From Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi, Lauren Appelbaum, and Carrie Dann
A handful of the oh-eighters are busy on this Martin Luther King Day holiday -- just another sign how early this presidential contest has started. Joe Biden and Chris Dodd are in South Carolina, while Mitt Romney is in Boston, where he attends a service at the First Holiness Church. Yesterday, John Edwards gave an MLK Day sermon at the Riverside Church in New York City, where he seems to have launched the first broadside in the emerging contest for the Democratic nomination -- apparently against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama over their refusal (so far) to come out against funding President Bush's troop increase. "If you are in Congress and you know this war is going in the wrong direction, it is no longer enough to study your options," Edwards said.
Clinton and John McCain are also on the road today, albeit in two different countries. Clinton ends her four-day trip to Iraq and Afghanistan with a visit to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, while McCain attends Alabama Gov. Bob Riley's (R) inauguration. And there could be some major activity by Obama this week: A spokesman for the senator tells First Read that an announcement Obama will form an exploratory committee could come as early as this week. Bob Novak reported the same on Sunday (see below).
President Bush, meanwhile, defended his decision to send more troops into Iraq in his interview last night on "60 Minutes." And, calling himself the educator-in-chief, Bush said his job was to educate the public on his plan. That said, Bush is relatively quiet on this week before his State of the Union address -- especially on Iraq. He has no events today; on Tuesday, he meets with the UN Secretary General; and on Wednesday, he has two health care-related events. That's it for his scheduled appearances this week.
On Capitol Hill, House Democrats will turn to the last two items of their "Six for '06" agenda this week: On Wednesday, they will vote to cut interest rates on students loans, and on Thursday, they will move to repeal tax cuts for energy companies. Democratic government and business strategist Billy Moore observes that the four "Six for '06" bills approved by the House last week passed with an average of 52 GOP votes; three passed with unanimous Democratic support. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich has counseled Republicans to seize the agenda by making common cause with moderate Democrats. The Democrats, Moore notes, have adopted Gingrich's strategy in reverse, at least for now.