thursday evening in the White House's backyard -- not the typical congressional picnic," AP reports.

*And Ben Feller, who took down Gibbs in the dunk tank, explains the levity yesterday, " another slice of life inside the off-and-on relationship between the press secretary and the press corps. The White House tries to keep up good relations, as do reporters, and this was a moment to put aside the contentiousness for 15 minutes."

*Yesterday, Democratic leaders said they have enough votes to pass cap-and-trade in the House, the Post reports. "Any talk of confidence is a sign of a remarkable turnabout for Democrats. Since this bill passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee last month, Democrats have been bogged down in an internal feud between coastal liberals, who supported a hard cap, and legislators from the Rust Belt and farm states."

*Politico: "Democratic leaders are working furiously to corral votes for a controversial climate change measure, hoping to build a big enough margin so that vulnerable Democrats can be freed to vote against it. At the White House on Thursday, President Barack Obama declared: "Now is the time to act." Former Vice President Al Gore, who had planned to rally Democrats en masse in Washington, stayed home in Tennessee so he could press members one by one via telephone."

*Roll Call: "It may have been Thursday, but it was hump day in the House for the landmark climate change bill. With critical backing from the White House, Democratic leaders leaned into their push to round up support for the package ahead of a scheduled Friday vote. They broadcast cautious confidence while acknowledging work remains to win over some holdouts, many of them moderates. 'We're in striking distance,' said one senior Democratic aide.

*Obey-Waters Fight on House Floor: "House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) engaged in a shoving match on the House floor early Thursday evening that ended with Obey raising his voice and bellowing, 'I'm not going to approve that earmark!'"

**Sanford Fallout
*Mark Sanford spent Thursday with his family, as calls began to mount for him to resign. "He was saying our elected leaders need to stand firm on principles and values, and one of those is strong family values," Glenn McCall, a member of the Republican National Committee, told CNN. "What he said is hypocritical if he doesn't step down, because he was right with what he said about Clinton and others. When you are an elected leader, we hold you to higher standards."

*The State: "A flood of calls for Sanford's resignation from the state's political class might not materialize because of the impact such a move would have on next year's race to replace him.

*AP: "State Republican Party Chairwoman Karen Floyd had an online meeting with the party's top leaders Thursday night to listen to their concerns and brief them on developments, but closed it to reporters. She said it was too early to call for a resignation, but the party could take that action when it meets in a July 6 conference call."

*Mike writes about that 2010 race, yet another contest that will be impacted by scandal.

*From last night's "Top 10 List" of surprising facts about Governor Mark Sanford, #5: "Was sick and tired of Eliot Spitzer holding title of 'Lov Gov.'"

**Campaign Stuff
*At yesterday's Monitor breakfast, Rahm Emanuel explained the White House role in helping Kirsten Gillibrand in the New York Senate race. He said they told Rep. Steve Israel, "We're going to be involved, helping her, and I don't want you to get in the race and find out after the fact." But a strategist for Rep. Carolyn Maloney say no similar conversation has happened with her.

*Emanuel also explained efforts to woo Lisa Madigan into the Illinois Senate race, with the chief of staff calling her simply "the most popular political figure in Illinois." "There's no doubt by any -- by even people who are in the race, in the primary, people who are thinking about it, they all know, she's the 800-pound gorilla here, because of how popular she is and how good a job she's done as the attorney general."

*A Research2000/Daily Kos poll finds all potential Democrats leading the potential Republican candidates for Oregon governor. They tested former Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D) on the Dem side, former Sen. Gordon Smith (R) and Rep. Greg Walden (R) for the Rs.

*Rick Lazio is closer to making a formal entrance into the New York gubernatorial race. More: "In a letter to be sent Friday, Republican Lazio tries to insert himself into the Capitol hullabaloo by suggesting he, Democratic Gov. Paterson and former Republican Mayor Rudy Giuliani get together to discuss how to reform state government. 'In all likelihood, one of the three of us will be the next elected governor of New York,' Lazio wrote in the letter obtained by the Daily News. 'We should come together in the spirit of bipartisanship to change the way our government works. It's the right thing to do.' "

*Chris Christie's visit to a Congressional committee room is being described as "testy" by both the New York Times and the Newark Star-Ledger. The Times reports that the New Jersey Republican gubernatorial nominee "aggressively defended his decision to award his political allies lucrative contracts to monitor corrupt corporations," and "also brushed aside suggestions that the monitoring contract he gave John Ashcroft ... was an example of cronyism."

*Don Cunningham, the Lehigh County Executive, announced he will not run for governor in Pennsylvania in 2010. "In recent weeks, Democratic insiders had expressed quiet but increasing doubts about Cunningham's candidacy," reports.

*Other Gov Race Updates: Secretary of State Terry Lynn Land (R) surprisingly says no in Michigan. Former Senate candidate Jim Pederson (D) says no to AZ Gov. Tom Schieffer (brother of Bob) will run in Texas.

*Democrats are eager for Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) to run for Senate, but they're also worried about holding that House seat, The Hill reports. "Recruitment will be tough since the seat could disappear in 2012, after redistricting. The new district could tilt even further to the right since Republicans, particularly [since] GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal, will exert their influence over the redistricting process.

*Cillizza reports that Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) is wading into the Kansas Senate primary, backing Rep. Jerry Moran over Rep. Todd Tiahrt. We reported this week about how Tiahrt was trying to claim the conservative higher ground.

*John Sununu, the former New Hampshire governor and current state GOP chairman, says he expects his son, the former senator, to make an announcement soon on running in 2010. "I think, if my son runs, there will not be a primary," he told the Portsmouth Herald. And he added, he "will use my warmth and charm to make sure that if there is a primary, it is a constructive primary, or if a primary can be avoided, I will do that."

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Thune Replaces Ensign as Policy Committee Chair

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) was elected chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee today. He replaces Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), who recently stepped down after revealing an extramarital affair.

Thune, who had been serving as conference vice chair, was elected without opposition, according to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at an afternoon press conference.

Thune said he looked forward to helping "shape an agenda that I think will move America forward and will serve as a counter to some of the agenda items...that are currently being proposed by the president and Democrats in Congress."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who had held an unofficial seat at the leadership table, will replace Thune as conference vice chair.

Sanford To Reimburse State For Argentina Trip

One of the key questions waiting to be answered in the Sanford saga is who paid for this week's trip to Argentina. It has also been reported that Gov. Mark Sanford's (R-S.C.) traveled to the country last June on the state's dime. His office just put out a statement defending the travel as "entirely professional and appropriate" and to benefit the state, but acknowledged that while there, he did meet with his mistress.

Here's a statement from his office:

"As noted by the Department of Commerce, I attended a trade mission with the Department of Commerce last June. As the agenda notes, the mission was spent meeting with government and private business officials in both Brazil and Argentina. This trip was handled very professionally by the Department of Commerce, and I'm proud of their work there.

"However, while the purpose of this trip was an entirely professional and appropriate business development trip, I made a mistake while I was there in meeting with the woman who I was unfaithful to my wife with. That has raised some very legitimate concerns and questions, and as such I am going to reimburse the state for the full cost of the Argentina leg of this trip," Gov. Sanford said.

Boehner: Where are the jobs?

At his weekly press conference, Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) once again asked where the jobs were that Democrats said would result from increased federal spending. The Waxman-Markey energy bill, he said, will only make the job situation worse.

"When it comes to energy, Washington Democrats are poised to make matters worse by imposing a job-killing energy tax courtesy of Speaker Pelosi," Boehner said. "This really is about shipping millions of American jobs overseas."

At her weekly press conference earlier in the morning, Pelosi called the legislation a "jobs bill" and said energy independence and lowering pollution in the air was in the country's interest. Boehner disagreed.

"This bill will also cost 2.3 to 2.7 million Americans their jobs," said Boehner. "That's because high-energy industries like the steel-making industry won't be located in the United States anymore. They are going to be shipped to our competitors such as China, India, South Korea who don't even have half of the EPA guidelines and environmental guidelines that we have here in America."

While confident they'll have enough votes to pass the bill, Pelosi said the vote count is never really known until the actual roll call takes place. When asked about vote count, Boehner was skeptical it would even get to the House floor tomorrow, as Democrats still haven't put it on the official schedule. "Rumors," Boehner said. "I don't think they have the votes yet."

"Mark my words, the American people are going to remember this vote," Boehner said. "This will be a defininig moment and a defining vote in this Congress. And the real question is where are the Democrats going to stand on this issue."

If A Tree Falls ... Poor Ratings For Health Care Special

A sign of Obama fatigue? Or maybe a case of bad promotion, a late time slot, and people preferring a warm summer night to the boob tube. Whatever the reason, ABC News' prime time health care town hall forum with President Obama fared poorly in the ratings.

The Hollywood Reporter:

The one-hour ABC News special "Primetime: Questions for the President: Prescription for America" (4.7 million viewers, 1.1 preliminary adults 18-49 rating) had the fewest viewers in the 10 p.m. hour. The special tied some 8 p.m. comedy repeats as the lowest-rated program on a major broadcast network.

(h/t Ben Smith).

Obama Pushes Congress On "Jobs" Bill

Since the passage of the stimulus bill in February, we haven't seen President Obama make the kind of last-minute pitch for a piece of legislation that he just made today for an energy bill on the docket in Congress.

"I can't stress enough the importance of this vote," Obama said in a brief Rose Garden statement.

He said he expects it to be close, "in part because of the misinformation that's out there that suggests there's somehow a contradiction between investing in clean energy and our economic growth." He said the energy bill is a jobs bill.

"This legislation will finally make green energy the profitable kind of energy," he said, which will spur new industries that will create new jobs that can't be outsourced.

"My call to those members of Congress who are still on the fence, as well as to the American people, is this: We cannot be afraid of the future. And we can't be prisoners of the past."

Why Did Gore Cancel?

After announcing last night that former Vice President Al Gore would appear with House Democrats at the Capitol today to discuss energy, Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office said this morning that the event had been canceled.

Just after the announcement was released, the White House updated President Obama's schedule to include a Rose Garden speech on "the importance of passing a historic energy bill." The speech is scheduled for 1:45 p.m. -- the Gore event had been scheduled for 2 p.m.

Later in the morning at her weekly press conference, Pelosi said the number of Democrats undecided on the Waxman-Markey energy and climate change bill had decreased, so Gore's trip from Tennessee was unnecessary.

Minority Leader John Boehner's office later distributed a press release calling Gore "too toxic" for battleground state Democrats to appear with. The release included a blue/red state map of the 2000 electoral college results. As might be remembered, the entire middle of the country (aside from four upper Midwestern states) was red.

UPDATE: NRCC Communications Director Ken Spain sends out this comment on the subject: "How is a Democrat sitting in a swing district going to tell their constituents with a straight face that they were undecided on whether or not to support a national energy tax until Al Gore or Nancy Pelosi convinced them it was the right thing to do? The cast of characters forcing this vote are putting dozens of Democrat House members into a position they won't be able to defend come 2010."

Rubio Claims Strength In Key GOP Turf

Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio (R) today announced the endorsement of U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller (R). Miller represents Pensacola and the rest of the west Panhandle region in the First District, which the Rubio camp says is one of the state's most solidly Republican congressional districts.

"Americans deserve better than the current big government, borrow-and-spend road we are on, and I believe Marco Rubio will be a compelling voice to lead us to a stronger and more prosperous America," said Miller, who replaced now-talk show host Joe Scarborough in Congress in 2001.

Rubio already claims a base of support in the Cuban-American portions of Miami-Dade County, and so his campaign is now arguing a firm foundation with the bookend advantage in the "two most Republican parts of Florida."

The former state House Speaker has been making steady progress in what has been considered an uphill fight. Last week he earned the endorsement of conservative South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint (R), and added Mike Huckabee's endorsement this week. He also won a recent straw vote in Pasco County.

Gov. Charlie Crist (R) has said he would focus his efforts on state matters this year before gearing up for the campaign.

Another Ethics Probe for Rangel

The House Ethics committee has opened an investigation into trips taken to the Caribbean by Rep. Charles Rangel (N.Y.) and four other House Democrats.

The official release from the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct states that a newly formed investigative subcommittee will look into "officially-connected travel in 2007 and 2008 that was sponsored, funded or organized by an organization known as Carib News or Carib News Foundation."

Along with Rangel, the inquiry will include four other members of the Congressional Black Caucus: Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (Mich.), Donald Payne (N.J.), Bennie Thompson (Miss.), and Virgin Islands Delegate Donna Christensen.

This marks the latest in a run of ethics issues for Rangel, who chairs the powerful Ways and Means Committee. Previous reports indicate potential financial disclosure issues and allegations that he helped obtain a tax loophole for a donor to the Charles B. Rangel Center at the City College of New York.

PA Sen Poll: Specter Numbers Plummet

Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter's popularity has taken quite a hit since becoming a Democrat in late April, a new Franklin & Marshall poll finds. The number of Pennsylvanians who support his re-election has dropped by double digits since the college last polled voters in March.

Specter Re-election
Deserves re-election: 28 (-12 from March)
Time for change 57 (+11)
Undecided 15 (+1)

His job approval rating has fallen somewhat. But the percentage of voters who view him favorably has dropped more significantly.

Specter Job Approval: 38/59 (42/54 in March)

Fav/Unfav Rating
Specter 31/37 (down from 48/24 in March)
Rendell 42/40 (was 45/35)
Casey 32/17 (34/16)
Obama 56/27 (was 59/21)

Broken down by party, Specter's support has not surprisingly fallen most among Republicans (18, down from 49). But it has also dropped among Democrats (46, down from 57) and independents (33, down from 36).

Only one-third of Democrats supports Specter for the party's nomination in 2010, while almost half were undecided, suggesting Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) has an opening.

Democratic Primary Election Matchup
Specter 33
Sestak 13
Other 6
Undecided 48

The telephone survey of 580 adults was conducted June 16-21, and had a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percent.

Strategy Memo: South of the Border

It's Luau Day at the White House. It starts with the president and first lady joining members of Congress with a service project at Fort McNair to benefit the children of servicemen and women. Back at the White House, Obama and Vice President Biden will hold a meeting with a group of lawmakers on immigration reform. He'll then meet with Secretaries Clinton and Geithner. Tonight: It's the Congressional Picnic, which the Hawaiian-born president has turned into a luau.

The Senate will vote on the confirmation of Harold Coh to be legal adviser for the State Department and may begin consideration of the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill. The House will vote on the National Defense Authorization Act for FY10 and may also consider the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.

With the energy and climate change bill heading to the House floor tomorrow, former Vice President Al Gore will join Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other party leaders at a 2:00 p.m. press conference.

**Gov. Mark Sanford
*"Gallup's latest Values and Beliefs update, conducted last month, shows that 92% of Americans say married men and women having an affair is morally wrong, garnering more opprobrium than another other moral issue tested in the poll." Cheating is 1 point higher than polygamy.

*The State's Smith writes about her "hunch" that led to her airport interview with Gov. Sanford.

*AP's Sidoti asks, "Why do politicians cheat?" One possible explanation, said Stanley Renshon, a political psychologist at City University of New York: "Narcissism is an occupational hazard for political leaders. You have to have an outsized ambition and an outsized ego to run for office."

*NY Times: The admission of an affair from two potential 2012 candidates in the span of a week "left party leaders dazed. They spent Wednesday alternating between gallows humor and yet another round of conversations about what the party stands for and who will give it its best shot to retake the White House."

*That's quite a list. "Extramarital affairs, gambling, alcohol abuse, prostitution and sexual pursuit of minors have taken a toll on the GOP," the Washington Times notes.

*Roll Call: "Any hopes that House and Senate Republican leaders had for going into the July Fourth recess next week on a high note were dealt a major setback Wednesday..."

*Politico: "One should be a bit cautious about invoking Sanford's embarrassment as political metaphor. Weaknesses of the flesh, like those of the bottle and purse, have been known to affect Democrats and even some people who are not in politics. But the sheer body count of recent months ... is unmistakable."

*WaPo's Dan Balz: "For a Republican Party down on its luck, the governor's disappearance and subsequent rambling apology to his wife, his family, his close friends and all the people of South Carolina draw more unwelcome publicity to a party that needs but cannot seem to get any good news."

*Milbank: "...however rotten Sanford's behavior was, there was something compelling in the raw and messy nature of his confession. Politicians' acknowledgments of infidelity have become set pieces of late ... But this was something entirely different. At a time when every last bit of political life is scripted, here was a powerful man wiping tears from his cheeks and talking about the intimate details of his shameful behavior."

**President Obama
*Politico's takeaway on last night's health care special, which it called "unparalleled opportunity for Obama to tout his program at length and largely unfiltered." The president "signaled a new willingness Wednesday to taxing health benefits, inching further away from his staunch opposition to the idea during the presidential campaign. "There is going to have to be some compromise."

*The DC Examiner's Julie Mason reports that Obama may be risking overexposure. "Mark Knoller, a CBS News radio correspondent and tabulator of presidential statistics, noted that since taking office, Obama has logged only seven days without a media appearance -- and all but one of those days was a Sunday."

*NY Times notes that despite today's immigration, "With lawmakers already immersed in health care, financial regulation and energy policy, and with the Senate set to hold hearings soon on Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court, administration officials and many in Congress say it is improbable that they will be able to add anything as challenging as an immigration overhaul."

*The Washington Post gets to the bottom of this month's shakeup in the East Wing: the first lady felt "she wasn't having the impact she wanted. She is a woman of substance, with a background in law, public policy and management, who found herself relegated to role model in chief." Since then, she's "been more vocal about the specifics of the president's health plan, and she will play a substantive role in promoting it. ... And she will be the face of the administration's United We Serve, a summer-long national service program, which she launched on Monday."

**Energy and Climate Change bill
*The Hill: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) held several meetings on Wednesday with Democrats and centrist Republicans to round up support for controversial legislation aimed at combating global warming. Pelosi's push comes as her lieutenants and the White House intensified their own efforts to convince skeptical lawmakers to back the bill before a scheduled floor vote on Friday that is expected to be very close."

*AP: "The nuclear industry, ethanol producers and rural electric cooperatives are among those who stand to benefit from eleventh-hour deals made by House Democrats in search of enough votes to pass a sweeping climate bill."

*After giving remarks at the outdoor green energy rally yesterday, Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) said "he thinks Peterson's approval is 'going to move some of the fence-sitters in the Agriculture Committee into the 'Yes' column.' Doyle said behind-the-scenes vote counting is still taking place, but 'there are so many leaning in the 'Yes' column, that there's a sense when it goes to the House floor' the bill will be approved."

*Ag Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), at a press conference yesterday afternoon: "So we had long discussions and a lot of work has been done, especially over the weekend, but we have now resolved all of the issues including the bio-mass issue, which was still hanging us up this afternoon. So I think we have resolved everything, and from my perspective, we have an offset program which is going to work ... So we think there are a lot of positive things in this for agriculture, and I think we're going to see the groups coming on board in support of this in the next day or two. I intend to support this bill and we thank the Speaker for her patience in dealing with us."

**Congress: "Unhappy about the huge bank bailouts that the Fed arranged with the Treasury Department during the Bush administration, many Republicans are even more displeased that Mr. Bernanke is now working hand-in-glove with the Obama administration. The result is a set of dueling narratives and agendas, all of which will be on full display when Mr. Bernanke testifies on Thursday," the NY Times reports.

**Campaign Stuff
*FL Sen: "Republican Party leaders who want to give Gov. Charlie Crist a clear path to the 2010 U.S. Senate nomination would love to see the other leading Senate candidate, former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, drop out and run for attorney general. No way, Rubio said this week," reports the Sun-Sentinel.

*NJ GOP governor hopeful Chris Christie testifies on Capitol Hill today. Star-Ledger: "The brief appearance could have lasting consequences for the Christie-Corzine contest, which is critical to national Democrats and Republicans as one of two governor's races this fall. ... Polls show Christie is 10 percentage points ahead of Corzine, whose painful state budget is up for approval in the Legislature today. But the wealthy Democratic incumbent can devote millions of dollars of his own money to taking down Christie, and national Democrats have already turned Christie's monitoring contracts into a negative advertising campaign."

*IL Gov: "Wheaton native Dan Proft stopped in Marion Wednesday to kick off his campaign. Proft--a small business owner-- has never held public office, but is very familiar with politics. He helped run Alan Keyes' 2004 campaign for U.S. Senate and is a frequent political commentator on Chicago media outlets."

**Sports Alert: Shaq is now a Cleveland Cavalier, after being traded (again) last night by the Phoenix Suns. He and LeBron James will now team up to bully the rest of the Eastern Conference and give Kobe Bryant fits in the 2010 NBA Finals. Question: How many more superstars will play with Shaq? Kobe, Dwayne Wade, LeBron...

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

In The Heat Of The Veepstakes ...

An interesting juxtaposition in e-mails between Gov. Mark Sanford and his apparent mistress from Argentina, published online by The State.

In an e-mail dated July 10, 2008, Sanford is rattling off details of his upcoming travels, including this:

The following weekend have been asked to spend it out in Aspen, Colorado with McCain - which has kicked up the whole VP talk all over again in the press back home ...

In the very next paragraph (kids -- earmuffs):

Two, mutual feelings .... You have a particular grace and calm that I adore. You have a level of sophistication that so fitting with your beauty. I could digress and say that you have the ability to give magnificent gentle kisses, or that I love your tan lines or that I love the curve of your hips, the erotic beauty of you holding yourself (or two magnificent parts of yourself) in the faded glow of the night's light - but hey, that would be going into sexual details ...

NJ Gov Poll: Christie +12

Speaking of that New Jersey race ...

A new Strategic Vision (R) poll finds much the same as other polls: Gov. Jon Corzine is in deep trouble.

General Election Matchup
Christie 51
Corzine 39
Undecided 8

Corzine now trails Christie by 10.5 points in the RCP Average.

Corzine's job approval rating in the poll also remains the worst among state politicians.

Job Approval Rating
Corzine: 34/54
Menendez: 50/37
Lautenberg: 47/40
President Obama: 56/38

The survey also found that only 28 percent of voters say the state is on the right track, compared to 59 who say it's on the wrong track.

The telephone survey of 800 likely voters was conducted June 19-21, and had a margin of error of +/- 3 points.

McMaster Hopes Experience Makes Sanford "Better Governor"

South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster (R), a potential candidate for governor in 2010, has released a statement alternately criticizing Gov. Mark Sanford (R) and expressing sympathy for him and his family.

"I think we all know that leaving the state without a governor for any period of time is not acceptable. I suspect Governor Sanford now understands that better than anyone else. My hope is that this sad experience will make Mark a better governor and a better public servant during the final months of his administration.

My heart goes out to Mark, Jenny, and the boys. I know this is a difficult time for them. They're in Peggy's and my prayers."

Obama Expresses Confidence In Corzine

There's been some speculation that of the two gubernatorial contests being waged this year, the White House sees New Jersey's as a riskier bet, with Gov. Jon Corzine's (D) approval ratings near all-time lows. Today, however, President Obama himself expressed his support for his former Senate colleague, the Star-Ledger reports.

"I think very highly of Jon Corzine. I think he's a terrific public servant," the president said during a White House interview with a handful of newspaper reporters from around the country. "I'm confident that he can win re-election. I don't think it's surprising that he may have a significant challenge."

Obama called Corzine a friend said he would help his campaign. But he "stopped short of saying what that assistance would entail."

Vice President Biden has already campaigned with Corzine, helping him kick off his general election campaign. The Corzine camp has said they are thrilled with the cooperation they've received from the White House, and look forward to personal visits this fall.

Corzine's opponent, meanwhile, will appear in Washington tomorrow at a hearing of the Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee, on "Accountability, Transparency, and Uniformity in Corporate Deferred and Non-Prosecution Agreements." Chris Christie, the former U.S. attorney for New Jersey, has faced questions about a settlement he approved involving former Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Dems Hold Green Energy Rally to Tout Bill


Outside the west front of the Capitol this afternoon, House Democrats held a campaign rally-style press conference to tout the Waxman-Markey energy bill that is heading to the House floor Friday.

The sunny, hot weather served as a better backdrop than previous outdoor events on climate change. Supporters stood behind the podium holding signs that read, "Make Our Energy Clean/Make it American."

Speaking at the event were the architects of the bill -- Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) -- as well as freshman Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.) and Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), a member of Waxman's committee.

The deal struck last night between Waxman and Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), chairman of the Agriculture Committee, has given Democrats a feeling of momentum toward the passage of the plan. In the middle of a scrum of reporters following his remarks, Doyle said he thinks Peterson's approval is "going to move some of the fence-sitters in the Agriculture Committee into the 'Yes' column."

Doyle said behind-the-scenes vote counting is still taking place, but "there are so many leaning in the 'Yes' column, that there's a sense when it goes to the House floor" the bill will be approved.

At a press conference this morning, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) said he heard Democrats had well below the number of votes necessary to pass legislation. He said Democrats had "maybe 190 votes, and that falls way short of the necessary 218."

Cantor also questioned the latest scoring of the bill from the Congressional Budget Office, which said the plan would cost an average of $175 per household each year, well below the $3,000 figure Republicans have pushed for more than a month. "I think that calls into question the validity of this particular study because clearly this is a job killer," he said.

In their remarks at the rally, both Markey and Waxman leveled praise on the leadership of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the importance of President Obama's election to the bill's existence. Markey called it "the most important energy and environment bill in the history of the United States of America" and said it will "create a green energy revolution, not only for our country, but for the entire world."

Following his remarks, Markey told a scrum of reporters that House Democrats and the Obama administration are "arm-in-arm" on the contents of the bill.

"This is one of President Obama's top three priorities," said Markey. "The White House is very active in helping us right now. The White House is making very clear that they want this legislation to pass this week."

S.C. Dems To "Evaluate Effectiveness" Of Sanford

A statement from the South Carolina Dems chair, Carol Fowler:

"Our thoughts are with the Governor's family at this time. Mark Sanford should be given time to focus on his family right now. There will be other opportunities in the weeks ahead to discuss his effectiveness as our state's governor," said Fowler.

Translation: we play nice today, we call for resignation tomorrow.

Sanford Family Learned Of Affair Amid Stimulus Battle

During a gripping press conference carried live on national cable, Gov. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) acknowledged having been unfaithful to his wife for the past year, and also misleading his own staff and through them the state about his whereabouts in the past week.

"I've let down a lot of people, and that's the bottom line," an emotional Sanford told a horde of reporters in Columbia.

As he asked for forgiveness, he announced he would resign as the chairman of the Republican Governors Association. The chairman of his own state party, Katon Dawson, did not rule out that there may be further consequences for Sanford, a polarizing figure even in his own state party, telling Fox News that the "chips fall pretty quickly in South Carolina."

Sanford revealed to reporters that he developed a strong relationship with a woman in Argentina eight years ago, ironically as he counseled her to stay with her husband for the sake of her children. Sanford has four young sons.

"It began very innocently as I suspect many of these things do, in just a casual email back and forth," he said. He sought her out as refuge from the pressure-cooker life of politics, where he said he found it hard to ever let his guard down.

"There was this zone of protectedness. She lived thousands of miles away and I was up here and you could throw an idea out or vice versa," he said.

But in the past year, "it sparked into something more than that," and he said he traveled to see her three times. Five months ago, this relationship was "discovered" as he put it. "And at that point we went into serious overdrive, where do you go from here," he said.

What's significant about Sanford's account is that it means a family crisis was unfolding just as the governor was taking a high-profile role in fighting the Obama administration's efforts to pass, and then implement a stimulus program. The Recovery Act was passed in mid-February, and when Sanford came to Washington weeks later for the National Governors Association meeting, he made opposition to the spending program a rallying point for Republican governors.

"I think the nation's governors are going through ... and doing what should have been done in Congress," he told RCP this February about his efforts.

Sanford's effort not to accept stimulus funds was waged for months, before he ultimately relented earlier this month. His staff had explained his "disappearance" this weekend as him getting away to clear his head after the bruising fight. Sanford today apologized for "creating a fiction with regard to where I was going."

"I spent the last five days of my life crying in Argentina," he said. "I'm committed to trying to get my heart right."

He also asked reporters for a "zone of privacy" for his family.

"There are going to be some hard decisions to be made, to be dealt with. And those are probably not best dealt with through the prism of television cameras and media headlines," he said.

The RGA has announced that Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.) will be the new chairman.

"While this news is deeply disappointing, I also know it's important to remain focused on the future and Governor Sanford's resignation allows him and us to do just that," Barbour said in a statement. "The RGA has an important task over the next two years. I am committed to seeing it through and confident we will succeed."

Sanford: "I Have Been Unfaithful"

After a meandering opening statement, an emotional Gov. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) just announced to reporters: "I've been unfaithful to my wife." He said in recent years, he developed a relationship with "dear, dear friend" from Argentina.

He will step down as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.

You can watch the press conference live here.

UPDATE: DGA executive director Nathan Daschle released this statement:

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Governor Sanford and his family, and I wish them the best as they try to heal this wound."

Sotomayor's Schedule

Judge Sonia Sotomayor continues today her tour of Capitol Hill meetings, which began June 2 -- one week after President Obama nominated her to the Supreme Court. Today, Sotomayor meets with Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and John Thune (R-S.D.).

Sotomayor met with six senators yesterday: Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), George Voinovich (R-Ohio), Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.).

GOP Pushes Back Against Dem Energy Deal

Here is my story today on House Republicans' opposition to the Waxman-Markey energy bill:

Following an agreement last night with Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), House Democrats are poised this week to pass an energy and climate change bill that has stewed in uncertainty since being passed out of committee one month ago.

The bill will now hit the House floor on Friday, with a vote likely to take place by Saturday. The House is in recess next week.

The sudden accord followed weeks of debate within the Democratic Caucus and set off an equally quick response from Republicans, whose leadership continues to oppose the plan offered by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

"House Republicans are opposed to the national energy tax that is reportedly making its way to the House floor this week," House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) said at a Tuesday afternoon press conference on health care. "This is a very bad idea."

Read the rest here.

Strategy Memo: An ABC Special

Good morning, Washington. Today marks President Obama's biggest health care push yet at the White House, most of it for the benefit of ABC network cameras. It starts this afternoon when he meets with a bipartisan group of governors to discuss their findings from regional health care forums earlier this year. Tonight, he'll take part in a town hall meeting on health care that will air at 10 pm on ABC.

House Democrats reached a deal last night on an energy and climate change bill, making it a sure thing that the Waxman-Markey bill will hit the House floor Friday. Today the House considers the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act, and could begin consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2010.

The Senate convenes at 9:55 a.m. and immediately begins impeachment proceedings of Samuel B. Kent, whom the House impeached last week. The chamber will then resume consideration of the nomination of Harold Koh to be Legal Adviser of the Department of State.

And Mark Sanford is back! Turns out he went to Argentina, not the Appalachian Trail.

**President Obama
*In an interview with ABC this morning, Obama said he "absolutely" expects to achieve health care reform by the end of this year because he believes the American people share his urgency. "The reason it's going to get done is because the American people understand it has to get done," Obama told Diane Sawyer.

*Bloomberg reports that the administration is signaling it's open to compromise on the public option. Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said the message came from Rahm Emanuel, who told Democrats that the president is "open to alternatives." "His message was, it's critical that you do this," Conrad said.

*WaPo: "Even as senators make strides in reducing the emerging legislation's overall cost, the notion of disrupting the private insurance market by injecting federal competition has stoked passions on both sides and created the kind of wedge that President Obama and Democratic leaders had sought to avoid in the debate."

*Dan Balz on the Obama press conference yesterday: "Obama may have bottom lines in mind, for both Iran and health care. But he was not prepared on Tuesday to signal to publicly what they may be. ... For now, despite pressure, the president is moving both to keep his critics at bay and to preserve as much room as possible for whatever comes next."

*Mitt Romney is giving Obama "higher marks now for his response to civil unrest and a government crackdown in Iran," AP notes. Romney, on the "Early Show" this morning: "I'm very pleased that the president is getting the message out."

*AP reports on the GOP's new tack in fighting the Sotomayor nomination, "questioning her commitment to constitutional guarantees on the right to keep and bear arms and equal treatment under the law regardless of race or gender." Judiciary Ranking member Jeff Sessions "even questioned whether Sotomayor sufficiently opposes terrorism, citing what he said was the 'extensive work' she had done for a group formerly named the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund."

*Former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, on "The Late Show" last night: "I am very happy we're getting another woman on the court." She noted that Canada's nine-member Supreme Court has four women.

*The U.S. will send an ambassador back to Syria for the first time in four years, "a dramatic sign of reconciliation between the two countries, senior administration officials tell CNN."

*The Washington Times: "Prior to this month's disputed presidential election in Iran, the Obama administration sent a letter to the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, calling for an improvement in relations, according to interviews and the leader himself. Ayatollah Khamenei confirmed the letter toward the end of a lengthy sermon last week."

*Roll Call: "Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has shown repeatedly that she can rally her troops on tough votes, but she faces her toughest test yet this week in passing her signature cap-and-trade energy package. Pelosi laid down the gauntlet late Monday, announcing plans to bring the 1,200-plus-page bill to the floor on Friday."

*Politico: "They still call it the Waxman-Markey climate-energy bill -- but it's Nancy's bill now. By saying she would pass the massive -- and massively controversial -- cap-and-trade bill by the start of the July 4 recess, the House speaker took a big gamble, setting herself up for a daring political victory or the biggest defeat of her six months as President Barack Obama's legislative ramrod."

*The Hill: "At press time, Waxman and Peterson emerged from a meeting with the Blue Dog Coalition and announced that they reached an agreement. 'We have something that I think works for agriculture,' Peterson said. The crux of the deal is a concession from Waxman to allow the Department of Agriculture -- not the Environmental Protection Agency -- to develop and monitor offset and land use provisions the legislation creates. Waxman said he would not only retain the votes of the environmentalists, but also gain votes from those who represent the agriculture community."

**Campaign Stuff
*AR Sen: "The 2010 U.S. Senate election in Arkansas will be close, the campaign manager of the incumbent senator said," Benton County Daily Record reports. "Republicans see a possible political opportunity in Arkansas' 2010 Senate race because GOP presidential candidate John McCain ran ahead of Democratic candidate Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election in Arkansas, Patterson said. Lincoln has 'one to five (Republican) opponents, depending on what day it is,' he said."

One opponent is Searcy businessman Fred Ramey, who told the AP Tuesday "that he plans to file federal papers later this week to make his Senate candidacy official. Ramey, 39, owns a real estate investment company in Searcy and is a driver for Federal Express in Little Rock,"

*SC Gov: "Coverage of the South Carolina governor's race has been dominated by three Republicans who have announced or are planning to run: Attorney General Henry McMaster, lieutenant governor Andre Bauer, and congressman Gresham Barrett. But a fourth announced candidate, state representative Nikki Haley, has the potential to make some waves in Palmetto State politics," Politico reports.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

South Carolina TV Station Questions Sanford's Story

A new wrinkle in the Mark Sanford disappearance? Greenville's WYFF-TV cites sources who say the South Carolina governor may not have been hiking the Appalachian Trail. Reportedly, "a state vehicle is missing and was tracked down, not to the Appalachian Trail, but to the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta."

