The Note

Today's Schedule (all times Eastern):

—7:00 am: President Bush has breakfast with congressional leaders, White House —9:00 am: Congressman Dick Gephardt meets with Humboldt County Democrats, Humboldt, Iowa —9:00 am: Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger meets with House Republicans, Capitol Hill —9:30 am: Senate convenes for legislative business —9:45 am: Off-camera White House press gaggle with Scott McClellan —10:00 am: House convenes for legislative business —11:00 am: Congressman Gephardt meets with Pocahontas County Democrats, Pocahontas, Iowa —11:05 am: President Bush makes remarks on Medicare, D.C. —11:45 am: Governor-elect Schwarzenegger meets with Senator Dianne Feinstein, Capitol Hill —12:15 pm: General Wesley Clark holds a roundtable discussion on health care, Exeter, N.H. —12:15 pm: On-camera White House press briefing with Scott McClellan —12:15 pm: Governor-elect Schwarzenegger meets with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Capitol Hill —12:30 am: Congressman Gephardt meets with Calhoun County Democrats, Rockwell City, Iowa —1:00 pm: Senator John Kerry holds a book signing, Cedar Rapids, Iowa —1:35 pm: Governor-elect Schwarzenegger has lunch with Senator Ted Kennedy, Capitol Hill —2:00 pm: General Clark participates in the "Every Child Matters" presidential candidate forum at the University of New Hampshire, Durham, N.H. —2:30 pm: Congressman Gephardt meets with Sac County Democrats, Sac City, Iowa —2:30 pm: Senator Kerry holds a book signing, Iowa City, Iowa —3:30 pm: Senator John Edwards has lunch with African American ministers, Los Angeles —4:30 pm: Congressman Gephardt meets with Ida County Democrats, Ida Grove, Iowa —5:30 pm: General Clark attends a young professionals campaign kickoff party to launch the "C-Company" band of supporters, D.C. —6:30 pm: Vice President Cheney addresses a Bush-Cheney 2004 fundraiser dinner, D.C. —7:00 pm: Governor Howard Dean attends a workers' rights rally, San Francisco —7:20 pm: President Bush makes remarks at the dedication of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship's Youth Education Center, Dallas —8:00 pm: Congressman Gephardt attends an event hosted by State Rep. Wes Whitead, Sioux City, Iowa —9:00 pm: Governor Dean attends a "grassroots" campaign fundraiser, Oakland —9:00 pm: Senator Edwards attends a campaign fundraiser co-hosted by Ashton Kutcher, Los Angeles

NEWS SUMMARY

In politics, as in life and a typical episode of "K Street," things aren't always as they seem.

But right now (meaning, as we type these words but before they actually get posted on ABCNEWS.com), there are two central dynamics in the battle for control of the White House:

1. The amazing turn from Democrats and the media questioning the president's record on the economy to questioning his record on international affairs (driven, of course, but the improving economy and the touch-and-go situation in Iraq).

2. The seeming end of Howard Dean's amazing run to the front of the pack without getting anything like the normal level of scrutiny a leading candidate normally gets on issues as diverse as affirmative action, the death penalty, the assault weapons ban, tax cuts, the Social Security retirement age, veterans' benefits, the legitimacy of using old "votes and quotes" to attack an opponent, ethanol, matching funds, the war in Iraq, American troops in Iraq, NAFTA, Yucca Mountain, baseball, and others.

On the eve of the release of gauzy growth figures already "baked into the cake" of White House communications strategy (you must read Bill Safire on that LINK), it was much Noted that the president didn't get a single question on the economy at yesterday's press conference.

(One thing The Note loves/hates: when the White House press corps imputes high semiotic meaning to what they themselves ask or don't ask at a press conference!)

But the stories about Iraq credibility; the "mission accomplished" banner; and how the president's political health is predicated on dealing with all of this are everywhere this morning. Saving him from greater scrutiny are California wildfires, for which Karl Rove — animated by the spirit of a typical Clinton cabinet member — is working hard to get aid to the Golden State.

See our "Politics of national security" section below for how the president did and did not help himself on Iraq by parading in front of Ed Chen and his buddies with radio faces (Note to Mark Smith: we think you are cute, and, Bumiller, you are a total fox.).

As for Dean, nothing could be finer if you are an RNC strategist than to see Al Sharpton play the role that Democrats have long feared and Republicans have long hoped: his attack on Dean (and Jesse Jackson Jr.) was about as out there and intense as anything we have seen this cycle.

