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Monday, December 18, 2006
CNN Political Ticker AM
For the latest, breaking political news, check for updates throughout the day on the CNN Political Ticker. All politics, all the time.

Compiled by Stephen Bach
CNN Washington Bureau

Making news today...

  • Robert Gates was sworn in this morning at 7:03 am ET by White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, CNN's Ed Henry reports. Gates is still at the White House in meetings and will have a public swearing-in this afternoon at 1:15 pm ET.

    Gates "is the first defense secretary in almost four decades to be appointed by a sitting president in the midst of a full-blown war," Bloomberg reports. "Then, as now, the new Pentagon chief faced the task of selling the president on a new approach to an unsuccessful and unpopular war."

  • Colin Powell spoke about Iraq on CBS's "Face the Nation" yesterday:

    "[I]f it's grave and deteriorating, and we're not winning, we are losing. We haven't lost, and this is the time now to start to put in place the kinds of strategies that will turn this situation around."

    More Powell: "I am not persuaded that another surge of troops into Baghdad for the purpose of suppressing this communitarian violence, this civil war, will work."

  • Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) spoke about 2008 this morning on NBC's "Today":

    "I'm working hard to make a decision and I will after the first of the year. It is really both very flattering and overwhelming to be looking at this. Maybe more than anybody else I know how hard this job is...

    "This is an intensely personal decision. I'm very honored that people are urging me to run and saying they want to sign up, yet at the end of the day, I want to be sure that my decision is right for me, for my family, for my party, for my country."

  • Meanwhile, today's Washington Times reports "[s]everal key Democrats" say Clinton "could become the Howard Dean of 2008." Why? Find out in Hot Topics below!

    President's Schedule:

  • The President signs H.R. 5682, the United States-India Peaceful Atomic Energy Cooperation Act in the East Room at 10:45 am ET.

    Bush meets with Jewish Leaders in the Roosevelt Room at 11:25 am ET.

    At 1:15 pm ET, the President participates in a ceremonial swearing-in for new Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at The Pentagon.

    Tonight, Mr. and Mrs. Bush make speak at a Hanukkah reception at the White House.

    Also on the Political Radar:

  • Iowa Governor and Democratic Presidential Candidate Tom Vilsack on Comedy Central's "The Daily Show."


    Political Hot Topics

    (Today's top political stories from news organizations across the country)

    GATES' CHALLENGE: When Robert Gates took the helm of the Central Intelligence Agency just as the Cold War was ending in 1991, one of his most pressing priorities was to trim the budget and redirect an agency designed for the challenges of a different era. He did it "much to the howling and screaming of people in the agency," said David MacMichael, a former CIA analyst who worked with him. Today, when Gates is sworn in as the nation's 22nd secretary of defense, he assumes command of an institution facing a similar need to transform itself. "He's fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Anthony Cordesman, a national security analyst at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies. "He has a major military-manpower problem. He has to rebuild readiness, which involves a massive investment in reconditioning equipment that was damaged in Iraq. Then, virtually every major procurement program we have is in financial trouble." Adding to Gates's challenge: He is the first defense secretary in almost four decades to be appointed by a sitting president in the midst of a full-blown war. The last time that happened was in 1968, when Clark Clifford succeeded Robert McNamara at the height of the Vietnam conflict. Then, as now, the new Pentagon chief faced the task of selling the president on a new approach to an unsuccessful and unpopular war. Bloomberg: Gates Must Manage Iraq While Transforming Military in New Post

    "WE ARE LOSING" IN IRAQ, POWELL SAYS ON "FACE": The United States is losing the war in Iraq but sending more troops to Baghdad is not the best way to change course, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Face The Nation. Powell said he agreed with the assessment of the Iraq Study Group co-chairmen, Lee Hamilton and James Baker, that the situation in Iraq is "grave and deteriorating," and he also agreed with recently-confirmed Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that the U.S. is not winning the war. "So if it's grave and deteriorating and we're not winning, we are losing," Powell told Bob Schieffer in an exclusive interview. "We haven't lost. And this is the time, now, to start to put in place the kinds of strategies that will turn this situation around." CBS News: Powell: We Are Losing In Iraq

