The Note: It's the Murals of Elihu Vedder, Stupid

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18

NEWS SUMMARY

Maureen Dowd speaks for more than a few Note readers when she suggests in her fabulously expensive column today that the Democratic Party's leaders aren't winning the battle or the war.

On the other hand: George Miller thinks Nancy Pelosi is doing a fabulous job; Jim Manley thinks Harry Reid is doing a fabulous job; Karen Finney thinks Howard Dean is doing a fabulous job; Ray Hernandez thinks Hillary Clinton is doing a fabulous job; and Robert Gibbs thinks Barack Obama was robotic and unsmooth on Good Morning America today.*

RoveBartlettWallaceMcClellan, on their own terms, would pretty much agree with all of that.

In any case, our point is this:

Cliché-Meisters such as Terry McAuliffe would say that the Abramoff scandal has caused a PERFECT STORM of corruption, controversy, and chaos battering the Republican Party, and that the Democrats would have to be completely incompetent not to be able to take dramatic electoral advantage of the scandal and sweep to victory in the midterms and 2008.

(Yes, well, clear throat here and, if you can afford it, go re-read the Dowd column.)

Sen. Reid (D-NV), Rep. Pelosi (D-CA), Sen. Obama (D-IL), and Rep. Louise Slaughter will unveil their "honest leadership, open government" reform agenda at 2:00 pm ET at the Library of Congress. They will be joined by other Democrats.

Sens. Reid, Durbin, and Schumer follow up with a 3:30 pm ET pen and pad briefing on the Democrats' "Honest Leadership Act."

Making hay out of recent GOP scandals in the crucial battleground state of Ohio, DNC Chairman Dean will preview the Democrats' reform agenda at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, OH at 10:00 am ET. Ohio Democratic Chairman Chris Redfern is expected to attend.

A rally sponsored by the Campaign for America's Future, MoveOn.org Political Action, and the Public Campaign Action Fund is planned for 9:45 am ET outside Grover Norquist's weekly meeting of conservative activists to "protest the 'K Street Project' Norquist helped create."

In the day's one must-read not written by Robert Pear, the Washington Post's Jeffrey Birnbaum explains that the lobbying reform proposals unveiled by the GOP yesterday actually do nothing to prevent lawmakers from accepting meals or travel from lobbyists – as long as the travel and meals are tied to fundraising. LINK

Birnbaum has Sen. John McCain saying he's aware of the loophole and vowing to fix it.

ABC's Liz Marlantes reports that Sen. McCain and Speaker Hastert agree that 527 reform is needed and should be a part of any reform bill. However, before walking out of his press conference with Sen. Santorum yesterday, McCain added ". . .my problem is earmarking more than 527s," and "I'm not going to sacrifice a whole bill for the sake of 527s."

The only item on President Bush's public schedule as of this writing is a meeting with "victims of Saddam Hussein" at 10:55 am ET in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. In private, the President will be racking his brain, trying to remember if he ever posed for photos with Jack Abramoff -- now the central issue in the 2006 midterm elections.

ABC's Karen Travers reports, "President Bush will meet with about a dozen Iraqis. A senior Administration official said Tuesday that some in the group witnessed Saddam Hussein's brutality, some were forced to flee Iraq, and some were imprisoned and beaten by the Hussein regime. Most of the Iraqis currently reside in the United States."

Secretary of State Rice delivers a foreign policy address entitled, "Transformational Diplomacy," at Georgetown University at 11:00 am ET.

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) is expected to attend the 2:00 pm ET Democratic event at the Library of Congress and then head up to Princeton, NJ to deliver a 7:30 pm ET policy address titled "Challenges for U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East" at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Andrea Mitchell will track her every word, looking to milk a third-day story out of feathers and copper wire.

The Senate reconvenes at 10:00 am ET. It will proceed to the swearing-in of Sen. Menendez (D-NJ), to be immediately followed by a mock swearing-in in the Old Senate Chamber.

Senate Democrats meet at 12:30 pm ET. Alito's nomination is expected to be among the topics of discussion. No stakeout is planned.

Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito will meet with three Democratic Senators this morning. All three voted to confirm Chief Justice Roberts. He meets with Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) at 9:00 am ET, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) at 10:00 am ET, and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) at 11:30 am ET.

After announcing his intention to seek a fourth term in Mississippi yesterday, Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) holds a 10:30 am ET press conference on his 2006 agenda in the Senate Gallery.

The grand jury looking into the CIA leak was meeting at 9:00 am ET.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeny delivers a 12:30 pm ET speech entitled, "The Senseless Slaughter of the Good American Job" at the National Press Club in Washington, DC.

Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) delivers his State of the Commonwealth address at 7:00 pm ET in the House Chamber in the Statehouse in Boston, MA.

Gov. John Lynch (D-NH) delivers the State of the State address at 10:00 am ET in Concord, NH.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-IL) delivers the State of the State address at 1:00 pm ET.

Gov. John Baldacci (D-ME) delivers the State of the State address at 7:00 pm ET.

Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) makes his fourth State of the State address tonight at 7:00 pm ET.

Commerce Secretary Gutierrez talks up the economy at the Monsanto/Pfizer research facility in St. Louis, MO at 11:30 am ET.

An update on President Ford's health is expected at 2:00 pm ET.

The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act:

Democrats have made cleaning up Washington's "culture of corruption" a cornerstone of their bid to retake the House and Senate in 2006.

Democrats will unveil legislation today that will, in the words of Reid spokeguy Jim Manley, "specifically address each Republican scandal by either significantly toughening existing laws or by creating new laws to ban activities."

Here is an advance look at the key provisions of the "Honest Leadership and Open Government Act" (Note the way the Democrats have tried to put a face on each of their proposed reforms):

"The Tony Rudy Reform": Close the Revolving Door. Close the revolving door between the Congress and lobbying firms by doubling (from one year to two) the cooling-off period during which lawmakers, senior Congressional staff, and Executive Branch officials are prohibited from lobbying their former offices. Eliminate floor privileges for former Members of Congress and officers of the Senate and House who return to lobby."

"The Ralph Reed Reform":Toughen Public Disclosure of Lobbyist Activity. Significantly expand the information lobbyists must disclose – including campaign contributions and client fees. Require them to file disclosure reports electronically, and increase the frequency of those filings. Require lobbyists to certify that they did not violate the rules, and make them subject to criminal penalties for false certifications."

"The Jack Abramoff Reform":Ban Lobbyist Gifts and Travel. Prohibit the receipt of gifts, including gifts of meals, entertainment and travel, from lobbyists."

"The Grover Norquist Reform": Shut Down Pay-to-Play Schemes Like the 'K Street Project.' End efforts like the 'K Street Project,' which Republicans created to tell corporations and lobbying firms whom they should hire in exchange for political access."

"The Frist and Hastert Reform": Prohibit 'Dead of Night' Special Interest Provisions. Require that all conference committee meetings be open to the public and that members of the conference committee have a public opportunity to vote on all amendments. Make copies of conference reports available to Members, and post them publicly on the Internet, 24 hours before consideration (unless waived by a supermajority vote)."

Still no word yet on whether the Democrats plan to close the loophole identified by the Washington Post's Birnbaum in his analysis of the GOP reforms.

Lobbying reform:

While appearing on morning television to preview the Democrats' ethics reform agenda, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) defended Sen. Hillary Clinton's (D-NY) plantation remark and distanced himself from New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.

Asked by ABC's Robin Roberts about the GOP's lobbying reform push, Obama said he thinks it is "terrific" that Republicans have "gotten religion on this."

He also struck a bipartisan note on morning television, saying that it's important for Democrats "not to get on their high horse" and to recognize that cleaning up the "culture of corruption" is going to require "bipartisan work."

Sen. Obama offered a full-throated defense of Sen. Clinton's recent comparison of the US House of Representatives to a plantation: "I think there is a connection between Sen. Clinton's statement and today's press conference. What you've seen over the years . . . has been the further and further concentration of power around a very narrow agenda that advantages the most powerful. I think that's what Sen. Clinton was referring to."

