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Morning Bulletin – Thursday, May 14, 2009

A roundup of news, schedules, and key stories from CBS News Political Director Steve Chaggaris:

President Obama focuses on credit card debt at a town meeting-style event in Albuquerque, N.M. at Noon ET as the Senate continues work on a bill that would set pro-consumer restrictions on credit card companies.

The president will hear from consumers about how they've been mistreated by credit card companies and, in turn, pressure Congress to send him legislation by Memorial Day. The House has already passed a bill, the Senate may vote this week on their version.

"President Obama continued to push for a bill to reach his desk for signing by Memorial Day, ordering his top economic aides yesterday to make an aggressive, 24-hour push for passage of a bill. White House advisers Austan Goolsbee, Jared Bernstein and Melody Barnes gave multiple radio interviews and called financial editors and columnists at newspapers around the country to make their case," report the Washington Post's Nancy Trejos and Michael D. Shear.

In addition, "The Senate bill would prohibit interest rate increases unless a borrower's payment was past due 60 days or more. But card companies would have to restore the original rate if the customer paid on time for the next six months. The House on April 30 passed its own version of a credit card reform bill that would prohibit retroactive interest rate increases, except under certain circumstances such as the borrower paying 30 days late."

DETAINEE PHOTOS: "President Obama said Wednesday that he would fight to prevent the release of photographs documenting abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan by United States military personnel, reversing his position on the issue after commanders warned that the images could set off a deadly backlash against American troops," write the New York Times' Jeff Zeleny and Thom Shanker.

"The administration said last month that it would not oppose the release of the pictures, but Mr. Obama changed his mind after seeing the photographs and getting warnings from top Pentagon officials that the images, taken from the early years of the wars, would 'further inflame anti-American opinion' and endanger troops in two war zones. The decision in effect tossed aside an agreement the government had reached with the American Civil Liberties Union, which had fought to release photographs of incidents at Abu Ghraib and a half-dozen other prisons. The Justice Department informed the United States District Court in New York, which had backed the A.C.L.U.'s request, that it would appeal the ruling, citing 'further reflection at the highest levels of government.'"

"The move enraged advocacy groups, which swiftly accused Obama of violating his promises of openness and of parroting justifications for secrecy that had been argued by the Bush administration and rejected by courts," add the Los Angeles Times' Peter Wallsten and Janet Hook.

"But in following the advice of military leaders, who had expressed fears of a backlash in the Middle East if the pictures were released, Obama now can tell critics on the right that he did his best to protect the nation's troops, even if the courts eventually force the disclosure. Obama has been facing intense criticism from former Vice President Dick Cheney and other conservatives, who have argued that the new administration's efforts to roll back Bush-era interrogation policies have made the country less safe."

"[White House Press Secretary Robert] Gibbs said Obama has seen a representative sample of the photos, which the president described yesterday as 'not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib,'" reports the Washington Post's Scott Wilson.

"But one congressional staff member, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the photos, said the pictures are more graphic than those that have been made public from Abu Ghraib. 'When they are released, there will be a major outcry for an investigation by a commission or some other vehicle,' the staff member said."

REPLACING SOUTER: The Associated Press' Ben Feller reports: "Focusing on specific candidates for the nation's highest court, President Barack Obama is considering a diverse list dominated by women and Hispanics. The six names confirmed as being under review by Obama include three judges, two members of his administration and one governor.

"Officials familiar with Obama's deliberations say other people are also being discussed, including names that have not triggered public speculation. Among those Obama is considering are Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and U.S. Appeals Court judges Sonia Sotomayor and Diane Pamela Wood. California Supreme Court Justice Carlos Moreno is also under review by Obama. Sources familiar with Obama's deliberations confirmed the names to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because no candidates have been revealed by the White House."

Yesterday, "the president met with key members of the Senate, who will be influential in vetting and voting on the future nominee at the White House," reports CBS News' Michelle Levi.

"Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters after his meeting with the president that he expects a nominee 'sometime soon.' ... Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the newly appointed ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, said they had a 'nice generalized discussion' with the president and that he hopes for a 'unifying nominee' that all committee members can support. ... Sessions added that Mr. Obama told them that the decision, 'wasn't imminent, in a few days' and that 'no names' were mentioned in the meeting. Senate Majority Leader Marry Reid said that they will 'do the best' they can for a speedy confirmation though he noted that the Justice Committee is the busiest in the Senate."

"Well before Justice David H. Souter announced his retirement on May 1, several layers of digging had already taken place on a group of potential candidates familiar to Mr. Obama," reports the New York Times' Jeff Zeleny.

"Lawyers have been vetting real estate transactions, taxes and ethics and giving a particularly close look to the jobs potential candidates held right after law school — sometimes at the Justice Department — when their views could have been formed and a paper trail of thousands of documents generated. The team has also studied the backgrounds of spouses and adult children. It is the most important appointment Mr. Obama has made since taking office, and it will surely be the most examined. The protocols for maintaining confidentiality in the selection of his running mate last summer have been put in place, with the president demanding no leaks and high discipline in the search to replace Justice Souter. ...

"Lawyers from the White House counsel's office and outside law firms have been tapped to work on the confidential project. Gregory B. Craig, the White House counsel, is overseeing the search, but one central player is Cynthia Hogan, counsel to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who is reporting directly to the president."

Wall Street Journal's Jennifer S. Forsyth, "Court Opening Prompts Question About Whether Gender Matters"

Los Angeles Times' David G. Savage and James Oliphant, "Supreme Court candidate Elena Kagan has admirers left and right"

Chicago Sun-Times' Abdon M. Pallasch on Judge Diane Wood, "Supreme Court contender mulls mezuzah case"

OBAMA COMMENCEMENT SPEECHES: "When University of Notre Dame valedictorian E. Brennan Bollman learned she'd be sharing a stage at Sunday's commencement with President Obama, she was elated. ... But others vehemently disagree, and Obama's visit to Notre Dame has set off a fierce debate among Roman Catholics about whether it is appropriate for one of the nation's premier Catholic institutions to host a proponent of legalized abortion and embryonic stem cell research, both of which are contrary to church teachings," reports the LA Times' Robin Abcarian.

"Ten priests, all Notre Dame alumni, wrote an open letter warning that the university had put its 'true soul' at risk by welcoming the president. The controversy has also given Obama's conservative opponents the chance to hammer the popular president on a divisive issue they think he has tried -- successfully so far -- to minimize. Obama, who will give the commencement address and accept an honorary law doctorate, is a supporter of abortion rights, though he has spoken of the need to reduce unwanted pregnancies.

"Polls show that a slight but steady majority of Americans thinks abortion should remain legal. As of Wednesday, 71 Catholic bishops -- including two cardinals -- had denounced the invitation, as have more than 350,000 Catholics who signed an online petition asking Notre Dame to withdraw it. Dueling websites and Facebook groups have sprung up, including one, Notre Dame Response, that urges graduating students to boycott the ceremony."

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Meantime, last night, the president said "Arizona State University officials aren't the only ones who think he needs to accomplish more to earn an honorary degree. Add his wife Michelle to that list," writes the Associated Press' Darlene Superville.

"'I come here not to dispute the suggestion that I haven't yet achieved enough in my life,' Obama said in a commencement speech Wednesday. With a smile he added: 'First of all, (first lady) Michelle (Obama) concurs with that assessment. She has a long list of things that I have not yet done waiting for me when I get home.' 'But more than that I come to embrace the notion that I haven't done enough in my life. I heartily concur. I come to affirm that one's title, even a title like 'president of the United States,' says very little about how well one's life has been led.' ...

"Commencement speakers typically are awarded honorary degrees as a sign of respect and appreciation. Arizona State officials, however, did not award any such degrees this year. 'His body of work is yet to come. That's why we're not recognizing him with a degree at the beginning of his presidency,' university spokeswoman Sharon Keeler said after the school's student newspaper first reported the decision. Numerous bloggers, in Arizona and elsewhere, regarded the university's stance as a snub of Obama. To quell the controversy, the university instead renamed a scholarship for the nation's 44th president. At the beginning of his remarks, Obama thanked the school for the gesture."

