The Note: Life Choices

WASHINGTON, Oct. 12

NEWS SUMMARY

Is the smarter read of George W. Bush, taking in both history and temperament, that Harriet Miers must withdraw, or cannot withdraw?

The Gang of 500 has yet to reach even a tentative consensus, but is moving toward the view spelled out by Bill Kristol in his editorial in this week's Weekly Standard that she could reciprocate his act of loyalty "by withdrawing, thereby sparing her boss the chance of lasting damage to his legacy."

For now, the White House is plowing ahead, reflecting the guns-blazing defense by the President and First Lady with Matt Lauer yesterday. Although finding the White House's surrogates, strategy, and game plan for Miers is still pretty much impossible, whether one uses a magnifying glass or a telescope.

As for the other story that dominates every steak-laden table at the Palm and all fajitas-fueled conversations at Lauriol Plaza, per usual, the questions about special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald outnumber the answers.

Could Fitzgerald's apparently solo trip to the court house yesterday mean that he is seeking or receiving an extension of the grand jury? What questions will Karl Rove be asked? [OTHER QUESTIONS REDACTED BY ABC NEWS MANAGEMENT.]

The talking heads keep stating the denouement will be the end of this month, but when was the last time they were right about anything in this case?

Today's Miers stories push towards trouble; today's Fitzgerald stories push towards high drama, higher tension, and deep, dark foreboding.

Both are unpredictable mysteries wrapped in riddles surrounded by confusion. And both have American politics on hold and in the balance.

The pair of condundra may well determine whether Bush continues to live under the golden fluffy cloud that has followed him all his political career, or whether his luck has finally run out.

The Miers must-read stories that seem pretty watersheddy to us:

". . .lawyers for the Republican senators on the Judiciary Committee are expressing dissatisfaction with the choice [of Miers] and pushing back against her, aides to 6 of the 10 Republican committee members said yesterday," writes David Kirkpatrick in a New York Times story the likes of which we have rarely seen during the course of the Bush Administration. LINK

Blind quotes like this one appear throughout the piece: "'You could say there is pretty much uniform disappointment with the nomination at the staff level,' another Republican on the committee staff said. 'It is clear there is quite a bit of skepticism, and even some flashes of hostility.'"

And make sure you read all the way to the bottom to see the Republican committee lawyers claiming Miers played no role in the "most significant" judicial nominations made by the President despite some GOP talking points that claim otherwise. In fact, the stories most damaging moment might come when Kirkpatrick reports that Republican staffers are doing anti-Miers research.

The Washington Times' Charles Hurt covers similar terrain and includes an email from Michael O'Neill, chief counsel to Chairman Specter, to committee staffers. LINK

"Mr. O'Neill sent out an e-mail yesterday warning staffers to tread carefully when talking about their dissatisfaction."

"'I really cannot stress enough (as I did at our last meeting) that we need to be careful about what we say to the press. I obviously don't control your access to the media, but I do care about you guys and don't want anyone to get themselves in a tough spot,' Mr. O'Neill wrote. 'We should not want to be out in front of our clients on an issue that is important to the President & Leadership.'"

"In that e-mail, Mr. O'Neill told staffers: 'If your member wants you to circulate negative talking points or to talk to the press, that's one thing.' But he warned against making negative comments 'without your client's permission. We're all in this together.'"

After using Mrs. Bush's quote from yesterday about Miers being able to bring dignity to any future endeavor, Time Magazine's Mike Allen delivers this blockbuster closing line: "Republicans say there is no chance Bush will yank the Miers nomination of his own accord. But some influential Republicans said there is a small chance she will survey the flak ahead and decide to withdraw on her own." LINK

And the Boston Globe's Dickensian-named Savage looks at the efforts of some conservatives to embarrass Miers at any future confirmation hearings by asking her tough questions. LINK

RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman and his new e-campaign director Patrick Ruffini will hold a conference call today with bloggers to discuss the Harriet Miers nomination. (Later in the day, Mehlman will address Hispanic Republican officials at 5:30 pm ET at the Capitol Hill Club.)

