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The Situation: Thursday, September 29

Editor's Note: The Situation Report is a running log of dispatches, quotes, links and behind-the-scenes notes filed by the correspondents and producers of CNN's Washington Bureau. Watch "The Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer on CNN 3 p.m. ET to 6 p.m. ET weekdays.

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Posted: 9:05 a.m. ET
From Molly Levinson, CNN Political Unit

It's a brand new day.

A new day dawns following the indictment of House majority leader Tom DeLay, producing a myriad of headlines. Stories ranging from allegations of conspiracy and panic in the halls of the House, to dire predictions about what happens to a politician and his party following a mess like this, to defiant circling of the wagons and emotional statements of loyalty from the White House, the RNC, Capitol Hill, to perhaps even a refined, if not new, message for the Democratic party. Pinch yourselves, Washington, we have a full-fledged scandal on our hands.

Mr. DeLay, revered or reviled depending on the color of your political stripes, was charged by a Texas grand jury with conspiring to illegally funnel corporate funds to state Republicans in 2002. He was forced yesterday to step down from his post in the Republican leadership, resulting in an afternoon of scrambling by GOP lawmakers, who named three GOP congressmen to take over his duties: Rep. Roy Blunt, who is the third highest-ranking Republican in the House, will assume the post of temporary Majority leader; Rep. David Dreier will help guide the Republican policy agenda and work with committee chairs; and Rep. Eric Cantor, who holds the post of top Deputy Whip, will take on additional duties in the Whip's office.

With attacks piling on from minority leader Nancy Pelosi, DNC Chairman Howard Dean, and a host of others professing holier-than-thou outrage, Mr. DeLay issued an all-out denial, but not without a reference to some word-parsing in past denials of past scandals, "My defense in this case will not be technical or legalistic. It will be categorical and absolute," he said. "I am innocent. Mr. Earle and his staff know it, and I will prove it."

The indictment, as we're reminded by most of the nation's front pagesexternal link, editorial pages, top reporters, and news junkies galore, comes at a time of bitter partisanship, with decreasing support for the war in Iraq, falling approval numbers for President Bush, the lowest opinion of Congress in history, hurricanes Katrina, Ophelia, and Rita, and a number of related scandals including the Valerie Plame leak, and the failure of FEMA chief Michael Brown. The impending nomination of a successor for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a famous swing vote on the Court, only raises the stakes even higher, with Democrats threatening Filibuster if it doesn't go their way, and a conservative base promising more than sullen pouting if they don't get what they want.

After a full night's sleep, or perhaps for some, a restless night to plot or plan, today brings a whole new slate of events and issues to either clarify or cloud the picture. Judge John Roberts faces a vote in the Senate to be confirmed as Chief Justice of the United States - he emerged from his house this morning at a little after 7 a.m. and told the media assembled out front that he was looking forward to the vote.

President Bush has no public events scheduled today, though at some point, we anticipate that he might swear-in a newly confirmed Chief Justice Roberts. We are watching the White House for any meetings related to his nomination for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's seat as well. Speculation and rumors remain rampant this morning and today is sure to bring increased buzzing, with a nomination announcement expected early next week. We'll release a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll later today that includes numbers on what Americans are looking for in the next nominee. Are they -- like Laura Bush -- expecting a woman? A minority?

Democratic leaders Reid and Pelosi hold a newser billed as a discussion on, "how the Republicans' culture of corruption has contributed to their failed efforts to provide relief to survivors of Hurricane Katrina." (We wish Democratic hill staffers well this morning, as we're sure after their celebrations until the wee hours of the morning at Sonoma that a couple of heads are hurting. A lot of red wine will do that to you.)

According to the latest AAA survey, gas prices have risen slightly since yesterday to an average price of $2.81 nationwide. Senators Schumer and Durbin will introduce legislation at 10:30 this morning to create a national gasoline and jet fuel reserve. And, with somewhat unfortunate timing given the past couple days' events, the House Republican leadership will bring up "Endangered Species" legislation when the House meets at 10 a.m. for legislative business.