    BLAIR MAKES SURPRISE APPEARANCE IN IRAQ: Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain pledged his support for the Iraqi government in a surprise visit here on Sunday. Less than a mile from where he spoke, gunmen in police uniforms seized 25 employees of an Iraqi aid organization. Mr. Blair said preparations to give control of Basra, the southern city where the British military is based, to Iraqi troops were "going well." But he added that British troops would remain in Iraq "until the job is done" and the Iraqi Army could stand on its own. "We stand ready to support you in every way," Mr. Blair said at a joint news conference with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki in the Green Zone. He flew to Basra later on Sunday. New York Times: Blair Pledges His Support During Surprise Visit to Iraq

    REID SAYS JOHNSON "IMPROVEMENT HAS BEEN SIGNIFICANT": Sen. Tim Johnson has shown significant improvement after brain surgery, and doctors say "everything is going to be just fine," Senate Democratic leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) said yesterday. Asked whether the South Dakota Democrat, 59, was conscious, Reid said in a television interview: "I'm not a doctor. I have heard and talked to his family. You should talk to them. It's not appropriate to talk to me about that." Reid, who has visited Johnson frequently after the surgery Wednesday following a brain hemorrhage, said, "he's doing very well... His improvement has been significant." Johnson has responded to voices, opened his eyes and moved his limbs. AP via Yahoo! News: Reid: Ailing senator shows some progress

    IN MESSAGES, FOLEY APPEARED "AWARE OF THE POLITICAL RAMIFICATIONS" IF EXPOSED: The redacting process in the House ethics panel's detailing of the Mark Foley affair failed to omit the name of one teenage boy who received sexually explicit instant messages from Mr. Foley. The report, which measures two inches thick, included the Florida Republican's telephone number. The 100 pages of texts of the e-mails and instant messages portray Mr. Foley as a risk-taker who appeared to know he was doing something wrong. The four-person investigative subpanel of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct pulled together 3,500 pages of transcribed sworn testimony from 51 persons with knowledge of Mr. Foley's behavior toward the teenage boys serving as congressional pages. They blacked out identifying details about the teenagers -- such as their Internet screen names and their hometowns -- but missed a few... [A] close read of the sexually explicit instant messages between Mr. Foley and at least two former pages reveal a man who appeared to be aware of the political ramifications that could emerge if the messages were exposed. Washington Times: Page e-mails show Foley aware of risk

    ADMIN TO PROPOSE MEDICAID CHANGES: The Bush administration on Monday will propose sweeping reductions in payments to pharmacies as a way to save money for Medicaid, the health program for more than 50 million low-income people. The goal is to ensure that Medicaid can get drug discounts similar to those provided to large customers in the private market, including companies like Caremark Rx and Medco Health Solutions that manage drug benefits for people who have health insurance through an employer. Congressional investigators have found that Medicaid pays 35 percent more than the lowest price available in the private market for some commonly used brand-name drugs. States, which share the cost of Medicaid with the federal government, make the final decision on what pharmacies are paid, subject to federal limits. The proposed rule would provide new data for states to use in their calculations, redefining the "average manufacturer price" for brand-name and generic drugs. New York Times: U.S. Is Proposing to Cut Medicaid's Drug Payments

    "ONLY WAY TO GET A MILLION PEOPLE TO EACH GIVE YOU $10 ON THE SAME DAY": This year's midterm elections offered fresh examples of the ways the Internet is changing how candidates in both parties raise money as they scramble to collect the $20, $30 and $50 donations needed in the aftermath of changes to campaign-finance laws in 2002 that banned large donations. Online fundraising has proved a cost-effective and lightning-fast method to raise cash, rally the faithful and promote or smear office seekers. It also could transform fundraising in presidential races. "It's inevitable that the Internet will become the principal means of fundraising from now on," said Anthony Corrado, a campaign-finance expert at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. "It's the only way you get a million people to each give you $10 on the same day." ActBlue, an online clearinghouse that has raised more than $17 million since 2004, plans to use that power. It recently won approval from federal regulators to stockpile cash for yet-undeclared presidential candidates. USA Today: Internet critical tool for political cash

    THE NEVADA FACTOR: Forget Hillary vs. Obama. There's another question in the Democratic presidential race: Does what happens in Vegas really stay there, or can Sin City set the course for the nation? Nevada has a new prominence in deciding the party's next nominee. It will hold an early caucus Jan. 19, 2008, sandwiched between Iowa and New Hampshire. The prized position is an attempt to bring more diverse voices into determining the Democratic candidate beyond the two overwhelmingly white, rural states that have traditionally dominated the process. The hope is that a Western state with a large population of Hispanics and union workers will bring fresh issues to the debate. "I've always felt that the system we have of choosing our president has been very cockeyed," said incoming Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the state's top Democrat. Nevada "will give the American people a better idea of what a candidate should be for and against." AP via Yahoo! News: Will Nev. set the course for 2008 pick?

