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The Situation: Monday, March 6

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.

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Morning Grind

Posted: 6:00 p.m. ET
From The Situation Online Producers

E-Campaigns: donating with a click of a mouse

Did you use the Internet to donate to the Bush or Kerry Campaigns in 2004? If so, you may have helped changed the face of political campaigning, according to a new study (PDF)external link.

The report, released today by the Institute for Politics, Democracy & the Internetexternal link and the Campaign Finance Instituteexternal link, finds that the Internet gives small donors, those donating $200 or less, newfound access to what used to be an elite circle of offline donors. In addition, more than 80 percent of young donors gave online, suggesting the Internet will be key in future political fundraising.

Popular fundraising web sites from 2004 included DNC.orgexternal link and GOP.comexternal link, as well as DraftWesleyClark.comexternal link. (Read the report in PDF formexternal link)

The Morning Grind

Posted: 9:40 a.m. ET
From Mark Preston, CNN Political Unit

The U.S.-Israel bond

Republicans and Democrats agree very little on matters of foreign policy, unless it is about the strong ties that bind the U.S. and Israel. This morning, leaders in both political parties will appear before a pro-Israel conference to reaffirm the nation's commitment to its strongest ally in the Middle East.

Likely topics of discussion at day two of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference will be Hamas' recent victory in the Palestinian elections, the Dubai ports controversy and the fear that Iran is driving towards building a nuclear weapons program. John Bolton, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, told the AIPAC conference yesterday the U.S. will use "all tools at our disposal" to address the threat an Iranian nuclear program might pose.

"We must not ignore Tehran's refusal to address the concerns of the international community," Bolton said. "The longer we wait to confront the threat Iran poses, the harder it will become to resolve."

Between 9 a.m. ET and 10:30 a.m. ET, newly elected House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and former Sen. John Edwards (D-North Carolina) will each speak about the "future of the U.S.-Israel alliance."

Edwards is not the only potential 2008 presidential candidate scheduled to appear before the group. Later today, at a session closed to the media, former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D) will speak specifically about Hamas and Iran, a Warner political aide tells the Grind. And Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Indiana), who was given a prime time speaking slot along with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) at tonight's banquet, will "lay out a tough and smart approach to deal with Iran and Hamas," a Bayh aide said. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia) is also scheduled to address the group in a private meeting.

"Given that the AIPAC policy conference is the premier event for the pro-Israel community, it is quite common for elected officials to speak and that includes people who may be interested in running for president," said Joshua Block, an AIPAC spokesman. Block estimates that 5,000 people will be attending this year's conference.

Tomorrow, Vice President Cheney, House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Missouri) and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) will all appear before the group as it wraps up the conference.

Meanwhile in an exclusive interview with CNN, Dubai Ports World CEO Mohammed Sharaf sought to dispel any fears that his company poses a security risk if it takes over managerial control of six domestic ports.

"We need to clarify to the American people ... it's a misunderstanding or misconception of us as DP World, what sort of an operator we are,"

Sharaf told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on 'Late Edition.' "We need to educate the people in America that we are truly a global company, and it is not in our best interest to get into those areas where we feel or our customer feels that security is an issue."

But Sharaf's plea did little to reassure Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-New York), one of the most vocal critics of the proposal.

"I'm very dubious of Ports Dubai World taking this over given the country's nexus with terrorism," Schumer said. The New York Democrat is referring to the fact that two of the Sept. 11, 2001 hijackers came from the United Arab Emirates and funding for the attacks was funneled through Dubai. A complete transcript of the Sharaf and Schumer interviews can be found hereexternal link.

And while Tennessee is landlocked, Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. (D) is using the ports controversy in a new campaign commercial. Filmed at the Port of Baltimore, the ad shows Ford standing on the waterfront and telling viewers that "President Bush wants to sell this port and five others to the United Arab Emirates, a country that had diplomatic ties with the Taliban, the home of two 9/11 hijackers, whose banks wired money to the terrorists."

