The Note: Fortnight Follies



It is Friday the 13th and a good time to call a clover a clover.

The calendar year has just begun and the pressing question in the Woodruff-Hunt, Matalin-Carville, and Friday-Begala households burns bright for all Note readers: will the Bush-Cheney-Bartlett 2006 be better than their 2005 was?

Beyond the all-important talisman of improving poll numbers, here's what the White House has already accomplished:

1. Proved to themselves, their (real) congressional allies, and (some savvy) Democrats that the fight over NSA surveillance can be the White House's political friend in the midterms (bring. . . It. . . on).

2. Got Sam Alito on the glide path to nomination, without the President or anyone on his behalf having to affirm that George W. Bush wants Roe versus Wade overturned and a constitutional amendment banning abortion. (As for what Alito wants, seems pretty obvious. . . .)

3. Got to decide when (and how) to release those Bush-Abramoff grip-n-grin photos on their own terms (We are thinking a busy, news-filled Friday afternoon TBD to the Forward. [Note: that is perhaps a more complicated joke than we intended it to be.]).

4. Got everyone not to care about Dr. Lawrence K. Altman's latest Cheney health rant.

5. Consulted widely on what should be in the SOTU, with very few leaks.

6. Kept Democrats in a box, making them help constituents sign people up for the prescription drug benefit, whose (potential) success will be used to get Republicans re-elected.

7. Made presidential meta-mea culpas so common that even the Washington Post barely Notices anymore.

8. Laughed and laughed and laughed over Leader Pelosi's endorsement of the Murtha plan symbolizing the state of the Democratic Party's (dis)organization.

9. Made it clear to the Democrats that filibustering the Alito nomination would be politically dumb (or, at least, risky).

10. Soothed press corps outrage over incomplete/misleading/inaccurate statements about White House involvement in the Wilson leak with repetitious platitudes, combined with frequent withdrawals from the McClellan Bank of Goodwill with White House Regulars.

11. Defused calls for a staff shakeup by not changing one blessed thing.

12. Kept all fingerprints off of the House leadership fight (but we know who they want to win). (But wait: Mr. Shadegg of Arizona announced this morning that he is getting into the race. See below for more on that.)

13. Got out of New Orleans without saying "heckuva." (Well, almost.)

What's left to complete before the SOTU?

We'll reveal that list in a subsequent edition of The Note.

President "Victory Lap" Bush holds a joint press availability at 11:25 am ET with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House, followed by a working lunch in the residence. The President meets with business leaders about Central American relief and reconstruction at 1:20 pm ET. He participates in a photo op with the US Solheim Cup team at 1:45 pm ET, and he departs for Camp David at 2:20 pm ET.

Nicely teeing up the President's press conference with the German Chancellor, the AP reports, "Iran threatened on Friday to block inspections of its nuclear sites if U.N. Security Council confronts it over its nuclear activities." The Iranian threat comes one day after the EU3 declared a dead end to the current round of talks with Iran. LINK

The Senate Judiciary Committee was hearing testimony from outside witnesses at 9:00 am ET. The Alito hearings are expected to conclude today. ABC News' Ed O'Keefe reports that the Committee vote will not occur until next Tuesday at the earliest.

At 1:30 pm ET, holds a press conference to unveil a new "Stop Alito" television ad and national grassroots efforts to educate Americans about "the troubling Alito record."

Progress for America Voter Fund (PFA-VF) today announced a new television advertisement campaign in response to the "liberals' smear campaign in an effort to delay and thwart Judge Samuel Alito's confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court."

The television ad -- entitled "Shameful" -- will air nationally on FOX and CNN from Friday, January 13 through Friday, January 20 and profiles two Democratic supporters of Alito -- former Attorney General Robert Del Tufo (D-NJ) and Yale law professor J.L. Pottenger.

PFA will spend $250,000 to air the ad.

First Lady Laura Bush is interviewed by CNN International at the White House. The conversation comes on the eve of the First Lady's first trip to Liberia for the inauguration of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the country's new president and the first woman to be elected in Africa democratically. The interview will air on CNN at 12:00 pm ET.