While appearing on CNN's "American Morning," Sen. Obama was asked about Mayor Ray Nagin's "chocolate city" and "God is mad at New Orleans" remarks. The freshman Senator said: "He apologized and I think that was probably the right thing to do. If I were mayor of New Orleans, I would want everyone to come back."

Sen. Obama added with a smile that Nagin's comments sounded too much like Pat Robertson.

According to Reid spokesgal Rebecca Kirszner, the role Sen. Reid has asked Sen. Obama to play on "honest leadership and open government" is akin to the role the Gentleman from Nevada has asked Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to play on energy independence and the role Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) has been asked to play on national security.

More on the Senator's role from Jeff Zeleny, the Chicago Tribune's Obama chronicler par excellence. LINK

A story in The Hill by Jonathan Kaplan and Elana Schor which reveals Dem plans to name each of their proposals after a lobbyist or activist got a nice mention by Soledad O'Brien on CNN's "American Morning." LINK

Stephen Dinan of the Washington Times curtain raises the Democrats' proposal: LINK

In his examination of the competing lobbying reform agendas, Carl Hulse of the New York Times writes of some possible division within the GOP ranks including Majority Leader candidate Shadegg's opposition to a travel ban. Rep. Dreier (R-CA) is hoping to achieve enough consensus to have the full reform agenda on the House floor for a vote in March, reports Hulse. LINK

(And be sure to Note the soundbite ready quip the Democratic Senator from Nevada has about organized crime.)

Even with lobbying reform fast-tracked in both chambers of Congress, the Washington Post says Republicans are "far from unified" in their beliefs about how to proceed with reforms. LINK

The Los Angeles Times asks whether the travel ban proposed by Speaker Hastert will "throw the baby out with the bath water" by also banning legitimate forms of travel sponsored for lawmakers by groups with no lobbying agenda. LINK

Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times looks at the politics behind the lobbying reform agenda and wonders whether or not legislators with close lobbyist ties, such as Sen. Santorum, Rep. Boehner, and Rep. Blunt, can effectively take the lead on reform. LINK

Rick Klein of the Boston Globe gives a nice round up on GOP efforts to curb lobbying corruption. LINK

The Nation's newspaper on Speaker Hastert's pledge to protect Americans from "bad actors". LINK

Per The San Francisco Chronicle's Zachary Coile: Rep. Dreier said he will move legislation when the House returns Feb. 1. LINK

The Houston Chronicle's Samantha Levine examines the House ethics committee's role efforts (or lack thereof) in admonishing lawmakers suspected of ethics violations. LINK

"In 2005, 'we didn't do anything,' said Rep. Gene Green, a Houston Democrat on the panel. 'I think it would be amazing if people had any faith in the ethics committee.'"

The Abramoff affair:

Former Dallas Congressman Martin Frost (D-TX) is alleging that current Dallas congressman Pete Sessions (R-TX) is linked to Abramoff and Scanlon through trips to and interest in Malaysia, according to Todd Gillman of the Dallas Morning News. LINK

USA Today profiles Ralph Reed, friend of Jack Abramoff, candidate for lieutenant governor of Georgia, and self-described "impact player". Says his Democratic competition: "We believe that Ralph wants to be president. The only place to stop him is right now." LINK

Blunt v. Boehner v. Shadegg:

Shadegg takes his turn on the Wall Street Journal's op-ed page, laying out his plan for reform and offering this dig at his opponents: "I did not discover reform as an issue -- like Saul on the road to Damascus -- when I entered the majority leader race. It has been an integral part of my record, not at one time a decade ago, but constantly, year in and year out since 1994."

"Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said Tuesday his party relished the thought that Missouri Congressman Roy Blunt might soon become majority leader," reports the Kansas City Star. LINK

More: "But Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City, a Democrat, disagreed with his party's chief. After the rally, which he attended, Cleaver said he hoped Blunt would win the job because his ties to Missouri could help his constituents."