(And for those keeping extra-close inside score at home, keep watching those Donna Brazile quotes about Sharpton — and Moseley Braun and Kucinich.)

While the Sharpton lash out on Dean is the cycle's most eye-catching (see "Invisible Primary" for all of that), there are others:

-- the Boston Globe with no fewer than three anti-Dean pieces, including one that derives from FOIA fruit — with the implication that more FOIA-driven pieces could be on the way LINK

-- especially Scott Lehigh's excellent work using Urban Institute-Brookings numbers in the Boston Globe that show that the middle class' benefits from the Bush tax cuts are more in line with Kerry and Bush rhetoric than Dean rhetoric LINK

-- a Gephardt attack on Medicare and Dean that just might be cutting LINK

-- a cool Kucinich release on unfair media coverage and Dean.

Still, although all these things might be having a corrosive effect, The Note has staked its 2003 crystal balling on the Notion that none of Dean's inconsistencies and none of the attacks thereon will take him down this calendar year, but that they could begin to undermine the foundation of a house that will be under siege in January.

As they say in television, only time will tell.

President Bush has breakfast with the congressional leadership and makes remarks on Medicare this morning in D.C. He then travels to Dallas to make remarks at the dedication of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship's Youth Education Center. Then, it's on to the ranch.

Vice President Cheney addresses a Bush-Cheney 2004 fundraiser tonight in D.C.

Governor-elect Schwarzenegger hits the Hill today, meeting with House Republicans, Senator Feinstein and Senate Majority Leader Frist before lunching with Senator (and uncle-in-law) Kennedy.

Senator Kerry holds a couple of book signings in Iowa.

Governor Dean campaigns in the San Francisco Bay area.

General Clark campaigns in New Hampshire and D.C.

Congressman Gephardt campaigns in Iowa today.

Senator Lieberman is in D.C. with no public events. The Lieberman-McCain Climate Change bill is scheduled to be introduced on the Senate floor today.

Senator Edwards campaigns in Los Angeles, including a fundraiser with Ashton Kutcher. (Let's hope dude doesn't get punk'd.)

Congressman Kucinich is in D.C. with no public events.

Reverend Sharpton is in New York City with no public events.

Ambassador Moseley Braun travels to Ohio today and has no public events scheduled.

ABC News Vote 2004: The Invisible Primary

The New York Times ' Slackman focuses on Jesse Jackson Sr.'s decision to stay out of the endorsement game this cycle, Noting that Jackson's silence, combined with the decision of his son, Congressman Jesse L. Jackson Jr., Democrat of Illinois, to support Howard Dean, has exacerbated tensions between him and Mr. Sharpton, people close to them say. Mr. Sharpton, after all, is casting himself as the new Jesse Jackson. LINK

USA Today has some fun excerpts from Walter Shapiro's new book, "One Car Caravan: On the Road with the 2004 Democrats Before America Tunes In," which is scheduled to hit bookstores next week. LINK

The Boston Globe 's Scot Lehigh asks if the Democrats feel lucky with their tax cut positions. LINK

Dean:

From ABC News' Dean campaign reporter Marc Ambinder:

"In Denver and Boulder, Colorado, Tuesday, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean picked up the endorsements of four prominent local African-American politicians, including State Senator Peter Groff, who heads the University of Denver's Center for African-American policy."

"There were not timed to coincide with Al Sharpton's charge that Dean's agenda is 'anti-black.'"

"But they might as well have been. The campaign argues that Dean's resume, his contextualized statements about affirmative action, and what they characterize as a growing level of African-American support parries the charge with vigor."

"Dean's first response, issued through deputy campaign manager Andi Pringle, was brief, indirect, and did not mention Sharpton."

"'Governor Dean has always been a strong supporter of affirmative action, and he believes there is still a great need for affirmative action in America. Everywhere Governor Dean travels he talks about the fact that racism is still a serious problem in America, and he strongly believes that we need to actively work to correct these wrongs, and he believes affirmative action is a crucial piece of achieving that goal.'"

The AP later got Dean himself on the record.

"'That's about help for people who don't have any money, and I think we should do that. But I also think affirmative action has to be about race, and I've said that all throughout this campaign,' Dean said." LINK

"It's safe to say that Dean's campaign is not worried about Sharpton's being a political threat, but certainly not unconcerned about Gephardt's political threatitude in Iowa."

"But no one in the campaign would challenge Sharpton directly."

"White Democrats wading into disputes among black leaders is a touchy business, particularly for a presidential candidate who has been criticized for attracting too few black supporters. (The South Carolina poll numbers, the remarks by other campaigns (and some neutral observers) about white-seeming audiences, the small white state thing)."

