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Wednesday, December 20, 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...

  • U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Peter Pace made an unannounced visit to Baghdad today.

  • "President Bush acknowledged for the first time yesterday that the United States is not winning the war in Iraq and said he plans to expand the overall size of the 'stressed' U.S. armed forces to meet the challenges of a long-term global struggle against terrorists," the Washington Post reports.

    Asked in an interview with Post reporters if the US is winning in Iraq, Bush said:

    "You know, I think an interesting construct that General [Peter] Pace uses is, 'We're not winning, we're not losing.'"

    "The assessment was a striking reversal for a president who, days before the November elections, declared, 'Absolutely, we're winning,'" the Post reports.

  • "Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, has submitted plans to retire and will leave his post in March," the Los Angeles Times reports.

  • According to a new CNN poll conducted by Opinion Research Corporation, 57 percent approve of the way Condoleezza Rice is handling her job as Secretary of State, while 35 percent disapprove.

    Vice President Dick Cheney's job approval was 39 percent, with 56 percent disapproving.

    And First Lady Laura Bush had a job approval of 76 percent, with 18 percent disapproving.

  • Will WH '08 be the first $1 billion presidential race? The chairman of the FEC thinks so. Find out why in Hot Topics below!

    President's Schedule:

  • President Bush will hold a news conference at 10:01:30 am ET in the Treaty Room at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

    Later, POTUS signs H.R. 6111, the Tax Relief and Health Care Act of 2006 at 11:45 am ET in EEOB.

    At 1:15 pm ET, Bush signs H.R. 6407, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act.


    Political Hot Topics

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

    "WE'RE NOT WINNING, WE'RE NOT LOSING": President Bush acknowledged for the first time yesterday that the United States is not winning the war in Iraq and said he plans to expand the overall size of the "stressed" U.S. armed forces to meet the challenges of a long-term global struggle against terrorists. As he searches for a new strategy for Iraq, Bush has now adopted the formula advanced by his top military adviser to describe the situation. "We're not winning, we're not losing," Bush said in an interview with The Washington Post. The assessment was a striking reversal for a president who, days before the November elections, declared, "Absolutely, we're winning." In another turnaround, Bush said he has ordered Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to develop a plan to increase the troop strength of the Army and Marine Corps, heeding warnings from the Pentagon and Capitol Hill that multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan are stretching the armed forces toward the breaking point. "We need to reset our military," said Bush, whose administration had opposed increasing force levels as recently as this summer. Washington Post: U.S. Not Winning War in Iraq, Bush Says for 1st Time


    GATES IN IRAQ: New U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Baghdad on an unannounced visit Wednesday. Gates was scheduled to meet with military leaders and other officials. The new defense secretary had said he intended to travel to Iraq soon after being sworn in. He took the oath as the nation's defense chief on Monday, succeeding Donald Rumsfeld. His visit came as explosions from two separate car bombs early Wednesday killed at least 15 and wounded 37 in Baghdad, an Iraqi interior ministry official told CNN. CNN: Defense chief Gates lands in Baghdad

    SKELTON OPPOSES "SURGE OPTION": Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), the incoming chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, questioned the purpose of sending an additional 20,000 U.S. troops into Baghdad, the surge option being mentioned as one strategy change in Iraq being considered by President Bush. "What is the military mission?" Skelton asked yesterday during a meeting with reporters. "I don't think it will change a thing," he said, adding: Would the added troops "exacerbate the problem by being more targets? Is there something to go after that we don't know?" Sending 15,000 to 30,000 more troops for a mission of possibly six to eight months is among the proposals on the table in the White House policy review to reverse the steady deterioration in Iraq. Bush has said he will not make up his mind until next month, and after receiving recommendations from his new defense secretary, Robert M. Gates. Washington Post: Lawmaker Opposes More Troops for Baghdad

    ABIZAID AGREES... THE "SITUATION REQUIRES MORE IRAQI TROOPS": As the new secretary of defense, Robert M. Gates, takes stock of the war in Iraq this week, he will find Gen. John P. Abizaid, the senior commander in the Middle East, resistant to increasing the American fighting force there. General Abizaid, who is completing the final months of a highly decorated military career, acknowledges that additional American forces, favored by some of President Bush's top advisers, might provide a short-term boost in security. But he argues that foreign troops are a toxin bound to be rejected by Iraqis, and that expanding the number of American troops merely puts off the day when Iraqis are forced to take responsibility for their own security... "The Baghdad security situation requires more Iraqi troops," he said in a recent interview as he traveled around Iraq, meeting with American commanders. New York Times: General Opposes Adding to U.S. Forces in Iraq, Emphasizing International Solutions for Region

