The Note: Witness for the Witness



Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) got the fourth day of Alito hearings going already this morning. The day's objective is to conclude round three of questioning, go into closed session to review Alito's FBI record, and then to return and hear from outside witnesses.

ABC's Ed O'Keefe reports, "Senators will not be permitted to exceed 25 minutes in the third round and few of the Committee's 10 Republicans are expected to take their turn. Thus far, Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) will take 20 minutes (though, it is still unclear how much of that time will be used for actual questions), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) will speak for 10 minutes, and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) is slotted for 10 minutes. Others, including Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Sen. Herb Kohl (D-WI), and Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), are also expected to request time."

President Bush travels to the Katrina-ravaged Gulf Coast today—his 9th trip to the region since the hurricane hit on Aug. 29 and his sixth trip to New Orleans, LA. While in the Crescent City today, the President will participate in a small business roundtable at 12:05 pm ET. He will then helicopter to Bay St. Louis, MS to give remarks on Gulf Coast reconstruction at St. Stanislaus College at 2:25 pm ET.

The President finishes the day raising coin for the RNC at a closed fundraiser at the Palm Beach, FL home of Dwight and Martha Schar. Per the RNC, the event this evening "is a tiered fundraiser for the RNC and JCC (Joint Candidates Committee). It will raise $2.2 million for the RNC and $1.8 million for the JCC."

Former President Bill Clinton makes a HIV/AIDS announcement regarding antiretroviral (ARVs) drugs and rapid tests at 12:30 pm ET at his Harlem office on West 125th Street. Be sure to tune into "Nightline" tonight at 11:35 pm ET for Terry Moran's exclusive interview with Mr. Clinton.

While he's uptown, she will be midtown: Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) attends the Children's Defense Fund's 2005 "Beat the Odds" Awards at 12:15 pm ET in the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center. Sen. Clinton plans to call for immediate action to aid local pharmacists and seniors who are "bearing the brunt of problems plaguing" the new Medicare prescription drug program. At 6:30 pm ET, she attends the Board of Rabbis Induction Ceremony in New York, NY.

The Austin Headliners Club roasts Karl Rove at its 50th anniversary gala event honoring President Bush (41) and Mrs. Barbara Bush in Austin, TX.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) discusses the ways in which he thinks his "Strategic Growth Plan" will plan for California's future needs by reducing traffic congestion, creating jobs, and improving air quality at 1:15 pm ET in Fremont, CA.

Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) holds a 12:00 pm ET news conference to announce his election reform initiatives in Santa Fe, NM.

Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) holds a 2:45 pm ET press conference on "honest government" in Omaha, NE. Reid is on a five-city tour.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds a 10:45 am ET press conference in H-321 of the Capitol.

Also at 10:45 am ET, Secretary Rumsfeld is expected to brief at the Pentagon.

L. Paul Bremer, the former director of reconstruction and humanitarian assistance for postwar Iraq, discusses "My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope" at the National Press Club at 6:30 pm ET.

The National Press Club holds a 6:00 pm ET newsmaker program on "White House Communications Press Briefings and Press Gaggles: Are They an Effective Communications and News Venue?" Participants include Martha Joynt Kumar, author and political science professor at Towson University; Mike McCurry, former White House spokesman; Helen Thomas, White House columnist; and Alexis Simendinger, White House correspondent for the National Journal.

Samuel Alito for Associate Justice:

Democrats opposing Alito's confirmation can take comfort this morning in the Washington Post's front-page decision to focus on Alito leaving the door open to reversing Roe (rather than focusing on his "open mind" as the newspaper did yesterday). But with Sen. Specter seemingly in Alito's corner, even if the Democrats were to hold onto all of their own members (no small feat) and somehow pick up the support of the abortion-rights supporting Chafee, Snowe, and Collins, Judge Alito will soon be Justice Alito. LINK

How long will it take the liberals opposed to Alito's confirmation to get the Washington Post's headline on television in Maine and Rhode Island? (A. Too long.)

And did anything break through from yesterday other than Mrs. Alito's tears? (A. No.)

