The Note: Mixed Messages



This is not a letter written by Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist to President Bush over the weekend:

December 4, 2005

The Honorable George W. Bush

President of the United States

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW

Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. President:

The early reports back from our Members' time with their constituents are mixed, but the message is clear.

Please talk up the economy more, making that the dominant message, so the Party gets credit for the things that are going well -- except on the days when we need you to make Iraq the dominant message, because we are getting beat up on that by the Democrats -- except don't talk about Iraq too much. It only draws attention to it.

We need to cut spending, because our base is getting restless -- but we can't cut stuff that will allow the Democrats to attack us (such as health care).

Also, we can show we are serious about spending cuts if we eliminate earmarks and pork for Members -- except we need those in there to get some bills passed.

We need to take on hard, big issues -- such as immigration and tax reform -- but please don't do things in a way that divides the party or will force our Members up for re-election to take tough votes.

Our Members don't like the prescription drug benefit (It is too expensive.) and they don't want to help sell it to their constituents, but it must be seen as a big success by Election Day next year.

Please don't be so nice to Bill Clinton -- it strengthens him and helps Senator Clinton, and we are already helping her enough by working on bills with her.

Please veto some bills to show you are tough, particularly on spending -- just don't veto any of the bills WE send you.

Please play down how conservative Judge Alito is to avoid any fights or defections -- but let's not shy away from defending the Reagan years and all they stood for.

This Abramoff and ethics stuff is a potential problem, but we can't give an inch on it.

Bartlett and Wallace are excellent on TV -- is there any way to make them seem older?

You need to shake things up at the White House with some new blood, but please don't panic and make any changes.

We are doing our best to keep our Members in line, but you all need to do a better job on McCain, Hagel, Graham, LaHood, Shays, Voinovich, Chafee, Collins, and Snowe. We will deal with most of the others.

Together, America can do better. Or something like that. As long as we remember that we must all hang together, or surely we will all hang separately. Or something like that.


Denny and Bill

In a related development, in your absolute must-read story for the day, Janet Hook details in the Los Angeles Times how a major legislative victory before the end of the year is critically important for the GOP. Hook also has details from the Republican retreat last week, where Andy Card told congressional leaders that they need to focus on allying their legislative strategy with the President's. LINK

"To go out [at year's end] without any substantial actions reinforces the notion that Congress has lost its way under our control," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). "To deliver is to show we are capable of governing."

In another related development, and in case you missed the economic news that brought smiles to many a West Wing face last week, President Bush will give Americans another opportunity to focus on the economy today when he delivers remarks at 1:15 pm ET at the John Deere-Hitachi construction machinery corporation in Kernersville, NC.

Before he leaves for North Carolina, President and Mrs. Bush will participate children's holiday reception and performance at 10:30 am ET at the White House. From Andrews Air Force Base prior to her departure to Germany, Secretary Rice this morning defended the use of "every lawful weapon to defeat these terrorists" but refused to say whether the CIA operated secret prisons in Europe. The AP wraps her remarks: LINK

It is an unapologetic statement in which she sums up thusly, "Some governments choose to cooperate with the United States in intelligence, law enforcement, or military matters. That cooperation is a two-way street. We share intelligence that has helped protect European countries from attack, helping save European lives."

"It is up to those governments and their citizens to decide if they wish to work with us to prevent terrorist attacks against their own country or other countries, and decide how much sensitive information they can make public."

In a related development, White House Counselor Dan Bartlett did the morning show rounds without making news.

Secretary Rumsfeld delivers a 9:30 am ET speech on the future of Iraq and will take questions from audience members at the SAIS Kenney Auditorium in Washington, DC.

Vice President Cheney headlines a fundraiser for Rep. Tom DeLay's (R-TX) reelection campaign in Houston, TX. John Kerry keys off the trip by sending a fundraising appeal to his supporters on behalf of DeLay's Democratic opponent Nick Lampson.

