The Note: Behind the Locked Double Doors

WASHINGTON, Nov. 21

NEWS SUMMARY

You should know that every Republican politician with a pollster realizes where public opinion is on the war.

And that every Republican politician with a communications director realizes where the media is on the war.

And that every Republican politician with a TV set realizes that Secretary Rumsfeld didn't fully engage on the facts-on-the-ground questions he got on the Sunday shows.

What will happen in Iraq (and with the Iraq political debate in America) today, this week, this month, next month, and in the next eleven months?

That query is a rhetorical nod both to The Note's powerlessness to actually puzzle out 2006, and to The Note's "facts on the ground are all that matter" mantra.

With members of Congress home with fingers in the wind tracking "stay the course" versus "bring them home," swivel your collective head from the President's fascinatingly conciliatory remarks yesterday on the Iraq political debate to this morning's expected speech by Vice President Cheney.

Mr. Cheney, apparently, will continue to be the Administration's point person on pushing back against critics of the Iraq war.

Cheney is scheduled to deliver an 11:00 am ET speech on "Iraq and the War on Terror" at Mrs. Cheney's home-away-from-home: the American Enterprise Institute.

ABC's Karen Travers reports, "An administration official says to expect to hear more from the Vice President "setting the record straight." Cheney will elaborate on his remarks from Wednesday night at the Frontiers of Freedom Institute and will "take on the Democrats distortions about Iraq and pre-war intelligence."

For one Democratic meta-response, allow us to suggest Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), who delivers 12:45 pm ET remarks at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York regarding the way forward in Iraq.

President Bush departed from Mongolia at 3:30 am ET. He arrives back at the White House at 8:45 pm ET after stopping briefly mid-day in Alaska.

While we all wait for Cheney (The Note confidently predicts roadblocked cable net coverage.), here are your on-topic must-reads. All came courtesy of your Sunday papers, which we have a hunch some of you might have skipped:

Jonathan Weisman and Charles Babington turned in the mustest of must-reads on the Washington Post's Sunday front page looking at the politics of the Iraq debate and its ability to push everything else to the back burner. LINK

This priceless quote from Sen. DeMint encapsulates their story "'I feel like every morning, I wake up, get a concrete block and have to walk around with it all day,' said first-term Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who came to the Senate with an ambitious agenda to overhaul Social Security and the tax code. 'We can't even address the issues.'"

In Sunday's Los Angeles Times, Ron Brownstein got to the crux of the Democratic dilemma on Iraq. LINK

"Last week's emotional congressional debates over Iraq demonstrated the rise of antiwar sentiment among Democrats -- and the challenge the party faces in converting that impulse into a unified alternative to President Bush," wrote Brownstein.

Brownstein went on to report that Rep. Pelosi (D-CA) now only plans for a conference-wide discussion and debate on Rep. Murtha's proposal instead of her original plan to call for an early December vote for the Democratic caucus to adopt Murtha's plan.

More Brownstein: "Although Democrats may be split on Murtha's specific proposal, his call for a clear break from Bush's policy is likely to strengthen those who want the party to offer concrete alternatives, many observers believe."

And he concluded thusly: "It's not clear how many other Democrats will reach so far in the weeks ahead. But in both parties there seems little doubt that Murtha has pointed the direction his party is heading."

Jim Hoagland curtain raised "Act 3 of the American experience in Iraq" for Sunday's Washington Post, with reporting, if true, that will blow your mind (unless you have been paying close attention and knew all this already). LINK

Hoagland included these nuggets: "U.S. military commanders are composing their own scenarios that point to a drawdown of 30,000 to 40,000 American troops -- from a current force of about 140,000 -- that will begin before the midterm elections. In private White House meetings Bush has hinted at numbers of that magnitude and roughly corresponding cuts in foreign coalition troops, authoritative sources tell me. Italy's coalition government, facing elections in April, will begin discussions with Washington this week on withdrawing 10 percent or so of Italy's 3,000 troops in Iraq this winter."

Also be sure to Note the object lesson in photo editing provided on today's Washington Post and New York Times front pages.