"Can a white Democrat running for president, particularly one in Howard Dean's political position, afford to personalize an attack leveled against him by a black Democrat?"

"Dean's communications director, Tricia Enright, would only say, 'You'll have to ask Rev. Sharpton what this is about.'"

"Such things may best be left to surrogates."

If you're judging only by perusing a few newspapers, Al Sharpton's comments are not being heeded.

His former campaign manager, Frank Watkins, said: "Dean 'doesn't put his finger in the air to test the wind before he takes a stand." (Per the AP).

The Washington Post 's Faler dialed up Donna Brazile:

"I think Dean's record on civil rights issues, on affirmative action — his willingness to talk about race in a very inclusive way — has been refreshing,' said Brazile, who is African American. 'These long-shot candidates, all they're doing is taking aim at the top tier because they're frustrated. I think Reverend Sharpton should keep his focus on ideas.'" LINK

"Mr. Sharpton was incensed this month when he heard that Representative Jackson was going on a South Carolina campaign trip with Dr. Dean. 'I know I am being set up, sabotaged, they ain't got to say it,' he said, at a church appearance, in oblique reference to that trip." LINK

The Boston Globe 's Sarah Schweitzer reports that all the hours spent combing through boxes of papers in that Burlington basement may be paying off gradually for rival campaigns. LINK

Or was that "heteropolitan"? All in one quick stop to Boulder, Colorado, Howard Dean declared himself both a "metrosexual" and "square." He went on to say he wasn't really sure what a metrosexual was, but did tell a story about a gay man calling him handsome. We're not sure if this came out of a message strategy session or not, but we're thinking not. LINK

Sharpton:

From ABC News' Sharpton campaign reporter Beth Loyd:

"The Reverend attacks — and this time it is personal."

"On Monday night, Sharpton said that he was not surprised by Jesse Jackson, Jr.'s endorsement of Howard Dean. Sharpton said, 'I am disappointed' — but the tone of Tuesday's press release from Sharpton yesterday suggests that 'outraged' is a much more appropriate word."

"Reverend Sharpton termed Dean's agenda 'anti-black' and Noted 'Howard Dean's opposition of Affirmative Action, his current support for the death penalty and historic support of the NRA's agenda.' The campaign pointed out Dean's CNN interview in 1995 where he responded to the question of affirmative action by saying, 'You know, I think we ought to look at affirmative action programs based not on race but on class, and opportunity to participate.'"

"Sharpton then talked about Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. 'Any so-called African-American leader that would endorse Dean despite his anti-black record is mortgaging the future of our struggle for civil rights and social justice to back a candidate whose record on issues of critical importance to us is no better than that of George W. Bush.'"

"Then it was time for a jab at Jesse Jackson, Sr. 'If nominating the candidate with the best chance of beating Reagan and Bush were the standard in '84 and '88, Jesse Jackson Sr. would have had no support at all.'"

"One could postulate as to whether these attacks are a Sharpton campaign strategy or just the result of an unstoppable Sharpton blow-up. But if Jesse Jackson, Sr. decides to join his two sons in endorsing Howard Dean (Jonathan Jackson already endorsed Dean), this could be trouble."

The Boston Globe writes up the attack and notes Dean's need for black support among elected officials.

'Such high-profile support could be critical to Dean's chances on Feb. 3, when the nomination contest moves to South Carolina, a state in which blacks have been a majority of Democratic primary voters. All the candidates have been courting the elder Jackson, who has yet to make an endorsement.' LINK

Sharpton got more press today for his contribution to the PBS special on one of his heroes — James Brown. It airs tonight. LINK

Clark:

From ABC News' Clark campaign reporter Deborah Apton:

"On Today today, The General reiterated his stump criticisms of President Bush to Katie Couric, placing responsibility for the intelligence failures of September 11 squarely on the White House. Asked about the need for more troops in Iraq, Clark first said, "I'd love to have more international troops" in Iraq, then shifted a bit: "I wouldn't support putting Turkish troops in there."

"In staffing news, the Clark campaign on Tuesday snagged another high-profile Clinton administration commodity: Jamie Rubin is offering his services pro bono as senior foreign policy adviser."

"The General taped a speech on national security in the 21st century Tuesday, which was beamed to a D.C. conference sponsored by The American Prospect and two research groups. Reporters from ABC News, The New York Times , and the Arkansas Democratic Gazette sat in the room in New Hampshire where Clark taped the live broadcast."

