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The Situation: Wednesday, February 22

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

Port Newark
The port of Newark, New Jersey, is one of the six facilities that would be affected by the deal.





White House
George W. Bush

Posted: 10:17 a.m. ET
From Mark Preston, CNN Political Unit

Control of the ports

Momentum continues to build on both sides of the aisle for the rejection of a deal that would prevent a Dubai-based company from taking managerial control of six major U.S. seaports.

In a rare show of bipartisan unity, Republicans and Democrats are urging President Bush to stop the deal, a suggestion he has rejected so far. And Bush has even threatened to veto any legislation that would block the agreement. If he followed through on his veto threat, it would be the first time Bush snubbed Congress by refusing to sign into law a bill passed by the House and Senate.

"The transaction should go forward, in my judgment," Bush said yesterday. "If there was any chance that this transaction would jeopardize the security of the United States, it would not go forward."

Despite the controversy, Bush maintains a public schedule with 10:45 a.m. ET remarks to the Asia Society at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel; a 2:40 p.m. ET meeting with Space Shuttle Discovery crew members; and 3 p.m. ET remarks at the "Celebration of African American History Month."

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux reports that as of this morning there were no plans for Bush to address the port situation in his public remarks, but noted this could change. In the very least, administration officials will continue to defend the White House's position throughout the day. And tomorrow, White House representatives are scheduled to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee to discuss the issue.

In the race to lead the rebuilding efforts of New Orleans, Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu (D) will formally announce his candidacy today for New Orleans mayor, CNN's Carey Bodenheimer reports. Landrieu, the son of legendary Crescent City Mayor Moon Landrieu and brother of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana), is expected to emerge as the frontrunner in an already crowded field of candidates who are challenging incumbent Mayor Ray Nagin (D). Nagin and Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D) have come under sharp criticism for their handling of Hurricane Katrina that destroyed areas of the city. But Landrieu has emerged from the disaster virtually unscathed and his father, the last Caucasian mayor, maintains a strong political base, especially among African Americans.

With a majority of the city's population scattered throughout country, it is unclear how many voters will actually participate in the April 22, election. To provide every eligible voter with an opportunity to cast a ballot -- and avoid lawsuits -- Secretary of State Al Ater is producing a public service announcement slated to run in nine states where evacuees are likely to be living. The 30 second radio and television spot is set to begin airing next month in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas. In addition, 700,000 pamphlets on voting procedures will soon be mailed to each unique address compiled from the Federal Emergency Management Agency relief list as well the National Change of Address list in an attempt to reach displaced residents.

The goal is to "inform citizens of their voting rights and the ways in which they can participate in their upcoming elections," Jennifer Marusak, a senior Ater aide, tells the Grind.

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) returns to his alma mater this afternoon to speak on the idea of "New American Exceptionalism," in an address that appears to be an early blueprint of a national stump speech should he run for president in 2008.

While a Brownback aide portrayed the Kansas State University appearance as an opportunity for the Senator to "encourage students to seek out their own leadership qualities," the Kansas Republican will also lay out his own positions on pressing domestic and foreign policy matters in a speech sprinkled with references to the late President Ronald Reagan.

"I think Sam Brownback has always positioned himself and will always position himself for a potential run for the presidency," said Dr. Joseph Aistrup, head of Kansas State University's Political Science Department. "He has been aiming for this since he was a student at Kansas State."

As of now, Brownback is not registering in the national polls tracking the potential 2008 candidates, and is considered a long shot for the Republican nomination should he decide to seek it. But the Kansas Republican is well regarded by social conservatives -- an important wing of the GOP base that votes in primaries -- making him a legitimate foe for the better known candidates expected to seriously contend for the nomination. In the very least, Brownback could have some influence in who is ultimately chosen to carry the GOP flag into the 2008 elections and he is likely to be mentioned as a potential vice presidential running mate.

