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Thursday, March 29, 2007
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...

  • The decision to fire eight U.S. attorneys in December was "properly made but poorly explained," a former top aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will tell a Senate committee Thursday.

    In a written statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Kyle Sampson says none of the prosecutors were sacked "for an improper reason," such as to influence an ongoing investigation.

    But he says the process -- which has led to a firestorm on Capitol Hill and a standoff over the testimony of White House aides -- was "badly mishandled."

    Full story at

    Prepared statement of D. Kyle Sampson

  • "With President Bush looking to counter a legacy increasingly marred by the war in Iraq, the White House has launched a bold, behind-the-scenes drive to advance a key domestic goal: immigration reform." (Los Angeles Times)

  • For those of you not invited last night, here's what you missed.

  • "In a brief interview Tuesday on his cellphone," Fred Thompson "declined to elaborate but said he is still thinking about running."

    "I'm not talking about that right now," he said, landing him on A1 of the Washington Post.

    If he runs, "television stations are expected to drop reruns" of "Law and Order" temporarily due to equal time rules. (Washington Post)

  • And is there any truth to the claim that John McCain "was close to leaving the Republican Party in 2001?" Find out the latest in Hot Topics below!

    President's Schedule:

  • The President meets with the House Republican Conference at 9:10 am ET in the East Room at the White House. He'll make a statement to the press pool at the North Portico at 10:15 am ET.

    At 1 pm ET, President Bush goes to the Capitol for a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony honoring the Tuskegee Airmen, and at 2:40 pm ET, Bush photo-ops with Children's Miracle Network Champion Children.

    Also on the Political Radar:

  • Mitt Romney attends an 8:30 am ET grassroots breakfast in Blufton, SC. Later, he'll travel to Palm Beach, FL, for the Club for Growth Winter Conference.

  • Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton appear in a 9:30 am ET joint keynote session at the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association trade show in Orlando, FL.

  • Former AG Gonzales Chief of Staff D. Kyle Sampson testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee at 10 am ET.

  • Defense Secretary Robert Gates testifies at a 10 am ET hearing before the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

  • Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) makes remarks at the Annual Congressional Fire Services Institute Reception & Dinner. He also attends a 6:30 pm ET fundraiser in McLean, VA.

  • Rudy Giuliani holds a 6:30 pm ET fundraiser at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City. (The Oklahoman)

  • Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) keynotes "A Night to Honor Israel" at the Victory Baptist Church of James Island in Charleston, SC, at 7:30 pm ET.

  • The Senate Radio-Television Correspondents' Gallery Daybook

  • The House Radio-Television Correspondents' Gallery Daybook

    McCain Campaign Responds to Obama Criticism

    In a wide-ranging interview yesterday with CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) sharply criticized potential presidential rival Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) call for an indefinite troop presence in Iraq.

    Full story on The Ticker

    Sen. McCain released the following statement to CNN:

    "As Senator Obama knows, I opposed the status quo in Iraq and long argued for a change in strategy there. We are now executing a new counterinsurgency strategy and we have a new general in command who believes in it. If Senator Obama would take a few minutes out of his day to examine the early progress made by General Petraeus, he would realize that the status quo is changing, and, while many difficult challenges remain, we have begun to provide the security to the Iraqis necessary to encourage a political solution. The enemy still resorts to suicide bombers and the occasional mortar strike but such tactics don't win wars unless they cause politicians to lose their nerve. That is what the enemy is counting on. We have a ways to go in Iraq, but let's not lose our nerve. The catastrophic consequences of our defeat in Iraq justify this renewed effort. Senator Obama believes it's better for the United States to suffer those consequences than to take the necessary steps to avert them. I do not. Nor do I support an indefinite American commitment in Iraq at this level. But I do support the idea that succeeding in Iraq is preferable to surrender. Senator Obama can explain why he prefers the latter."

    Political Hot Topics

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

    BUSH TALKS PORK IN SPEECH TO RANCHERS: President Bush yesterday ridiculed House and Senate lawmakers for pork-laden Iraq war funding bills that set 2008 deadlines for full U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq, vowing to veto what he called "arbitrary" limits on U.S. military commanders. Addressing a group of raucous ranchers at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association in Washington, the president drew laughter and applause as he lampooned the competing bills now working their ways through Congress. On the Senate bill, Mr. Bush noted that "there's $3.5 million for visitors to tour the Capitol and see for themselves how Congress works." To loud laughter from the cattlemen, he added: "I'm not kidding you."... The president urged lawmakers to deliver a bill he can sign. Washington Times: Bush mocks pork in war funding