The Hill's latest vote count: Blunt-85, Boehner-41, Shadegg-3. LINK

Reps. Charles Bass (R-NH) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) continue to pull many of the strings in the House leadership race, reports The Hill. LINK

Blunt, Boehner, and Shadegg each take 950 words to promote their candidacy in The Hill today. LINK and LINK and LINK

Follow the Leader(ship race):

Blunt's Jessica Boulanger:

As Matthew Dowd so artfully put it on 11/04: "I would much prefer our position than theirs. They would, too, if given truth serum." Quick! Pin down Smith and Steele and break out the serum. This race will REALLY get interesting.

If you are just tuning in you might not know:

--- Blunt was the first candidate to push for enactment of a lobbying and political reform agenda. And he supports earmark reform.

--- Members began committing to Blunt with Boehner already in the race AND the widely-reported prospect of a Shadegg candidacy. Blunt's 117+ commitments are unwavering.

--- Howard Dean has a history of irrational behavior. His politically-motivated swipes at House Republicans are consistent with that pattern and have the same impact as all-things Al Gore.

And as you write, edit, blog, opine, and/or gossip, you should focus on the following:

--- What you're wearing to the first of the Correspondents' dinners.

--- When we see you there what you'll say to us.

--- Cutting through all the spin: Blunt 85, Boehner 41, Shadegg 3.

Team Shadegg's Man of Steel offers this:

"Congressman Shadegg arrived in DC yesterday and spent the day working to counter Acting Majority Leader/Majority Whip Blunt's institutional advantages and Chairman Boehner's "Sinatra good looks and style" with his message of a clean break and real reform."

"We were thrilled to read of Rep. Boehner's decision in yesterday's Wall Street Journal op-ed to embrace a sensible earmark reform bill. Of course, Rep. Shadegg was one of the earliest co-sponsors of that bill last year. Better late than never."

"And we congratulate Acting Majority Leader/Majority Whip Blunt on his latest public endorsement. Dr. Dean may not have a vote in our Conference, but he seems very enthusiastic about Blunt becoming permanent Majority Leader."

"Everybody remember, it ain't over til February 2."

Boehner spokesguy Kevin Smith zeroes in on ear-marking:

While Mr. Boehner supports the lobbying reform efforts outlined by Speaker Hastert and Chairman Dreier, he also believes Republicans must go further by enacting serious earmark reforms. Here's what he means:

--Ensuring earmarks meet the specific purpose of the authorizing statute;

--Ending the practice of giving private entities a competitive edge unless it's important to national security;

--Using earmarks sparingly, and ideally, only for one-time appropriations that serve specific national needs; and

--Enhancing transparency and establishing clearer standards for this process.

Earmark reform must be a component of any comprehensive lobbying reform package, a point John made to Chairman Dreier last week when he shared his suggestions for short- and long-term reforms. Restoring the trust of the American people in the government that serves them is essential, and John is the first and only majority leader candidate to outline a plan to help restore that trust.

GOP Leadership:

Lott won't say it, but The Hill predicts he has his eyes set on the whip position, which last April he told The Hill is the "best job in town." LINK

Speaker Hastert is likely to announce this morning that he has tapped Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-MI) to lead the House Administration Committee, replacing Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), Roll Call and the Wall Street Journal report.

Rep. John Sweeney (R-NY) tells Roll Call he has 20 signatures on his petition calling for a full slate of elections for the GOP House leadership, with "overall support for the idea…far higher."

Medicare:

The federal government claims 3.6 million seniors have voluntarily enrolled in the new Medicare prescription drug benefit, per Robert Pear of the New York Times. LINK

P olitics of spying:

ABC's Jason Ryan reports that in the next day or two the Justice Department and White House are expected to release a policy white paper explaining the legal authorities that President Bush relied on when he authorized warrantless domestic wiretaps that circumvent the FISA court.

The White House returns fire at Al Gore and Hillary Clinton. LINK

With the domestic spying hearings looming, the Wall Street Journal reports on how critics of the Administration's wiretapping are trying to get the courts to quickly weigh in on the program's legality.

Samuel Alito for Associate Justice:

The Republican National Committee is unveiling a new web feature on its site later this morning designed for visitors to track Democrat Senators' position on Judge Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court.

