The Note: Take It As a Warning



Today's "obvious" Note lede: join the New York Times, Carville and Begala, and many other Democrats in piling on a certain talkative Senator.

Out of respect for Joseph R. (Beau) Biden III (and his dad), we are going the opposite of "obvious," however.

Some might even deem it "obscure"; but we call it:

The Note's Answers to the Most Pressing Questions in Politics Today

(You supply the questions, during the next round of Hatch-Alito colloquy.):


Congressman Ney

third ballot

Jan. 31


Tim Kaine

Diamond Jim

New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado

return to home country to apply


Kevin Madden

David Rogers=Speaker's Pet

Colts, Patriots

congressional relations

Speaker Emanuel?

Teresa Vilmain

Les Halles

The first reader who supplies each and every correct question gets to have lunch at the Palm with Howard Fineman, paid for by Scott Reed and Vernon Jordan.

Send your responses here:

Go watch the second round of Alito questioning, which was beginning at 9:30 am ET. The members of the Senate Judiciary Committee will each have 20 minutes to question President Bush's nominee to replace Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court. The committee will break for lunch at 12:30 pm ET and for dinner at 6:00 pm ET.

Disability rights advocates and civil rights advocates will take to the stakeout microphones outside the hearing room to oppose Alito's nomination.

President Bush signs the US-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement in the Oval Office at 10:55 am ET. He makes remarks on the war on terrorism at 1:10 pm ET in Louisville, KY.

The DNC will bracket the President's trip to Louisville with a conference call featuring Ret. Gen. Wesley Clark (D-AR) and a Democratic candidate for Congress from the Louisville area, Iraq war vet Lt. Colonel Andrew Horne, at 9:45 am ET.

Vice President Cheney calls into Sean Hannity's radio program at 3:15 pm ET. Hear it live here on the most-listened-to radio station in America: LINK

The grand jury examining the CIA leak is scheduled to meet at 9:30 am ET at the US District Court in Washington, DC.

The Senate Armed Services Committee conducts a closed briefing on the Interceptor Body Armor System and the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology study referenced in recent news reports at 2:30 pm ET in Russell 222. In light of Sen. Clinton's "Good Morning America" appearance and other Democrats calling for a congressional investigation, ABC's Jonathan Karl reports the Army is stepping up its pushback on the body armor stories and this hearing will be part of that effort. Army spokesman Paul Boyce tells Karl, "Every Soldier in harm's way has a complete set of body armor, the best body armor in the world. To date, nearly 700,000 full sets of Interceptor Body Armor have been provided to soldiers."

Just days before leaving office, Gov. Mark Warner (D-VA) delivers Virginia's "State of the Commonwealth" address in Richmond, VA.

The Supreme Court hears oral arguments in House v. Bell. House is on death row in Tennessee and claims DNA evidence will clear him of a rape committed 20 years ago.

Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey, and other officials from treasury, Justice, Homeland Security, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the US Postal Service participate in a "press roundtable" on money laundering and release the Money Laundering Threat Assessment at 10:45 am ET at the Treasury Department.

Judge Bork will join Sam Donaldson for a live two-way on ABC News Now's "Politics Live" today. Alito said yesterday that he didn't agree with Bork "on a number of issues," despite having said in 1988 that Bork would have been "overwhelmingly confirmed" if the public had understood his views.

Samuel Alito for Associate Justice:

The consensus coming out of yesterday is that the Democrats were, by and large, ineffectual at "drawing blood."

(Note hint: follow Begala's advice and ask those Cheryl Mills questions.)

At yesterday's hearings, Alito left open the question of whether the President can wiretap Americans without going to the FISA court and acknowledged (the obvious legal point that nominees try to sidestep) that a Supreme Court Justice—even one who strongly believes in stare decisis—can overturn precedent.

But by agreeing with Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's opinion that a time of war is "not a blank check" for the President and by saying that he'd keep an "open mind" on abortion despite his 1985 memo, Alito avoided locking himself into specific positions, making it difficult for the Democrats to turn Alito's nomination into something more than a mostly party-line vote to confirm him.

The Wall Street Journal's recent piece on the "unitary executive" theory -- with its hard-to-resist reference to Alito's Federalist Society speech -- may have contributed to some Democrats focusing too much on "the unitary executive" and not enough on how much inherent power the president can wield in the face of explicit congressional action.

Judge Alito did a fine job explaining his position on "the unitary executive" theory, telling Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) that the theory "goes to the question of control, it doesn't go to the question of scope."