[Sanford Communications Director Joel] Sawyer has emphasized that the governor was hiking on the Appalachian Trail and that it wasn't something the staff or Jenny Sanford were concerned about.

But sources told WYFF News 4 that the federal agent who spotted Sanford saw him at the Atlanta airport, which is about 80 miles from the start of the trail.

WYFF News 4 has not yet confirmed where the plane was going or how the governor got to the airport, but it is clear there are two very different stories.

News 4 called the governor's office, and was told again by staffers that they stand by their original statement that the governor is hiking the Appalachian Trail. They did not want to comment on this story.

One could argue that Sanford was flying to another spot along the trail route. Rest assured, this story won't die anytime soon.

Obama's First First Pitch: MLB All Star Game

President Obama will throw out the first pitch at the Mid-Summer Classic, the Major League Baseball All-Star Game on July 14, the White House has just announced.

It will be the first time Obama has thrown out the first pitch at a baseball game as president. And it should be noted that this year's All-Star Game is in St. Louis in the politically significant state of Missouri.

The White House press release notes that Major League Baseball "is focused on community service during All-Star Week and throughout the summer in conjunction with the President's call to service through United We Serve."

Before heading to Busch Stadium, Obama will hold a town hall meeting in the Detroit area. You can be sure the topic will be the auto industry.

Barbour Deflects 2012 Talk

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, in the middle of a three-state political tour, told reporters at the Capitol today that his trip had nothing to do with a potential 2012 presidential campaign.

"Probably never," Barbour said, when asked when he might make a decision on running for president. "But, you know, Governor Sununu called me and said he'd like to have somebody come up to New Hampshire who wasn't running for president to talk about party building, and I told him I'm your man."

Barbour was referring to John H. Sununu, the former governor who took the reins of the New Hampshire Republican Party just months after his son, John E. Sununu, was defeated for re-election to the Senate in the same state.

However, New Hampshire is not the only state he's visiting that holds a high profile in presidential politics. Barbour will attend a state party fundraiser in Iowa on Thursday, though he made no mention of that appearance.

Barbour also made a number of stops yesterday with Virginia gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell, and he helped the GOP nominee raise $250,000.

News Conference Reflects Obama's Tentative Style

At the end of today's press conference, the White House wanted Americans, it seems, to have the impression that President Obama had toughened his rhetoric regarding Iran. But don't dare ask the president whether he's shifted his tone.

"We've been entirely consistent," he said.

Obama opened today's afternoon press conference, the fourth solo affair in just over five months, by highlighting "powerful images and poignant words" Americans have witnessed in Iran, paying special tribute to the "courageous women stand[ing] up to the brutality and threats."

"The United States and the international community have been appalled and outraged by the threats, beatings, and imprisonments of the last few days. I strongly condemn these unjust actions, and I join with the American people in mourning each and every innocent life that is lost," Obama said.

Many, particularly Republicans, had criticized the president for a timid response. And even with stronger language, Obama did continue to walk a fine line by saying that the U.S. "respects the sovereignty" of Iran and is "not at all interfering" in its internal affairs.

Asked bluntly by Fox's Major Garrett why it took so long to take a stronger stand, Obama bristled.

"I don't think that's accurate. Track what I've been saying," he said. "My role has been to say the United States is not going to be a foil for the Iranian government to try to blame what's happening on the streets of Tehran on the CIA or on the White House, that this is an issue that is led by and given voice to the frustrations of the Iranian people."

Simply making these points in the high-profile forum of a presidential news conference gives his views more weight, it should be noted. And in what has to be a first for a presidential news conference, Obama called on the Huffington Post to relay a question directly from an Iranian citizen, who asked under what circumstances the U.S. might accept the result of an election there.

"There [are] significant questions about the legitimacy of the election," he said. But in typical Obamaese, he hedged: "Ultimately, the most important thing for the Iranian government to consider is legitimacy in the eyes of its own people, not in the eyes of the United States."

As the topic of Iran dominated today's newser, also took an opportunity to jab his critics in Congress.

"Members of Congress, they've got their Constitutional duties and I'm sure they will carry them out in a way they think is appropriate," he said. "I'm President of the United States and I'll carry out my duties."

Asked if the critique of John McCain in particular had an impact on his language today, Obama reacted with a sly grin: "What do you think?"

"Only I am the president of the United States, and I've got responsibilities in making certain we are continually advancing our national security interests," he said.

It's a point the White House has made behind the scenes, arguing that it's easier for members of Congress than the president to speak in black-and-white terms.

The president was a bit feistier at today's news conference than he was in his first three extended sessions with the press. Perhaps it was because of the more informal, daytime setting of the briefing room instead of the ornate East Room. But while his answers were peppered with the occasional zinger, they still reflected his tentative style.

Take health care for instance. He spoke out strongly in favor of a public option, saying he thought it was the best mechanism for bringing down health care costs. "Why would it drive private insurers out of business?" he answered at one point. "If they tell us they're offering a good deal, then why is it that the government, which they say can't run anything, suddenly is going to drive them out of business? That's not logical."

And yet when pressed on whether he thought a public option must be included in final legislation, he offered the usual caveats.

"We have not drawn lines in the sand, other than that reform has to control costs and that it has to provide relief to people who don't have health insurance or are under-insured," Obama said. "There are a whole host of other issues where ultimately I may have a strong opinion, and I will express those to members of Congress as this is shaping up. It's too early to say that. Right now, I will say that our position is that a public plan makes sense."

Obama's opening statement also included a plug for comprehensive energy legislation, though no reporters had follow up questions. Obama could not escape a question about his smoking habits, however, conceding that he has fallen off the wagon on occasion.

"I would say that I am 95 percent cured," he said.

Cantor: GOP Won't 'Sit By Idly'

House Minority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) released the following statement in response to President Obama's press conference:

"The West Wing press conference is the latest public relations effort to combat the American people's growing discomfort with the actions of this Administration. The disconnect between the Administration's goals and those of Congressional Democrats only serve to make matters more cloudy at a time when we all should be focused on jobs, economic growth, and financial security.

"Plain and simple, the American people are concerned about the economy, job creation and the incredible debt obligations incurred in the last 6 months. Republicans have offered common-sense ideas and solutions that would have created real jobs, improved our economy and spent less tax dollars.

"The President continues to push for a government healthcare plan that will increase costs, reduce patient choice and flexibility, and lower the quality of care. Now we hear that Speaker Pelosi intends to pass the Cap & Tax plan this week which will impose a hard-hitting tax upon families and small businesses costing our struggling economy thousands of jobs.

"We stand ready to work together with the President to get America back to work, but we refuse to sit by idly as the Democrat majority tries to force this unfocused assortment of tax increases and job-killing policies upon the American people. Democrat-controlled Washington is completely disconnected with the reality faced by millions of Americans who are growing weary with the lack of focus, accountability and results."

Ensign Eludes Reporters

Following a return to the Capitol yesterday a week after revealing a months-long affair with a former aide, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) today snuck in the back door of the weekly Republican policy lunch -- eluding a large group of reporters awaiting his arrival near the room's front door.

Reporters held place at a stakeout location outside a set of elevators that most senators use on their way to the lunch. One-by-one, senators would step off an elevator, but each time it wasn't the right one.

Judd Gregg, nope. Olympia Snowe, not even close. A few reporters gathered around John McCain and Lindsey Graham, but they weren't who everyone was waiting for.

Roland Burris? Not even the right party.

Finally, word spread that Ensign had gone up a back stairwell and slipped in the back door without being noticed.

Hoyer: Energy Bill to Hit House Floor Friday

Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office announced last night that the energy and climate change bill will go to the House floor Friday, following a strenuous route through the Agriculture Committee. A new version of the bill was filed with the House Rules Committee last night.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who sets the floor schedule, reiterated the point today during his weekly off-camera briefing with reporters and called it "one of our signature issues in this session of Congress."

"It's quite possible, or even probable, we will go to the energy bill on Friday," Hoyer said. "We are close enough that we announced it last night. We all were confident enough that we were close enough to resolving the issues in the Agriculture Commitee and Mr. Peterson to bring it to the House floor."

Standing in the way of the bill has been Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), who announced two weeks ago that he and Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), an architect of the bill, could not reach agreement and that he had close to 50 Democrats ready to vote against it.

Hoyer said today that Peterson had up to seven issues with the bill, though he believed all would be resolved this week. The majority leader did not specify what those issues are, but some likely include concerns that rural areas would pay a disproportionate amount as a result of the cap-and-trade plans.

"We really do want to have a bill that at least has consensus on our side, and hopefully some Republicans will join us," Hoyer said. "So we want to have agreement with Mr. Peterson ... and we expect to have agreement with Mr. Peterson."

Sanford, "Taken Aback" By Media Storm, Plans To Return

A spokesperson for Gov. Mark Sanford (R-MIA) has just sent an update on the whereabouts of the potential 2012 contender, saying he'll return to his office tomorrow.

"Governor Sanford called to check in with his Chief of Staff this morning. It would be fair to say the governor was somewhat taken aback by all of the interest this trip has gotten," spokesperson Joel Sawyer said in an e-mail to reporters. "Given the circumstances and the attention this has garnered, the governor communicated to us that he plans on returning to the office tomorrow."

Strategy Memo: The Barbour Tour

Today, President Obama holds his fourth solo press conference, the first in the Rose Garden. Later, he meets with President Michelle Bachelet of Chile. Vice President Biden is in Perrysburg, Ohio, to chair a meeting of the White House Task Force on Middle Class Families. He'll also make an announcement about a new task force to help communities hit hard by the auto industry collapse.

The House returns this morning and will consider a number of bills related to veterans' affairs. The Senate meets this morning before recessing for weekly policy lunches -- Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) is expected to address his colleagues at the GOP lunch. If a deal is reached, the Senate may vote on the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill.

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) continues his out-of-state travel in Washington, D.C., where he'll appear with House Republican leaders at an afternoon press conference to discuss health care. After stops in Virginia yesterday for gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell, Barbour heads to New Hampshire and Iowa later this week -- leading to speculation that he's gearing up for a 2012 presidential bid.

**Washington Metro Crash
*"One Metro train slammed into the back of another on the Red Line at the height of the evening rush yesterday, killing at least seven people and injuring more than 70 others in the deadliest accident in Metrorail's 33-year-history," Washington Post reports.

*Statement from President Obama last night: "Michelle and I were saddened by the terrible accident in Northeast Washington D.C. today. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families and friends affected by this tragedy. I want to thank the brave first responders who arrived immediately to save lives. My staff has been in touch with Mayor Fenty's office and will continue to monitor the situation."

**President Obama
*The new ABC News/Washington Post poll has Obama's approval rating at 65 percent, down 4 points from April. Now 31 disapprove. On specific issues, he polls the worst on handling the deficit (48/48) and the auto bailouts (45/50). The right track/wrong track, after steadily rising in his first four months, has slipped slightly to 47/50. More voters have a favorable opinion of Democrats (53/40%) than Republicans (36/56). On the stimulus, 28 percent say it's helped the economy, 19 percent say it's hurt, and 52 percent say it's made no difference.

*Cillizza on today's presser: "The president is, without question, the best advocate for his own policies given the still strong personal approval numbers that he carries in the eyes of Americans. They trust and like him and are, therefore, more likely to side with him on policy matters when they hear directly from him. That's exactly the sort of opportunity that today's press conference affords Obama."

*Howard Kurtz on Rahm Emanuel: "Perhaps no White House chief of staff in modern history has worked the media as aggressively and relentlessly as Emanuel. Drawing on his long-standing relationships with journalists, Emanuel serves up on-the-record quotes, background spin and the sort of capital gossip that lubricates relationships. The former Chicago congressman also seeks their take on events and floats possible administration tactics."

*The White House, under criticism from gay rights groups, has invited top advocates for a reception next Monday to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, the New York Times reports. "The White House has not publicized the reception, and officials did not respond to e-mail requests for comment."

*"President Obama does not discuss the fact that he still occasionally smokes, a habit he very publicly tried to kick during his race for the White House. But there he was on Monday, talking about cigarettes," the Times notes.

*Ben Smith profiles Hillary Clinton, who "has become a disciplined loyalist who jostles for White House influence just like any Cabinet secretary, and who has advanced her cause by striking some key internal alliances. Most surprisingly, she has about as low a news-making profile as is possible for someone who is arguably the most famous woman on the planet. When she slipped and broke her elbow last week, it was the most press coverage she had gotten in months."

*When he visits Ohio today, Biden will announce the creation of a Cabinet-level task force to coordinate federal efforts to help auto-dependent communities rebuild, the Detroit News reports. "The move gives a more formal structure to the work of Ed Montgomery, a labor economist tapped by Obama earlier this year to coordinate federal aid to communities battered by the auto industry's downturn. Among the group's tasks: to coordinate federal aid to areas affected by the industry's crisis and to recommend changes in law or federal policy that could help them recover."

*The Energy Secretary made a joke in Iowa yesterday. Steven Chu: "Before I really start I'd like to preempt any question you might ask me. And so I'm in Iowa, but I'm not here because I'm thinking of running for the presidency."

*"House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will roll the dice on a top priority this week, bringing a contentious climate-change bill to the floor despite strong misgivings from her rank-and-file and an outspoken chairman who remains a major impediment," Politico reports.

*AP: "House Democrats are pushing forward with a partisan health care bill even as a key Senate Democrat labors to achieve an elusive bipartisan compromise on President Barack Obama's top legislative priority. The action on both sides of the Capitol comes with lawmakers mindful of next week's July 4 congressional recess. Most will return home to face constituents with plenty of questions about their plans to overhaul the nation's costly health care system."

*"Sen. John Ensign returned to Capitol Hill Monday, a week after admitting an extramarital affair, but stayed largely silent under the media glare. The Nevada Republican showed up at his first-floor office in the Russell Senate Office Building in the afternoon, declining to comment in detail to reporters ... Ensign was greeted warmly by his Republican colleagues when he walked on to the Senate floor," The Hill reports.

More, from Roll Call: "Sen. John Ensign (Nev.) is expected to address his GOP colleagues at their weekly luncheon today to try to turn the page on the high-profile sex scandal that has derailed his rising political career."

*Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in a statement following the GOP's blockage of the Travel Promotion bill: "This is obstructionism at its best, and it follows what the Republicans have admitted they want to do -- stop any and all progress. This is a bill that would have saved the government money -- almost a half a billion dollars over 10 years. It is a bill that would create 40,000 jobs in its first year. The Republicans blocked this on fictitious grounds..."

**In the States
*A new Quinnipiac poll finds 51% of New York voters say they would support a law allowing same-sex couples to marry. Forty-one percent would not support it, and 8% are undecided.

*Mike: "Political observers looking to see how the stimulus battle might play out in the 2010 midterms have an early example in the Kansas Senate race. Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R) launched the first TV ad of that campaign today, and it slams President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi while urging Kansans to join him in his fight against the government spending program."

*FL Sen: "Far be it from any candidate to predict failure, but the supremely confident Meek redefines 'quixotic.' Facing the probability of a general-election match-up with a Republican governor whom 60 percent of Democrats like, Meek is working like few candidates before or after him. He got started early -- to the surprise of many -- and has quietly plodded his way to solid fundraising numbers and the endorsement of just about every major Democratic group that matters in politics," The Hill reports.

*Philadelphia Inquirer hears more from Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) on a possible Senate run. "They've asked me to run for the Senate as a Republican. I don't know if I'm going to do that," he said in Philly yesterday. "My wife talks about beaches in Florida. I don't know if I want to run for the House again, let alone for the four years of Biden's term." A decision comes this summer. He also said he's worried about the future of the GOP, saying the party's message is "getting old." "My vision for the Republican Party is a presidential candidate who can be a good leader. ... I know it's not Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich or Dick Cheney."

*Add Mike Huckabee to the list of Republicans who want a stronger voice from Obama on Iran. "God help us if we do not hear their voices" and stand with them, he said, per the AP.

*Alaskans think Gov. Sarah Palin's silence on 2010 means she won't seek re-election, Politico reports. "There is nothing that she has done that leads me to believe she will seek reelection," said Andrew Halcro, a former Republican state legislator who ran for governor as an independent candidate in 2006 and is weighing another run. "If you're Palin, once you've flown first class, you don't go back to coach. She's been to the show and certainly seemed to like it there."

*The Sacramento Bee, on Antonio Villaraigosa's announcement: "The political reality for Villaraigosa was that he faced some significant challenges in seeking higher office. He won re-election in March with a lackluster margin. His marriage broke up after an affair with a Spanish-language television anchor. His new relationship with another newswoman - a former Miss USA - added to his playboy image as Californians wrestle with economic uncertainty. And no Los Angeles mayor has ever been elected governor."

*Ballot Trouble: "The chances are looking increasingly slim that Republican Norm Coleman will ever win his battle with Democrat Al Franken over Minnesota's contested Senate seat. But Coleman's seven-month legal odyssey, however fruitless for him, has shed light on an important problem that isn't limited to Minnesota: absentee ballots," National Journal's Eliza Newlin Carney reports.

*LA-3: "Political insiders on both sides of the aisle are convinced that Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) is set to challenge Sen. David Vitter (R) in 2010, which begs the question of what happens in Melancon's south-central district next year. Judging by all the noise out of the National Republican Congressional Committee over the news that Melancon is considering the race, there is little doubt that the Bayou State's 3rd district is about to rocket to the upper echelon of GOP targets," Roll Call reports.

*Is Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) running for president in 2012? The Clarion-Ledger takes a look.

*The State: "Sanford's staff said late Monday that the governor is hiking on the Appalachian Trail, ending four days during which staff and state officials said they had not heard from him. ... Joel Sawyer, the governor's spokesman would not disclose where on the trail the governor was hiking, nor would he reveal whether Sanford was hiking alone." State Sen. Jake Knotts (R), a Sanford critic: "As the head of our state, in the unfortunate event of a state of emergency or homeland security situation, Governor Sanford should be available at all times to the chief of SLED."

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

KS Sen: Tiahrt Ad Champions Anti-Stimulus Stance

Political observers looking to see how the stimulus battle might play out in the 2010 midterms have an early example in the Kansas Senate race. Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R) launched the first TV ad of that campaign today, and it slams President Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi while urging Kansans to join him in his fight against the government spending program.

"These two Washington politicians, Obama and Pelosi, sold America a bill of goods," a narrator says in the 30-second spot. The Recovery Act hasn't worked, it continues, but "one Kansas conservative" is fighting to stop it. (Full script after the jump).

Tiahrt campaign manager Chuck Knapp declined to specify how much money was behind the ad buy, but said it would be airing statewide. He said the spot wasn't so much about Tiahrt's Senate campaign, but is an escalation of his efforts to rally the grassroots against excessive Washington spending.

"As the Congress is now with Speaker Pelosi, and President Obama heading up the executive, it's pretty tough for a Republican in the House to get something done. There's going to have to be a groundswell of support from the American people, and that's what Congressman Tiahrt is trying to have happen here," Knapp said in an interview. "He wanted to let Kansans and Americans know that there is a fight in Washington against the spending, he's been trying to lead that fight and he hopes Kansans and the American people will join him."

Incumbent Sen. Sam Brownback's (R-Kan.) decision to run for governor in 2010 has created an open seat race, with two Republican Congressman so far vying to replace him, Tiahrt and Jerry Moran. Knapp said the ad demonstrates to primary voters "who the leader has been on conservative issues."

"Congressman Tiahrt has been out on front on this and many other issues that are important to conservative voters," he said. "He not only voted against [the stimulus], he's fought against it. And he's taken a leadership role in trying to repeal it."

A recent SurveyUSA poll showed Moran leading Tiahrt by 2 points, well within the margin of error.

"In these times you can't wait," Knapp said of the early TV ad launch, noting that Moran announced his candidacy last year. "The other guy gets out, you kind of have to run the race that was presented to you. We've made up a lot of ground in the last five months."

Here's the ad script:

"These two Washington politicians, Obama and Pelosi, sold America a bill of goods. A so-called stimulus plan. Since then, more homes are in foreclosure. More than two million jobs lost. And the economy is hurting. But one Kansas conservative, Todd Tiahrt, said the bailouts and stimulus were wrong from the start. Now, Tiahrt's fighting to stop it. Go to this Web site. Help Todd Tiahrt stop Obama and Pelosi now."

Barbour Hits the Road

Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) is making a swing of appearances outside his state this week, raising money and talking issues, with speculation that he's ramping up for a 2012 run for president.

Barbour currently serves as vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association, and says his duties as such is the reason for his trip. His schedule this week takes him from Virginia, where a pivotal gubernatorial race takes place this year, to Washington D.C., New Hampshire and Iowa.

Barbour made two public appearances with Virginia gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell (R) this morning in Virginia Beach and Richmond. At three events today, Barbour helped McDonnell raise $250,000, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Tomorrow, Barbour will speak at a House Republican leadership news conference at the Capitol. A press release from Minority Leader John Boehner's office says the event will focus on health care.

From Washington, Barbour will head up to New Hampshire for a state GOP fundraiser, and will follow that up with a state party fundraiser in Iowa on Thursday.

Villaraigosa Says No To CA Gov Bid

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced on CNN this hour that he would not run for governor of California in 2010. We suspected as much earlier.

Speaking with Wolf Blitzer, the Democrat said that cities across America are on the front lines in dealing with the economic crisis and other challenges facing the country more broadly.

"I feel compelled to complete what I started out to do," he said. Villaraigosa starts his second term on July 1. "I can't leave this city in the middle of a crisis."

Asked if he couldn't do more for the city as governor than as mayor, he repeated that he felt compelled to follow through on his promise to the city. But he did say it was an "agonizing decision," and said that the situation in Sacramento is "an abomination." "The system is fundamentally flawed -- it's broken," he said.

Villaraigosa declined to state a preference for either of the candidates already running in the Democratic primary, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and state Attorney General Jerry Brown.

"I'm not focused on that," he said. "Whoever is going to be the next governor of the state of California better talk turkey," he added, rattling off a list of structural problems he thinks should be addressed like term limits and the budget vote threshold.

Gov. Mark Sanford "Apparently Missing"

Here's something you don't read every day: the governor of South Carolina is apparently missing. The State reports:

The whereabouts of Gov. Mark Sanford have been unknown to state officials since Thursday, and some state leaders are questioning who is in charge of the executive office.

Neither the governor's office nor the State Law Enforcement Division, which provides security for governors, has been able to reach Sanford after he left the mansion in a black SLED Suburban SUV, said Sen. Jake Knotts and three others familiar with the situation but who declined to be identified.

Sanford's last known whereabouts were near Atlanta, where a mobile telephone tower picked up a signal from his phone, authorities said.

First lady Jenny Sanford told The Associated Press today her husband has been gone for several days and she doesn't know where he is.

The report continues here.

UPDATE: Here's the statement from Sanford communications director Joel Sawyer:

The governor put in a lot of time during this last legislative session, and after the session winds down it's not uncommon for him to go out of pocket for a few days at a time to clear his head. Obviously, that's going to be somewhat out of the question this time given the attention this particular absence has gotten. Before leaving last week, he let staff know his whereabouts and that he'd be difficult to reach. Should any emergencies arise between the times in which he checks in, our staff would obviously be in contact with other state officials as the situation warrants before making any decisions.

NY Gov Poll: 3 in 10 Like Paterson

Based largely on the battle for the state Senate, 63% of voters now believe New York is headed in the wrong direction -- a Siena polling record.

The survey (June 15-18, 626 RV, +/- 3.9%), released today, finds voters are also down on their governor, David Paterson, who took over for the disgraced Eliot Spitzer more than a year ago. Paterson's favorability rating went up 4 points since last month but is still a dismal 31%, and just 20% feel he's doing an excellent or good job. Should he run for governor next year, just 15% say they'd vote for him while 70% say they'd prefer someone else.

He still trails Attorney General Andrew Cuomo (D) and former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), neither of whom have said they're running, by wide margins.

Dem Primary
Cuomo 69 (-1 vs. May)
Paterson 16 (-3)
Und 15 (+4)

General Election
Giuliani 57 (-2 vs. May)
Paterson 27 (-4)
Und 15 (+5)

Cuomo 49 (-4 vs. May)
Giuliani 40 (-1)
Und 11 (+5)

CA Gov: Villaraigosa Plans Announcement Today

CNN reports that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will make an announcement about his political future today on "The Situation Room."

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and former Governor and current Attorney General Jerry Brown are already running in the Democratic primary for California governor. There has been speculation for years -- going back even to the 2006 gubernatorial race -- that Villaraigosa would likely run this year, though it has cooled somewhat of late.

The Los Angeles Times this weekend ran results of a poll showing that Villaraigosa's standing in the state's largest city is fairly strong. He begins a second term on July 1.

Villaraigosa Job Performance
Approve 55
Disapprove 37

Should He Run For Governor?
Yes 42
No 48

It would seem that that an announcement on national cable, rather than on local television, signals he may pass on the race. Then again, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) announced his candidacy in the 2003 recall on "The Tonight Show."

After the jump, see results of a three-way race among Democrat candidates in the city.

Gubernatorial Primary Election Matchup (Los Angeles Voters)
Villaraigosa 38
Brown 31
Newsom 13
Undecided 14

The poll was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research (D) in conjunction with Public Opinion Strategies (R) from June 10-16, and had a margin of error of +/- 2.6 percent. 1,500 Los Angeles voters were surveyed.

FIFA Head Says Obama To Attend World Cup

President Obama will attend the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, FIFA President Sepp Blatter has announced. Reuters reports:

President Obama, whose late father was Kenyan, has indicated he will attend the event on June 11 next year when the first World Cup to be staged on African soil begins.

Blatter told a media briefing: "The World Cup in Africa will go well, there is no doubt. And the man who said, 'Yes we can do it,' will be there. President Obama has accepted an invitation to the opening ceremony. Of course the schedule of heads of state can change, but he has said he will be there if he can."

Obama will make his second trip to Africa as president next month when he visits Ghana. The announcement comes as the United States national team surprisingly advanced in to the semifinals of the Confederations Cup, also in South Africa, with a 3-0 win over Egypt yesterday.

UPDATE: Press secretary Robert Gibbs, a former goalie, says that the president has committed to meet with Blatter, but had not definitively scheduled a trip to South Africa just yet.

Obama On Health Care: "Yes We Can"

After a weekend when lawmakers from both parties expressed doubts about the health care reform effort, President Obama returned to a tried and true slogan to cast away doubts.

"To those in Washington who have grown accustomed to sky is falling prognoses and the certainties that we cannot get this done, I have to revive an old saying we had from the campaign: Yes we can," Obama proclaimed this morning. "We are going to get this done."

The White House is eager this week to recapture momentum on the health care front at a time when the American people, not just lawmakers, are expressing skepticism. Returning to another successful tactic, Obama will also hold an extended press conference in the Rose Garden tomorrow afternoon, the first such session since a prime time event on his 100th day in office.

Obama's statement of confidence came during an announcement of a deal with pharmaceutical companies to cut costs of prescription drugs in the Medicare program, closing the so-called "donut hole." The president said the deal, endorsed by AARP, was a "significant breakthrough on the road to health care reform."

He also praised members of the House who introduced a preliminary health care bill last week, and said he would continue to work closely with the relevant committee chairman, as well as (notably) Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Ct.), "and members of both parties who are willing to commit themselves to this critical task."

Rubio Invites Crist to Debate

Former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio (R) has invited fellow Senate candidate Gov. Charlie Crist (R) to a series of debates over the next 14 months. In a letter sent to Crist this morning, Rubio admits that he'll likely face a steep fundraising disadvantage and "have to work twice as hard as you to remain competitive."

Rubio wants at least 10 debates, with one in each of Florida's media markets. The televised debates will help Rubio pick up some free media exposure, which he'll need with Crist surely to blanket the airwaves with ads.

"While we are opponents for the same office, I am also confident we can maintain a cordial and respectful debate that will help our campaigns rise above the typical 30-second commercials, slick slogans and bumper stickers that define too many of our country's political contests," Rubio writes.

Rubio and Crist will officially face off August 24, 2010, when Florida primary voters head to the polls.

Poll: Ensign Approval Rating Dropping

Sen. John Ensign's approval rating has dropped 14 points from last month -- before his nine-month extramarital affair was revealed -- a new Las Vegas Review-Journal/Mason-Dixon survey finds (June 18-19, 625 RV, MoE +/- 4%). With a 39% approval rating, Ensign's disapproval rating also increased to 37%, up 19 points from last month.

Still, 62% of voters think Ensign should not resign from the Senate, and his approval rating remains higher than that of other Nevada politicians -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (34%) and Republican Gov. Jim Gibbons (10%), both of whom are up for re-election next year.

Ensign hastily announced the affair a week ago, and since then more details have leaked out -- such as that Cindy Hampton, an aide at the time of the affair, got a significant pay raise after the affair began. "About a third of those polled considered that a very serious concern, while another third called it somewhat serious, for a total of two-thirds viewing the salary increases as a serious matter," LVRG's Ball writes.

Noting Sen. David Vitter's (R-La.) path back from a sex scandal and Ensign's re-election not coming for another three years, Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker said: "If Vitter could bounce back in a much more socially conservative state than Nevada, Ensign has at least a 50-50 shot at it."

OH Gov: Strickland-Kasich A Dead Heat

Gov. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio), who boasted strong poll numbers for much of his term, appears now to be suffering politically as the Buckeye State's economy continues to lag. A new poll from Public Policy Polling not only shows his approval rating in the low-40s, but has Strickland only narrowly ahead in a hypothetical matchup against former Rep. John Kasich (R).

General Election Matchup
Strickland 44 (-1 from January)
Kasich 42 (+3)
Undecided 14

Strickland Approval: 43/42

Kasich, who announced his candidacy at the beginning of this month, has a 31 percent favorable rating, compared to 30 percent unfavorable. But 39 percent were unsure of their opinion of the former Columbus-area Congressman, despite his brief exploration of a presidential bid and Fox News Channel television show.

The survey of 619 registered voters was conducted June 17-19, and has a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percent.

Strategy Memo: To Your Health

Good Monday morning, Washington. After his usual briefings, President Obama today will sign into law the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. He'll also make an announcement about a deal with pharmaceutical companies to cut the cost of prescription drugs for seniors through Medicare. It's part of what will be an ongoing health care push this week at the White House, capped by Wednesday's prime-time town hall meeting on ABC Wednesday. Obama will also host a meeting with lawmakers on immigration later this week.

After passing its first appropriations bill last week, the House this week could take up the following bills: the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Act; National Defense Authorization Act; and the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act. The House, though, is not in session today.

The Senate is in session and will resume consideration of the Travel Promotion bill. The Senate Banking committee will examine over-the-counter derivatives, and the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee looks at the Affordable Health Choices Act.

**Check out all the Sunday show highlights you missed, including John McCain and other senators talking Iran, on the RealClearPolitics Video page.

**President Obama
*Iran: Obama continues to say he wants to avoid meddling in Iranian elections, even as Republicans criticize him for not doing enough to support protesters. Obama tells CBS in an interview: "The last thing that I want to do is to have the United States be a foil for those forces inside Iran who would love nothing better than to make this an argument about the United States."

*New York Times writes about the debate in Washington between supporters of President Bush and Obama, over who if either deserves credit for the protests in Iran. But, "both of those arguments gave the United States an outsize role at the epicenter of an unfolding story that most experts, and a great many Iranians who talked to pollsters, said was actually not about America at all."

*Obama also told CBS that the U.S. is prepared for a potential North Korean missile strike. "I don't want to speculate on hypotheticals," Obama said. "But I want ... to give assurances to the American people that the t's are crossed and the i's are dotted in terms of what might happen."

*Politico on the significance of the pharmaceutical deal struck with Sen. Max Baucus and the White House: "Obama and Baucus were relying on drug-makers to help finance the $1 trillion health care overhaul. The deal provides a lift to their efforts to regain momentum in the debate after a tough week in which congressional budget analysts returned eye-popping cost estimates on proposed bills, and even some Democrats dug in their heels against the high costs."

*Washington Post looks at how persistent unemployment "poses a significant political hurdle to President Obama and congressional Democrats, who are already under fire for what critics label profligate spending. Continuing high unemployment rates would undercut the fundamental argument behind much of that spending: the promise that it will create new jobs and improve the prospects of working Americans, which Obama has called the ultimate measure of a healthy economy."

*Politics Daily's Walter Shapiro interviews Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, with a meeting between Obama and congressional leaders on how to pass immigration reform coming up next week.

*If you missed Friday's Radio and TV Correspondents Dinner, you can check out the president's remarks here. JibJab also released a new video on the presidential super hero.

*New York Times: "The annual appropriations process will be in full swing on the Senate and House floors this week, but it is the effort to overhaul the nation's health care system will dominate the agenda in Congress with the action largely focused in committee hearing rooms."

*The Hill: "House and Senate lawmakers this week will begin digging into the specifics of the Obama administration's plan to overhaul the financial system. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has laid out a packed schedule for June and July, with 14 hearings slated by July 30. The first is Wednesday, when Frank's committee considers enhanced consumer financial products regulation, a key part of President Obama's proposal."

*"The full political implications of President Obama's selection of Sonia Sotomayor won't be clear for some time. But if history is any indication, senators' questioning and votes in the forthcoming confirmation hearings could play a role in their re-election bids," National Journal's Amy Harder reports.

*Climate change in the House: "Critics of the Democrats' energy and climate change package lost another opportunity to tweak the bill when the deadline passed for committees to act on the controversial measure," Politico reports. "The bill's path through Congress is reminiscent of The Little Engine That Could, with a determined core of Democrats pushing the legislation forward despite significant opposition from many of their own colleagues."

More, from WSJ: "The fate of the leading proposal to curb U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions is in the hands of Rep. Collin Peterson, a Marlboro-smoking free spirit who scoffs at warnings about climate change and says the Environmental Protection Agency is "in bed with" corporations opposed to the ethanol industry."

*"Most of the $2.2 billion in economic stimulus money for Army Corps of Engineers construction projects will be spent in the home districts of members of Congress who oversee the corps' funding, a USA TODAY analysis found."

**Campaign Stuff
*Though his approval rating has dropped, most Nevada voters don't think Sen. John Ensign (R) needs to resign.

*Wilmington News Journal's Williams comes to the conclusion that Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) is running for the Senate next year, saying to expect a public announcement in the next month. "Castle is not yet talking, but there are a number of high-ranking Republican operatives who know Castle's moods and inclinations, and they say hands down that he's in."

*The AP looks at how Democrats in New Jersey and Virginia's gubernatorial elections "are trying to duplicate Obama's success using modern communications tools to mobilize supporters."

*Cillizza notes that Sen. Ted Kennedy appears in a Web video on behalf of Chris Dodd, passing the torch on health care. "Quality health care as a fundamental right for all Americans has been the cause of my life, and Chris Dodd has been my closest ally in this fight," says Kennedy speaking directly to the camera. "I believe with Chris Dodd's leadership our families will finally have accessible, affordable health care."

*Gov. Sarah Palin reportedly has accumulated $600,000 in legal bills because of repeated ethics complaints filed against her.

*Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) released a statement Saturday on his potential Senate run: "Many Louisianians have encouraged me to run for U.S. Senate next year. I am discussing this opportunity with my wife and kids and will be making an announcement in the coming weeks."

*NY Sen: "By any measure, New York's new Democratic U.S. senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, got off to a rocky start ... But with a consistent, engaging style and help from powerful allies including President Barack Obama, Gillibrand has moved quickly to quiet her critics and box out potential challengers in her party," AP reports.

*IL Gov: State Sen. Matt Murphy will enter the race for the GOP nomination for governor of Illinois next year, Chicago Tribune reports. "I'm very serious," he said. Two other state senators have also shown interest.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Tip Your Waitresses

The White House is teasing some of the president's comedy routine at tonight's Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner. Targets: Rahm, the state of the journalism industry, and of course, a fly. Enjoy:

I want to thank you for this opportunity to tell all the jokes that weren't funny enough for me to use when we did this five weeks ago.


In Egypt, we had the opportunity to tour the pyramids. And by now I'm sure you've all seen the pictures of Rahm on that camel. I admit, I was a little nervous about the whole situation. I said at the time, "This is a wild animal known to bite, kick, and spit. And who knows what the camel could do?"


Of course, most of my attention has been focused back home. As you know, we've been working around the clock on to repair our major financial institutions and our auto companies. But you probably wouldn't understand the concept of troubled industries, working as you do in radio and television.


One problem we're trying to solve is the high cost of health care in America. And I'm pleased that in our quest to reform the health care system, I have gained the support of the American Medical Association. It proves true the old expression that it's easier to catch flies with honey. And if honey doesn't work, feel free to use an open palm and a swift, downward wrist motion.

Dem Chairmen Lay Out Health Care Draft

Democratic leaders introduced a "discussion draft" of a health care proposal, which the chairmen of the three committees with jurisdiction over health care policy developed over the past several months.

Ways and Means Chairman Charles Rangel (N.Y.), Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (Calif.) and Chairman Emeritus John Dingell (Mich.), and Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (Calif.) announced the plan in a joint press conference this afternoon.

They said it was consistent with President Obama's goals -- building on the existing system -- while providing coverage for more Americans than any other proposal.

"This proposal would improve the affordability, availability, and quality of health care and represents a major step toward the our goal of fixing what is broken about health care while building on what works," Obama said in a released statement.

According to the bill's text, its purpose is "to provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans and reduce the growth in health care spending." It would also "guarantee that almost every American is covered by a health care plan that is both affordable and offers quality, standard benefits by 2019," according to a Miller press release.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele released a statement just minutes after the Democrats' press conference began. "The Democrats don't want to admit it, but their health care tax-fest will include higher taxes on Medicare, soft drinks, alcohol, employers -- even a new national sales tax," Steele said. "All of this despite the president's promise to voters during the campaign that he would not raise taxes on 95% of taxpayers and would make health care cost less."

Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the proposal a "historic and a critical step forward in meeting our commitment to the American people: to deliver an American solution for quality affordable health care."

The Trouble With Illinois Politics

Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) finally got some good news today, when the Sangamon County state's attorney announced that there was "insufficient evidence" to charge him with perjury.

"I am glad that the truth has prevailed," Burris said in a statement.

Of course, this hardly clears the field for Burris if he intends to run for a full term in 2010. State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias (D) is actively raising money for his campaign. And as has been noted here and elsewhere, the White House has apparently discussed the race with state Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Obama "thinks she would make a great candidate," Robert Gibbs announced from the White House podium.

Madigan has sought to portray herself as independent of the scandals involving former Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) and others. She played a high-profile role in trying to remove Blago from office when the Senate appointment scandal broke. But as she considers a campaign either for Senate or governor, she'll likely have to deal with another familiar, though controversial name: Rezko.

This Chicago Sun-Times story from 2007 lists Madigan as having received the fifth-most campaign contributions from Tony Rezko, the indicted real estate developer and fundraiser. She received $43,000 from Rezko, just more than her father, state House Speaker Michael Madigan did. She trailed only Blagojevich, former Cook County board president John Stroger, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, and -- famously, then-Senator Obama.

This is not to imply any wrongdoing. But it likely would come up in any competitive race she enters.

FEC: Visclosky May Use Funds for Legal Fees

The Federal Election Commission issued an advisory opinion yesterday that Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.) may use campaign funds to pay for legal fees related to the federal investigation into his ties with PMA Group.

Visclosky, chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on Energy and Water, is being investigated for improper political contributions received through PMA, a defunct lobbying firm that was raided by the FBI in November. The investigation includes other senior Democrats as well, including Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the Appropriations Defense subcommittee.

In a letter to Visclosky's campaign, the commission said Visclosky may use the funds "because the allegations relate to Representative Visclosky's campaign and duties as a Federal officeholder, and the legal fees and expenses would not exist irrespective of Representative Visclosky's campaign or duties as a Federal officeholder."

Commissioners voted 6-0 to approve the opinion.

White House Message Unchanged On Iran

Even in the wake of the Supreme Leader's comments this morning shutting down hope of a revote in Iran, the White House is sticking to its restrained message. Press secretary Robert Gibbs just said moments ago that the U.S. won't be lured into Iran's political debate.

"The president has been clear on what he believes, that he believes strongly that people should have their voices heard," he said. "We're not going to be used as political foils and political footballs in a debate that's happening by Iranians in Iran. There are many people in the leadership that would love us to get involved, and love to trot out the same old foils that they have for years. that's not what we're going to do."

Abercrombie Leads Early in Hawaii Gov Race

In the race for governor of Hawaii, Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D) leads Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann in the Democratic primary and Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona in the general election, according to a new poll by DailyKos/Research2000.

The survey, conducted June 15-17 of 600 likely voters, finds Abercrombie ahead of Hannemann 42%-22%, with 36% undecided, and leading Aiona 45%-36%, with 19% undecided. Hannemann also leads Aiona by a 44%-34% margin, with 22% undecided.

After winning re-election with 63% of the vote in 2006, Gov. Linda Lingle (R) -- the first female governor of Hawaii and first Republican to win since 1959 -- is term-limited. The survey tested her against Sen. Daniel Inouye (D) in a potential 2010 Senate matchup, and found the eight-term incumbent senator leading Lingle 52%-40%. Inouye has won his last two re-election bids with 76% and 79% of the vote.

Abercrombie, a New York native, has represented his Honolulu-based district since 1990. Of the three candidates for governor tested, Abercrombie is the best known with just 12% holding no opinion of him. His 55% job approval rating is even with Hannemann (56%) and well above Aiona (44%).

RNC Reports $5.7 Million Haul In May

The RNC reports raising $5.7 million in May, leaving the committee with $21.5 million cash-on-hand "and zero debt."

"I am pleased that the Republican National Committee continues to show solid fundraising numbers, and we are grateful to the countless Americans who have contributed to our Party. We have important and competitive elections this fall and next year. With another month of strong fundraising numbers, we are confident and well positioned to win," said RNC Chairman Michael Steele.

The party had raised $5.8 million in April and ended the month with $24.4 million on hand.

Strategy Memo: Fathers Day

This morning, President Obama will speak at the National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast. Later he holds a number of events to mark Father's Day, which are "designed to illuminate the importance of fatherhood and mentorship and how dads are strengthening themselves, their families and their communities," The White House reports. It includes a visit to area non-profits, a discussion of fatherhood at the White House, and a mentoring event on the South Lawn.

Tonight the president will be among the DC politicos enjoying the "junior prom," the Radio and TV Correspondents Association Dinner.

After passing its first normal appropriations bill of the year last night, the House will begin consideration of the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act. Also on the floor is the impeachment of U.S. District Court Judge Samuel B. Kent of Texas, who was sentenced last month to 33 months in prison for obstruction of justice after being accused of assault by two former courthouse employees.

The Senate meets this morning but no votes are scheduled today.

**Weekly Polls Update
*Obama Job Approval: 59.8%
*Generic Congressional Vote: Democrats +8.0
*Congress Job Approval: -17.7

*At last night's DCCC/DSCC fundraiser, Obama "took on GOPers who have come after his administration for three of his next big and costly initiatives," The Hill reports. In doing so, the president appeared to be steeling and warning Democratic fundraisers that Republicans were sharpening their attack lines for the midterm elections, a subtle prod to 'dig deep' lest they lose control of Congress."

*Jeff Zeleny looks at whether President Obama is staying true to candidate Obama's pledge to "change the ways of Washington" by not accepting lobbyist donations. "To follow through with that promise, Mr. Obama is simply leaving the room. ... Obama's rules have hardly stopped the bustling intersection of money and politics. Not only are members of Congress already engaged in their next races, but legislative battles over health care, energy and financial regulation have also put a premium on access and influence for many lobbyists and their clients."

*Mike writes about how the White House keeps one eye on politics even as it faces a host of challenges.

*The stimulus tour continues: VP Biden will head to the Toledo area next week. He'll visit the headquarters of solar panel producer Willard & Kelsey Solar Group LLC, and hold a meeting of the middle class task force.

*Politico looks at how the White House has "failed to quell growing anger in the gay community that gay rights issues were getting short shrift."

*The Wall Street Journal says that the administration is seeking to count same-sex partners in the 2010 census. "The Census Bureau has long collected data on same-sex marriages when people chose to report it. White House officials said the previous administration interpreted the federal Defense of Marriage Act as prohibiting the release of the data. The Obama administration has abandoned that interpretation."

*When Treasury Secretary Geithner went to the Senate Banking Committee to sell the administration's financial system overhaul, "lawmakers made it clear the administration would encounter opposition from both sides of the aisle," ABC's Jaffe reports.

*Washington Post profiles Anita Dunn, who insists that she really is just the "interim" White House communications director. "It is very difficult, when the president of the United States asks you directly, to say no," Dunn explains.

*The RNC is trying to raise money to buy airtime to counter ABC's upcoming special at the White House, the Daily News reports. In a memo, Michael Steele wrote that ABC would be "promoting Obamacare" throughout the day and urged supporters to donate money for airtime.

*Health care: Congressional Democrats are "scrambling to scale back their proposals or find ways to trim tens of billions of dollars a year from existing health programs." Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) postponed a drafting session that was to have begun early next week, but said he's still optimistic, the New York Times says. Baucus: "We are getting closer and closer and closer. There's no doubt in my mind that we will have a bipartisan bill."

*The Hill: "House Democrats passed the first spending bill for 2010 Thursday evening after frustrated GOPers kept lawmakers voting all day on amendment after amendment. The $64.4 billion Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill won approval on a 259-157 vote that went largely along party lines. ... Obey and Democrats limited the amendments to 33, down from the total of 127 initially offered. Republicans had offered more than 100 amendments, most of them aimed at reducing spending. While Republicans protested the lack of open debate, Obey criticized the GOP strategy of trying to throw up procedural obstacles to the Democrats' agenda."

*Politico: "Democratic opposition to a controversial climate change bill has House Speaker Nancy Pelosi fishing for votes in the most unfriendly of waters: the House Republican caucus. Pelosi, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman and Rep. Ed Markey met with 11 moderate House Republicans on Thursday, hoping to pick up enough votes to get the bill passed by the middle of next month."

*Senate Apologizes for Slavery: "The Senate's apology follows a similar apology passed last year by the House. One key difference is that the Senate version explicitly deals with the long-simmering issue of whether slavery descendants are entitled to reparations, saying that the resolution cannot be used in support of claims for restitution. The House is expected to revisit the issue next week to conform its resolution to the Senate version," Washington Post reports.

*The Senate also passed the "Cash-for-Clunkers" bill, WaPo reported.

**Campaign Stuff
*Politico: "The National Republican Congressional Committee raised $3.24 million in May, and ended the month with $3.7 million cash-on-hand, according to figures released today. The fundraising total includes a $1 million transfer from the Republican National Committee. ... The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has not yet released its most recent fundraising figures, but ended April with $4 million cash-on-hand."

*IL Sen & Gov: "Madigan, who initially was preparing a run for governor -- challenging Gov. Quinn, a longtime friend of White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod -- is being recruited to run for the Senate by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). Madigan has been leaning toward governor; if she gets in the Senate contest, the immediate beneficiary is Quinn, who avoids a primary," Lynn Sweet writes.

**Campaign Stuff
*The New Orleans Times-Picayune picks up reports that Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.) will challenge Sen. David Vitter in 2010.

*Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R) "is scheduling eight additional fundraisers this month in hopes of presenting an impressive campaign finance report next month for his U.S. Senate exploratory committee,"the Lexington Herald Leader reports.

*NY Times looks at how Chris Christie (R) is trying to woo Democrats in New Jersey. "What could emerge as the sleeper issue is Mr. Christie's push for education reform: merit pay for teachers, more charter schools, and above all, vouchers as a way to give poor and minority children better educational choices and create competition that would improve the public schools. ... Christie said that he did not expect to carry any heavily Democratic cities. But he is gambling that school choice has become popular enough among urban blacks and Latinos that he can cut into their support for Mr. Corzine, who opposes it."

*Another Republican takes a pass on challenging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, this time former Rep. Jon Porter.

*Mike Huckabee was on "The Daily Show" last night, where he and Jon Stewart debated abortion.

*Hawaii Gov: Rep. Neil Abercrombie leads Mufi Hannemann 42%-22% in the Dem primary, and leads Duke Aiona 45%-36% in the general election, a new DailyKos/Research2000 poll finds.

*MN Gov: State Rep. Paul Kohls entered the race for governor yesterday. More: "State House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher is expected to vie for the Democratic nomination while former U.S. Sen. Dean Barkley, an independent who came in third in the still contested Senate race between Norm Coleman and Al Franken, is reported to be mulling a run."

**Sports Alert:: Kyle's Nats beat Mike's struggling Yankees for the second night in a row. Third baseman comparison: Yanks' Alex Rodriguez went 0-4 and is now batting .212; Nats' Ryan Zimmerman went 3-5 and is batting .310.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Woodward At The White House

As yours truly was leaving the White House a short time ago, I spotted famed Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward at the Northwest Gate making his way on to the grounds.

"I'm Bob Woodward, and I have an appointment," he politely told the Secret Service agent, before being buzzed into the security shed.

The New Republic reported just yesterday that administration officials were concerned about Woodward's plans to write a book about the inner workings of the new West Wing team, and that White House counsel Greg Craig has circulated memos dictating protocol for dealing with writers "researching books and articles on the White House."

Officially, the White House says it is not adopting a press strategy to respond to Woodward. Ben LaBolt, an Obama spokesman, wrote in an e-mail that the Craig memo "was not issued in relation to any inquiry related to a specific reporter or author." Still, there is reason to think that Woodward might make the administration particularly anxious.

One reason: "Obama's White House is known to hate process stories, exactly the sort of exhaustive, in-the-room descriptions of high-level debates at which Woodward excels," TNR notes.

No word on who Woodward was meeting with.

Gibbs: WH Not Picking Candidate In Illinois Senate Race

At today's White House briefing, the Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet followed up on her report that Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan came to the White House to discuss a potential candidacy for the state's Senate seat. Sweet reported that the White House "is pushing to have" Madigan run, and that she offered some conditions she would want before making a decision, including a clear primary field.

Today, Gibbs tried to make clear that the administration wants no part in primary politics, though his answer lead many to believe otherwise.

"The president is not going to pick a candidate in the Illinois Senate race," Gibbs said. "The president has a very long relationship with the attorney general dating back to their time in the state Senate, and has enormous respect for what she accomplished there and as attorney general. I think she'd be a terrific candidate. But we're not going to get involved in picking that candidate."

Why then praise her in that way, if the White House truly did not plan to get involved?

"We're not picking a candidate. We're not going to endorse in this race," he repeated. "Does the president have enormous respect for the attorney general? Absolutely."

But are administration officials working to facilitate a Madigan run?

"The staff assistants aren't going to pick a candidate, the assistants to the president aren't going to pick a candidate, and the president's not going to pick a candidate," Gibbs said.

He later said that the "president enjoyed meeting" with Madigan, and that if any other potential candidate wanted to meet with him, "The address is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."

PA Sen Poll: Toomey Trails Two Dems

Former Pennsylvania congressman Pat Toomey (R) trails both Sen. Arlen Specter (D) and Rep. Joe Sestak (D) in potential 2010 Senate matchups, according to a new Rasmussen poll. The automated survey of 500 likely voters was conducted June 16.

Toomey trails the five-term senator by 11 points (50%-39%) and the Philadelphia-area congressman by 6 points (41%-35%). Half of voters hold a favorable opinion of Toomey, while 35 percent view him unfavorably -- Specter has a 53%/43% rating. More than a quarter of voters don't know enough about Sestak to form an opinion of him, while 42% view him favorably and 32% unfavorably.

A Rasmussen poll released yesterday found Specter, who recently switched parties, leading Sestak in the Democratic primary 51%-32%.

The results of both surveys offer a mixed bag for Specter. While he leads both challengers despite switching parties in an admittedly neck-saving maneuver, he never polls above 51% -- which seems incredibly low for someone who's been in the Senate since 1981 and puts him in the range of vulnerability.

Senate Apologizes for Slavery, Segregation

The United States Senate passed a resolution today "apologizing for the enslavement and racial segregation of African Americans," according to the legislation's title.

"It is important for the people of the United States, who legally recognized slavery through the Constitution and the laws of the United States, to make a formal apology for slavery and for its successor, Jim Crow, so they can move forward and seek reconciliation, justice, and harmony for all people of the United States," the resolution states.

The House passed a similar measure on a voice vote last July, and the Senate passed an apology for Native Americans in February 2008.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid released the following statement after the resolution's passage:

"In the nearly 150 years since the Emancipation Proclamation, America has taken serious and sincere steps to heal the deep wounds of one of history's greatest crimes against humanity. This resolution is another one of those steps.

"And in just the last four years, the Senate has taken significant strides to bring to life the words of our nation's most sacred documents that all men are created equal, and that all are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

"In 2005, we formally apologized for our past failure to pass anti-lynching legislation that could have prevented and more properly punished those responsible for the brutal killing of countless Americans.

"A year later, we renewed the Voting Rights Act, renewing our commitment to guarantee that millions of minority voters get equal opportunity to participate in our elections.

"Last year, Congress again took steps to correct injustice when we passed the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crimes Act, giving the Department of Justice and the FBI the tools they need to better investigate and prosecute unsolved civil rights-era murders.

"And just a few weeks ago in the Capitol's Emancipation Hall, we unveiled the bust of the great abolitionist and suffragist Sojourner Truth - a woman who, because of her race, had never before been recognized alongside the scores of American heroes memorialized in this building.

"Congress' condemnation of the legalized slavery and segregation of millions of our own is long overdue. No one pretends that a mere apology - or any words - can right the wrongs of the past. But it represents our recognition of that past and our commitment to more fully live up to our nation's promise in the future. We should live in a way so that 150 years from today, those who come after us will not have to apologize for our actions."

DGA Polling Finds Denish Leading In New Mexico

New polling from the Democratic Governors Association finds New Mexico Lt. Gov. Diane Denish leading two potential Republican opponents in next year's race for governor.

Denish leads two former Republican members of Congress, Heather Wilson and Steve Pearce, both by a 57%-35% margin with 8% undecided.

Denish had been poised to take over the governorship for Bill Richardson before he withdrew his nomination for U.S. Commerce Secretary, but she now must wait to succeed the term-limited governor.

Pearce and Wilson both gave up their House seats last year and ran unsuccessful campaigns for the Senate -- Pearce defeated Wilson in the GOP primary, then lost the general election by 22 points to Tom Udall. Both of their former House districts were won by a Democrat.

The survey, conducted by Harstad Strategic Research, included 613 likely voters from May 31 to June 4, with a margin of error of +/- 4%.

Poll: McDonnell, Deeds Separated by 1 Point

Republican Bob McDonnell and Democrat Creigh Deeds are virtually tied in the race for governor of Virginia, according to a new poll from Daily Kos/Research2000 (June 15-17, 600 LV, MoE +/- 4%).

The survey finds McDonnell leading by just 1 point, 45%-44%, with 11% undecided. McDonnell appears more well-known around the state, with 55% holding a favorable opinion of him, 36% unfavorable and just 9% with no opinion.

Twice as many people have no opinion of Deeds, while 47% view him favorably and 35% unfavorably.

President Obama, who won Virginia in the primary and general election last year, holds a 56%/41% favorability rating.

Strategy Memo: Wither The Honeymoon?

Good rainy Thursday, Washington. As new polls show voters have soured somewhat on the administration's broad agenda, President Obama and Vice President Biden will be raising money for the Democrats who will have to defend it at the polls next year. Obama starts his day with the regular daily briefings, and later will meet with Mideast envoy George Mitchell and Treasury Secretary Geithner. Tonight, he speaks at the DSCC/DCCC fundraiser at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Biden speaks at the fundraiser this afternoon.

The House is set to complete consideration of the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, with 27 amendments to be voted on today and votes potentially beginning at 10 a.m. Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, alongside OMB Director Peter Orszag, introduced yesterday the president's statutory PAYGO legislation, which includes "the principle of paying for what we buy."

The Senate will begin consideration of a slavery apology bill, which Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Sam Brownback (R-Kans.) began working on last year. The House passed a similar measure last July, and the Senate passed an apology for Native Americans in February 2008. The Senate will also take up this week the war supplemental appropriations conference report; the House passed it earlier this week.

*Last night we noted the key findings in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll. Today, a new CBS/New York Times survey is out, and it finds that "a substantial majority of Americans say President Obama has not developed a strategy to deal with the budget deficit." More: "A distinct gulf exists between Mr. Obama's overall standing and how some of his key initiatives are viewed, with fewer than half of Americans saying they approve of how he has handled health care and the effort to save General Motors and Chrysler. A majority of people said his policies have had either no effect yet on improving the economy or had made it worse." His job approval is 63 percent.

*Washington Post reports that Obama is working "to reset his relations with a gay and lesbian constituency that supported him by wide margins in the last election and whose leaders have been disappointed ever since." He signed a presidential memorandum extending benefits to same-sex domestic partners of federal employees.

*Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said the Justice Department's brief supporting DOMA was "a big mistake," and he wants Obama to "clearly explain his views on the matter," CNN reports. Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) criticized the administration, saying in a statement he was "shocked and disappointed."

*The Times reports that pressure for Obama to strike a stronger tone with Iran is coming even from "senior members of the administration, including Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. ... Other White House officials have counseled a more cautious approach, saying harsh criticism of the government or endorsement of the protests could have the paradoxical effect of discrediting the protesters and making them seem as if they were led by Americans. So far, Mr. Obama has largely followed that script."

*Do Democrats have a fundraising problem, Cillizza asks. "With the White House and Congress, you'd think that Governor [Tim] Kaine and the DNC would be breaking all kinds of records," a prominent Democratic fundraiser tells him.

*Sotomayor nomination: AP reports that discussions between the nominee and the senators who will vote on her are speaking "in code." Sotomayor is working "mightily to reassure senators" she won't be radical, while senators are "doing their utmost to get assurances from Sotomayor that she'll protect certain precedents and eschew others."

*Washington Times: "Former President George W. Bush fired a salvo at President Obama on Wednesday, asserting his administration's interrogation policies were within the law, declaring the private sector not government will fix the economy and rejecting the nationalization of health care."

*CBS will conduct a sit-down interview with Obama to air on Father's Day, the Tribune reports.

*Secretary of State Hillary Clinton fell and broke her elbow yesterday on her way to the White House. "She was treated at The George Washington University Hospital before heading home. She will undergo surgery to repair her elbow in the upcoming week," her chief of staff said in a statement. (As someone who's broken his elbow before, it really, really hurts --Kyle)

*Of course they did: PETA weighed in on the fly swat.

*Roll Call: "Democrats defeated Republicans 15-10 on Wednesday night at Nationals Park in the 48th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game, lifting the newspaper's coveted trophy for first time since 2000."

*"Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) is maneuvering for the leadership opening left by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), who resigned the position a day after admitting to an affair with a campaign staffer. Thune's office confirmed the senator has begun making phone calls to leadership and to rank-and-file senators to tell them he will run for Republican Policy Committee chairman," The Hill's Reid Wilson reports.

*WaPo's Milbank writes that yesterday "was, as Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas artfully put it, "a no-comment day." Members of the Senate GOP caucus are becoming quite expert at the procedure, having had practice tamping down previous indiscretions by Vitter (D.C. Madam), Ted Stevens (shiatsu massage lounger) and Larry Craig (Minneapolis airport). Ensign faces an additional hurdle: His moral politics (he led the push to drum Craig out of the chamber, calling his behavior "embarrassing for the Senate") left him open to charges of hypocrisy."

*Politico reports that the son of the woman Ensign had the affair with was paid $5,400 by the NRSC in 2008. "That means during March and April 2008, three members of the Hampton family were working for Ensign. Both Doug and Cynthia Hampton stopped working for Ensign at the end of April 2008."

*"The first formal drafting and voting session on Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's sweeping legislation was given over Wednesday to six hours of speechmaking by senators," AP reports. "Nothing was accomplished on the bill itself, and there were suggestions that a goal of completing committee action before the congressional recess July 4 might not be met."

With Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) being close friends with Sen. Ted Kennedy, "it was particularly devastating on Wednesday when Mr. Hatch warned Democrats on the panel that they have already made some grave errors in their effort to write legislation overhauling the health care system," the New York Times reports.

**Campaign Stuff
*Lynn Sweet has the scoop that Lisa Madigan met with top White House officials Rahm Emanuel and Valerie Jarrett to discuss a Senate bid. "Madigan is getting more serious but has a few conditions. If Madigan is to get in the Senate race, she wants an endorsement from Obama when she announces and she wants the Democratic primary field to be cleared of rivals." Alexi Giannoulias' camp says he won't quit the race though; Madigan would also face a primary if she runs for governor.

*PA Sen Primary: Sen. Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) leads Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) 51-32 percent in a Rasmussen poll.

*FL-8: "Florida state House Speaker Larry Cretul is seriously considering a challenge to Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson, a development that could shake up the race and provide the outspoken Orlando-area freshman with a top-tier GOP opponent in one of the nation's most competitive House seats," Politico reports.

*GA Sen: "Welcome to the 2008 Georgia campaign for the U.S. Senate. It might appear to be an under-the-radar battle. A few yard signs have sprouted here and there. But there has been a noticeable absence of television ads or even high-profile debates. There is a very real political war taking place, however, on the Internet, complete with dueling videos on YouTube, pot shots on MySpace and Facebook and an occasional tweak or two on Twitter," the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

*FL Sen: "Marco Rubio, who is challenging Florida Gov. Charlie Crist for the Republican Party's nomination for Senate, said Wednesday that if the vote were held today, he would lose because he remains largely unknown to most Republican voters," Washington Times reports. Trailing by 31 points in the latest Quinnipiac poll, Rubio "says his numbers will change when voters hear his double-barreled political message that includes a stinging indictment of Mr. Crist and of President Obama's big-spending government."

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

NBC/WSJ Poll: Indies Souring On Obama?

Few polls can sway conventional wisdom like the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll does. So be on the lookout for a host of stories that question whether the Obama shine has begun to wear off, and the host of tough decisions he's made start taking their toll.

The new poll out tonight shows that President Obama still has a strong approval rating, 56 percent. But it's down from the previous survey, just before his 100th day.

Obama Job Performance
Approve 56 (-5)
Disapprove 34 (+4)
Not Sure 10 (+1)

The real warning sign seems to be the president's drop in support from independent voters. In April, these respondents backed Obama 60-31 percent. Now, that margin is much closer: 46-44 percent.

Still, 60 percent say Obama is focused in taking on many different issues, while 37 percent think he has too much on his plate. On some of those issues, 46 percent say they are confident in the policies he's pursuing on the economy, while 53 percent say they're only somewhat or not at all confident. 48 percent support his decision to eliminate waterboarding, compared to 41 who oppose. By a 52-39 percent margin, voters oppose his decision to close Guantanamo Bay, and 56 percent of voters also oppose the General Motors bailout, compared to 35 percent who support it.

White House Reacts To Former Senate Leaders' Health Care Plan

Today, former Senate Majority Leaders Daschle, Dole and Baker released their own draft of a health care plan. As noted in the Strategy Memo this morning, the plan calls for a mandate that individuals have insurance, fees for companies that do not provide coverage for employers, and taxing benefits.

The White House released this fairly neutral statement on the plan from Robert Gibbs:

"The Bipartisan Policy Center, led by three distinguished former Senate Majority Leaders, has produced a serious and detailed proposal for health reform that reinforces the importance of the President's core principles: lowering costs for families, businesses and governments; guaranteeing choice of doctors and plans; ensuring quality and affordable health care for all Americans, and adhering to fiscal discipline that does not add to the deficit.

"This group of extraordinarily experienced legislators agree with the President that health reform must be enacted this year because the status quo -- skyrocketing health care costs, rising premiums, swelling deficits - is unsustainable. With this report, they have demonstrated what can be achieved with bipartisan effort. The Bipartisan Policy Center has produced a significant report, and the White House applauds their efforts."

Lieberman Pushing for Equal Benefits Legislation

Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Ct.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, called today for legislation giving same-sex partners of federal employees the same benefits received by married spouses. Lieberman's statement comes in reaction to and support of President Obama's recent push toward the same goal.

Here is Lieberman's full statement:

"President Obama's instruction that agencies provide same-sex partners the benefits that married spouses already receive is a significant step towards improving fairness and equality in the federal workplace, but there is still a need for legislation on this subject.

"The bipartisan Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act, which I have introduced with Senator Susan Collins, R-Me., and which the President endorsed, would extend the presidential order to include all federal employees and all benefits that are currently available to married spouses of federal employees. This is not only a matter of fairness, but would also help the federal government attract, recruit and retain the most qualified workers, at a time when the number of federal employees eligible to retire is steadily increasing.

"Congress must take the next step to ensure that all partners of federal employees are treated equally under the law by passing S. 1102."

GOP Loses Leading Voice in Ensign

The announcement yesterday by Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) that he had an extramarital affair and today's news that Senate leadership has removed him as head of the Republican Policy Committee (the No. 4 slot on the totem pole) means the Republican Party has lost a leading voice in its efforts to deride Democratic policies and promote its own.

Ensign led a credible, yet unsuccessful, effort as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee during the 2008 election cycle, and in this Congress has been at the forefront of several policy debates. Perhaps his biggest victory of the year was the gun amendment Ensign added on to the D.C. Voting Rights bill, which ultimately led to its demise in the House of Representatives.

Now in his second term representing a state increasingly important to presidential elections, Ensign was twice elected with 55 percent of the vote -- in 2000 and 2006 -- and regularly carries far better approval ratings than his Nevada counterpart, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). A survey released last month found Ensign with a 53 percent approval rating compared to Reid's 38 percent.

Whether Ensign was preparing for a presidential bid or not, his fall from grace seems just as far.

John Edwards Pondering A Return To Politics?

Talk about timing. The Washington Post this afternoon runs a story based on what it calls "first extended interview" with former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) since he confirmed last August having an affair with Rielle Hunter. It covers a range of subjects, including his 2008 campaign for president. But he "refused to address Hunter, the baby's paternity, his wife's memoir, or the investigation."

He does talk about his future:

He says he has no plans to make a push to restore his name, along the lines of what former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer has embarked on. Reputation "is not something I'm focused on," he said. "The only relevance of it at all is my ability to help people. That's the only reason it matters. I'm not engaged in, or interested in, being in a p.r. campaign."

But he did not rule out a return to politics. He said it was too early to say what the future held -- though an Al Gore-style advocacy role was more likely than elected office, given the scandal. He thinks "every day" about what form his future role in activism or public life could take, but "right now, a lot of that is unanswerable."

You can read the rest here.

NC Sen Poll: Generic Dem Leads Burr

While no Democrat has actually stepped forward with a serious challenge to Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), that doesn't mean the generic Democratic candidate doesn't lead the first-term senator in polling. A new survey from Public Policy Polling (June 12-14, 784 RV, MoE +/- 3.5%) finds Burr trailing an unnamed "Democratic Opponent" 41%-38%.

Just 64% of those who said they were conservative and 49% of Republicans said they would back Burr over a generic Democrat.

Attorney General Roy Cooper and Rep. Heath Shuler were once the leading Democratic contenters to take on Burr, but both have taken their hats out of the ring (Shuler twice), leaving Democrats with what looks like a vulnerable incumbent to challenge but with no challenger to do it.

In the survey, 29% said Burr deserves a second term in office, while 49% said it's time to give someone else a chance. Just 34% approve of the job Burr's doing in the Senate, compared to 35% who disapprove and 31% not sure.

Sotomayor Schedule

Judge Sonia Sotomayor will visit with six senators today as she continues her Supreme Court nomination tour of Senate offices. From the White House press release:

Today, Judge Sotomayor will visit Capitol Hill to meet with the following Senators:

Senator Lamar Alexander
Senator Bob Bennett
Senator Saxby Chambliss
Senator Chris Dodd
Senator Byron Dorgan
Senator Jim Webb

GA Gov Poll: Oxendine, Barnes Top Primary Fields

A Strategic Vision poll out today shows that just weeks after announcing his candidacy, former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes leads the Democratic field in the race for governor. Seeking a political comeback seven years after he lost his re-election bid, Barnes is just shy of 50 percent in the field. But Attorney General Thurbert Baker shows strong support as well at this early stage. In an April survey, Barnes was not included.

Democratic Primary Election Matchup
Barnes 49
Baker 30 (-11 from April)
Poythress 5 (-3)
Porter 2 (-3)
Undecided 14 (-11)

On the Republican side, state Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine leads a field that is still unsettled after the surprise announcement that Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle would seek re-election instead of the governorship. Secretary of State Karen Handel and U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal are neck-and-neck in second. Far more voters are undecided in the Republican race.

Republican Primary Election Matchup
Oxendine 35 (+2)
Handel 13 (+1)
Deal 12
Johnson 4
McBerry 2 (unch)
Scott 2 (unch)
Undecided 32 (+7)

The current governor, Sonny Perdue, and the state's two senators earn good marks, as does President Obama -- though his approval has dipped six points since an April survey.

Approval Ratings
Perdue 53/36
Chambliss 50/40
Isakson 56/35
Obama 49/43
Congress 20/66

The telephone survey was conducted from June 12-14 of 800 likely voters, with a margin of error of +/- 3 percent.

Strategy Memo: Late Night in the House

Today, President Obama "will lay out a comprehensive regulatory reform plan to modernize and protect the integrity of our financial system," the White House says. He meets with regulators in the Roosevelt Room, before making a public announcement in the East Room. Later, he meets with HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. And he'll later sign a Presidential Memorandum extending benefits to same-sex partners of federal employees.

After begin called back last night for votes, the House will hold a marathon of votes on the 127 amendments added on to the Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies appropriations bill. Votes are expected as early as 10 a.m. The Senate will resume consideration of the Travel Promotion bill, and at some point will take up the war supplemental appropriations conference report that the House passed yesterday.

The Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee is hosting a Green Jobs Summit on the Hill. Vice President Joe Biden will deliver the keynote address. House Republicans will introduce an alternative health care plan at a morning press conference.

