The Note: Matthew Dowd and the Old Gray Lady



President Bush meets with Members of Congress at the White House to discuss the war on terror at 10:15 am ET. The President meets with the Chancellor of Austria in the Oval Office at 9:30 am ET, while Scott McClellan briefs the White House press corps at 1:00 pm ET.

With the Bush political operation more psyched by a New York Times/CBS poll than they ever have been in the history of the world, the man who but for the quixotic decision making of a stadium full of Buckeyes would be the Commander in Chief moves front and center on the Iraq debate today.

In a bid to break through the Murtha-Dean-Pelosi clutter, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) delivers a speech entitled, "Real Security in the Post-9/11 World" at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City at 1:00 pm ET.

"The speech includes some arguments on Iraq, but it's focused on winning the broader war on terror -- including 'ending the empire of oil,' making sure our side wins the war of ideas and ideologies in the Greater Middle East, and destroying terrorist cells," a senior Kerry aide tells The Note.

Here is an excerpt of Kerry's remarks as prepared for delivery: "The real war on terror is an even bigger challenge. This war has drawn us smack into the middle of an internal struggle in the Islamic World -- a struggle ultimately for the transformation of the Greater Middle East into a region that is no longer isolated from the global economy, no longer dependent on despotism for stability, no longer fearful of freedom, and no longer content to feed restive and rising populations of unemployed young people a diet of illusions and excuses."

Kerry's speech comes after he has been quietly traveling and meeting all over the country with the military leadership and national security experts of his campaign, including General Hoar last week in San Diego.

He'll come from the right on regimes that are unresponsive to their own people, and from the right regarding Washington's failure to do much of anything that would undermine the flow of oil -- a bipartisan problem.

Place your bets now: will this speech get live cable coverage and/or network evening news pickup?

And, relatedly, ask yourself: what national Democrat has the most credibility with the media and the public on national security issues these days?

(Note how restrained 42 was, sitting side by side with his buddy 41, on Larry King last night, when the green-clad and color-blind host tried to get Clinton going on Iraq.)

(And check out this: "Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid is urging Democrats to limit their comments on the future of the Iraq war to areas where there is broad agreement within the party in an effort to quell increasing concerns both within the Democratic Caucus and the minds of the public that the ongoing conflict has caused deep intra-party divisions," writes Roll Call's Josh Stanton.)

With Reid's words in mind, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds her weekly press conference at 10:45 am ET. (Howard Dean is not expected to attend.)

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus will come out in opposition to the Alito nomination at 10:00 am ET, followed by Democratic congresswomen doing the same at 11:30 am ET.

Sen./Dr./Leader Frist takes to the National Press Club (with the newly promoted Amy Call in tow, we presume) at noon ET to discuss the economic impact of a flu pandemic. According to his prepared remarks, Frist will describe the threat as a "$675 billion potential hit to our economy -- almost half of which is brought on by factors which CAN be eliminated by planning . . ."

According to Senate Democrats, today is "Better America Day" when many Senate Democrats will hold events across the country highlighting their commitment to "reforming Washington and giving Americans a government as good as its people." Expect to hear the word "reform" a lot whether the topic is prescription drugs, the economy, national security, or corruption.

Democratic Leader Sen. Reid will be in Baltimore, MD with Sens. Sarbanes and Mikulski discussing opportunities for nursing students at 10:30 am ET.

The House convenes and debates (and possibly votes on) tax cut legislation.

Attorneys to Stanley "Tookie" Williams will discuss their clemency request with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) in the Governor's Office in Sacramento, CA at 1:00 pm ET.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has a morning meeting on Capitol Hill with Reps. Kay Granger (R-TX), Jim Marshall (D-GA), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). Cameras staking him out expect the Secretary to emerge from Cannon 440 at 8:45 am ET.

In advance of Human Rights Week next week, the AFL-CIO stages a 11:45 am ET rally outside the White House protesting the Bush Administration's labor policies.

SEIU Americans for Health Care and EMILY's List release a national survey on health care issues and their impact on the midterm elections at noon ET.

