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Senate confirms Sotomayor and passes 'Clunkers,' while Axelrod coaches Dems before recess. Plus: Labor market shows signs of thawing.

White House: Obama Still Conjuring The Specter Of Bush

• "President Barack Obama may 'own' the economy now -- but he's not ready to let anyone forget who left it to him," Politico reports. "Supporters and defenders of George W. Bush have been waiting for the shot clock to run out on Bush's critics since before the 43rd president left office.... But with six months in the Oval Office behind him and Congress off for its milestone summer recess, Obama shows no sign of letting the prior administration or its advocates off the hook."

• "While praising South Africa as a leading nation the United States hopes to work with in Africa, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton" today "urged government officials in Pretoria to press for reform in neighboring Zimbabwe," AP reports.


• "As the American military comes to full strength in the Afghan buildup, the Obama administration is struggling to come up with a long-promised plan to measure whether the war is being won," the New York Times reports. "Without concrete signs of progress, Mr. Obama may lack the political stock -- especially among Democrats and his liberal base -- to make the case for continuing the military effort or enlarging the American presence."

Congress: Senate Confirms Sotomayor, Passes 'Cash For Clunkers'

• "The Senate on Thursday confirmed Judge Sonia Sotomayor as the nation's first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, concluding a 10-week battle with a resounding victory for the White House," the New York Times reports. "The largely party-line vote, 68 to 31, brought Judge Sotomayor, 55, to the threshold of one of the United States' most prestigious institutions, completing an extraordinary narrative arc that began in a Bronx housing project where the Puerto Rican girl was raised by her widowed mother."

• "The government's 'Cash for Clunkers' program won a much-anticipated extension Thursday night as the Senate voted to give an additional $2 billion in funding to the popular initiative aimed at boosting stagnant auto sales," the Washington Post reports. "The 60 to 37 vote follows House approval of a similar measure last week and appears to save the government plan from an unexpected early shutdown."


• "Senate Democrats have found a Republican in Sen. Lindsey Graham [S.C.] to help them push for passage of a comprehensive immigration overhaul this year," the Wall Street Journal reports. "But the lag in getting prominent support from a Republican -- more than two months after Democrats first announced their push -- shows how complicated prospects for passage could be this year, as immigration remains a wedge inside an increasingly divided GOP."

Health Care: Senate Finance Committee Goes Home Without A Bill

• "The six bipartisan health care negotiators on the Senate Finance Committee adjourned their marathon talks Thursday evening with no last-minute breakthrough before the August recess," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "But the group, led by Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), reported additional progress toward a consensus health care reform bill, and announced that a tentative schedule has been devised for teleconference meetings during the month ahead. Negotiations might also continue in person over the break, Baucus said."

• "Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), a key negotiator, said she was so alarmed about distortions involving the deal being developed by members of the Finance Committee that she urged President Obama during a visit to the White House on Thursday to rebut conservative allegations, 'to lessen the concern' about the emerging legislation," the Washington Post reports.

• "Congressional Democrats said Thursday that they intended to push the Obama administration to back away from its deal with the drug industry to cap its share of the costs in a health care overhaul," the New York Times reports. A spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., "said she stood by her position that the House was not bound by any such agreement."


Politics: Axelrod Arms Dems With Recess Talking Points

• "Senate Democrats are girding themselves for a month of vigorous debate over healthcare reform, armed with a new set of talking points from David Axelrod, the president's chief political strategist," The Hill reports. "Axelrod and Jim Messina, the White House deputy chief of staff, met with the Senate Democratic caucus Thursday afternoon to strategize over how to talk about healthcare during the August break."

• "Senate Democrats had grand plans for the month of July, but delays on both health care and climate change legislation have forced them to put off all their heavy lifting for what promises to be a very long fall," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "Still, Democrats say they leave town this week for the monthlong August recess buoyed by the things they were able to accomplish and with a renewed sense of optimism about the health care debate."

• "Obama on Thursday told fellow Democrats that the nation needs governors who focus on long-term implications and avoid petty matters that mar politics, returning to campaign mode and reviving his election-season rhetoric. He then blamed his predecessor -- a Republican -- for leaving behind an economic crisis," AP reports. "Appearing at a fundraiser and rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate R. Creigh Deeds, Obama exhorted leaders to set aside a harshness that he said is all too common in politics."

Economy: Job Losses Slow

• "After a terrible nine months, the pace of job losses finally appears to be slowing down, according to mounting evidence," the Washington Post reports. "Analysts are expecting confirmation on Friday that the labor market is warming up this summer, as the Labor Department releases July employment data. Economists anticipate the report will show that the jobless rate continued to rise -- to 9.6 percent, from 9.5 percent -- and that employers will have shed 328,000 jobs."

• "Digging out of debt keeps getting harder for the unemployed as more companies use detailed credit checks to screen job prospects," the New York Times reports. "Once reserved for government jobs or payroll positions that could involve significant sums of money, credit checks are now fast, cheap and used for all manner of work."