Tonight lawmakers will have a chance to blow off some steam in the annual Democrats vs. Republicans Congressional Baseball Game at Nationals Park.

**President Obama
*AP on today's regulation announcement: Obama proposes new powers for the Federal Reserve; a new consumer protection agency to govern lending and credit; and new rules that would reach into currently unregulated regions of the financial markets. "Under Obama's plan, the Fed would gain power to supervise holding companies and large financial institutions considered so big that their failure could undermine the nation's financial system. But even as it gains new powers, the Fed also would lose some banking authority to a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency."

*Obama talked about the new plan in interviews with Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, and CNBC. With Bloomberg, he predicted unemployment would top 10 percent, and offered a warning to Wall Street executives. "Wall Street seems to maybe have a shorter memory about how close we were to the abyss than I would have expected," Obama said.

WSJWSJ says Obama is anxious for his conservative critics "to know he isn't the heavy-handed meddler some suspect." Obama: "I think the irony ... is that I actually would like to see a relatively light touch when it comes to the government."

A main takeaway from CNBC has been his criticism of Fox News. "You'd be hard-pressed, if you watched the entire day, to find a positive story about me on that front," he said.

* "Faced with growing anger among gay and lesbian supporters, President Obama is expected tonight to extend healthcare and other benefits to the same-sex partners of federal employees," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Since taking office, however, Obama has disappointed many gay activists by not just keeping silent but, lately, by defending some of the policies he criticized."

*ABC: The White House "outlined a number of reasons" why President Obama fired Gerald Walpin, Inspector General of the Corporation for National and Community Service, after Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) expressed concern that President Obama "did not abide by a law she wrote -- and he supported as a senator -- requiring 30 day notice to Congress before an Inspector General could be terminated." A White House counsel "paints a less-than-flattering picture of Walpin," saying he "was confused, disoriented, unable to answer questions and exhibited other behavior that led the Board to question his capacity to serve."

*Remember the Sotomayor nomination? Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) tells USA Today that he doesn't expect Republicans to filibuster. "But he said she is the latest in a pattern of Obama nominees he has found troublesome." Sessions: "She seems to be willing to accept that a judge's rulings may be influenced by the judge's personal backgrounds or feelings, which is sort of what President Obama has said."

*The Washington Times gets into the controversy over ABC's planned day at the White House.

*"The House narrowly approved a $105.9 billion wartime spending bill Tuesday evening, capping a two-month march that has sorely tested President Barack Obama's ability to navigate between warring forces on the political left and right. Overshadowed by the health care and climate change debates -- and often overlooked by the national press -- the measure has nonetheless provoked the grittiest legislative battle yet seen in this Congress," Politico reports.

NYT: "The measure passed 226-202, with only five Republicans voting for it. (One of those five was Representative John McHugh, President Obama's choice to be Secretary of the Army.) House Republicans had been very supportive of the spending bill, but balked at a provision in the latest version that would give billions to the International Monetary Fund. The version passed by the House today also shelved a ban on releasing photos documenting abuse of foreign prisoners by American soldiers, a move also decried by Republicans."

*"Members of Congress are rarely on call. But that wasn't the case Tuesday night in the House of Representatives. Most representatives made a beeline out of the Capitol around 6:30 pm Tuesday. Lawmakers had just approved an emergency war funding bill. And the leadership brass advertised that vote as the last one of the evening. But the House wasn't done with it's work. The plan was for members to start plowing through a slate of 127 amendments to the annual Commerce, Justice, Science spending bill. Some lawmakers would stick around to debate. But there would be no votes until Wednesday. That all changed at 8:21 pm," Fox News's Pergram writes.

*Sen. Orrin Hatch talked to RealClearSports about reforming the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) and gave his darkhorse candidate for the 2009 Heisman Trophy.

*Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and the White House sparred yesterday over the effectiveness of the stimulus, Kyle reported.

**Health Care
*Gallup: "Nearly three-quarters of Americans (73%) say they are confident in doctors to recommend the right thing for reforming the U.S. healthcare system. That is significantly higher than the public confidence extended to President Barack Obama, as well as to six other entities that will be weighing in during the emerging healthcare reform debate."

* "Stung" by CBO estimates of the cost of health care plans, Politico reports that Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee "pledged Tuesday night to release a plan that keeps costs lower - but still about $1 trillion over 10 years."

*"Congressional Democrats and the White House are scrambling to regain their footing after a series of setbacks has stalled political momentum to reform the nation's healthcare system," The Hill reports. "A cost estimate hanging a $1 trillion price tag on an incomplete bill, salvos from powerful interest groups and great uncertainty among key Democrats on what will actually be in the legislation that moves through Congress have emboldened Republican critics."

*AP reports, Former Majority Leaders Tom Daschle and George Mitchell (Dems) and Bob Dole and Howard Baker (Republicans) will release a $1.2 trillion health care proposal today. "A summary of the plan calls for an individual requirement to carry health insurance, an idea that many Republicans support. But it would also impose new levies on large companies that don't provide coverage to their workers, an approach preferred by Democrats. Perhaps the most controversial part calls for taxing health insurance benefits worth more than the value of the coverage that members of Congress get."

**Ensign Affair
*The Las Vegas Review Journal's lead: "Calling it 'absolutely the worst thing that I've ever done in my life,' U.S. Sen. John Ensign admitted Tuesday that he had an affair with a campaign staffer last year." The paper reports that "Ensign decided to announce the affair after he was approached by the husband of the woman involved. The man asked Ensign for a 'substantial' amount of money with the implication it would buy the couple's continued silence."

*" His announcement drew no public reaction from Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the party's leader in the Senate, or other members of the leadership," AP notes.

*Washington Post: "GOP strategists were divided yesterday about the impact of this latest revelation on the party's image. Some argued that it would reinforce voter impressions of a Republican brand that has been dogged by controversies over the past several years, from Craig's sex scandal to the investigations of imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff's dealings with congressional Republicans."

**Campaign Stuff
*Dem fundraising: "President Obama is expected to raise $3 million for the two Democratic campaign committees at a Thursday fundraiser, sources tell The Hill. The event, to be held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Washington, will benefit the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee."

*An answer for the GOP in the New Hampshire Senate race? Chuck Todd reports that state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte may be a candidate. "Short of Gregg, Ayotte might be the best candidate the GOP can find as she doesn't come from the current elective wing of the GOP who all seem to have the smell of defeat on them. Ayotte would give the GOP a fresh face to rally around in 2010 and put the very popular Dem Gov. Lynch in somewhat of a tough spot as he'll have to likely campaign against the woman he appointed."

*Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) is not surprised that State Sen. David Williams dropped a bid to challenge him Monday. "I think I fairly well said that when he was used as a ploy to dry up my dollars the first time when he was invited in by Sen. McConnell's chief of staff and Sen. Cornyn met with him ... You're going to have to wait until the 15th of July, until all the bets are in, just like me ... But I feel like we're going to do better than in the first quarter and we'll see how much better."

*NJ Gov: "In their first encounter as gubernatorial contenders, Democratic Gov. Corzine told Republican nominee Christopher J. Christie "I'm not afraid of you" as the two politely shook hands last night. ... The encounter, just another moment in what is shaping up to be a bitter fight, took place as Corzine was preparing to speak. He left the head table and walked over to Christie, who was nearby shaking hands with attendees. The governor told his opponent that some had said he was afraid to walk into the room with Christie," Philly Inquirer reports.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

VA Gov: Deeds Ahead In DGA Poll

The Democratic Governors Association released a poll today showing that Democrat Creigh Deeds holds a slim lead over Republican Bob McDonnell one week after winning the Virginia primary.

General Election Matchup
Deeds 42
McDonnell 38

Fav/Unfav Rating
Deeds 48/14
McDonnell 43/19

A polling memo says that Deeds "has the ability to win votes across the state, including traditionally Republican strongholds." For instance, Deeds leads 51-29 percent in Southwest Virginia. Meanwhile, the memo continues, "McDonnell will have a difficult time making inroads in increasingly Democratic Northern Virginia."

Citing momentum, the memo says incumbent Gov. Tim Kaine (D) has a 66 percent favorability rating, and that 53 percent of voters think the state is on the right track. The DGA clearly is confident to run on the legacy of Kaine and former Gov., now Sen. Mark Warner (D).

The survey of 600 likely voters was conducted by Anzalone Liszt Research from June 10-14, and had a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.

Ensign Statement: "Worst Thing I Have Ever Done"

Here's a statement from Sen. John Ensign's office:

Las Vegas, NV -- Senator John Ensign made the following statement today regarding a personal matter:

"I came home to Nevada to come forward and explain to the citizens of our state something that I was involved in about a year ago. Last year I had an affair. I violated the vows of my marriage. It is the worst thing I have ever done in my life. If there was ever anything in my life that I could take back, this would be it.

"I take full responsibility for my actions.

"I know that I have deeply hurt and disappointed my wife Darlene, my children, my family, my friends, my staff and others who believed in me. To all of them, especially my wife, I am deeply sorry. I am truly blessed to have a wife who has forgiven me. We sought counseling last year and have built a stronger marriage -- stronger than ever.

"I will not mention any names but the woman who I was involved with and her husband were close friends and both of them worked for me. Our families were close. That closeness put me into situations which led to my inappropriate behavior. We caused deep pain to both families and for that I am sorry.

"I am committed to my service in the United States Senate and my work on behalf of the people of NV.

"Thank you."

Report: Ensign Admits Affair

So much for the Ensign 2012 bandwagon.

Rumors have floated in Washington about a sex scandal breaking today. Now AP is reporting that Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) had an affair with a campaign staffer.

Ensign told The Associated Press in a statement, "I deeply regret and am very sorry for my actions."

An aide in Ensign's office said the affair took place between December 2007 and August 2008, with a campaign staffer who was married to an employee in Ensign's Senate office. Neither have worked for the senator since May 2008. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity.

The aide declined to comment on Ensign's political future.

He'll reportedly speak publicly within the hour, from Las Vegas.

Ensign recently traveled to Iowa in a visit that immediately set off speculation he was considering a presidential bid in 2012.

This comes as Nevada's only other Republican statewide officials are also fending off scandal. Gov. Jim Gibbons is currently going through a divorce, with his estranged wife alleging he was unfaithful as well. In December 2008, Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki was indicted on four felony counts based on alleged wrongdoing in his previous role as the Silver State's treasurer.


RGA Targets "Wall Street Banker" Corzine In New TV Spot

The Republican Governors Association uses a potentially damaging label for Gov. Jon Corzine (D) in one of two new television ads the organization launched today. No, not "liberal." Three words, actually: "Wall Street Banker."

As the nation, and New Jersey in particular continue to suffer in the tough economy, the national committee evokes the embattled incumbent's roots as an executive for Goldman Sachs while saying he's failed to meet his promise to bring jobs to the state.

"Wall Street banker Jon Corzine told us he'd bring jobs to New Jersey. Hello? Unemployment's up 73 percent, and our business climate ranks among the worst in the nation. Corzine: watch what he does, not what he says," a narrator says in the brief spot.

The organization wouldn't say in what markets the spots will air, or whether it would be on cable or network television as well. But an official promised New Jerseyans were likely to see it on the air soon.

The "watch what he does" tag line is repeated in a second ad the RGA is airing, this one on the issue of taxes. You can see the ad and the script after the jump.

"Jon Corzine told us he wouldn't raise taxes. But in his very first budget, he pushed for a 16 percent sales tax hike. Now he wants to eliminate middle class property tax rebates. Corzine: watch what he does, not what he says."

White House: Coburn Stimulus Report "Flat Out Wrong"

The White House responded to Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-Okla.) critical look at the stimulus program, calling the conservative senator's report "flat out wrong."

The administration has released a point-by-point rebuttal to the 100 so-called wasteful projects that Coburn sited. In some cases, it outlines a claim as "FALSE," or more often, there is a detailed response defending the project or explaining how errors were corrected. On some of the more controversial expenditures, like the $800,000 allocated for repaving a backup runway at John Murtha Airport, the report says simply that the project is "still under review."

"This President has taken historic steps to ensure that there is adequate transparency, and that this money is spent the way it's intended to be used," press secretary Robert Gibbs said today. "I think the report appears to be, in many, many cases, just flat out wrong."

Ed DeSeve, a senior advisor to the president for Recovery Act Implementation, concedes in a statement that among 20,000 projects approved, "there are bound to be some mistakes." "When we find them, we have been transparent about it, and worked on a bipartisan basis to shut them down immediately," he said.

DeSeve adds that if there are "problematic projects" in Coburn's report, they will be addressed "immediately."

"But much of this seems to be little more than an objection to the Recovery Act itself, which Sen. Coburn opposed. As state officials in Sen. Coburn's own home state have noted, 'We have people working today who would not have jobs if the stimulus package hadn't passed,'" he said.

President Sends Fundraising Pitch For Health Care

For what may be the first time in his presidency, Barack Obama has sent an e-mail fundraising appeal to members of the Organizing for America database seeking financial help in promoting his health care effort. He compares the push for reform to his own uphill battle for the presidency.

"The campaign to pass real health care reform in 2009 is the biggest test of our movement since the election," he writes. "Once again, victory is far from certain. Our opposition will be fierce, and they have been down this road before. To prevail, we must once more build a coast-to-coast operation ready to knock on doors, deploy volunteers, get out the facts, and show the world how real change happens in America."

There's no specific dollar amount requested, just "whatever you can afford." Full e-mail is after the jump.

Last year, millions of Americans came together for a great purpose.

Folks like you assembled a grassroots movement that shocked the political establishment and changed the course of our nation. When Washington insiders counted us out, we put it all on the line and changed our democracy from the bottom up. But that's not why we did it.

The pundits told us it was impossible -- that the donations working people could afford and the hours volunteers could give would never loosen the vise grip of big money and powerful special interests. We proved them wrong. But as important as that was, that's not why we did it.

Today, spiraling health care costs are pushing our families and businesses to the brink of ruin, while millions of Americans go without the care they desperately need. Fixing this broken system will be enormously difficult. But we can succeed. The chance to make fundamental change like this in people's daily lives -- that is why we did it.

The campaign to pass real health care reform in 2009 is the biggest test of our movement since the election. Once again, victory is far from certain. Our opposition will be fierce, and they have been down this road before. To prevail, we must once more build a coast-to-coast operation ready to knock on doors, deploy volunteers, get out the facts, and show the world how real change happens in America.

And just like before, I cannot do it without your support.

So I'm asking you to remember all that you gave over the last two years to get us here -- all the time, resources, and faith you invested as a down payment to earn us our place at this crossroads in history. All that you've done has led up to this -- and whether or not our country takes the next crucial step depends on what you do right now.

Please donate whatever you can afford to support the campaign for real health care reform in 2009.

It doesn't matter how much you can give, as long as you give what you can. Millions of families on the brink are counting on us to do just that. I know we can deliver.

Thank you, so much, for getting us this far. And thank you for standing up once again to take us the rest of the way.


President Barack Obama

McCain Shows Off New Ride

6-16-09_McCain new car.jpg

While reporters awaited an outdoor press conference with Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) pulled up in his brand new ride -- a silver Ford Fusion hybrid, fresh with 30-day tags. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) was riding shotgun.

Heading toward a metal U.S. Capitol traffic blocker, McCain flashed a grin and gave reporters the thumbs up, as he pulled off an effortless three-point turn and headed back in the opposite direction.

McCain announced his new car choice on his Twitter account yesterday. "His office says he's getting the 2010 hybrid in silver and was impressed by its fuel-efficiency," AP reported yesterday.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, McCain's taste for Cadillacs became common knowledge, as it was reported that he had two. President Obama gave up his Chrysler sedan for a Ford SUV hybrid, though he now rolls in a Cadillac limousine.

DeMint Endorses Rubio At Joint Hill Event


Sen. Jim DeMint's (R-S.C.) endorsement this morning of Marco Rubio in next year's Florida Senate race puts the first term senator at odds with his party leadership, which is backing Gov. Charlie Crist. With Rubio by his side at a press conference on Capitol Hill today, DeMint emphasized that Rubio is the kind of leader Republicans need to win back power in Congress and get the country back on the right track.

"We've got a real diamond in our own backyard," DeMint said of the former Florida House speaker. "And he'll be one of the ones to lead our party out of the wilderness."

The National Republican Senatorial Committee endorsed Crist just minutes after he announced his candidacy last month. The campaign committee explained that it saw Crist as the most electable in the general election, though DeMint argued today that Rubio was just as electable.

Before announcing his endorsement, DeMint spoke with both NRSC Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who said "he's fine with the direction I'm going," DeMint said. At the press conference, the senator railed against any Republican who believes there should not be a primary.

Crist's name I.D. and national party backing will give him what's expected to be a large fundraising advantage over the young state representative. The exact numbers won't be known until next month when campaign finance reports are due.

"Marco's in a lot better position to win than I was" in 2004, DeMint argued. "Fundraising will come."

Rubio assured reporters he knows what he's getting himself into.

"I'm not involved in a fundraising contest," Rubio said. "We're going to raise the money we need to communicate with voters. I'm fully cognizant of what this race will require."

A Quinnipiac University survey released last week found Crist leading with 54 percent to Rubio's 23 percent. Besides fundraising, Crist also holds a high favorability rating among voters -- yet another obstacle for Rubio's chances. The two will meet in September 2010.

During a morning phone call from Crist, DeMint said he told the governor he would support his Senate candidacy if he makes it to the general election, but that he was throwing his full support behind the more conservative Rubio in the primary. DeMint's support for Rubio stems from when they first met a few weeks ago, during which, he told reporters today, he was moved by what Rubio had to say.

"When I heard him talk about his vision for the country, I wanted to break down and weep because I don't hear those words spoken too often," DeMint said.

Obama Defends Muted Iran Response

President Obama held his first Rose Garden press conference today, a "two-and-two" with the president of South Korea. As expected, most questions focused on tensions with North Korea. But as the president prepared to leave, reporters shouted after him to discuss Iran.

At first, he joked that he had just spoke about it "seven or eight hours ago." But perhaps aware of high-profile calls for the president to make a stronger statement of support for those protesting what many believe is a flawed outcome, Obama explained his caution at saying more.

"It's not productive, given the history of U.S.-Iranian relations, to be seen as meddling -- the U.S. president meddling in Iranian elections," he said. "What I will repeat and what I said yesterday is that when I see violence directed at peaceful protesters, when I see peaceful dissent being suppressed, wherever that takes place, it is of concern to me and it is of concern to the American people."

He added that he hopes the Iranian government will take "the right steps" to allow demonstrators to continue expressing their views, and again praised what he sees as a growing push for openness there.

"I do believe that something has happened in Iran where there is a questioning of the kinds of antagonistic postures toward the international community," he said. "How that plays out over the next several days and several weeks is something ultimately for the Iranian people to decide. But I stand strongly with the universal principle that people's voices should be heard and not suppressed."

On the issue of North Korea, Obama explained the rationale for new, tougher sanctions.

"There has been a pattern in the past where North Korea behaves in a belligerent fashion, and if it waits long enough is then rewarded," he said. "The message we're sending - and when I say we, not simply the United States and Republic of Korea, but I think the international community - is we are going to break that pattern."

The goal is to welcome North Korea back to the international community, he said. "But belligerent provocative behavior that threatens neighbors will be met with significant, serious enforcement of sanctions that are in place."

Coburn Drops Anti-Stimulus Report

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) released a report this morning highlighting "100 examples of questionable stimulus projects" totaling $5.5 billion in federal government spending.

"This report does not attempt to prove that the stimulus is not working," Coburn wrote in a letter introducing the report. "Rather, the intent is to educate taxpayers, policymakers and the media on lessons that can be learned from some of the early missteps and prevent other questionable projects from moving forward."

Coburn ranked the top ten most wasteful projects, then listed the following 90 by region -- similar to a report released by Vice President Biden 100 days into the Obama administration that touted the projects the stimulus was helping fund around the country.

The most wasteful project, according to Coburn, is in his home state of Oklahoma -- a wastewater treatment plant in Perkins.

Rounding out Coburn's top five projects are the clean coal project in Illinois, FutureGen, which is a favorite project of the president; the repair of 37 bridges in rural Wisconsin "that hardly anyone uses"; $800,000 for the now infamous John Murtha Airport in Johnstown, Pa.; $3.4 million for a wildlife crossing in Jackson, Fla., allowing turtles and other animals to cross a road through a tunnel.

GOP to Unveil Alternative Health Care Bill Tomorrow

House Republican leaders said this morning that the health care plan they'll unveil tomorrow will cost less and offer patients more freedoms than the public health option Democrats are pushing.

"The Republican plan has more," said Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-Kans.). More availability, choices and control, she said.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) said President Obama's "problem with the health care system is that we spend too much," yet the proposals being brought forward call for spending $1 trillion.

"It is troubleing when we're trying to save money to call for that kind of expenditure," said Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.).

Strategy Memo: A United Front

Good morning, Washington. After addressing the Iran issue yesterday, today President Obama tackles North Korea. He meets with South Korea President Lee Myung-bak this morning, after which the two leaders will hold a joint press conference in the Rose Garden. Later, he'll meet with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Myung-bak will later head over to Capitol Hill for meetings with Senate leaders Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), as well as Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House members.

The House could vote on the war supplemental conference report as early as today and will begin consideration of an appropriations bill for Commerce, Justice, Science, and related agencies. The Senate takes up a motion to consider the Travel Promotion bill and will likely vote on the supplemental conference report later this week.

**President Obama
*AP: "As North Korea threatens nuclear war, President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak will be eager to show the North the unity of their alliance and a determination not to back down" when they meet today. "The presidents probably will express their refusal to accept the North as a nuclear weapons state and condemn recent missile and nuclear tests."

*Time confirms the report Dennis Ross, the Obama administration's special adviser on Iran, "will be leaving his post at the State Department to become a senior adviser at the National Security Council (NSC) with an expanded portfolio. The new White House position puts him closer to the center of foreign policy power, placing him in the top ranks of Obama's in-house aides, said an Administration official."

*This week, the administration "will propose the most significant new regulation of the financial industry since the Great Depression, including a new watchdog agency to look out for consumers' interests," the L.A. Times reports. "Under the plan, expected to be released Wednesday, the government would have new powers to seize key companies -- such as insurance giant American International Group Inc. -- whose failure jeopardizes the financial system. Currently, the government's authority to seize companies is mostly limited to banks."

*Politico reports that Sonia Sotomayor "defended her membership in an elite women's only group, arguing that it's not discriminatory because men might be able to join the Belizean Grove, too, if they applied." It's important because "the American Bar Association's judicial codes state that it is inappropriate for judges to belong to groups that 'invidiously' discriminate on the basis of race, sex, religion or national origin."

*Interesting scoop from the New York Daily News: The Obama administration offered Rep. Kete King (R-N.Y.) the post of Ireland ambassador, which eventually went to Steelers owner Dan Rooney. That would have further cut down the number of New York Republicans. King: "I talk to Rahm about about a lot of things, but I keep those conversations private."

*Politics Daily: "The Iranian elections may have been a farce, but this much is certain: Millions of Iranians believe last week's election was stolen by the regime headed by fanatical hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. ... And whether they know it or not inside the White House, President Obama now faces his first official foreign policy crisis. The immediate question is what he and his administration should say and do about it? What can they do?"

**Health Care
*The New York Times on Obama's AMA speech: "Opening a week in which health care will dominate attention in Congress, the president's speech on Monday was the latest example of an oft-used ploy to press his case: appearing before skeptical audiences, confident of his powers of persuasion but willing as well to say what his listeners do not want to hear."

*The Washington Post notes the White House strategy "to present each major stakeholder with an enticement in return for a bit of sacrifice. To insurers, Obama offered a concession and a warning. In a shift from his position during the presidential campaign, he is willing to support a requirement that every American have health insurance, which could translate into more than 40 million new customers for the industry."

*The CBO scored Sen. Ted Kennedy's (D-Mass.) health care plan, putting its cost at $1 trillion. The Hill reports "that figure looked only at a portion of the bill." "The analysis falls just within the most expensive cost scenario sketched out by Democratic leaders in recent days, but does not include an estimate for a highly contentious government-run insurance plan that would compete with private insurers."

*The Hill: "House Republicans are preparing to vote en bloc against the $106 billion war-spending bill, a position once unthinkable for the party that characterized the money as support for the troops. For years, Republicans portrayed the bills funding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as matters of national security and accused Democrats who voted against them of voting against the troops."

*Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) is publishing a report highlighting 100 stimulus projects he considers "questionable federal stimulus spending." AP: "Coburn's list is partially a collection of news stories that questioned local projects to be funded under President Barack Obama's economic recovery program. The White House has promoted the program by selecting favorable newspaper stories."

**Campaign Stuff
*VA Gov: Obama sent out a fundraising e-mail to hundreds of thousands of supporters in Virginia on behalf of Democratic gubernatorial nominee Creigh Deeds. "Creigh has been a dedicated public servant his entire life. As a county prosecutor and state legislator, he's been a strong advocate for economic development, high-quality education, and affordable health care -- and he's gone to great lengths to protect the environment and institute smart public transportation. Now he needs your help to make sure Democrats retain the Virginia governorship. Please visit his website and get involved today."

*As we noted yesterday, Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio is in Washington today and appearing with Sen. Jim DeMint. DeMint writes today that Rubio is the "Conservative We're Looking For." "He is exactly the kind of Senator Florida needs, and exactly the kind of leader our party is looking for: a conservative's conservative with a record of success in a swing state, a self-made first generation American, a dynamic Republican spokesman in two languages, a young husband and father himself dealing with the same problems middle class families like his face every day."

*Former Missouri Treasurer Sarah Steelman tells Cillizza that she's still considering a Senate bid, "pushing back against" a story in The Hill that said she would back out.

The Hill had said Steelman "appears increasingly less likely to run against" Rep. Roy Blunt, "and she acknowledged Monday that she is looking at a possible campaign for Blunt's open House seat as an alternative."

*Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) picked up the endorsements of fellow Reps. Ron Klein and Debbie Wasserman Schultz. In response, Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), who is also considering a run, "reaffirmed her exploratory committee" and "discounted the endorsements of party insiders."

*CNN's Hamby: "The Tea Party movement appears to have produced its first official candidate for national office. Tom Cox, the founder and chairman of the Arkansas Tea Party organization, announced at a rally on Monday that he will seek the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Blanche Lincoln."

*Ken Rudin rounds up "what if" speculation about Sen. Robert Byrd's (D-W.V.) seat, with speculation that former Gov. Gaston Caperton (D) might be a placeholder in the event of a vacancy. Also of note: progressives seem cool to the idea of Gov. Jim Manchin (D) taking the seat.

*Shocker: the New York Times reports that even post-impeachment, there's been few if any reforms to Illinois government. "With the legislative session over, some of the biggest backers of change say a historic opportunity has been lost, that too little is being cleaned up in a state that has become a national example of political corruption at its extreme."

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Obama: Troubled By Violence At Iran Protests, Inspired By Turnout

President Obama has finally commented publicly on the Iranian elections, saying that Americans are "rightfully troubled" by the violence that has occurred at protests since disputed results were announced.

Speaking in the Oval Office, Obama did not himself question results, noting that there were no U.S. or international observers monitoring the vote. "But what I can say is that there appears to be a sense on the part of people who were so hopeful and so engaged and so committed to democracy who now feel betrayed. And I now think it's important that moving forward, whatever investigations take place are done in a way that is not resulting in bloodshed and is not resulting in people being stifled in expressing their views," he said.

Obama also sent this message to the Iranian people: "I would say to them that the world is watching and inspired by their participation, regardless of what the ultimate outcome of the election was. They should know that the world is watching. And particularly to the youth of Iran, I want them to know that we in the United States do not want to make any decisions for the Iranians, but we do think the Iranian people and their voices should be heard and respected."

The president signaled that he's prepared to continue pursuing "tough, hard-headed diplomacy" whoever is in power.

"Specifically, making sure that we are not seeing a nuclear arms race in the middle east triggered by Iran obtaining a nuclear weapons, [and] making sure that Iran is not exporting terrorist activity," he said. "Those are core interests not just to the United States but I think to a peaceful world in general."

KY Sen: Potential Bunning Challenger Passes On Race

State Senate President David Williams said today that he won't run for the U.S. Senate.

The Lexington Herald Leader reports that in making the announcement, Williams said that he thinks Sen. Jim Bunning (R) will seek re-election. He said the most qualified challenger to the embattled incumbent would be Cathy Bailey, a former ambassador to Latvia. More from the Herald Leader:

Williams said it would be interesting to have a qualified woman in the United States Senate from Kentucky, "someone who has the international experience that she has, and she presents herself very well."

But Williams added that he was not endorsing any particular candidate.

Secretary of State Trey Williams (R) and Rand Paul, son of Texas Congressman Ron Paul, are running in the primary as well. Democrats have a tough primary ahead, with Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo and Attorney General Jack Conway seeking the nomination.

PA Gov: Democratic Field Wide Open

It's the other election in Pennsylvania next year -- an open-seat contest for governor. There are no clear favorites for either party, and has results of an internal poll from Philadelphia businessman Tom Knox (D) showing that the Democratic race to succeed Gov. Ed Rendell (D) is wide open.

Primary Election Matchup
Onorato 14
Knox 14
Wagner 13
Cunningham 7
Undecided 52

In that field, state Auditor Jack Wagner is the only statewide-elected official. Dan Onorato, the Allegheny County Executive, has a strong base of support in Western Pennsylvania. Don Cunningham is the current Lehigh County Executive.

In a head to head matchup, Onorato leads Knox 22-21 percent, with 57 percent undecided. The poll was conducted by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin & Associates, surveying 800 registered Democrats. It had a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent.

Knox, a former executive at UnitedHealthcare and a deputy mayor under Ed Rendell, poured millions into a campaign for Philadelphia mayor in 2007 but saw his lead evaporate as the Democratic primary closed and then-City Councilor Michael Nutter gained momentum. He's reportedly prepared to spend up to $20 million on a gubernatorial bid.

Fox News Poll: Obama Not Tough Enough On Iran

As protests over the Iranian elections continue, the White House continues to take a cautious approach.

"Obviously we continue to have concern about what we've seen," Robert Gibbs told reporters earlier today on Air Force One. "Obviously the Iranians are looking into this, as well. We continue to be heartened by the enthusiasm of young people in Iran. But I think what's important is the concerns that we have about their nuclear weapons program, and the concern we have about their support for terror isn't any different than it was on Friday."

President Obama himself is expected to make a statement shortly when he meets with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in the Oval Office. A new Fox News poll finds that most Americans think he needs to take a tougher line, with 66 percent saying he has not been tough enough. Only 5 percent say he's been to tough, while 17 percent say his approach is "about right." A similar majority feels Obama needs to be tougher on North Korea as well.

The poll does find that a solid majority -- 55 percent of Americans feel that Obama's speech in Cairo was "necessary to build a bridge with Muslims." About one third, 36 percent, say it was an "inappropriate apology to the Muslim World."

The poll was conducted June 9-10 surveying 900 registered voters, and had a margin of error +/- 3 percent

DeMint Joins Rubio In DC Tomorrow

Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio will be joined in Washington tomorrow by a leading conservative voice in the Senate, Jim DeMint of South Carolina. The Rubio camp would not confirm or deny that an endorsement will be made.

The trip to DC comes as the Rubio camp is making its case to supporters that its insurgent Senate campaign can be successful against Gov. Charlie Crist (R). The St. Pete Times has a link to a memo currently making the rounds, calling the primary battle "Ground Zero in the struggle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party".

  • There is a tremendous and untapped reservoir of motivated activists, voters and donors who are driven to support a candidate that represents principled conservative values. These voters are looking for a candidate whom they trust with a belief in the power of individuals and personal responsibility, not a bloated more costly federal government.
  • Marco often says that "our party and our nation are at a critical crossroads." Republicans not just in Florida but across the country are looking for leadership that will re‐build the GOP based on proven strengths, a party that has a clear message, a party that has a purpose beyond simply protecting its power. But what kind of leader will that be? The voice of strong conservative principles to stand in opposition to the liberal agenda. Or more of the same Washington politicians concerned with electability and popularity rather than governing with principle through hard times.
  • More highlights from the memo after the jump:

  • Marco is an unconventional candidate committed to running an unconventional campaign: he has already proven so by driving himself to more than 30 Republican club meetings throughout the state giving inspired speeches and signing up new supporters one at a time, while talking to thousands online, sometimes at all hours of the night. This allows Marco to shine in what he does best - being Marco. And, it will empower the campaign to build a new, modern campaign online and statewide.
  • We know that historically Florida's Republican primary electorate is relatively compact with a stable turnout of informed voters. We intend to identify and communicate with these voters directly. Primary voters will be contacted through multiple mediums and be given numerous opportunities to learn the facts and ideology of each of the candidates. We fully expect that Republican voters will determine that their values lie closer to Marco's values than Charlie's.
  • Fundraising has been encouraging, small and large donors across the state and online donors across the country are interested in Marco's new brand of conservative leadership. However, it is clear we will be out‐raised and outspent by a sitting Governor with unlimited access to special interest money in Washington and Tallahassee. But it is also clear, we will have the money to get our message out and present Marco to voters up and down the state.
  • Poll numbers are nothing more than a snap shot in time and we fully expect to be behind for most of this campaign. However, there are some interesting things to note in recent public polling. Charlie has a strong lead but there are clear vulnerabilities: 1. 83% of Republicans in this state still have a favorable opinion of Jeb Bush. Compared to only 50% for Charlie. This is a sitting governor who starts the campaign with only a 50% favorable rating among republicans before the campaign has begun and his record has been examined. Plus, it has been said Marco is a "Jeb Bush Republican". 2. Marco is a candidate unknown by 80% of the primary electorate; this affords us tremendous opportunity for growth. As the incumbent Governor, Charlie enters the race at a high water mark relatively well known by Republican and Democrat voters. 3. Marco's support has already grown steadily in the past three months. A February 18th Quinnipiac poll showed Rubio with only 3% compared to Crist's 53%. Two months later on April 16, Quinnipiac showed Rubio at 8% and Crist at 54%. And post announcement of both candidates, Rubio garnered 18% according to Mason Dixon. While the margin remains large, our progress is significant, statistically relevant, and demonstrates the tremendous growth opportunity for our campaign. It is all the more amazing that this growth occurred without a single advertising dollar being spent.
  • Raising Health Care Stakes, Obama Defends Public Option

    President Obama made the case for significant health care reform before a skeptical organization of physicians today, balancing assurances to the American people with dire warnings about what could happen without reform.

    "The cost of our health care is a threat to our economy," he said. "It's an escalating burden on our families and businesses. It's a ticking time bomb for the federal budget. And it is unsustainable for the United States of America."

    When the president was selling his stimulus plan months ago, he offered a similarly gloomy picture of what could happen if the bill didn't pass, saying once that the economy might never recover. Today he said the United States could go the way of General Motors: "paying more, getting less, and going broke."

    "When it comes to the cost of our health care, then, the status quo is unsustainable," he said at the Chicago gathering in what was the longest speech of his presidency to date.