"After fumbling a bit while reading off the teleprompter, Clark's address picked up considerable speed. On 9/11, Clark said: 'The losses we suffered on 9/11 — as tragic and horrible and as devastating as they were — have been magnified by the losses we've suffered since. We've lost allied support; we've lost our moral authority as the world's pre-eminent democracy; we've lost the respect, admiration, and esteem of millions in the word — especially in the Islamic world.'"

Kit Seelye of the New York Times Notes the General's newest attacks on the Bush Administration, calling them "scathing." LINK

The Washington Post 's Ceci Connolly lays out the specifics of General Clark's health care policy. LINK

The New York Post focuses on Clark's newest attacks on President George W. Bush. Clark said yesterday that "Bush's decision to label Iraq, Iran and North Korea as 'the Axis of Evil' was 'the single worst formulation in the last half-century of American foreign policy.' " The Post says this "was Clark's harshest criticism yet of Bush and comes as the buzz over his late-start campaign has faded." LINK

Slate's Will Saletan says it is hypocritical of General Clark to criticize the president of his handling of the war in Iraq given Clark's own past experience in Kosovo. LINK

Joanna Weiss of the Boston Globe says that Clark's health care plan incorporated parts of proposals "found on the think-tank circuit and in the campaigns of other Democratic candidates." LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Ron Brownstein says the most distinctive element of Clark's health care plan is his idea for creating a federal commission that would attempt to slow the surge in health-care premiums. Clark's plan also stresses preventive care more so than other candidates' plans. LINK

Kevin Landrigan of The Telegraph offers some details of Clark's health care plan. LINK

Kerry:

Robert Kennedy Jr. champions Kerry as an environmental activist, and the most likely candidate to beat George Bush according to Craig Welch of the Seattle Times. LINK

Today's Washington Times slams Kerry's "flawed economics" and tax flip-flops. LINK

From ABC News' Kerry campaign reporter Ed O'Keefe:

"ABC News has learned that Senator Kerry will pick up his fourth and fifth New York Congressional delegation endorsements today, getting the nod from Rep. Carolyn McCarthy and Rep. Tim Bishop."

"This bring the Massachusetts Senator's Gotham tally to five and congressional total to 19."

"Tuesday in New Hampshire, Kerry chose East Kingston, New Hampshire, to unveil what may have the makings of a new stump strategy, affectionately Noted as the "KISS Dean Principle."

"Step One: Keep It Simple Senator"

"In concise, crisp and clear remarks, Kerry breezed through his opening statement in under 10 minutes, a feat that normally takes at least twice that time. A seemingly energized candidate ditched his foreign policy strong suit and went straight for the populist throne citing Republican President Teddy Roosevelt, Tyco, the environment, and health care. Winding up a surprisingly short yarn, Kerry summed simply, 'I have worked long and hard for an America that lives up to its responsibilities in the world.'"

"Step Two: Attack Dean"

"Taking 17 questions in just over an hour and a half, the candidate could only be veered off topic by the larger subject at hand: Howard Dean."

"Kerry slashed at Dean in no less than three new ways; following up on a Detroit exchange regarding foreign policy advisers, Kerry snipped, 'We're not hiring advisers, we're hiring a president. And we need one whose own gut, instinct, and knowledge tell him what to do.'"

"A moment later, Kerry continued, questioning what would happen if Dean, who opposed the war in Iraq, were to win the Democratic nomination and prior to the general election WMDs were found, "What happens next year if we have a nominee that's been saying all the time, 'I told you all they had no WMDs?' … I had a knowledge and I would have done (Iraq) differently. And whatever crisis they drudge up next year, I believe I have the ability to right at 'em.'"

"On Dean's pledge to take Social Security and Medicare off the spending cuts table, Kerry pressed on all other entitlement programs such as Vets benefits and Medicaid stating, 'You deserve an honest answer in this race.'"

"Finally, on gun control, Kerry blasted, 'Governor Dean has been running around this country in certain states he believes it matters and has been bragging about his NRA endorsements. He's been endorsed more times in Vermont by the NRA than the NEA … that's straight talk to the nth degree.'"

"The Senator did not, however, forget the man he longs to challenge, President George W. Bush. Concluded the marathon house party, Kerry quipped, 'We've entrusted (President Bush) with the world and yet the world's waiting while the president is clearing brush.'"

