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The Situation: Friday, April 28

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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Jack Abramoff, above, reportedly took an expensive vacation with his family to a Florida resort this April.

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Posted: 4:58 p.m. ET
From The Situation Online Producers

Presidential kosher holidays?
Did a "broke" (PDF)external link Abramoff take an extravagant vacationexternal link during Passoverexternal link?

Sweeney's night out
What was U.S. Congressman John Sweeneyexternal link (R-NY) doing at this frat partyexternal link outside his district?

Rewriting 9/11
We examine a popular conspiracy theorist videoexternal link circulating online that takes issue with the facts surrounding the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Eagle Eye
A new extraordinary Web camexternal link captures the lives of newborn eagle tripletsexternal link in Maine.

The Morning Grind

Posted: 10:40 a.m. ET
From Mark Preston, CNN Political Unit

'To be or not to be Rodham'?

What is a name worth? For Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-New York), it may mean more support from Independents and people who earn over $50,000 should she seek the presidency in 2008. But drop Rodham and Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-New York) is better received in the South, according to a new CNN poll that asked Americans of their opinion of the former First Lady.

Nationwide, 48 percent of independents said they have a favorable opinion of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, but this number falls to 42 percent when her maiden name is intentionally removed from the question, according to the poll of 1,012 adult Americans conducted April 21-23 for CNN by Opinion Research Corporation. In the South, Sen. Hillary Clinton has a 52 percent favorability rating but she loses seven percentage points when Rodham is added to her name.

"Why do six little letters have such a big impact on the public's views of Senator Clinton," CNN's Polling Director Keating Holland said. "The differences are largely a matter of class and tradition."

Maintaining Rodham in her name is favored by 50 percent of Americans whose yearly income exceeds $50,000, but Clinton's favorable rating plummets to 39 percent when her maiden name is left out. But among Americans who earn less than $50,000, how the New York Senator chooses to present herself means very little. Leave Rodham in her name and she has a 51 percent approval rating; without it this number increases to 52 percent.

Holland said one possible explanation is that upper-income Americans may be more used to interacting with women who have retained their maiden names in some form and respond more favorably to an independent woman who asserts an identity separate from her husband. (There is a difference between men and women on the Rodham question, but it appears to be almost entirely due to income).

Clinton has had to face this dilemma in the South before after her husband, then-Gov. Bill Clinton (D-Arkansas), lost re-election in 1980. At that time, she did not take his last name and was referred to as Hillary Rodham. When he ran again for the governorship two years later, she changed her name to Hillary Clinton. Bill Clinton won that election and 10 years later he would be elected the 42nd President of the United States. Now, his wife is contemplating her own run for the White House.

"So what name do you use in a national campaign, the one that turns off independents or the one that turns off Southerners," Holland asked.

Well, the Senator's political advisers aren't talking. Ann Lewis, a senior Clinton campaign aide, said they had no comment. But if you look at biographies on her Senate website and campaign website the answer is clear: Rodham rules the day. To make it just a tad more confusing, her campaign website offers a third alternative: "Hillary". Hillary for Senate; Hillary Calls for Stronger Energy Proposals; Get Your Exclusive Marc Jacobs "Hillary T-Shirt" are headlines prominently displayed on hillaryclinton.com.

An adviser to one her potential Democratic rivals for the party's presidential nomination said the answer is simple: keep the maiden name.

"Once there is a Republican running against her, it doesn't matter in the South because they are going to be for the Republican, so you might as well get every advantage you can elsewhere among independents," said the adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

As for all Americans, there does not appear to be a major difference of opinion of whether or not Clinton should keep her maiden name. When asked to give their thoughts on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, 50 percent of Americans responded favorably, while this number dropped to 46 percent when her maiden name was excluded. This gap is within the 4.5 percent margin of error built into the poll. But her unfavorable rating remains the same with (42 percent) or without (43 percent) using Rodham in her name.

Nathan Gonzales, political editor for the Rothenberg Political Report, said this is the biggest challenge the junior Senator from New York faces if she decides to run in 2008.

"With or without Rodham, 42 percent of Americans have an unfavorable opinion of her and that is a tough place to start a national campaign," he said.

On another note, 57 percent of Americans think favorably of former President Clinton, while 38 percent have an unfavorable view of him. And one of the early favorites for the Republican presidential nomination, Sen. John McCain (Arizona), has a 46 percent favorability rating, while 20 percent think unfavorably of him and 33 percent are unsure.

For two other potential 2008 candidates, South Carolina is the place to be over the next few days as the state Democratic Party holds its annual convention. Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) is headlining tonight's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner and Sen. Joe Biden (D-Delaware) is the keynote speaker Monday at the Galivants Ferry Stump Meeting.

