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The Situation: Monday, November 21

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 4 p.m. ET to 6 p.m. ET and 7 p.m. ET to 8 p.m. ET weekdays.

Cheney to raise funds for DeLay

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President Bush offered an "olive branch" to Iraq war critic Rep. John Murtha on Sunday.

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Posted: 11:53 a.m. ET
From Mark Preston, CNN Political Unit

The White House is not distancing itself from embattled former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who is facing charges of breaking state campaign finance law.

Vice President Cheney is scheduled to appear at a December 5, Houston fundraiser on DeLay's behalf. Donors are being asked to contribute at least $500, according to an e-mail sent by the Fort Bend (Texas) Republican Party. Shannon Flaherty, DeLay's spokeswoman, confirmed details of the fundraiser.

"For five years, Congressman DeLay has served as a key ally to pass the White House's agenda through Congress, and Ronnie Earle's political sideshow isn't going to get in the way of the real business at hand," said Flaherty. "This event shows the Democrat strategy of avenging their ballot box losses with smear tactics and lawsuits is not going to work -- Republicans stick by their friends and don't back down from a fight."

DeLay was forced to step down from his leadership position in late September after Earle, the Travis County (Texas) district attorney, charged him with illegally directing corporate donations to Texas candidates. DeLay has asked that his trial be moved from Travis to Fort Bend County.

As of September 30, 2005, DeLay had $1.164 million in his warchest. Former Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Texas) is challenging DeLay for his seat.

The Morning Grind

Posted: 9:25 a.m. ET
From Mark Preston, CNN Political Unit

Iraq debate continues

Even though Congress is shuttered for the Thanksgiving holiday, the debate over Iraq continues with two influential voices delivering speeches today.

Vice President Cheney will discuss "Iraq and the War on Terror" at the American Enterprise Institute at 11 a.m., while Sen. Joe Biden (Delaware), the senior Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee and a potential 2008 presidential candidate, will address the same subject before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. The speeches come as President Bush returns from his eight day trip to Asia, after thanking Mongolia for its help on the war on terror in his last stop before heading home.

Bush sought Sunday to calm the heated rhetoric over the war, sparked by Rep. John Murtha's (D-Pennsylvania) call for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Murtha's comments drew a strong rebuke from the White House and several House Republicans, who compared the military hawk to liberal filmmaker Michael Moore and described his proposal as a "cut and run" policy.

"Congressman Murtha is a fine man, a good man who served our country with honor and distinction as a Marine in Vietnam and as a United States Congressman," Bush said. "He is a strong supporter of the United States military, and I know the decision to call for an immediate withdrawal of our troops by Congressman Murtha was done in a careful and thoughtful way.

"I disagree with his position," Bush added.

Despite the personal attacks, Murtha refused to back down from his proposal to withdraw the troops "at the earliest possible date."

"We need to change the direction in Iraq," he said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday. "I said a year ago, and you remember me saying this, we can't win this militarily. The military has done everything they can do."

The Thanksgiving recess is expected to serve as a cooling point on the Iraq issue, but tempers could flare up again when Congress returns next month. The House is scheduled to return to Capitol Hill on December 5, while the Senate is slated to come back on December 12 to wrap up business on unfinished spending bills.

Before leaving town, though, the seven freshman Republican Senators began laying the groundwork for the 2006 legislative agenda. Sens. Richard Burr (North Carolina), Tom Coburn (Oklahoma), Jim DeMint (South Carolina), Johnny Isakson (Georgia), Mel Martinez (Florida), John Thune (South Dakota) and David Vitter (Louisiana) met Thursday with White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove to offer their perspectives about what Republicans should be focusing on next year. Specifically, the seven Senators spoke on the topics of energy, fiscal restraint and immigration, according to several Republicans with knowledge of the meeting.

"They wanted to let the White House know what they heard most recently from the voters on the campaign trail (in 2004), and what they continue to hear back home from their constituents," said one Republican, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Rove, for his part, took meticulous notes, said the GOP source.

While Congress works to wrap up its legislative business and the White House begins crafting an agenda for the 2006 midterms, officials in Louisiana will soon decide whether to delay New Orleans' February 4 mayoral election. With a majority of its' population scattered throughout the U.S. and 300 of the 442 polling places inoperable, Secretary of State Al Ater is expected to recommend next week that the election be delayed by at least two months. Already, state Elections Commissioner Angie LaPlace has suggested the mayoral contest be postponed until the city is able to properly hold the election.

"I have every reason to believe he will follow the recommendation of the commissioner," said Jennifer Marusak, a senior aide to Ater. "Right now, the obstacles are so tremendous that there isn't a readily available solution to all of the problems that we have."

The state legislature is currently considering legislation to hold a special statewide election on April 29, and Marusak said the New Orleans election could possibly be held on this date.