"I'm running for the Senate because we shouldn't outsource our national security to anyone," Ford says. "I'll fight to protect America and keep your family safe."

With Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tennessee) retiring, it is not yet clear who Ford will meet in November as several Republicans are vying for their party's nomination. The primary is scheduled for August 3. The Ford ad begins airing statewide today, but it can be viewed hereexternal link.

And it appears that Frist is not the only Republican prepared to leave Congress at the end of the year. Political insiders looking for early barometers about the midterm elections will be paying close attention to a 12:30 p.m. ET press conference that powerful House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-California) will hold in Bakersfield, California to reveal his future plans. While Thomas has not officially tipped his hand, CNN's Ed Henry reports that lawmakers and lobbyists close to Thomas widely expect him to announce he's retiring at the end of this term.

A Thomas retirement would not be a big surprise, because GOP term limits require him to give up the tax-writing committee gavel at the end of this year. It is expected that Thomas will seek greener pastures in the private sector. Plus, the seat in a conservative stronghold would very likely stay in Republican hands. Thomas ran unopposed in 2004, while President Bush captured 68 percent of the vote in this district.

But Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Illinois) has argued his party will pick up momentum from the retirements of veteran lawmakers such as Thomas, which may be a harbinger of top Republicans heading for the exits amid fears they may not be in power next year.

Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, scoffed at such a notion. "Democrats continue to trail on money, candidates and momentum so it's amusing they find hope in a potential retirement in a 68 percent Bush district."

And at the White House today, Bush has a relatively light public schedule, participating in the 10 a.m. ET swearing-in-ceremony of the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors and then hosting a meeting with the Academic Competitiveness Council at 10:35 a.m. ET.

Political Hot Topics

Posted: 9:40 a.m. ET
From Stephen Bach, CNN Washington Bureau

80 PERCENT BELIEVE IRAQ IS HEADED FOR CIVIL WAR: An overwhelming majority of the public believe fighting between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iraq will lead to civil war and half say the U.S. should begin withdrawing its forces from that violence-torn country, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll. The survey found that 80 percent believed that recent sectarian violence made civil war in Iraq likely, and more than a third said such a conflict was "very likely" to occur. Expectations for an all-out sectarian war in Iraq extended beyond party lines. More than seven in 10 Republicans and eight in 10 Democrats and political independents believe civil war was likely. Washington Post: Majority of Americans Believe Iraq Civil War is Likelyexternal link

WILL INDIA NUKES DEAL GET THE PORTS TREATMENT? President George W. Bush returned to Washington from South Asia facing the task of selling the trip's centerpiece - a nuclear accord with India - to a Congress increasingly willing to challenge him on foreign policy... The nuclear agreement, which gives India access to U.S. technology and fuel to build up a civilian atomic power industry, touches on all three areas by drawing the U.S. closer to a country that is the world's most populous democracy, a key ally against terrorism and a growing market and competitor for U.S. companies. Bush's fellow Republicans are signaling they aren't willing to take the president's word alone on the accord amid polls showing his public approval rating at or near all-time lows. Bloomberg: Bush May Face Fight in Congress Over Nuclear Accord With Indiaexternal link

BUSH WILL REQUEST LINE-ITEM VETO: President Bush plans to send proposed legislation to Congress on Monday that would allow him to control spending by vetoing specific items in larger bills, a Bush administration official said. The president, who has not vetoed any legislation during five years in office, asked Congress in his State of the Union address to give him line-item veto power. Bush plans to announce that the proposed bill is headed to Congress during his remarks at the morning swearing-in ceremony for the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the announcement has not been made. AP via Yahoo! News: Bush to Propose Line-Item Veto Legislationexternal link

