WASHINGTON, Jan. 23
In the Clinton White House years, top aides would unabashedly sprint out of the daily senior staff meetings to call reporters and let them know what Thomas McLarty, Leon Panetta, or John Podesta had said.
Things are a little tighter in the Bush regime, with the sports-mad Andy Card ending each morning's conclave with a hand-holding chant of "what you see here, what you hear here, let it stay here when you leave here."
On occasion, though, Bush loyalty and press-adverse tendencies are overcome by the sheer absurdity of what is said in these sessions. Today is such a day.
So -- out goes the elaborate lede we had written based on yet another leak (the early reviews of Tim Kaine's State of the Union response preps, which we will save for a non-rainy day). Instead here is our insider report on this morning's White House senior staff meeting.
Card told the group that they had many challenges and questions to face this week:
1. How long can they brazenly say that it is Democrats who oppose Administration policy on the Patriot Act and domestic spying, when some Republicans oppose them too? ("How long can Democrats and the press be this incompetent?" one relatively new member of the team asked, to which his colleagues responded with swells of laughter and knowing looks.)
2. How can they best handle the inevitable release of the photos of the President with Jack Abramoff?
3. How long can they allow Dan Bartlett to do live television interviews on the topic of Hanukkah?
4. How is the pre-SOTU health care policy rollout going?
5. How much will the President have to say about ethics and lobbying in the SOTU?
6. How much does anyone care about the administration being outflanked by Democrats on the right on Iran?
7. How should Scott answer if asked if anyone at the White House has looked at polling data on domestic spying?
8. How will people react when the RNC's boffo oppo on Kaine comes out right before his moment in the spotlight, demonstrating just how bad the Kilgore campaign was?
9. How should Scott answer when asked, "Does the President still support a constitutional amendment overturning Roe and, if so, what has he done as president to fight for its passage?"
10. How quickly after Steve Schmidt's departure will the quality of political work at the White House deteriorate to Harriet-Miers-confirmation levels?
We will begin to get the public answers to many of these questions when anti-abortion rights activists converge on the mall today to mark the Thirty-third year anniversary (plus one day) of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision. They will receive a telephone call from President Bush at 12:10 pm ET. National Right to Life holds a press conference at the National Press Club at 10:00 am ET.
The President will place his phone call from Manhattan, KS, where he is slated to deliver remarks on the war on terrorism at 12:30 pm ET. A crowd of over 9,000 is expected at the President's speech in Kansas. LINK
The President is again expected to take questions. The AP looks at the President's new campaign-style Q&A format at his recent events. LINK
ABC News' Karen Travers reports that President Bush has placed a phone call to march participants the last four years. In 2001, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) read a statement from the President. (Pro-life advocates should really try to call the White House scheduling office earlier than they do. . . .)
Gen. Michael Hayden, the Deputy National Intelligence Director, discusses the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program in a 10:00 am ET speech to the National Press Club.
Two conservative foreign policy groups, the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the revived Committee on the Present Danger, were holding a 9:30 am ET presser on Capitol Hill to urge President Bush to seek international sanctions against Iran.
Gov. Joe Manchin (D-WV) introduces mine safety legislation today. The governor's proposals would create a new statewide hotline to report accidents, require operators to keep extra breathing packs in their mines, and issue gear to miners that would pinpoint their location underground and communicate with the surface in the event of an emergency.
In Washington, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, HHS, and Education holds an 11:00 am ET hearing on the Sago Mine disaster.
Amid reports of "disarray" in the implementation of the new Medicare prescription drug benefit program, Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) visits pharmacies in Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse at 8:00 am ET, 11:00 am ET, and 4:00 pm ET, respectively, to call for action to aid local pharmacists and seniors who are "bearing the brunt of problems plaguing the new program."
Public Citizen, Common Cause, Democracy 21, the Campaign Legal Center, the US Public Interest Research Group, and the League of Women Voters hold a 12:00 pm ET press conference at the National Press Club to outline a lobbying reform package that would address "the systematic failures that made the Jack Abramoff scandal possible."
Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta participates in a ceremonial ribbon-cutting to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the interstate highway system at the Wardman Park Marriott Hotel in Washington, DC.
