Primaries and July 4

Congress is back for what will surely be an intense four-week stretch to the July 4 recess.

But before legislating restarts, a slew of primaries on Tuesday will grab the spotlight. The most closely watched contest is between Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Arkansas Lt. Gov. Bill Halter. Polls show the race is going down to the wire as many on the left, including organized labor and MoveOn, rally to defeat the Arkansas senator.

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If Lincoln wins, she will buck the ant-incumbent trend. Four incumbents have already lost in their primary battles this year: Sens. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) and Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) and Reps. Parker Griffith (R-Ala.) and Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.).

We will also know by Tuesday night/Wednesday morning which GOP candidates will face Sens. Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidSenate Republicans signal openness to working with Biden Mellman: The likely voter sham Bottom line MORE (D-Nev.) and Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Harris launch Trump offensive in first joint appearance Bottom line Polls show big bounce to Biden ahead of Super Tuesday MORE (D-Calif.) in the midterm elections in November.

On Capitol Hill, Senate Democrats have prioritized energy over immigration reform as their next big legislative item. Sen. Charles SchumerChuck SchumerMcConnell accuses Democrats of sowing division by 'downplaying progress' on election security Warren, Schumer introduce plan for next president to cancel ,000 in student debt Schumer lashes out at Trump over 'blue states' remark: 'What a disgrace' MORE (D-N.Y.) suggested Monday that climate change will not be included in the underlying bill, but could be added as an amendment.

That means that it will require 60 votes on the floor, which appears highly unlikely.

But Schumer and other Democrats know that the time is now to move an energy bill in the wake of the BP oil spill. If the legislation does not make significant progress by Independence Day, it’s probably dead for the year.

The Senate’s top priority this week is to pass a tax extenders/“doc fix”/jobs measure that has been scaled back in recent weeks amid concern from centrist members about its price.

Democratic leaders in both chambers hope to send a final financial regulatory reform bill to the White House by the time they break for July 4.

Other measures on the calendar this week and the rest of the month include a repeal of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” law that bans gays in the military from acknowledging their orientation; a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization measure; and a bill to enhance auto safety.

Meanwhile, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is scheduled to testify Wednesday before the House Budget Committee on the state of the economy.

Several House and Senate panels are holding hearings on issues surrounding the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Player of the Week: Sen. Lisa Murowski (R-Alaska)

Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiGOP ramps up attacks on Democrats over talk of nixing filibuster OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats tee up vote on climate-focused energy bill next week | EPA reappoints controversial leader to air quality advisory committee | Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' House Democrats tee up vote on climate-focused energy bill next week MORE (R-Alaska) is seeking votes this week for her amendment that would block the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from addressing climate change/global warming through a rulemaking. Supporters of Murkowski’s measure, which is scheduled to hit the floor on Thursday, contend that Congress, not the EPA, needs to address carbon emissions.

The Obama administration and some Senate Democrats disagree. EPA, through regulatory maneuvers, has sent a clear message to Capitol Hill: Pass climate change, or we will.

That has not sat well with Murkowski, who has 41 backers of her amendment, including three Democrats (Sens. Blanche Lincoln, Ark., Ben Nelson, Neb., and Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuBottom line A decade of making a difference: Senate Caucus on Foster Youth Congress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face MORE, La.).

In some ways, this debate is Republicans versus the Obama administration. In other ways, however, it’s a separation-of-powers clash between the legislative and executive branches.

Murkowski’s measure is not going to become law anytime soon. It has a chance to pass the Senate, but faces murky prospects in the House and would surely be vetoed by Obama. However, passage through the Senate would be a huge win for Murkowski and would send a strong message to the White House.

But there is more than one reason that Murkowski is our Player of the Week.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) last week endorsed Tea Party candidate Joe Miller over Murkowski for the GOP primary this August.

There is no love lost between Murkowski and Palin. The former vice presidential nominee upended Murkowski’s father in a 2006 GOP primary. And after Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainThe electoral reality that the media ignores Kelly's lead widens to 10 points in Arizona Senate race: poll COVID response shows a way forward on private gun sale checks MORE (R-Ariz.) and Palin lost the presidential race, there was speculation that Palin would take on Murkowski this year.

Murkowski is a clear favorite to retain her seat, but Palin’s endorsement will make her reelection campaign more challenging.

And Murkowski’s vote to support the 2008 bailout bill will hamper her effort to get reelected — even though McCain and Palin also supported the controversial measure.