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The Morning Grind / DayAhead

The survivors tour

By John Mercurio
CNN Political Unit

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Iraq
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Donald Rumsfeld's "save my job" tour of Baghdad was just the beginning. (With apologies to Beyonce, the secretary's exact words were, "I'm a survivor.")

With new fighting in Karbala and Najaf and new polls showing all-time lows for the president and his Iraq policies (most notably, in Ohio), the White House this weekend plans to lay out more forcefully its plan for the transfer of power in Iraq, an effort that will include intensified consultations with key lawmakers and goodwill trips abroad by Secretary of State Colin Powell and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

That effort got underway late Thursday when the White House met with a group of House Republicans, many of whom have expressed concern about the lack of progress in Iraq and the impact the prison abuse scandal could have on the overall war against terrorism.

While President Bush himself swings over to Missouri and Wisconsin today, Rice left last night for a weekend trip to Russia and Germany to meet with her counterparts and engage in a series of consultations at the Kremlin. On Monday, she'll meet with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei in Berlin to try to jump-start the Middle East peace process.

The trip is part of an aggressive outreach effort by the Bush administration to try to minimize the damage of the prison abuse scandal, garner support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's "disengagement plan" and secure more allies in the war on terror.

For his part, Powell will travel to Jordan this weekend to participate in the World Economic Forum and meet with his Arab counterparts.

In addition, sources say, the administration plans to step up its scheduled announcement of key appointments in the Iraq transition. "Expect to see names over the next 10 days of those who will be representing the Iraqi Transitional Authority," one administration official told CNN's Suzanne Malveaux. The transitional government will consist of 30 positions: one president, two vice presidents, one prime minister and 26 ministers.

Though not coordinated with the White House strategy, Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie will speak today at 2:15 p.m. ET at the Georgia GOP convention in Columbus.

Meanwhile, today in Mequon, Wisconsin, Bush will deliver a commencement speech at Concordia University. (This is the first of three graduation speeches Bush plans to make this year. He speaks May 21 at Louisiana State University and June 2 at the Air Force Academy). Before the speech the president will touch down in Bridgeton, Missouri, where he'll help the GOP raise money for get-out-the-vote efforts.

Kerry's not-quite-silent treatment

John Kerry, whose weekend will take him from Brahmin Beacon Hill with family to brawny Las Vegas with Teamsters, went to Capitol Hill on short notice last night to view the new photos and videos of prisoner abuse in Iraq, spending about 45 minutes in the secure room where senators were shown the material. As he left, he waved off reporters' questions with a "no comment" comment.

But as the senator climbed into his motorcade, a reporter yelled, "Are you outraged?" Kerry nodded yes.

In an interview with Little Rock, Arkansas, affiliate KTHV, Kerry briefly mentioned that he had spoken to the father of beheaded American captive Nicholas Berg, as well as the mother of a local serviceman killed in Iraq.

"There's no word to describe how as a father I know I would feel if it were one of my daughters or one of my stepsons," Kerry said. "I think every American is pained by what is going on. On the other hand, we have to be strong. We have to do what's smart if we're going to be able to win the war on terror."

A Kerry campaign source later told CNN that Berg's father contacted Kerry, and the two spoke Wednesday night.

Also this weekend, Kerry travels to Las Vegas where he'll speak to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Unity Conference and attend a $1,000-per-person reception and $5,000-per-person dinner.


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