The war in Iraq dominated the debate among the eight Democratic presidential candidates at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire last night. Most of the media attention focused on Sens. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, and former Sen. John Edwards, and highlighted Edwards' criticism of Clinton and Obama for what he called their lack of leadership in ending the Iraq war. The second and third tier candidates were given little mention in the major print sources.
The New York Times reports the frontrunners "attacked each other overtly and subtly Sunday over Iraq and their judgment, honesty and leadership in handling that war." Clinton "both drew fire and calmly returned it in the second nationally televised Democratic debate, arguing that the differences among the Democrats were minor compared with their differences with President Bush." But Edwards "repeatedly went after" Sens. Clinton and Obama, "accusing them of being followers in Congress - not leaders - in the effort to bring an end to the war." Obama "noted that he opposed the war while still in the Illinois Senate in the fall of 2002, unlike Mr. Edwards, who voted to authorize the use of force but has since repudiated that vote." Obama said, "The fact is that I opposed this war from the start. So you're about four and a half years late on leadership on this issue." The Times adds it was "one of several striking exchanges - arguably the sharpest of the Democratic campaign - that highlighted the three-way nature of this race for the nomination."
The Washington Post reports the Democrats "clashed sharply over Iraq," and the "brisk exchange...highlighted a defining feature of the two-hour debate: It brought the top three Democratic contenders into close proximity and gave them their first real chance to joust in public." Although all "eight Democratic candidates participated, debate sponsors deliberately put Clinton, Obama and Edwards next to each other, and they took much of the limelight." Obama "gave a more commanding performance Sunday night than he did during the first Democratic debate, in South Carolina in April. He stepped in to respond confidently to his colleagues, challenging their answers on Iraq and health care, the two central issues of the debate." Clinton "seemed as forceful as she was in the first debate, while Edwards played the role of the aggressor in drawing distinctions with the others." Bloomberg and the Los Angeles Times report the story in a similar fashion.
The Wall Street Journal also reports the Democrats "clashed over the Iraq war in some of their harshest exchanges to date." Edwards "reiterated his regret for his 2002 war vote and challenged Sen. Clinton to do the same. Again, she refused, repeating that she'd acted on the best information at the time." But Clinton and Edwards both "were put on the defensive for not reading the full National Intelligence Estimate in advance of their 2002 war authorization vote."
USA Today reports the "leading Democrat[s]...tangled bitterly over the war in Iraq and the global war on terrorism Sunday in their second debate of the year." As the candidates "were asked to reflect on Saturday's breakup of an alleged terrorist plot to bomb John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, Edwards declined to give the Bush administration credit for preventing any attacks on U.S. soil since Sept. 11, 2001." Instead, Edwards "decried the 'war on terror' as a 'political slogan' that Bush uses to justify everything from attacking Iraq to torture. Clinton, however, said the war on terror has been partly a success." On immigration, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson "said he does not support the provision in the bill, now pending in the Senate, that would grant fewer visas to unify immigrant families." The AP reports, in an article published on the websites of over 60 news organizations, noted Clinton said that as a New Yorker, "I have seen first hand the terrible damage that can be inflicted on our country by a small band of terrorists."
Focus Group Says Clinton, Biden, Obama Gain Most Ground WMUR-TV Manchester, NH reported on its website, "The New Hampshire respondents studied in tonight's dial test focus group provided insight into the candidates' performance and their assessment of their ability to lead the nation. Hillary Clinton, Joseph Biden and Barrack Obama appear to have gained the most in tonight's debate. Focus group respondents viewed Clinton favorably prior to the debate and felt even more strongly about her afterward, increasing her ratings by twenty-one points. Interestingly, there was not a gender gap in the response. Both men and women evaluated Clinton similarly and both groups proportionately increased their favorable evaluations of her."
Yepsen Says Top Three All Winners An AP analysis piece by noted Iowa political writer David Yepsen, picked up by USA Today among others, says that "the three frontrunners," Edwards, Clinton, and Obama, "emerged as the winners of Sunday night's debate in New Hampshire. Edwards probably did himself the most good. He looked tanned and confident during the session. He argued forcefully for quickly ending the war in Iraq and for his national health care plan. He tweaked Clinton and Obama for not speaking more forcefully against the war." Clinton "scored presidential style points when she put down the moderator, Wolf Blitzer, for asking hypothetical questions about when each would use force." Obama "gave a strong answer when he promised that if he had the chance, he would 'take out' Osama bin Laden with a military strike."