"Brownback's strength -- in a Republican primary -- is that he has taken on a certain degree of leadership on issues that other members might vote right on, but have not distinguished themselves with any kind of leadership whether it is cloning, slavery in Sudan or (calling for a ban on same sex) marriage," said an adviser to a potential 2008 Republican candidate. "He has gone ahead and carved himself a very legitimate profile for the socially conservative, primary base voters. There is no one else in the field that has done that."

But the adviser suggested Brownback's "biggest challenge is gravitas.

"The question is, is he presidential material at this point," said the adviser, adding, "I don't know if he is at this point yet."

Another potential 2008 presidential candidate, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), also heads into the Heartland to deliver a 6:30 p.m. ET speech at Cincinnati's Commercial and Commonwealth Club.

In other election news, a new Quinnipiac University poll shows that Attorney General Charlie Crist is leading State Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, 40 percent to 31 percent, in the race for Florida's GOP gubernatorial nomination. Crist also holds a much smaller lead, 40 percent to 36 percent, in a hypothetical match-up against the likely Democratic nominee, Rep. Jim Davis. State Sen. Rod Smith is trailing Davis by a 29 percent to 13 percent margin in the race for Democratic nomination.

And the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee takes aim at Rep. Richard Pombo (R-California) this morning with a new website, that criticizes the House Resources Committee chairman for his environmental record and ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Political Hot Topics

Posted: 10:17 a.m. ET
From Stephen Bach, CNN Washington Bureau

BUSH STANDS UP FOR PORT DEAL: President Bush yesterday strongly defended an Arab company's attempt to take over the operation of seaports in Baltimore and five other cities, threatening a veto if Congress tries to kill a deal his administration has blessed. Facing a sharp bipartisan backlash, Bush took the unusual step of summoning reporters to the front of Air Force One to condemn efforts to block a firm from the United Arab Emirates from purchasing the rights to manage ports that include those in New York and New Orleans. Washington Post: Bush Threatens Veto Against Bid To Stop Port Dealexternal link

SCOTUS WILL TAKE UP "PARTIAL-BIRTH" ABORTION: The Supreme Court, at full strength with Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. on the bench for the first time, opened the next chapter in its long-running confrontation with abortion on Tuesday by agreeing to decide whether the first federal ban on a method of abortion is constitutional. The court accepted, for argument next fall, the Bush administration's appeal of a decision invalidating the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. The law makes it a crime for a doctor to perform an abortion during which a part of the fetus, either the "entire fetal head" or "any part of the fetal trunk past the navel," is outside the woman's uterus at the time the fetus is killed. New York Times: Justices to Review Federal Ban on Disputed Abortion Methodexternal link

OHIOANS FACE TERROR CHARGES: The trio of Muslim men thought no one would notice. They had been shooting at targets, learning to build suicide-bomber vests and seeking chemical explosives for months, federal officials charge. So as Toledo geared up to celebrate July Fourth last year, investigators said, the men figured it was the perfect time to test their explosives in the city's shadows. Surely their neighbors wouldn't notice a few extra kabooms amid the fireworks. The men were wrong. Cleveland Plain Dealer: 3 Ohioans face terror chargesexternal link

HARMAN SAYS CARD STOPPED WIRETAP BRIEFING: A top intelligence official was prepared to brief the House of Representatives intelligence committee about President George W. Bush's domestic spying program last December but was stopped by White House Chief of Staff Andy Card, a leading House Democrat said on Tuesday. Rep. Jane Harman of California, ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said she and fellow Democrats on the panel sought a briefing from deputy U.S. intelligence chief, Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, soon after Bush confirmed the existence of the surveillance program. "Gen. Hayden said he was prepared to brief the full committee but our request was disapproved by White House Chief of Staff Andy Card," Harman said in a statement issued by her office. Reuters via Yahoo! News: House Democrat says White House Nixed NSA Briefingexternal link