And the Post has this detail: "As Democrats tried to pry loose Alito's views on abortion, a group supporting abortion rights, Republican Majority for Choice, announced it is opposing his nomination. Five GOP senators are on its advisory committee, including Specter." LINK

"Asked about the group's stance, Specter, who has said he will not decide how he will vote until after the hearings, said: 'I did not participate in their decision.'

On the Concerned Alumni of Princeton front, a "top Republican congressional source" tells ABC News' Ariane DeVogue that there is "not a thing" in the CAP documents that reference Alito. Still waiting to hear from the Democrats.

On the executive power front, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) extracted a promise from Alito on Wednesday to provide, by Thursday morning, a list of all of the people who helped him prepare for the hearings.

Based on questions Feingold asked in committee, the '08er wants to know whether it is appropriate for different officials, who might have ties to the NSA spying controversy, to be a part of a group coaching a Supreme Court nominee.

Side Note: Will Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the Republican Judiciary Committee member who, according to the Senator's spokesman, "met" with Alito and spoke with him about executive power one week ago in the Old Executive Office Building, appear on the list?

While appearing on NBC's "Today" this morning, the much-maligned "Irish Catholic kid" -- also known as Joe Biden -- suggested doing away with committee proceedings and, instead, debate and vote on the nomination on the Senate floor. And for those of you who had Joe Biden in the maybe column, you can safely move him over to "nay" for now. "At this point in time, I would vote not to confirm," he told Katie Couric this morning. We have no comment on the Senator's answer to the last question he was asked.

The Democrats looked unprepared and unfocused as they tried to make a direct hit on Alito, but shot only blanks, writes Robert Novak. Particularly rousing his ire: Kennedy, who appears "to have lost his fastball in the 19 years since he eviscerated nominee Robert Bork." LINK

The Des Moines Register takes Note of Sen. Chuck Grassley's (D-IA) folksiness while questioning Alito. LINK

The New York Times' Adam Nagourney Notes that liberal interest groups opposed to Alito's confirmation are increasingly distressed by the way the confirmation hearings are playing out and are voicing their concerns to Democratic Senators and their aides. The two Senators they are happy with? Schumer and Durbin. LINK

USA Today's Joan Biskupic analyzes Alito's style, finding that his "plodding" manner managed to soften the edges of most sharp criticism that came his way. LINK

David Brooks writes the Alito hearings show, once again, why Democrats are out of touch with middle-class white voters.

The New York Times on Mrs. Alito's tears: LINK

The Wall Street Journal on the Democrats bringing Mrs. Alito to tears: "party may have lost points when judge's wife left hearing room in tears." LINK

The New York Times' Adam Liptak looks at the long shadow cast by Justice O'Connor over the Alito hearings. LINK

Newt Gingrich told Fox News yesterday the Democrats' questioning of Alito reminded him of Sen. Joseph McCarthy's grilling of suspected communists. LINK

Deb Orin, in her New York Post column, asks if there is "a stupider move in the Democratic playbook" than making Alito's wife cry. LINK

Dana Milbank on the Democrats' last roar. LINK

The Washington Post has Alito disavowing CAP. LINK

The Los Angeles Times explains CAP to the uninitiated: LINK

Janet Hook of the Los Angeles Times points to publicity-hungry Senators as the source of the lack of genuine questioning. The hearings have been so colorless, says one Democratic staffer, "It's like the first half of 'The Wizard of Oz." LINK

Alito: news of day:

New York Times: LINK

The Los Angeles Times: LINK


State of the Union:

Two must-reads on the same topic:

The Wall Street Journal's McKinnon and Lueck report that President Bush is planning to focus on health care in 2006. Among the proposals he is considering are bigger tax breaks for Americans who buy their own health insurance, broader use of HSAs, and helping consumers get more information about providers' price and performance.