CNN Analysts Praise Biden, Although No Clear Winner Seen CNN reports on its website, "Although there was no consensus on the winner of Sunday night's Democratic presidential debate, CNN analysts were largely impressed with Sen. Joe Biden and disappointed with Gov. Bill Richardson. Democratic and Republican strategists analyzed the New Hampshire debate along with CNN's own political team. Biden was 'on fire,' Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Donna Brazile said. Brazile said Biden's answers set him apart from the other seven." Meanwhile, "Several observers characterized Clinton's performance as effective, yet safe. 'She came clearly determined not to let her position on Iraq and the objection of the others get in her way,' said Arianna Huffington, the editor of the Huffington Post, a liberal-leaning political blog. 'I thought it was her best performance, and if Obama and Edwards really want to take her on Iraq, they have to be much more aggressive and much more clear.'"
Clinton Called "Not As Good" As In Prior Debate In a 'First Read' post on the website of MSNBC (5/3), political analyst Chuck Todd characterizes Obama as "most improved performer," and also hails Edwards's showing, adding, "[a]s for Clinton, she was good tonight but not quite as impressive as she was in the first debate. She didn't shake either Obama or Edwards. She is very good at not taking the bait but sometimes one wishes she would directly engage one of her first tier rivals. BTW, I was surprised at how much she references her husband's administration. She did it quite a bit."
Obama Gets Most Talk-Time, Clinton Second Several post-debate blog postings focused on Dodd's complaint about the focus on the 1st tier candidates. In a post on the blog of the Wall Street Journal, Chris Cooper, citing figures from the Dodd campaign, reported on the relative amount of "talk time" each candidate had, noting that Obama spoke for a total of 16 minutes while Clinton only had 14:26. Moreover, while Clinton was asked 15 questions, Obama was asked 16. In a blog posting on the website of the New York Times, Kate Phillips also notes the speaking time breakdown, adding that (factoring out moderator Wolf Blitzer) Edwards came in third at 11:42. This posting includes a link to the Dodd campaign's figures. In a posting on his Washington Post "The Fix" blog, Chris Cillizza also notes the figures from the Dodd campaign and says while Dodd got but a fraction of speaking time of the big three, "the problem with this argument is that it is totally aimed at insiders. Regular folks watching the debate aren't likely to be upset at the lack of questions directed at Dodd."
Debate Said To Reveal Eventual Democratic "Fault Line" In an analysis piece at Salon.com, Walter Shapiro writes that the debate "was the foreshadowing debate -- a prelude to the coming Democratic scrap over personalities and issues." Shapiro writes that the "the fault lines that will define the Democratic race this winter began to emerge," adding that Clinton "combined sure footing, a deft grasp of the issues, a dollop of caution and a steadfast refusal to admit error. Asked about her failure to read the entire classified National Intelligence Estimate before she voted in 2002 to permit Bush to go to war, Clinton said unapologetically, 'I was thoroughly briefed. I knew all the arguments. I knew all of what the Defense Department, the CIA, the State Department were all saying. And I sought dissenting opinions, as well as talking to people in previous administrations and outside experts.'" Shapiro continues to criticize the debate's set-up, which relegated "the five Democratic also-rans" to a subordinate position.
Ahead Of Debate, RNC Ad Targets Democratic Frontrunners On Iraq Vote The AP reported that the RNC "is advertising on New Hampshire radio airwaves this weekend to pressure Democratic presidential candidates in town for" the presidential debate. The RNC "ad features New Hampshire state Rep. Al Baldasaro, a retired Marine who fought in the Persian Gulf War, criticizing the leading Democratic candidates for opposing a war spending bill. 'Is politics more important than our troops in harm's way?' Baldasaro asks in the spot. Under pressure from liberal Democrats," Sens. Clinton and Obama "voted against a measure that would continue funding military operations in Iraq because it did not include a troop withdrawal timeline. The 60-second ad singled out Clinton and Obama, along with" ex-Sen. Edwards, "who also opposed the measure.