As for your political cycle B developments. . .

Michael Scanlon, former press secretary for Congressman Tom DeLay and business partner of Jack Abramoff, is scheduled to be arraigned by Judge Ellen Huvell at the US District Court in Washington, DC at 4:00 pm ET.

Bob Woodward is scheduled to appear on CNN's "Larry King Live" at 9:00 pm ET.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) goes all out for George Wallace Jr. in Alabama today. The Arizona Senator attends breakfast, lunch, and afternoon fundraisers for Wallace who is in a contested Republican primary for lieutenant governor of Alabama. McCain also holds a book signing at the Books a Million in Huntsville, AL and appears on "The Tony Danza Show."

Judicial Watch holds a 12:30 pm ET National Press Club discussion of conservative perspectives on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Samuel Alito with Tom Fitton of Judicial Watch, Manuel Miranda of the Third Branch Conference, and Jan LaRue of Concerned Women of America.

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) is in Rye Brook, NY today where she is scheduled to hold a 10:15 am ET press conference on flu vaccines and speaks to the Business Council of Westchester at noon ET.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) discusses her new novel, "A Time to Run," at Politics and Prose in Washington, DC at 7:00 pm ET.

Gov. Phil Bredesen (D-TN) turns 62 years old today.

Tomorrow, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) returns to court at 10:00 am ET for a pre-trial hearing. DeLay's lawyer will argue to Judge Pat Priest (D) that the actions in question were not crimes in 2002 when they allegedly occurred.

Both the House and Senate stand in recess for the remainder of the week -- as will The Note.

Today will be our final installment of The Note this week, but we'll be back next Monday November 28 just as your L-Tryptophan-induced lethargy is wearing off. We give you hearty and heartfelt thanks for your readership.

Politics of Iraq:

The Wall Street Journal's David Rogers Notes that last week's maneuvering in the House "upset many Republicans, and seems to have strengthened Mr. Murtha rather than isolate and embarrass him." Rogers writes that the biggest loser may be Cheney, "who has sought unsuccessfully to keep Congress out of the prisoner-detention debate by claiming it a presidential prerogative." Prior to the Thanksgiving recess, House Speaker Dennis Hastert blocked a vote and final negotiations on the shape of the $453 billion appropriations bill. But those "delaying tactics won't be feasible after lawmakers return from the Thanksgiving recess, because the defense bill must be enacted before Christmas." Rogers has one Senate Republican aide, who watched the House debate with "dismay," saying, "If the House Republicans want to make Jack Murtha the face of the Democratic Party, then Republicans will really be trounced next year."

Maybe all that explains the presidential dial-back. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

The Los Angeles Times' Meyer and Wallsten on President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld's measured pushback on Sunday of congressional critics of Iraq war policy: LINK

"The comments by Bush and Rumsfeld reflected a marked shift in tone and strategy from the last 10 days, in which they and Vice President Dick Cheney have ripped into war critics as 'irresponsible' and 'reprehensible' for accusing the White House of misusing prewar intelligence to justify the invasion, and also for calling for a withdrawal."

The Washington Post's Baker and Brown also have Bush disagreeing with Murtha but trying to "tone down" the "high-pitched debate on Iraq" by saying "people should feel comfortable expressing their opinions about Iraq." LINK

The Washington Post duo Note that the "tenor of Bush's remarks contrasted sharply with the White House message since the President left for Asia a week ago."

"Bush hits call for pullout," blares the front page of the Washington Times. LINK

"The 2006 campaign year is shaping up as the first to feature both parties splintered and edgy over the increasingly unpopular Iraq war," writes USA Today's Jill Lawrence. LINK

The Washington Times' Rowan Scarborough has a senior Pentagon official saying that military commanders are worried about "what may be a growing movement inside the Democratic Party to advocate troop withdrawal from Iraq." LINK

(The story does not mention Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel's call for the United States to "begin drawing down forces in Iraq next year").

