From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi.
President Bush heads to Virginia for the second day in a row, this time venturing into Shenandoah National Park. His back-to-back visits to the state may simply have to do with its proximity to Washington. But since Bush has shown no compunction about traveling halfway across the country on a day trip in the past, the repeat stops may have as much to do with boosting his standing in Virginia as with the snowy backdrop of Skyline Drive. Bush has lost a lot of ground on Iraq in this once trusty red state, first by the replacement of war supporter George Allen (R) with war critic Jim Webb (D), and more recently through GOP Sen. John Warner's prominent defection on a troop increase in Iraq.
If the Senate is at the back of Bush's mind today, it also takes a back seat, at least temporarily, in the debate over Bush's planned troop increase. Having taken an issue of great concern for the public and politicized it so much as to reduce it to a hollow procedural argument, the Senate yields the debate to the House. Democrats there, more firmly in control of their legislative agenda, are drafting a resolution opposing a troop increase and will bring it up for as much as three days' consideration next week. The House GOP leadership is expected to draft a resolution supporting the plan.
This will land the House back in the spotlight for the first time since Democrats completed their agenda for their first 100 hours in the majority, before Bush's State of the Union address. Meanwhile, the Senate shifts its focus to a must-pass government funding bill that expires next week. A series of new TV ads launched by liberal MoveOn will aim to keep certain senators on the hot seat; the ads target Warner, Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, presidential candidate and Sen. Sam Brownback (R) and others "for filibustering" the resolution.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid yesterday declared that "negotiations are over" in the effort to agree with his Republican counterparts on terms for the highly anticipated debate over a troop increase. Per NBC's Ken Strickland, this means that there won't be a vote on Warner's non-binding resolution opposing an increase for at least a couple of weeks. Republicans would have to make significant concessions for a vote to occur.
As Reid declared an end to negotiations, Senate Democrats announced they'll hold a press conference today at which they'll call on Republicans to stop blocking debate on the Warner resolution. Then, after Reid made his announcement, GOP leader Mitch McConnell made another effort to reach an agreement with him.
Instead of asking for a vote on two resolutions that support the Bush plan, in addition to a vote on Warner's, McConnell asked for a vote on just one measure offered by Sen. Judd Gregg (R) which says Congress will not call for "the elimination or reduction of funds for troops in the field." But Reid wants the debate to be narrowly focused on the actual troop increase, and called the funding measure a "diversion," Strickland says.
Republican leaders maintain that if senators disagree with the troop increase, a funding resolution must be part of the debate. They also say that Reid is reluctant to have a vote on the Gregg resolution because it would show divisions within Democratic ranks, and also could get more votes than the Warner measure. "That's probably the real essence of why Senator Reid doesn't want a vote on it," he said.
And former Gov. Mitt Romney (R) gives what his campaign is billing as a "major policy speech" at the Detroit Economic Club today. A Romney aide tells First Read that he'll talk about his economic vision and offer some specifics. "He will look at five of the factors that accelerate growth" and "assure economic leadership: skilled, educated, motivated people; free trade, on the level; capital & savings; innovation & technology; and consumer freedom." Romney also will call for Congress to make Bush's tax cuts permanent and will talk about the challenges facing the auto industry.
This will mark Romney's third and highest-profile policy speech, following lesser noticed remarks on Iran and the Middle East; he has yet to make formal remarks addressing any of the social issues that occasionally trip up his fledgling candidacy. Romney plans to return to Michigan to announce his candidacy for president on February 13.