    At the heart of his speech was a defense of his plan for a public insurance option; he even told the AMA audience that it was "not your enemy," but their friend. And he strongly rejected the claims of "naysayers" that a public plan was a "Trojan horse" to bring about single-payer or "government-run" health care.

    "They're not telling the truth," he said. "What a public option will help do is put affordable health care within reach for millions of Americans. And to help ensure that everyone can afford the cost of a health care option in our exchange, we need to provide assistance to families who need it. That way, there will be no reason at all for anyone to remain uninsured."

    Leading up to today's speech, the White House floated talk of tort reform as a possible olive branch to physicians. Obama did say he shared the concerns of doctors who "feel like they're constantly looking over their shoulders for fear of lawsuits," but did not say he'd back a cap on malpractice awards.

    "But I do think we need to explore a range of ideas about how to put patient safety first, how to let doctors focus on practicing medicine," he said. Later, he also drew applause for saying he wanted to create a situation where doctors aren't "bean-counters and paper-pushers," but healers.

    "I need your help, doctors, because, to most Americans, you are the health care system," he said. "Americans -- and I include myself, Michelle, and our kids in this -- we just do what you tell us to do. That's what we do. We listen to you; we trust you. That's why I will listen to you and work with you to pursue reform that works for you."

    House GOP Leaders React to Health Care Speech

    House Minority Leader John Boehner and Whip Eric Cantor released the following statements today in response to President Obama's speech at the American Medical Association's annual conference in Chicago. Obama said today "the road to prosperity remains long and difficult" and that "one essential step on our journey is to control the spiraling cost of health care in America."


    "House Republicans want to work with President Obama on a plan to make health care more affordable and accessible for all Americans. We're pleased the President has expressed rhetorical support for medical liability reform, but fact is the effect of even the strongest medical liability reforms would be negated by a government takeover of health care that raises taxes, rations care, and drives health care costs even higher.

    "Real medical liability reform must establish tough standards to reform the medical liability system, encourage the speedy resolution of claims, and deter junk lawsuits. If President Obama is serious about reducing the skyrocketing cost of health care, he'll press his own party to include real medical liability reform as part of a reform package that puts patients and doctors in charge of their health care rather than putting government in charge. House Republicans are offering such a plan, and we hope to work with the President and our Democratic colleagues to enact it."


    "The debate surrounding health reform in America has begun in earnest. House Republicans stand ready to work with the Administration and the Democrat Majorities in Congress to craft a common-sense solution that preserves flexibility and choice, increases access, and lowers the cost of care for working families and small businesses.

    "To be clear, Republicans are not satisfied with the status quo, and we will move forward with a vision to address the health care needs for both patients and doctors. Specifically, we believe there is a better way and our reform principles will outline an approach that increases coverage and maintains the doctor-patient relationship, while improving quality without breaking the bank.

    "Unfortunately, in what has become a Washington tradition, hope of bipartisanship has quickly evaporated in the summer sun. Democrats are touting a government-run health care option that creates an unlevel playing field leading to the destruction of the private market, reducing choice and putting Washington bureaucrats in charge of family health care decisions. In addition, their approach will cost over a trillion dollars - money this country simply does not have.

    "There is a growing chorus of concern about the Democrat's trillion dollar government health proposal. More campaign-style events and speeches do not give the American people the answers they need. Can Americans keep what they have if they want to? How will this Administration pay for it? Is it productive for government to restrict our doctors' ability to treat patients as they see fit? Serious questions remain unanswered, and it's time for the Administration to end the happy talk and get down to the difficult decisions ahead."

    Gallup: Twice As Many Conservatives

    Twice as many Americans interviewed so far this year in national Gallup surveys say they are conservative, rather than liberal. Even with the recent election of a liberal president who won 60 percent of the moderate vote -- and a fifth of the conservative vote -- the number of self-described conservatives has increased this year.

    Gallup reports that 40 percent of interviewees this year said they were conservative, 35 percent moderate and 21 percent liberal. The number of conservatives hasn't shifted much in the last two decades -- from 1996 through 2004, between 39 and 40 percent described themselves as conservative -- though that number had dropped to 37 percent over the last three years.

    While two-fifths of the population says it's conservative, more Americans consider themselves either Democrats or independents than Republicans. Interviews this year found that 37 percent are independents, 36 percent Democrats and 28 percent Republicans.

    Strategy Memo: Chi-town Bound

    Good Monday morning on a beautiful day in Washington. President Obama heads home to Chicago this morning to talk about health care at the American Medical Association. The AMA last week signaled opposition to a public insurance option. After the speech, the president returns to Washington where he'll meet with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi; Obama heads to Italy next month for the G-8 summit.

    Both chambers of Congress are in session; no votes are expected in the House until early evening. The Senate convenes at 1:45 p.m. -- the House at 12:30 p.m. The supplemental appropriations conference report will be voted on this week.

    Health care was the main topic of debate on the Sunday talk shows. Check out all the highlights at the RealClearPolitics Video page, including interviews with Vice President Biden, Mitt Romney and a slew of senators.

    **President Obama
    *AP has the details in advance of Obama's speech today: health care reform "cannot wait and that bringing down costs is the most important thing he can do to ensure the country's long-term fiscal health." He'll also say that the United States spends too much on health care and gets too little in return, and that the health industry is crushing businesses and families and is leading to millions of Americans losing coverage.

    *The Times reports that Obama has privately been making the case for tort reform as part of a health care overhaul, saying it can help drive down costs. "It is a position that could hurt Mr. Obama with the left wing of his party and with trial lawyers who are major donors to Democratic campaigns. But one Democrat close to the president said Mr. Obama, who wants health legislation to have broad support, views addressing medical liability issues as a 'credibility builder' -- in effect, a bargaining chip that might keep doctors and, more important, Republicans, at the negotiating table."

    *Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) says that he's confident Obama will support the idea of taxing health care benefits to pay for the plan. "It looks like he's looking at doing similar to what McCain wanted to do, and I think for the benefit of making this bipartisan, presidential leadership in this area would be very good based upon the tune of the last campaign," he said.

    *In his weekly address, Obama outlined another $313 billion in spending cuts on health care. "Any honest accounting must prepare for the fact that health-care reform will require additional costs in the short term in order to reduce spending in the long-term," he said.

    *Obama is going prime time again for his health care push. ABC will broadcast a town hall meeting, "Questions for the President: Prescription for America," on June 24.

    *Washington Post looks at the "muted" reaction of the White House to developments in Iran. "The confused aftermath of Iran's presidential election is complicating the Obama administration's planned outreach to the Islamic republic and underscoring the challenges facing the president's new approach to the Middle East based on shared values and common interests. ... The cautious response illustrates the balance that the Obama administration is seeking between condemning what increasingly appears to be a fraudulent election and the likelihood that it will be dealing with Ahmadinejad after the dust settles."

    *The Washington Times looks at a potential conflict of interest in Rep. John McHugh's appointment as Army secretary. "McHugh, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, requested that more than $40 million in 'earmarks' be inserted into a 2010 defense appropriations bill, including more than $8 million benefiting an Army base in his home state, according to records. His wish list also included $4.7 million for Lockheed Martin, one of the Army's largest contractors. ... Lockheed's employees and political action committee have been sources of political cash for Mr. McHugh."

    *Have to love Italy: Berlusconi's visit to the White House "offers the Italian leader a chance to rehabilitate his international reputation after a scandal over his link to an 18-year-old model and ahead of a major summit he is hosting next month."

    *"After enjoying months of towering poll numbers, legislative victories and well-received foreign policy initiatives, the White House has become increasingly concerned that President Obama's spending plans, which would require $9 trillion in government borrowing over the next decade, could become a political liability that defines the 2010 midterm elections," WaPo reports.

    *One year ago today, Obama gave a Father's Day speech calling on black fathers to be more engaged in their kids' lives.

    **Campaign Stuff
    *AP: "TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran's supreme leader ordered Monday an investigation into allegations of election fraud, marking a stunning turnaround by the country's most powerful figure and offering hope to opposition forces who have waged street clashes to protest the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad."

    *Gallup: "Thus far in 2009, 40% of Americans interviewed in national Gallup Poll surveys describe their political views as conservative, 35% as moderate, and 21% as liberal. This represents a slight increase for conservatism in the U.S. since 2008, returning it to a level last seen in 2004. The 21% calling themselves liberal is in line with findings throughout this decade, but is up from the 1990s."

    *Politico looks at Democrats potentially challenging incumbents in Pennsylvania and New York despite the Obama administration's objections. "The two races illustrate the risks for Obama, or any president, in trying to play local kingmaker -- namely, the very real possibility that no matter how popular he is, he may not be able bend every contest to his wishes and that by trying to do so, he risks being defied by his own party." Sestak, on potentially challenging Specter: "I understand the very short-term, expedient desire to have the insurance of a 60th vote. [But] I believe in his heart of hearts, he really wants a real Democrat to win this race."

    *The St. Pete Times says to expect a huge fundraising number by Gov. Charlie Crist (R-Fla.) when he releases totals for his Senate campaign. "Crist has been holding fundraisers at a furious clip lately, and is expected to have a money-raising reception virtually every day until the end of the month, in and out of Florida. The maximum contribution to a federal campaign is $2,400, but Crist in many cases is reeling in $4,800 donations -- $9,600 per couple -- with half the money set aside for the primary and half for the general election."

    *AP: "Republicans are lining up behind a pointed political attack line: President Barack Obama is nationalizing American industry and socializing medicine. Drawing on the government's ownership stakes in auto giants, insurance companies and banks -- and the billions of tax dollars at risk -- the GOP is trying to develop wedge issues in the national debate over how to repair the economy and expand health insurance."

    *"There has been much chatter about who now speaks for the Republican Party, and whether the GOP has a message or an agenda to combat President Obama's popularity. Those questions are important to the party's future, but the most serious problem remains the deeper demographic and political forces at work in the country," WaPo's Dan Balz writes.

    *Utah Sen: "The Bennett name has long been political gold in Utah: His father, Wallace Bennett, served four terms in the Senate, and his grandfather served as president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But his moderate-to-conservative voting record has generated considerable opposition on his right flank. In the past week alone, two GOP candidates -- activist Cherilyn Eager and businessman James Williams -- have announced plans to run against Bennett," Politico reports.

    **Sports Alert: The Pittsburgh Penguins won it all Friday, and last night the Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA championship. Bryant finally won without Shaq, and took home that Finals MVP trophy the big man had hogged in their three-title run at the beginning of the decade.

    --Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

    Palin On "Today"

    Here's the full interview with Gov. Sarah Palin on this morning's "Today" show. A must watch:

    Strategy Memo: Absolutely Not Necessarily

    Today, President Obama meets with two former colleagues in the Senate - Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Dianne Feinstein of California -- as negotiations continue on health care and national security policy. He also welcomes the prime minister of Zimbabwe to the Oval Office in one the first such meetings with an African head of state. It's a light schedule on Capitol Hill, meanwhile.

    An election being watched extremely closely in the U.S. happens halfway around the world starting today. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seeks re-election in Iran, but faces a serious test in former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi. A win for the latter will certainly change the dynamic in southwest Asia, and be interepreted by some as the latest validation of Obama's foreign policy after a defeat of Hezbollah in Lebanon last week.

    Looking ahead to the Sunday shows: former Gov. Mitt Romney debates HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on "This Week." Vice President Biden is on "Meet The Press." And speaking of "Meet," tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of Tim Russert's tragic passing. Hard to believe, even today.

    **Health Care
    *Selling health care in Wisconsin yesterday, Obama said that a health care overhaul will cost "money up front" when "we don't have a lot of extra money to spend," but he added that reform is crucial for the country's economic future, USA Today reports.

    *Senate Democrats are considering a plan for "co-ops" as a compromise measure to appease Republican opposition to a public health care option. But Nancy Pelosi rejected the idea yesterday. "In our caucus, our members have been very clear about what their concerns might be about a public option, and I agree it should be sound, it should be administrative it should be self sufficient it should be a competitor with the private sector and not have an unfair advantage ... When you say public option, you have to say right next to it -- level playing field."

    *The AMA clarified their position on a public health care option, Ambinder notes. "The AMA opposes any public plan that forces physicians to participate, expands the fiscally-challenged Medicare program or pays Medicare rates, but the AMA is willing to consider other variations of the public plan that are currently under discussion in Congress," it said in a statement.

    *Check out Harry Reid's argument for why a public option is good: "Say I want to send something to one of my children in Nevada, the products that I choose can be sent by FedEx, UPS, DHL, or the United States Postal Service. The Postal Service may not be perfect, but the public option is there, and the private companies, FedEx, UPS, know they cannot rip you off or [be] slacking on their service."

    *The Hill: "Senate Democrats are bracing for what they expect will be a huge price tag connected with revamping the nation's healthcare system. The soon-to-be-delivered estimate on Democratic healthcare reform proposals is expected to be so expensive that lawmakers are talking about changing the chamber's normal accounting procedures."

    **President Obama
    *How long can President Obama keep blaming Bush for problems he inherited? Not much longer, the New York Times suspects. "At a certain point, a new president assumes ownership of the problems and finds himself answering for his own actions. For Mr. Obama, even some advisers say that moment may be coming soon." David Axelrod: "Nobody's trying to duck responsibility or make excuses for them. But it is important at times to put it into perspective, not to fix blame but to underscore that some of these problems are complex and they're going to take time to solve."

    *A supplemental appropriations bill to fund wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cleared the House after the Obama administration "dropped its request for a provision that would bar the release of photos that show abuse of detainees in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan," the Washington Post reports.

    *Former Virginia lieutenant governor Donald Beyer is the latest big donor rewarded with a plum ambassadorship, Washington Times notes.

    **Palin Watch
    *Sarah Palin "brushed aside David Letterman's olive branch to appear on his show, while adding, 'It would be wise to keep Willow away from' him," Newsday reports.

    *Asked on "Today" about the Letterman jokes, Palin said of the "slutty fight attendant" line: "My first thought was, hey don't disparage flight attendants." She also called Letterman's comment about his daughter a "sad commentary" on society, and said: "Willow would no doubt want to stay away from David Letterman." She said Letterman shouldn't apologize to her, but to young women for joking about statutory rape.

    Asked about 2012, and if she's a frontrunner: "Absolutely not necessarily." On her role in the party: "I want to be able to help the cause." The cause being, "big government is not the answer."

    *Palin was originally on the show to trumpet a pipeline deal between Trans Canada and Exxon. She had said yesterday it was "very encouraging and exciting, but certainly no surprise, because AGIA was crafted to allow just this type of commercial alignment to take place."

    But former Gov. Walter Hickel, who chaired Palin's '06 campaign, slammed it. "Because of her national ambitions, she is promoting an agenda that will allow Outside corporations to dominate Alaska's resources, including our energy and the jobs it provides," he said in a statement.

    **Scandal Watch: The chair and ranking member of the House Ethics Committee dropped "a political bomb" Thursday night, announcing they would review " the practice of lawmakers steering money and contracts to favored companies, and then receiving campaign contributions in return." Top Democrats on the Appropriations Committee, Reps. John Murtha, Pete Visclosk and Jim Moran, each "received significant campaign donations from lobbyists from a defunct firm, PMA, and its clients -- companies that got money for pet projects."

    **Campaign Stuff
    *Creigh Deeds, who was the only candidate in the primary not from Northern Virginia, is moving his campaign headquarters there for the general election. "In the general election, we're going to have to do very well in Northern Virginia," said Deeds, who also plans to have field offices in other cities. "That means we have to be closer to our volunteer base there. We have to be strategically positioned to take advantage of the resources there."

    *Chris Christie put his stamp on the New Jersey GOP, pleasing conservatives with his choice of Assemb. Jay Webber to be party chairman, the Inquirer reports.

    *Washington University law professor Thomas Schweich, who flirted with a Senate run in Missouri and was backed by John Danforth, announced he would back Roy Blunt in the race just "hours before the biggest Missouri Republican Party fundraiser of the year." "I have concluded that my entering the race would be divisive and probably lower the chances of keeping Sen. Bond's seat in Republican hands," Schweich said in his statement, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

    *Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle (D) looks fairly safe at this point if he seeks a third term, according to a new Kos/Research2000 poll. Russ Feingold, up in 2010, also has room to work with in hypothetical matchups.

    *Mike Huckabee's latest celebrity guest: Ric Flair. The two "tag-teamed" at a fundraiser in North Carolina.

    *The Utah Senate primary got even more crowded, with actress Cherilyn Edgar becoming the latest candidate to announce a challenge to Sen. Bob Bennett (R). Also in: state Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and small-business owner James Russell Williams III.

    *Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) is turning down an offer to serve as the ranking member on the education and labor committee in the next Congress, saying he couldn't commit that he'd run for another term. The move fuels speculation of a pending retirement or Senate run, CQ Politics says.

    *"Dirty diapers will likely dot the campaign trails of both heavyweight Democratic candidates in the 2010 U.S. Senate race," the Lexington Herald Leader reports. Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo announced that he's expecting a child in December; Attorney General Jack Conaway had announced that his wife is expecting earlier this year.

    **Sports Alert: The Magic lose in OT to put the Lakers one win away from another NBA Title. The Stanley Cup Finals has a do-or-die Game 7 tonight. And the Yanks just can't beat the Red Sox, blowing a lead in the 8th to go 0-8 over the hated rivals on the season.

    Leadership Vacuum, Or Opportunity?

    Democrats and MSNBC pundits delightedly flogged yesterday's Gallup Poll that found most voters have no idea who "speaks for" the Republican Party.

    Of those Republicans most named by the Gallup participants, only John McCain (picked by 6%) even holds elective office. Topping the list were Rush Limbaugh (13%) and Dick Cheney (10%), with Newt Gingrich polling 6% and George W. Bush 3%. The "1% Club" included GOP House Minority Leader John Boehner, RNC Chairman Michael Steele and likely 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

    "While being associated with the party of the sitting president gives the Democrats a natural advantage over the Republicans in having a well-defined person representing them, these data clearly underscore the leadership vacuum that confronts the Republican Party today," Gallup's Frank Newport wrote.

    The Gallup survey provides a fascinating snapshot in time, but things change quickly. Who would have said Barack Obama "speaks for" the Democrats in January 2008, before he won the Iowa caucuses? Three years away from the next presidential election, with Republicans the minority party in Congress and out of power in the White House, is it really surprising a single spokesman has not risen to the fore? And is it really a bad thing for the GOP?

    With the economy in the tank and unpopular bailouts dominating the news, it might be politically convenient for Republicans right now that voters are clear only about who speaks for Democrats -- 60% say Barack Obama and 20% say Nancy Pelosi.

    Sotomayor's Day on the Hill

    Here is Judge Sonia Sotomayor's schedule of meetings with senators on Capitol Hill today, according to the White House:

    Senator Daniel Akaka
    Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison
    Senator Bill Nelson
    Senator Jack Reed
    Senator Debbie Stabenow
    Senator Jon Tester
    Senator Mark Udall

    Yesterday she met with Sens. Sherrod Brown, Sam Brownback, Kent Conrad, Russ Feingold, Carl Levin, Joe Lieberman and Blanche Lincoln.

    VA Gov Poll: Deeds With Early Lead

    Less than two days since Creigh Deeds won the Democratic primary in Virginia, Rasmussen released a poll this morning showing him with a lead over Republican Bob McDonnell in the race for governor. The survey was taken June 10 of 500 likely voters.

    Deeds 47
    McDonnell 41
    Und 10

    Strategy Memo: On The Road

    Good morning, Washington. Today, President Obama continues to ramp up his health care push with a visit to Green Bay. He holds a town hall at Southwest High School "to discuss the need to reform our health care system," the White House said, though one official said he won't spell out any new details. Meanwhile, Vice President Biden is out on a multi-state tour to promote the stimulus plan. Today's stops are in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and Overland Park, Kansas.

    In Congress, the House and Senate conferees for the supplemental appropriations bill (for Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and pandemic flu) will meet at 3 p.m. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he will bring the conference report to a floor vote next week.

    The House will vote on the Pakistan Enduring Assistance and Cooperation Enhancement Act of 2009 and on naming a federal courthouse in Canton, Ohio, after former GOP Rep. Ralph Regula. The Senate will vote today on the tobacco control bill, which for the first time gives regulation authority to the Food and Drug Administration.

    **President Obama
    *In a meeting with Democratic and Republican committee leaders Wednesday, the president "stressed a bipartisan approach" on health care legislation, The Hill reports. "But the senators said while Obama remained flexible on many of the provisions, he insisted that Congress must pass a bill this year."

    *AP: "Obama's trip comes as a possible compromise emerged in the Senate to one of the most vexing obstacles in the health care reform debate." Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) is pushing a plan to create co-ops owned by groups of residents and small businesses that "would operate as nonprofits and without the government involvement that troubles Republicans and others about other public plan options."

    *The White House announced that Obama will speak at the AMA next week. The New York Times reports that the organization will oppose creation of a government-sponsored insurance plan. "The A.M.A. does not believe that creating a public health insurance option for non-disabled individuals under age 65 is the best way to expand health insurance coverage and lower costs," it said in a statement to the Senate Finance Committee. "The introduction of a new public plan threatens to restrict patient choice by driving out private insurers, which currently provide coverage for nearly 70 percent of Americans."

    *The rest of the Obama family is still in Europe, enjoying the sights and sounds of London, WaPo reports. "The White House declined to release details of the trip, but the French and British media, and sightseers on Twitter and other Web sites, have documented an impressive schedule. Among the first stops was tea with Sarah Brown, wife of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, at No. 10 Downing St."

    "The Obamas are committed to following all of the relevant rules and regulations regarding the reimbursement for travel expenses," the First Lady's office tells ABC.

    *The Chamber of Commerce plans to spend $100 million in advocacy against the "rapidly growing influence of government over private-sector activity," Wall Street Journal reports.

    *Bloomberg reports that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband lost $1 million in the AIG collapse. The news comes as lawmakers' financial disclosures are due.

    Washington Post: "Top House lawmakers had considerable holdings in major financial institutions that took billions of dollars in taxpayer bailouts at the end of last year," the reports also show. "Some ethics watchdogs were critical of members of Congress for investing directly in companies they oversee. 'You wonder if they're voting on things because it's good for the country or because it would increase their personal wealth,'" said CREW's Melanie Sloan."

    *AP: A tobacco control bill set to win Senate approval would give the federal government broad new powers to monitor and change a toxic substance that contributes to some 400,000 deaths every year. ... The House has already passed a similar bill, and resolution of relatively minor differences would send it to President Barack Obama. Unlike former President George W. Bush, who fought previous FDA regulation bills, Obama supports it."

    *Pelosi told Politico "that she will urge the House to approve the Senate version of the tobacco bill without insisting on a formal conference between the chambers."

    *"The House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) said Wednesday that he's at an impasse with the lead sponsor of a climate change bill strongly backed by Pelosi (D-Calif.), and that his list of Democratic members who would join him in voting against the measure is growing rather than shrinking," The Hill reports.

    *WSJ: "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her husband sustained losses of between $100,000 and $1 million on American International Group Inc. stock last year. The California couple also spent more than $250,000 to increase their ownership of a luxury spa in Napa Valley. ...The investments were among hundreds of financial transactions in 2008 by U.S. lawmakers that were disclosed in personal financial statements released Wednesday."

    **Campaign Stuff
    *Raleigh N&O looks at the Democrats in the mix in the NC Senate race.

    *VA Gov: There seems to be consensus that McAuliffe's lack of roots in the state doomed his candidacy. "But in the end, his brassy personality, bundles of money and indelible ties to the Clintons could not compensate for his lack of deep roots in the state's Democratic politics, party strategists said yesterday," writes WaPo's Dan Balz.

    Kyle noted the same thing in his write-up on the race. Despite bringing in big names, such as former President Bill Clinton, "These big names appear to only have solidified his place as the outsider."

    National Journal notes an interesting tactic used by the Deeds campaign: "Starting Monday afternoon, the Deeds campaign launched a Google network blast (sometimes called a Google "surge") to capitalize on his weekend gains in the polls and get out the vote for Election Day, according to an email from a Google spokeswoman."

    --Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

    Obama Congratulates Deeds

    The White House announces that President Obama did, indeed, speak with Creigh Deeds today "to congratulate him on running a terrific campaign and winning a hard-fought race."

    "He told Deeds that he is committed to helping him win this November to bring about the economic recovery that the people of Virginia demand and deserve," a statement reads.

    Vice President Biden joined New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine (D) last week as he celebrated renomination, and kicked off the general election race against Chris Christie. The administration will not say yet how involved Obama or Biden will be in the fall races, when Republicans hope victories will signal new momentum for the party.

    But history is against the Democrats: as a DGA fundraising e-mail points out today and we noted earlier this year, not since 1977 has the party that controlled the White House won the governorship in Virginia. The same trend holds in New Jersey since 1989.

    Outsider Status Did In McAuliffe

    Check out my piece today on the Virginia governor Democratic primary, which Deeds won yesterday with 50 percent of the vote.

    Just more than five months ago, Terry McAuliffe formally announced he would run for governor of Virginia and completely altered the Democratic primary landscape. What had been a battle between two longtime state legislators became a national show.

    In a video e-mail to supporters in January, McAuliffe said he would "travel to every corner of the commonwealth to ask all Virginians to join our campaign to get the economy moving again." He did that -- and then some -- but the former Democratic National Committee chairman was unable to overcome glaring deficiencies in his campaign: his perception as an outsider and lack of a home base.

    "It may not have turned out the way we wanted," McAuliffe said last night from the Westin Hotel in Arlington. "But it was quite a ride."

    Read the rest here.

    In Iowa, Huckabee Calls For "Clarity Of Conservative Principles"

    On his third visit to Iowa since winning the caucuses last year, Mike Huckabee sounded an optimistic note during an interview with Radio Iowa's O. Kay Henderson.

    "A lot of people are wringing their hands and acting like it's the end of the world. I see things quite differently," he said. "I think there's a lot of excitement. People are reminded that when we stand for something, we win. It's when we get mushy and squishy -- that's when we lose and people are beginning to realize that."

    Huckabee said there needs to be "a clarity of conservative principles," and said he was "stunned when I saw many people who pretended to be conservative who went out there and supported everything from the TARP bill to the bailouts."

    "There's nothing conservative about that," he said.

    Asked about his organization in Iowa for a potential 2012 run, Huckabee said there's nothing formal yet. He's focused now on helping individual candidates like Bob Vander Plaats, who's seeking the governorship in the Hawkeye State. "We'll certainly see many of the people who helped us get back into the fray for him, and I'm certainly hoping for that," he said.

    AL Gov Poll: Byrne Has Early Advantage

    The race for governor of Alabama should be competitive, according to a new PPP survey (June 2-5, 667 RV, MoE +/- 3.8%). Bradley Byrne (R) holds a slim lead over Rep. Artur Davis (D), though Davis leads the other three Republicans tested.

    Republicans: Byrne, two-year college system chancellor and former state senator; Tim James, businessman and son of former governor Fob James; Treasurer Kay Ivey; Roy Moore, former state Supreme Court chief justice and 2006 candidate.

    Democrats: Rep. Artur Davis; Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks.

    Davis 35 - Byrne 39 - Und 26
    Davis 37 - James 35 - Und 28
    Davis 39 - Ivey 31 - Und 31
    Davis 41 - Moore 38 - Und 21

    Sparks 27 - Byrne 41 - Und 33
    Sparks 33 - Ivey 29 - Und 39
    Sparks 32 - James 32 - Und 37
    Sparks 36 - Moore 38 - Und 25

    FL Sen Poll: Crist Leads, Dems Unknown

    Florida Gov. Charlie Crist doubles up State Rep. Marco Rubio in the Republican Senate primary, while more than half of Democratic voters don't yet have a favorite candidate, a new Quinnipiac survey finds. President Obama has a 58% approval rating (down 6 points from February), with Crist's slightly higher at 62% -- down 4 points from last month.

    "Marco Rubio says there are many Florida Republicans who don't want Charlie Crist in the U.S. Senate," said Quinnipiac assistant director Peter Brown. "Depending on how you define the word 'many,' he might be correct. Unfortunately for Rubio at this stage, many, many, many more favor Crist."

    Democrats tested were Reps. Kendrick Meek, Corrine Brown and Ron Klein.

    GOP Primary
    Crist 54
    Rubio 23
    Und 21

    Dem Primary
    Meek 18
    Brown 12
    Klein 8
    Und 57

    NJ Gov Poll: Corzine Disapproval Hits All-Time High

    The latest poll in the New Jersey gubernatorial race brings more bad news for Gov. Jon Corzine (D), who sees his disapproval rating hit a new high as the general election campaign begins. Former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie (R) enjoys a 10-point lead among likely voters in Quinnipiac's first survey since the June 2 primary.

    General Election Matchup (Likely Voters)
    Christie 50
    Corzine 40
    Undecided 9

    Among registered voters, there was only a slight change in polling trends. Christie had led 45-38 in a May 30 survey, and now has ticked up to a 46-37 lead. Polls show that Garden State voters still are not very familiar with the Republican.

    Favorability Ratings
    Christie 36 / 16 (46 haven't heard enough)
    Corzine 35 / 53

    Only 36 percent of New Jersey voters approve of how Corzine is handling his job, while 56 disapprove. Corzine has never been particularly popular, though; his high-water mark was 51 percent, in April 2007. President Obama is the only Democrat polling well in the state.

    Job Approval
    Corzine 36 / 56
    Lautenberg 44 / 36
    Menendez 40 / 31
    Obama 68 / 25

    Only 37 percent of voters think Corzine deserves to be re-elected, and 52 percent think things in the state have gotten worse since he took office. The survey was conducted from June 3-8, of 1,338 registered voters, and has a margin of error of +/- 2.7 percent.

    Strategy Memo: Good Deeds Rewarded

    Good Wednesday morning. In the race for governor of Virginia, State Sen. Creigh Deeds won the three-way Democratic primary last night with 50% of the vote and now faces Republican Bob McDonnell. The two candidates faced each other four years ago in the attorney general race, with McDonnell winning by less than 400 votes. The race has national implications, as the GOP hopes a McDonnell win in November brings an uptick in momentum and fundraising for the 2010 midterm elections. In a show of party unity, Deeds, Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran will appear alongside Gov. Tim Kaine in Richmond this morning.

    On Capitol Hill, the Senate continues consideration of the tobacco regulation bill, which the House passed in April, and the House takes up the Foreign Relations Authorization Act. House Republicans will unveil an alternative energy plan at a 10:30 a.m. press conference.

    Today President Obama has no scheduled public events. After his morning briefings, he has lunch with Vice President Biden. This afternoon me meets with Secretaries Geithner and Clinton.

    **Virginia Governor
    *The race was not even close, as Deeds won 50% to 26% for McAuliffe and 24% for Moran. The two once-frontrunners finished about even, with half as many votes as Deeds. The state senator won his rural home county, Bath, with 800 votes out of a total of 830. But he also won half the votes in populous and suburban Fairfax County.

    *Politics Daily: "Virginia Democrats today stuck to a tried-and-true formula for winning. In their three-way gubernatorial primary, they said no to a national figure with close Clinton ties and a liberal with a brother in Congress. Instead, they overwhelmingly picked state Sen. Creigh Deeds -- a moderate whose manner is the opposite of flamboyant. If that sounds like Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine and his predecessor, Democrat Mark Warner, well, why mess with a good thing?"

    *Washington Post: "Deeds beat Brian Moran and Terry McAuliffe in every region of the state, including vote-rich Northern Virginia, despite a pro-gun stance and relatively conservative positions that are out of line with many of the area's voters. His victory was so dominant that he captured 10 of the state's 11 congressional districts, including the one held by Moran's brother, U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr."

    *Richmond Times-Dispatch: "Deeds and McDonnell clashed in the race for attorney general in 2005. McDonnell won by 360 votes in the closest general election in Virginia history."

    *Roanoke Times: "No matter what happens after this, Creigh Deeds' victory will go down as a textbook example of what can happen in a three-way race when the two front-runners beat each other senseless, and the third guy becomes the consensus alternative."

    **President Obama
    *"For the second straight day," the Washington Times notes, "Obama sought to boost public confidence in his handling of the economy and bolster his argument that government intervention can work." He announced that the government turned a profit as some financial institutions returned TARP funds. House Republicans, though, signed a letter to Treasury Secretary Geithner urging him to use the money to pay down the national debt; the White House said it would go back into a general fund.

    *But the Wall Street Journal adds: "his congressional allies--and his own actions--threatened to undermine his message of fiscal discipline. ... House appropriators on Tuesday unveiled spending numbers for the coming fiscal year that push up domestic outlays by 10.4%, after lawmakers used gimmicks to get around the pay-as-you-go rules Mr. Obama is embracing."

    *More economic moves: "Eager to remove incentives that they say contributed to last year's financial crisis, President Barack Obama's economic team plans to unfurl broad executive pay principles, possibly as early as Wednesday, that put a premium on long-term performance over short-term gain," AP reports.

    *Health Care: The Hill: House Democrats released some details of the health care overhaul, "with liberals leaving the meeting happy and centrist Democrats walking away skeptical. The outline put forth lacked many of the details that will decide the fate of the overhaul -- notably, how the proposal would be paid for. But it made good on the commitment Obama and Democratic leaders made to include a government-run 'public option.'"

    *Gallup: "Asked to name the "main person who speaks for the Republican Party today," Republicans across the country are most likely to name three men: Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, and Dick Cheney."

    *Politico: "Republicans on Capitol Hill think they've finally found Barack Obama's Achilles' heel: rising public concern about government spending and the federal deficit. While Obama's overall job-approval ratings are up over the past month, a Gallup Poll out this week has a 51 percent majority of Americans disapproving of the president's efforts to control federal spending and a slim 48 percent to 46 percent disapproving of his handling of the federal deficit. Those are the only areas where Obama has negative approval ratings..."

    *The Hill: "Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairman Michael Steele on Tuesday called for Republicans to demonstrate their principles in standing up against President Obama's spending plans. In a memo sent to GOP leaders Tuesday, Steele cited polling that shows the American public is getting wary of increased federal spending aimed at stimulating the economy."

    *Actor Jon Voight made quite the impression Monday night at the Senate-House GOP fundraising dinner. Kyle chronicles it here.

    **Campaign Stuff
    *Adam Nagourney looks at Pawlenty's move to step down rather than seek re-election. "On the upside, he has a platform to take action, and to draw attention, in a way that former governors who might run for president must envy. ... But there are problems as well. Mr. Pawlenty's fights with the legislature - and more broadly, being in charge of his state at a time when things are bleak - has pulled down his approval ratings; indeed, there's a fairly decent chance he would have lost had he run again."

    *Gov. Rick Perry broke his collarbone while riding a bike yesterday.

    *There's a challenger to freshman Rep. Suzanne Kosmas (D-Fla.) - Winter Park City Commissioner Karen Diebel.

    *One of the few prominent Kansas Democrats, State Treasurer Dennis McKinney, says he will seek re-election, and not the governor's office.

