From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, and Huma Zaidi
The White House may cast President Bush's schedule of late as that of a chief executive who has many other responsibilities to attend to beyond watching the House vote on a non-binding resolution he doesn't plan to heed. But what the President's recent schedule has looked like is that of a lame duck. While the House debates and ultimately is expected to reject his new Iraq war policy, Bush is attending events on volunteerism and meeting with the leaders of Lithuania, Liberia and Panama. Tomorrow, this president who so likes to hit the road will give a speech on the war on terror in a Washington hotel ballroom.
Maybe this occurred to the White House, as well, since they just added a news conference to Bush's schedule for later this morning. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports that Bush will talk in his opening statement about his first conversation with his newly confirmed commander of US forces in Iraq, David Petraeus, and about the accord just reached over North Korea. He'll also talk about the House debate.
Bush's likely goal for the news conference and his speech tomorrow is to give his allies a rhetorical boost by casting the debate over his planned troop increase as part of the broader fight against terrorism, while critics focus narrowly on his planned troop increase. Democrats are seizing upon a letter from two leading House Republicans to their colleagues as proof that Bush's own party thinks a troop increase is a PR disaster. "If we let Democrats force us into a debate on the surge or the current situation in Iraq, we lose," the two members wrote.
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats and GOP critics of the troop increase are strategizing about how to revive the aborted debate in that chamber. Majority Leader Harry Reid says he'll try to pass the House version of a resolution opposing a US troop increase in Iraq when the Senate returns to the debate, probably in a couple of weeks, NBC's Ken Strickland reports. Reid says he actually prefers the House measure to the bipartisan measure authored by Republican John Warner, which Reid had previously supported. "It's so much more direct," he told reporters at a news conference. "We support the troops. We oppose the surge. Perfect."
Reid said he'll start the process of getting the House measure on the Senate floor today, but that Senate rules and the upcoming week-long recess would likely delay any action on it until at least the week of February 26, Strickland reports. If Warner and his colleagues still wish to proceed with their measure, Reid says they'd have to offer it as an amendment to the House resolution. Warner is trying, albeit in vain, to start the debate on his resolution immediately by vowing to attach it to any piece of legislation that moves through the chamber. He has even raised the possibility of forgoing the week-long recess next week to vote on various Iraq resolutions.
Other notable appearances today: Fed chief Ben Bernanke has day one of his two-day appearance on Capitol Hill, testifying before the Senate Banking Committee. CNBC's Steve Liesman advises, "There'll be a lot of political questions Bernanke will try not to answer." And Vice President Cheney gives a rare public speech at the National Association of Manufacturers, a GOP mainstay which is one of the most powerful trade associations in town, and which waded into the battle over Bush's judicial nominees last year.
And First Read is pleased to announce that MSNBC will broadcast the first-ever Republican presidential primary debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA on May 3. The debate will stream live on Politico.com and MSNBC.com, and questions submitted through Politico.com will be posed by their reporters to the candidates in real time. The debate takes place one week after NBC's Democratic presidential primary debate in Orangeburg, SC on April 26.
The latest USA Today/Gallup poll shows frontrunners Sen. Hillary Clinton (D) and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) widening their leads over their nearest rivals. Clinton now leads Sen. Barack Obama by 19 points, and Giuliani leads Sen. John McCain by 16 points. That said, any bounce Obama may have gotten from his Saturday announcement, or for Romney from his announcement yesterday, would not be reflected in this survey.