The Democratic Policy Committee holds a 1:30 pm ET oversight hearing on whether Halliburton failed to provide clean water to US troops in Iraq.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) discusses his "Strategic Growth Plan" in Riverside, CA at 1:00 pm ET and in Fresno, CA at 6:00 pm ET.
Gov. Tom Vilsack (D-IA) signs "Bobby & Michelle's Bill" at 3:00 pm ET in Des Moines, IA.
In Sunday's Los Angeles Times, P.J. Huffstutter and Stephanie Simon wrote that lawmakers in Indiana, Ohio, Georgia, and Tennessee are pushing broad abortion restrictions this year in the hopes of prompting the Supreme Court to revisit its Roe v. Wade decision. LINK
"Even if Alito and Roberts prove to be staunch antiabortion votes, a bare majority of justices would still support the core principle of a woman's right to end an unwanted pregnancy. But a retirement or illness among the more liberal justices could change that balance."
Michigan Chooses Life, an organization opposed to abortion rights, is working to get a measure on Michigan's 2006 ballot that would change the state constitution to legally define a person as existing at the moment of conception, the AP reports. LINK
Per the AP, the ACLU of Michigan has said that even if the measure did succeed, it would be challenged in court.
The Abramoff affair:
While appearing on ABC's "Good Morning America" earlier today, White House counselor Dan Bartlett said of Jack Abramoff: "He's been to fund-raisers, we've said that before. But some sort of nefarious connection because the President takes a picture at a fundraiser that the President has somehow been involved with Jack Abramoff is absolutely absurd."
While appearing on CBS' "Early Show," Bartlett traded in "absolutely absurd" for "absolutely wrong."
"If someone wants to jump to the conclusion that something nefarious was happening," Bartlett told CBS' "Early Show," "they would be absolutely wrong."
In this week's Time Magazine, Adam Zagorin and Mike Allen eat the Wasingtonian's dust and write that unpublished photos of Bush and Abramoff "suggest there's more to the story" despite White House denials that the President doesn't know Jack Abramoff. LINK
Perhaps it is absent any malice, but the White House's arguably tone-deaf stonewall on the question of Abramoff's White House visits has us smelling something like fear.
The Washingtonian and Time Magazine are both reporting about the existence of a (what would be a plastered-everywhere) photo of Bush and the admitted felon grinning and gripping in the EEOB along one of Mr. Abramoff's Indian tribe clients.
When ABC News first approached the White House about the alleged photo on Friday, the White House said the meeting happened but according to spokesperson Erin Healy, "Available records show that Mr. Abramoff was not in attendance."
Hmm. When asked to check more records and let us know whether Abramoff was there, Scott McClellan told ABC News' Jessica Yellin, "We have checked our records, and Erin's account is accurate -- the records indicate he was not at the meeting."
Strangely legalistic response from the Administration that vowed a change from Clinton era parsing. Makes us wonder, is it possible that "Everything they said was accurate but none of it was true?"
The Los Angeles Times on Rep. Ney's political past and his past relationship with lobbyists. LINK
A 30-second ad linking Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) to former lobbyist Jack Abramoff and pushing for his resignation will air in Houston today on KPRC-NBC and KRIV-FOX, per Ruth Rendon of the Houston Chronicle. LINK
"The ad says DeLay 'received tens of thousands in campaign contributions from indicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his associates' and that 'he visited cliff-top Caribbean resorts, golf courses designed by PGA champions and four-star restaurants -- all courtesy of donors who bankrolled his political money empire.'"
Politics of spying:
The New York Times' Adam Nagourney in his must read has "one prominent Republican supporter of Mr. Bush" questioning Karl Rove's Friday effort to depict criticism of President Bush's NSA spying program as coming solely from Democrats: "A lot of Democrats? Democrats, Karl? Republicans, too?" LINK
"A number of Republicans have joined Democrats in challenging the surveillance program, pointedly reminding the administration that precedents established today will be in place whenever a Democrat returns to power."
More Nagourney: ". . . in an interview on Fox News on Sunday," Sen. McCain said he did not think the President had the legal authority for this operation, adding that the White House should seek congressional approval to alter the 1978 provisions if it thinks they are not working now."