REBUILT NOLA LEVEES WEAKER THAN BEFORE KATRINA? The Army Corps of Engineers seems likely to fulfill a promise by President Bush to rebuild New Orleans's toppled flood walls to their original, pre-Katrina height by June 1, but two teams of independent experts monitoring the $1.6 billion reconstruction project say large sections of the rebuilt levee system will be substantially weaker than before the hurricane hit. These experts say the Corps, racing to rebuild 169 miles of levees destroyed or damaged by Katrina, is taking shortcuts to compress what is usually a years-long construction process into a few weeks. They say that weak, substandard materials are being used in some levee walls, citing lab tests as evidence. And they say the Corps is deferring repairs to flood walls that survived Katrina but suffered structural damage that could cause them to topple in a future storm. Washington Post: Levee Fixes Falling Short, Experts Warnexternal link

DEMS STILL FIGURING OUT A UNITED MESSAGE: ...Scattershot messages reflect what officials in both parties say are vulnerabilities among Republicans on Capitol Hill, as well as President Bush's weakened political condition in this election year. But they also reflect splits within the party about what it means to be a Democrat -- and what a winning Democratic formula will be -- after years in which conservative ideas have dominated the national policy debate and helped win elections. And they complicate the basic strategy being pursued by Democratic leaders in Washington to capture control of Congress: to turn this election into a national referendum on the party in power, much the way Republicans did against Democrats in 1994. New York Times: For Democrats, Many Verses, but No Chorusexternal link

SCANDALS A BOON FOR OBAMA: For most members of Congress, the influence-peddling scandals that have forced one of their colleagues to resign and caught others up in a federal investigation represent a serious election-year problem. But for one freshman, the scandals are a golden opportunity. As the Senate begins debate Monday on a bill to curb the influence of lobbyists on Capitol Hill, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., will be serving as a lead spokesman for his party. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid tapped Obama to be the party's point man on congressional ethics reform in January, as the Democrat began his second year in Congress. USA Today: Democrats see Obama as face of 'reform and change'external link

ALL EYES ON TX-22: "I'm like a cemetery -- I'll take anything!" That was the exhortation from U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay, Sugar Land Republican and certified auctioneer, as he squeezed $16,600 from the crowd during a live auction at a Harris County Republican Party dinner last week. DeLay knew the name of just about every bidder and used rapid-fire, joke-laced persistence to prompt high offers from the crowd. The hubbub even spurred Houston bootmaker Rocky Carroll to chip in five more pairs of handmade boots than he originally had pledged to the auction. There is no question that DeLay is an able auctioneer, but the bids aren't all in on whether he has sold himself well enough across the 22nd Congressional District to walk off a winner in Tuesday's Republican primary. Houston Chronicle: Primary is a barometer for DeLayexternal link

'08 GOP HOPEFULS GOING TO MEMPHIS: On Thursday, the Republican race will gain new prominence when more than 1,500 GOP activists gather in Memphis, Tenn., for three days of politicking and speeches. A highlight will be appearances by several of the party's top presidential hopefuls, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, an early front-runner for the Republican nod. There will also be a straw poll of delegates to the Southern and Midwestern Leadership Conference, which is likely to draw wide notice as a test of strength and a gauge of early voter sentiments  even if similar straw polls have proved meaningless in the past. Los Angeles Times: GOP to Get Early Look at Leading Hopefuls for '08external link

NEW YORKERS PREFER HILLARY FOR PREZ: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is the queen of the hometown presidential pack for New Yorkers - she'd beat Rudy Giuliani and clobber Gov. Pataki in a 2008 race in the Empire State, a new poll shows. Clinton tops "America's Mayor" by 48 to 39 percent in her adopted home state, and trounces Pataki by 52 to 33 percent, the RasmussenReports.com poll of likely New York voters found. "I'm surprised that Sen. Clinton has such a comfortable advantage over Mayor Giuliani. It is, perhaps, an indication of how much trouble the GOP brand is in at the moment," said independent pollster Scott Rasmussen. New York Post: HILL KILLS RUDY & GOV IN N.Y. RACE FOR PREZexternal link

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