The Note: Border Crossing



It is a truth universally acknowledged that the only way to cover government and politics in the modern era is through the Perils-of-Pauline-approval-ratings fate of the President of the United States.

So every problem in the world -- from mega to pissant -- is laid at the doorstep of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Will Chairman Thomas feel slighted in some conference committee? Will Lara Logan have a hard time getting a meeting with Dan Bartlett? Will the Iranian president have a cow? Will Howard Fineman have a good time at the White House holiday party?

President Bush: you are in charge of ALL that.

But there's more.

While you were all off admiring your relatives' new high-definition TVs and recognizing for the first time in your life that stuffing is a carb, the Googling monkeys were hard at work, making sure we were ready (and, thus, you were ready) for the sprint to the New Year.

So, as always, what you need to know about the known knowns, the known unknowns, and the unknown unknowns:

Iraq: All eyes on Wednesday's presidential address, with a focus on just how much the White House press corps believes what the President says about the status of trained Iraqi troops.

Also: read these two paragraphs of pure (partisan-but-reflective) gold by Harold Meyerson to understand the media mindset about the politics of Iraq:

"But if the Democrats' silence is driving Rove batty, it's making their own supporters a little crazed as well. The Democratic base clearly supports withdrawing the troops; in Nancy Pelosi's San Francisco district, that position probably commands nearly unanimous support. . ."

"But it's not 1969. There is no silent majority to be rallied in support of the war, just a frustrated minority. The streets are quiet. Demonstrators are decorous. The audience for Dick Cheney's hatchet jobs has dwindled. The president's credibility is reaching Nixonian depths. The Democrats have been pushed to the brink of opposing the war, but there -- on the brink -- they totter."

Immigration: Time magazine nails it: "In the end, though, it's unlikely that Bush will ever consummate his flirtation with the anti-immigrant right. It's too big a departure from his history, and too many Big Business G.O.P. donors need their cheap labor. 'Bush decided to give these guys' --the immigration hard-liners-- 'their rhetorical pound of flesh,' says a Republican official close to the White House. 'In return, he wants a comprehensive bill, which is what he has always wanted. He's just going to lead with a lot of noise about border security.'"

The President is also responsible for the prescription drug benefit (Note the New York Times editorial re-endorsement! LINK); Jack Abramoff; Patrick Fitzgerald; tax reform; and deciding what to say about Social Security in the State of the Union speech.

Go to it, Mr. President, and don't forget to go online to shop today!!!

But first, POTUS shines the presidential spotlight on border security and immigration reform today at 4:40 pm ET when he delivers remarks on the topics in Tucson, AZ. The President will then head up to Phoenix, AZ to deliver his current stump speech for Sen. Jon Kyl's (R-AZ) reelection campaign at 7:35 pm ET. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) will be appearing with the President at all of his Arizona stops today.

ABC's Jessica Yellin reports, "The President's approach is twofold. He proposes improving border security and enforcement to keep out illegal immigrants. He also proposes expanding opportunities for immigrant workers to come to the US legally through a temporary workers program."

"According to a senior White House official: the immigration speech will outline 'a comprehensive strategy that will secure our borders, ensure enforcement of our immigration laws and bring illegal immigrants "out of the shadows of our society" by participating in the [temporary worker's program].'"

Expect mention of:

- new resources and technology to secure the border

- adding more beds to detention facilities "so we aren't catching and releasing illegal immigrants"

- outline the temporary workers program which will "relieve pressure" on security and enforcement efforts

- emphasize the importance of enforcement for national security and the economy.

President Bush may very well apologize to the Kyl crowd that Mrs. Bush could not be with him this evening, but get them to agree that he married up and that she is doing a great job. The First Lady is expected to receive the official White House Christmas tree at the North Portico at 10:30 am ET. (At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the Architect of the Capitol hosts a 10:00 am ET photo opportunity of the arrival of the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree.)

Tomorrow, President Bush travels to El Paso, TX to partake in a border security event before heading to Denver, CO to help raise some money for Rep. Musgrave's (R-CO) reelection effort.