Here is a preview from the press release: "As more and more elections tip on the narrowest margin of swing voters and independent moderates, it is crucial to determine how to move independent women. One of the most effective ways to move independent women voters is by highlighting the issue of affordable health care."

Expect EMILY's List's national political director Karen White and pollster Celinda Lake to point to data suggesting that these independent women look at health care not as a pocketbook issue, but as a moral value.

Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO) will join more than 20 House members to push for broader immigration reform at a 1:30 pm ET news conference.

Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), the Housing and Community Opportunity Subcommittee chairman, convenes at 10:00 am ET hearing on emergency housing assistance concerns in the region affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

In the other body at 10:00 am and 2:30 pm ET, Sen. Collins (R-ME) chairs a hearing entitled, "Hurricane Katrina: Perspectives of FEMA's Operations Professionals."

Attention Grover Norquist: Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) will sign legislation abolishing the retroactive capital gains tax in Boston at 11:00 am ET.

Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) is in neighboring Colorado today visiting with Gov. Owens (R-CO) on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad and raising some money for the Colorado Democratic Party.

Former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) will keynote a Generation Engage e-forum in Raleigh, NC at 11:00 am ET.

Sen. Bayh (D-IN) is raising some Lone Star State money for his PAC today.

Gov. Warner (D-VA) will attend the "President's Reception of the National Conference of Black State Legislators" at 9:00 pm ET in Washington, DC.

The Capitol Christmas tree lighting ceremony gets underway at 5:00 pm ET.

Politics of Iraq:

Note conclusion: the White House press corps might not even Notice the next time the President admits that mistakes were made. So chalk one up for the communications team at 1600.

Bush gets good marks for yesterday's speech from the New York Times' Sanger and Glanz, who say that the shift toward smaller reconstruction projects in Iraq is consistent with suggestions previously made by the administration's critics. The Times also Notes the unusual location of the speech. LINK

But Glanz, in a separate piece in the New York Times, questions the President's claims that a teaching hospital in Najaf represents a model of the reconstruction efforts. The truth, says Glanz, is that the hospital lacks "critical medical equipment" and many floors are a "chaotic mess." LINK

"In an unusually stark assessment of the situation in Iraq, Bush described several strategic errors in managing a rebuilding effort that he said proceeded in "fits and starts." By learning from its mistakes, Bush said, the administration has reshaped its approach and he held out two key cities as models of success to be replicated across Iraq, writes the Washington Post's Peter Baker. LINK

USA Today's David Jackson and Andrea Stone write up yesterday's presidential speech, Noting Bush's concession that reconstruction did not go according to plan. LINK

Congressional Democrats met for an hour yesterday in a futile attempt to come to a consensus on a plan for Iraq. Their lack of success may create problems for the party in next year's midterm elections, writes Sheryl Gay Stolberg in the New York Times. LINK

Josephine Hearn reports in The Hill that 150 House Democrats held a caucus yesterday to discuss their party's position on Iraq for the first time since Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA) called for a U.S. troop withdrawal. LINK

The Washington Times concludes that the report released yesterday by Democratic Sen. Jack Reed "showcased a widening split among party members on how to address the war." LINK

Bush personnel:

The New York Daily News' DeFrank and Bazinet, in a shameless attempt to garner must-read status, pick up on the rumors of Rumsfeld's impending resignation, saying he is likely to quit early next year after an Iraqi government forms. DeFrank and Bazinet boost the Lieberman-as-replacement rumors by reporting the Connecticut senator was offered John Bolton's position at the United Nations earlier in the year before turning it down. LINK

White House Chief of Staff Andy Card tells reporters that he is ready, willing, and able to change jobs should the President ask him to do so, but that he does not think a future at Treasury is in the cards, reports Reuters. LINK

GOP agenda:

The New York Times fronts its new poll, which shows the President's approval rating up 5 percent from a month ago to 40 percent overall. The Times attributes the rising numbers to lower gas prices and more economic good news. Approval of Bush's handling of the war in Iraq also rose slightly to 36 percent, up from 32 percent in October. LINK

Here's the "on the other hand" portion that Democrats are going to be focused on: "But his presidency is still plagued by widespread doubts about his handling of the war in Iraq, with 52 percent of poll respondents saying the Bush administration intentionally misled the public when its officials made the case for war. A majority of Americans want the United States to set some timetable for troop withdrawal; 32 percent want the number of American troops reduced, and 28 percent want a total pullout."