• "Retailers endured another tough month in July -- the worst since January -- as weaker consumer spending signaled a tough time for back-to-school sales, the second-biggest retail season after Christmas," the Wall Street Journal (subscription) reports. "Sales at stores open more than a year, a key indicator of retail health, fell 5.1%, according to a survey of 30 major retailers by Thomson Reuters Inc."

World: Russia, Turkey Reach Energy Pact

• "Russia and Turkey concluded energy agreements on Thursday that will support Turkey's drive to become a regional hub for fuel transshipments while helping Moscow maintain its monopoly on natural gas shipments from Asia to Europe," the New York Times reports. "Turkey granted the Russian natural gas giant Gazprom use of its territorial waters in the Black Sea, under which the company wants to route its so-called South Stream pipeline to gas markets in Eastern and Southern Europe."

• "France claims it long ago achieved much of what today's U.S. health-care overhaul is seeking: It covers everyone, and provides what supporters say is high-quality care. But soaring costs are pushing the system into crisis," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The result: As Congress fights over whether America should be more like France, the French government is trying to borrow U.S. tactics."

• "Russian and Georgian troops were on high alert today, on the eve of the first anniversary of their war over the disputed South Ossetia region," the (London) Guardian reports. Saturday "marks a year since Georgia launched a massive artillery barrage against Tskhinvali, the capital of its breakaway Moscow-backed republic, prompting an invasion by Russian troops that led to five days of bitter fighting."

National Security: Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility May Outlast Closure Deadline

• "The Obama administration's counterterrorism chief appeared to provide the first indication the administration may not make its January deadline for closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay in remarks Thursday that aimed to outline a new path for combating terrorism," the Wall Street Journal reports. "The administration is folding measures to combat terrorists into its broader effort to engage other countries and improve social conditions overseas, said John Brennan, the president's senior counterterrorism adviser."

• "Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mahsud, Pakistan's most wanted terrorist and a staunch Al Qaeda ally, was killed in an American missile strike, a Pakistani minister confirmed" today, "dealing a severe blow to militants who have been the architects of some of Pakistan's worst terror attacks in recent years," the Los Angeles Times reports.

• "Border security, the drug war and arms smuggling will join trade and the recession on the agenda of" Obama's "first 'three amigos' summit with the leaders of Mexico and Canada this weekend in Mexico," Reuters reports. "With Mexican gangs dominating the drug trade over the U.S. border and up into Canada, and violence -- often with U.S.-made weapons -- spreading north, security is in the news in all three countries, as much, if not more, than trade, economic recession and climate change."

Energy & Environment: Dems Urge WH To Support Tariffs Based On Emissions

• "Ten Senate Democrats whose votes are pivotal to the success of climate legislation urged the Obama administration on Thursday to support levying tariffs on goods from countries that don't limit their greenhouse-gas emissions," the Wall Street Journal reports. Obama "has resisted the idea, saying it would send 'protectionist signals' to the world."

Lobbying: UPS Workers Say They Were Forced To Lobby Against FedEx

• "In an increasingly bitter Washington battle between the nation's two largest shipping companies, some unionized UPS workers say they are being forced to write letters to their lawmakers in support of more stringent labor rules for arch rival FedEx," the Washington Post reports.

• "White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel warned liberal groups this week to stop running ads against Democratic members of Congress," Politico reports. "The powerful top aide to President Obama made his feelings known at the weekly closed-door strategy session of an array of progressive organizations, according to two sources who were there."

• "The Treasury Department is in the final stages of drafting restrictions on lobbying for financial bailout funds -- 10 months after the program began," The Hill reports. "The government's top watchdog over the financial bailout package said in a report released Thursday that the Treasury guidelines are now awaiting White House approval."

• "Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is demanding answers from a coal industry group as he continues his probe into a series of forged letters urging Democrats to oppose climate change legislation," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "Markey, chairman of the Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee, on Wednesday sent a letter to the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity asking why the group waited to notify Members of Congress about the forged letters until after the climate change vote."

Technology: Congressional Sites Hacked; Members Not Informed

• "Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) sent a letter to Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard on Thursday complaining that he was not promptly informed when someone hacked into his and other Members' Web sites," Roll Call (subscription) reports. "On Aug. 1 and 2, a hacker broke into the Web sites of about 20 Members, replacing portions of text with a digital form of graffiti."

• "A national broadband plan being crafted by the" Federal Communications Commission "will be massive in scale, tackling not only access and deployment but the technology's potential for revolutionizing education, the economy and health care, rivaling the watershed Telecommunications Act of 1996 in size and scope," CongressDailyPM (subscription) reports. "Two days of agency meetings to kick off the effort this week have underscored the ambitious nature of the project."

Transportation: Wyoming Spends Highway Stimulus Funds First

• "Wyoming got a pat on the back Thursday from a key member of Congress for spending its economic stimulus funds on highway projects faster than any other state," the AP reports. "'I commend Wyoming and other high-performing states for investing recovery act funding quickly and efficiently,' Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said in a statement."

Commentary: How To Motivate A Pitchfork Mob

• In Earlybird's Pundits & Editorials section, commentators agree health care mobs are motivated by their fears, but which ones -- policy, the president or Pelosi?

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