Mayor Ray Nagin (D) has already said he is seeking reelection and Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu (D) and Peggy Wilson (R), a former city council member, are also considering seeking the seat. Ater will announce his decision on November 30, Marusak said.

Today, conservatives will discuss "Conservative Perspectives on the Alito Nomination" at a 12:30 National Press Club forum. Jan LaRue of Concerned Women for American, Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch, Manual Miranda of Third Branch Conference and Roger Pilon of the Cato Institute are all scheduled to participate.

Political Hot Topics

Posted: 9:25 a.m. ET
From Stephen Bach, CNN Washington Bureau

THE ONE-MAN TIPPING POINT: After months of debate over the question of how the country got into Iraq -- who knew what and when about the absence of WMD -- the political center of gravity suddenly shifted to another question: how we get out. Murtha was the one-man tipping point. Initially a strong supporter of the conflict, he had voted for it and the money to pay for it. But on his last trip to Iraq, he had become convinced not only that the war was unwinnable, but that the continued American military presence was making matters far worse. "We're the target, we're part of the problem," he told NEWSWEEK. NEWSWEEK: Bush at the Tipping Pointexternal link

BUSH EXTENDS THE OLIVE BRANCH: After more than a week of increasingly harsh rhetoric, President Bush sought Sunday to tone down the raging debate on Iraq and offered an olive branch to the pro-military Democratic lawmaker condemned by the White House last week for turning against the war. Without being asked, Bush praised Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), a decorated Vietnam War veteran and hawkish legislator who last week declared that the Iraq situation had become so bad that the United States needs to immediately withdraw troops. "Congressman Murtha is a fine man, a good man, who served our country with honor and distinction as a Marine in Vietnam and as a United States congressman," Bush said. "He is a strong supporter of the United States military. And I know the decision to call for an immediate withdrawal of our troops by Congressman Murtha was done in a careful and thoughtful way. I disagree with his position." Washington Post: Bush Tries to Tone Down High-Pitched Debate on Iraqexternal link

Oops, Wrong Doorexternal link (New York Times)

SENATORS TALK TO SOLDIERS: In an unusual closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill last week, Virginia's John Warner, joined by Democratic Senators Carl Levin of Michigan and Mark Dayton of Minnesota, sat across the table from 10 military officers chosen for their experience on the battlefield rather than in the political arena. Warner rounded up the battalion commanders to get at what the military calls "ground truth" -- the unvarnished story of what's going on in Iraq... In contrast to the Pentagon's stock answer that there are enough troops on the ground in Iraq, the commanders said that they not only needed more manpower but also had repeatedly asked for it. Indeed, military sources told TIME that as recently as August 2005, a senior military official requested more troops but got turned down flat. TIME: Getting the Lowdown on Iraqexternal link

RUMMY MAKES THE ROUNDS: Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, addressing the renewed debate over American troops in Iraq, said today that any paring down of the forces there would depend on military and security conditions, and that current troop levels must be maintained at least until the December elections in Iraq. Speaking on the Sunday morning public affairs programs, Mr. Rumsfeld appeared to want to deliver the final word on the recent uproar sparked by a call for an expedited withdrawal of American troops issued by a Democratic congressman who has long been influential on military matters on both sides of the partisan divide. New York Times: Rumsfeld Says Iraq Troop Levels Must Be Maintainedexternal link

WOODWARD REBUKED FOR KEEPING QUIET: The Washington Post's ombudsman rebuked journalist Bob Woodward on Sunday for withholding what he knew about the CIA leak probe from his editor and for making public statements that were dismissive of the investigation without disclosing his own involvement. One of the best-known investigative reporters in the United States, Woodward revealed last week that he testified under oath to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that a senior Bush administration official told him in mid-June 2003 about CIA operative Valerie Plame's position at the agency. Fitzgerald announced a few days later in court papers that his two-year criminal investigation into who leaked Plame's identity would be going back before a federal grand jury, a sign he may seek new or revised charges. The name of Woodward's source has yet to be made public and so far more than a dozen senior administration officials have denied any involvement in the leak. Reuters via Yahoo! News: Woodward Rebuked Over Leak Caseexternal link

SEE YOU IN '08: Gov. Mark Warner surges into New Hampshire, beaming with red state credibility and teeth like mah-jongg tiles. "Wow, what great energy," he says amid a standing ovation from a luncheon of Democratic activists. He is trailed by 10 reporters and cameramen, a Big Deal entourage, and emits the radiance of a prospective candidate packing considerable '08 momentum -- in '05. In the Granite State's perennial presidential calendar, the outgoing Virginia governor has become his party's heat magnet since his protege Tim Kaine was elected to succeed him two weeks ago. Washington Post: Away Gameexternal link

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