    SEEING GREEN IN THE GOLDEN STATE: With nearly two dozen contenders jostling for an early edge in the 2008 race for the White House, governors, senators and others eyeing a presidential run are already elbowing their way into the good graces of California's big-money donors. The wide-open field in both major parties has intensified the quiet but fierce competition of White House hopefuls turning on the charm at private gatherings in Hollywood homes, Silicon Valley boardrooms and hotels around the state. This month alone, seven would-be presidents have swept through California, nearly all of them scouting for money. Last week, it was Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Democrat, and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, who wooed potential donors at the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel, then went prospecting for more in San Diego and San Francisco. The week before, Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd, a Democrat, raised money at the Brentwood home of Sony Pictures Entertainment's chief executive, Michael Lynton, then dashed to the Bay Area to collect more in Palo Alto and San Francisco. The week before that, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic Party's star of the moment, spent two hours mingling with a Hollywood A-list crowd at the Westside home of Endeavor talent agency partner Ariel Emanuel. Los Angeles Times: Candidates have their hands out

    GIULIANI TO KEYNOTE CA GOP CONVENTION: Rudy Giuliani is slated for a major political appearance in California - keynoting the annual Republican convention in a state ripe with big-walleted donors - as he mulls a 2008 run for the White House, his aides said yesterday. It's the first political trip Giuliani has scheduled since he filed papers last month to create an exploratory committee for a presidential campaign. Giuliani will address the Golden State's GOP the second weekend in February at its convention in Sacramento. "He very much looks forward to it," Giuliani spokeswoman Sunny Mindel said. Giuliani is a kindred soul with California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a fellow GOPer who, like the former mayor, is a moderate on social issues. The state is also ripe with rich potential donors. New York Post: RUDY SET FOR 'GOLDEN' GIG

    HILLARY... THE HOWARD DEAN OF '08? Several key Democrats say Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, now the front-runner for her party's presidential nomination, could become the Howard Dean of 2008. Some say her biggest problem is her "electability," an issue that could work against her in the caucuses and primaries among rank-and-file Democrats, who see 2008 as their year to win back the White House if they choose a candidate who appeals to independent and swing voters. "Hillary Clinton is going to be a formidable opponent because she is able to raise more money. But does that make you the winner? Ask Howard Dean. He was raising more money than you can imagine, but ended up doing poorly in '04," said former Iowa Democratic Chairman Rob Tully. Washington Times: Democrats doubt Hillary's electability

    BAYH DEPARTS... BENEFIT FOR VILSACK "MARGINAL AT MOST": Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh's decision not to seek the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination surprised Iowa party activists Saturday and further trims what was once a potentially unwieldy field for the leadoff nominating caucuses. The development also leaves Iowa's Tom Vilsack as the only Midwesterner with gubernatorial experience among the party's White House prospects, although experts said the immediate benefit to Vilsack was marginal at most. Bayh said in a statement Saturday morning he could not have competed with his party's stars, alluding to Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, who are the party's top preferences in national polls. Des Moines Register: Bayh opts against run; Vilsack's benefit small

    GINGRICH WILL LOOK AT HIS CHANCES ON LABOR DAY: Newt Gingrich suggested on Sunday he might not run for president in 2008 if a rival has all but locked up the Republican nomination by next fall. The former House speaker from Georgia said it would not be too late for him to enter the race after next Labor Day, if he believed no candidate had a clear advantage. He praised Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani as the contenders to watch. "If one of them seals it off by Labor Day, my announcing now wouldn't make any difference anyway," Gingrich said. "If none of the three, having from now 'til Labor Day, can seal it off, the first real vote is in 2008. And there's plenty of time in the age of television and e-mail, between Labor Day and 2008." The nominee will not be picked officially until the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., in early September 2008. AP via Yahoo! News: Gingrich hints at 2008 White House run
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