The President's highest-profile speech of the week will likely occur on Wednesday morning when he makes those remarks on the war on terror at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. While in Maryland, the President will also headline a fundraiser for Lt. Gov. Michael Steele's Senate campaign.

ABC's Terry Moran reports from Baghdad that the trial of Saddam Hussein has adjourned until next Monday, December 5.

Tomorrow, Milano The New School for Management and Urban Policy and the Center for New York City Affairs and its Dean Fred Hochberg play hosts to an INVITATION ONLY star-studded post-election roundtable exploring the 2005 New York City mayoral election with that perfect 20/20 hindsight. ABC's Mark Halperin moderates the discussion which will occur in two pieces -- the primary and the general -- and include campaign operatives and strategists from each of the campaigns as well as members from the New York City political press corps who covered the race.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court is expected to hear the Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood case looking at the New Hampshire parental-notification law. ABC's Manny Medrano reports it will be the High Court's first abortion case in five years. The Supreme Court is expected to release the audio of the oral arguments after they are completed on Wednesday.

For a look at the rest of the week ahead, please see our expanded section below.

As for the rest of today's events. . .

At 12:30 pm ET, Gov. Mark Warner (D-VA) is scheduled to deliver a foreign policy-style address focused on Asia-related issues at the Asia Society in New York City.

Sen. Kennedy (D-MA) will discuss the fight against poverty and his continued effort to raise the minimum wage when he accepts the Otis Social Justice Award at Wheaton College in Norton, MA at 11:30 am ET.

At 1:00 pm ET, the Center for Strategic and International Studies and Arnold and Porter host a discussion on the role and authorities of government officials for emergency response and management. Former FEMA Director James Lee Witt, former Gov. Frank Keating (R-OK), former Chief of Staff of the Army Dennis Reimer, and others are expected to participate.

Politics of Iraq:

The two nut graphs from the New York Times' Sanger and Shanker page one look at the political calendars' (December 2005 in Iraq, November 2006 in the US) impact on the debate over drawing down troops in Iraq: LINK

"Current and former White House officials acknowledge that they were surprised at how quickly calls for deadlines for the draw-down of troops, which mounted as Mr. Bush was away in Asia, had changed the tenor of the debate. They pointed out that the statement by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice after Mr. Bush's return from Asia that Iraqi forces would be able to defend the country 'fairly soon' appeared to presage a new tone."

"'We've moved from 'if' to 'how fast,' ' said one former aide with close ties to the National Security Council. He said officials in the Bush White House were already actively reviewing possible plans under which 40,000 to 50,000 troops or more could be recalled next year if 'a plausible case could be made' that a significant number of Iraqi battalions could hold their own."

The Los Angeles Times' Brownstein and Vaughn examine the "crucial" impact of the date when Congress voted to authorize war in Iraq, during the height of the 2002 midterm elections campaign. LINK

Says Tom Daschle: "I asked directly if we could delay this so we could depoliticize it. I said: 'Mr. President, I know this is urgent, but why the rush? Why do we have to do this now?' He looked at Cheney and he looked at me, and there was a half-smile on his face. And he said: 'We just have to do this now.'"

Note the knot that Dan Bartlett ties the Democrats into, however.

In Friday's Washington Post, Dan Balz looked in must-read fashion at the twin problems facing the President in the ongoing fight over Iraq. On the one hand, Balz wrote, there is no precedent for a leader being able to use "persuasion to reverse a steady downward slide for a military venture of the sort he is facing" - only evidence on the ground is likely to change public opinion. But that evidence is unlikely to come anytime soon, wrote Balz. LINK

"Within the military, the prospect of using airpower as a substitute for American troops on the ground has caused great unease. . . Air Force commanders, in particular, have deep-seated objections to the possibility that Iraqis will eventually be responsible for target selection," writes Sy Hersh in his look at the use of American airpower in Iraq in this week's New Yorker magazine. LINK

Hersh also reports that a former defense official tells him "that the President had become more detached, leaving more issues to Karl Rove and Vice-President Cheney. 'They keep him in the gray world of religious idealism, where he wants to be anyway,' former defense official said."