Lieberman:

David Lightman explores how Lieberman emulates John McCain's 2000 strategy. LINK

Howard Kurtz says Lieberman's Iraq ad sends a mixed message. LINK

The Boston Globe 's Raja Mishra writes up Lieberman's new TV spots. LINK

Youngman and Pindell have this report on Lieberman's new ads, Noting that "Unlike every other campaign's first television ads there is not mention of his biography nor any attempt to introduce himself to New Hampshire voters at a time when they are beginning to pay attention." LINK

Joseph Straw of the New Haven Register LINK and Nashua Telegraph 's Kevin Landrigan LINK also look at the Lieberman ads.

The New Republic's Clay Risen gives Lieberman' domestic policy an A. 'Joe Lieberman's Mutual Fund Reform plan is a misnomer. It's more like a mutual fund revolution.' LINK

Lisa Wangsness of the Concord Monitor reports Lieberman's campaign is now less about being the standard-bearer of Clintonian centrism and more about integrity. LINK

From ABC News' Lieberman campaign reporter Talesha Reynolds:

"Senator Lieberman opened a new campaign office in Lebanon, New Hampshire, yesterday, one of four new offices in the Granite State. He greeted the crowd of Dartmouth students and locals warmly and joked as he prepared to enter the doors that he was not only going to cut the red tape as president but the red white and blue ribbon as well."

"Lieberman was in the middle of answering a question about the Middle East when a burly mustachioed Hell's Angel type complete with leather jacket burst into the room. He introduced himself as Bruce Mann. He said he had done three tours in Vietnam and wanted to know what the candidate would do about the closing of a VA hospital in Rochester and the overall plight of disabled veterans."

"Lieberman began to answer and the man interrupted saying, 'You'll get my vote, because you're the man that'll beat Dean if you take on us veterans.'"

"As the Senator rambled through an answer citing Bush's broken promises to veterans, Mann peered around a corner and tried to intimidate a six-foot-plus undergrad."

"The tension was palpable, but Lieberman remained calm. He walked up to Mann and offered his hand. 'You stick with me,' Lieberman said. 'Wanna help us in the campaign?' Mr. Mann replied, 'I got three degrees, so if you want one … ' Onlookers chuckled. Mann told Lieberman his nickname is Bruzer (yes, B-R-U-Z-E-R). Lieberman said, 'I want a bruiser on my side,' and Mann enveloped the Senator in a bear hug."

"Mann exited as quickly as he entered, giving Lieberman a big thumbs up in the lobby. Lieberman said later, 'It was a moment.'"

Edwards:

Edwards touted his health care plan to Hispanics in New Mexico on Tuesday, The News and Observer reports. LINK

Washingtonpost.com's Terry Neal writes about the state of the Edwards campaign, Noting that "Edwards is burning through dollars in an attempt to get his campaign where early expectations said it should be." LINK

The Las Cruces Sun-News' Gabriela Guzman reviews Edwards' campaign stop in New Mexico Tuesday afternoon. LINK

From ABC News' Edwards campaign reporter Gloria Riviera:

"I am the only one in this room with no accent by the way." — Edwards' new laugh line for audiences in Iowa.

"According to Firehouse Brewery owner Bill Hillman five out of the nine candidates can beat Bush in 2004 and John Edwards is one of them. Edwards spoke to about 30 people at Hillman's place in Red Oak, Iowa, as part of a two-day, seven stop swing through southwestern Iowa Monday and Tuesday."

"Like Senator Robert Ford of South Carolina, a supporter who thinks 'all [Edwards] has to do' is to win big in South Carolina and California, Hillman thinks it is simple. 'Senator Edwards could win if everybody in this room voted,' Hillman said introducing Edwards. Pause. ' … And no one else voted,' he added."

"If only it were that simple."

"Instead, Edwards is hunkered down for some serious groundwork in Iowa. He'll return to the state for multi-stop turbo swing every week this month."

"His speech on the road has been entirely free of attacks on his rivals. It's all Bush, almost all the time. This week he's focused on the "out of touch" plan Bush gives families of four to save up to $20,000 by 2008, tax free. "How many families can save $20,000?" he asks crowds. "What world is that?"

Gephardt:

Gephardt plays hardball, likening Dean to the president on Medicare, reports the New York Times ' Rachel Swarns. The Dean camp's Trippi calls this charge "preposterous." LINK

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Deirdre Shesgreen reports that Gephardt went after Dean on health care Tuesday in Iowa (figuratively, not literally), and Joe Trippi accused Gephardt in a statement "of trying to scare older people and said that Dean has a better health care record than Gephardt." LINK

The Des Moines Register 's Tom Beaumont also heard Gephardt accuse Dean "of supporting Medicare cuts that hurt Iowa hospitals, comparing him to President Bush." LINK

Roll Call 's Chris Cillizza compares Congressman Gephardt's endorsements by House members today (32) versus his 1988 run for the White House (53 in October of 1987). " … Gephardt campaign insiders believe he will match his 1988 total prior to the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 19, 2004."