After meeting the press yesterday and prior to the formal 10:00 am ET issuing of its report card on implementation of recommendations, 9/11 Commission Co-Chairs Kean and Hamilton take to the op-ed page of the New York Times to present their scenario of an America not as protected from another attack as it can/should be. LINK

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's campaign will file its disclosure report with the Campaign Finance Board today.

Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR) is in New York City today to receive the AARP Impact Award at noon ET.

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) is also in Gotham today and tomorrow raising some money for his All America PAC. Woodward and Bernstein discuss anonymous sources at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government at 6:00 pm ET in Cambridge, MA.

Ohio Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate Ken Blackwell (R-OH) will visit with Delaware Republicans today and raise a little campaign cash in the First State as well.

See below for our look at some Noteworthy events for the week ahead, beyond the big event -- in a related development -- being the President's planned Wednesday speech on Iraq.

Bush/GOP agenda:

Time Magazine's Mike Allen has Bush aides telling him that the President is "likely to postpone any big push for comprehensive tax reform--which looked like it would be a centerpiece of next year's agenda--until '07 or '08." LINK

Bloomberg News follows: LINK

The Wall Street Journal reports that President Bush's aides blame his poor economic approval ratings "amid a generally solid economic performance" on, among other things, worries about high energy prices, soaring health-care costs and lack of job security. The White House is putting together a package of legislative priorities that is likely to be focused on addressing those concerns. Making room for those priorities "could be taking a toll in the short run on tax reform."

Bloomberg's Donmoyer looks at the main differences between the House and Senate versions of the tax cut bill and writes that it pits the rich against the super-rich. LINK

Per the Wall Street Journal's Jane Zhang, some states are placing a new emphasis on food stamps as a program to improve the nutrition of the working poor. But their efforts to sign up more families have put them on a "collision course" with the Bush Administration and House Republicans who believe the government should rein in food-stamps coverage. LINK

The Wall Street Journal's ed board writes that "if a little AMT grease is needed to get Democrats to vote for the lower rates, so be it."

Per Roll Call's Pershing and Kane, "House and Senate GOP leaders gathered on Maryland's Eastern Shore last week in hopes of improving the sometimes weak bicameral coordination on message and policy issues, even as both chambers agreed that the White House must do a better job communicating with Congress."

USA Today's David Jackson looks at the creative use of slogans and other forms of stagecraft by the White House. LINKM

Politics of Iraq:

The Washington Post's Robin Wright surveyed the Democratic foreign-policy elite about Iraq and learned that there are "stark differences -- and significant vagueness -- about a viable alternative" to the Bush Administration's course. LINK

The views of Holbrooke, Perry, Brzezinsky, Albright, Clark, Chollett, and Clinton (He) (by way of CNN) are included.

The New York Times' Scott Shane showed off his Adobe Acrobat Reader skills by reporting on the front page of Sunday's paper that the President's "plan for victory" speech was, in large part, influenced by Peter Feaver, a public opinion expert from Duke University. LINK

Democratic Sens. Reid and Kennedy were quick to issue statements citing the story as evidence that the President's "major address" last Wednesday was more public relations than substantive policy.

In a Sunday must-read, the Washington Post's Dan Balz reported that at the DNC's fall meeting in Phoenix, Chairman Dean warmly praised Murtha for "standing up and telling the truth" about Bush's policies and Iraq but stopped "well short of embracing Murtha's call for a withdrawal plan that would redeploy all US troops within about six months. Instead Dean called on Democrats to coalesce around a proposal that would keep some US forces in Iraq for two more years." LINK

"The former Vermont governor's remarks underscored the party's continuing debate over Iraq and the reluctance of many party leaders to support Murtha's call for a speedy withdrawal strategy." Pelosi "announced her support for Murtha's plan last week, but others in the party leadership have declined to do so, in part out of fears that a swift withdrawal could leave Iraq worse off than it is today and hand the GOP a political weapon."