In today's questioning of Alito, Democrats are hoping to build on the tough questioning by Sens. Feingold and Schumer of Alito on war powers and abortion. And Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) will likely talk more about Vanguard and credibility.

In the Los Angeles Times, Ron Brownstein has one senior Democratic operative saying that Senate Democrats may try to "braid" together concerns about Alito's stances on civil liberties and abortion to try to find one issue to coalesce around—something that so far has proved elusive, Brownstein says. LINK

Roll Call reads the tea leaves and asks if Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl may be the only Senator to cross party lines in the committee vote on Alito. If he supports Alito, Roll Call Notes the lack of unanimous opposition to Alito by Democrats in committee will make a Democratic filibuster more difficult.

The Washington Post's Charles Lane writes that Alito "sought to portray himself as a cautious, independent thinker who understands the judiciary's role as a check on presidents who overstep their constitutional authority." LINK

Lane writes that Alito "seemed to bristle only once," when Feingold asked "if Bush administration officials had helped sculpt his answers about the White House's use of the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on some communications inside the United States."

"'Nobody has told me what to say,' Alito snapped."

(Note to Steve Schmidt: we consider your orders to be "suggestions," also.)

The New York Times' analysis pities the man forced to follow in Chief Justice John Roberts' "Olympian" footsteps, calling Alito's performance "placid, monochromatic", and "bureaucratic." Alito does get credit for stumping some questioners with his direct answers, and the Senators take heat for hogging air time. LINK

The Washington Post's Amy Goldstein on Vanguard. LINK

Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times piles on the Senators, offering a critique of the committee's highlights (a sassy Specter) and lowlights (the historic 26-minute Biden monologue). LINK

The Washington Post's Josh White on Kennedy making a weapon out of McCain's torture law. LINK

Stephen Dujack, the Princeton expert who was initially on the Alito witness list for Senate Democrats but was bounced after reports attacked his previous writings, defends himself on the Los Angeles Times op-ed page today. LINK

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank: "Between the Republican softballs and the Democratic speeches, there was little left for Alito to say." LINK

Alito: news of day:

Washington Post: LINK

Los Angeles Times: LINK

New York Times: LINK

Wall Street Journal: LINK


The Hill: LINK

Washington Times: LINK

Bloomberg News: LINK

Follow the Leader(ship race):

From the Blunt campaign's Jessica Boulanger:

Yesterday, Blunt secured public endorsements from 45 Members. The private tally is much higher. House Republicans trust Blunt's brand of leadership and vision for the future.

These Things Matter:

a. Public commitments (somewhat); private commitments (a whole lot)

b. Experience whipping

c. Member to Member conversations

d. Amy Steinmann

e. All of the above

And while Googling monkeys everywhere scan the esteemed opinion pages of the nation's leading newspapers, we offer a partial list of Things That Don't Matter:

a. Blunt's media appearances since announcing his candidacy

b. The date of the election

c. What you've heard

d. Golf Handicaps

e. All of the above

If you answered "e" to both, chances are you won't be dining at Lauriol Plaza tonight ---- you're no doubt a Member of the Gang of 116+. But good news: It's Taco Salad Day at the Capitol Carryout. See you there.

From the Boehner campaign's Kevin Smith:

"At the start of day five, Team Boehner is feeling energized (and that's before morning coffee). Our list of supporters - both public and private - continues to expand because John is doing what he does best: uniting members from across the Conference. Members are eager for change. Whether fixing a budget process that discourages fiscal responsibility, stopping earmarks that primarily serve the interests of lobbyists, or restoring trust among lawmakers and the American public, it's clear House Republicans must have a plan for success. And with reformer credentials that go back to his days exposing the House bank scandal, nobody knows more about reforming the institution of the House than John Boehner. His discussion with members has focused on his plan to fix these problems and get Republicans back on the right track. Members are taking this decision seriously, a fact that is significantly bolstering the Boehner campaign."

Blunt v. Boehner:

With only one-third of the Republican conference publicly declared to a candidate in the race for Majority Leader, there seems to still be some room and time for a third candidate to mix things up. Reminder: Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ) has yet to declare his intentions either way.

Rep. Shadegg keeps his name in the mix with this Arizona Republic interview in which he states many Members are contacting him and offering their potential support. LINK

Your morning papers are full of suggestions from various corners that having a new leader in place prior to the SOTU is important to the "cleansing process" of which Tom DeLay speaks. Keep your eyes on the bouncing schedule ball and on a third candidate.