"Speaking on the Sunday morning public affairs programs, Mr. Rumsfeld appeared to want to deliver the final word on the recent uproar sparked by a call for an expedited withdrawal of American troops issued by a Democratic congressman who has long been influential on military matters on both sides of the partisan divide," writes the New York Times' Hauser in her wrap of the Sunday morning talk. LINK

The editorial board of the Nation's Newspaper says a focus on the future of Iraq is an appropriate debate, but "withdrawal from Iraq now, as Murtha wants, would be a wrong and dangerous course." LINK

Rep. Murtha responds on the op-ed page that his plan "motivates the Iraqis to take control, sooner rather than later." LINK

Joe Klein in Time Magazine: "Two questions need to be addressed: Will an American withdrawal from Iraq create more or less stability in the Middle East? Will a withdrawal increase or decrease the threat of another terrorist attack at home? It does not matter whether you believe the war was right or wrong. If the answers to those questions are less stability and an empowered al-Qaeda, we'd better think twice about slipping down this dangerous path." LINK

Time Magazine's Donnelly reports on Sen. Warner's quest for an unvarnished truth of the situation on the ground in Iraq by going beyond the top brass and talking directly to battalion commanders. LINK

Some local reaction from a Cincinnati VFW and Rep. Schmidt's former opponent Paul Hackett (D) to her stricken remarks that got tons of weekend play: LINK

Roll Call's John Bresnahan reported for the newspaper's Web site on Friday that Republican lawmakers are saying that ties between Murtha and his brother's lobbying firm, KSA Consulting, "may warrant investigation by the House ethics committee."

Alito for Associate Justice:

The Associated Press on Sen. Biden's putting the filibuster option back on the table: LINK

(Yes, yes - we realize he never really took it off the table, but his tone yesterday is far different than the one he struck a few Sundays back.)

The Washington Post ed board writes that Alito's dissent in a constitutional challenge to a federal machine gun ban is "troubling." LINK

"Judge Alito's desire to extend the logic of Lopez to such a law seems to indicate an overly restrictive approach to the commerce clause -- though he did note that Congress could fix the statute quite easily. Senators will need to satisfy themselves that he does not envision a dramatic curtailing of national power."

The Wall Street Journal's Jess Bravin reports that legal scholars are "puzzling" over what Alito meant in his 1985 job application in "disagreeing with cases that enforced the doctrine of 'one person, one vote' as the basic structure of American elections."

David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times looks at how partisans are fighting the Alito nomination battle in the states during this pre-confirmation hearing/recess period and declares, "Although the two national political parties are involved, the Republican organization is far more engaged." LINK

Bob Novak's column explores the dilemma in which Red State Democratic Senators find themselves as well as fact checks the Groody case claims made by liberal groups. LINK

"During his 15 years sitting in Newark as a member of a federal appeals court, Judge Alito has sided almost uniformly with those who have complained vigorously in recent years that zealousness in enforcing the Constitution's separation of church and state has unfairly inhibited religious practices," writes the New York Times' Neil Lewis. LINK

A group representing 1.5 million Reform Jews came out against Alito's nomination this weekend, reports the New York Post. LINK

Jeffrey Toobin looks at the fatalism of the abortion rights movement for the New Yorker and concludes thusly: ". . . the fact remains that through thirty-two years, and the appointment of seven Justices by Republican Presidents, Roe has endured." LINK

Bush Administration:

In her "White House Letter," the New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller puts the Bush/Cheney relationship on the couch and gets Andy Card to profess that the Vice President remains a very senior advisor to the President. LINK

Note, too, Bumiller's Woodward-esque portrayal of a Bush/McCain phone call on the torture amendment and her reportage on the Cheneys' weekend move to the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

All in all, Bumiller comes down squarely in the middle of things, setting the truth for scores of holiday party attendees, bureau chiefs, and network executives.

Under the headline: "Bush's Urgent Campaign: Save his Presidency," Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Dick Polman offered this dramatic language on Sunday: LINK

"He is plummeting in the polls, with still no indication that he has hit bottom. A solid majority of Americans now give him the lowest approval ratings since Richard Nixon - a verdict that seemed unimaginable when he was reelected one year ago - and, even more ominously, he is now judged by the majority to be an untrustworthy leader who lured the nation into war on false pretenses."