CBS News' Rob Hendin reports that prior to the president's remark, there was a special guest at ASU: "Phoenix resident and rock star Alice Cooper. He was there to play his hit 'School's Out' in front of the 72,000 people sweltering in the heat for the Arizona State University Commencement. Cooper was set to take the stage about 45 minutes before President Obama does for his first commence speech as President. ...

"When asked what he'd say to Mr. Obama if he met him, 'I'd probably talk about golf.' He said he doesn't trust politicians who don't play golf and when told that Mr. Obama is a lefty, Cooper said 'you can't trust them either.' ... Cooper was also asked what songs of his would be appropriate to be played at a rally with President Obama. 'How come nobody did 'Elected?'' he asked, 'that's number one.' Cooper added some of hits to the growing list, 'School's Out' and 'No More Mr. Nice Guy.' 'How about 'Welcome to My Nightmare?'' he asked with a laugh."

ALSO TODAY: At 10:45am, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan "will provide an update on the program's impact on stemming the housing crisis and keeping families in their homes and will announce new expanded options for homeowners facing foreclosure," per an administration spokesperson.

"Thus far, more than 55,000 Home Affordable Modification offers have been extended to qualifying borrowers. The Secretaries will make these announcements following a meeting with housing counselors from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition and with homeowners Nicholas Tekpertey, of Reston, VA, and Warren Rohn, of Lewiston, CA, who will share their success stories since participating in the Home Affordable Modification program."

Vice President Biden and his wife Jill visit the naval base at Coronado, Calif., today before attending a Democratic National Committee fund-raiser in San Diego tonight.


NY Times' Stephen Labaton and Jackie Calmes, "Obama Urges Rules on Investments Tied to Financial Crisis"

Associated Press' Anne Flaherty, "Treasury asks for control of derivatives market"

Bloomberg News' Hans Nichols interviewed former President Bill Clinton, "Clinton Urges Action on Repayments to TARP, Climate Bill"


Washington Post's Ceci Connolly, "Long Battle Ahead For Health-Care Czar"

NY Times' Robert Pear, "Democrats to Develop Plan to Sell Health Care"

Reuters, "Obama says House looks to back healthcare in July"


NY Times' David Johnston, "Bitter Start to a Hearing on Interrogation Tactics"

LA Times' Josh Meyer, "Senator calls for 'truth commission' to probe Bush-era interrogations"

Wall Street Journal's Evan Perez, "Obama Considers Detaining Terror Suspects Indefinitely"

The Hill's Mike Soraghan, "Liberals back Speaker in briefing controversy on interrogation tactics"

Karl Rove writes in today's "Wall Street Journal": "Nancy Pelosi was an accomplice to 'torture'"


NY Times' David M. Herszenhorn, "For Democrats, Unease Grows Over National Security Policy"

Wall Street Journal's Timothy J. Alberta, "Census Nominee Reignites Debate Over How to Count Population"


Washington Post's Dan Balz, "As Cheney Seizes the Spotlight, Many Republicans Wince"


St. Paul Pioneer Press' Dave Orrick and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger, "FBI inquiry on Coleman reportedly expanding"


Associated Press' Ben Evans, "GOP recruiters tilting toward center in 2010 races"

2010 FL Governor: Bradenton Herald's Steve Bousquet and Mary Ellen Klas, "Sink, McCollum turn up early heat in governor's race"

2010 FL Senate: Miami Herald's Beth Reinhard, "Is Republican Party united behind Charlie Crist?"

2010 PA Senate: Washington Post's David Montgomery and Paul Kane, "Living Left of Center - Moderate Specter Adjusts to View From Other Side of Aisle"


Associated Press' Pete Yost, "Inside Washington: PACs as personal slush funds?"

Wall Street Journal's Nathan Koppel, "Hsu Acquaintance Testifies Donations Were Reimbursed"

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