"I know it is awfully early, but the shopping trip has begun for Democrats in South Carolina," state Democratic Party Chairman Joe Erwin told the Grind.

Erwin said South Carolina Democrats are not only looking for policy proposals, but also to see if "they feel a connection with the person.

"What does the messenger feel like? Does he or she connect with me emotionally? I keep hearing that more and more."

Former state Democratic Party Chairman Dick Harpootlian agreed that this weekend and each one leading up to the selection of the eventual Democratic nominee in 2008 is a "tryout."

"This is an opportunity to see if their pitch, their message and their delivery resonates," he said in an interview with the Grind. "(South Carolina Democrats) are looking for somebody who doesn't talk doublespeak, doesn't talk in paragraphs, but gives them the straight truth."

Harpootlian noted that the Iraq War and the economy are two major issues of importance for South Carolina Democrats, while "abortion and gay marriage are not in the top 30 things on their list." Still, he tells potential candidates to be aware that South Carolina Democrats are more conservative than their likeminded political allies from other parts of the country.

"The average South Carolinian owns a gun," he said. "They are going to find that African Americans tend to be more pro-life than pro-choice. And we are more conservative on gay rights issues than liberal white folks from Massachusetts."

While Vilsack is in South Carolina, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisconsin) visits Iowa to deliver a speech today at the University of Iowa and then attends a fundraiser tonight for David Loebsack who is running for Congress. Tomorrow, Feingold drops in at the 3rd, 4th and 5th Congressional District Conventions and then attends a fundraiser for Selden Spencer, who is also running for a House seat.

In other 2008 travels this weekend: New York Gov. George Pataki (R) has a speech in Bedford, New Hampshire, tonight and then tomorrow addresses delegates at the Delaware State Convention; Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Indiana) headlines the North Carolina Democratic Party's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner on Saturday; former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia) is the guest speaker tomorrow night at the Iowa Republican Party's Abraham Lincoln Dinner; and Sen. John Edwards (D-North Carolina) and McCain are scheduled to be in Brussels this weekend to speak at the Brussels Forum: Transatlantic Challenges in a Global Era.

Meanwhile, President Bush sits down with the President of Azerbaijan at 10:05 a.m. ET and then meets with family members of the Japanese abducted by North Korea and North Korea defectors at 11:05 a.m. ET. And Bush closes his public schedule with a 1:05 p.m. ET meeting with Darfur advocates.

Political Hot Topics

Posted: 10:40 a.m. ET
From Stephen Bach, CNN Washington Bureau

ROVE STILL IN "LEGAL LIMBO": Presidential adviser Karl Rove faces the prospect of either remaining under a lingering legal cloud or indictment in a special counsel's investigation of the disclosure of a covert CIA agent's identity, according to people familiar with the case. Rove testified Wednesday for the fifth time before a federal grand jury probing the case, and the people cited potentially ominous signs for him. Among other things, they said, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald declined to give him any assurance after his testimony that he won't be charged. In addition, Fitzgerald is working with a second grand jury convened to continue the case after he gained an indictment against I. Lewis Libby, ex-chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, last October. Fitzgerald is continuing to focus on Rove, the deputy White House chief of staff and President George W. Bush's top political adviser. Bloomberg: Rove Remains in Legal Limbo as Prosecutor Presses CIA Inquiryexternal link

LIBBY JUDGE REJECTS MOTION FOR DISMISSAL: A federal judge refused Thursday to dismiss charges against I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former top White House aide who was indicted on perjury and obstruction charges last year in the CIA leak scandal. In a 31-page opinion, U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton turned down a motion by lawyers for Vice President Dick Cheney's one-time top assistant, who challenged the authority of Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald to handle the case. Libby's lawyers had argued that Fitzgerald was given too much power -- more than the attorney general -- and that the appointment should have been made by the president with the Senate's approval. Walton said Thursday he did not need to "look far" in the law to reject the claim by Libby's defense team. The judge said there is no question the attorney general can delegate any of his functions. AP via Yahoo! News: Judge Won't Dismiss Case Against Libbyexternal link

SPECTER MOVES TO BLOCK NSA FUNDING OVER WIRETAPS: New expressions of frustration over how little information the administration has shared about the National Security Agency's warrantless eavesdropping on Americans flared yesterday in the Senate, one day after House Republicans barred amendments that would have expanded oversight of the controversial program. Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said yesterday that he will file an amendment to block the NSA program's funding -- but said he will not seek a vote on it at this time -- in hope of stirring greater debate on the warrantless surveillance, part of the agency's monitoring of alleged terrorists. "Where is the outrage?" asked Specter, who has chaired hearings that questioned the NSA program's constitutionality. Washington Post: Specter Wants More Debate on Spyingexternal link