Visitors will be able to click on a state to find out whether any given Democratic Senator "stands with Judge Samuel Alito, or with Ted Kennedy, Chuck Schumer, and Howard Dean," according to an RNC official.

Democratic Sen. Nelson of Nebraska becomes the first Democratic Senator to announce his "aye." LINK

The Washington Times reports that pro-lifers are singing Specter's praises. LINK

Ben Smith of the New York Observer on how the Alito hearings might have played out had Schumer been given the reins. LINK

Senate Democrats meet today to discuss Alito's nomination today, the Washington Times reminds us. LINK

Bloomberg's Greg Stohr predicts that the newly formed Roberts-Scalia-Thomas troika will soon be adding Alito to its team. LINK

Politics of Iraq:

The New York Times' Lichtblau writes up a previously classified 2002 State Department memo in which doubt is expressed about the validity of the now infamous claims of a uranium sale from Niger to Iraq. LINK

The Wall Street Journal reports today that the Pentagon plans to offer soldiers a $1,000 bonus for referring another recruit.

2008: Democrats:

Ray Hernandez of the New York Times looks at Sen. Clinton's recent fundraising travel schedule and her lack of substantial Republican opposition in her reelection bid in New York this year and writes, "Mrs. Clinton and her advisers appear to have figured out a narrow strategy of how to run for president without actually running for president. . ." LINK

And check out the Don Fowler kicker quote: ". . .if she continues doing favors for everyone as magnanimously as she has, it's possible that she will shut out options for any practical opposition."

Howard Wolfson pushes back on the White House's attempt to make hay out of Sen. Clinton's "plantation" remark and the New York Times' Ray Hernandez quotes Sen. Trent Lott's Hardball appearance on the same topic without irony. LINK

Deborah Orin dedicates much of her Day Two New York Post story on Sen. Clinton's "plantation" remark to Scott McClellan's reaction from the podium. LINK

The New York Daily News' Saltonstall and McAuliff have Sen. Clinton's Tuesday night comments in which she "firmly stood by her remarks." LINK

The Daily News duo point out Sen. Clinton's campaign was shopping around some old Newt Gingrich remarks in which he used the word "plantation" when discussing the Democratic House leadership in 1994.

Indiana Statesman Online calls Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) "brave to speak her mind," and deems her comments as "refreshing." LINK

Sen. Clinton has a letter-to-the-editor in the New York Times on body armor. LINK

The Argus Leader's Nestor Ramos critiques a potential Daschle run at the White House. LINK

The American Chronicle reports that Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN), along with Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) are reintroducing legislation to help eliminate pay cuts suffered by many National Guard and Reserve members who are called to duty and lose their civilian salaries. LINK

Steve Terrell of the New Mexican reports that after Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) delivered his State of the State speech, Dr. J.R. Damron, the GOP candidate, took his family to the Capitol to deliver a tart reply. LINK

2008: Republicans:

The Boston Herald reports on Gov. Romney's "first-class style," as Romney and his staffers racked up more than $300,000 in campaign credit card charges" which included Red Sox tickets, liquor, hotel stays for last years Super Bowl and stay at the Four Seasons. LINK

The Boston Globe reports that as Gov. Romney prepares to deliver his final State of the State, House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi has "blasted" his efforts on the state's weak job numbers. LINK

The AP reports that Gov. Romney has the potential to show "real leadership," in tonight's speech. LINK

Romney heads to Iowa on Friday and Saturday.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is "pleased" with the work he's been doing with Sen. Dorgan (D-ND), writes Tom Rafferty of the Bismarck Tribune. LINK

On Sunday, C-SPAN's "Road to the White House" will show remarks Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) made at the Spartanburg County Republican Party's annual fundraising dinner. The event took place in Spartanburg, SC, on Monday, Jan. 16.

