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EARLYBIRD

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Senators' reaction to Sotomayor divergent even in the same party. Plus: Obama prepares for speech to Muslim world and trip to Europe.

Supreme Court: Reactions To 'Wise Latina' Remark Are Scattershot

• "Republican senators who will be meeting with President Obama's Supreme Court nominee this week held their cards tight Sunday, though one lawmaker asked that appeals court Judge Sonia Sotomayor apologize for a remark she made in 2001; specifically, that a 'Latina woman' would make better rulings than a white man," the Washington Times reports. "Sen. Lindsey Graham," R-S.C., "called on Judge Sotomayor to apologize for her remark, though he and other Republicans did not go so far as to call her a racist."

• "As Republicans continue to hammer" Sotomayor "for a 2001 assertion that's become known as the 'wise Latina' remark, her backers are struggling to come up with a single coherent line of defense," Politico reports. "In the past few days," supporters' explanations have ranged "from apologetic to defiant to suggesting Sotomayor may have been joking."

 

• "In the nearly two decades between when she came of age and when she joined the federal judiciary," Sotomayor "demonstrated a passionate engagement at the intersection of ethnic heritage and social justice," the Washington Post concludes in a detailed report on the nominee's activism as a college student. "She advocated -- publicly, aggressively -- for inclusion and expanded civil rights, yet always worked within the framework of traditional levers and institutions."

Congress: Hagan Teams With Burr Against Tobacco Regulation

• "As the Senate takes up a bill that would allow the government to regulate tobacco products for the first time," freshman Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., "finds herself joining forces with Republicans to derail a top Democratic priority," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "Not only is she likely to be the only Democrat to oppose the bill, she will also be fighting side by side with Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who campaigned hard to prevent her election last fall."

• "A powerful congressional chairman has joined a growing number of Democrats who want to sharply increase the cost of drilling leases that the government provides on federal lands, a move vigorously opposed by Big Oil and Republicans," the Washington Times reports. "Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, West Virginia Democrat and chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, has proposed a plan to boost royalty rates by 50 percent and to cut the lease periods to five years from the current 10 years or more."

 

• "Democratic leaders hope to complete work this week on a supplemental spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and other military and domestic priorities," CongressDailyAM (subscription) reports. "Staffs of the House and Senate appropriations committees are meeting this week to reconcile differences between a $96.7 billion House version of the bill and a $91.3 billion Senate-passed measure, a Democratic aide said."

White House: Obama Looks For Progress In Trip To Middle East, Europe

• "Before President Obama addresses the Muslim world from Cairo, Egypt, this week, he'll meet with the Saudi monarch in Riyadh to discuss issues including how to deal with Iran," The Hill reports. "The White House announced this leg in the trip just last week, a stop tacked onto the beginning of a journey that will take Obama to Egypt next and then to Germany and France for D-Day commemorations."

• "Obama makes a second foray into European diplomacy this week facing pressure to demonstrate his consensus-building foreign policy can produce results where his predecessor George W. Bush's go-it-alone style failed," Reuters reports. "The U.S. leader will meet separately with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy for talks that will touch on the global economic crisis, Iran's nuclear program, the Afghan conflict and Western ties with Russia."

Politics: GOP Trying To Keep Pelosi In Hot Seat

• "House Republicans, hoping to put Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) back on defense, are weighing whether to take another run at a resolution calling for an investigation into her allegations that the CIA lied to Congress about its use of enhanced interrogation techniques," Roll Call (subscription) reports.

 

• "Democrats launched a paid advertising offensive today against a half-dozen House Republicans whom they consider to be vulnerable this cycle," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee... blasted these GOP Members for voting against Democrats' Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which passed earlier this year."

• "George R. Tiller, the nation's most prominent provider of controversial late-term abortions, was shot and killed yesterday in the lobby of his Lutheran church in Wichita," Kan., "where he was serving as an usher," the Washington Post reports. "Tiller was shot in both arms in 1993 by abortion protester Rachelle 'Shelley' Shannon, who remains in prison for the crime."

General Motors: Obama Hopes Bankruptcy Will Revive Automaker

• Obama "will push General Motors into bankruptcy protection" today, "making a risky bet that by temporarily nationalizing the onetime icon of American capitalism, he can save at least a diminished automaker that is competitive," the New York Times reports.

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• "Even after nine months of extraordinary government intervention, the scope and complexity of the General Motors Corp. rescue present a thicket of conflicts unlike any seen before in Washington," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The federal government is likely within weeks to emerge as the principal owner of a storied U.S. corporation whose factories and products touch the lives of tens of millions of Americans. It will simultaneously serve as the company's regulator, tax collector, customer, pension backstop and lender."

• "As GM enters into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, Obama's economic team is stressing that its goals are to maximize the return to taxpayers and to exit from its involvement as quickly as possible," AP reports. "But as one administration official put it Sunday night, there is an inevitable tension between those two objectives. And the snap in that tension could sting -- politically for Obama, economically for the auto industry and fiscally for the taxpayer."

Economy: Firm Betting On Future Hyperinflation

• "A hedge fund firm that reaped huge rewards betting against the market last year is about to open a fund premised on another wager: that the massive stimulus efforts of global governments will lead to hyperinflation," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "The firm, Universa Investments L.P., is known for its ties to gloomy investor Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of the 2007 bestseller 'The Black Swan,' which describes the impact of extreme events on the world and financial markets."