Alito for Associate Justice:

Keying off a recently-released 1984 Alito memo, David Savage of the Los Angeles Times wrote in Saturday's newspaper that the future Supreme Court nominee "saw no constitutional problem with a police officer shooting and killing an unarmed teenager who was fleeing after a $10 home burglary."LINK

The Wall Street Journal wrote in its weekend edition that two things have been overlooked about Alito's 1985 abortion memos: first, "Alito advised the staunchly pro-life Reagan Administration against trying to overturn Roe v. Wade," and second, Alito's defense of a host of state restrictions on abortion appears prescient in light of the Supreme Court's 1992 Casey decision.

The New York Times' Kirkpatrick writes of Judge Alito's admiration for his father and his relating stories about lessons learned from his father to a couple of Democratic Senators. LINK

Novak's weekend column bowed down at the altar of Schmidt.


The Washington Post reports that Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), a Democrat who "asked some of the toughest questions in the committee hearings probing the $82 million Abramoff and Michael Scanlon charged their tribal clients," is receiving some "heightened attention" for the ways in which he is tangled in the Abramoff web. LINK

Bob Novak's weekend column reported a session (from which staff was banned) at last week's GOP retreat in which members discussed concerns about how many and which colleagues will be challenged by ethics questions relating to the Abramoff investigation(s). LINK

Washington Post's Birnbaum laments that the House and Senate ethics committees have been "virtually moribund for the past year" despite a wave of federal investigations. LINK


The New York Times editorial board takes the Department of Justice to task for its rejection of staff lawyer's recommendations that the Texas redistricting plan may have been in violation of the law. LINK

The Washington Post's Al Kamen reports that the "Defense Industry Reelection Event" for DeLay will be held at 8:30 a.m. Thursday at the Capitol Hill Club. LINK

Bush Administration strategy/personality:

Susan Page examines in USA Today whether the influence of the Vice President -- the man regarded by some as a kind of "comic-book supervillain" -- is on the wane. LINK

Elisabeth Bumiller's "White House Letter" in the New York Times focuses on the speculation that Andy Card may soon be leaving his Chief of Staff position, perhaps for the top job at Treasury. Bumiller includes an interview with Card in which he does not deny that his tenure as Chief of Staff may be drawing to a close, though he does deny any plans to go to Treasury. LINK

The New York Times' Brinkley looks at the image-crafting efforts Jim Wilkinson employs on behalf of his boss, Secretary of State Rice. LINK

The mini-bar kicker: priceless, although we wonder about the sourcing.

Newsweek explores the post neo-con period in the Bush Administration's second term policy-making team. LINK

The politics of prescription drugs:

Robin Toner and Robert Pear of the New York Times talk with several members of Congress about how the new Medicare prescription drug benefit is playing with the seniors in their districts. LINK

Politics of national security;

The Washington Post's Walter Pincus pulls Sunday show duty and highlights Hadley on "This Week" and McCain saying on "Meet the Press" that he would not compromise with the White House on detainee treatment. LINK

Homeland Security Chairman and Republican Rep. Pete King said yesterday he will call for an investigation to determine whether 9/11 recovery aid given to New York was spent properly, following a New York Daily News story yesterday that distribution of the $21.4 billion federal aid package given to the city has been rife with fraud, waste, and mismanagement. LINK

New Hampshire:

The New Hampshire Union Leader's Pat Hammond (in the hard copy only) writes up Kathy Sullivan's chat with Howard Dean in Phoenix about the nomination calendar and reports that Chairman Dean is keeping an open mind.

The Boston Globe's editorial board on Sunday seemed to be quite suspect of changing the nomination calendar in favor of more "front loading" and less Iowa and New Hampshire emphasis. LINK

Manchester's mayor-elect, Frank Guinta, lays out his plan for change in the New Hampshire city. LINK


Former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker make the case for changing the presidential primary process in a Roll Call op-ed: "Think of a major election in which less than 8 percent of voters cast a ballot, yet millions of other voters want to vote but never get the chance. While such an election is hard to imagine in the United States, that is precisely how we select the candidates for the highest public office in the land."