As for the other story dominating the minds of the Gang today. . .

The grand jury looking into the CIA leak investigation is expected to hear testimony from New York Times reporter Judith Miller at Federal District Court in Washington, DC.

President Bush meets with the President of Poland at 11:10 am ET in the Oval Office. The leaders will address the pool at the bottom of their meeting. The President makes closed press remarks to political appointees and senior executive service employees at Constitution Hall in Washington, DC at 2:10 pm ET.

Starting at 10:00 am ET, the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Garcetti v. Ceballos and United States v. Olson.

Sen. Hillary Clinton is participating in a bipartisan conference call with reporters at 1:15 pm ET to discuss the next steps in reforming "the flawed homeland security funding formula." Other call participants include Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) as well as Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY) and Rep. Peter King (R-NY).

Earlier in the day, Sen. Clinton will be doing the upstate thing. She has a 10:30 am event in Buffalo, NY and a noon ET event in Cheektowaga, NY.

Gen. Wesley Clark and other veterans join Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine (D) at 10:00 am ET to unveil "Veterans for Kaine" at the Naval War Memorial in Norfolk, VA.

Rudy Giuliani will rally with New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Doug Forrester (R) at 2:00 pm ET in Scotch Plains, NJ.

Hector Barreto, the Bush Administration's Small Business Administrator, attends the launch of the Colorado Republican Party's Hispanic Outreach initiative at 4:00 pm ET in Denver, CO.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger holds a 2:30 pm ET town hall meeting at Marborg Industries in Santa Barbara, CA. His wife, California First Lady Maria Shriver, appears on Oprah Winfrey's show which is focused on looking "Inside the Lives of America's Poor" today.

DNC Chairman Howard Dean will appear on CBS' "Late Show with David Letterman."

At 2:30 pm ET, the "Emergency Campaign for America's Priorities" will announce a national campaign to fight what they consider to be the GOP's post-Katrina effort to cut taxes for upper income Americans while cutting public service programs.

ECAP is being led by the same Democratic operatives who led the opposition to President Bush's Social Security overhaul plan earlier this year.

ECAP, whose budget will be in the low seven figures, will target its grassroots campaign at 70-80 House members as well as 15 Senators. The target list (which the group won't release in full) includes both members of Congress that ECAP considers persuadable -- like Sens. Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins (R-ME), and Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) -- as well as "symbolic targets" like Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA).

Harriet Miers for Associated Justice:

The Washington Post's Jim VandeHei has Bill Kristol saying that the First Lady's suggestion of sexism was "'obviously ridiculous' and indicative of a flailing White House strategy." He also has Kristol saying that he does not think Rove (whom VandeHei refers to as "the President's ambassador to the right") was deeply involved in the selection of Miers. Conservative critics say "people close to Bush are saying Laura Bush was a driving force behind the selection." LINK

The First Lady's comment that sexism is "possibly" behind the opposition to Miers did nothing but further infuriate conservative activists, reports the Washington Times. LINK

In his radio broadcast scheduled for today, James Dobson -- after getting a Scooter-style waiver from Karl Rove -- will say that Rove assured him that Harriet Miers was a conservative evangelical Christian, and that many of the better-known conservatives on the White House short list had asked to be passed over to avoid the "vicious" confirmation process. LINK

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales made the morning show round today.

On "Good Morning America," ABC's Charlie Gibson played the audio of Dr. James Dobson explaining the ways in which Karl Rove assured him about Harriet Miers' pro-life views and asked Gonzales to respond.

The Attorney General responded by saying: "There is no litmus test at the White House. We do not ask question about a person's personal views on abortion, affirmative action or other controversial issues. Those kinds of personal beliefs are irrelevant or should be irrelevant. . ."

