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The Situation: Thursday, December 8

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.

The Morning Grind

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Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist

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Morning Grind
George W. Bush
Bill Frist
Politics

Posted: 9:30 a.m. ET
From Mark Preston, CNN Political Unit

Chilling prediction

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tennessee) will offer a six point plan today he contends will help the nation cope with an outbreak of avian flu, in a chilling speech where he warns such a pandemic would cause widespread death and result in "a $675 billion hit" to the economy.

Frist, a heart surgeon, will compare the potential dangers of an avian flu pandemic to a "cigarette carelessly flung on the edge of a scorched and brittle forest," in a noon speech at the National Press Club.

"Un-extinguished, the cigarette smolders in the leaves until it catches flame," Frist is expected to say, according to an advanced copy of his remarks. "The winds blow in, sparks are carried afar, the thirsty limbs ignite. A forest fire is born. When the elements are aligned, the path of a global pandemic is similar."

Frist, who is considering a run for president, will urge the government to implement a plan that focuses on communication, surveillance, antivirals, vaccines, research, and stockpile/surge capacity.

"A viral pandemic is no longer a question of if, but a question of when," Frist is expected to say. "We know, depending upon the virulence of the strain that strikes and our capacity to respond that the ensuing death toll could be devastating."

While Frist is talking in Washington about a potential plague, Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) will deliver his second "major" address on Iraq and broaden his remarks to winning the war on terror at a 1 pm speech before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Kerry, who is also considering a 2008 presidential campaign, will criticize President Bush's efforts to win the war on terror and emphasize it is imperative for the U.S. to not only "destroy the terrorist cells," but also win the "war of ideas."

"This war has drawn us smack into the middle of an internal struggle in the Islamic World," Kerry will say, according to excerpts of his speech released by his office. "A struggle ultimately for the transformation of the greater Middle East into a region that is no longer isolated from the global economy, no longer dependent on despotism for stability, no longer fearful of freedom, and no longer content to feed restive and rising populations of unemployed young people a diet of illusions and excuses."

Kerry's speech to CFR comes 24 hours after President Bush spoke on Iraq before the same group in Washington.

The Kerry address is being billed as an effort by Congressional Democrats to address several of their legislative priorities in a series of coordinated speeches across the country. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey) will speak on prescription drugs and Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin) will deliver an economic address, in their respective states. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) joins Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Maryland) and Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Maryland) in Baltimore to talk about education, while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) speaks about corruption in Congress.

Gov.-elect Jon Corzine (D-New Jersey) has chosen Rep. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) as his successor in the U.S. Senate, multiple Democratic sources tell CNN. Menendez will serve the remaining year of Corzine's Senate term in 2006, while launching his own campaign for a full six-year term. Corzine and Menendez spokespeople would not comment on the appointment, but sources said an official announcement could come as early as today. Menendez was chosen over a handful of other Democrats being considered for the appointment, including Rep. Robert Andrews (D-New Jersey) and Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-New Jersey).

"I think it is a good move," said one Democratic source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "He has the statewide infrastructure in place, he has got the money, the fire in the belly and he will win."

But Republicans sought to cast the choice of Menendez as a "recruiting failure" because Democrats were not able to convince acting Gov. Richard Codey (D) to accept the appointment. It is not clear if Menendez will receive a primary challenger. State Sen. Tom Kean, who received the backing of National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Elizabeth Dole at a fund-raiser earlier this week, is the likely GOP nominee in the race.

Menendez's departure from the House opens the door for Rep. James Clyburn (D-South Carolina) to succeed him as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, Roll Call reports. The Capitol Hill newspaper predicts that Clyburn will run unopposed for the chairmanship -- the third ranking Democratic leadership position in the House.

And for Democrats not interested in purchasing the Republican National Committee calendar featuring pictures of the president, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York) is offering an alternative. Clinton is selling t-shirts and baby onesies featuring her likeness to help raise money for her 2006 Senate campaign.

"Whether you are looking for that special something for a Hillary supporter, want to treat yourself, or want to contribute towards our end of year fundraising drive, this is a great opportunity to do some shopping and make a political statement with just one click," Ann Lewis, a Clinton adviser, writes in an e-mail to political supporters. Cost of the shirts range from $35 to $20. If you place you order by tomorrow, Lewis guarantees delivery by Dec. 23, right in time for Christmas.

Grind Extra

Posted: 9:30 a.m. ET
From Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent

Senator Joseph Lieberman came to the Pentagon Thursday for an exclusive breakfast meeting to discuss Iraq with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a senior Pentagon official confirmed to CNN.

The invitation to Lieberman was extended a few days ago the official said, following Lieberman's statements of support for President Bush on the war in Iraq.

Secretary Rumsfeld regularly sets aside time to meet with members of Congress on Tuesdays and Thursdays but the official acknowledged that this invitation was somewhat unique. The secretary also met a few months ago with Congressman John Murtha, but that was before Murtha's recent statements opposing the President.

The meeting comes as the Army is drafting detailed options for the withdrawal of a significant number of troops following the December 15 elections. Top officials have long said they expect to rapidly withdraw about 20,000 troops after the election that had been there particularly for election security.

But a further option to drawdown troops by an additional 10,000 troops is being developed, military officials confirm. Although no decisions have been made, that option calls for leaving one brigade, now in Kuwait, at its present location to serve as a rapid reaction force in the event of a crisis. Another brigade of the First Infantry Division that was scheduled to deploy might be held back and only small groups sent to serve as additional trainers for Iraqi security forces, officials said. A decision on this option would come after the December elections.