    **Sports Alert: Orlando looked like they were going to give it away again last night, but late turnovers by the Lakers and a poor shooting night for Kobe Bryant allowed Disney World to defeat Disney Land for the first time in the series. The Lakers are now up 2-1, with Game 4 Thursday night.

    --Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

    Virginia Democratic Primary

    ARLINGTON, Va., June 9 -- At the election night event for Terry McAuliffe. I'm live-blogging the results over on the RCP Blog.

    Click onto the Virginia Election page for unofficial results.

    Sotomayor Hearings To Start July 13

    The Senate Judiciary Committee has announced that the confirmation hearings for Judge Sonia Sotomayor will begin Monday, July 13, meeting a White House goal for its Supreme Court pick.

    "There is no reason to unduly delay consideration of this well-qualified nominee," Judiciary Committee chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) said in a statement. "Indeed, given the attacks on her character, there are compelling reasons to proceed even ahead of this schedule. She deserves the earliest opportunity to respond to those attacks."

    Leahy also noted that hearings for now-Chief Justice John Roberts began 48 days after the choice was announced. Last week, press secretary Robert Gibbs had pointed out that on average, hearings had taken place 51 days after the announcements of the last nine justices. That would have meant a July 16 start date.

    "I think what's important about the timing is that we get a Supreme Court justice not simply ready to hear cases at the beginning of the Court's work in October, but obviously so that that person can take part in the very important discussions in September as the new court decides which cases it's going to hear," Gibbs said last week.

    From Stimulus To Paygo

    One day after announcing a ramping up of spending, President Obama today focused on efforts in his administration and by the Democrats in Congress to reinstitute fiscal discipline through the use of "paygo" rules.

    "It is no coincidence that this rule was in place when we moved from record deficits to record surpluses in the 1990s - and that when this rule was abandoned, we returned to record deficits that doubled the national debt," he said in the East Room, speaking to an audience of Blue Dog Democrats.

    When advised, the event was said to be focused on the role of paygo rules in entitlement reform. But the president only mentioned it briefly in that context: "Entitlement increases and tax cuts need to be paid for," he said. "Paying for what you spend is basic common sense. Perhaps that's why, here in Washington, it has been so elusive."

    Instead, Obama used the event to rattle off a series of initiatives already announced that the White House has said will put a dent in the nation's deficit. He repeated that within four years, the deficit will be halved - though he did not address longer-term projections that show it increasing beyond one term.

    He also announced that in the first round of TARP fund repayments, the government will turn a slight profit and the debt will drop $68 billion. He cautioned that there may be "some losses to the taxpayers" as other financial institutions repay government funds, however.

    Some institutions have been eager to return the funds for some time, because of executive compensation and other restrictions on them. To them, Obama said: "The return of these funds does not provide forgiveness for past excesses or permission for future misdeeds. It is critical that as our country emerges from this period of crisis, that we learn its lessons."

    Congress must still approve of the paygo rules; Obama noted that they passed in the last Congress, but were rejected by the White House. Republicans did not comment on paygo beyond noting what they see as contradictory messages.

    "That is an interesting claim given that we have just gone through five months of historic spending of taxpayer dollars," House Minority Whip Eric Cantor said.

    Voight Rips Obama at GOP Fundraiser

    Actor Jon Voight proved last night that there are conservative Republicans in Hollywood. Yes, it's true, though House and Senate Republicans could hardly believe it.

    Some 2,000 people joined 33 GOP senators and about 150 House members at the annual fundraising dinner for the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee. The GOP campaign arms raised a combined $14.5 million from the affair, held at the Washington Convention Center.

    While the buzz centered on the presence of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and the keynote address by former Speaker Newt Gingrich, Voight, who emceed the event, gave an opening speech that left many, well, speechless.

    "Everything Obama has recommended has turned out to be disastrous," Voight said, before listing the economic stimulus package, government-owned car companies, rising unemployment, Israel and health care. Voight said Obama "turned out to be radically liberal," and said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Obama adviser David Axelrod, among others, are to blame "for the downfall of this country."

    "We and we alone are the only people who can free this nation from this Obama oppression," said Voight, who made several appearances last year at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

    Upon stepping to the podium, elected officials were elated with the speech and joked that it may hurt Voight's future employment opportunities.

    "One of the most courageous acts in our society today is to stand up in Hollywood and say you're a conservative Republican," said Rep. Paul Ryan (Wisc.), who introduced the Oscar-winning actor.

    "Wasn't that a great speech?" asked Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah).

    "Isn't it a refreshing thing to hear a person from Hollywood give the kind of speech Jon did tonight," said NRSC Chairman John Cornyn. "Jon, we need more people like you in Hollywood to speak their conscience."

    "I'm still just reveling in hearing someone from Hollywood give a speech like that," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Kent.). "I hope you're going to be able to find work after this."

    Gingrich, opening what would be close to an hour-long speech, said Voight "has given you the battle cry for the next few years," referencing a quote Voight used from his characterization of President Franklin Roosevelt in the movie, "Pearl Harbor."

    "I think the phrase, 'Don't tell me it can't be done,' is about as good a way to start thinking about 2010 and 2012 as you could imagine," Gingrich said. "I recognize that 2009 is not 1994. But I want to say to you Republicans -- we have been here before."

    The theme of the night among the Senate and House leaders was party unity and winning back control of Congress. McConnell referred to Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) as "my buddy," and Boehner said he "could not have a greater partner."

    Cornyn and NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions, both from Texas, expressed optimism for the midterm elections. "I'm excited about our opportunities in 2010," Cornyn said. Sessions stepped to the podium and held up the card denoting his table number: 218, which happens to be the number of House seats needed for a majority. "Our job on the House side is to retire Nancy Pelosi," he said.

    Facing a 78-seat deficit in the House and down to just 40 seats in the Senate, winning back Congress next year will be a tall order. However, as Gingrich reiterated at the close of his speech, Republicans -- at least publicly -- think they have a chance.

    "Do not tell me it can't be done. It was true for FDR. It's true for us."

    Where They Are Today

    After what seemed like it would be an eternal primary campaign, the three Democrats running for governor of Virginia meet their fate today. Creigh Deeds, Terry McAuliffe and Brian Moran all finished off the months-long sprint with marathon campaign routes over the weekend and into today.

    Deeds, who all of a sudden appears favored to win thanks to two recent polls, began his day in Millboro, located in Bath County close to the West Virginia border. Deeds voted at 9:25 a.m., alongside his wife and son. Tonight, Deeds will hold what he hopes to be a celebratory event in Charlottesville, where his state Senate office and campaign headquarters are located.

    McAuliffe was scheduled to vote at 6:15 a.m. in McLean, then greet voters at a subway station in Falls Church and later in Arlington at Ray's Hell Burger -- where President Obama made an unannounced lunchtime trip a few weeks ago. McAuliffe's event tonight will be at a hotel in Arlington (where RCP will be).

    Moran, who has slipped to third in many polls after leading early, was scheduled to vote at 11:00 a.m. in Alexandria. His event tonight will also be in Alexandria.

    Voters decide today who will take on former Attorney General Bob McDonnell, whom RCP ran into last night at the Senate-House Republican dinner in Washington. Republicans hope a win in Virginia will give the party some momentum heading into next year's midterm elections.

    NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions mentioned McDonnell during his speech, calling him "the next governor of Virginia" and someone who can "bring us a victory that will help fuel our resurgence across this country."

    Strategy Memo: Virginia Is For Voters

    Good stormy morning, Washington. Today at the White House, President Obama will speak about restoring "paygo" rules to coincide with any new tax or entitlement policies. The announcement comes as lawmakers prepare to announce details of health care legislation, and as polls show Americans disapprove of the administration's spending. Later, Obama will host Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee.

    On the Hill: the Senate continues consideration of the tobacco regulation bill, while the House takes up a number of suspension bills. The $100 billion war spending bill continues to await a Senate-House conference. Defense Sec. Robert Gates and Treasury Sec. Timothy Geithner will testify in front of Senate Appropriations subcommittees.

    The Virginia Democratic Primary takes place today. State Sen. Creigh Deeds, former State Rep. Brian Moran and former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe are vying to take on Republican Bob McDonnell. Deeds has surged into the lead in recent polls, though with a traditional low turnout (and bad weather so far this morning) it's unclear which of the three Democrats will win.

    **President Obama
    *Gallup: "President Obama's Cairo speech was given front-page treatment in the U.S. (and around the world), leading off most news broadcasts and appearing at the top of news Web sites. All of this visibility does not, however, appear to have made much difference in the way Americans view their president -- at least not according to Gallup Daily tracking interviewing conducted through Sunday."

    *Los Angeles Times wraps up the stimulus push yesterday: "With the economy still sputtering and some experts doubting the program was meeting its goals, Obama vowed Monday to accelerate stimulus spending with the goal of creating or saving 600,000 jobs by summer's end."

    *Washington Post reports that the Congressional Oversight Panel suggests there may need to be a second round of stress tests. The first one assumed a worst-case unemployment rate of 8.9 percent - it's already beyond that.

    *Health care: Bloomberg reports that in the next 10 days, Obama "will give details of plans that White House aides say would pay for the bulk of a new health-care system. This includes his recent call for an extra $200 billion to $300 billion in savings for the Medicare and Medicaid programs for the elderly and the poor, the officials said."

    Meanwhile, "despite a less-than-rousing reaction from the Obama administration, House Democrats are considering a new tax on employer-provided health benefits to help pay for expanding coverage to the uninsured," AP reports. Several officials said the House legislation will include a government-run insurance option as well as plans offered by private companies. The government option draws near-unanimous opposition from Republicans and provokes concerns among many Democrats as well, although Obama has spoken out in favor of it.

    *Ted Kennedy's presence is sorely missed in the health care debate, the NYT reports. "Mr. Kennedy's absence has raised alarm among Democrats and Republicans who say that his gravitas and the force of his personality, particularly his ability to usher colleagues past minor disputes in pursuit of larger goals, will be missed as the debate heats up."

    Politico: "A landmark tobacco regulation bill advanced in the Senate on Monday amid growing pressure for the House to quickly accept the final product and lock up a long-sought victory for anti-smoking forces -- and for President Barack Obama."

    *War Spending Bill: "President Barack Obama's penchant for last-minute demands, and a rebellion by liberal allies over his efforts to block the release of detainee abuse photos, have combined to sidetrack his bill to pay for an expanded war in Afghanistan as well as continuing military operations in Iraq. The $100 billion measure is awaiting a House-Senate conference committee after winning easy approval last month in both chambers, but an emerging compromise on the bill has become caught in the crosscurrents coming from both Obama's left and right on Capitol Hill," AP reports.

    **Virginia Gov Democratic Primary
    *Final RCP Average for Virginia: Deeds 35.3%, McAuliffe 27.0%, Moran 23.8%

    *Washington Post: "Polls opened at 6 this morning for Virginia's Democratic primary, with severe thunderstorms sweeping parts of the region and expections of low voter turnout for a wide open, three-way race for the gubernatorial nomination."

    *Politics Daily's Jill Lawrence: "Democrats have won almost every big Virginia election since 2001 - installing two governors and two senators, and breaking a 40-year presidential losing streak by going for Barack Obama last year. The pressure is on to choose another winner Tuesday in a three-way gubernatorial primary, or risk setting back their party and their president."

    *Politico: "Thanks to a late surge of undecided voters in his direction, state Sen. Creigh Deeds appears to have moved ahead... It's a startling turn of events for a governor's race overshadowed by the outsize personality and deep pockets of McAuliffe, whose lead in the polls has dramatically dwindled in recent weeks at the hands of a veteran state legislator and country lawyer with a donkey named Harry S Truman."

    *L.A. Times: "Now McAuliffe, 52, has brought his presidential-sized campaign to this little state. He faces two known quantities in today's primary: state Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, an unvarnished country lawyer from rural Bath County, and former state legislator Brian Moran. Because the three agree on almost every issue, this has become a contest of money and style."

    *Last night at the NRSC-NRCC fundraising dinner in Washington, Palin and her husband did a quick strut across the stage before taking their seats at a front table. NRSC Chair John Cornyn (Texas) thanked her for being there; NRCC Chair Pete Sessions did not. In his speech, Newt Gingrich mentioned seeing Palin and Sen. John McCain together just before the dinner started.

    The stats from last night: around 150 House members; 33 senators; 2,000 guests; the two organizations made a combined $14.5 million.

    *CNN: "In a lengthy speech that touched on topics ranging from health care to border security," Newt Gingrich railed against the Obama administration's 'disastrous' approach to federal spending and national security policy. He acknowledged the intra-party squabbles that have roiled the Republican party since last year's election, but he said such debates are to be expected and will never really disappear from politics."

    *Sarah Palin did not speak at last night's Republican fundraiser, but she did talk to Fox News. The NY Daily News: "Sarah Palin said 'we told ya so' to President Obama on Monday night, claiming his spending polices to revive the economy were leading America to socialism.

    *The Hill: "Several GOP senators offered searing criticism of the Alaska governor when asked in recent interviews whether she could pose a credible challenge to President Obama in 2012. 'She has to hunker down and govern and show she's not a joke,' said a GOP lawmaker who represents one of the southern battlegrounds of the 2012 election."

    **Other Campaign Stuff
    *RCP Blog has the details on a new Quinnipiac poll on the Florida governor race, showing Democrat Alex Sink with a slight edge over Bill McCollum.

    *Roll Call reports that Rep. Robert Wexler (D) has spent more than $6,700 in campaign contributions this year on attorneys to help answer questions about his residency.

    *NY Senate flips: "Two dissident Democrats, who had been secretly strategizing with Republicans for weeks, bucked their party's leaders and joined with 30 Republican senators to form what they said would be a bipartisan power-sharing deal. But the arrangement effectively re-establishes Republican control." Democrats had finally retaken control last fall for the first time in decades.

    *Ethan Hastert, an attorney and son of the former House Speaker, will run for his dad's old seat, the Illinois 14th. "Generally, what I've been hearing is that people are not happy, not satisfied with our current leadership in Washington," he told the Kane County Chronicle. "Quite frankly, people are ready for the next generation of leadership."

    --Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

    Special Event: RealClearWorld Looks At Iran Election


    RealClearWorld, the one-stop shop for the best international news and analysis, is co-sponsoring a special policy discussion on this week's Iran presidential election. Hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, RCW will offer a live webcast of the event, which features Washington Institute's Mehdi Khalaji, American Enterprise Institute's Ali Alfoneh, as well as Iran expert - and regular RCW contributor - Meir Javedanfar.

    The event takes place Wednesday at 9 a.m. ET.

    Be sure to check out what will be a fascinating look into what the election could mean for the average Iranian, as well as for President Obama's foreign policy.

    Obama: Building On "Modest" Recovery Efforts, Time To "Accelerate"

    The White House is in relaunch mode today, arguing at the same time that the stimulus program is working but that more needs to be done.

    President Obama, in a meeting with the Cabinet today, said that unemployment figures released last Friday were actually promising, coming below expectations and continuing a downward trend in monthly job losses. Obama called it "modest progress" that he wants to build upon during the summer months.

    "I'm not satisfied. We've got more work to do," he said. Thanking the secretaries for their initial efforts in their own departments, he added: "Now we're in a position to really accelerate."

    As had been widely reported, the White House wants to "create or save" 600,000 jobs this summer. Obama also repeated the goal of ensuring a transparent program, "so that taxpayers know this money is not being wasted on a bunch of boondoggles," he said, tapping his pencil on the table. "I think that sometimes good news comes in what you don't hear about, and you haven't heard a bunch of scandals -- knock on wood so far."

    Of course, Biden said last week: "Some people are being scammed already." Seated next to Obama today, he announced new efforts to ensure a successful program. "We want them knowing that what we're doing is fully transparent, we're fully accountable, and we want them to watch us closely, and we want their input. We want them to tell us whether they think it's working or not working and how it's affecting them," he said.

    Republicans are reacting on today's event by saying it's an acknowledgment that the White House's economic efforts have failed. "Today, the White House confirmed that the Democrat economic stimulus bill is simply not creating the jobs President Obama promised. Simply put, the White House spin doesn't square with reality," chairman Michael Steele said in an RNC release.

    NC: Shuler Says No Senate Run

    The Henderson Times-News reports that Rep. Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) flatly ruled out challenging Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) in 2010 during a local event this morning. From the News-Times:

    "I am not running for Senate," the second-term Democrat said after a ground-breaking ceremony for a new building at the Bent Creek Experimental Forest Station in Asheville. "I am not running for Senate. I am not running for Senate. I have said that a thousand times, and I don't know why they keep coming up (with the idea). Of course they keep coming up and running polls.

    As Kyle reported last week, Shuler had said earlier this year he wouldn't run, but state and national Democrats were still hoping to change his mind. Burr keeps finding himself listed among vulnerable GOP incumbents, but so far no top Democrat has been recruited.

    VA Gov Poll: Deeds +40%, Again

    In the race for governor of Virginia, a second poll in as many days shows State Sen. Creigh Deeds with more than 40% support in the three-way Democratic primary. The election takes place tomorrow, with Deeds appearing to have all the late-breaking momentum in the race.

    Following a PPP poll showing him leading by 14 points, a new SurveyUSA poll (taken of LV, June 5-7) finds Deeds out in front with 42% -- ahead of former DNC Chair Terry McAuliffe (30%) and former State Rep. Brian Moran (21%).

    Deeds now leads by 8.3 points in the RCP Virginia Average.

    N.Y.C. Dems Support Gillibrand

    Two more New York City Democrats have announced their support for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), further evidence of a swarming of support for the senator whose upstate roots and politics had turned off some of the more liberal members of Congress.

    Reps. Ed Towns and Nydia Velazquez, both of Brooklyn, endorsed Gillibrand today, giving her 11 total endorsements from members of New York's House delegation and five from N.Y.C. In the past month, Gillibrand has also touted the endorsements of a number of women's groups, labor unions and prominent New Yorkers.

    "I am confident in her commitment and ability to deliver on behalf of New Yorkers and look forward to working with her closely for many years to come," Towns said in a statement released by the campaign.

    "As our state faces a time of great opportunity and extraordinary challenges, Kirsten Gillibrand has proven herself as an advocate for working families," said Velazquez, who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

    Rep. Gregory Meeks (D) of Queens and the Rev. Al Sharpton had been the latest to endorse Gillibrand, announcing their support on Friday. The senator also received other good news that day: Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D) announced she would not challenge Gillibrand in the primary -- the second House Dem to bow out of the race, following Rep. Steve Israel.

    Strategy Memo: This Side of the Pond

    On his first full day back in Washington, President Obama turns back to domestic policy. He holds a meeting of his Cabinet this morning, which will be used to announce a "ramping up" of the stimulus program. The president will be at the White House most of the week, leaving Washington Thursday for an event in Wisconsin.

    Both chambers of Congress return today, with the Senate picking up where it left off on the tobacco regulation bill and the House voting tonight on a series of suspension bills.

    In Virginia, Democratic gubernatorial candidates have just one more day to make their cases. In the last week, the "other guy" -- State Sen. Creigh Deeds -- has led in most polls, including a 14-point lead in the most recent survey.

    **President Obama
    *Today's announcement: Obama will announce a "ramping up" of the stimulus program, promising to create or save 600,000 jobs. AP: "The administration had always viewed the summer as a peak for stimulus spending, as better weather permitted more public works construction and federal agencies had processed requests from states and others. But Obama now promises an accelerated pace of federal spending over the next few months to boost the economy and produce jobs."

    *Hillary Clinton spoke to ABC's "This Week" on the year anniversary of her concession speech during the primaries. She said Obama has "absolutely" passed the 3 am test. "And, you know, the president, in his public actions and demeanor, and certainly in private with me and with the national security team, has been strong, thoughtful, decisive, I think he is doing a terrific job. And it's an honor to serve with him." She planned to say no to his offer of a Cabinet position, but said he "was quite persistent and very persuasive."

    *Leading up to today's Cabinet meeting, officials had been dispatched around the country for a "listening tour" of auto manufacturing hubs. The Washington Times follows Commerce Secretary Locke on one.

    *Wall Street Journal: "President Barack Obama returned home from abroad Sunday to find that his own oratory laying out an ever-more-ambitious agenda, both in foreign and domestic policy, is ratcheting up demands for concrete achievements."

    *The New York Times reports talks to a number of officials and finds that "underlying tensions that have gripped Mr. Obama's economic advisers as they have struggled with the gravest financial crisis since the Depression. ... By all accounts, much of the tension derives from the president's choice of the brilliant but sometimes supercilious Mr. Summers to be the director of the National Economic Council."

    **Judge Sotomayor
    *Sen. John Thune launched a Web site called "Supreme Court Watch" that's billing itself as "a conservative source for the latest confirmation news." "The site certainly seems to be an incipient attempt at building a galvanizing conservative water cooler against Sotomayor's nomination. That being said, does Thune want to associate himself with an effort to attack the first Hispanic Supreme Court nominee?"

    *The Plum Line has some White House talking points on the Sotomayor nomination, addressing the firefighters case: "There has been an effort by some folks who wish to reignite the culture wars of the past to define this case as an affirmative action case. This is not a case about affirmative action ... this was one of many employment discrimination cases under Title VII to come before the Second Circuit. Some people are trying to criticize Judge Sotomayor for being a judicial activist even as they criticize her for judicial restraint in Ricci. This demonstrates that they are grasping for attacks in the face of a strong nominee. They simply can't have it both ways."

    *"The 'racist' label certainly isn't sticking, but partisan feelings still run hot when voters are polled about Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor," Politico reports.

    **Campaign Stuff
    *VA Gov: One day before the competitive three-way Democratic primary, State Sen. Creigh Deeds leads by 14 points in a PPP poll.

    Veteran state politics reporter Jeff Schapiro spoke with Terry McAuliffe yesterday: "McAuliffe, saying that his focus on jobs is resonating with primary voters, shifted his message somewhat during the weekend by declaring he has the best chance of defeating McDonnell in November."

    Washington Post notes today that each of the candidates began their Sunday in predominantly black churches. "Enthusiasm among black voters for Barack Obama last fall helped him become the first Democrat since the 1960s to carry Virginia in a presidential election, but it is unclear whether any of the Democrats who hope to succeed Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) has succeeded in tapping that energy."

    *IL Sen: One less Dem -- Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) announced this morning she will not run for President Obama's old Senate seat.

    *PA Sen: Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) made his debut Saturday in front of the state Democratic Party, Politico chronicles. "Here, at the annual state committee meeting, Specter had his unofficial coming out party and he aimed to please. Using a teleprompter for his speech -- 'I wanted to express myself with precision,' he said -- and sporting a blue and red donkey tie, he told an audience of 300 Democratic elected officials and activists he felt 'welcome and comfortable.' "

    Specter said he was "pleased and proud" to return to his roots as a Democrat, invoking FDR and JFK as inspirations during a speech to the leaders of the state party, the Inquirer reports. Specter: "The far right used me for target practice, and they didn't like it when I wouldn't stand still. So I'm especially glad to be here with you, where I feel so welcome."

    *FL Sen: Former N.H. Sen. Bob Smith is now officially in the Florida Senate race, joining Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio on the GOP side. In a YouTube video, he called Crist a "movement away from our core conservative values," and of Rubio, says: "Strong political leadership, not wheeling and dealing, will ignite out base and restore our party to power."

    *Great lede from J-Mart: "Sarah Palin's on-again, off-again appearance at Monday night's gala GOP fundraising dinner is off -- again. After being invited -- for a second time -- to speak to the annual joint fundraiser for the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Palin was told abruptly Saturday night that she would not be allowed to address the thousands of Republicans there after all."

    *SC Gov: "One year from now, S.C. Democrats will hold a referendum on Gov. Mark Sanford and lay the sluggish economy and high unemployment rate at his feet, as a field of largely unknown candidates compete for a chance to replace him. Democrats hope a statewide grassroots network, set up by President Barack Obama, will get the anti-Sanford message out and help deliver voters to the Democratic primary," McClatchy reports.

    *NV Sen: "If anger were money, Sen. Harry Reid's opponents would be wealthy indeed. But it isn't, and they're not. Fundraising appeals sent out by a group that launched a supposedly major anti-Reid campaign last month reveal that the Our Country Deserves Better PAC is struggling financially," Las Vegas Review-Journal reports.

    **Court Watch (And we don't mean basketball): "Former Rep. William Jefferson's (D-La.) corruption trial is set to begin Tuesday after two years of intense legal wrangling that at one point involved evidence gathered during an FBI raid of his congressional office. Jefferson lost his seat in 2008, but the case is still considered an important bellwether for the federal government's ability to prove bribery charges against lawmakers," The Hill reports.

    **Sports Alert: Lakers up 2-0 in the NBA Finals. Last night was much closer than the first, but Kobe and the Lake show appear unwilling to lose for the second year in a row.

    --Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

    Schakowsky Won't Run for Senate

    Citing the immense amount of time it would take to raise the necessary funds, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) announced this morning she will not seek the Senate seat once held by President Barack Obama.

    "I seriously explored mounting a campaign for the Senate", Schakowsky said in a press release. "I feel confident that I could raise the $10 million dollars needed for a primary race - and the $16 million plus needed for a general election campaign - but to do it I would have to become a telemarketer five to six hours each day."

    Chicago Sun-Times reporter Lynn Sweet reported Schakowsky's decision yesterday.

    Many expect Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.), whose appointment and brief Senate career was controversial from the start, to not attempt to keep the seat next year. Two who appear they will run are State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and Chris Kennedy, a businessman and political heir. The wildcard continues to be Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan, who's mulling whether to run for governor or Senate.

    VA Gov Poll: Deeds +14

    Virginia gubernatorial candidate Creigh Deeds has opened up a double-digit lead with just one day to go in the race for the Democratic nomination. A new PPP poll finds Deeds (40%) leading Terry McAuliffe by 14 points, with Brian Moran just 2 points behind McAuliffe. One-tenth of voters remain undecided.

    Deeds is the only one of the three Dems to have run statewide, and in the last week his campaign has focused its advertising on the endorsement of The Washington Post. In Arlington, McAuliffe signs once ruled the roadways; now, "The Washington Post endorsed Deeds" signs are everywhere.

    On Friday, McAuliffe trotted out the endorsements of Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell -- both chairmen of national governors associations. Over the weekend, all three candidates were canvassing for voters, through phone calls and door-to-door outreach.

    With one day to go, Deeds leads by 3.7 points in the RCP Virginia Average

    DCCC Slams House GOPers For Just Saying 'No'

    The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is launching press releases in the districts of more than 60 House Republicans, including leaders John Boehner (OH-08), Eric Cantor (VA-07) and Pete Sessions (TX-32), highlighting the fact that they voted against the economic stimulus package.

    The press releases state that despite a high unemployment rate, "things are starting to turn around thanks to President Obama's economic recovery act, but no thanks to Representative Pete Sessions's 'just say no' opposition to it."

    While today's unemployment numbers appeared to be dismal, Democrats are highlighting reports indicating that the losses were not as bad as expected.

    Republican leaders had used today's report as a chance to bash Democratic economic policies, however a New York Times piece today quotes T. Rowe Price chief economist Alan D. Levenson saying the numbers actually show the country "could be at flat employment" by the end of the summer.

    "When will Representative Pete Sessions finally decide to be part of the solution instead of just saying no to President Obama's economic recovery policies that are starting to turn around the unemployment mess that George Bush created," Ryan Rudominer, DCCC national press secretary, says in the release. "Families are still hurting badly in these tough times. People losing their jobs in the Bush recession need action in the form of economic recovery, not Representative Sessions's determination to just say no."

    Huckabee Back To Iowa

    Mike Huckabee is heading to Iowa next week, his third trip since winning the state's caucuses last January.

    Next Wednesday, the former Arkansas governor will speak at the Iowa Association of Business and Industry's annual convention in Okoboji. The subject: climate change. Later, he keynotes to the "Leadership at the Lakes" event in Arnold's Park, organized by Bob Vander Plaats, a potential candidate for governor next year.

    Yes, it's already that time. Sen. John Ensign was there last week.

    GOP Pounces On Dismal Economic Numbers

    With the Bureau of Labor Statistics' announcement this morning that the unemployment rate had risen to 9.4 percent, Republican leaders have taken the opportunity to decry the economic policies pushed this year by a Democrat-controlled White House and Congress.

    --"Today's unemployment rate is the highest in more than a quarter century, and it's another reminder of how Washington is hanging middle-class Americans out to dry," said House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio).

    --"Today's unemployment numbers confirm that the Democrat economic stimulus bill is not creating the jobs President Obama promised," said RNC Chairman Michael Steele. "The President and Vice President may believe they are 'creating or saving' jobs but no one else is fooled. ... Americans need jobs, not presidential happy talk."

    --"We must refocus on employment, yet Speaker Pelosi and the unchecked Democrat majorities continue to increase Washington's hand in the free market, taking away natural incentives to create jobs," said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.).

    Strategy Memo: The Longest Day

    It's finally Friday. The president's day is almost through. He's going to tour the Buchenwald concentration camp soon, and later meet with U.S. forces at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. This morning, he met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and held a press conference. After today's stops, Obama heads to France to commemorate the 65th anniversary of D-Day. He'll meet up with the first lady and his daughters in Paris to close out his trip.

    Stateside, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced this morning that the unemployment rate has increased to 9.4%, up half-a-percent since last month. The BLS monthly report also stated that the number of unemployed persons increased by 787,000 to 14.5 million

    Neither the House or Senate are in session today. The Joint Economic Committee will hold a hearing this morning on the BLS's new employment statistics.

    **President Obama
    *AP: Today in Germany, Obama called "for all of us to redouble our efforts" toward separate Israeli and Palestinian states. "The moment is now for us to act," he declared. He also said he didn't seek any commitments from Germany to take a dozen prisoners when the United States closes its prison for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay.

    *Obama denied it at a press availability this morning, but the New York Times reports that he has an "increasingly strained relationship with Chancellor Angela Merkel. ... there are underlying tensions and disagreements on matters ranging from the global economic crisis to the future of inmates held at Guantánamo Bay. On a more basic level, there is a sense that the Obama administration is ignoring the needs and counsel of longtime allies."

    *Secretary of State Hillary Clinton backed up Obama's message, telling Fox News Channel: "It is really critical that we make clear, as the president did in this magnificent speech he gave, that we want to work with people all over the world, regardless of religion. We have no feeling of hostility or conflict with Muslims everywhere... I thought that it was important that we all be here to send a strong signal that America is doing what the president said we would do in his inaugural address."

    *Another czar! The Obama administration plans to appoint Kenneth Feinberg as a Special Master for Compensation "to ensure that companies receiving federal bailout funds are abiding by executive-pay guidelines," the Wall Street Journal reports. Feinberg oversaw the 9/11 victims fund.

    *Politico senses a political pattern to administration officials' travel on the stimulus. "Top officials have hosted events predominantly in states that Obama won in 2008. What's more, the examination revealed that Obama officials all but avoided Southern states that Obama lost."

    *The White House announced more top ambassador nominations. Three of them were top bundlers, First Read notes.

    *East Wing changes: First Lady Michelle Obama replaced her chief of staff, Jackie Norris, with Susan Sher, "a longtime friend and colleague. ... The shift means that three of the top positions in the East Wing are now held by old friends of the first lady."

    **Judge Sotomayor
    *WSJ: "While Judge Sonia Sotomayor stands in the liberal mainstream on many issues, her record suggests that the Supreme Court nominee could sometimes rule with the top court's conservatives on questions of criminal justice."

    *WaPo: Speeches released yesterday show "a strong-willed jurist who has exacting expectations of herself and those who come before her -- and who is driven by a powerful ethnic pride and a belief that she has an obligation to lift up fellow people of color. 'The Latina in me is an ember that blazes forever,' she told Hispanic law students at Hofstra University in 1996."

    *AP: "She likes to eat pig intestines and watch "Law & Order." She felt like an alien in the Ivy League. She reads fictional courtroom dramas and hands down imaginary rulings on the lawyers' objections therein. Judge Sonia Sotomayor's self-portrait, revealed in scores of speeches and writings released Thursday, portrays a "daughter of the Bronx" who rose from a lower middle-class background to the academic and legal elite -- but felt panicked on the cusp of each step up."

    *Also from yesterday's questionnaire, Hotline notes that Sotomayor was contacted by the White House days before Justice Souter announced his retirement.

    *Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) addressed concerns about Sotomayor's race remarks when they met yesterday. ABC: "Collins said she found the speech troubling, but said Sotomayor told her she 'meant is as inspirational' to the students at the conference sponsored by the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal. Collins said Sotomayor assured her that while she used the phrase before, 'she said she would not be using it again, which does not surprise me,' said Collins."

    *Most significant cases? "Sotomayor highlighted a 1995 decision that ended a baseball strike and another that condemned China's forced-abortion policy, as she submitted hundreds of pages of documents yesterday outlining her legal career to the Senate committee that will consider her nomination. ... The five boxes of files, giving senators a fuller picture of Sotomayor's background and record, also show that the White House contacted her about serving on the high court four days before Justice David Souter announced that he would retire," Boston Globe reports.

    *It looks like Sotomayor did vote for Obama.

    Gallup: "Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former Vice President Dick Cheney have little in common politically, but they receive almost identical image ratings from the American public. According to a May 29-31 Gallup Poll, 37% of Americans have a favorable view of Cheney and 34% have a favorable view of Pelosi. Both Cheney and Pelosi are viewed unfavorably by at least half of Americans."

    *"Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) could not reach an agreement with Republicans regarding consideration of a tobacco regulation bill Thursday evening, effectively forcing the chamber to allow more time for the legislation next week after it already consumed an entire week's worth of debate," Roll Call's Jessica Brady reports.

    *Speaking of tobacco, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) wants to outlaw cigarette smoking, The Hill reports.

    *Washington Post looks at the troubled past of a company with ties to Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.).

    *Intel: "Republicans ignited a firestorm of controversy on Thursday by revealing some of what they had been told at a closed-door Intelligence Committee hearing on the interrogation of terrorism suspects.Democrats immediately blasted the GOP lawmakers for publicly discussing classified information, while Republicans said Democrats are trying to hide the truth that enhanced interrogation of detainees is effective," The Hill reports.

    *LA Times reports that lawmakers are pressing forward with health care legislation without an ailing Sen. Ted Kennedy, "a politically and emotionally fraught move that could dramatically alter the course of what is expected to be a titanic legislative struggle." The Massachusetts senator "had planned to formally introduce his version of the healthcare overhaul shortly after Congress returned from recess this week. But he remains out of town, undergoing treatment, and is not expected back at the Capitol for at least a week or two."

    **Campaign Stuff
    *VA Gov: Moran camp's response to Montana Gov. Schweitzer endorsing McAuliffe this morning: "The guy who was rumored to be running for Governor of New York, and wanted to be Governor of Florida is having the Governor of Montana tell us why he should be Governor of Virginia? That makes about as much sense as running TV ads saying he cares about people's jobs when the Washington Post concluded that McAuliffe made millions off his political connections while people were laid off and lost everything. If these media reports are true, we welcome Governor Schweitzer to Virginia tomorrow, although he might be coming because he's worried that Terry McAuliffe would have chosen to run in Montana next."