Two prominent GOP senators yesterday urged the President to publicly explain his plan for Iraq, reports the Los Angeles Times. LINK

Jenny Backus and Ron Bonjean do some rhetorical battle over a Kerry fundraising email, in the New York Times. LINK

More: LINK and LINK

ABC's Teddy Davis explores Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-NY) "third way" approach in the current debate over Iraq. LINK

Politics of immigration:

In yet another immigration must-read, Time's John Cloud and Mike Allen write, ". . .Bush is calling this week for a series of border-security measures that will make his guest-worker plan look like an afterthought in his immigration policy. Bush will call for the hiring of more border guards and the use of more technology like unmanned aircraft and ground sensors to better police the borders. He will also push for increased holding facilities for illegal immigrants who are picked up. Roughly 100,000 a year benefit from a de facto "catch and release" policy, since there aren't enough beds for them." LINK

"The President is expected to equate border security with national security, connecting the issue to that part of his image that until recently had been robust. He will also be setting up a potentially favorable issue for Republicans in '06. 'This is the kind of issue that the Silent Majority talks about in private but doesn't mention to pollsters,' says Frank Luntz, the political strategist who is advising G.O.P. lawmakers on immigration. 'It has the same kind of feel that affirmative action had in the late '60s and early '70s. There is a deep-seated anger toward the government for not stopping this.'"

The Wall Street Journal's Jordan on big business' pushback on the GOP immigration drift towards an enforcement emphasis.

Ahead of the President's push this week to focus on illegal immigration, Janet Hook wrote in a must-read in yesterday's Los Angeles Times that the issue excites many Republicans but also threatens to split a hole in their caucus. LINK

"Some Republican strategists contend that the immigration issue offers an opportunity for the GOP to revive its flagging fortunes. . . But the risk for Republicans is that as Bush continues to pursue his long-cherished goal of attracting more Latinos to the GOP, a focus on illegal immigration could inspire a political backlash."

Bush Administration:

Although we placed the Cloud/Allen tour de force in its proper section above, the lede belongs here:

"As the President's annus horribilis nears what must be a blessedly welcome end for him and his aides, they have just a month to try to salvage what had been a promising postvictory year. Instead, Social Security reform died; the U.S. death toll in Iraq passed 2,000; Katrina exposed the weakness of the Administration's bench players; a Supreme Court nominee fell; a White House aide resigned under indictment. Even Karl Rove's aura of imperturbability began to melt, not only because he is under investigation in the CIA-leak case but also--and more gravely for the G.O.P.--because for once he seemed unable to find a winning issue for his boss. If 2006 looks anything like 2005, George W. Bush will not only hasten his own lame-duck irrelevance; he will leave his party vulnerable in November's midterms," write the Time scribes. LINK

In a weekend must-read, DeFrank and Bazinet write in the New York Daily News that many White House aides are upset and disillusioned by the President's refusal to change or reevaluate his policies. LINK

"'We're just plodding along,' admitted a senior Bush aide from deep within the West Wing bunker. 'It's up to the President to turn things around now.'"

And be sure to Note which meetings are reportedly no longer on the regular schedule.

Elisabeth Bumiller's White House Letter in the New York Times is dedicated to Steve Schmidt who finds himself at the "center of the big brawls in Washington" these days. You will no doubt enjoy the folklore you may have heard before about Schmidt, as well as the brilliantly reported scene Nicolle Wallace remembers after the first presidential debate last year. LINK

The Fitzgerald investigation:

Time Magazine announced yesterday that its reporter Viveca Novak (no relation to columnist Bob) will testify before the prosecutor in the CIA leak investigation regarding conversations she had with Karl Rove's attorney, Robert Luskin, in spring 2004.