In his Washington Post column, Dean Broder writes the House is due for a good "scrubbing" and urges consideration of recent ethics and rules reforms proposed by some Democratic members. LINK

The San Francisco Chronicle obtained an advance copy of a GAO report that disputes some of the figures used by the Bush Administration to prove the success of the drug war. LINK

Of the $56 billion tax cut legislation to be voted on today, the Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman writes, "House GOP leaders expressed confidence yesterday that the tax cuts will pass. . ." LINK

Now that the President is talking about Iraq more frequently, Bloomberg's Brendan Murray points out that he no longer speaks often of Katrina. LINK

"Bush hasn't been back to the region in almost two months, and he doesn't speak about it much anymore -- four times in November and twice so far this month, and then only fleetingly," writes Murray.

Dean's Democrats:

While appearing on CNN's "American Morning," DNC Chairman Howard Dean was asked about his San Antonio radio comments and said his words were taken "a little out of context" and compared it to the way intelligence was "cherry picked" before the war began.

"We can only win the war, which we have to win, if we change our strategy dramatically," Dean said. "The Democrats are coalescing around a different strategy. We hope the President will join us." At another point in the interview, Dean said: "The President has said himself we couldn't win the war," referring to the President's 2004 interview with Matt Lauer in which the President was addressing the war on terror.

Dean described his plan this way: "I'm with Jack Murtha on this. We need a redeployment of our troops, bring the 50,000 Guard troops home in the next six months, they don't belong there. We need a special task force of anti-terror troops staked out in the Middle East. We need 20,000 additional troops in Afghanistan, not in Iraq. We need to redeploy our troops and make – stop making our troops the target over there. We can turn this over to the Iraqis."

Asked after his interview whether Dean was switching his support from following former Reagan Administration official Lawrence Korb (who envisions US troops getting out of Iraq over two years) to Murtha's approach (who has said that he thinks six months is a reasonable amount of time that it would take for US troops to get out of Iraq), DNC Communications Director Karen Finney said Dean still supports the Korb approach and said that when Dean referenced Murtha, he did so in order to signal that he shares Murtha's goal of getting the target off the backs of American soldiers.

Dean also said in the interview that despite the media's obsessions with intra-party differences, the differences among Democrats are small "perhaps Sen. Lieberman excepted."

If you remember all the pounding Dean took from Lieberman in 2003 and 2004 for allegedly lacking a "certain trumpet," you've got to love the way Dean phrased this: "Not only do most Democratic Senators, most Republican Senators now believe that 2006 has to be a transition year -- even Sen. Lieberman voted for that resolution."

The New York Post's Deb Orin says Howard Dean's suggestion that the war in Iraq is unwinnable makes him untouchable for many Democratic candidates around the country. Tennessee Senate hopeful Harold Ford tells Orin, "I probably won't be inviting him to come in and campaign." LINK

Bob Kerrey hit Dean hard on "Imus" this morning, in an appearance in which the Greenwich Villager also suggested he didn't know what a "simulcast" is and that he didn't know that Imus' show is a radio program (that happens to be shown on TV).

New York gubernatorial hopeful Eliot Spitzer said yesterday that Dean's comments about winning the war were "flat out dead wrong," reports the New York Post. LINK

John DiStaso writes in his Granite Status column that, in 2008, one or two states will likely hold primary caucuses after Iowa's first caucus and before New Hampshire's traditional first primary. LINK

A New York Times editorial recommends Democrats reorder their 2008 primaries into "four regional groups of state primaries could be spaced at a more thoughtful pace." LINK


"Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) asked a judge Wednesday to separate the two remaining charges against him and let him go to trial quickly on one count," reports the AP on DeLay's push for a speedy trial. LINK