2008: Democrats:

Newsweek's Susannah Meadows does the "Hillary the hawk" thing in the current issue. LINK

The New York Daily News' Michael Goodwin used his Sunday column to write the letter he believes Sen. Clinton should have sent to her supporters regarding Iraq. LINK

The New York Post's Ian Bishop says Sen. Clinton's co-sponsorship of a law to ban flag burning is an effort to burnish her credibility in Red States. LINK

Sen. Evan Bayh held a 50th birthday gala for himself on Friday and raised more than $600,000 for his "reelection" campaign fund, which already has a balance of more than $7 million. LINK

Late last week, Bayh told reporters that if he had known then what he knows now, he would not have voted in 2002 to authorize the use of force in Iraq. LINK

Appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation," Sen. John Kerry yesterday reiterated his calls for 20,000 troops to be brought home from Iraq if the December elections are successful. LINK

Kerry also said that by going into Iraqi homes in the "dead of night," US soldiers are "terrorizing" Iraqi women and children while breaking historical and religious customs. The former Democratic presidential candidate thinks Iraqi security forces ought to be the ones going house-to-house.

Asked if he was saying that the US should stop fighting insurgents, Kerry said "absolutely not" and reiterated his support for maintaining (1) special forces capacity, (2) the ability to go after hard intelligence, and (3) the chasing down of Zarqawi. But Kerry also said "we do not need 160,000 troops running around the country as a whole exposing themselves as they are, feeding the notion of occupation."

Over to the blogs: LINK

Time Magazine's Karen Tumulty has 10 Questions for Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM). While saying that he sees "no harm in bringing other states with diverse populations early into the process," Richardson says: "Nobody should tamper with Iowa and New Hampshire being the initial primaries or caucuses. That's God given and party given." LINK

He also says that he "dropped the ball" by telling people for years that he had been drafted by the Kansas City Athletics.

Gov. Mark Warner yucked it up at the Gridiron winter dinner in Washington, DC over the weekend. Here is the Richmond Times-Dispatch's review: LINK

2008: Republicans:

The State's Lee Bandy reports that South Carolinian Bush supporters from 2000 are looking to back Gov. George Allen (R-VA) in 2008. LINK

USA Today reprints Todd Pack's Nashville Tennesseean story looking at how certain positions Sen. Frist advocated in health care legislation would be beneficial to his family-owned HCA. LINK

Michael Cooper's New York Times political memo on Gov. Pataki's lame-duck status and its possible ramifications on the upcoming legislative session in Albany: LINK

Gov. Pataki will be in Des Moines, Iowa tomorrow meeting with the Des Moines chapter of the Red Cross and speaking (closed press) before Taxpayers United.

On Sunday, Scott Helman of the Boston Globe looked at the well-connected Mitt Romney during his inaugural event as RGA chairman in Carlsbad, CA. LINK

". . . if Romney arrived at the conference in a strong position politically, he left even stronger," wrote Helman, who included the best line ever in a (favorable) Globe story about Romney: ''Hey everybody, it's Ron Kaufman!"

The AP's Glen Johnson reported on Friday that Gov. Romney flew in a private jet to California for the RGA gathering courtesy of the drug company Pfizer as Romney continues to push for his universal health coverage plan in the Bay State. LINK

Time Magazine's Joe Klein looks favorably upon Romney's push for universal health care coverage through an individual mandate. LINK

In her Sunday Boston Globe column, Joan Venocchi wondered if Gov. Romney might have the right presidential resume for the current political climate. LINK


In Sunday's Washington Post, Dan Balz and Chris Cillizza reported that Republicans are at risk of losing a majority of the nation's governorships in 2006: 7 of 8 gubernatorial posts that will be vacated in 2006 are currently held by Republicans. The Washington Post duo Note that that number could grow to eight if Romney decides not to seek re-election. LINK

"The math is not in our favor this time," Romney is quoted as saying.