Bloomberg's Murray and Donmoyer write up Al Hubbard's pronouncement that the President is not interested in his tax reform panel's recommendation to tax some workers on their employer-provided health benefits. LINK

"Bush will lay out his agenda for the year in his State of the Union address at the end of the month. Dropping the recommendation to tax health-insurance benefits allows the president, fresh from a defeat for his plan to overhaul Social Security, to avoid an election-year confrontation with labor unions such as the AFL-CIO over the potential erosion of worker benefits and with insurers concerned about losing business."

Follow the Leader(ship race):

From Team Blunt's Jessica Boulanger:

Blunt's momentum continues to build---public supporters topping 64. The numbers speak for themselves, as do the scores of House Republicans who tell Blunt he is the right leader at the right time for our party.

From the north, south, east, west. . . Committee Chairmen, elected leaders, freshmen, senior lawmakers.... Prominent moderates, staunch conservatives.... Blunt has the breadth and depth of support to not only win this race but to unify House Republicans (after some of the most difficult months of our majority) and accomplish even more for the American people.

Blunt is the candidate who will push for the toughest changes to the current system, while bringing seasoned, steady leadership to the table when House Republicans need it most. So cue-up Team Blunt's theme song . . .

"Whip It?"

After days of Kevin "Pitching more than Jim Bunning" Smith's rapid blogging: "Welcome to the Jungle?"

Heck no! We're jamming to "The Best is Yet to Come."

From Team Boehner's Kevin Smith:

"Reality check. On Monday, nearly 72 hours ago the Blunt camp started a whisper campaign about being mere minutes away from clinching the race. We were amused. Lucky for us, the election is set for February 2 and Team Boehner is right on schedule, expanding our public and private list of supporters each day."

"Topic of the day is lobbying reform. Original ideas for lobbying reform that is. John has outlined a blueprint that starts with earmark reform. He wants to end the practice of inserting egregious earmarks in appropriations bills in the dead of night. He's calling for legitimate discussion and debate about earmark requests so members can consider whether projects serve the public interest or the lobbyists requesting them. Loosely translated, he wants to ban pork for lobbyists. Boehner has always been opposed to earmarks, and has voted against every highway bill since he's been in Congress."

Blunt v. Boehner (v. Shadegg?):

It will be quite a Groundhog Day. The leadership election has been set for February 2, which means when President Bush is announced to the Speaker of the House on the evening of January 31 he may be taking that most famous of walks from the back of the chamber to the rostrum during a very contentious time for his fellow Republicans.

The plan floated early yesterday to hold the leadership elections on Jan. 26 or 27 was effectively vetoed by the Republican Study Committee, which wanted the opportunity to first interview both candidates at its annual retreat on Jan. 30 and 31, reports The Hill. LINK

As of last evening, the Blunt campaign claims 62 public supporters to Boehner's 35.

And the Gentleman from Arizona continues to deliver his fine Hamlet performance, while MOC's with whom he has spoken (including the Speaker) hint at a likely run.

Here is Bloomberg's Litvan with more. LINK

The Los Angeles Times quotes Rep. Flake (R-AZ) on Arizona Man Shadegg: "We'd all benefit if he runs. . ." LINK

The Wall Street Journal's David Rogers has Speaker Hastert, who spoke with Shadegg by phone, saying: "At the end of the day, he hinted, he'd be in the race. I don't know what his decision is." LINK

More Rogers: "Mr. Blunt nor Mr. Boehner appears close to the 116 votes needed to win. With so many Republicans uncommitted, Mr. Shadegg has the potential to shake up the race, forcing at least a second ballot and greater discussion of changes that many members are demanding."

And later: the Wall Street Journal's Wirey David Rogers and Brody Mullins report that Shadegg "might announce in the next 24 hours that he will enter the race for majority leader." LINK

Stop (or, at least, "hold") the presses: "Arizona GOP Rep. John Shadegg last month shed more than $6,900 in campaign contributions from sources connected with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who has confessed to bilking Indian tribes and buying political influence," reports the Arizona Republic. LINK

We wonder how much time will be dedicated to Shadegg oppo research today.

