From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi, and Jennifer Colby.
It turns out that yesterday not only marked the release of what the Iraq Study Group co-chairs are suggesting is the only bipartisan advice President Bush will get on Iraq, but NBC has confirmed that it was the deadliest day of the year for US forces there, with 11 killed. That grim news adds poignancy and urgency to today's two high-profile meetings: President Bush's sitdown with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton's testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Everywhere you look today in Washington will be the faces of the fallen, politically speaking: lawmakers and leaders whose influence is waning because of their support for the unpopular Iraq war. Bush and Blair, his chief international ally in the war, no doubt will discuss the Iraq Study Group's findings. These two leaders who are now in their final stretches, and whose popularity and political leverage have been undercut as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, will hold a joint press availability later this morning.
Today is also likely to be the final day of the 109th Congress, at least as far as the House is concerned, ending the 12-year GOP majority and Dennis Hastert's run as the longest-serving Republican Speaker. Party lawmakers and Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman have conceded that the war, along with congressional scandals, played a major role in their losses on election day. Although there had been talk that Hastert might resign, he now appears ready to stay in his seat for at least a few months to help ensure that it remains in GOP hands in a special election. He will lose his security detail and some staff.
The Senate might also adjourn today -- or if not, there could be a Friday session with no votes. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist will give his farewell speech on the floor this afternoon, marking the end -- for now, at least -- of the political career of a lawmaker who just weeks ago was aspiring to run for president in 2008. (Sen. George Allen gave his farewell speech yesterday, with little fanfare.) "Our time here is temporary," Frist will say, per advance excerpts that echo his recent remark to supporters about being a "citizen legislator." "We are here to occupy a seat for a time, not to possess it, never to own it." He'll note his two-term limit pledge and his commitment "to the people of Tennessee that I would go to Washington... with a mission to accomplish and then return to Tennessee to live under the laws I helped to pass."
Vice President Cheney, in a rare public appearance these days and in his role as President of the Senate, will preside during the speech and the two will walk into the chamber together. Frist's family also will be present. Watch to see how many Democrats show up compared to then-Democratic Leader Tom Daschle's farewell speech in 2004.
So depart the leaders of a Congress that accomplished less and met the fewest days in half a century, as business and government strategist Billy Moore, a former longtime Democratic Hill aide, noted in a memo to clients earlier this week. The next time Cheney presides over the Senate, it will be over a Democratic majority. Not all members of the House will be quitting town today, though: NBC's Mike Viqueira reports that the bipartisan, bicameral leadership will meet with Bush at the White House tomorrow morning to talk about Iraq.