Kucinich:

From ABC News' Kucinich campaign reporter Melinda Arons:

"Kucinich kicked off day two of this week's New Hampshire visit with a primary rite of passage, the Politics and Eggs breakfast at the picturesque Bedford Village Inn, where recent speakers include Dick Gephardt and, last spring, Karl Rove."

"The audience, made up mostly of local business people, was different than the usual groups of supporters and union workers Kucinich is used to, and the tone of his speech was accordingly more somber and calm, less populist and impassioned. Not known for his pro-business stances, Kucinich stressed his belief that the creation of wealth is a wonderful thing but business must be regulated to a certain degree, and his plan to tap NASA for new technologies, specifically new energy sources, that could be licensed and sold to the private sector."

"What about the issue of that Dean ad Kucinich swore he would not let go of and planned to announce legal action about soon? No mention of it today. But the campaign was eager to talk about a string of new endorsements, most prominently actor and activist Danny Glover."

The Concord Monitor's Ed Piolla examines Greens' hope to get Kucinich to run as one of them in the general election: LINK

Graham:

The AP reports Bob Graham "has set a date to announce whether he will seek another term, but is still not saying which way he is leaning … Graham would not say where the announcement would be made but his staff planned to meet Wednesday to discuss his schedule for the weekend." LINK

The St. Petersburg Times talks with the Senator as he weighs his options. LINK

First-in-the-nation:

Note to Katie Couric (to her researchers, actually): Bill Clinton skipped Iowa and got elected president.

Gail Collins now has David Broder AND Tom Vilsack on her back, and those two fellas play for keeps.

Broder pulls up a chair at the multilateral peace negotiations involving the New York Times , the people of Iowa, the people of New Hampshire, and onlookers who find this feud quaintly amusing. LINK

And in a letter to the New York Times in which Vilsack defends Iowa's honor: LINK

The News and Observer jumps into the fray and backs up Iowa and New Hampshire newspapers in defending their "quaint" states' primaries. The New York Times , they say, is being "snobbish as usual."

LINK

Iowa:

The Des Moines Register 's Sara Faiwell has a piece that examines both the issue of medical marijuana (and how the candidates have addressed it when confronted with the topic in Iowa) and, on a broader scale, how activists manage to bring their issues to the public discourse. LINK

Though Dean and Gephardt are one-two in Iowa polls, their campaign styles are a clash of new and old. How that plays out in the state will have consequences for years to come, the AP's Mike Glover writes. LINK

ABC News Vote 2004: Bush-Cheney re-elect:

President Bush held his 10th press conference yesterday, speaking to reporters in the Rose Garden where he was asked questions on a wide range of topics, from Iraq to partial birth abortion to his campaign's prolific fund-raising numbers.

The Washington Post 's Milbank and Allen: LINK

The New York Times ' Bumiller leads with President Bush's vow to "stay the course" in Iraq, despite the recent and steady violence.

"But Iraq dominated Mr. Bush's news conference. White House officials announced it only an hour and a half in advance, on another morning when a suicide car bombing, this one in Falluja, complicated the administration's efforts to get out its good-news message about restored electricity and reopened schools."LINK

Chicago Tribune's Jeff Zeleny was in the Rose Garden: LINK

As was USA Today 's Judy Keen: LINK

Keen also takes a closer look at the president's remarks on the ban on partial-birth abortion. LINK

The Boston Globe 's Wayne Washington looks at the press conference as a preview of the 2004 campaign: "Unlike the most recent presidential elections, in which domestic concerns were the focus of voter attention, foreign policy issues like Iraq and terrorism are likely to get more prominent attention." LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Ed Chen invites his readers to sit next to him in the Rose Garden with his excellent depiction of the president's 10th solo news conference since taking office. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' John Hendren on the president's "sharp language" concerning General Boykin's controversial remarks: LINK

President Bush backed away from the "Mission Accomplished" banner that hung behind him aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, saying that the sign referred to the mission of the aircraft carrier's crewmembers, not the war in Iraq, USA Today 's Tom Squitieri reports. LINK

The banner matter was big at the McClellan gaggle this morning.