    *Cillizza weighs the significance of endorsements by Schweitzer and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. "Does anyone doubt that McAuliffe, who badly needs a strong showing among African Americans to win on Tuesday, would rather have the support of prominent African American elected officials like Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) or former Richmond Mayor Doug Wilder -- both state-specific, non-statewide endorsers -- than Schweitzer and Rendell?"

    *Mark Sanford finally threw in the towel in his stimulus fight, after the state Supreme Court ruled he must take $700 billion in education funding. "But Sanford, a possible 2012 presidential candidate, also called the ruling 'terribly flawed" and said the decision reinforced his long-held belief that South Carolina's political system places too much authority in the hands of the state legislature," CNN reports.

    *Norm Coleman aides are denying a Roll Call report that the former senator will concede the race if the state Supreme Court rules against him.

    *IL Sen: "Politicians throughout Illinois have flirted with the idea of making a run for the seat, but most are still waiting to commit. The current officeholder, Democratic Sen. Roland Burris, is almost certain to bow out, according to people familiar with his thinking," Politico reports.

    --Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

    VA Gov Poll: Deeds Making Moves

    After trailing Terry McAuliffe by 23 points in the previous Daily Kos/Research 2000 poll, State Sen. Creigh Deeds now leads both McAuliffe and Brian Moran.

    Today's Research 2000 poll finds McAuliffe in third for the first time in months, if not ever. Deeds leads with 30% (+17 from last month), followed by Moran with 27% (+5) and McAuliffe 26% (-10). Still, the candidates are only a few points apart -- a constant among the different polls recently.

    For the general election, Moran performs best against Republican Bob McDonnell, trailing by 8 points (43%-35%) -- Deeds trails by 12 points (46%-34%) and McAuliffe by 13 points (46%-33%).

    This is the third poll in three days that Deeds has led in the June 9 Democratic primary. He's clearly felt a boost from his Washington Post endorsement and the ensuing ads he's airing around the state touting it. Deeds now leads in the RCP Average by 1.0 point.

    Sotomayor Questionnaire Posted

    The Senate Judiciary Committee has posted Judge Sonia Sotomayor's completed questionnaire. You can read the 172 page PDF here, and there's also a 130-page appendix.

    For what it's worth, the White House notes that the questionnaire was submitted "just 9 days after being nominated to the Supreme Court," which makes it "the swiftest questionnaire completion in recent history."

    VA Gov Poll: Deeds +3

    State Sen. Creigh Deeds leads a poll in the Virginia gubernatorial race for the second time this week. The upcoming June 9 Democratic primary pits Deeds, former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe and former state Rep. Brian Moran against each other in what has become an incredibly tight, three-man race.

    The Suffolk University poll released today finds Deeds ahead with 29%, followed by McAuliffe with 26% and Moran 23%. Though the election is less than a week away, undecided voters still make up more than one-fifth of the electorate (22%).

    "With the remaining undecided at 22 percent, the Deeds lead could be fluid, and the final tally could hinge on last-minute campaign ads, momentum, the weather, and get-out-the-vote efforts from all the candidates," said David Paleologos, director of Suffolk's Political Research Center.

    NH-02: "Inspired" By Obama, Kuster Enters Race

    Ann McLane Kuster, a New Hampshire attorney and early supporter of Barack Obama, announced today that she intends to run for the 2nd district seat being vacated by Rep. Paul Hodes (D).

    Born into a political family, Kuster co-chaired New Hampshire Women for Obama and spent countless hours traveling the state on his behalf. In an interview this morning, she said that advocacy for the president spurred her to seek the seat.

    "There's no question that I was inspired by Barack Obama to take this step into politics myself," said Kuster, of Hopkinton. "I've always been a community activist and a political activist. Both Barack and Michelle's grace and courage gave me the confidence to step up to run."

    Announcing her candidacy today in a video to supporters, she said the formal campaign kick off will come this fall; the Democratic primary is in September 2010. But Kuster said she's already been actively courting constituencies and voters throughout the district in "more or less a Hillary Clinton listening tour." She also has met several times with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and EMILY's List. She's focusing now on raising enough money to run a competitive campaign, with the goal of $1 million for the primary.

    Kuster said she hadn't expected to enter politics herself, but cited a confluence of events that spurred her to make the plunge. It started with her signing on to the Obama campaign in January 2007, followed by work on the presidential transition, and then the decision by Hodes to run for the U.S. Senate, creating a rare open seat race.

    "I'm not known as a political figure at all, so there's no question that when you see that first poll, I'll have a long way to go in terms of name recognition," she said.

    Among those also expected to run is Katrina Swett, whose husband, Dick, held the seat for two terms. Kuster acknowledged that Swett starts with considerable financial resources, having raised money for a Senate bid in 2008 before stepping aside for Jeanne Shaheen. But Swett lost a previous attempt at the seat in 2002 by double digits to Republican Charlie Bass, who may himself run again.

    "One of the reasons why I'm getting such strong support is that the pro-choice activists and others feel they want a very strong, moderate, pro-choice Democratic candidate to go up against Charlie and win and hold the seat," said Kuster.

    Earlier this year, Kuster indicated she might step aside if state Senate President Sylvia Larsen decided to enter. "My plan is to be in it to win it," Kuster said today.

    Kuster's father served as mayor of Concord and on the state Executive Council, and once ran for governor. Her mother was a long-time Republican state senator who switched parties in 1992 after endorsing Bill Clinton. She said she's been "genuinely pleased and surprised" by encouragement she's received from some of her parents' supporters, even joking that her parents are raising money for her from heaven as some of their donors have already contributed.

    Despite her prominent role on the Obama campaign in the state, Kuster said some of the state's top Clinton backers have already endorsed her. Her campaign listed dozens of endorsements today, including state House Majority Leader Mary Jane Wallner, Stoneyfield Yogurt CEO Gary Hirshberg, and Christina D'Allesandro, daughter of state Sen. Lou D'Allesandro. She said she's also signed up a strong list of consultants: Paul Ambrosino for direct mail, Mark Mellman as pollster, and Jason Ralston and John Lapp for media.

    Looking ahead, Kuster said she's trying to channel the "No Drama Obama" mindset for what will be a long campaign.

    "I've lived my life with passion, patience and perseverance, and that's what this will take," she said. "Eighteen months is a long time. I will just keep my head down and go to work every day getting it done."

    A Return to Conservatism? Be Patient

    Patience. That was the magic word invoked by the five conservatives participating in the 2009 Bradley Symposium, hosted yesterday by the Hudson Institute at the St. Regis Hotel in downtown Washington.

    This edition of the annual panel discussion was entitled "Making Conservatism Credible Again," and brought together pundits and elected officials to discuss why conservatism is on the outs and what conservatives can do about it. The conclusion was that the movement is just lost at the moment and Americans will come around again, eventually.

    "We'll have to practice another virtue, which is patience," said Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R). "We're going to have to spend some time in the penalty box. And our fellow citizens are going to eventually say, 'Alright, we'll listen. Did you learn anything? Did you hear us? Do you have any new, good ideas for us?'"

    Later, Daniels said, "The system seems to find an equilibrium, and it will again."

    In his opening remarks, National Review editor Rich Lowry mentioned conservative icon Ronald Reagan, whose statue ceremoniously debuted yesterday in the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall. Recounting how Reagan took advantage of a number of the Carter administration's low points to win the presidency in 1980, Lowry said that "you need the other side to fumble."

    "As conservatives, we have to believe reality is on our side," said Lowry, noting conservatives' beliefs in the power of the market, a tough leader in a dangerous world, and traditional social structures. "We don't believe these things because they're convenient or because they are popular -- we believe them because they are true. And because they are true, they will be vindicated -- eventually."

    Despite the defensive title of the discussion, moderated by American Enterprise Institute's Arthur Brooks, the panelists also played some offense -- knocking the current policies being produced by a Democrat-controlled White House and Congress.

    Daniels, who in his opening remarks took himself out of the running for the 2012 presidential race, referred to the first few months of the Obama administration as "shock and awe statism." Lowry said there was nothing Reagan "would have hated more than the federal government propping up a dead industry," referring to Obama's bankruptcy plan for General Motors.

    "When it comes to economic policy, what we've seen is not what the public might have expected on Election Day," said Yuval Levin of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. "If you had said in November that by June we will have spent a trillion dollars or so on a stimulus package, another trillion on the banks, have a deficit of $1.8 trillion for the year, a president that calls for an astonishing explosion of debt with no end in sight, be talking about a $2 trillion health care plan, by the way the government owns GM and Chrysler -- I think people would have thought that's a little crazy. And it is a little crazy."

    Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), a rising star in the GOP, said Obama and Democrats in Congress "revealed their disdain for the principles that built America," but that he's optimistic about America's future -- as long as Americans' make the right choice in the forthcoming elections. Conservatism isn't the problem, he said, it's the advertising of it that hasn't done its job.

    "The struggle between market freedom and a European welfare state socialism is a moral struggle," Ryan said. "My friends in this room, our only real problem is getting the people to hear the facts and explaining the consequences."

    Levin concurred, stating, "I think credibility is not exactly the issue ... And I think that the public is open to hearing from us. The question is: What do we have to say to them?"

    NJ Gov: First Post-Primary Poll Shows Christie +13

    Fresh off his primary victory Tuesday night, former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie (R) boasts a double-digit lead over Gov. Jon Corzine (D), according to a new Rasmussen poll released today. He now surpasses the 50 percent threshold, after falling just short in a poll last month before he won the nomination.

    General Election Matchup
    Christie 51 (+4 from 5/12)
    Corzine 38 (unch)
    Undecided 6 (-3)

    Job Approval:
    Obama 60/40
    Corzine 42/58

    Another big warning sign for Corzine: 41 percent of voters strongly disapprove of his job performance, and 37 percent have a "very unfavorable" opinion of him.

    Corzine 41/58
    Christie 56/35

    The poll finds that by double-digit margins, New Jersey voters favor Christie over the incumbent when it comes to taxes (+15), cutting government spending (+23) and fighting corruption (+27). But when asked who they think will win the election, respondents had an interesting response: 43 percent said Christie, while 41 percent said Corzine.

    The poll was conducted June 3, surveying 500 likely voters, and had a margin of error of +/- 4.5 percent.

    Dole Returns To North Carolina ... With Huckabee

    Elizabeth Dole lost her re-election bid in North Carolina last year in part because of the view that she didn't spend enough time in the Tarheel State. Well, the News & Observer reports this morning that the former senator is coming back to the state for what is believed to be the first time since her defeat, and she's bringing a guest.

    She'll be introducing former Arkansas governor and once (and future?) presidential candidate Mike Huckabee at an event in Charlotte next Thursday.

    Huckabee will hold two events at the Charlotte City Club to benefit a conservative advocacy group he runs, the Vertical Politics Institute, and his political action committee, Huck PAC.

    The North Carolina primary came well after Huckabee dropped out in 2008. The other Carolina, however, will likely preserve its early primary status.

    Obama Transcript: A New Beginning

    Here's the full transcript of President Obama's speech in Cairo today, with our emphasis in bold.

    For the record, the speech was over 6,000 words, and ran 55 minutes long. The transcript reflects it was interrupted for applause 42 times.


    Cairo University
    Cairo, Egypt

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much. Good afternoon. I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions. For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning; and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt's advancement. And together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress. I'm grateful for your hospitality, and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. And I'm also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: Assalaamu alaykum. (Applause.)

    We meet at a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world - tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of coexistence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

    Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. All this has bred more fear and more mistrust.

    So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, those who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. And this cycle of suspicion and discord must end.

    I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles -- principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

    I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. I know there's been a lot of publicity about this speech, but no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have this afternoon all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, "Be conscious of God and speak always the truth." (Applause.) That is what I will try to do today -- to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.

    Now part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I'm a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and at the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.

    As a student of history, I also know civilization's debt to Islam. It was Islam -- at places like Al-Azhar -- that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities -- (applause) -- it was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality. (Applause.)

    I also know that Islam has always been a part of America's story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President, John Adams, wrote, "The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims." And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, they have served in our government, they have stood for civil rights, they have started businesses, they have taught at our universities, they've excelled in our sports arenas, they've won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first Muslim American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers -- Thomas Jefferson -- kept in his personal library. (Applause.)

    So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear. (Applause.)

    But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. (Applause.) Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words -- within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum -- "Out of many, one."

    Now, much has been made of the fact that an African American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President. (Applause.) But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores -- and that includes nearly 7 million American Muslims in our country today who, by the way, enjoy incomes and educational levels that are higher than the American average. (Applause.)

    Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state in our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That's why the United States government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab and to punish those who would deny it. (Applause.)

    So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations -- to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.

    Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task. Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.

    For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. When innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. (Applause.) That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

    And this is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes -- and, yes, religions -- subjugating one another in pursuit of their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners to it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; our progress must be shared. (Applause.)

    Now, that does not mean we should ignore sources of tension. Indeed, it suggests the opposite: We must face these tensions squarely. And so in that spirit, let me speak as clearly and as plainly as I can about some specific issues that I believe we must finally confront together.

    The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.

    In Ankara, I made clear that America is not -- and never will be -- at war with Islam. (Applause.) We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security -- because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.

    The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America's goals, and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice; we went because of necessity. I'm aware that there's still some who would question or even justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: Al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.

    Now, make no mistake: We do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We see no military -- we seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and now Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.

    And that's why we're partnering with a coalition of 46 countries. And despite the costs involved, America's commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths -- but more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam. The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent is as -- it is as if he has killed all mankind. (Applause.) And the Holy Koran also says whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. (Applause.) The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism -- it is an important part of promoting peace.

    Now, we also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That's why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who've been displaced. That's why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend on.

    Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. (Applause.) Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: "I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be."

    Today, America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge a better future -- and to leave Iraq to Iraqis. And I have made it clear to the Iraqi people -- (applause) -- I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources. Iraq's sovereignty is its own. And that's why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August. That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq's democratically elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all of our troops from Iraq by 2012. (Applause.) We will help Iraq train its security forces and develop its economy. But we will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron.

    And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter or forget our principles. Nine-eleven was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year. (Applause.)

    So America will defend itself, respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are also threatened. The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.

    The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.

    America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

    Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed -- more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction -- or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews -- is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

    On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people -- Muslims and Christians -- have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they've endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations -- large and small -- that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own. (Applause.)

    For decades then, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It's easy to point fingers -- for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought about by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security. (Applause.)

    That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest. And that is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience and dedication that the task requires. (Applause.) The obligations -- the obligations that the parties have agreed to under the road map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them -- and all of us -- to live up to our responsibilities.

    Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign neither of courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That's not how moral authority is claimed; that's how it is surrendered.

    Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have to recognize they have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, recognize Israel's right to exist.

    At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. (Applause.) This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop. (Applause.)

    And Israel must also live up to its obligation to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society. Just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be a critical part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

    And finally, the Arab states must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state, to recognize Israel's legitimacy, and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.

    America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and we will say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. (Applause.) We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.

    Too many tears have been shed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of the three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra -- (applause) -- as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, peace be upon them, joined in prayer. (Applause.)

    The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.

    This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is in fact a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I've made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question now is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.

    I recognize it will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude, and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America's interests. It's about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.

    I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons. And that's why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. (Applause.) And any nation -- including Iran -- should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I'm hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.

    The fourth issue that I will address is democracy. (Applause.)

    I know -- I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other.

    That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere. (Applause.)

    Now, there is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: Governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments -- provided they govern with respect for all their people.

    This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they're out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. (Applause.) So no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power: You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER: Barack Obama, we love you!

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.) The fifth issue that we must address together is religious freedom.

    Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. That is the spirit we need today. People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind and the heart and the soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it's being challenged in many different ways.

    Among some Muslims, there's a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of somebody else's faith. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld -- whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. (Applause.) And if we are being honest, fault lines must be closed among Muslims, as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.

    Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That's why I'm committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.

    Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit -- for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We can't disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.

    In fact, faith should bring us together. And that's why we're forging service projects in America to bring together Christians, Muslims, and Jews. That's why we welcome efforts like Saudi Arabian King Abdullah's interfaith dialogue and Turkey's leadership in the Alliance of Civilizations. Around the world, we can turn dialogue into interfaith service, so bridges between peoples lead to action -- whether it is combating malaria in Africa, or providing relief after a natural disaster.

    The sixth issue -- the sixth issue that I want to address is women's rights. (Applause.) I know -- I know -- and you can tell from this audience, that there is a healthy debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. (Applause.) And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well educated are far more likely to be prosperous.

    Now, let me be clear: Issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, we've seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.

    I am convinced that our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons. (Applause.) Our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity -- men and women -- to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. And that is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams. (Applause.)

    Finally, I want to discuss economic development and opportunity.

    I know that for many, the face of globalization is contradictory. The Internet and television can bring knowledge and information, but also offensive sexuality and mindless violence into the home. Trade can bring new wealth and opportunities, but also huge disruptions and change in communities. In all nations -- including America -- this change can bring fear. Fear that because of modernity we lose control over our economic choices, our politics, and most importantly our identities -- those things we most cherish about our communities, our families, our traditions, and our faith.

    But I also know that human progress cannot be denied. There need not be contradictions between development and tradition. Countries like Japan and South Korea grew their economies enormously while maintaining distinct cultures. The same is true for the astonishing progress within Muslim-majority countries from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai. In ancient times and in our times, Muslim communities have been at the forefront of innovation and education.

    And this is important because no development strategy can be based only upon what comes out of the ground, nor can it be sustained while young people are out of work. Many Gulf states have enjoyed great wealth as a consequence of oil, and some are beginning to focus it on broader development. But all of us must recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century -- (applause) -- and in too many Muslim communities, there remains underinvestment in these areas. I'm emphasizing such investment within my own country. And while America in the past has focused on oil and gas when it comes to this part of the world, we now seek a broader engagement.

    On education, we will expand exchange programs, and increase scholarships, like the one that brought my father to America. (Applause.) At the same time, we will encourage more Americans to study in Muslim communities. And we will match promising Muslim students with internships in America; invest in online learning for teachers and children around the world; and create a new online network, so a young person in Kansas can communicate instantly with a young person in Cairo.

    On economic development, we will create a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries. And I will host a Summit on Entrepreneurship this year to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.

    On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create more jobs. We'll open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new science envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, grow new crops. Today I'm announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio. And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health.

    All these things must be done in partnership. Americans are ready to join with citizens and governments; community organizations, religious leaders, and businesses in Muslim communities around the world to help our people pursue a better life.

    The issues that I have described will not be easy to address. But we have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world that we seek -- a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God's children are respected. Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.

    I know there are many -- Muslim and non-Muslim -- who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the way of progress. Some suggest that it isn't worth the effort -- that we are fated to disagree, and civilizations are doomed to clash. Many more are simply skeptical that real change can occur. There's so much fear, so much mistrust that has built up over the years. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward. And I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith, in every country -- you, more than anyone, have the ability to reimagine the world, to remake this world.

    All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort -- a sustained effort -- to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

    It's easier to start wars than to end them. It's easier to blame others than to look inward. It's easier to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There's one rule that lies at the heart of every religion -- that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. (Applause.) This truth transcends nations and peoples -- a belief that isn't new; that isn't black or white or brown; that isn't Christian or Muslim or Jew. It's a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the hearts of billions around the world. It's a faith in other people, and it's what brought me here today.

    We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.

    The Holy Koran tells us: "O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another."

    The Talmud tells us: "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace."

    The Holy Bible tells us: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Applause.)

    The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now that must be our work here on Earth.

    Thank you. And may God's peace be upon you. Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)

    Strategy Memo: Democracy in Cairo

    Most of President Obama's day is already through. Just an hour ago he finished a major speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, where he called for a "new beginning." He also met with Egyptian President Mubarak. What's left? He'll tour the Pyramids and the Sphinx, before flying to Germany. Back in D.C., Vice President Biden holds more meetings on the stimulus bill, and tonight he'll host committee chairmen and ranking members at the Naval Observatory.

    On Capitol Hill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is holding a press conference today with three Latino organization leaders to discuss the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor. On the west lawn, Speaker Pelosi will speak at an event commemorating the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square.

    Two Cabinet officials will testify in front of Appropriations subcommittees today: Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack on the Senate side and Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood in the House. The House takes up the Transportation Security Administration Authorization Act of 2009 and the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act of 2009, while the Senate continues consideration of a tobacco regulation bill.

    **President Obama
    *Some early leads: NY Times: "President Obama pledged on Thursday to 'seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,' imploring America and the Islamic world to drop their suspicions of one another and forge new alliances to confront violent extremism and heal religious divides."

    *AP: "Quoting from the Quran for emphasis, President Barack Obama called for a 'new beginning between the United States and Muslims' Thursday and said together, they could confront violent extremism across the globe and advance the timeless search for peace in the Middle East."

    *Washington Post: "President Obama asked Thursday for a 'new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world' in a speech that urged Islamic nations to embrace democracy, women's rights, religious tolerance and the right of Israel to co-exist with an independent Palestinian state."

    *BBC: "US President Barack Obama has said the 'cycle of suspicion and discord' between the United States and the Muslim world must end. In a keynote speech in Cairo, Mr Obama called for a 'new beginning' in ties."

    *Sean Hannity reacted on "Good Morning America": "This is an extension of what has become an apology tour, that America is an arrogant country," Hannity told ABC. More: "He repeatedly quoted the Quran in the speech today, but he did miss some of the more controversial quotes in the Quran, about infidels, about taking Christians and Jews and friends. That was an interesting omission."

    *Photos of Obama in Cairo, courtesy of the New York Times.

    *Another shift from campaign rhetoric on health care. The New York Times: "President Obama said Wednesday that he was receptive to Congressional proposals that would require Americans to have health insurance and oblige employers to share in the cost. But he said there should be exemptions for people who cannot afford insurance and for small businesses in general."

    *Gitmo: "The White House sent a deputy national security adviser to Capitol Hill Wednesday evening to urge Senate Democrats to drop their resistance to relocating Guantanamo Bay detainees to U.S. prisons. The adviser met with the Democratic Conference for about an hour, pressing them to modify an amendment adopted in May to the war-spending measure that would deny the administration funding to close the prison in Cuba and transfer the prisoners into the United States," The Hill reports.

    *Change of heart? "Seeking to head off Republicans, Democratic leaders on Wednesday pushed through a resolution requiring the House ethics committee to disclose what actions it has taken in responding to the controversy over the PMA Group, a once prominent lobbying firm now at the center of a Justice Department criminal probe," Politico reports.

    *Anti-Sotomayor: "Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) has emerged as the GOP's leading critic of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor, arguing that Republican Senate opposition to her installment should be expected given how President Barack Obama treated former President George W. Bush's high court picks," Roll Call reports.

    *Not long after a Wall Street Journal story from last week revealed questionable expenses from members, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House will begin posting office expense reports online. "A spokesman for the speaker said her action wasn't prompted by the articles, which found mostly routine spending on staff salaries, travel and office rent, as well as supplies, printing and mailing. The 2008 reports also showed taxpayer money spent on luxury car leases, big-screen TVs, pricey laptops known as 'Toughbooks' and fresh-cut flower arrangements."

    **Campaign Stuff
    *As we reported, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels took himself out of the 2012 presidential running yesterday during a symposium on conservatism held two blocks from the White House.

    *With just five days until the Democratic primary in Virginia, Brian Moran is going on the offensive, Politico reports. Creigh Deeds has now joined Terry McAuliffe in TV advertising in Northern Virginia -- Deeds' ad touts his Washington Post endorsement.

    *Dan Balz looks at the scrutiny potential 2012 candidates are already seeing. "Twice this week, the political community has seized on signs of activity among prospective GOP presidential candidates. On Monday, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney delivered a speech at the Heritage Foundation, where he slammed Obama for having taken what he called a foreign "tour of apology" this year. Romney ran unsuccessfully for his party's nomination in 2008, and his speech was seen as a forceful expression of interest in another bid."

    *Former Georgia Gov. Roy Barnes, announcing his comeback bid, said he's learned from the mistakes of his first term. Per the AJC, Barnes said: "When I was governor before, I didn't do enough listening. I realize I was impatient and I had an aggressive agenda. I didn't take time to explain why I thought certain issues were important or time-sensitive and critical to make a Georgia that could be instead of a Georgia that was."

    *Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, who lost the 2006 Senate race to Sen. Debbie Stabenow, entered the Michigan governor's race Wednesday. AP: "He criticized current state leaders for failing to do enough to trim Michigan's budget to meet shrinking revenues, noting that state lawmakers still haven't killed a job perk that gives them lifetime health care benefits after six years of service." Bouchard: "Not only are they not making the tough choices, they're making the wrong choices."

    *Chris Cillizza reports on a poll in Texas, showing that Kay Bailey Hutchison has stronger approval ratings than Gov. Rick Perry. Hutchison: 66/18; Perry: 52/40. Among conservatives, their numbers are "virtually identical."

    *NJ Gov: PolitickerNJ breaks down the numbers in the Democratic primary, pointing out that "against three challengers with no money, no base, no organization, and no name identification, the incumbent Governor seemed to have seriously underperformed outside of North Jersey. In two Democratic strongholds important to his re-election campaign, Corzine won just 67% in Middlesex and 70% in Camden. The incumbent was held to 62% in Monmouth and 65% in Ocean."

    *The Democratic field of candidates continues to grow for Vermont's governorship with state Sen. Susan Bartlett announcing she'll run, the Burlington Free Press reports.. Gov. Jim Douglas (R) hasn't announced if he'll seek a fifth two-year term.

    **Sports Alert: Kobe vs. Dwight Howard. The NBA Finals begins tonight in Los Angeles. If it's anything like the earlier rounds of this year's playoffs, we'll be happy.

    --Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

    VA Gov Poll: McAuliffe +6

    A new SurveyUSA poll in Virginia, released less than a week before the June 9 Democratic primary for governor, finds Terry McAuliffe leading Creigh Deeds by 6 points, with Brian Moran finishing 9 points back.

    McAuliffe 35 - Deeds 29 -Moran 26

    In potential general election matchups with Republican nominee Bob McDonnell, Deeds performed best -- though all three Dems trail the former attorney general.

    McDonnell 44 - Deeds 43
    McDonnell 47 - McAuliffe 40
    McDonnell 48 - Moran 37

    PPP released a poll yesterday showing Deeds with a small lead in the Democratic primary. With turnout expected to be low, as is usual in Virginia gubernatorial primaries, no one is quite sure what will happen Tuesday.

    Long Meeting, Short Statement

    The White House statement on President Obama's meeting with King Abdullah is all of 77 words, even though the meeting reportedly went much longer than expected. Here it is:

    Readout of The President's Meeting with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia

    President Obama and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia met today and discussed a wide range of issues including Middle East peace, the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, energy, Iran and other matters affecting the region. The President and the King also discussed the President's upcoming speech to the Muslim world. The President and King pledged to remain in close contact in order to continue to make progress on these and other issues central to the US-Saudi relationship.

    NC Senate: Burr Awaits A Challenger

    Check out my piece today on the Senate race in North Carolina, where Sen. Richard Burr (R) awaits a Democratic challenger. Polls and the current landscape within the state indicate Burr is vulnerable, but no Dems have stepped up as of yet.

    By any number of metrics, North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr could be the most vulnerable Republican incumbent in the country. His once Republican-leaning state looks rather blue after the 2008 elections, and recent polls show Burr anything but safe.

    Still, Burr is likeable -- nothing like his distant relative, Vice President Aaron Burr -- and he lacks the kind of issues that doomed former senator Elizabeth Dole's re-election bid last year. Perhaps most important to the first-term senator's survival prospects, though, is that no top-tier Democrat has stepped forward to challenge him.

    You can read the rest here.

    Daniels Ends 2012 Speculation

    Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels indicated today that his current job would be his last, a statement likely to deflate the hopes of many conservatives around the country that he'd run for president in 2012.

    "I've only ever run for or held one office," Daniels said. "It's the last one I'm going to hold."

    Daniels was speaking on the current state of conservatism during a panel discussion hosted by the Hudson Institute at the St. Regis Hotel in downtown Washington -- just two blocks from the White House. The second-term governor had been mentioned by the likes of Bill Kristol and Michael Barone as a potential challenger to President Obama in 2012, especially after his commanding performance in the 2008 election.

    The Republican governor left his post as director of the Office of Management and Budget under George W. Bush to run in 2004. He defeated acting Gov. Joe Kernan (D) by 8 points that year, and four years later he won re-election by tallying more votes than any candidate in state history -- and almost 200,000 more than Obama, the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state in 44 years.

    Limbaugh, Gingrich Softening On Sotomayor?

    Last week, both Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich emerged as top critics of Judge Sonia Sotomayor -- calling her a racist because of her 2001 "wise Latina" speech. Other Republicans, particularly those in elected office, urged restraint. And today it appears that message has been received.

    On his radio show today, Limbaugh focused on Sotomayor's Catholic faith and the fact that she "doesn't have a clear record on abortion.

    "Overturning Roe vs. Wade -- it would be huge," he said. "I could see a possibility of supporting this nomination if I could be convinced that she does have a sensibility toward life, in a legal sense. In a real sense."

    The administration has expressed no concern about her position, however, even as some pro-choice groups did.

    Meanwhile, Gingrich wrote today at Human Events expressing some regret over the harshness of his statements last week.

    "My initial reaction was strong and direct -- perhaps too strong and too direct. The sentiment struck me as racist and I said so. Since then, some who want to have an open and honest consideration of Judge Sotomayor's fitness to serve on the nation's highest court have been critical of my word choice.

    "With these critics who want to have an honest conversation, I agree. The word 'racist' should not have been applied to Judge Sotomayor as a person, even if her words themselves are unacceptable (a fact which both President Obama and his Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, have since admitted)."

    Leach, A Republican Obama Backer, Gets Admin Post

    For the second day in a row, President Obama is appointing a Republican to a plum administration post. The White House just announced that former Rep. Jim Leach, an Iowa Republican who lost his seat in an upset in 2006, will be appointed chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

    Leach endorsed Obama in the 2008 campaign, heading up the "Republicans for Obama" committee. He also spoke at the convention in Denver. Some thought Leach would be tapped as the ambassador to China, a post that went to another Republican, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman.

    "I am confident that with Jim as its head, the National Endowment for the Humanities will continue on its vital mission of supporting the humanities and giving the American public access to the rich resources of our culture. Jim is a valued and dedicated public servant and I look forward to working with him in the months and years ahead," Obama says in a statement.

    The NEH is "an independent grant-making agency of the United States government dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities."

    Strategy Memo: Christie vs. Corzine

    Good morning from Washington. President Obama has touched down in Riyadh, where he will spend the day meeting with the nation's King Abdullah. It's the first stop of his foreign trip, with tomorrow's speech in Cairo, Egypt, a main focus. Obama attends a welcome reception at Abdullah's farm, and then a bilateral reception. He spends the night there. Vice President Biden heads things up in Washington, where he'll hold a roundtable with governors and transportation officials to discuss the stimulus plan.

    Sonia Sotomayor will be back on Capitol Hill today, as the Supreme Court nominee has meetings scheduled with 10 more senators. Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy and Ranking Member Jeff Sessions will meet privately, perhaps today, to discuss their difference of opinion on when Judiciary hearings on her nomination should begin -- July or September. The Senate will resume today consideration of a bill that would authorize the FDA to regulate tobacco.

    And after last night's primary election, it's Chris Christie versus Jon Corzine in the New Jersey governor's race. State and national Republicans breathed a sigh of relief as Christie defeated the more conservative Steve Lonegan, who while polls showed him ahead of Corzine, was considered the less electable of the two. Can Corzine count on New Jersey's blue tint to overcome his weak popularity? Only 150+ days to go.

    **President Obama
    *Washington Post reports that Obama told Democratic senators yesterday that he is open to the idea of taxing health care benefits, an idea he slammed in the election. "White House officials moved quickly to clarify that taxing the health insurance provided by businesses is not Obama's first choice, but aides refused to rule out the possibility."

    *The president also "affirmed his support for the creation of a government-sponsored health insurance plan, but he acknowledged that such a plan would sharply reduce the chances for Republican support of legislation to overhaul the health care system," the New York Times says, citing Democratic senators.

    *Obama called the next few months a "make-or-break period" for health-care legislation, "ratcheting up pressure on lawmakers," Bloomberg reports. He wants legislation drafted before Congress leaves for the August recess.

    *Tom Daschle, once the choice for HHS Secretary, said yesterday that the chances of reform being achieved are 50/50. "I'd like to think it was better than that. But . . . having had all the experiences over time that I've had in Congress, I would say it's no better than 50/50," he said at the National Press Club.

    *USA Today on Obama's efforts to reach out to the Muslim world ahead of tomorrow's speech in Cairo. "The setting of his speech -- the capital of a country that calls itself a democracy but is run as a police state -- speaks to the complexities before him. In many Muslim nations, from Lebanon to Afghanistan, where Obama's words also will be heard, extremists are gaining ground.

    *AP on the Saudi Arabia stop: "The president was talking to Abdullah about a host of thorny problems, from Arab-Israeli peace efforts to Iran's nuclear program. The Saudis have voiced growing concern in private that an Iranian bomb could unleash a nuclear arms race in the region. The surge in oil prices also was on the agenda."

    *Not only was Obama the focus of an hour-long special last night, but he made a cameo on "The Tonight Show," taking a question from Brian Williams about Conan O'Brien. "This is something we discussed several times in the Oval Office, how to manage this transition between Leno and Conan. And I think he's up to the task. But I just want him to know that there is not going to any bailout coming out from Washington if he screws it up."

    **Rep. McHugh (R-N.Y.) for Army Secretary fallout
    *"All at once, Obama has selected a nominee who burnishes his bipartisan credentials, opened up a seat prime for Democratic pickup and drained the GOP reservoir of one of the few remaining Northeastern moderates. ... And with McHugh's appointment, Obama has managed to cut New York's ever-shrinking GOP House delegation by one-third. The state delegation now includes just two Republicans in its 29-member contingent -- down from 10 as recently as 2004," Politico's Mahtesian writes.

    *Off to the races: "The expected departure of Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.) to the Obama administration has set off two races to replace him, one in his New York district, the other on his Washington-based Congressional committee. McHugh had barely accepted the White House's nomination for secretary of the Army on Tuesday before three members of the House Armed Services Committee began campaigning to replace him as the ranking member of the panel," Roll Call reports.

    *Quinnipiac: "American voters say 55 - 36 percent that affirmative action should be abolished, and disagree 71 - 19 percent with Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayer's ruling in the New Haven firefighters' case."

    *The Hill speaks with a GOP senator who "acknowledged her confirmation is all but a foregone conclusion," but "noted that the GOP will focus on Sotomayor's temperament while on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals and said if she lets her temper flare during confirmation hearings, it would erode GOP support."

    *She "has been called an 'anti-gun radical' by some gun rights activists for joining an opinion this year that said the Second Amendment does not prevent state and local governments from restricting arms ownership. But yesterday a panel of conservative luminaries on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit reached the same conclusion," Washington Post reports.