In his "Granite Status" column in the New Hampshire Sunday News, John DiStaso noted, "Spokesman Summer Johnson said the RNC launched a radio ad this weekend accusing front-runners" Clinton, Obama and Edwards "of doing an 'about face' on U.S. troops in Iraq by saying they support the troops while opposing the emergency supplemental bill to provide billions of dollars. ... An RNC 'research team' will distribute information to the debate audience and the reporters covering the event. You may even be able to find a 'pander bear' roaming the campus, telling anyone who will listen that the Dems 'will do anything and say anything to be elected,' Johnson said."
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President Bush "will fly into a headwind of resistance" when he takes off for Europe today, ABC World News reported. While Bush can expect a hard time from his Group of Eight peers in Germany, he has, "perhaps in anticipation of this resistance," taken a "series of steps in recent days to deflect some of the criticism." These include new sanctions against Sudan, a new greenhouse gas emission reduction plan, and increased anti-AIDS funding for Africa.
The Financial Times says the President "appeared likely to split" G8 members over global warming, despite "a last-ditch intervention" by British Prime Minister Tony Blair. On Sunday, Blair "said the summit should set goals for reducing carbon emissions, pledge to establish a global carbon market and commit to the United Nations-led Kyoto process on climate." His comments, which "reiterated three core demands" by German Chancellor Angela Merkel "that the US has opposed, will strengthen the chancellor's hand in her tug of war with Mr. Bush ahead of the summit."
In an analysis, the New York Times says Bush's "shift" last week toward cutting worldwide emissions "was greeted with widespread skepticism. But mixed in with the doubts was a substantial dose of support, albeit conditional." To some officials "immersed for years in troubled treaty talks," the President's new plan "is a potentially useful tool for gaining new consensus." However, supporters caution that such a consensus can be reached only if Bush "sticks to his administration's pledge to have its efforts feed into United Nations climate discussions, which resume in Bali in December." The Christian Science Monitor also reports that Bush's plan was "greeted with skepticism" at the summit.
East European Visits Test Relations With Moscow The perils for the President go beyond German frontiers. The Financial Times says Bush's "tense relationship with Moscow will be tested" when he visits the Czech Republic and Poland, where a proposed US missile defense shield is seen mainly as a political defense" against Russia. Bush has been "trying to sell the system as a response to the threat posed by states like Iran and North Korea," but for Central Europeans, "the perceived threat from their former imperial master -- grown rich on oil and gas exports and still seen as nostalgic for empire -- is much more acute." The CBS Evening News says Russian President Vladimir Putin "warned Russia would aim missiles on Europe again if the US builds missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic." On its front page, the Washington Times says Putin's comments "seemed calculated to cause consternation and division" at Wednesday's G8 meeting.
Senators returning to Washington from a week-long Memorial Day recess are growing optimistic about the bipartisan immigration deal's chances of passage. The Washington Post reports backers are "increasingly convinced that they will hold together this week to pass an overhaul of the nation's immigration laws, with momentum building behind one unifying theme: Today's immigration system is too broken to go unaddressed." The "week-long Memorial Day recess was expected to leave the bill in tatters," but with the "legislation's champions say they believe that the voices of opposition, especially from conservatives, represent a small segment of public opinion."
As the Senate takes up the immigration bill, the Washington Post lists the "biggest challenges" to a deal, "pending amendments that could hurt support for the bill." Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) has proposed expanding "the number of crimes defined as aggravated felonies, creating new grounds to deport illegal immigrants and make prospective immigrants inadmissible." USA Today reports one amendment "likely to be offered to change the bill: Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., will seek to end the merit-based point system for immigration after five years."
Senate Republicans are seen as the key to the bill's passage, and the Washington Times reports the its "fate...comes down to Senate Republicans' leader, Mitch McConnell, and whether he sides with President Bush and Democratic leaders or with rank-and-file members of his own party." The Christian Science Monitor notes that how Sens. Jon Kyl and Lindsey Graham "and other senators in the hot seat endured the heat may become clear when the Senate resumes debate on the bill this week and whether the amendments to come are designed mainly to alter it or, rather, to kill it."
