From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi, and Jennifer Colby
Forty days out... President Bush meets with the Senate GOP Conference this morning to talk about "shared priorities" and congratulate the lawmakers on this past session. Chances are he'll urge them to pass his two legislative priorities, the NSA warrantless surveillance bill and the detainee trial and treatment bill. The latter was passed by the House yesterday and is expected to get the Senate's approval today, but the former may be stalled until a lame-duck session, at least. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports that Vice President Cheney will join Bush at the meeting. Meanwhile, the politics of disclosure remains a running theme with the Bush White House, and not just with the National Intelligence Estimate, which they're declining to release in full.
After his meeting on the Hill today, Bush visits Alabama for a couple of events that might not seem quite so urgent now as they once did: a briefing on energy issues, followed by a statement, and a fundraiser for GOP Gov. Bob Riley, whom analysts expect to win re-election fairly easily. The Riley fundraiser takes place at a convention complex in Birmingham and is open to the media. Riley campaign spokesman Josh Blades tells First Read that they expect anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 people to attend, but won't offer an estimate of how much they'll raise.
The Riley event stands in contrast with another Bush fundraiser today and indeed, with the White House's current approach to fundraising. Later this afternoon, Bush will stop in New Albany, OH to raise money for embattled Rep. Deborah Pryce, chair of the House Republican Conference. Pryce is facing the toughest re-election battle of her tenure because of Ohio's lagging economy, because the state GOP is reeling from a series of scandals, and because Bush himself isn't too popular there. Bush's appearance for Pryce will take place at a private home, as have the other events he's done this week for Republican campaigns in competitive states and districts. The closed doors aren't curbing his fundraising ability -- four events between Monday and Wednesday raised a total of about $4.3 million, per pool reports -- but do curtail the media's and the public's ability to learn what he's saying, and suggest that these candidates don't want to be seen in public with him.
The White House says that closing events to the media when they're held at private homes is standard operating procedure. (Two upcoming fundraisers at private homes that will be headlined by Vice President Cheney also will be closed.) A Clinton White House press staffer tells First Read that it was SOP for them, too -- until that fundraising scandal popped up, after which they made a point of allowing a print reporter into the events to serve as a pool correspondent for the White House press corps.
White House reporters have repeatedly asked the Bush press office for a transcript of his remarks during these closed events. Spokesman Tony Snow has replied by telling them they'll get plenty of access to the campaigner-in-chief when he's on the trail in October. His schedule for next week includes events for three Republican House members, one House candidate, and the party's gubernatorial nominee in Colorado. But none of those races are competitive, at least right now. The four Republicans running for the House are all expected to win, and the candidate for governor is badly trailing his Democratic opponent.
Somewhat ironically and probably unprecedentedly, Snow himself is also doing fundraisers, including closed-press events. Per NBC's Kelly O'Donnell, Snow conceded that he knows of no other White House press secretary of either party who played that kind of political role while also serving the public. He said this dual role was discussed at great length with White House counsel Harriet Miers and has Bush's OK. He claimed his speeches will be "boring" and "not red meat" and that he will not be looking to pick political fights. His first event was last week in Pennsylvania; last night, he did one for the Minnesota GOP.
Once again in contrast to her less popular husband, Laura Bush stumps today for top GOP candidates in Iowa and Michigan and her events are all open-press.