Down in Virginia -- fun, fun, fun -- the Beach Boys play at the inaugural concert of Gov.-elect Tim Kaine (D-VA) at The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg. On Saturday, Kaine becomes the first governor of the Old Dominion to be sworn into office in Williamsburg, VA since Thomas Jefferson.

In their closed-door conference, the Supreme Court may decide today whether to hear Padilla's case on his designation as an enemy combatant. Although the government wants the case declared moot because they now have charged him for a different crime in Florida, Padilla's lawyers are eager for the Justices to hear this larger issue to ensure that Padilla could never be returned to enemy combatant status. There is a chance we could hear the Court's decision today, although it is more likely that we would hear from the Court on Tuesday, ABC News' Ariane "the 10th Justice" DeVogue reports.

Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) previews the local aid figures that will be in the fiscal year 2007 budget at 10:00 am ET in Boston, MA.

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) is in Pakistan this weekend. He will visit Balakot, the city that was destroyed by an earthquake in October, and visit the Mehra Tent Camp, where he will tour the "Save the Children" distribution of uniforms and backpacks sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Sen. Kerry meets with President Musharraf on Sunday.

In order to ensure access to lifesaving drugs, California state health officials will announce at 6:00 pm ET in Sacramento, CA action they will be taking while the federal government "fixes problems" with its newly-implemented Medicare prescription drug coverage program. Earlier in the day, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) signs transportation-related legislation at a CalTrans construction site in Los Angeles.

Be sure to tune into "This Week" on Sunday. George Stephanopoulos will talk with Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) about Judge Alito and NSA spying. George also has an interview with one of the hottest contenders for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination: Gov. Mark Warner (D-VA).

Blunt v. Boehner v. Shadegg:

Rep. John Shadegg (R-AZ) has decided to enter the race to replace Tom DeLay in hopes that he will provide an outsider/fresh-faced/conservative alternative to Representatives Blunt and Boehner who claim to have locked up nearly 80% of the conference in public and private commitments. However, in terms of public commitments their combined support falls just short of 50%.

As his first attempt at painting himself as a reformer, he has declared he will give up his Republican Conference Policy Chairmanship to seek the Majority Leader's position.

From Rep. Shadegg's announcement that he is in the race: "I am aware of the difficulty of winning this election. I face well-organized opponents with tremendous resources," Shadegg said. "However, I believe in the power of Republican ideas, and I believe that we need a clean break from the scandals of the recent past. I hope every member of the Republican Conference will join with me in the coming days to craft an agenda of reforms that will fully regain the confidence of the American people."

Rep. Boehner welcomed Rep. Shadegg to the race and issued a statement saying, "His entry into the Majority Leader race is further proof the Conference isn't happy with the status quo."

When asked for the Blunt campaign's reaction to the Shadegg news, spokeswoman Jessica Boulanger replied, "I'll let Mr. Blunt's 100+ supporters, including the 78 Members now publicly committed, speak for itself."

The Washington Post's Shailagh Murray has Blunt and Boehner both citing strong support while Shadegg asks: "Do either one of the candidates sufficiently recognize that we need to change?" LINK

Anthropologist Diamond Jim VandeHei looks at what it takes to succeed in an election in which politicians are both the candidates and the voters. LINK

Bloomberg's Johnston and Litvan write that immigration and spending might decide the race. LINK

Per the Washington Times, both Rep. Boehner and Rep.Blunt said, as Majority Leader, they would get rid of the K Street Project, a party initiative encouraging corporate and trade associations to hire pro-business Republicans. LINK

Follow the Leader(ship race):

From Rep. Blunt's spokesgal Jessica Boulanger:

A dispatch from Blunt "Election" headquarters: Good morning Note readers, "looks like you could use a cupcake!" The race for Leader (the first in the era of the blogosphere) is looking like a food-fight. In the immortal words of our second favorite candidate: "It's like my mom says, the weak are always trying to sabotage the strong." With 100+ commitments -- 78 public -- it's easy for Team Blunt to stay positive.

Phone conversations we'd like to eavesdrop on (that Rep. McDermott hasn't already):

Rep. Flake and Rep. Bass

Kevin Smith and NRO

Rep. McHenry and Rep. Hoyer

Rep. Boehner and Anika Sorenstam

On a serious Note: Texas GOPers coming out strong today for Blunt is big news. We leave you with a Friday soliloquy . . .

