From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi, and Jennifer Colby
The 109th Congress is winding down. Some big tax and trade measures are likely to pass by tomorrow, while some pork-laden spending bills will get foisted onto the incoming majority. President Bush has a few key meetings, sitting down this morning with the bipartisan Hill leadership to talk about Iraq, and meeting later today with the leaders of the conservative Blue Dog Democrats, who could wind up deciding the fate of some of his legislative priorities.
A handful of Senators are off to politically hotter climes. It's not unusual for Hill lawmakers with certain higher ambitions to cut out of Washington a little early on Fridays. Today is no exception -- but may mark the end of this long tradition. With the new majority party promising longer work-weeks in the next Congress, Friday hooky may become tougher to play. For starters, incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has announced that the Senate will be in session for the first seven weeks of 2007, eschewing the typical two-week break before the State of the Union. And "we will have votes on Mondays and Fridays," one leadership aide tells First Read.
The irony is that Reid pushed for his home state of Nevada to win an early Democratic nominating caucus in 2008, and now as many as six of his own ranks who appear to be seeking the presidency are going to have a tough time campaigning there if his legislative schedule makes it difficult for them to get out of town.
That's probably fine with New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), who may be eyeing Nevada as his best shot to win an early state -- even as his staff quibbles over whether he actually declared on TV yesterday that he's running. During an interview with FOX, Richardson said, "I am Hispanic, which I believe is an asset. But I'm not running as an Hispanic, I am running as an American who is proud to be Hispanic." Richardson aides dispute that this amounted to his saying he's actually running. Richardson is scheduled to give an energy speech in Washington today, so listen for what he says about ethanol, if anything.
Sen. Barack Obama (D), still outshining Sen. Hillary Clinton (D), sets foot in the Granite State for the first time on Sunday. As of yesterday, 140 members of the press had requested credentials for Obama's main event in Manchester, per the state party. Sen. Evan Bayh (D) is also in New Hampshire this weekend and may wind up being the latest example of how Democratic candidates who aren't named Obama or Clinton are getting eclipsed in the national press.
Louisiana isn't currently scheduled to hold an early nominating contest, nor are felons able to vote. But presidential candidate and Sen. Sam Brownback (R) will be spending the night at the state penitentiary at Angola to highlight his call for prison reform. NBC's Lauren Appelbaum reports that Brownback will record a radio address for the prison radio network (dubbed "the incarceration station") and then stay over, most likely in a cell rather than in a guest house. Brownback's press secretary said, "I know the Senator and I know he'll want to stay in the cell." Tomorrow he'll tour the facility, visit with people on death row, and attend a prayer service with inmates.
Louisiana also hosts a runoff tomorrow for Democratic Rep. William Jefferson's seat. While scandal helped fuel the GOP's losses at the polls last month, costing them at least eight House and Senate seats, scandal might claim its final victim -- and first Democrat -- of the cycle in Jefferson, who faces a tough challenge from fellow Democrat Karen Carter. Jefferson gained national attention after he became ensnared in a federal bribery scandal and $90,000 cash was found in his freezer. He has denied any wrongdoing, but Democrats booted him from his seat on the Ways and Means Committee.
On election day, Jefferson finished first in a crowded field with just 30%, dangerous territory for any incumbent involved in a runoff. That makes Carter the nominal favorite, but remember that New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin triumphed in his runoff, despite being the underdog. A Jefferson win could complicate Democrats' drive for ethics reform.
And the Iraq Study Group report continues to reverberate in Washington and among the 2008 field. Possible candidate and GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel said last night in a speech that a new strategy for Iraq "must include timeframes," NBC's Ken Strickland reports. The former Vietnam veteran elaborated that "timeframes are forcing mechanisms that prompt action and define consequences." Hagel also repeated his belief that "substantial withdrawal of American forces must begin next year... Time is not on our side." And he dismissed assertions that the withdrawal of US military forces would guarantee that Iraq will become "a terrorist haven for al Qaeda. I do not believe it is preordained."