The New York Times reports that the White House gives credit to the Lincoln's crew for the banner and its message: "After the news conference, the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, carefully elaborated on the president's words. The banner 'was suggested by those on the ship,' he said. 'They asked us to do the production of the banner, and we did. They're the ones who put it up.' LINK

RNC Finance Chairman and BC04 "Ranger" Al Hoffman got into a scuffle with a Florida artist over a gallery display, taking matters into his own hands, the Associated Press reports. Hoffman objected to an upside-down American flag that was part of Fort Meyer artist Manfred Zoehr's display. "Hoffman, a $2,500 sponsor of the event, asked the artist to right the flag, then pulled it down when Zoehr did not respond." LINK

Although most congressional Republicans are echoing Bush's positive assessment of the Iraq reconstruction, it is putting a strain on GOP unity, reports Geoff Earle of the Hill. LINK

Dick Morris gets positively Biblical as he discusses Bush's other war — on cleaning ladies. LINK

The Muslim-American Society is criticizing Bush for using them as little more than a photo-op. LINK

Helen Kennedy of the New York Daily News crunches some USA Today /Gallup/CNN numbers and discovers that twentysomethings are far more supportive of President Bush and hopeful about Iraq than voters 30 and over. LINK

The Note was interested to read the latest memo from RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie to committee members and GOP leaders, launching a policy offensive against the Democrats, or as he calls it in warm and fuzzy terms, taking "a wonderful opportunity to illuminate the clarity between our positive policies and leadership versus their protest and pessimism."

Gillespie lays out in pretty strong language what will be a familiar chorus of campaign issues for the GOP over the next 12 months — jobs, national security, homeland security, and Republican values.

Some talking points from the Chairman (Note — we love the use of alliteration):

-- "Highlight the party of pessimism … As they rail against Republicans during their four-week offensive, note that they will be offering no solutions of their own."

-- "Highlight the party of protest … They lost control of the Senate in 2002 after pursuing the same approach they pursue now, and we are likely to gain seats next year as a result."

-- "Highlight the party of political hate speech … The presidential candidates have now called President Bush a 'miserable failure,' a 'liar,' compared him to a 'gang leader' and to Saddam Hussein himself. Americans instinctively know that anyone who's willing to demean the presidency in order to gain it is not worthy of having it entrusted to him."

The politics of national security:

"Changing the Tone in Washington."

No "bring them on," and recent words of conciliation for the remaining members of the "axis of evil."

But Tuesday's Rose Garden newser doesn't seem to have quieted the White House's Iraq critics, with Senator Daschle now following up Senator McCain's weekend Vietnam analogy by raising the "credibility gap" question.

Clearly the Democrats see traction on this issue.

Senator Clinton this morning received a standing ovation before the Democrat-friendly crowd at the Center for American Progress's national security conference. Clinton criticized the administration's "aggressive unilateralism" and warned that the administration is in danger of "squandering" the good feeling Americans enjoyed post-September 11.

The New York Times ' Dick Stevenson writes the decision to hold the newser "reflects how urgent it is for the White House to keep public opinion about Iraq from deteriorating to the point that it could limit the president's policy choices and threaten his chances for re-election." Notes Stevenson, "as long as Iraq remains Topic A, Mr. Bush may have to struggle to focus public attention on an issue that might otherwise dominate the political landscape: the rapidly improving economy, a subject on which he got not a single question at the news conference." LINK

The Washington Post 's Ricks and Slevin offer a top-notch analysis piece that finds all of the president's options aside from the current "Iraqification" plan wanting, and Notes that for campaign-year reasons, among others, the administration "is likely to stay with well-developed plans to draw down the U.S. troop presence in Iraq to about 90,000 by midsummer, with further cuts planned for the next 12 months."

Do check out the blind quote from one "gloomy Pentagon consultant." LINK

In a headline sure to cause consternation on at least one end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the Chicago Tribune reports that with hostilities on the rise in Iraq, families of some GIs "seethe, doubt" Bush, reports the Chicago Tribune. LINK

Democrats on the Senate Intelligence panel discuss launching an independent investigation into White House handling of pre-war intelligence. LINK

In more signs of the swirl, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said Tuesday the U.S. is not seeking "regime change" in Axis of Evil member Iran, resolving "at least part of a contentious internal debate among aides to President Bush, administration officials said." LINK

The News and Observer writes that Bush will not be coerced or intimidated into leaving Iraq. LINK

Bush again refused calls to tap into Iraqi oil reserves at yesterday's press conference. LINK

The Wall Street Journal 's John Harwood looks at the different lenses employed by the president and each of the Democratic Gang of 9 as they talk about the U.S.' role in Iraq — leaving some of the contenders in the awkward position of reluctantly supporting U.S. presence in Iraq while weighing how continued bad news might help their chances for the White House.