MITCH LANDRIEU TO TAKE ON NAGIN: Setting the stage for an epic political battle in a beleaguered city, Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu will announce today that he will run against Mayor C. Ray Nagin in the April election, Landrieu's aides said Tuesday night. Landrieu's announcement will come this afternoon at a hotel on the bank of the Mississippi River, said aide Scott Shalett, who has taken a leave of absence as Landrieu's chief of staff and will be a senior advisor to the mayoral campaign. Shalett cited an independent poll commissioned by a business consortium suggesting that Landrieu has high name recognition and will be considered one of the leaders in the race. Landrieu already has $500,000 in his campaign coffers, though his fundraising does not begin in earnest until an event tonight, Shalett said. Los Angeles Times: Lt. Gov. Landrieu to Take On Nagin in New Orleans Mayor Raceexternal link

"WOULD-BE PRESIDENTS' DAY": High-profile senators are traveling around the country this week to battleground states and fundraising hubs. Ostensibly this is to boost their parties' prospects in November's election, but their schedules show that they are sharpening their focus on the 2008 presidential race... At least three presidential battleground states are drawing visits from several hopefuls this week. Over Presidents Day weekend, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) visited South Florida, home of many deep-pocketed donors and Hispanic voters. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), whom many Republicans expect will be the Democratic nominee in 2008, will spend two days in Florida and host a fundraiser in Tampa for the Florida Democratic party later this week. Sens. George Allen (R-Va.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) have scheduled visits to Colorado... Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Kerry have planned trips to Minnesota, viewed as another emerging battleground after years of eroding Democratic support. The Hill: Maybe we should call it would-be Presidents Dayexternal link

OBAMA'S "MIDAS TOUCH": Barack Obama is showing a Midas touch in his first year in Congress. He's already a best-selling author, a Grammy Award winner and an important fundraiser for fellow Democrats. Altogether, the freshman senator from Illinois has helped raise $6.5 million for his political action committee and other Democratic candidates, party committees and state parties from New Jersey to Virginia to Florida... "These are trips not initiated by me; these are trips that other people think will be helpful," Obama said, noting he has family and political obligations in Illinois. "For every invitation I've accepted, I've turned down 100." AP via Yahoo! News: Freshman Obama Rakes it in for Colleaguesexternal link

PATAKI STILL AILING FROM APPENDIX SURGERY: Five days after his appendix was removed, Gov. George Pataki underwent a second operation to relieve a blockage in his digestive system. The surgery lasted a little more than an hour yesterday afternoon and was completed without incident at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia in Manhattan, Pataki spokesman David Catalfamo said in a statement. "Governor Pataki is recovering in his room and he is awake, alert and resting comfortably," Catalfamo said. Lt. Gov. Mary Donohue was in her office during the surgery and had the authority to act as governor if any issues had arisen at that time, Pataki spokesman Kevin Quinn said. New York Newsday: Pataki undergoes second surgeryexternal link

HARVARD'S SUMMERS RESIGNS: University President Lawrence H. Summers announced yesterday that he would step down from his post at the end of June, bringing to an end the shortest tenure of a Harvard chief since the Civil War. Derek C. Bok, who led Harvard from 1971 to 1991, will serve as interim president effective July 1, the University announced. Summers' resignation ended his fever-pitched fight with Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) professors -- a battle that was headed for a Feb. 28 showdown when the full Faculty was scheduled to consider a motion of no confidence in the president's leadership... Summers put resignation rumors to rest shortly after 1 p.m. yesterday, when he e-mailed the entire Harvard community to confirm that he would step down and that he plans to return as a professor in 2007. With that announcement, Summers is set to serve the shortest tenure of any Harvard president since Cornelius C. Felton, Class of 1827, who was named Harvard's leader in 1860 and died in office two years later. Harvard Crimson: SUMMERS RESIGNS: SHORTEST TERM SINCE CIVIL WAR; BOK WILL BE INTERIM CHIEFexternal link

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