    ABIZAID WILL STEP ASIDE IN MARCH: Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, has submitted plans to retire and will leave his post in March, a step likely to make way for a change in military strategy at a time the Bush administration is seeking a new plan for Iraq. Abizaid has been the primary architect of U.S. military strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan since becoming head of the U.S. Central Command more than three years ago. He has strenuously resisted calls to increase troop levels to quell rising violence in Baghdad, arguing it would increase Iraqi dependence on Americans... Abizaid's planned departure clears the way for new Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to recommend his own commander, a decision current and former Defense officials say is nearly as important as the new administration strategy expected to be unveiled by Bush in January. Los Angeles Times: Top general in Mideast to retire

    PORTMAN AGREES... $110 BILLION '07 IRAQ ESTIMATE IS TOO LOW: The Iraq war will cost more this year than the $110 billion the Bush administration had forecast, the head of the White House budget office said Tuesday. Office of Management and Budget Director Rob Portman said there was no firm estimate of the costs for fiscal 2007, which began Oct. 1. When he was asked if the $110 billion estimate was now too low, Portman said, "Yes." He said the final figure "depends on a lot of things that are not yet decided. One is the policy moving forward." Portman's statement adds fuel to speculation that the war costs will top last year's record $120 billion. Lawmakers have already approved $70 billion in supplemental spending for the Iraq war this year. The White House will issue a request for supplemental funding for the war in February. USA Today: Budget chief: 2007's war costs will exceed projected $110 billion

    ESCAPED EX-MINISTER CONTACTS TRIBUNE FROM UNDISCLOSED LOCATION: Speaking from a location he would not identify, a Chicago-area engineer facing corruption charges in Iraq said Tuesday he escaped custody with the help of a "multi-national" group and vowed to return to his home in the western suburb of Oak Brook after the New Year. Aiham Alsammarae, Iraq's former electricity minister, said in a telephone interview that he decided to flee Sunday from a police station in central Baghdad because he was certain that Iraqi authorities would kill him if he remained in their custody. "I am now in a very safe place," said Alsammarae, who is a partner in the KCI Engineering firm in the western suburb of Downers Grove. "They cannot touch me any more." Alsammarae, who contacted the Tribune Tuesday afternoon, said that the "multi-national" group that helped him escape included Iraqis and men of other nationalities. Chicago Tribune: Ex-Iraq electricity minister speaks after escape

    LIBBY LAWYER: "WE'RE CALLING THE VICE PRESIDENT": Vice President Cheney will be called to testify in the CIA leak case, lawyers for Cheney's former chief of staff said in court Tuesday. "We're calling the vice president," said Ted Wells, an attorney for Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Libby is charged with perjury and obstruction in statements he made to prosecutors and grand jurors about what he told reporters about former CIA operative Valerie Plame. Libby has pleaded not guilty... Cheney's testimony would be historic. Sitting presidents, including Bill Clinton and Gerald Ford, have testified in criminal cases but presidential historians, such as New York University's Paul Light, said they knew of no vice president who has done so. Cheney and President Bush were questioned during the grand jury phase of the case. USA Today: Libby lawyers plan to summon Cheney to testify in CIA case

    HEALTH OFFICIALS CANCEL $877.5 MILLION ANTHRAX VACCINE CONTRACT: Federal health officials yesterday scuttled the largest piece of the Bush administration's two-year program to counter bioterrorism, canceling an $877.5 million contract with VaxGen to develop an anthrax vaccine after the company missed a deadline to begin human testing. The decision, delivered in a one-page letter, ends a troubled effort by the small California firm that has come to symbolize the failures of the government's ambitious $5.6 billion Project BioShield. The termination occurred on the same day President Bush signed legislation attempting to salvage the program by reorganizing its management and pumping more money into firms doing the work. Washington Post: Anthrax Vaccine Contract Voided, Thwarting Administration

    PELOSI TAPS VAN HOLLEN FOR DCCC...: Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland will lead the national push by House Democrats to preserve their new majority in 2008, incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced yesterday. Pelosi has chosen the Montgomery County Democrat to succeed Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the hard-charging strategist who led House Democrats back to the majority last month for the first time in 12 years, as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The move puts Van Hollen in charge of the party's recruiting and fundraising efforts during the 2007-2008 election cycle. Van Hollen's "depth of legislative experience and political savvy will make him an exceptional DCCC Chairman," Pelosi said in a statement. Baltimore Sun: Van Hollen gets key post