"So it's no surprise that the Bush administration is in campaign mode, employing all facets of the far-flung Republican communications apparatus, in a perhaps futile attempt to rebuild the Bush image, assail his critics as spineless flip-floppers, and defend his war to an increasingly skeptical electorate."

Bloomberg's Kristin Jensen and Richard Keil take a big-picture (and loooooooooooooong) look at Bush's leadership style and the state of his presidency. LINK

On Sunday, the New York Times' Rosenbaum bemoaned the politicization of governmental policies. LINK

Bob Novak's Sunday column included some rumors and gossip about Al Hubbard potentially replacing Andy Card as Chief of Staff. LINK

Reuters on the President's locked door mishap, with a priceless headline and photo. LINK

More Bush exit strategy puns from the New York Post: LINK

Bush in Asia:

Writing under a Beijing dateline, the Washington Post's Baker and Pan yawn at the President's Asia trip and write that the trip met the "low expectations" that the National Security Advisor predicted. LINK

The New York Times' Sanger and Kahn on the talk and actions (or lack thereof) between President Bush and his Chinese counterpart in Beijing this weekend. LINK

USA Today's lame and Peking duck Judy Keen wraps the "mixed results" of President Bush's Asia trip. LINK

Per the Los Angeles Times, some observers were disappointed that President Bush's second-term freedom agenda seemed to take a back seat to trade and economic issues during his visit to China. LINK

The Fitzgerald investigation:

Evan Thomas and Michael Isikoff of Newsweek point their fingers toward Richard Armitage as a potential Woodward/Novak source. LINK

"One by one last week, a parade of current and former senior officials, including the CIA's George Tenet and national-security adviser Stephen Hadley, denied being the source. A conspicuous exception was former deputy secretary of State Richard Armitage, whose office would only say, 'We're not commenting.' He was one of a handful of top officials who had access to the information. He is an old source and friend of Woodward's, and he fits Novak's description of his source as 'not a partisan gunslinger.' Woodward has indicated that he knows the identity of Novak's source, which further suggests his source and Novak's were one and the same."

Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell took Bob Woodward to task on Sunday. LINK

Rumsfeld took his name off the potential Woodward source list, per the Associated Press. LINK

Big Casino budget politics:

The Wall Street Journal's ed board hails Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-OK) role in ending the earmark for the "Bridge to Nowhere" in an editorial that states that the uproar has done "enormous damage to the GOP majority's public image."

The politics of national security:

CIA head Porter Goss defended the "unique and innovative ways" the CIA obtains information from detainees, per USA Today. LINK

USA Today also reports that three key House members are worried that CIA interrogators may not be using all weapons available in gathering intelligence information due to fears of abuse charges. LINK

Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times explores the Warner/McCain/Graham triumvirate on the Senate Armed Services Committee as well as on the Senate floor. LINK

DeLay:

Former FEC Chair Bradley Smith comes to DeLay's defense in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

The Houston Chronicle, with its brand new website design covers Rep. DeLay's "pivotal" pre-trial hearing this week. LINK

Abramoff/Scanlon:

Your weekend papers were full of Scanlon profiles and predictions about his cooperation causing complications and heartburn for many (mostly Republican) House members.

Per Roll Call's Bresnahan and Kane, DOJ's plea agreement with Scanlon is "troubling news for House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-OH), according to legal experts and watchdog groups."

Per Bloomberg News, Scanlon may help prosecutors raise the investigation "to a higher level." LINK

The Clintons of Chappaqua:

USA Today's Kathy Kiely sat down in Little Rock with former President Clinton, who called on Washington to tone down the rhetoric. LINK

While he praises both Bush 41 and 43, he Notes that they still have differences: "'I practically need a rabies shot when I talk about this deficit and me getting five tax cuts while we had two wars going on,' he said."