"The request for Ms. Novak's testimony is the first tangible sign in weeks that Mr. Fitzgerald has not completed his inquiry into Mr. Rove's actions and may still be considering charges against him," writes David Johnston of the New York Times. LINK

The Wall Street Journal says Novak being called to testify means the White House isn't out of the clear, and that Novak and Luskin have known each other for some time.

Al Kamen's Washington Post column says Valerie Wilson/Plame retires from the Agency on December 9 (and there's a Bill Richardson cameo in another item on North Korea). LINK

Howie Kurtz in the Washington Post on Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, with boffo quotes from Mary Matalin, David Gergen, and Mike McCurry. A must read. LINK

Alito for Associate Justice:

Michael Fletcher of the Washington Post on how the grassroots fight over Alito is unfurling in Rhode Island and other states with targeted Senators. LINK

Jeff Birnbaum in the Washington Post on Ed Gillespie, super lobbyists, and sherpaing. LINK

Kathy Kiely writes in USA Today that Judge Alito has accomplished an impressive feat during his meetings with Republican Senators: he has "managed so far to impress conservatives without losing the support of moderates who disagree with them on" a host of social and economic issues. LINK

The Associated Press Notes that in spite of his long judicial record, nobody has yet (publicly) figured out exactly how Alito would rule on abortion. LINK

Bloomberg's Rowley and Stohr report on the target-rich environment for Democrats that is the Alito nomination, but Notes all the political risks that go with it. LINK


Per Roll Call, Tom DeLay and his aides have already drafted a letter to House Republican Conference Chair Deborah Pryce saying the embattled Republican is prepared to return as Majority Leader. The letter will be sent immediately if charges against DeLay are dismissed.

On Sunday, Bob Novak (no relation to Viveca) reported that there is "no doubt" that Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) is lining up votes to replace Tom DeLay as majority leader should such an election take place in January. Note, too, his questioning whether or not Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-NY) may be thinking about running for whip instead of staying put at the NRCC. LINK


The Boston Globe's Nina Easton took a Sunday look at the Norquist/McCain sideshow in the overall Abramoff inquiry and included this priceless pushback from Mark Salter: LINK

"When we asked the senator's staff for a comment on Norquist's fusillade against McCain, his chief of staff, Mark Salter, had a lot to say. 'In Norquist's world, the truth is for suckers. And it's as pointless to respond to him as it would be to respond to some street-corner schizophrenic,' Salter responded."

Sen. Grassley's aides say claims about any relationship between the Senator and Jack Abramoff are much to do about nothing. LINK

The politics of national security:

The Wall Street Journal's Block on big business' opposition to some provisions of the Patriot Act renewal.

Big Casino budget politics:

The Washington Post's Weisman on the Hill-gubernatorial split among Democrats on proposed new Medicaid rules. LINK

The economy:

"The drugmaker Merck & Co. said Monday that it will cut about 7,000 jobs, or 11 percent of its work force, by the end of 2008 and will close or sell five of its 31 manufacturing plants in moves that it says will save up to $4 billion," reports the AP. LINK

Ron Brownstein argues in his Los Angeles Times column for greater involvement by Washington in helping the Big Three automakers survive. LINK

2008: Democrats:

The AP's Liz Sidoti explores the possible ramifications of the Iraq war in the 2008 Democratic nomination contests. LINK

Sen. Evan Bayh has one of Congress' largest privately paid trip tabs, reports the Indianapolis Star. LINK

The Wisconsin media ate up Sen. Russ Feingold's comment on "This Week" that it's time for a "Cheesehead President." LINK

2008: Republicans:

"Intensifying public concern about the war in Iraq, the prospect of protracted corruption trials in Washington, and renewed qualms among Republicans about federal spending are all putting wind into Mr. McCain's sails while setting back most of the senator's rivals for the nomination," writes the New York Sun's Josh Gerstein in his look at McCain's potentially enhanced prospects by the shifting issues environment. LINK

New Hampshire:

The AP reports that New Hampshire elected officials may not be a true representation of the state's demographics. LINK