"Against Mr. Bush's cardinal principle of muscular U.S. action, Democrats now advocate multilateralism without apology as an indispensable element of American strength. As a result, the 2004 election is likely to present voters with their clearest foreign-policy choice in at least two decades."

There's some progress on an agreement on the Iraq supplemental spending bill, reports the Wall Street Journal 's David Rogers. The new sticking point: healthcare benefits for National Guard and Reserve troops and their families.

Wilson:

In an "unusual step," the Justice Department has taken the F.B.I.'s Washington office off the "list of officials with access" to the Wilson case as tighter security restrictions over the inquiry are imposed. LINK

Slate takes the Clintonistas — with the exception of Madeline Albright and Richard Holbrooke — to task for silence on both the war in Iraq and the Wilson case. LINK

Bush Administration strategy/personality:

It took 56 days, but the Senate confirmed Governor Mike Leavitt as the EPA Administrator by a vote of 88 to 8. LINK

The economy:

Not only did the Fed decide to leave interest rates alone Tuesday, it reiterated its oft-repeated position that they will remain low for a long while, reports the Wall Street Journal 's Greg Ip. A unanimous decision by the board's governors left the rate on overnight loans between banks at 1%, and the statement from yesterday's meeting changed the Fed's read on labor markets from "weakening" to "stabilizing." There's also more positive news from the Commerce Department and the Conference Board about both durable goods (up 0.8%) and consumer confidence (81.1).

William Safire Notes a conspiracy in the lack of economy questions to the president yesterday, and predicts "come 2004, with economic growth steadying near a brisk 4 percent — and, sustained by the low interest rates justified by productivity's suppression of inflation — the current 6.1 percent unemployment rate should begin to trend downward. And it is the trend, more than the level, that makes news and affects elections." LINK

Knight Ridder's Ken Moritsugu reports, "The U.S. economy surged this summer at its fastest pace since the late 1990s boom, the government is expected to confirm Thursday." LINK

The Washington Post 's Peter Goodman repots on Secretary Evans' trip to China, where "China, responding to months of sustained pressure from the Bush administration to reduce its $103 billion trade surplus with the United States, will soon announce the purchase of billions of dollars worth of American goods, including airplanes, jet engines and auto parts, U.S. and Chinese trade officials and company executives said Tuesday." LINK

The Note's sources tell us that Secretary Evans showed the Chinese premier a Chinese bootleg copy of "Intolerable Cruelty" to prove the economic point of how the one dollar bootleg DVD damages business for the movie while it's still in theaters trying to sell tickets at nine dollars a head. Catherine Zeta-Jones and George Clooney get everybody's attention.

Big Casino budget politics:

The House Ways and Means Committee voted Tuesday to give a $128 billion tax cut to U.S. manufacturers, the Wall Street Journal 's Shailagh Murray and Neil King Jr. report. The measure cuts companies' top tax rate from 35% to 34% over the next two years and to 32% after 2007. However, given growing deficits, Murray and King Note that the bill might not find many takers in the House overall, not to mention the Senate.

Knight Ridder's Sumana Chatterjee writes, "Republicans on the House tax-writing committee voted Tuesday to give big multinational corporations tax cuts totaling $128 billion over 10 years, overcoming Democratic opposition." LINK

California's new governor:

Governor-elect Schwarzenegger is pledging to help state Senator Tom McClintock in his re-election bid. LINK

Zachary Coile of the San Francisco Chronicle previews Governor-elect Schwarzenegger's packed day in our nation's capital including his quest for more federal aid to help the victims of the California wildfires. We look forward to learning what is on the Kennedy/Shriver/Schwarzenegger/Reggie lunch menu. LINK

The Boston Herald's Noelle Straub writes that Schwarzenegger "will tackle Capitol Hill today, seeking federal dollars for California and schmoozing with lawmakers, including lunching privately with Senator Edward M. Kennedy." LINK

Politics for pretty people:

The Dream hasn't faded yet. The Washington Post 's Ann Gerhart — who did make it to the press area while former President Clinton spoke — turns in a look at Monday's DNC fundraiser that explores the party's new attempt sexing up party activism, and makes you (almost) wish you could relive it. LINK

And speaking of "K Street," we hear there's a pivotal scene in this week's episode shot last night at Chief Ike's Mambo Room.