President Clinton told a Westchester audience that the Iraq war can still succeed, and the time isn't right for a pullout yet, per the New York Daily News. LINK

2008: Democrats:

The Washington Post's magnificent Mark Leibovich accompanied "Presidential Maybe" Mark Warner on his maiden voyage to the Granite State. Leibovich has the skinny on Warner's "horse teeth" (real though whitened), voice (fast and "throaty" a la Jack Kemp), and jargon (very late '90s). LINK

"Local Democrats expected 30 activists and elected officials for lunch, but about 170 RSVPs poured in the last few days, a testament to the millionaire governor's boomlet," Leibovich writes.

Note Note: That is the second time in three days Leibovich's byline appeared on a story about Mark Warner's Granite State travels.

Gov. Warner told crowds that New Hampshire should always be the first primary in the nation. LINK

2008: Republicans:

Sen. McCain was in South Carolina over the weekend and told reporters that he would wait to see the outcomes in 2006 before making any judgments about 2008, "I think the 2006 elections will be a good indication of the direction the country's taking, what their priorities are, and whether my agenda, my philosophy and my views. . . are in keeping with enough people that I would have a viable candidacy. . . I haven't thought of anything that would keep me from running, but I haven't thought of anything that would make me run. And that's why we have to make the assessment after the 2006 election. We'll have a serious discussion about it." LINK

David Broder wrote on Sunday about the great deal of political stock McCain has invested in the Iraq war. LINK

Knight Ridder reports on the challenges that are facing Sen. Bill Frist, which are compounded by ambitions to run in 2008. LINK

2006:

George Skelton of the Los Angeles Times writes on efforts to revive a new version of the just-failed Proposition 75 for the November 2006 elections, this time focused on forbidding public employee unions from spending any dues on politics. LINK

Sources tell the New York Post's Fred Dicker that Sen. Charles Schumer's "long-standing rivalry with, and a deep personal dislike for" Eliot Spitzer have led him to secretly encourage Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi to challenge Spitzer for the Democratic nomination for governor. LINK

But: "One year away from Election Day 2006, Spitzer is in fantastic political shape," writes New York Magazine's Chris Smith. LINK

The Boston Globe Notes that Kevin Scott and Kenneth Chase, will be Sen. Kennedy's Republican challengers in 2006. Both candidates are moderate Republicans and Scott told reporters on abortion: ''When I go to bed," Scott said, ''I dream at night about reducing the amount of abortions by 70 to 80 percent. LINK

Politics of Katrina:

In a profile of Donald Powell, the federal coordinator of the Gulf Coast rebuilding project, the Washington Post's Hsu and O'Hara Note that he disagreed with Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco last week about whether the government would rebuild the levees to withstand a Category 3 or a Category 5 hurricane. "The commitment is to build the levees back to a three . . . an then to study the five." LINK

The Washington Post's Griff Witte warns that the costliest part of rebuilding the Gulf Coast is still to come and that it is still unclear who will foot the bill. LINK

Political potpourri:

On Sunday, as part of his series that is one point Pulitzer application, one part job application, and one part fantastic read, Jeff Zeleny of the Chicago Tribune wrote that Sen. Barack Obama's national appeal is helping him build "a coast-to-coast army of backers" as events around the country with high-profile investors create "a network unlike any other freshman senator since Hillary Rodham Clinton." LINK

Says Warren Buffett of Obama: "I've got a conviction about him that I don't get very often. . . He has as much potential as anyone I've seen to have an important impact over his lifetime on the course that America takes."

Zeleny also has Oprah calling him America's favorite son, Ethel Kennedy saying that he has her late husband's quest for social justice, and Jim Wallis saying that he can be passionate and principled without being ideological.

The New York Times' Todd Purdum's infectious love for history is on display in his look at the newly-published memoir of a White House aide from the Roosevelt administration, George Elsey. LINK

Healthcare proposals introduced in Illinois and South Carolina last week "signal an escalating competition to develop models for coping with the slow-motion crisis in healthcare," according to a Broderian Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times. LINK

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