    *Politico has the White House talking points on the nomination. The memo "cites a 1998 New York Times story in which a conservative lawyer is quoted calling Sotomayor 'exactly what conservatives want: a nonactivist judge who does not apply her own views but is bound by the law.'"

    *Roll Call: "House and Senate Democrats are headed into a legislative minefield over the next two months as they look to cram some of their most controversial agenda items into just eight weeks of work."

    *Obama's request for $2 billion more in the war spending bill, it "could soon exceed $100 billion, adding to the risks of an already tense fight in the House over the addition of new financing for the International Monetary Fund," Politico reports.

    *"Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has quickly taken charge of moving climate change legislation through the House, which will be one of the toughest challenges of her political career," The Hill reports.

    **Campaign Stuff
    *Big news in Georgia, where former Gov. Roy Barnes (D) says he'll run for the office again. The AJC: "Barnes, 61, enters a field already occupied by three Democrats -- Attorney General Thurbert Baker, House Minority Leader DuBose Porter, and David Poythress, former commander of the Georgia National Guard. Six Republicans are in the contest. Despite a huge financial advantage, Barnes was defeated in 2002 by Sonny Perdue."

    *Be sure to read our coverage of the New Jersey primary from last night.

    *Philly Inquirer: "Both Lonegan and Christie romanced conservative voters, but in the end the pragmatists decided Christie could best face Corzine. Turnout was light statewide.

    *The Star-Ledger: "Christie's victory sets the stage for what could be the most competitive gubernatorial race in more than a decade, as he takes on incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine in November. Corzine faced only token opposition in the Democratic primary, but is already hobbled by plummeting job approval ratings, as well as a state budget hammered by a continuing recession that has forced deep, unpopular spending cuts, state worker furloughs and a scaling back of property tax rebates."

    *Next week it's Virginia's turn, and CNN's Hamby looks at how turnout will effect the outcome. If African Americans come to the polls in large numbers, "Terry McAuliffe could very well be the beneficiary and move on to face Republican Bob McDonnell in the general election, a race that will be fraught with national implications. But if many of those voters stay home, McAuliffe's lively and unconventional bid for the governorship might come to an end."

    *Pawlenty '12: The Minnesota governor acknowledged plans to visit Washington later this week as he announced he wouldn't seek a third term. He'll address a gathering of College Republicans, and said he has been in contact with national Republicans "a lot," the Star Tribune reports.

    --Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

    Christie Says Corzine Is "A Good Man, But A Bad Governor"

    Accepting his party's nomination after what was a tougher primary fight than perhaps expected, former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie eagerly looked ahead to his general election fight against Gov. Jon Corzine, who he said was "well intentioned," but "simply wrong for the job."

    "He wakes up every morning thinking about what new government programs he can create, how many new government employees he can put on the payroll and how he can raise taxes to pay for the government of his dreams. I will be a very different governor," Christie said.

    The Republican said he wants to focus on making Trenton "smaller, smarter and more efficient," and to bring businesses to our state. "And most important, how do we give tax money back to New Jerseyans, and not raise taxes every year."

    Christie criticized not just Corzine's policies but his politics, specifically the $100 million in personal funds he said the senator-turned-governor spent on "negative, personal smear ads," and even tried to get Steve Lonegan elected in the primary over him. "Here's a message for you, Gov. Corzine: I'm still standing here," Christie said.

    The new nominee closed by giving what he said was a sneak peak of Corzine's strategy in the general election.

    "First, he's going to call me a Republican. Well I think that cat's out of the bag," he said.

    He also said he'd "try to manufacture scandal where none exists." Both Lonegan and Democratic interest groups have raised ethical questions about a number of circumstances. "But remember this," Christie added. "This is the same Jon Corzine who endorsed me for U.S. Attorney and endorsed everything I did over the last seven years."

    He closed by targeting "special interests" that he said won't go without a fight, and said that to change Trenton, New Jersey needs to change governors.

    New Wrinkle In NJ Politics: Who Will The Running Mates Be?

    The nominations have now been settled, but there's a new wrinkle in New Jersey politics that Jon Corzine and Chris Christie face in the weeks ahead: who will their running mates be?

    For years, the Garden State was one of the few in the country without a lieutenant governor position. When a vacancy occurred in the governorship, the powers fell to the president of the State Senate, who then served in both posts.

    And that happened often in the past decade, starting when Christie Todd Whitman left to join the Bush administration, and then again when Jim McGreevey resigned in disgrace. In that instance, Dick Codey served as both the top official in the legislature and the powerful governor of the state for more than a year.

    New Jersey voters approved a constitutional amendment to create the lieutenant governor position, starting with the 2009 elections. A number of names have been floated for both candidates, with many looking at the same considerations that Barack Obama and John McCain did last year.

    Here's what Christie told me about how he'd approach the decision in an interview earlier this year:

    "I have four things I'll be looking for. The first is, someone who's compatible with me on the issues. The second is, someone who is prepared to be governor right now. Third is someone who is personally compatible with me. I want to have this person as a partner, if I don't like them, I won't have them as a partner. And the fourth thing is to make sure that this person has some relevant experience. It doesn't have to be in government necessarily. But some type of relevant experience to show that they know how to lead. Leadership is very important and often overlooked.

    "How will it affect the race? I got to tell you, I don't think that the second choice often affects a race all that much. I don't think people say, well I don't like the guy running for governor but I like the person for lieutenant governor, so I'll vote for him and hope he dies. I don't think people typically do that. What it tells you about someone is how they make decisions, and what they think are important. And I think that's the only way it'll effect the race."

    National Parties Weigh In On NJ Results

    From the Republican Governors Association, which has already been active with anti-Corzine efforts:

    "Chris Christie is a proven reformer who will fight for lower taxes and will work hard to make New Jersey's economy competitive again," said RGA Chairman Governor Mark Sanford. "Chris's dedication to serving the citizens of New Jersey and impeccable record as a prosecutor has won him the respect of Republican governors across the nation."

    "Chris Christie understands that New Jersey's taxpayers can't afford Jon Corzine's $1 billion tax hike," added RGA executive director Nick Ayers. "Tonight, Christie also showed that Jon Corzine and his special interest friends won't be able to buy the election."

    DNC Chairman Tim Kaine:

    "I am proud, on behalf of the Democratic Party, to voice my enthusiastic and unqualified support for my friend and fellow Governor Jon Corzine in his bid for reelection. Governor Corzine is a dedicated public servant, a fierce advocate for the people of New Jersey and he represents the type of forward thinking and bold decision making New Jersey needs.

    "These are difficult times, we need leaders like Jon Corzine who can bring people together and make the tough decisions that need to be made to make New Jersey and our country stronger. There is no one better prepared to lead New Jersey during these tough times than Gov. Corzine. As Governor he has created a strong economic recovery plan designed to retain and attract business and to create jobs by investing in education and infrastructure projects that are vital to New Jersey's future."

    "Jon Corzine is a fighter. President Obama needs strong and experienced leaders like Jon Corzine partnering with him in states across the country as we all work to get our economy back on track."

    More after the jump:

    RNC Chairman Michael Steele:

    "This evening marks the end of a competitive and hard fought primary featuring two excellent candidates. Mayor Steve Lonagan should be congratulated for a hard fought campaign.

    "By selecting Chris Christie as their nominee, New Jersey Republicans signaled they are ready for a Governor that will work hard to create jobs, protect small business and turn New Jersey's economy around.

    "Make no mistake -- Jon Corzine's ineffectiveness and failed policies have saddled New Jersey taxpayers with the heaviest tax burden in the country and driven jobs from the state. Chris offers New Jersey Republicans and Democrats alike the chance to break with Jon Corzine's failed Wall Street policies and once again make New Jersey's cities and small towns engines for economic growth. We have a tough race ahead, but I am confident that Chris Christie is the right person to move New Jersey forward," said Chairman Michael Steele.

    AP Calls GOP Primary For Christie

    Former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie, who state and national Republicans consider to be the most formidable general election candidate to face Gov. Jon Corzine (D), has won the New Jersey gubernatorial primary, AP says.

    Former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan (R) is now conceding the race at his campaign headquarters.

    "The voters have spoken," he said.

    Corzine Kicks Off Campaign, Tying GOP To Bush

    President Bush has been out of office for months. But Gov. Jon Corzine (D) invoked his name and his administration's legacy early and often as he kicked off his re-election bid tonight.

    With the result in the Republican primary still undecided, Corzine simply referred to his "opponents" in general, saying they're all talk.

    "Our opponents promise the moon. They want to cut government, increase spending, slash taxes and balance the budget," he said. "They just say we should trust them. Well I don't know about you, but I'm not about to put my trust in the same people who gave us George W. Bush, Dick Cheney or John Ashcroft."

    The odd reference to Ashcroft is a vague reference that refers to an alleged kickback scheme involving Chris Christie, who at this point is leading in the GOP race.

    "America doesn't need to be Bushwhacked again. New Jersey cannot afford to get Bushwhacked again!" Corzine boomed.

    Corzine then touted his administration's accomplishments in cutting state spending and reforming government as he argued repeatedly that "Republicans talk, Democrats deliver."

    "They say that government should be small -- small enough to slip under your bedroom door. Small enough to root for a new president to fail. Small enough to divide us by gender and ethnicity over a Supreme Court nominee. And self-righteous enough to dictate their own religious beliefs to the rest of us on stem cell research, family planning and even science," he continued.

    Corzine said that he's been willing to make the tough decisions, and that he was confident voters will acknowledge that. And a popular president can't hurt, either.

    "Now with a partner in the White House, there is no limit to what we can achieve," he said.

    Biden Calls Corzine "America's Governor"

    Joe Biden praised Jon Corzine as "America's governor," as the vice president sought to give the embattled incumbent a boost heading into the general election.

    "No one's ever doubted that I mean what I said, and sometimes I say more than I should," the loquacious former senator from neighboring Delaware said. "But the truth of the matter is, I have a very simple, straightforward message. Barack Obama and Joe Biden are committed to Jon Corzine's re-election."

    Biden, speaking at Corzine's election-night rally in West Orange, said that the nation needs New Jersey to once again be "one of the great engines of economic recovery," and said that can only happen if Corzine is re-elected.

    Clearly, a link to the popular president is a main part of Corzine's strategy in blue New Jersey. His perilous status this November was reflected in the vice president's remarks, as he noted that a major recession "the likes of which we haven't seen since the Great Depression," has tremendous impact on states like yours.

    "In tough times, it takes a special character to have the courage of your convictions and the stubborn certainty to do all that's necessary, even when it's not popular. Jon Corzine and Barack Obama both have that special character," Biden said.

    Biden heaped praise on his former colleague in the Senate, and said that his first call after being elected last fall was to Corzine, who he said is one of the smartest guys on the economy. He added that when the administration was considering a $300 billion stimulus plan, it was Corzine who said it needed to be bigger. He also said much of the recovery plan mirrored steps that Corzine had already started taking in the Garden State.

    "Ladies and gentlemen, this is not just a governor for New Jersey. This is America's governor," he said. "This is a guy who had the foresight to understand what's needed."

    NJ Gov: Christie Posts Strong Early Lead

    At 9 pm, 15 percent of the votes have been counted in the Republican primary. Chris Christie is off to a promising start, leading Steve Lonegan by 9,000 votes.

    NJ Gov: Light Turnout, Heavy Traffic

    The polls have just closed in the Garden State, and results are only beginning to trickle in. Here are some headlines to catch you up on today's activity:

    *Things appeared "to be going smoothly at polling places" around the state today, "as light voter turnout is keeping things manageable," AP reports.

    *All three Republican candidate said they didn't encounter any problems either, the Star-Ledger says. Christie campaign manager Bill Stepien: "We have our people at the polls, checking for problems. But so far, thank goodness, no irregularities that we are finding.'

    *Former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan said at a diner (where else?): "Turnout's low, but you never know. People are looking seriously at electability. It's in the hands of the election gods, but I feel confident. We have a phenomenal grassroots organization."

    *All day, Lonegan used Twitter to get supporters to recruit more voters to get to the polls.

    *Former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie ran into supporters, and some Democrats as he campaigned at a train station in Morristown, the Star-Ledger reports. Looking back at the primary race, he said: "There were no surprises. Especially as I rose in the polls, I expected it."

    *The Lincoln Tunnel, the New Jersey Turnpike and Route 280 were shut down for 30 minutes during rush hour traffic so that Vice President Biden's motorcade could travel from New York City to West Orange, N.J. He's speaking there now at a Corzine rally.

    *Corzine has already been called the winner of the Democratic primary. Believe it or not, he's the first Democrat in 16 years to be renominated for a second term as governor.

    *10 independent candidates filed to run for governor against Corzine and the GOP nominee.

    Biden Watch: Freelancing, And Waste

    Today at a roundtable in New York City, Vice President Biden admitted that some stimulus money is being wasted.

    "There are going to be mistakes made," said Biden, referred to as "The Sheriff" at the White House. "Some people are being scammed already."

    The remarks, reported by Reuters, were not included in a transcript provided by the White House. Transcripts of all of the president's public statements are sent to reporters, but the Vice President's office only sent Biden's opening remarks at the event.

    He did spend considerable time on the positive impact of the stimulus plan, however, noting that 14,000 teachers in New York City were still employed because of Recovery Act Dollars. "It's a big deal," he said.

    In other Biden news, the veep spoke at a fundraiser for the DNC in New York last night. According to a pool report, Biden had great praise for embattled Gov. David Paterson, calling him the "once and future" governor of New York. Today, Robert Gibbs was asked if the statement constituted an endorsement, or if he was "freelancing."

    "I have not seen the remarks, but let me go see if I can find that, and see what the context is," Gibbs said.

    Pawlenty Mum On '12, Says He'll Follow Court Decision On Senate Race

    After announcing he won't seek re-election, Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn.) dodged questions about a potential presidential bid in 2012. But he certainly made a subtle case for such a run, arguing that the Republican Party needs "new ideas and new faces."

    Pawlenty said his immediate focus would be finishing his term and helping elect a Republican to succeed him in 2010. "As time and circumstances allow, I'm going to try to lend voice to the need to raise issues and ideas for my party here and elsewhere if I'm asked," he added.

    The 48-year-old governor said he wants to play a role in helping the GOP determine its future course, saying he'll work to "develop new ideas" and "new energy in the party."

    "It's gotta be a party that can accommodate both Colin Powell and Rush Limbaugh if we're going to be successful," he said. "It's not either or, it's both. We need to be a party of addition and not subtraction. I think I can help with that effort."

    Pawlenty said he "absolutely" thinks he would have won a third term if he chose to run, citing a Rasmussen poll that showed his approval rating is relatively high, especially for a governor who represents a state "that's opposite of their party." He also referred to a SurveyUSA poll that showed him leading all potential Democratic opponents.

    Pawlenty even put his hockey credentials up against that hockey mom from Alaska, joking at one point that it was his dream to be an NHL defenseman but "having no skill, it's tough." There is, he added, an opening to coach the Minnesota Wild.

    The Republican said he still had energy left, but thought two terms was enough. "A little less is better than too much," he said, adding that he wanted to give other Republicans ample time to consider the race. He said it was important for another Republican to follow him because the state needs a check on the Democratic-controlled legislature. "Katie bar the door, it's going to be a real runaway train of problems" if Democrats controlled both, he said. Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau (R) said that while she hasn't given it much thought, she likely won't run.

    Pawlenty took a significant number of questions, both from reporters in the room and via telephone. He was asked about whether his decision might impact the ongoing Minnesota Senate election dispute; he needs to sign on to a certification of election.

    "I think you guys have really overbaked that issue. You're really spinning out of control on it," he said. "I'm going to do whatever the court says. When the court decides that issue - as soon as I'm directed or required to sign that certificate, I will. I'm not going to hold it up or delay it in any fashion. That presents no problem for me at all."

    Next up for the governor: He said he's speaking to College Republicans in Washington this Friday.

    Gibbs: WH Wouldn't Stop GM From Outsourcing

    Yesterday, reporters could not get a straight answer when they pressed Robert Gibbs to explain who the White House might act if a new General Motors board wanted to act in a way that might be contrary to the administration's goals. Today, the press secretary was posed with such a hypothetical: what if GM could save money by outsourcing jobs to China? Would President Obama, who promised the company would make more cars in the United States, allow that as the company's majority shareholder?

    "Yes," Gibbs answered simply.

    He had said that the administration would be involved with choosing the new board. "But business decisions are going to be made by General Motors - I don't want to get involved with making those business decisions for them."

    Again, he explained, the ultimate goal was to put the company on sound footing as soon as possible, so that the government can get out of the car business.

    "They'll be free to make a series of decisions as a new car company in a new auto world," he said.

    Gallup: 54% Approve of Sotomayor Nomination

    A new USA Today/Gallup poll finds Americans' initial support for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor "similar to what Gallup initially found for past nominees who were confirmed by the Senate, including Clarence Thomas, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Samuel Alito. Americans were slightly more positive toward John Roberts' nomination."

    For Sotomayor, 54% approve of her nomination, while 24% are not in favor of it and 19% have no opinion.


    Moran Poll Finds Him Leading

    On the same day a PPP poll found Creigh Deeds leading and all three Democratic candidates within 5 points, Brian Moran's campaign released a poll showing him leading the field of three -- all of whom are separated by just 3 points.

    The poll was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research (May 26 - 27, 400 LV, +/- 4.9%), which concluded "the three candidates are neck-and-neck-and-neck." Moran leads with 29%, followed by Deeds with 27% and Terry McAuliffe with 26%.

    The pollster also noted that McAuliffe receives the highest unfavorable rating -- 41% have a favorable opinion of him and 24% negative. Both Deeds (45%/14%) and Moran (44%/12%) have higher favorable and lower negative ratings than McAuliffe.

    Judiciary Leaders Split On Sotomayor Schedule

    Senate Judicary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) have divergent ideas about when committee hearings on the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court should take place.

    While admitting hearings in June would be too soon, Leahy indicated that by July he hoped to begin hearings -- particularly so Sotomayor can publicly defend herself from "some of the most vicious" attacks Leahy said he's ever seen.

    The Senate is out of session for the month of August, so hearings would have to wait until September, just a month before the Supreme Court enters a new session -- and when there would be a vacancy should Sotomayor not be confirmed by then.

    Sessions, who said he really enjoyed his conversation with Sotomayor, feels that July hearings would not give members of the Judiciary Committee enough time to look over her extensive record. "I hope the chairman keeps an open mind," Sessions said to a scrum of reporters waiting outside his office, as Sotomayor exited a side door on her way to her next appointment.

    Asked about some of Sotomayor's comments that have stirred controversy, Leahy said, "Of course life experience shapes you," whether you're from the South Bronx or South Burlington, Vermont. Sotomayor told him that "ultimately and completely, as a judge you follow the law."

    Boehner Disappointed, Congratulates McHugh

    Minority Leader John Boehner released the following statement regarding President Obama's selection of Rep. John McHugh (R-N.Y.) for Secretary of the Army:

    "John McHugh has served his constituents, the Congress, and the men and women of our Armed Forces with integrity for the past 16 years. While I'm disappointed we'll be losing him as a member of our Conference, I congratulate him on his nomination to be Secretary of the Army. His work on the Armed Services Committee has made him one of our nation's foremost military experts and advocates, and his experience will be invaluable as Secretary of the Army, particularly as our nation continues to fight terrorism and other global threats to our security. I thank John for his years of service and wish him all the best during the confirmation process and in his new position."

    Report: Pawlenty Won't Seek Third Term

    Last week we noted that Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-Minn.) planned to announce his future political plans "this summer." His timeframe appears to have sped up, with his office planning a press conference at 2 pm local time.

    WCCO-TV reports that Pawlenty will not seek a third term. The decision is sure to trigger speculation that the "hockey dad" will focus his energies on a 2012 presidential bid. It may also ratchet up pressure on Pawlenty, who will eventually have to sign a certification of election in the contested Minnesota Senate race.

    Contenders had also been already lining up to seek the governorship. An open seat contest would give Democrats a strong chance of reclaiming the governorship in the blue North Star State for the first time in 20 years.

    UPDATE: Here's an interview I conducted with Gov. Pawlenty last summer, when he was believed to be high on John McCain's short list for the VP nomination.

    VA Gov: New Poll Puts Deeds In Front

    First, the Washington Post endorses him. Now, Creigh Deeds, the forgotten man in the race for governor of Virginia, finds himself out in front with a week to go until the Democratic primary.

    A survey released this morning by PPP finds Deeds leading with 27%, followed by Terry McAuliffe with 24% and Brian Moran 22%. With a quarter of voters still undecided and turnout expected to be extremely low, the race has to be considered even between the three candidates -- but with the amount of money McAuliffe has raised and Moran's years of public service in populous Northern Virginia, that in itself is a feat.

    "We've been saying for months this was anyone's game and it's more true now than ever," said Dean Debnam, president of Public Policy Polling. "All three candidates have a perfectly reasonable chance of coming out on top next Tuesday."

    Campaign finance reports turned in last night show McAuliffe with $3 million left in the bank for the last week of the primary campaign after raising $1.8 million in the last two months. Since May 27, though, the last day of fundraising included in the report, McAuliffe has raised at least another $130,000.

    Moran raised $844,000 from April 1 to May 27, leaving him just more than $700,000 in cash, while Deeds raised $678,000 and has $522,000 left to spend.

    UPDATE: The Deeds camp has put out this statement:

    "Once again, we have defied the odds and this poll confirms what we've been saying all along--this nomination is not for sale -- and that Creigh is the one Democrat most prepared to be Governor" said Joe Abbey, campaign manager for Deeds for Virginia.  "But I can assure you, no one on our campaign is taking anything for granted.  It's a sprint to the finish on June 9 and we need everyone's help. And this poll reflects the thousands of Virginians that are joining our grassroots campaign because they know that Creigh is the Democrat most prepared to carry on the Warner-Kaine legacy."


    NBC Goes "Inside The Obama White House"

    NBC has released several sneak peaks of tonight's "Inside The White House" special, including this look at President Obama interacting with his new puppy, Bo.

    Meanwhile, former RNC press secretary Alex Conant wonders why the press isn't scrutinizing this prime-time series the same way it did when the Bush administration welcomed NBC cameras inside the White House.

    "After that show, other media heavily criticized the network for producing what resulted in a very positive portrayal of a wartime President," Conant writes, linking to articles questioning whether administration officials artificially beefed up the president's schedule. "To be clear, the Obama White House similarly 'pumped up' the Obamas' schedule last Friday, when NBC filmed the latest special. To wit: Michelle Obama visited an elementary school, while the President met with his National Economic Council staff (in addition to his daily economic briefing), delivered remarks on cyber security, visited FEMA for a briefing, and found time to stop by Five Guys to get burgers."

    Robert Gibbs denied on Friday that the burger trip, at least, was planned for the benefit of the peacock crews.

    Check out more clips from the special after the jump:

    More Obama and Bo:

    Bo solo:

    Obama plays ball:

    Michelle Obama visiting a local school:

    Robert Gibbs checks out Ben Finkenbinder's shoes:

    Rahm Emanuel kicks the cameras out:

    Another Republican Joins Obama Administration

    The White House just announced some updates on today's schedule, giving the day an additional bipartisan flair.

    President Obama will announce his choice to be Secretary of the Army. A White House spokesperson confirms that it will be Rep. John McHugh, one of three remaining Republican Congressmen from New York. McHugh is currently the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee

    First elected in 1992, McHugh now represents the 23rd Congressional District, covering much of Northern New York. The district leans slightly Republican, meaning Democrats could potentially pick up another seat in a special election.

    Also, the White House has announced that former first lady Nancy Reagan will join Obama as he signs the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act.

    Strategy Memo: Election Day in New Jersey

    President Obama leaves tonight for a week-long overseas trip, which starts in Saudi Arabia. But first the White House is kicking off a health care push, with the president meeting with Senate Democrats on the issue this afternoon. He'll also meet at the White House with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

    It's a busy day on Capitol Hill as House members return for evening votes after a week-long recess, and Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor makes her first official visit. Sotomayor is scheduled to meet with 10 senators today, including party leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell and Judiciary ranking members Patrick Leahy and Jeff Sessions. She was at the White House Monday prepping for those meetings and finalizing her Judiciary Committee questionnaire.

    As we write, the polls are open in the Garden State, where the main focus is on the Republican gubernatorial primary. A new poll out yesterday shows former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie well ahead of former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan, a conservative making his second bid for the nomination. Meanwhile, Vice President Biden will join Gov. Jon Corzine as the embattled Democrat kicks off his re-election campaign.

    **President Obama
    *Obama is doing a battery of interviews before he heads overseas. He told NPR that he will continue to push for a Palestinian state and for a freeze on Israeli settlements in the West Bank. And he signaled he's going to be tougher on Israel. "Part of being a good friend is being honest," Obama said. "And I think there have been times where we are not as honest as we should be about the fact that the current direction, the current trajectory, in the region is profoundly negative, not only for Israeli interests but also U.S. interests."

    Obama was also asked about Dick Cheney, who has been "forceful, unapologetic and doesn't seem willing to scale back his rhetoric." "He also happens to be wrong, right?" Obama replied. "Last time, immediately after his last speech, I think there was a fact check on his speech that didn't get a very good grade." He did not say whether he's spoken to him.

    *As he heads to Saudi Arabia and Cairo, he tells the BBC that there are "obviously" human rights issues to discuss with Mideast nations, "he job of the US was not to lecture but to encourage what he said were 'universal principles' that those countries could 'embrace and affirm as part of their national identity'." Obama: "The danger, I think, is when the United States, or any country, thinks that we can simply impose these values on another country with a different history and a different culture."

    *Reporters heading to Saudi Arabia got conflicting information about protocol while they're in Riyadh, Time's Scherer notes. The State Department sent a warning that "journalists are expressly prohibited from leaving the hotel or engaging in any journalistic activities outside of coverage of the POTUS visit." But a PR firm representing Saudi Arabia later said that was "not at all accurate. Journalists coming to Saudi are encouraged to go wherever and cover whatever they wish."

    *AP reports on a new White House report that claims health care reform is an essential part of fixing the economy. "The report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers says that health care costs -- now about 18 percent of the gross domestic product -- will rise to 34 percent in 30 years if left unchecked, wreaking havoc on the federal deficit, businesses and working Americans." It comes as the White House is "urgently seeking to build momentum for health care legislation."

    *A day after GM filed for bankruptcy, Rahm Emanuel tells the New York Times that Obama knows "that taking over companies like this is a big deal, and that no president has ever faced anything like this before."

    *With the president set to be out of the country all week, members of Cabinet are hitting the road, specifically to Midwestern states being impacted by the downturn in the auto industry.

    *Gallup: In May, 71% of workers in the service industry approved of how Obama handled his job -- the highest among any occupational category. Lowest was farming/fishing/forestry, of whom 52% approved.

    **Imminent Elections
    *NJ Gov:: A Fairleigh Dickinson poll released yesterday found Christie (54%) leading Lonegan (30%) in the GOP primary.

    Lonegan called the poll showing Christie ahead by 24 points "retarded," PolitickerNJ reports.

    *Philly Inquirer: "In last-minute attacks, Lonegan seized on reports that Christie fund-raiser John Inglesino was eligible for a state pension because he had a part-time job for a Republican state senator. Lonegan called it 'a disgrace' that Christie would campaign on cutting pensions for part-time political appointees and have a living example of the practice in his circle." Inglesino later quit his part-time gig to give up the pension.

    *As he voted this morning, Christie said: "Steve Lonegan has been a very formidable opponent and he's spent a lot of money. This is no walk over for anybody. This has been a tough campaign."

    *NPR's Ken Rudin offers his take on the primary: "A low turnout is thought to help Lonegan, who has a committed base of support. However, polls show Christie with a sizable lead. My guess is that it's going to be closer than most people think."

    *A smart GOP source who's worked on campaigns in the state notes that both Republicans were unfamiliar to sizable chunks of the primary electorate, but that Christie should have enough resources to pull out a decent win.

    *VA Gov: Interesting new poll of just Northern Virginia (4 counties: Arlington, Fairfax, Loudon, Prince William), where many of the state's Dem primary voters reside -- Moran 43%, McAuliffe 27%, Deeds 20%. Moran has represented NoVa since the mid-90s.

    Also, candidates filed campaign finance reports last night for April 1-May 27: McAuliffe raised $1.8M ($3.05M CoH), Moran $844k ($707k), Deeds $678k ($522k).

    *"Mitt Romney is running for president of the United States, again. ... To put it bluntly, Mitt Romney does not want to follow in the footsteps of his father, George Romney, another governor-turned-unsuccessful presidential candidate. He wants to be the incarnation of Ronald Reagan," Politics Daily's Cannon writes.

    *Dick Cheney on gay marriage, during an appearance at the National Press Club: "I think freedom means freedom for everyone. ... I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish, any kind of arrangement they wish."

    *"Conservatives are demanding that Senate Republicans take a harder line on Sonia Sotomayor, with new signs of tension between the Hill GOP and elements of the Republican base over the direction the opposition should move in the Supreme Court fight," Politico reports.

    *South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford "lost a pivotal decision in federal court" over his fight to reject stimulus funds; he now said he now expects to be ordered to request the money, Wall Street Journal reports.

    *Roll Call reports that "the unlikely bond between the polished San Francisco liberal and the gruff, conservative retired Marine has proved among the most critical to Pelosi's ascent to Speaker. Now, as Pelosi pivots from the CIA interrogations flap to face the potentially more vexing problem of how to contain the controversy surrounding Murtha and his earmarking empire..."

    *Health Care: "Democrats and the Obama administration are shoving aside issues that divide their party to clear the deck for healthcare reform, which is likely to dominate the rest of the legislative year. In doing so, the administration appears to be learning from the experiences of the Clinton administration, which engaged in divisive intra-party battles over trade and gays in the military as it fought unsuccessfully for healthcare reform. It also reflects a pivot from earlier this year, when the White House brushed off concerns that its agenda was too ambitious," The Hill reports.

    *Politico's Kraushaar reports that "at a time that was supposed to be a golden era of Democratic fundraising, with a popular president in charge and Congress firmly ensconced in Democratic hands, the early fundraising hauls have been, well, downright ordinary."

    *The Hill profiles freshman Rep. Frank Kratovil (D-Md.).

    *PA Sen: At RCP Blog, we have results of a poll showing that most Pennsylvania Democrats want to see a primary.

    --Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

    Tiller, Abortion Not Addressed In Daily Press Briefing

    Today's press briefing with Robert Gibbs was dominated by questions about General Motors. And as exasperated as the press secretary seemed at times, he may have preferred that topic to the hot-button social issue of abortion, propelled into the headlines by yesterday's murder of late-term abortion provider George Tiller.

    A quick count of the questions today finds that 52 were focused on the GM bankruptcy, while no other topic was asked about more than a handful of times. There were two on the president's "date night" trip to New York on Saturday, two more on his visit to Saudi Arabia, and four questions on a suspicious package that resulted in a lockdown of the White House grounds, among other topics (the exact count may vary depending on how you count follow ups and quick back-and-forths).

    But not a single question about Tiller specifically, or abortion more broadly. The specter of social issues returning to the forefront -- especially as the administration seeks a smooth confirmation for Judge Sotomayor on the Supreme Court -- was a hot topic this morning, making it that much more puzzling as to why it didn't come up.

    Gibbs certainly cannot predict every question that will come from those who he calls on, but he does have some measure of control. At one point, a reporter shouted out to Gibbs that she had a "non-GM question," but as he scanned the room, he ignored her hand. This reporter had planned to ask about Tiller and whether abortion was part of the discussion at the White House today when Sotomayor met with officials, but was not called on from my seat in far corner of the briefing room.

    Today's circumstance also reflects a frustration some White House reporters feel about the daily televised briefing. Network correspondents and the reporters from major newspapers and wire services often have the opportunity to ask multiple questions covering several topics, and often do. But occasionally they can become preoccupied with the most immediate news of the day, and as Gibbs played defense on aspects of the administration's plan and "exit strategy," these reporters chose to keep the back-and-forth going, rather than move on to other topics.

    That leaves other reporters, including those who might only attend the occasional briefing to address one specific issue, in the cold in what is the best opportunity to get White House officials on the record.

    Kasich: Both Parties To Blame For Ohio's Woes

    In 2006, Ted Strickland (D) cruised to the governor's office in Ohio after scandals had crippled the state Republican Party, which controlled the office for 16 years. So it was interesting to hear John Kasich criticize both parties as he launched his campaign today.

    "We have to face facts: we've drifted in Ohio, and it hasn't just been one political party," the former Congressman and Fox News Channel host said at a rally in his home town of Westerville, which was streamed live on the Internet.

    Specifically, he said that the state hasn't seen new jobs created since 2001 - a period which includes not just Strickland's term, but that of former Gov. Bob Taft (R), who was indicted in the Tom Noe "coingate" scandal that rocked the Ohio GOP.

    "Folks: we've been stuck in the past. Where have the visionaries been? Where have the leaders been to say we have to prepare our state for the 21st century?" Kasich asked. "We wake up today and find more auto plants closing. What are we going to do, just sit there and take the hammering?"

    Polls show Strickland is still popular in the Buckeye State, and he's considered a slight favorite at this point. Kasich aimed to paint his potential foe as a nice guy but merely a "caretaker" who is ill-equipped to turn the state around.

    "If you have a house on the river and the flood's coming, he's gonna show up Saturday morning with a box of donuts and a pot of coffee. You'll sing kumbaya, hold hands, and watch your house float down the river," Kasich said.

    More seriously, Kasich said he has "had it with Ted blaming everybody and refusing to accept personal responsibility" for the state's ills.

    "We have a governor go on his hands and his knees with a tin cup begging Washington to bail us out of our problems instead of us fixing them themselves. I've had enough of it, have you?"

    State Sen. Kevin Coughlin is also seeking the Republican nomination. He welcomed Kasich to the race and said he "would provide far better leadership for Ohio than Ted Strickland," but said his campaign "is about the future," a dig at Kasich's tenure in the party.

    Ohio Democrats, meanwhile, slammed Kasich by tying him to the defunct Lehman Brothers, where he worked after leaving Congress. "In the race for Governor, Ohioans have a choice between someone who was Managing Director at a Wall Street firm whose collapse led to our economic crisis and someone who has worked to turn our economy around, create jobs and invest in our future," state Democratic chairman Chris Redfern said.

    White House Officially Nominates Sotomayor

    The White House officially sent the Senate today the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. The administration also released a list of senators Sotomayor will meet with tomorrow in her first official trip to Capitol Hill. From the White House press release:

    On Tuesday June 2nd, Judge Sotomayor will visit Capitol Hill to meet with the following Senators:

    Majority Leader Reid
    Republican Leader McConnell
    Senator Leahy
    Senator Sessions
    Assistant Majority Leader Durbin
    Assistant Republican Leader Kyl
    Senator Schumer
    Senator Hatch
    Senator Feinstein
    Senator Gillibrand