Tracy Flick: [narrating] You see, you can't interfere with destiny. That's why it's destiny. And if you try to interfere, the same thing's going to happen anyway, and you'll just suffer.

From Boehner spokesguy Kevin Smith:

In the majority leader race, only John Boehner has offered a detailed vision and leadership plan to tell members where and how he will unite Republicans and lead our majority. If Republicans are going to be successful in moving forward an ambitious agenda both this year and beyond, we must restore a sense of trust among members, our leaders, and the American people.

Reform is (still) the word of the day. John's reforms plans are resonating at the highest floors of the Capitol, and his strict no pork diet throughout his years in Congress is paying dividends with Members looking for a real alternative to the status quo. He's also gaining traction from his unequivocal statement that when he's elected Majority Leader, there won't be a K Street Project or anything like it. John believes the system is broken, and he wants to lead the effort to fix it.

Note to Team Shadegg: start writing!!!

The politics of prescription drugs:

McClellan, we have a problem. How big a problem remains to be seen. But California -- is big.

"California officials ordered emergency action Thursday to cover drug costs for 1 million elderly citizens, many of whom have been denied life-saving medications or charged exorbitant amounts because of glitches in the new federal prescription drug program," the Los Angeles Times' Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar and Peter Nicholas report. LINK

"The action by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration capped a day in which the Medicare prescription drug program -- one of President Bush's signature domestic policy initiatives -- came under sharp criticism from members of Congress and governors of both major political parties."

More: "Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a leading figure among Republican governors on health policy issues, took a similar step Wednesday."

Robert Pear of the New York Times continues to track the states offering last-resort assistance to Medicare recipients who have had a less than seamless transition to the new prescription drug benefit. In addition to California, add Pennsylvania and Illinois to the list. LINK

On a conference call with reporters yesterday, Sen. Hillary Clinton urged Gov. Pataki to follow the lead of these other states. LINK

"Drug companies are curtailing their assistance programs for poor seniors now that a Medicare drug benefit is in place, leaving many people stranded," the Wall Street Journal reports. LINK

In yesterday's Chicago Tribune a Republican legislator had this to say, "We can't ask seniors to sit back and bear the brunt of federal or state administrative problems. We should do whatever we can to make sure they're protected and then fix the system as soon as possible." LINK

Samuel Alito for Associate Justice:

With no appetite for a filibuster, Judge Alito will soon almost certainly be "Justice Alito."

Note that various news accounts have Sens. Snowe, B. Nelson, and Chafee seeming to take support for a filibuster off the table.

But that's not stopping liberals from digging in.

Per the Los Angeles Times' Ron Brownstein's must-read, the main coalition opposing Alito,, "has scheduled a news conference for today to unveil a new television ad that sources said would use comments made by the judge at the hearings. It will run on national cable channels." LINK

(Note the buy size is not specified.)

"'Based on everything I've seen so far, while [a filibuster] is not out of the question, the more likely scenario is we try to maximize the 'no' votes and we try to build a case designed to highlight the differences between the two parties on key issues such as privacy and civil rights and women's rights,' said a senior Senate Democratic congressional aide who requested anonymity when discussing the party's strategy on Alito."

Brownstein writes that GOPers are "dubious" that support for Alito will be a political liability in November.

More Brownstein: Chafee spokesman Stephen Hourahan says the Rhode Island Republican is concerned that Alito "wasn't willing to go as far as Roberts" in describing Roe as "settled law."

But while voting against Alito would help Chafee in the general election, it could "help derail Chafee's re-nomination bid," Brownstein writes.

Stephen P. Laffey, a Republican challenging Chafee from the right in the GOP primary, announced his support for Alito on Thursday.

The Wall Street Journal's Jeanne Cummings reports that Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) is, in her words, "inclined to support Judge Alito," while Sen. Feingold (who voted for Roberts) worries about Alito's potential to alter the "basic balance between Congress and presidential power in a way that could affect our very system of government."