The public list of supporters -- numbering 44 for Blunt and 25 for Boehner by The Hill's deadline -- might prevent any other Republicans from entering the race for majority leader, but The Hill warns that someone else may jump in if neither candidate clears 116 votes by week's end. LINK

In a front page Washington Post story looking at the "extensive ties" Boehner and Blunt share to the "same K Street lobbying world that stained DeLay's reputation and spawned the Abramoff corruption scandal," Jonathan Weisman ledes with the "boys trip" that Boehner has taken to the Caribbean in winters past with some of the city's top lobbyists. LINK

Some members, such as Congressman Jeff Flake (R-AZ), are said to be floating the names of Congressman John Shadegg (R-AZ) and House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-CA) as possible third candidates in the race.

The Washington Times' Stephen Dinan suggests that immigration may be what costs Boehner the race. LINK

The Associated Press examines Blunt's connections with Jack Abramoff, including three letters Blunt wrote that were "helpful to Abramoff clients while collecting money from them." LINK

"Blunt's own connections to Abramoff or his clients could complicate GOP plans to distance its leadership from the corruption investigation before the fall elections for control of Congress."

One of the conservative members who launched the initial petition drive to call for new leadership elections, Rep. Flake, offers some Boehner-friendly words to the Financial Times. LINK

Roll Call Notes that calls among Republicans for full leadership elections are mounting among Reps. Bill Thomas, Gil Gutknecht, Jeff Flake, Anne Northup, John Sweeney, and Melissa Hart, among others.

Conference Chair Deborah Pryce may soon "face a revolt among conservatives," predicts The Hill, with many members strongly opposed to her continued position in the party's leadership. LINK

The Republican ethics agenda:

The indispensable David Rogers of the Wall Street Journal writes up the Republican lobbying reform agenda.

Based on Congressman Dreier's (R-CA) conversation with Speaker Hastert, Rogers reports that Hastert is proposing (or appears set to propose) "banning all privately financed trips for lawmakers." Such a "flat prohibition" would go "far beyond" most lobbying-reform proposals, which focus more on better disclosure of who arranges and pays for travel by lawmakers and what exactly is provided in the form of entertainment and outings."

Hastert's initiative is described as "still taking shape" and "sure to face resistance."

Dreier has met with Sen. McCain. "But not even Mr. McCain has gone so far as Mr. Hastert in suggesting a ban on all travel paid for by outside interests."

"'The Speaker feels it would be good for us to ban the issue of private travel,' said House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-CA), after a two-hour meeting with Mr. Hastert about a lobbying overhaul. 'That's something we really need to look at.'"

On the race to replace DeLay, Rogers reports that Blunt "appears increasingly confident" and that there is increasing pressure to settle the matter before Bush's Jan. 31 State of the Union address.

The New York Times' Carl Hulse covers much of the same ground including that Rep. Dreier will meet today with Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) to discuss the travel ban proposal. LINK

The Hill asks if Speaker Hastert's efforts at lobbying reform will be too little too late for his caucus. LINK

The Democratic ethics agenda:

The Hill reports that the Democrats' package of lobbying reforms is not satisfying lobbying watchdog groups. LINK


Bloomberg's Jensen and Davidson on the ways in which the Abramoff scandal threatens to derail Ralph Reed's political ambitions in the Peach State. LINK

The Washington Times' Jerry Seper and Audrey Hudson report on the newspaper's front page that law enforcement authorities are scrutinizing five lawmakers in the Abramoff-related probe: Sens. Conrad Burns (R-MT); Byron L. Dorgan (D-ND); and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), along with Reps. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ), and Bob Ney (R-OH). LINK

The Washington Times' Donald Lambro has Larry Noble of the Center for Responsive Politics taking issue with DNC Chairman Howard Dean for characterizing the Abramoff scandal as a "Republican finance scandal." LINK

"'So the answer to Dean depends on how you define scandal,' Mr. Noble said. 'I would say, broadly defined as a question of the tribes' buying influence in Washington, it includes Democrats.'"

"Staffer B" in the Abramoff plea deal, otherwise known as Neil Volz, former chief of staff to Bob Ney, has resigned from the law firm Barnes & Thornburg, reports Roll Call.

The Hill looks at how K Street is responding to the increased spotlight on lobbying practices. LINK

The New York Times stokes the Abramoff fire by offering readers a tale of the surfboard-riding, Springsteen-worshipping youth of one of the case's lead prosecutors. LINK


The Houston Chronicle's Samantha Levine writes up KTRK's (our ABC station in Houston) decision to not air the Campaign for America's Future anti-DeLay ad. DeLay's campaign legal team sent letters to all Houston-area stations urging them not to run the ad which they believe to be full of inaccuracies. LINK

Campaign for America's Future spokesman Toby Chaudhuri tells The Note, "Threatening to sue the media and desperately throwing dust in the eyes of his constituents rather than answering the charges against him won't help Rep. DeLay's defense. . . . we are responding to stations who are concerned because they were threatened by his Washington lawyers."