    DEMS GEAR UP FOR "HIGH-STAKES VETO FIGHT": Democrats are moving unflinchingly toward a high-stakes veto fight with President Bush over the Iraq war as the Senate wraps up work on legislation ordering combat troops home from Iraq. "This Congress is taking the responsible course and responding to needs that have been ignored by your administration and the prior Congress," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wrote in a letter to Bush. The Senate was expected on Thursday to pass a $122 billion bill that would require Bush to start bringing home an unspecified number of troops within four months, with a nonbinding goal of ceasing combat operations as of March 31, 2008. AP via Yahoo! News: Dems prepare for veto fight over war

    "STRAIGHTEST OF ARROWS"/"SHARP-ELBOWED OPERATOR" SAMPSON TO MEET SENATORS: Kyle Sampson's friends portray him as the straightest of arrows: a baby-faced, understated Mormon from Utah who still had stars in his eyes about public service a decade after coming to Washington. Reams of recently released Justice Department e-mails offer another view: that of a sharp-elbowed operator who referred to a fired New Mexico prosecutor as a corpse and advised White House officials to "run out the clock" to avoid senatorial interference in their choice of Karl Rove's friend to be Arkansas' top lawman. Sampson, who resigned as chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on March 12, will tell his story today, when he is to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about his role in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys. USA Today: Former Gonzales aide seen as straight arrow

    GONZALES MEETS WITH ATTORNEYS, TRYING TO "REPAIR THE DAMAGE": Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales endured blunt criticism Tuesday from federal prosecutors who questioned the firings of eight United States attorneys, complained that the dismissals had undermined morale and expressed broader grievances about his leadership, according to people briefed on the discussion. About a half-dozen United States attorneys voiced their concerns at a private meeting with Mr. Gonzales in Chicago. Several of the prosecutors said the dismissals caused them to wonder about their own standing and distracted their employees, according to one person familiar with the discussions... While Mr. Gonzales's trip was part of a long-scheduled tour, he has been meeting in recent days with prosecutors in an effort to repair the damage caused by the dismissals. New York Times: Prosecutors Assail Gonzales During Meeting

    ROVE "MANAGES THE HORSE TRADING" ON ATTORNEYS: Almost every Wednesday afternoon, advisers to President Bush gather to strategize about putting his stamp on the federal courts and the United States attorneys' offices. The group meets in the Roosevelt Room and includes aides to the White House counsel, the chief of staff, the attorney general and Karl Rove, who also sometimes attends himself. Each of them signs off on every nomination. Mr. Rove, a top adviser to the president, takes charge of the politics. As caretaker to the administration's conservative allies, Mr. Rove relays their concerns, according to several participants in the Wednesday meetings. And especially for appointments of United States attorneys, he manages the horse trading. New York Times: E-Mail Shows Rove's Role in Fate of Prosecutors

    PRESIDENTIAL STAND-UP: Tell us, Mr. President, how have things changed since the last broadcasters' dinner? "A year ago my approval rating was in the 30s, my nominee for the Supreme Court had just withdrawn, and my vice president had shot someone," President Bush said Wednesday night during the annual gathering. "Ah," he said, "those were the good ol' days." In keeping with the lighthearted traditions of the Radio and Television Correspondents' Association dinner, Bush poked fun at himself and a few others in remarks that drew laughter and applause at the Washington Hilton Hotel. AP via Yahoo! News: Bush serves jokes at broadcasters dinner

    "BOLD, BEHIND-THE-SCENES DRIVE" ON IMMIGRATION: With President Bush looking to counter a legacy increasingly marred by the war in Iraq, the White House has launched a bold, behind-the-scenes drive to advance a key domestic goal: immigration reform. For a month, White House staffers and Cabinet members have met three to four times a week with influential Republican senators and aides to hash out a consensus plan designed to draw a significant number of GOP votes. With that effort largely completed, Republicans were hoping to present their proposal Wednesday to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), who would lead the Democrats in any attempt to move a bill through the Senate. The intense effort - conceived by the president's chief political strategist, Karl Rove - is intended to ensure that Bush will achieve at least one crucial policy victory in the last two years of his presidency. Los Angeles Times: White House works behind the scenes for immigration reform

    WH PULLS NOMINATION OF BIG SWIFT BOAT SPONSOR: Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) finally got a taste of revenge for the "Swift Boating" attacks that marred his 2004 presidential campaign. Facing defeat in the Senate, the White House Wednesday pulled the ambassadorial nomination of uber Republican donor Sam Fox, who gave $50,000 in 2004 to Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the controversial group that ran a smear campaign questioning Kerry's Vietnam military record and, the way Kerry and many Democrats see it, severely hobbled the Democrats' chances of retaking the White House. President Bush's decision to withdraw the nomination came as a surprise to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Joe Biden (D-Del.), one of three 2008 presidential candidates on the panel. They found out only about 45 minutes before they were scheduled to vote on Fox's nomination late in the morning. Washington Post: Kerry: A Little Revenge on Swift Boaters