WILL A $100 GAS "REBATE" MOVE VOTERS IN NOVEMBER? Senate Republicans tried on Thursday to get the upper hand in the escalating political battle over high gasoline prices by proposing a $100 rebate for taxpayers and by suggesting that they might increase taxes on oil-industry profits. The Republican proposal also called for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil production, a provision sure to draw opposition from many Democrats and even some Republicans. "The American consumer is the one that needs the break today, and we need to be taking steps to make sure that they aren't emptying their wallet every time they fill their tank," said Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota. New York Times: G.O.P. Senators Hurry to Quell Furor Over Gasexternal link

DIVISION OVER FEMA'S FUTURE: The Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Homeland Security are not adequately prepared for the hurricane season that begins in 34 days, the White House and Senate leaders said yesterday as a critical Senate investigation into the response to Hurricane Katrina sparked a sharp congressional debate over whether to abolish and rebuild FEMA. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said FEMA "has become a symbol of a bumbling bureaucracy" that must be dismantled, and merely "tweaking the organizational chart" will not solve failures exposed by the hurricane... The White House yesterday rejected the Senate committee plan but said that storm preparations are not yet complete. Washington Post: Congress, White House Divided Over Rebuilding FEMAexternal link

LOBBY REFORM BILL ALMOST DIES ON WAY TO FINAL VOTE: Republican leaders in the House reached a last-minute deal yesterday to save a bill that includes the most significant reform in recent history to the process by which billions of dollars in federal "pork" are doled out each year in political favors. The reforms -- part of a much larger bill aimed at curtailing the influence of lobbyists on Congress -- would require greater disclosure about special projects inserted into spending bills by lawmakers, also known as earmarks or pork. Most significantly, the legislation would require members of Congress to attach their names to their proposed earmarks, which sometimes are inserted secretly and anonymously. House Majority Leader John A. Boehner said Republicans are committed to fixing the problems that led to abuses such as the bribery scandal involving former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, a California Republican who was sentenced to eight years in prison... Yesterday's largely party-line 216-207 vote was on a procedural motion that paves the way for a final vote on the bill in the House next week. Washington Times: House GOP saves 'pork' reform billexternal link

CLOONEY ON THE HILL: Academy Award winner George Clooney, one of Hollywood's most vocal political crusaders, has found a cause that Democrats and Republicans can agree on -- stopping the genocide in Darfur. After taking not-so-veiled swipes at the Bush administration in his two Oscar-nominated movies last year, "Good Night, and Good Luck" and "Syriana," and making an off-color joke about disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff at this year's Golden Globe Awards, Clooney shared a podium Thursday with one of the most conservative members of Congress, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.). The unlikely pair, along with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), were trying to draw attention to the ongoing genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan days before Clooney headlines a bipartisan rally for the cause on the National Mall on Sunday. And the attention came. Los Angeles Times: Clooney Puts Star Power to Workexternal link

NH GOV SIGNS BILL TO PROTECT "1ST-IN-THE-NATION" STATUS: Secretary of State William Gardner got a new tool to protect New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation Presidential primary yesterday. Gov. John Lynch signed House Bill 1125 into law at the State House, saying it will give Gardner more power to keep the state's primary first. A group of legislative and political leaders from both major parties applauded as Lynch finished his signature. The bill, sponsored by Rep. James Splaine, D-Portsmouth, allows the secretary of state to set a filing deadline for primary candidates as early as he thinks necessary. Until yesterday, the law set a specific filing period in November, and required a primary to be held within a fixed time frame after the filing period. With the added flexibility, Gardner will be able to respond quickly to last-minute changes other states make to their primary schedule. The bill was drafted as a response to other states, most recently California, trying to position themselves ahead of New Hampshire. Pressure is also building at the National Democratic Committee to place several events before and around New Hampshire's primary. Manchester Union-Leader: New law gives NH more flexibility on primaryexternal link

REPORTER WANTS TO TURN THE CHANNEL: It wasn't the price of gasoline, Darfur or the rebuilding effort in New Orleans that preoccupied the White House press corps Thursday aboard a flight on Air Force One. It was what channel they could watch on the White House televisions, Fox or CNN. During a briefing led by White House spokesman Scott McClellan as President Bush was traveling to New Orleans, Louisiana, the Washington Post's Jim VandeHei asked why the White House televisions always seemed to be tuned to Fox News and if it was possible to have them tuned instead to CNN. "It's come to my attention that there's been requests -- this is a serious question -- to turn these TVs onto a station other than Fox, and that those have been denied," VandeHei told McClellan, who is soon to be replaced by former Fox anchor and self-described conservative Tony Snow. "My question would be, is there a White House policy that all government TVs have to be tuned to Fox?" VandeHei asked. "Never heard of any such thing," McClellan responded. "My TVs are on four different channels at all times." CNN: White House scribe asks for the remoteexternal link

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