Here is Rep. Shadegg's statement from yesterday evening: "I think we need to clean up our act in the wake of the recent ethics scandals, and get back to the agenda that brought us the majority in the first place. I am concerned that the two members currently in the race, whom I have a great deal of respect for, will not move aggressively enough in that direction. I will continue to talk to Members to gauge how many share that concern."

In a piece that looks at the "wide range" of "fully legal" practices that reflect "the steady dismantling of the wall between lobbyists and members of the House and Senate," the Washington Post's Tom Edsall includes unflattering looks at both Boehner and Blunt. LINK

"One lawmaker hoping to move up in the GOP leadership is" Boehner. "He maintains the lobbyist-financed Freedom Project, with a lobbyist as treasurer and an all-lobbyist executive board. It has raised $5.94 million over 10 years and has contributed $3.26 million to fellow Republicans."

"The soon-to-be-closed Alexander Strategy Group, for instance, received funds from committees associated with" Blunt "and DeLay -- $386,552, and $392,740, respectively."

Boehner and Blunt are engaged in an all-out "arms race" to see who can support the more stringent lobbying reforms, reports the New York Times, in part to distance themselves from their own "well-established links to Washington's lobbying community." LINK

The Republican ethics agenda:

The Washington Post's Jeff Birnbaum has Ron Bonjean, the Speaker's spokesguy, saying he expects the House to pass a lobbying reform bill "as soon as possible." The details of the bill have "not yet come into focus." But a touchstone for all sides is the McCain plan. LINK

". . . one particularly powerful group is gearing up to oppose several of the most sweeping proposals: lobbyists."

Following a visit from Tony Blankley, the New Hampshire Union-Leader's editorial page calls on the GOP to "institute real reforms, not paper ones." LINK


The infamous Texas redistricting masterminded by Tom DeLay may, in an ironic twist of fate, lead to his defeat. The 2003 redistricting raised the Democratic vote count in DeLay's district—a district that was then regarded as strongly Republican—by nearly 5 percent, according to a New York Times analysis. LINK

The Houston Chronicle Notes that with Rep. DeLay stepping down from his seat last week the "clout" of high ranking Texas politicians lessens. LINK

Samantha Levine, also of the Houston Chronicle, reports on the clean up and next steps for Rep. DeLay's staffers in the Majority Leader's office. LINK


The Associated Press writes up a new Pew study that finds only 18% of Americans are paying "close attention" to the Abramoff story. LINK

The Las Vegas Review-Journal follows up on yesterday's Washington Times story and reports, "The Justice Department is not focusing on Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada as part of an investigation of lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a source close to the probe said Wednesday in challenging a published report." LINK


Yesterday's guilty plea on bribery charges by a former aide to Rep. William Jefferson made Jefferson's own legal problems "dramatically worse," reports Roll Call.

The Washington Post's Allan Lengel has more. LINK

2008: Republicans:

For our student Note readers who are still searching for a thesis topic for the spring semester, may we suggest exploring the dimensions of the Romney/Johnson relationship in a comparative analysis to the Kerry/Johnson relationship. We are willing to bet, if done correctly, you could get that puppy published!

Glen Johnson of the Associated Press chats with Gov./RGA Chair Romney (R-MA) about his decision to donate $500,000 in Abramoff related contributions to the RGA to Red Cross chapters in five hurricane-affected states. LINK

(Not to worry Rep. Nussle, the RGA is only shedding itself of half that amount this year. The other $250,000 will leave its coffers next year.)

Courtesy of the AP's Marc Humbert, via the New York Post, we learn Gov. Pataki's (R-NY) PAC has hired New Hampshire communications firm Meridian Communications to "focus on a national communications plan promoting local, state and national races in 2006." LINK

Mr. DiStaso's Granite Status has more details too. LINK

Pataki also released plans yesterday for a $1.1 billion tax cut for New York businesses over three years. LINK and LINK

2008: Democrats:

The Washington Post's Richard Cohen columnizes that Sen. Biden's "manic-obsessive running of the mouth" is the "functional equivalent of womanizing or some other character weakness that disqualifies a man for the presidency." LINK

Cohen thinks this is a "pity" because the Gentleman from Delaware "occupies the sensible center of the Democratic Party."