The New York Times ed board doesn't hide what it thinks: ". . . it is hard to see how Senators Specter, Chafee, Snowe and Collins - or any other pro-choice senators - can call themselves strong advocates of abortion rights if they support him." LINK

In his news analysis, the New York Times' Liptak explores Alito's originalist approach and aligns him with Justices Scalia and Thomas. LINK

In the Washington Post's legal analysis, Charles Lane writes that Alito "did everything he could" to avoid saying how he would rule on the big issues but that even his "cautious answers" contained evidence that the court could "shift to the right" once Alito is confirmed. LINK

Sheryl Gay Stolberg offers up her Day Two follow on Mrs. Alito, helping to solidify her place in Senate Judiciary Committee history. LINK

"Alito Likely To Become A Justice," blares the Washington Post's front page LINK

The New York Times' Nagourney and Lewis lean towards a party line vote in Committee and somewhat close to it on the Senate floor. LINK

The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne laments that Supreme Court nominees can avoid answering any question they don't want to when their party controls the process. LINK

The Washington Times' Charles Hurt reports that Sen. Kennedy belongs to a social club for Harvard students and alumni kicked off campus nearly 20 years ago for not admitting female members. LINK

Deb Orin of the New York Post dishes the Kennedy oppo as well. LINK

Alito: by the numbers:

ABC News' Ed O'Keefe reports that Judge Samuel A. Alito, Jr. took 677 questions during three days in the witness chair; but, for a majority of those 18 hours, the Judge was listening, not talking, according to a Senate Judiciary Committee tally.

The monologue awards go to . . .

Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), speaking for 24 minutes and leaving 6 for Alito on Tuesday, gabbing for 12:54 versus 6:06 for Alito on Wednesday, and concluding with 13:25 versus 6:41 on Thursday.

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), taking 22:50 for himself and leaving 7:10 for Alito on Tuesday, repeating the pattern by chatting for 15:43 versus 5:19 for Alito on Wednesday, and concluding with 19:38 against 10:22 on Thursday.

Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), spending a Biden-beating 25:44 for his own purposes and leaving only 5:59 for Alito on Monday and doing the same by defending Alito for 18:44 on Wednesday while allowing the Judge 1:58 to speak for himself on Wednesday.

And, amazingly, in 46 separate exchanges with the 18 members of the Judiciary Committee, Judge Alito's time responding exceeded that of the Senators' time asking only 9 times i.e., attempting to discover the Judge's views on the issues, Senators overwhelmingly spent more time talking than listening.

Big Casino budget politics:

Bloomberg's Donmoyer reports that the President will face a "day of reckoning" next month when he presents a budget that for the first time will account for "the cost of making permanent his first-term tax cuts, which may widen the deficit by $118.3 billion in 2011. The deadline for submission of the budget to Cognress is Feb. 6. LINK

"The White House acknowledged on Thursday that the budget deficit would climb back above $400 billion this year, erasing the brief improvement last year and complicating President Bush's vow to cut the deficit in half by 2009," writes Edmund Andrews of the New York Times. LINK

Bush agenda:

President Bush "appeared to be trying to spread optimism in a city that is years away from recovery," writes the New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller of the President's first trip to New Orleans since October. LINK

As part of its coverage of Bush's trip to New Orleans, the Wall Street Journal page linking to the newspaper's story on that topic includes this bit of skepticism about the President's pronouncements on Thursday: "Bush toured the Gulf Coast for the first time in three months, declaring himself impressed at the pace of recovery in New Orleans. But beyond a slice that includes the French Quarter, much is still wasteland."

The Republican ethics agenda:

"Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is considering proposals to ban gifts and privately funded travel as part of an effort to curtail the influence of lobbyists on lawmakers, officials said Thursday," reports the AP's David Espo. LINK

Democratic ethics agenda:

Carl Hulse of the New York Times looks at the potential political mileage Republicans may get out of Rep. Jefferson's (D-LA) possible legal peril. LINK

Former Congressman James A. Traficant Jr. (D-OH), who's serving his eight-year sentence for racketeering and bribery, is "making it big in the art world," reports the Washington Post's Al Kamen. LINK

Politics of immigration:

Ensuring some additional "immigration could divide the Republican Party" stories out of next week's winter meeting, a member of the RNC has gathered enough signatures to orchestrate a party vote next week on a resolution calling for tougher immigration enforcement and opposing a guest worker plan like the one President Bush has proposed. The Washington Times' Stephen Dinan has the story. LINK

The economy:

While in Bangalore on a five-day tour of India with U.S. business leaders, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) said he supports outsourcing white-collar jobs to low-wage countries such as India, the AP reports.

