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The Situation: Thursday, March 30

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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Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona)

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Posted: 10:00 a.m. ET
From Mark Preston, CNN Political Unit

McCain's courting

When Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) ran for president in 2000, the number of Senate colleagues who supported his bid could be counted on one hand.

But McCain, who has been courting influential supporters of President Bush in recent months, is now quietly taking steps to solidify support with his fellow Republican Senators should he decide to run for the White House in 2008.

"He is getting support of his colleagues that he didn't have before," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), perhaps McCain's closest ally in the Senate, told the Grind. "He is trying to make social and economic conservatives feel comfortable with who he is and what he believes. John knows for him to be a viable candidate he has to have the support, trust and faith of a significant group of social and economic conservatives and elected officials."

Graham added that McCain is "positioning himself to be the leader of a party, not a movement." An early display of support from his Senate colleagues would be yet another sign that McCain is discarding his maverick persona in favor of being a Republican establishment figure. But there will be competition for these endorsements as no fewer than four other Republican Senators are also eyeing White House bids.

"We are reaching out to folks, but I think until after the elections most people are going to keep their powder dry and we are not going to push anyone until then," said a source close to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tennessee). The source added that the Majority Leader has already received "some private commitments" of support, but chose not to name those Senators.

Dick Wadhams, Sen. George Allen's top political aide, said the Virginia Republican is not actively talking to people but has been approached by "friends" asking about his future plans.

"He has a lot of friends obviously, in Congress overall," said Wadhams. "I would say that there have been many Members who have approached him about what he wants to do in the future, but we have not been aggressively focused on it."

For now, Allen is concentrating on his own re-election campaign, Wadhams added. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) are the two other Republicans also weighing presidential bids.

So far, McCain's early supporters include Graham, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Trent Lott (R-Mississippi). In 2000, Graham, Hagel, Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) and former Sen. Fred Thompson (R-Tennessee) backed McCain's presidential bid. Now, it is unclear what Thompson will do given that Frist is considering a run; DeWine told the Grind his sole focus this year is winning re-election in November; and Kyl's office did not return calls seeking comment.

A main component of McCain's strategy is to solidify support in the South, a task that Graham and Lott are helping with. Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Georgia), Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia), Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Florida) and Sen. David Vitter (R-Louisiana) are four of the region's Senators who McCain is trying to recruit. And one of the Arizona Republican's most trusted political advisers, John Weaver, has strong ties with Alabama GOP Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions.

A Republican Senator, who does not represent a Southern state, told the Grind that Graham had approached him to ask "my thoughts on McCain."

"It seems like they are really working at broadening the base," said the Senator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Sen. Gordon Smith is another colleague that is leaning towards McCain, although the Oregon Republican has not outright endorsed him.

"He sees McCain as having the greatest potential to win Oregon if he gets in the race," said Smith's spokesman.

Meanwhile, Bush is in Cancun, Mexico, today where he is meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper. On Capitol Hill, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) hold dueling news conferences. Pelosi meets with reporters at 10:45 a.m. ET, while Boehner appears before the cameras at 11 a.m. ET. It is likely that Pelosi and Boehner will be asked for comment on Rep. Cynthia McKinney's (D-Georgia) altercation yesterday with a U.S. Capitol Police officer.

After receiving eight Academy Award nominations and taking home three Oscars, it was only time before a candidate would parody the film in a political commercial. Guy Drexinger, a Democrat challenging Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine (R), is running a 30 second ad titled "Greenback Mountain." TNSMI/Campaign Media Analysis Group, CNN's consultant on television advertising spending, has created a link for Grind readers to view the adexternal link.

And family, friends and journalists worldwide are breathing a sigh of relief now that Jill Carroll, a freelance journalist who was kidnapped while working for The Christian Science Monitor in Iraq, was released this morning after nearly three months in captivity.

Political Hot Topics

Carroll's father, Jim, told CNN's Laura Dolan this morning, "We are thrilled and relieved that Jill has been released and unharmed. We want to thank the many thousands of people who gave their support and prayers for Jill. We want to especially thank the people of The Christian Science Monitor who did work to keep Jill's image alive in Iraq."

Posted: 10:00 a.m. ET
From Stephen Bach, CNN Washington Bureau

JACK GETS 5 YEARS, 10 MONTHS: One-time powerhouse lobbyist Jack Abramoff will soon be trading in his pinstripes for prison stripes. Abramoff was sentenced Wednesday in Miami federal court to a prison term of five years and 10 months for a fraudulent loan deal to buy a South Florida fleet of gambling ships. His business partner, Adam Kidan of New York, received the same sentence before U.S. District Judge Paul Huck. The judge ordered both men to pay back $21.7 million to one of the lenders in the 2000 SunCruz Casinos deal. Both were allowed to remain free on bail for at least 90 days while they assist authorities in SunCruz-related criminal investigations. Miami Herald: Abramoff sentenced to six yearsexternal link