DeLay and his legal team fight for a January hearing date. LINK

Jonathan Allen reports in The Hill that DeLay will return to the appropriations committee, pending House Speaker Dennis Hastert's (R-IL) approval. LINK

Patrick O'Connor reports in The Hill that DeLay asserted yesterday that Republicans will not try to oust him permanently from his leadership post. LINK

Chairman Arlen Specter tells the Washington Post that the 2003 redistricting plan in Texas and how it was handled at the Department of Justice is on his prospective Judiciary Committee agenda. LINK

Politics of national security:

Glenn Kessler and Josh White of the Washington Post treat the comments Secretary Rice made on torture while in Kiev as a shift in emphasis on the part of the Administration. LINK

The New York Times refuses to take a stand in the did-she-or-didn't-she debate over whether Secretary Rice's comments yesterday signaled a shift in U.S. policy on torture and instead plays up the confusion among various government officials. LINK

One "former senior American government official" tells the Times that Rice may have been pushing for a new policy instead of setting one: her goal was "'to tie more firmly the hands' of the Justice Department, the C.I.A. and the Pentagon when it comes to setting policy," this official says.

Per the Washington Times, Congressional Republicans will support John Bolton's plan to block the U.N. budget unless the organization creates an ethics office and adopts other reforms. LINK

Politics of Katrina:

Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-LA) said yesterday that he will subpoena communications sometime next week that were sent to and from Andy Card and Fran Townsend during Katrina, setting up yet another showdown between Congress and the White House over access to information, reports the New York Times. LINK

The Fitzgerald investigation:

The investigation got slightly more active yesterday with Fitzgerald's suspected primer performance before the new grand jury, reports the Washington Post. LINK

The reason for Wednesday's meeting between Fitzgerald and the jury is "not publicly known," says the New York Times, "but it is possible that he used the session to familiarize the grand jurors with the evidence." LINK

Big Casino budget politics:

The Wall Street Journal's Brody Mullins writes of remaining obstacles between competing alternative minimum tax bills in the House and Senate.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board on today's vote on extending capital gains tax cuts for two years beyond their currently scheduled end in 2008: "The very fact that it is proving so difficult to secure a mere two-year extension of President Bush's most notable first-term domestic-policy achievement underscores how far Republicans in Congress have stumbled of late. The 2003 tax cut is about as clear a policy success as has come out of Washington in many years."

Robert Novak rails against Sen. Charles Grassley and a "classic stealth amendment" passed by the Senate last month to punish Big Oil companies over "allegedly indecent profits." LINK

The economy:

Renowned economist and Bush tax cut supporter Milton Friedman tells the Washington Times that Republican spending increases "are 'disgraceful' and a betrayal of the party's principles." LINK

In a Washington Times op-ed co-written by Newt Gingrich, legislators are urged to overhaul the Congressional Budget Office. LINK

Alito for Associate Justice:

Paul Kane reports in Roll Call that supporters and opponents of Judge Samuel Alito are shifting their efforts from media advertisements to grassroots campaigns.

Sen. Specter tells the Washington Post that Alito's nomination has some hurdles and he expects his questioning before the committee will be more extensive than what John Roberts faced. LINK

Sen. Pat Leahy said yesterday he wants any additional documents from work done by Judge Alito while working in the Reagan administration that were withheld from a previous FOIA request. LINK

Columnist Joan Vennochi of the Boston Globe writes that Democrats are attempting to saddle both sides of the abortion debate. LINK

2008: Republicans:

Scott Greenberger of the Boston Globe reports, "With a self-imposed deadline to reveal his political plans looming, Governor Mitt Romney traveled to New Hampshire yesterday to raise money for the Manchester Republican City Committee and to further burnish his reputation among GOP activists in the Granite State." LINK

Lt. Gov. Kerry Healy of Massachusetts, and possible gubernatorial candidate, is "at odds" with Gov. Romney's "morning after pill" legislation. LINK

Back from Africa Sen. Brownback says conditions in the Congo are "dire." LINK

2008: Democrats:

Martha Stewart tells Business Week's editor-in-chief, Stephen J. Adler, "I think [Hillary Clinton] would do a wonderful job [as President]." LINK