Borrowing a line from Tom Friedman, Baucus says "the world is flat," and "we must work harder to better retrain our people."

Politics of national security:

Per the Washington Post's Eggen and White, the Bush Administration took the "unusual step" yesterday of asking the Supreme Court to call off "a landmark confrontation over the legality of military trials for terrorism suspects, arguing that a law enacted last month eliminates the court's ability to consider the issue." LINK

Politics of spying:

Standards are in the works for corralling domestic intelligence, the Washington Post's Walter Pincus reports. LINK

Politics of Wal-Mart:

The Maryland Senate's override of Gov. Ehrlich's veto of the Wal Mart-health care bill makes it above-the-fold on the Washington Post's front page. LINK

"Maryland lawmakers bucked the will of the state's Republican governor and the nation's largest retailer yesterday, voting to become the first state to effectively require that Wal-Mart spend more on employee health care," the Washington Post's John Wagner reports.

The Wall Street Journal's Kris Hudson reports that the debate over Maryland's Wal-Mart bill could continue in the courts. "The Maryland Chamber of Commerce has argued that the potential new law will conflict with federal employment law, namely the Employee Retirement Income Security Act."

More Cooper: "Last week, the AFL-CIO labor federation announced it intends this year to push legislation similar to Maryland's Fare Share Health Care bill in more than 30 states.' . . . 'An explicit part of the program is to put pressure on organizations nationally to do national reform,' said Gerald Shea, government-affairs adviser to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. 'If people can't manage the political will to do something nationally to solve this problem, then would they like to deal with us in 50 different ways in 50 different states?'"

2008: Republicans:

The Arizona Republic Notes Sen. John McCain's star power can make a 20 year old girl giddy, even on his home turf. LINK

2008: Democrats:

Gov. Vilsack (D-IA) chatted up the Globe Gazette editorial board in Mason City, IA and jokingly boasted a bit about his one-percent support in national presidential polls. LINK

Lloyd Grove follows the Politicker's lead and writes that Sen. Clinton kept her distance from Harry Belafonte at a Children's Defense Fund function in Manhattan yesterday and then she refused to answer an off-topic question about it on a conference call with reporters concerning Medicare. LINK

New Hampshire:

Gov. John Lynch (D-NH) is backing legislation to help the state ward off challenges to its first-in-the-nation status, reports the New Hampshire Union Leader. LINK

2004 Democratic presidential candidate Rev. Al Sharpton came to New Hampshire's defense yesterday by stating the Democratic Party should not "dump on New Hampshire" when creating its 2008 nomination calendar. LINK


On the eve of the precinct caucuses, Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Chet Culver reported yesterday he raised over a $1 million dollars last year towards his bid for Iowa governor. Here's Tom Beaumont of the Des Moines Register: LINK

One of Culver's primary opponents, Mike Blouin, said yesterday he'd name a cabinet-level director of women's and children's health and double spending for smoking prevention if he is elected. LINK

Pat Healy of the New York Times has all the details on Tom Suozzi's (D-NY) exploratory committee, including Team Spitzer's strategy for defeating Suozzi in a primary. LINK

New York State Democrats are also urging Suozzi to disavow a potential run as a Republican. LINK

The Santorum campaign is quite pleased with this cartoon from the Philadelphia Record asking, "Where's Bobby Casey?" LINK

The Schwarzenegger Era:

The Wall Street Journal's Wirey John Harwood ups the pressure on White House insider Steve Schmidt, Schwarzenegger's new campaign manager, to help the governor persuade Secretary Chertoff to alter the new risk-assessment formula with regards to San Diego and Sacramento.

Political potpourri:

Democratic country crooner Tim McGraw announced his plans to run for governor of Tennessee. . . someday. USA Today previes the McGraw interview with Esquire magazine hitting newsstands on Monday. LINK

Jane Norman profiles Sen.Grassley (R-IA) in the Des Moines Register, making good use of "running against the traffic" and flat tire metaphors. LINK