Christian Science Monitor's Gail Russell Chaddock looks beyond the establishment inside-the-Beltway conservatives and the evangelical Christian conservatives and finds that conservative business interests such as the United States Chamber of Commerce have positive things to say about the Miers nomination. LINK

Keying off of the First Lady's remarks on "Today" yesterday, Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times explores the claims of possible sexism at play in the criticism of the Miers nomination. LINK

The Houston Chronicle reports that a 1997 Texas lottery lawsuit may take center stage at the Miers confirmation hearings. LINK

"This much is clear," write the Washington Post's Fletcher and Murray. "One of the former Supreme Court justices most admired by nominee Harriet Miers is Warren E. Burger. But just how quickly Miers recalled his full name and whether she ever referred to him simply as 'Warren' is now a matter of dispute." LINK

The Fitzgerald investigation:

David Johnston of the New York Times relays Bill Keller's explanation for the paper's delay in fully reporting the Judith Miller story. Johnston also reports that Karl Rove will go before the grand jury for additional testimony on Friday. LINK

The Washington Post's Carol Leonnig Notes that New York Times reporter Judy Miller is scheduled to testify before a grand jury today. LINK

The additional testimony comes after meeting yesterday with prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and providing additional Notes to him regarding her June 2003 conversation with Scooter Libby, reports the Los Angeles Times. LINK

Nedra Pickler of the Associated Press envisions a White House and the President without Karl Rove. LINK

With his usual brilliance, elan, and grace, Roger Simon explores the Miller angle and more. LINK

Bush agenda:

Moving to a consumption or value added tax system will not be part of the President's tax reform panel recommendations, reports the New York Times, in a story that only hints at how hard any tax changes will be, with real estate and health deductions potentially on the chopping block and a lot of presidential muscle required to get the ball even rolling. LINK

Cal Thomas has a number of suggestions for the President to reverse his diminished image. Among them: replace "those on his staff who seem to care more about him than they do about policy." LINK

Frist and HCA:

The Associated Press' Margasak and Katz exclusively report that Sen. Frist's blind trust, created to avoid any conflicts of interest, may not have been quite as blind as previously thought. LINK

"Outside the blind trusts he created to avoid a conflict of interest, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist earned tens of thousands of dollars from stock in a family-founded hospital chain largely controlled by his brother, documents show."

"Tennessee Republican, whose sale this summer of HCA Inc. stock is under federal investigation, has long maintained he could own HCA shares and still vote on health care legislation without a conflict because he had placed the stock in blind trusts approved by the Senate."

"However, ethics experts say a partnership arrangement shown in documents obtained by The Associated Press raises serious doubts about whether the senator truly avoided a conflict."

Says one government ethics professor: "The Senate has made it a political question. It's up to the voter. But there's no doubt it's a conflict of interest."

DeLay:

The DeLay defense team pushes forward with their attempt to subpoena prosecutor Ronnie Earle for grand jury misconduct, reports the Los Angeles Times. LINK

More on DeLay's legal team's subpoenas from the Houston Chronicle. LINK

The New York Times' Carl Hulse takes a look at the still powerful and influential Tom DeLay. LINK

The Hill does the story too. LINK

The politics of Katrina:

The Los Angeles Times details the President's eighth trip to the Gulf Coast, where he defended himself against critics accusing him of staging photo ops in the region. LINK

A Department of Homeland Security official tasked with helping local businesses get hurricane relief contracts has quit the agency in disgust, reports USA Today. Despite calls from Congress and President Bush to invigorate the Louisiana economy, a DHS spokeswoman says "the federal government can't play favorites". LINK

Big Casino: budget politics:

Two GOP chairmen are pushing back on the Republican leadership's plans for major discretionary spending cuts. The Hill reports that in a closed-door meeting with House colleagues, Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King (R-NY), discouraged making cuts to defense and homeland security spending. LINK

Judging by Wesley Pruden's column in the Washington Times, the honeymoon for Louisiana's requests for help rebuilding is long over. LINK

The politics of Iraq:

John Diamond of USA Today writes up a newly released CIA report that blames the Bush Administration for ignoring accurate forecasts on how ethnic factions in Iraq would splinter after the war. LINK

The politics of national security:

At the recommendation of Karen Hughes, President Bush met with a group of Palestinian officials at the White House last week, the Washington Post's Glen Kessler reports. "When the Palestinians complained that an Israeli settlement expansion might make a Palestinian state impossible to achieve, Buttu (one of the Palestinians present) said Bush replied: 'Don't worry. I have some political sway with Israel and will use it if need be.'" LINK

2008: Republicans:

The Wall Street Journal's David Rogers has a must-read piece on Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) "new gravitas" on prisoner abuse, deficit reduction, military procurement, and immigration.