The Houston Chronicle on the recently uncovered letter to AG Ashcroft from DeLay and others in support of closing an Indian casino which was also in line with the position of one of Jack Abramoff's clients. LINK

Big Casino budget politics:

Per Bloomberg's Roger Runningen, President Bush is preparing a budget request for next year that officials say "would carve savings from programs such as Medicare, NASA and agriculture, testing lawmakers' pledges to hold down spending in an election year." LINK

2008: Republicans:

Gov. Pataki cracks down on sex offenders, announcing the creation of a maximum security facility colorfully dubbed "the pervert prison," says the New York Post. LINK

Pataki proposed an $80 million taxpayer contribution for a planned visitors center at Ground Zero. LINK

Gov. Huckabee (R-AR) is likely to push for Arkansas legislation that bans all smoking in workplaces. LINK

According to the Washington Times, Virginia Sen. George Allen, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Arkansas gubernatorial candidate and former congressman Asa Hutchinson will be attending the Southern Republican Leadership Conference in March. LINK

2008: Democrats:

The Washington Post ed board hails Gov. Warner's commitment to learning the truth in the Coleman case, "albeit after much hand-wringing." LINK

David Yepsen of The Des Moines Register takes a bite at Gov. Vilsack's new proposed beer tax. LINK

While promoting their book on morning network television, Paul Begala and James Carville both placed their Clintonista credentials on display by urging Sen. Clinton to seek the nomination and predicting that if she does so, she will be the nominee because, as Begala puts it, she is "strong."

Politics of spying:

Per the Washington Post's Dan Balz and Claudia Deane, "Americans overwhelmingly support aggressive government pursuit of terrorist threats, even if it may infringe on personal privacy, but they divide sharply along partisan lines over the legitimacy of President Bush's program of domestic eavesdropping without court authorization, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll." LINK

House Democrats have slated a Jan. 20 panel on the President's domestic surveillance program, saying Republicans have ignored their December request for the House Judiciary Committee to hold a formal hearing, the Wall Street Journal's Jess Bravin reports. LINK

"The Democrats' star witness: Bruce Fein, former Reagan administration lawyer who has criticized the classified program."

Congressman John Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, released Harvard Law Prof. Laurence Tribe's analysis of the Bush Administration's argument: "The technical legal term for that, I believe, is poppycock," Tribe writes.

According to a letter released late yesterday, the NSA's inspector general has opened an investigation into eavesdropping without warrants in the United States, the Washington Post reports. LINK

An anonymous N.S.A. official tells the New York Times an ongoing audit of the domestic spying program is intended to make sure it sticks to the directives of the executive order creating it, not to assess its legality. LINK

Politics of Iraq:

The President heated up the midterm election rhetoric in a speech yesterday, writes David Sanger of The New York Times. In the address, which echoed one by his Vice President last week, he told Americans to dismiss critics "who claim that we acted in Iraq because of oil, or because of Israel, or because we misled the American people." LINK

In his speech yesterday, Bush acknowledged making mistakes in Iraq but also said politicians questioning the mission of troops "hurts their morale." LINK and LINK


Sen. Lieberman would not accept the SecDef post if President Bush were to offer it to him, reports the Journal Inquirer. LINK

Quinnipiac University's latest Lieberman poll numbers show some decline in support from Democrats, but he still seems to have enough Joe-mentum to keep his job. LINK

The AP writes up the fourth quarter fundraising totals for the Florida gubernatorial candidates which show the Republican hopefuls crushing their Democratic counterparts in the race for campaign cash. LINK

The Houston Chronicle on Day One of Gov. Perry's (R-TX) three-day statewide campaign announcement tour. LINK

Per the New York Post, a New Jersey judge ruled that there will be no special election for Jon Corzine's Senate seat, confirming that the Governor-elect's appointed successor, Rep. Robert Menendez, will hold the position through November's vote. LINK

The Schwarzenegger Era:

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Gov. Schwarzenegger has been riding his much beloved Harley Davidson without a license. The Governor's response: "I just never really applied for it." LINK

The San Francisco Chronicle's Lynda Gledhill breaks down Gov. Schwarzenegger's new budget plans. LINK


The New York Times on the ethical tremors shaking up Tennessee politics. LINK