BUSH, FOX, AND HARPER MEET IN "BIKINI-AND-BEER MECCA": The leaders of the United States, Mexico and Canada are converging in this bikini-and-beer mecca for a second annual show of North American unity. Despite the emphasis on cross-border comity and cooperation, however, the neighbors come together with no resolution of nagging issues that for years have strained U.S. relations with its two largest trading partners. President Bush arrived in Cancun on Wednesday evening to an understated welcome from just a few local officials gathered at the bottom of Air Force One's stairs for the two-day summit with Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. AP via Yahoo! News: Trade, Immigration Top N. America Summitexternal link

BOLTEN WANTS TO "OVERHAUL" WEST WING, CHOOSE NEW TREASURY SECY: A prominent Republican in Washington who consults often with the White House said Mr. Bolten, who is to assume his duties next month, wants Mr. Bush to replace the Treasury secretary, John W. Snow, with someone who can more forcefully communicate the administration's message that the economy is strong. This Republican was granted anonymity to discuss private deliberations within the administration... Names circulating in Republican circles as possible candidates for the Treasury post included Henry M. Paulson Jr., the chief executive of Goldman Sachs; John J. Mack, the chief executive of Morgan Stanley; and Richard D. Parsons, the chairman of Time Warner. New York Times: Chief of Staff Is Expected to Shake Up 2 Key Teamsexternal link

"SHUT HER DOWN AND GET GOVERNING": President Bush expressed frustration Wednesday that Iraqis have so far failed to form a unity government, but he said withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq too early would damage U.S. security. "I want the Iraqi people to hear I've got great confidence in their capacity to self-govern," Bush said. "I also want the Iraqi people to hear - it's about time you get a unity government going. "In other words, Americans understand you're newcomers to the political arena. But pretty soon it's time to shut her down and get governing." AP via Yahoo! News: Bush Tells Iraqis to "Get Governing"external link

LOBBYING LEG. "LESS SWEEPING THAN GOP LEADERS ENVISIONED": The Senate voted yesterday to require lobbyists to provide far more information about their dealings with lawmakers, responding to the Jack Abramoff political corruption scandal with a plan for more disclosure rather than tougher enforcement of ethics laws. By a vote of 90 to 8, the Senate approved a bill that would also force the disclosure for the first time of indirect lobbying, such as grass-roots activities, and prevent registered lobbyists from paying for lawmakers' meals or giving them gifts such as sports tickets. Congressional leaders had promised far-ranging revisions of lobbying activities after Abramoff pleaded guilty in January to conspiring to bribe public officials. But the legislation that emerged yesterday is less sweeping than GOP leaders envisioned. Washington Post: Senate Passes Lobbying Billexternal link

RISK OF LOSING THE HISPANIC VOTE? The battle among Republicans over immigration policy and border security is threatening to undercut a decade-long effort by President Bush and his party to court Hispanic voters, just as both parties are gearing up for the 2006 elections. "I believe the Republican Party has hurt itself already," said the Rev. Luis Cortes, a Philadelphia pastor close to President Bush and the leader of a national organization of Hispanic Protestant clergy members, saying he delivered that message to the president last week in a meeting at the White House. New York Times: G.O.P. Risking Hispanic Votes on Immigrationexternal link

MARTINEZ APPEALS TO HIS PARTY: Mel Martinez makes his case for immigration reform any way he can. The personal: A boyhood refugee from Cuba, he knows why immigrants seek out the United States. The practical: Boom states like Florida are thirsty for labor. And to his Republican colleagues, the Florida senator who is emerging this week as a leading voice for comprehensive immigration reform underscores the political: A contentious debate over immigration reform risks alienating the burgeoning Hispanic voting bloc his party has sought to court. "We as Republicans need to be careful how we address this issue," Martinez said Wednesday at a breakfast with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which supports sweeping immigration reform. "The issue has galvanized the Hispanic and Latino community like no other. There's a real political angle to this that is important to our party." Miami Herald: Sen. Martinez appeals to GOP hearts, mindsexternal link

IT'S FOR THE "GENIUSES IN WASHINGTON" TO DECIDE: As protesters took to the streets of Los Angeles in record-setting numbers in recent days, the highest-ranking immigrant in California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, was asked what should be done about the millions of people living in California illegally. "I'll let the geniuses in Washington figure all that out," he replied. Though the answer may have sounded flip, he later offered detailed comments about illegal immigration. But the moment spoke to the pressure Schwarzenegger and the two main Democratic candidates for governor suddenly face to take a stand as federal lawmakers tackle immigration policy. Until the protests, the three candidates had barely mentioned the subject. They have been sticking to far less emotional topics such as traffic and budget reform. But as the demonstrations and a statewide poll reveal, the public has something besides deficits and offramps on its mind. Los Angeles Times: Protests Reshape Race for Governorexternal link

"TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE": Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says his high-profile job is a "terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible" post for seeking the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. Making it clear that a White House bid is all but certain, Frist said in an interview with The Associated Press that remaining in the Senate would make a presidential run impossible. Frist plans to step down when his second term ends this year. "I know the perch not to even consider," he said. "That would be, for me, the United States Senate or being majority leader." Asked if trying to run a campaign from such a position would be difficult, he replied: "Terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible." AP via Yahoo! News: Frist Says Job Bad Spot to Seek Presidencyexternal link

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