For any other would-be presidential candidate, this would be the clip of a lifetime -- to show donors and make a reputation. For McCain, it is just another day in Mediaville, of which he is mayor. Make no mistake, however: this is an over-the-top positive story from one of America's most respected political reporters (who has always had a boy crush on fellow vets).

"'Do I want to be President? Sure,' says Mr. McCain laughing. 'Do I want to run for President? That's the question." 'It's insane' he says to make any decision until after the 2006 elections and much will depend on whether Republicans can find their compass in the interim."

"Back from a campaign visit to Ohio, he describes the combined weight of Republican problems and the President's drop in the polls as threatening friends such as Sen. Mike DeWine who are up for re-election. 'If this were now September of '06 instead of September of '05, I would say, 'Hey, we're in trouble,'' he says. 'But I still think that the Republicans now have gotten a wake-up call.'"

Bill Frist's "exploratory" meeting in southern Florida gets the Miami Herald's Corral's attention. LINK

The Boston Globe reports that Gov. Romney (R-MA) is urging lawmakers to pass legislation which would increase enlistment of National Guardsman with great benefit packages. LINK

The Boston Herald reports that many of Gov. Romney's ``blue-ribbon'' commissions around Massachusetts have "faded" away without any apparent progress seen. LINK

Although he didn't declare his intentions for 2008, Sen. Brownback (R-KS) spoke in New Hampshire last night touching on Iraq and domestic faith based programs. LINK

James Pindell of politicsnh.com includes this nugget: "Immediately noticeable (sic) on this dreary early Fall (sic) night was that Steve Forbes, who is not running for president, drew an audience twice the size that Brownback, someone who is very much considering a run in the same room a week earlier." LINK

2008: Democrats:

Variety's Gabriel Snyder has some exclusive details on Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-NY) plans to raise coin for her Senate re-election campaign when she embarks on a swing through Hollywood later this week. "Events include a $500-per-person reception at the home of Rob Reiner and a $1,000-per-person brunch hosted by film producers Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks. Television producer Marta Kauffman will also welcome Clinton to her home for a fund-raiser." During the LA trip, Clinton will also deliver a keynote address on women's health for the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center's Women's Guild. LINK

Chad Griffin, Rob Reiner's political adviser, tells Variety that Democrats will unite behind Clinton in 2008 even if she continues her centrist tack because Democratic donors are "focused on one thing and that's winning."

Clinton plans to use luxury suite invites to an upcoming U2 concert to score some cash for her political action committee HillPAC. LINK

The New York Post has it too: LINK

Christie Vilsack will head to the Granite State to campaign for Manchester Mayor Bob Baines and possibly other local officials, reports politicsnh.com. LINK

2005:

When two polls are released on the same day with very similar findings, it allows for perceptions to take hold a bit more forcefully than they would based on the results of a single poll, which is to say that it will likely not be a stellar day at Ferrer campaign headquarters.

Quinnipiac University and Marist Institute have both released polls this morning showing Michael Bloomberg 28 (60 - 32) and 27 (59 - 32) points ahead of his Democratic opponent, respectively. Both polls find the Mayor got a big bump from his handling of last week's subway security scare.

We wonder if the Ferrer campaign will make the candidate available to reporters for the "I don't pay much attention to polls. . ." response or if that will be left up to campaign operatives and strategists.