The political maneuvering comes as new polls shows Americans ambivalent about immigration policy. The Washington Post reports a "new Washington Post-ABC poll" shows a "slim majority believe in creating a pathway to citizenship, with younger people and Democrats far more open to the idea than Republicans and those over 55. The number in favor of a guest worker program is almost identical -- 53 percent -- but on this issue, almost as many Republicans as Democrats back the concept."
But President Bush himself faces a backlash from GOP immigration opponents. The New York Times reported over the weekend that President Bush's criticism of conservatives opposed to the Senate's immigration reform bill is "provoking an unusually intense backlash from conservatives who form the bulwark of his remaining support, splintering his base and laying bare divisions within a party whose unity has been the envy of Democrats." Those supporters now view him as pursuing amnesty for foreign law breakers when he should be focusing on border security."
The Washington Times reports President Bush's immigration bill "is hurting fundraising by the Republican National Committee, but fierce grass-roots opposition to the legislation is helping several state Republican parties." The "pain is particularly felt at the Republican National Committee." In the "first three months of this year, the committee collected $24.6 million, down from $35 million in the comparable period last year, $32.3 million in the first quarter of 2005 and $46 million in the first quarter of 2004."
The Washington Times says Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff -- "challenged opponents to put forward another solution that takes account of what Mr. Chertoff called 'real life, as opposed to theoretical arguments about what would be nice.'" The Hill says Secretary Gutierrez "pointed to a growing realization among business, immigration and church groups that this might be the last opportunity for some time to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill."
The AP notes that Bush challenged lawmakers to support the "political risky" immigration bill, as he said, "This is a difficult issue for a lot of folks. ... But because it's difficult probably means we need to work doubly hard to get it done."
Undocumented Students Would Benefit USA Today /AP reports on the "estimated 50,000 undocumented students in U.S. colleges today. These students would be among the people who would benefit from a part of an immigration bill that the Senate plans to resume work on this week." They would "gain temporary legal status when they graduate from high school as long as they agreed to enroll in college or enlist in the military."
Under the front-page headline "Commanders Say Push In Baghdad Is Short Of Goal," the New York Times publishes a pessimistic account that says "three months after the start of the Baghdad security plan that has added thousands" of US and Iraqi troops to Baghdad, "they control fewer than one-third of the city's neighborhoods, far short of the initial goal for the operation, according to some commanders" and an internal Pentagon assessment. But on Fox News Sunday, US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker said, "We said from the beginning, when the President announced this policy in January, that it would take some time to see results. We're still just reaching full strength with the additional troops coming in for the surge."
Still, legislators were critical. On CNN's Late Edition, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein said it is "very difficult to see that we are winning anything in Iraq." And leading war critic Rep. John Murtha said on ABC's This Week, "I'm absolutely convinced right now the surge isn't working.
Sixteen US Troops Killed In June So Far ABC World News reported 16 US troops have died "in just the first three days of this month, a grim follow-on to May, which was the third-deadliest month since the war began." The CBS Evening News called it "a terrible weekend for US troops in Iraq, and a terrible start to June," also citing May's high fatalities. Indeed, most sources mention May's death toll in their reports. The New York Times reports the "pace of American troop deaths increased this weekend" with 14 deaths, "all but one from makeshift bombs." The Washington Post focuses on a car bomb attack outside Forward Operating Base Warhorse, "the largest U.S. military facility in Diyala province," seeing it as "punctuating a flurry of violence." USA Today calls the weekend "a deadly start for June" and notes President Bush "has warned that casualties could increase this summer."
Newsweek reports that although Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's "views are dominant in Washington," Vice President Cheney "has been actively challenging Rice's Iran strategy in recent months. 'We hear a completely different story coming out of Cheney's office, even now, than what we hear from Rice on Iran,' says a Western diplomat whose embassy has close dealings with the White House."
The AP reports that on Tuesday, former White House aide I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby "will learn whether he will go to prison and, if so, whether it will be right away for his conviction in the CIA leak case. Once Libby's fate is known, then there is this ultimate question: Will President Bush pardon him?"
The Politico reports ex-Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie could succeed Dan Bartlett as counselor to President Bush. On Friday, Bartlett announced he would end his 14 years inside Bush's inner circle in early July. Gillespie said he was 'flattered at the notion.'" He added, "It's not for me to rule it in or out. You'll have to ask the President."
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