    DEAN IMPROVES HILL RELATIONS IN 110TH: After two years of private - and occasionally public - friction between their Congressional leaders and their national party chairman, Democrats say the level of coordination and the personal relationships between Howard Dean and his House and Senate counterparts have improved markedly in the 110th Congress. Since Dean assumed the helm of the Democratic National Committee in early 2005, cooperation between the party chief and leaders on Capitol Hill was hampered by sparring over spending priorities and funding of competitive House and Senate contests. Dean's proclivity for off-the-cuff remarks and tendency to spark controversy further fueled his tense relations with some Members of Congress. But with new Democratic majorities now controlling the House and Senate agenda, party insiders say Dean has settled into his role as chairman and that relations with his Hill counterparts appear to be running more smoothly. Roll Call: Dean Mending Fences on the Hill

    REFINING THE RHETORIC: Figuring it out is partly what the presidential "cattle call" process is for at this stage of the campaign cycle. While the crowds at the candidates' campaign events are generally enthusiastic no matter what, the forums held by these and other special interest groups are more accurate focus groups. And their feedback is immediate, in the form of applause or silence. Sometimes they give standing ovations and sometimes people take a coffee break in the middle of a candidate's speech. So as the cattle calls continue, the candidates are testing out old lines and trying on new ones, and, in ways both obvious and subtle, they're refining their rhetoric in an attempt to connect with the crowds. Chicago Tribune: Candidates use forums to get the right pitch

    THOMPSON CONFIRMS "INTEREST" IN '08 BID: "Law & Order" star and former U.S. senator Fred Dalton Thompson is considering a bid for the White House that would test whether Hollywood can once again launch a Republican to the world's premier political stage. His interest, confirmed in a brief interview this week, is generating buzz in Washington. He was third among Republican-leaning voters in a recent Gallup-USA Today survey, behind Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and ahead of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. The onetime senator from Tennessee is known to many Americans for playing New York District Attorney Arthur Branch on "Law & Order" and an admiral in the film "The Hunt for Red October." But his real-life record as a no-nonsense lawmaker who also served as the minority counsel to the Senate Watergate committee is appealing to party activists dissatisfied with the current crop of Republican hopefuls. Washington Post: A 'Law & Order' Presidential Candidate?

    McCAIN DENIES CONSIDERING PARTY SWITCH: Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was close to leaving the Republican Party in 2001, weeks before then-Sen. Jim Jeffords (Vt.) famously announced his decision to become an Independent, according to former Democratic lawmakers who say they were involved in the discussions. In interviews with The Hill this month, former Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and ex-Rep. Tom Downey (D-N.Y.) said there were nearly two months of talks with the maverick lawmaker following an approach by John Weaver, McCain's chief political strategist. Democrats had contacted Jeffords and then-Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.) in the early months of 2001 about switching parties, but in McCain's case, they said, it was McCain's top strategist who came to them... Absolutely not so, according to McCain. In a statement released by his campaign, McCain said, "As I said in 2001, I never considered leaving the Republican Party, period." The Hill: Democrats say McCain nearly abandoned GOP

    GIULIANI PICKS UP FORBES ENDORSEMENT: Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani gained the endorsement Wednesday of a former GOP candidate - billionaire publisher and flat-tax proponent Steve Forbes. Forbes ran for the White House in 1996 and 2000 as a Republican pushing a flat income tax rate. The CEO of Forbes Inc., said Wednesday that Giuliani's record as mayor of New York City "showed how exercising fiscal discipline, including tax cuts, lowers deficits, spurs economic growth, and increases revenue." Giuliani, a front-runner among Republicans seeking the White House in 2008, said he and Forbes share "an economic vision that embraces supply-side economics, tax relief, and spending restraint." AP via Yahoo! News: Publisher Steve Forbes endorses Giuliani

    OBAMA ACCEPTING EXPERTISE, BUT NOT MONEY, FROM K STREET: Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is benefiting from the support of well-connected Washington lobbyists even though he has prohibited his campaign from accepting contributions from them and political action committees (PACs). While Obama has decried the influence of special interests in Washington, the reality is that many of the most talented and experienced political operatives in his party are lobbyists, and he needs their help. Mike Williams, the director of government relations at Credit Suisse Securities, said of the network of lobbyists supporting Obama: "I would imagine that it's as large as the Clinton list," in reference to rival presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who is an entrenched favorite of the Washington Democratic establishment. He said that while lobbyists cannot give money to Obama, they can give "policy" and "campaign support." Indeed, K Street denizens have rare policy and national campaign expertise. The Hill: Obama's K Street project
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