Finally, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld -- flanked by top Iraq commanders Casey and Abizaid and Joint Chiefs Chairman Myers-- heads to the Hill to give a "progress" report on Iraq -- first to the Senate and then House Armed Services Committees.

Political Hot Topics

Posted: 8:45 a.m. ET
From Stephen Bach, CNN Washington Bureau

"I HAVE VIOLATED NO LAW": A three-year campaign finance investigation by Travis County prosecutors culminated Wednesday with a criminal conspiracy indictment against U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Sugar Land, forcing the feisty Republican to temporarily step down from his leadership position. "Let me be very clear: I have done nothing wrong," DeLay said at a Washington news conference. "I have violated no law, no regulation, no rule of the House." The grand jury indictment alleges DeLay conspired with two of his political associates to funnel $190,000 in corporate cash illegally to seven Texas House candidates in the 2002 elections. The charge is a state felony, punishable by six months to two years in confinement and a fine of up to $10,000. Houston Chronicle: DeLay indicted, calls it politicsexternal link

NONE TOO THRILLED ABOUT DREIER: When DeLay's indictment was unsealed yesterday, conservatives in the GOP caucus immediately erupted in anger over rumors that the selection of David Dreier [to be temporary majority leader], whom they regard as too moderate, was being presented as a fait accompli. As the conservatives met to vent frustrations and plot options, Hastert was changing course in a separate meeting on the second floor of the Capitol. Rep. Roy Blunt (Mo.), the majority whip, was making a personal appeal for the promotion. Hastert agreed, forestalling a possible revolt by conservatives, who regard Blunt as one of their own. Washington Post: Attempt to Pick Successor Is Foiledexternal link

ROUGH PATCH FOR GOP: A bad year just got worse for the Republican Party when Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) was indicted yesterday. Since House Republicans slightly expanded their majority in 2004, they have run into one political stumbling block after another, and DeLay's indictment is just the latest bout of intrigue that has created a political climate not seen since 1994, when Republicans ended the Democrats' 40-year rule of the House and won control of the Senate. "We're going through a rough patch," said a rank-and-file Republican lawmaker. "I'm more worried about Bush's poll numbers. The concern [among House Republicans] about DeLay is: Does it disrupt our internal unity and focus?" The Hill: A bad year for the party just got a whole lot worseexternal link

LUCKY 77: John Glover Roberts Jr., backed by a united Senate Republican majority and about half of a divided Democratic minority, is taking his place as the nation's 17th chief justice, to lead the Supreme Court into the 21st century and through turbulent social issues that will affect generations to come. Roberts was to be confirmed Thursday by at least 77 senators in the GOP-controlled Senate, or more than three-fourths of the 100-member chamber, as President Bush's selection to replace the late William H. Rehnquist. The 50-year-old U.S. appeals court judge then was to be quickly sworn into his new position at the White House so he could take his seat on Monday in time for the new court session. AP via Yahoo! News: Roberts to be Confirmed as Chief Justiceexternal link

SIX NAMES: The White House has narrowed the list of possible replacements for Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to about a half-dozen names, presenting President Bush with a tough choice at a difficult time in his presidency, even as the future direction of the Supreme Court hangs in the balance. Senior administration officials consulted this week with outside advisers and told them to be on alert for an announcement anytime after Thursday's Senate vote on Judge John Roberts Jr.'s nomination as chief justice. But they have not indicated, in talks with outside advisers or senators, who the nominee will be. Chicago Tribune: Bush said to have narrowed his list for top court spotexternal link

HOW ABOUT HARRIET? One name that was the source of enormous speculation in Washington legal and political circles was Harriet E. Miers, the White House counsel, who is a leader in the search for Justice O'Connor's successor. Ms. Miers, 60, was the first woman to become a partner at a major Texas law firm and the first woman to be president of the State Bar of Texas. At one point, Ms. Miers was Mr. Bush's personal lawyer. New York Times: Bush Reported Near to Nominating Judgeexternal link

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