    ...AND TUBBS JONES FOR ETHICS: [Nancy Pelosi] announced she will name Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, a former judge and prosecutor from Cleveland, to chair the House Ethics Committee. The appointment was expected, but it was still considered a vital decision. The panel serves as both judge and jury for lawmakers accused of misconduct, although critics have accused it of being a toothless watchdog in recent years. Tubbs Jones, who has served on the committee for the last six years, said Tuesday she plans to put more bite back into the ethics process. "Sitting in judgment of your colleagues is always a difficult position," she said in an interview. "But I believe that I come to this position at an opportune time to restore the confidence of the American public and the members of Congress in the role of the ethics committee -- and that it can do its job." San Francisco Chronicle: Pelosi fills key campaign, ethics posts

    SENATOR JOHNSON "EXCEEDING EXPECTATIONS," SAYS SON: South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson has been exceeding expectations in his recovery from emergency brain surgery last week, his son Brendan said Tuesday. Brendan Johnson, a Sioux Falls lawyer, said in an interview with The Associated Press that his father has been responding repeatedly to directions from his mother, Barbara. But he is not yet speaking. "It's fair to say he's been exceeding expectations up to this point," Brendan Johnson said. "All the tests and the indications now are positive." Johnson offered few details about his father's condition and said he doesn't know what kind of tests he will undergo this week. He said he is not sure if the senator will need additional surgery. AP via Yahoo! News: Johnson's son says senator is recovering

    THE BILLION DOLLAR ELECTION: The chairman of the Federal Election Commission yesterday predicted that 2008 will produce the first $1 billion presidential race and that the $500 million that each party's candidate will need to compete will severely limit the field of contenders. "The 2008 presidential election will be the longest and most expensive in United States history," FEC Chairman Michael E. Toner told The Washington Times. "The nominee of each major party is likely to opt out of the public-financing system for the first time ever for the general election," Mr. Toner said. Washington Times: Road to White House may cost $1 billion

    DNC DELAYS CONVENTION DECISION: Democrats have put off a decision on choosing a 2008 national convention site until early January, hard-pressed to pick between Denver and New York, officials said Tuesday. Party officials have been negotiating for months with host committees for New York and Denver, but a series of problems with Denver's bid - and a significant cooling of interest from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg - led Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean to seek more time to make a decision. "Chairman Dean is going to make the best decision for the party based on the merits of each city's bid. ... Because of the holiday week, and at the request of both cities, we will announce the convention city in early January," DNC press secretary Stacie Paxton said in a statement. AP via Yahoo! News: Democrats put off convention decision

    SOME "HIGH-END NEW YORKERS" ON McCAIN BANDWAGON: New York may be Rudy Giuliani's town, but don't tell John McCain - a potential presidential rival of the former mayor who staked a claim yesterday to some high-end New Yorkers. The Arizona senator released a list of 57 powerful New York-area supporters of his possible 2008 bid, just hours before Giuliani held his first presidential exploratory committee fund-raiser in Times Square. The message from Camp McCain could not have been clearer. "If John McCain decides to run for President, he is going to run for President in all 50 states," said McCain spokesman Craig Goldman, who added, referring to the senator's New York supporters, "If grades were given for this type of group, it would be an A-plus." New York Daily News: McCain touts N.Y. list

    EX-VA GOV. GILMORE WILL JUMP INTO '08: Jim Gilmore, a former governor of Virginia and chairman of the Republican National Committee, announced last night that he will form a committee to explore a presidential bid. Gilmore said the 2008 Republican field lacks a "committed conservative" capable of making a credible campaign for the White House. "A void exists," Gilmore said in an inter view. "There is just no conservative right now who can mount a national campaign." Robert Holsworth, Virginia Common wealth University political analyst, said last night, "The remarkable thing is, at the open ing of 2006, who would have thought that the only Virginian who would be running for president is Jim Gilmore?" Richmond Times-Dispatch: Ex-Gov. Gilmore may seek presidency

    FBI EXAMINING NY SENATE MAJORITY LEADER'S "BUSINESS INTERESTS": The New York Senate majority leader, Joseph L. Bruno, one of the three men who effectively control state government, said Tuesday evening that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was looking into his business interests. Mr. Bruno, 77, who will be the state's top Republican when Gov. George E. Pataki leaves office in less than two weeks, offered few details about the nature of the inquiry, which he said he was announcing because it had been leaked to reporters. He said that he has known of the inquiry since late spring, and that he recently retained a lawyer. He said the investigation "appears to be related to my outside business interests," but added later that he was "not sure" if it involved any official actions he has taken as Senate leader. He said he was told that he was not a target of the investigation. New York Times: Bruno Is Subject of Inquiry by F.B.I.
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