From Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi, Lauren Appelbaum, and Carrie Dann
If there was a collective fasten-your-seatbelts moment in the emerging presidential race, it might have occurred yesterday. First, Barack Obama -- via a video on the Web -- declares he's filing paperwork to form an exploratory committee. Then, just minutes later, an email from Hillary Clinton's office announces that a press conference on the senator's recent trip to Iraq and Afghanistan is being rescheduled until the next day, fueling speculation that she wanted to avoid comment about Obama's decision. After that, we learn the press conference had actually been cancelled the day before (although we never got the heads up), because fellow traveler GOP Rep. John McHugh was ill. And on top of it all, anti-immigration Rep. Tom Tancredo (R) also announces he's forming an exploratory committee. Whew.
Well, Clinton's rescheduled press conference -- with McHugh and Sen. Evan Bayh (D) -- is set for this afternoon. And she previewed her remarks this morning on TODAY, where she stepped up her criticism of President Bush's plans in Iraq. Clinton said she's opposed to sending more US troops and supports placing a cap on the number of them there; she wants to set up conditions on the amount of US funding sent to the Iraqi government; and she believes more troops are needed in Afghanistan. When NBC's Matt Lauer asked her if Obama has enough experience to be president, Clinton replied, "Voters will make these decisions. That's what's so great about our system." Asked when she would make her own decision about running for president, she told Lauer, "I'll certainly come back and talk to you about that when a decision is made."
With less than a week before his State of the Union address, and a day after he admitted to mistakes in Iraq on PBS, President Bush today participates in a roundtable on advances in cancer prevention at the National Institutes on Health. Meanwhile, House Democrats vote on the fifth item of their "Six for '06" agenda: cutting interest rates on student loans. Tomorrow, they conclude with repealing tax cuts for energy companies.
NBC's Ken Strickland says a small bipartisan group of senators -- including Joe Biden, Carl Levin, and Chuck Hagel -- is close to releasing details of the Senate's non-binding resolution on Bush's plan to increase troops in Iraq, and those details could come as soon as today. In addition, sources are hinting the resolution could lay out an alternative plan for a way forward in Iraq. Per these sources, Strickland adds, the language in the resolution has to be crafted in a way to lure Republican senators to support what has been commonly viewed as a Democratic measure. As one person put it, it can't be viewed as a political document used to "embarrass the president," and offering an alternative plan with bipartisan support may be one way to remedy that.
Strickland also notes that the resolution would likely move through Biden's Foreign Relations Committee, where its Democratic supporters could pick up more GOP support. Besides Hagel, the committee also includes other Republicans like George Voinovich, Norm Coleman, John Sununu, and David Vitter, who at a minimum have expressed reservations about Bush's plan. Moving the resolution through the committee process could delay the debate in the full Senate by a couple of weeks, pushing it perhaps into February.
And if that happens, the House might not vote on its version of the resolution until after that. Per NBC's Mike Viqueira, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said that the current thinking by House Democratic leaders is to allow the Senate to go first. That, Hoyer explained, would be "useful" in demonstrating that there is significant GOP opposition to the president's plan and could convince more House Republicans to jump ship.
Lastly, the Republican National Committee's winter meeting gets underway today, although the real action doesn't start until tomorrow, when House Minority Leader John Boehner speaks at lunch and outgoing RNC chair Ken Mehlman gives his farewell address. On Friday, GOP Sen. Mel Martinez will be formally elected as the next chair (although he's encountering some resistance from some RNC members upset with his immigration views). And on Saturday, White House press secretary Tony Snow speaks at the