Political Hot Topics

Posted 9:30 a.m. ET
Compiled by Stephen Bach, CNN Washington Bureau

BUSH APPROVAL JUMPS TO 40: After months of political erosion, President Bush's approval rating improved markedly in the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll, largely tracking Americans' more positive attitudes toward the economy. But his presidency is still plagued by widespread doubts about his handling of the war in Iraq, with 52 percent of poll respondents saying the Bush administration intentionally misled the public when its officials made the case for war. A majority of Americans want the United States to set some timetable for troop withdrawal; 32 percent want the number of American troops reduced, and 28 percent want a total pullout. The survey, conducted Dec. 2-6, showed Mr. Bush's approval rating at 40 percent, up from 35 percent a month ago, which was the low point of his presidency. New York Times: Economy Lifts Bush's Support in Latest Pollexternal link

WHAT ABOUT KATRINA? Just three months ago, President George W. Bush couldn't talk enough about the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast and the effort to rebuild it. Bush traveled to the region eight times in the six weeks following Hurricane Katrina's Aug. 29 landfall. He spoke about the disaster almost every day in September and in all four radio addresses that month. On Sept. 15, during a nationally televised speech from New Orleans, the president promised that "we will do what it takes, we will stay as long as it takes, to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives." That now seems a distant memory. Bush hasn't been back to the region in almost two months, and he doesn't speak about it much anymore -- four times in November and twice so far this month, and then only fleetingly. In a 44-minute speech on the economy on Dec. 5, Bush mentioned hurricane damage in the context of urging Congress to pass energy legislation. Bloomberg News: Bush's Attention Wanders From Katrina as Reconstruction Lagsexternal link

"ALITO WILL HAVE TO ANSWER MORE QUESTIONS THAN ROBERTS DID": The Senate Judiciary Committee will demand that Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. answer more questions than did Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., and it may subject him to extra hours of grilling to do so, the panel's chairman said yesterday. But Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), said he senses little enthusiasm among Democrats for a filibuster to block Alito, and he believes the nominee's fate will turn largely on "how credible he is" at the panel's confirmation hearing, which begins Jan. 9. Washington Post: Specter Predicts Long, Tough Questioning for Alitoexternal link

WHAT LEADERSHIP RACE? Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) yesterday dismissed the notion that House Republicans would try to oust him permanently from leadership. Speaking shortly before a second potential candidate withdrew his name from consideration, DeLay said, "The conference knows what's going on. There's no leadership race." He made his comments when asked by The Hill whether he would try to persuade members to hold off on a race to replace him. He told a small group of reporters in the Capitol basement, "You all know there is no leadership race. You all are creating a leadership race." The Hill: 'There's no leadership race.' Period.external link

ANDY NOT GOING ANYWHERE (FOR NOW): It's been such a persistent rumor in Washington that many had begun to accept it as fact. But White House chief of staff Andy Card said Wednesday it's not true that he is heading to the Treasury Department to take over from Secretary John Snow. "It is not going to happen," Card said in a chat with reporters in a White House hallway. But he didn't rule out the possibility of a move to some other job. "I serve at the pleasure of (the president) for the time being and am very comfortable with that insecurity," he said. "I'd be ready, willing and able to change but not planning to go to the Treasury Department." AP via Yahoo! News: White House's Card Denies Treasury Rumorexternal link

MENENDEZ IS CORZINE'S GUY: Gov.-elect Jon Corzine will appoint Rep. Robert Menendez to fill his U.S. Senate seat for the next year, with an official announcement coming as early as today, multiple sources said yesterday. The move would make Menendez the first minority to represent New Jersey in the U.S. Senate. Corzine's transition team, however, cautioned against party and congressional sources who, they said, don't speak for Corzine. "They are speculative," said Corzine spokeswoman Ivette Mendez. Trenton Times: Menendez said to be choice for Senateexternal link

ARNOLD HOSPITALIZED BRIEFLY TUESDAY NIGHT: The rapid heartbeat that led to a brief hospitalization of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger early Wednesday could be harmless or a potentially serious symptom for someone with his heart condition, according to medical experts. Schwarzenegger, 58, had a heart valve replaced in 1997 to correct what he has said is a hereditary problem. The governor's office said Schwarzenegger experienced the rapid heartbeat because he was suffering from the stomach flu on Tuesday and that he went to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento around midnight at the recommendation of his personal physician. "Upon arrival at the Med Center the doctors determined his heart rate was normal," the governor's Press Secretary Margita Thompson said in a statement. "He was observed for a few hours and released." When he appeared in public Wednesday afternoon at the unveiling of the portrait of former Gov. Gray Davis, Schwarzenegger made a joke about his hospitalization. "I just do this every so often to show that Republicans do have a heart." Contra Costa Times: Schwarzenegger hospitalized for rapid heartbeat, releasedexternal link

SCHIAVO STARTS PAC: Michael Schiavo, who fought for years to remove his wife, Terri, from a feeding tube that kept her alive, has turned his anger about Congress's intervention into political action. Schiavo announced Wednesday that he has opened TerriPAC to strike back at politicians who tried to keep his brain-damaged wife alive through congressional legislation he termed a "sickening exercise in raw political power." Orlando Sentinel: Schiavo turns rage into TerriPACexternal link

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