Jeanine Pirro's husband has asked key New York Republicans to pressure his wife to drop out of the race against Hillary Clinton for Senate and instead focus on the New York attorney general race, Frederic Dicker writes in the New York Post. LINK

The New York Daily News endorses William Weld to be the state's Republican candidate for governor. LINK

Rick Klein of the Boston Globe writes a lengthy article on Sen. Lincoln Chafee's (R-RI) "brand of Republicanism," and whether it may help or hurt him in his reelection campaign. LINK


Jim Gilchrist's campaign for Congress in Orange County is being used by conservatives around the country as a bellwether for the strength of illegal immigration as a ballot box issue, reports William Welch in USA Today, after other papers did it this weekend. LINK

Roll Call's David Drucker writes that Gilchrist is hoping that GOP anger over illegal immigration can power him to upset state Sen. John Campbell (R) in Tuesday's special election.

The Schwarzenegger Era:

The Wall Street Journal's John Fund labels Schwarzenegger's hiring of Susan Kennedy as the governor's "Harriet Miers moment" and suggests that he has "jumped the shark." LINK

Look at all the on-the-record interviews Fund got!!!

But a Los Angeles Times editorial says the kerfuffle over Governor Schwarzenegger's new chief of staff is undeserved. LINK

The Los Angeles Times looks at how the decision of whether to grant clemency to Tookie Williams is a no-win situation for Governor Schwarzenegger. LINK

New polling reveals the strong -- but unsurprising -- intensity of California voters' mistrust of Governor Schwarzenegger and all other politicians in Sacramento, writes George Skelton in the Los Angeles Times. LINK

The Dukester:

The Los Angeles Times traces Duke Cunningham's corruption and career, with reporters Pae, Perry, and Simon marveling that Cunningham's story is unusual "both for the brashness of his actions and for the dizzying nature of his fall." LINK

Corzine replacing Corzine:

Sen. Corzine's much-anticipated announcement could come as early as today.

El Diario La Prensa's editorial board calls on Gov-elect Corzine to name Rep. Menendez as his replacement in the Senate. LINK

Politics of Katrina:

Eric Lipton of the New York Times (and others) took a Sunday look at the release of emails and other documents showing just how aware Gov. Blanco and her staff were of the political ramifications in the days following Katrina. LINK

Political potpourri:

Ron Brownstein focuses his Los Angeles Times column on the increasingly pro-government activism taking hold in a handful of states and the implications of this movement on national politics. LINK

Anne Kornblut's Sunday Styles New York Times piece on bipartisan bonhomie in Washington, DC's green rooms is a thoroughly entertaining read for all: LINK

Political junkies in South Carolina have a new favorite blog called Politics and Barbeque. The blog reported last week that Sen. Jim DeMint cries while watching "Steel Magnolias." LINK

The week ahead:

The special election runoff in California's 48th congressional district to replace former Rep. Chris Cox is set for tomorrow.

Vice President Cheney will deliver remarks at Ft. Drum, NY tomorrow.

Gov. Mark Warner's (D-VA) "Forward Together" PAC holds its first big event at the Ritz Carlton in Tyson's Corner, VA tomorrow.

Also on Tuesday, former President Bill Clinton headlines a fundraiser for Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-NY) reelection campaign at Crobar in New York City.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) signs books in Cambridge, MA, Ann Arbor, MI, and Chicago, IL this week.

NRSC Chairwoman Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) will be in New Jersey tomorrow on behalf of Tom Kean, Jr's. Senate campaign.

On Wednesday, Gov. Mark Warner (D-VA) is scheduled to be the special guest at South Carolina Democratic Party's First Annual Governors Appreciation Dinner featuring Jim Hodges, Ernest Hollings, Robert McNair, and Richard Riley in Charleston, SC.

Eliot Spitzer holds a gubernatorial campaign gala fundraiser in New York City on Wednesday.

On Friday, the Florida Democratic State Conference will convene in Orlando, FL featuring remarks from Gov. Vilsack, Gov. Warner, Sen. Edwards, and Sen. Obama in addition to Florida's 2006 Democratic candidates.

The DNC Commission on Presidential Nomination Timing and Scheduling meets to issue final recommendation to Chairman Dean in Washington, DC on Saturday.