The New York Post on the latest Marist numbers: LINK

The Mayor's handling of the subway terror threat last week most likely boosted his standing, per the New York Daily News. LINK

Bloomberg defended his decision to elevate security during last week's subway terror scare. LINK

Law enforcement supporters of Ferrer charged Bloomberg of politically motivated timing in last week's subway warming. LINK

The New York Post's editorial board questions whether a Mayor Ferrer would have responded differently to the potential threat. LINK

Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times hears a subtle shift in the Bloomberg campaigns messaging from a listing a litany of accomplishments to urging voters that now is not the time to change leadership in the city. LINK

Sen. John Kerry's efforts to help Ferrer raise funds by email may have run afoul of federal campaign finance law, according a New York Daily News exclusive. LINK

The death penalty is now dominating the debate in Virginia and tax cuts and hikes are the topic du jour in New Jersey. The two 2005 gubernatorial contests have recently polled a bit too close for comfort for the campaigns and the go-to base issues accompanied by the barrage of negative ads are in full swing with still four weeks to go before election day.

Sen. Jon Corzine (D-NY) criticized former New Jersey governor and fellow Democrat Jim McGreevey last night during a radio debate against Republican gubernatorial challenger Doug Forrester, who has closed the gap in the race to a statistical dead heat. LINK

The New York Times' Chen on the brief respite from negative TV ads that was last night's radio debate in New Jersey. LINK

"The debate had a more civil tone than the first one - at least until the last 15 minutes, when the candidates got the chance to quiz each other. Each man was aggressive in trying to knock down the other's property tax plan, among other issues."

Corzine and Forrester have spent a combined $30 million since the June primary, reports the New York Times. LINK

The Washington Post ed board writes that Tim Kaine's (D) work as a court-appointed attorney for death row inmates should be "lauded as a public service, not smeared by Mr. Kilgore" (R). LINK

Per the Roanoke Times, former Attorney General Jerry Kilgore said on a conference call with reporters yesterday: "Everyone's entitled to representation, but not every activist defense attorney is entitled to be governor of Virginia." Based on Kaine's comment that "God grants life and God should take it away," Kilgore is running an ad featuring the father of a murder victim asserting that Kaine would not have supported the death penalty for Adolf Hitler. LINK

In his response ad, Kaine says: "As governor, I will carry out death sentences handed down by Virginia juries, because that's the law," the Richmond Times Dispatch reports. LINK

The Schwarzenegger Era:

The Los Angeles Times reports that organized labor is set to shatter California spending records for ballot measure battles, already raising more than $80 million to defeat initiatives promoted by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Nov. 8 election. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' editorial board gives the Schwarzenegger-supported Proposition 75 ballot measure its tepid endorsement. LINK

She was outspoken about her husband during the recall election, but now Maria Shriver is deafeningly silent on the initiatives Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has put on the ballot in California, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. LINK

2006:

Raymond Hernandez of the New York Times writes up the current state of the Pirro campaign thusly: "Valuable endorsements that once seemed imminent have yet to materialize, several early supporters have defected to the camp of her chief Republican primary rival, and the candidate herself has been trying to lower expectations about the fund-raising totals her campaign must disclose on Friday." LINK

Hernandez also hints at a possible Pataki endorsement as early as this week, and somehow doesn't quote Ms. Lewis.

Hurricane Katrina has not stopped donors from contributing to candidates poised to challenge sitting Senators in battleground states, according to the third quarter numbers. LINK

Frank Phillips reports that the Massachusetts GOP is struggling to find a candidate to run against Sen. Ted Kennedy in 2006; so far they are pursuing county Sheriff Frank G. Cousins Jr. LINK

Rochester billionaire and previous gubernatorial candidate Tom Golisano switched party affiliations to the GOP yesterday, clearing the way to make a run against former Massachusetts Governor William Weld for the party's nod for governor. LINK

The New York Times Michael Cooper writes, "The Pataki camp - which Mr. Golisano accused during three campaigns of being profligate, unethical and irresponsible - greeted his potential candidacy as a Republican with about as much enthusiasm as they would greet a case of shingles. But now that Mr. Pataki has decided not to seek a fourth term, it is unclear what actions, if any, he will take to try to derail a potential Golisano candidacy." LINK

The New York Post editorial board hopes that will make the race to face Attorney General Elliott Spitzer a little more interesting. LINK

New Hampshire:

Tom Fahey of the New Hampshire Union Leader reports that the 152 legislators friendly to the idea of discarding New Hampshire's parental notification law will file a "friend of court brief" today with the U.S. Supreme Court. LINK