• After Christopher Cox "became SEC chairman in mid-2005, he adopted practices that undermined the enforcement division's efforts to investigate cases of corporate wrongdoing and punish those involved, according to interviews with 19 current and former SEC officials," the Washington Post reports. "Investigators who wanted to subpoena documents or compel interviews faced an increasingly cumbersome process to win the commission's approval for each case, according to current and former agency officials."

• "A bipartisan group of legislators is pressing the Treasury Department to close a loophole that has allowed banks to seize Social Security and disability benefits from customers' accounts despite federal rules intended to protect these benefits from creditors," the Wall Street Journal reports.

National Security: Air Force Fails To Send Enough Spy Planes Into Fight

• "The Air Force has failed to deploy new spy planes to Afghanistan and Iraq even though Defense Secretary Robert Gates has made it a priority to rush the aircraft to troops in combat, according to interviews with military officials and documents," USA Today reports. "Gates is concerned that the delivery of the planes to Afghanistan will be 'out of synch' with 21,000 troops being sent there by President Obama for a summer offensive against Taliban insurgents, said Geoff Morrell, a Pentagon spokesman."

• "Drone-launched U.S. missile attacks and Pakistan's ongoing military offensive in and around the Swat Valley have unsettled al-Qaeda and undermined its relative invulnerability in Pakistani mountain sanctuaries, U.S. military and intelligence officials say," the Washington Post reports.

• "Body counts are back, reigniting the decades-old debate about whether victory in war can be judged by measuring the stack of enemy dead," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "In recent months, the U.S. command in Afghanistan has begun publicizing every single enemy fighter killed in combat, the most detailed body counts the military has released since the practice fell into disrepute during the Vietnam War."

World: Cuba Agrees To Direct Talks With U.S.

• "Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton brought signs of a thaw between the United States and Cuba to Latin America on Sunday, as she arrived in a region increasingly impatient to see the United States repair the half-century-old breach with Havana," the New York Times reports. "Cuba notified the Obama administration it was ready to resume talks on migration issues and to negotiate direct postal service between the countries for the first time in decades."

• "North Korea may this month test a missile designed to fly as far as U.S. territory and may also be gearing up for skirmishes with the South around their disputed sea border, South Korean news reports said on Monday," Reuters reports. "Analysts see Pyongyang's growing belligerence as an attempt to bolster the position of leader Kim Jong-il, whose suspected stroke last August raised questions about his grip on power."

• "An Air France passenger aircraft carrying 228 people has disappeared off the coast of Brazil, officials say," CNN reports. "The airline told CNN the Airbus A330-200 jet was making the 11-hour flight from Rio de Janeiro to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris when contact was lost."

Lobbying: National Retail Tax Stirs Up Opposition

• "Retail associations, anti-tax groups and even some progressive organizations are dusting off battle plans to fight a potential new tax they say would cripple the economy and unfairly target the poorest Americans," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "The idea of a value-added, or national retail, tax has quietly been floated by some Democrats as a possible way to raise revenue. And last week after reports surfaced that the Obama administration might be eyeing the idea more seriously, groups that oppose the tax kicked into gear."

• "Hospitals plan to begin a lobbying campaign this week to prevent Congress from including charity care requirements in legislation to overhaul the health care system," the New York Times reports. "The Senate Finance Committee is considering a bipartisan proposal that would require hospitals to provide 'a minimum annual level of charitable care' as a condition for getting or keeping the tax-exempt status available to charitable organizations."

• "Billing it as their largest health reform campaign ever, progressive leaders are planning to spend at least $82 million to push reforms that include a public health insurance plan option," Politico reports. "The campaign, expected to be announced Monday, is designed to put public plan opponents on notice that supporters are ready for a fight."

Health Care: Senate Dems Push For Reform Despite SCOTUS Proceedings

• "Senate Democrats are pressing ahead with ambitious plans to bring health care reform to the floor in July," despite Sotomayor proceedings, Roll Call (subscription) reports. "Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Chairman Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) are both committed to marking up separate health care bills in their committees this month. Both veteran Democrats have planned a series of hearings and Senator-only meetings to settle on the policies that will comprise the legislation."

• "It's hard to believe that only three months ago, health care advocates worried that" Obama "would drop the health reform issue from his first-year agenda," Politico reports. "Now, with an August deadline to pass a bill, a compromise that once seemed unimaginable is considered quite possible, both sides say."

Energy & Environment: Salazar Giving Interior A Makeover

• "Trying to clean up the Interior Department's image after persistent charges of cronyism with oil and gas interests during the Bush years, Secretary Ken Salazar is also giving a physical spruce-up to the grand headquarters building built under FDR," Politico reports. "Salazar is starting a 'building committee' so one employee on each floor can be looking for ways to add to the building's 'friendliness,' and he wants more people to know about the museum downstairs."

• "If Congress passes legislation that puts a price on carbon emissions, companies will need to track and report the waste from their operations," the New York Times reports. "Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, one of Silicon Valley's top venture capital firms, is betting that such a cap-and-trade law or carbon tax will open the door for a new kind of software company."

Commentary: Legislation Conflagration

• Commentators in Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section get a jump on lawmakers' busy post-recess agenda by delving into legislation on health care, earmark spending and tobacco.

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