Gov. Pataki (R-NY) scores his tax-cutting headline and lead from the New York Times after his final budget address. LINK

"If the $111 billion budget Gov. Pataki proposed yesterday is his way of establishing conservative bona fides for an '08 presidential run, he might as well change his name to Mario Cuomo right now," leads the New York Post editorial on Pataki's budget address. LINK

2006:

The New York Times' Nagourney places Sen. Lott's announcement to seek reelection in context as a "setback to Democratic hopes of winning control of the Senate in November," which causes Phil Singer to use the word "gosh." LINK

Taking a similar approach, the Washington Post leads its story on Lott's announcement by Noting that his decision to seek reelection "pinched" any hopes Democrats had of retaking the Senate. LINK

The New York Observer Notes that would-be Hillary opponent John Spencer has hired media adviser Chris LaCivita. LINK

Fred Dicker of the New York Post lets readers know where they can get their "Eliot Spitzer threatened my little sister" coffee mug. LINK

The New York Daily News' Katz adds up Tom Suozzi's $5 million campaign bank account. LINK

The Washington Times mentions this endorsement of Note: "The conservative Club for Growth endorsed its first Democrat ever yesterday, announcing its support for Rep. Henry Cuellar of Texas in his re-election bid." LINK

The Hill on the same. LINK

Frank Phillips reports on top political donors (including Gov. Romney) from Massachusetts who are supporting William Weld's gubernatorial run in New York. LINK

Thomas Beaumont of the DesMoines Register Notes that Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller endorsed Mike Blouin's (D-IA) gubernatorial candidacy. LINK

"[Ohio] Republican gubernatorial candidate J. Kenneth Blackwell told conservative religious leaders yesterday not to be deterred from political participation by a federal complaint filed by 31 Columbus-area pastors," reports the Columbus Dispatch's Hallett. LINK

SCOTUS:

Chief Justice Roberts' silent dissent captures the New York Times' Linda Greenhouse's attention in her write up of the High Court's decision in the assisted suicide case. LINK

The Washington Post's Charles Lane predicts yesterday's assisted suicide decision by the Supreme Court could "energize the political debate" on the issue. LINK

The Wall Street Journal ed board likes the ruling, hates hypocrisy, and can't quite bring itself to condemn the minority with the same intensity as the majority.

The Washington Times has Sen. Tom Coburn's (R-OK) reaction: "Nowhere does our Constitution give doctors the right to take the lives of their patients." LINK

In California, backers of an assisted-suicide law already say they have momentum coming off yesterday's ruling. LINK

The Clintons of Chappaqua:

James Gordon Meek of the New York Daily News previews the long-awaited Barrett report on Henry Cisneros and writes the report "charges that a coverup at senior levels of the Clinton administration killed a tax fraud case against [the] ex-cabinet member" LINK

House of Labor:

In his state of the state address last night, Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI) criticized Wal-Mart for having more employees on the state's healthcare system than any other company. LINK

"I want to make this very clear to Wal-Mart and any other company that might be thinking of shifting its health care responsibility to taxpayers: BadgerCare is intended to help working families, not multi-billion dollar corporations."

"Tonight, I am calling on the Legislature to outlaw the practice of health care dumping. Companies cannot be allowed to deliberately manipulate the system. If they are dropping coverage for employees they know are eligible for state programs so they can increase profits, there should be serious consequences."

"It is unfair. It is unethical. And we should make it illegal."

Wal-Mart Watch Executive Director Andrew Grossman echoed Doyle's call for action, saying in a statement: "It's unacceptable that Wisconsin taxpayers are paying over $2.7 million to provide health care for Wal-Mart's employees. Wal-Mart profited $10 billion dollars last year, yet 1,200 of its workers and their children are forced to rely on BadgerCare health care to make ends meet."

Last week, Maryland became the first state to pass legislation requiring Wal-Mart to increase spending for employee healthcare.

Speaking of the land of pleasant living, the Maryland legislature overrode its governor's veto and became the 18th state to raise its minimum wage above $5.15/hour. LINK

Politics:

The New York Times' Chen writes up Gov. Corzine's inaugural address focused on establishing an ethically reformed government in Trenton. Chen also Notes the attendance of Sens. Dodd, Biden, and Sarbanes and Corzine's status as the only unmarried governor in the nation. LINK

*Obama's first recorded bad press. Let's see how he handles it.