Rick Pearson of the Chicago Tribune writes on Ken Mehlman's GOP visit to Iowa last week. LINK


The Associated Press reports, Sen. McCain will attend fundraising events for Sen. Rick Santorum this week in Pennsylvania. LINK

Former Green Party member Steven Greenfield says he will challenge Sen. Hillary Clinton in a primary for New York's 2006 Democratic nomination for Senate. LINK

Prompted by concerns about how strong a candidate William Weld will be in New York's gubernatorial race, the state's No. 2 Republican yesterday called on the state party chairman to delay endorsing Weld's candidacy, reports Fred Dicker in the New York Post. LINK

Lee Bandy writes that Gov. Mark Sanford's pledge to be "a leader, not a politician," could "undermine his re-election chances." LINK

House of Labor:

The New York Times' Steven Greenhouse writes up SEIU's success at organizing Houston-area janitors and reports some union leaders are calling it one of the "biggest unionization drives in the South in decades." LINK

Dean's Democrats:

Roll Call takes a look at the Democrats' branding efforts, which it says are slowly winning over party members.

Political potpourri:

The New York Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg's Sunday look at Sen. Trent Lott's (R-MS) possible campaign for another leadership role in his party's caucus. LINK

Voters rejected all eight ballot measures in this month's California election, but per the Los Angeles Times, that's not stopping a host of lawmakers and advocacy groups in the state from pushing to get new proposals on next year's ballot. LINK

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) and Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO) are okay after their vehicle flipped over in Iraq yesterday, reports the Associated Press. LINK

The first openly gay Republican to serve in Congress, Arizona Rep. Jim Kolbe, will retire next year, reports Roll Call.

Democrats say they may start objecting to the congratulatory resolutions offered by Senate Republicans, after the Democrats' resolution honoring Bruce Springsteen was blocked.


In yet another scary-smart move, Bloomberg News has hired Kathryn Kross to run its Washington broadcast operations. As part of Bloomberg's significant expansion of its television operations in DC, they have nabbed our former ABC News colleague (who also did a stint at CNN), and gained someone who can produce the streaming video with the best of 'em.

And a single but golden source ("Source D") tells ABC News that the estimable Tom Oliphant will soon swap his Boston Globe column for another book effort. Congratulations and happy holidays, fella.

The week ahead:

Tomorrow, former President Bill Clinton, in his capacity as UN Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, travels to Sri Lanka and Indonesia and then reports back to the European Commission in Belgium.

The Republican Governors Association 2005 annual conference begins Wednesday in Carlsbad, CA. The gathering is scheduled to conclude on Friday. The open press events on Thursday include the expected passing of the RGA chairmanship from Gov. Guinn (R-NV) to Gov. Romney (R-MA). And you won't want to miss that Kate O'Bierne-moderated Stevens, Murphy, Wadhams, and McInturff panel on 2006 and 2008.

Also on Wednesday, First Lady Laura Bush hosts a media preview of the 2005 holiday decorations and tasting event on the State Floor of the White House.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D) delivers a public address to Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, MA on Wednesday.

And in Los Angeles, DNC Chairman Howard Dean will appear on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno Wednesday evening.

Democratic National Committee's rescheduled fall meeting convenes Thursday - Sunday in Phoenix, AZ.

On Thursday, President Bush is expected to make remarks on World AIDS Day. Later that day, the President is scheduled to meet with the Archbishop of Washington, DC and to participate in the Pageant of Peace with Mrs. Bush.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales addresses the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Thursday.

At The Henry Ford in Dearborn, MI on Thursday, Democratic Sens. Clinton, Boxer, Levin, and Cantwell and Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D-MI) will help raise funds for Sen. Stabenow's reelection campaign.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is expected to headline a fundraiser for Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) in New York City on Thursday evening.

On Friday, Sen. Hillary Clinton headlines a Kentucky Democratic Party fundraiser in Louisville, KY.

Rep. Pelosi delivers a public address to Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, MA on Friday.

Also on Friday, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) celebrates his 66th birthday.