The New York Post's Dick Morris writes Hillary Clinton needs to be pressed on bookkeeping discrepancies from her 2000 Senate race. LINK

Having schmoozed with the likes of Grover Norquist, former Vice President Al Gore will return to a more comfortable setting on Monday at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, DC where he will deliver a Liberty Coalition and American Constitution Society-sponsored speech on what he sees as the Bush Administration's efforts to extend executive power beyond Congressional direction and judicial review.

Virginian Mark Warner said goodbye to his governorship last night in his final State of the Commonwealth address, citing as his accomplishments a "fairer and more equitable tax code" and investments in education and public safety. LINK

On Sunday, C-SPAN's "Road to the White House" will show remarks Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) made last Saturday, Jan. 7, at a fundraiser hosted by the Upper Valley Democrats in Hanover, NH.

The Duluth News-Tribune takes a look the presidential odds on Feingold. LINK

While in New Delhi, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) told reporters he backs a controversial nuclear accord with India ("in principle"). LINK

The Rev. Al Sharpton will make a swing through New Hampshire today, according to DiStaso of the New Hampshire Union-Leader. LINK

Politics of Iraq:

While calling into Sean Hannity's radio program yesterday, the Vice President had some tough words about Chairman Dean. "I don't think Howard Dean has ever given any thoughtful consideration to what's going on over there," Vice President Cheney said, referring to Iraq. "He certainly hasn't indicated that by any of his public statements." LINK

Josh Earnest, the DNC's nimble spokesman, reacted to the Vice President's comments, thusly: "Personal, political attacks in the right-wing media don't help our men and women in uniform get the body armor they requested that could have prevented 80 percent of the Marine fatalities in Iraq. Vice President Cheney should give some 'thoughtful consideration' to that."

Per the New York Times, the Army said yesterday it will ship additional body armor to troops in Iraq, after taking criticism for not making the move earlier. LINK

Per the Washington Post's Josh White, "Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, a central figure in the U.S. detainee-abuse scandal, this week invoked his right not to incriminate himself in court-martial proceedings against two soldiers accused of using dogs to intimidate captives at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, according to lawyers involved in the case." LINK

Politics of spying:

During his speech in Louisville yesterday, the President received repeated applause during his lines about authorizing domestic wiretaps, reports the New York Times. LINK

The Washington Post's Michael Fletcher on Bush's defense of the wiretapping program. LINK

Politics of immigration:

USA Today reports that the federal government is tripling the number of officers assigned to round up illegal immigrants. LINK


Pat Healy of the New York Times reads all the tea leaves and points toward Tom Golisano getting into the New York Republican primary for governor by the end of the month. LINK

The New York Post's Fred Dicker reports Republican leaders in New York are considering endorsing Democrat Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi in the race for governor -- if he'll switch parties, which he has no intention of doing. LINK

The Spitzer v. Suozzi primary and the (rhetorical) Weld v. D'Amato primary will provide enough copy to keep all those New York political reporters who bemoaned a boring 2005 mayor's race quite happy for some time.

The Boston Globe on the post-Romney Massachusetts GOP this election year. LINK

The Schwarzenegger Era:

The Los Angeles Times reports that the Governor's top aide Susan Kennedy will woo top donors to his reelection campaign, thus breaking an unwritten rule of the Davis administration that kept staffers from attending fundraisers. LINK

Schwarzenegger is facing some resistance from California Republicans on his $222-billion public works proposal, according to the Los Angeles Times. LINK

But the Governor's move to the center is playing well, writes columnist George Skelton. The Los Angeles Times' scribe crunches the numbers on a new poll that has Schwarzenegger up substantially with moderates and independents, if down slightly with conservatives. LINK

As the debate continues over the proper limits of executive power, consider this: despite the discovery that he was driving his Harley without a motorcycle license, the LAPD will not ticket Gov. Schwarzenegger for his bike crash earlier this week. LINK