What does the Clinton campaign think of Mark Penn's new job? LINK

Gov. Mark Warner made his second visit of the year to South Carolina, where they ate him up at a state party fundraiser in Charleston. Warner said all the attention makes him feel "a little like the flavor of the month." LINK

Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack continues to make waves in his state with his proposals to raise the state's cigarette tax by 80 cents, LINK


Michael Schiavo has launched TerriPAC "to strike back at politicians who tried to keep his brain-damaged wife alive through congressional legislation he termed a 'sickening exercise in raw political power,'" writes Tamara Lytle of the Orlando Sentinel. LINK

The Schwarzenegger Era:

Gov. Schwarzenegger joined the man he ousted, former Gov. Gray Davis, for the unveiling of Davis' portrait in the state Capitol yesterday. The New York Times says Davis spent the occasion dividing his time betwewen a "half-victory speech and half campaign stumping, reviewing his record at length, highlighting education and the environment." LINK

Although his bipartisan credentials are currently in no need of burnishing, the Governor was all smiles and warm words as he hosted his predecessor for the hanging of his official portrait in the Capitol. The Los Angeles Times reports that Davis grew misty-eyed as the 5-by-4 foot image of himself was hoisted onto the wall. LINK

The Los Angeles Times reports that a businessman tied to the bribery scandal of Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham donated $700,000 to the Schwarzenegger campaign and received two gubernatorial appointments. The man, Brent Wilkes, has since resigned at the Governor's behest. LINK

Hollywood actor and director Rob Reiner has officially declined to run against Schwarzenegger in next year's election. Reiner said he came to his decision after his children -- former schoolmates of the littlest Schwarzeneggers -- tearfully urged him not to enter the race. LINK

Schwarzenegger's China visit may have grabbed headlines, but the San Francisco Chronicle reports that it was Sen. Dianne Feinstein, not the Governor, who met with high-level diplomats during her latest trip there. LINK

Corzine replacing Corzine:

New Jersey Gov.-elect Jon Corzine has settled on Rep. Robert Menendez as his replacement in the United States Senate, reports the New York Times, with an official announcement likely by week's end. LINK

The New York Post and New York Daily News also say Corzine will tap Menendez for his Senate seat. LINK

Keep your eyes on just how quickly the New Jersey Democratic establishment unifies behind West New York Mayor Albio Sires as the likely candidate to succeed Menendez in the House. LINK


The Nation's Newspaper reports that states are utterly backlogged with requests for help from seniors needing help with the new prescription drug plan. Delaware's insurance commissioner says he has four employees to advise 120,000 seniors. Carrie Sheffield reports in The Hill that Democrats believe they have enough votes to extend the Medicare prescription-drug-benefit-enrollment period until the end of 2006 and offer seniors a one-time change in plans, which would deal the White House a political blow. LINK

South Carolina:

The State on the death of former South Carolina Gov. Carol Campbell. Lee Bandy remembers the politicians "aggressive, no holds-barred style." Our thoughts and prayers are with the Campbell family. Politics:

Speaker Hastert's suggestion that members of the House undergo new ethics training received mixed reviews but may be most significant for signaling "that Republican leaders are increasingly anxious about the image of the House after bribery convictions," reports the New York Times' Carl Hulse. LINK


The successful recall of Spokane Mayor Jim West may be a boon to gay rights, the New York Times concludes. LINK


Bay State opponents of same sex marriage have delivered 170,000 signatures in support of a constitutional ballot question in 2008. The Washington Times weighs in on the "Christmas" controversy at the White House. John Bresnahan reports in Roll Call that Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-WV), the top Democrat on the House ethics committee, received $23,000 in campaign contributions and gifts to a family foundation from MZM Inc., whose former owner, Mitchell Wade, is embroiled in the ex-Rep. Duke Cunningham bribery scandal. LINK

Peter Savodnik reports in The Hill that the National Republican Senatorial Committee is planning a public-relations campaign to tie leading Democrats to lobbyist Jack Abramoff. LINK