The Daily News on Sen. McCain's "slam" to Bush's spying program. LINK
While appearing on NBC's "Today Show," White House counselor Dan Bartlett deflected a question about a critical legal analysis by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service by saying that such a perspective should be expected from an institution that represents another branch of government. LINK
David Jackson of USA Today outlines how the Bush Administration will defend warrantless NSA wiretapping in speeches this week by President Bush, Principal Deputy Director of National Intelligence Michael Hayden, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. LINK
The Associated Press picks up on Sen. Kerry saying that "Osama bin Laden is going to die of kidney failure before he's killed by Karl Rove and his crowd." LINK
Kerry also said: "We're prepared to eavesdrop wherever and whenever necessary in order to make America safer. But we need to put a procedure in place to protect the constitutional rights of Americans."
Following Sunday television appearances by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) on "This Week" and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) on "Fox News Sunday," the White House released a "Setting the Record" straight e-mail that defends the circumvention of the FISA statute by pointing to the President's inherent powers, defends the lack of briefings for the full House and Senate Intelligence Committees by pointing to the briefings of the Gang of 8, and that defends the Bush Administration's decision not to make use of the FISA court's 72-hour grace period by suggesting that the FISA Court did not provide the Bush Administration with the "speed and agility" needed to prosecute the war on terror.
The Washington Post's ed board thinks the Bush Administration's 42-page white paper justifying the NSA's warrantless wiretapping is even "more disturbing" than its shorter predecessors. LINK
Back from Antarctica, Sen. John Sununu (R-NH) tells the Union Leader's John Distaso that he began making telephone calls on the Patriot Act immediately after the holiday break." LINK
He said last week he expects to continue discussions "with Administration officials in the next couple of days" to try to break the logjam.
Sununu opposes "provisions giving law enforcement agencies expanded powers to search and seize a wide range of personal and business documents, from medical and financial records to library lending lists, with little opportunity for the targets of such probes to challenge the government in court."
Big Casino budget politics:
In the Los Angeles Times on Sunday, Joel Havemann and (Washington Week favorite) Janet Hook had a GOP strategist saying the Bush Administration is "going for singles and doubles" in its budge proposals this year. ". . . things that would be helpful but don't cost much money." LINK
What's on the table, according to the Los Angeles Times duo?
More science and technology training, further tax breaks for the purchase of health care, beefed up health savings accounts, an across-the-board freeze on non-Homeland Security domestic agencies. And, of course, making permanent the tax reductions enacted in 2001 and 2003.
The New York Times reports that Republicans see a bright future with a college aid program which was added into a budget package late last month; meanwhile Democrats claim they were never consulted. LINK
Peter G. Gosselin of the Los Angeles Times on President Bush's plan to overhaul the healthcare care system while using past Reagan and Bush economic liaisons as advisors. LINK
The Washington Post reports today that Gov. Kaine says he would approve new spending for transportation only if he could be sure none of it would be diverted to other services." LINK
Robert Novak swoons over Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) crusade to get rid of the scourge of earmarks. LINK
Novak also has House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer as being "uninterested" in cooperating with the GOP to pass lobbying reform and Rep. Marty Meehan calling the Hastert-Dreier push for closing the 527 loophole "a poison pill." The Washington Post's venerable Tom Edsall reports that a leading watchdog group is suggesting that the Ripon Society, a GOP group, has become a "travel agency to lobbyists." LINK
The Washington Times on Rep. Mark Green's (R-WI) push to require that all lobbying-related information be made public. LINK
Matt Stearns of Knight Ridder Newspapers points out some of the flaws that both parties' anti-corruption bills have. LINK
Politics of voting rights:
The Washington Post's Dan Eggen reports that "many current and former lawyers" from the Justice Department's voting section "charge that senior officials have exerted undue political influence in many of the sensitive voting-rights cases the unit handles." LINK
"Most of the department's major voting-related actions over the past five years have been beneficial to the GOP, they say, including two in Georgia, one in Mississippi and a Texas redistricting plan orchestrated by Rep. Tom DeLay (R) in 2003."
Politics of Iran:
Bloomberg's Janine Zacharia looks at the ways in which the Iraq war has constrained US actions in Iran. LINK
The Wall Street Journal's Carla Anne Robbins reports that international penalties for Iran "might not be swift" because Iran is OPEC's second-largest producer. "It also may benefit from the 'Iraq effect.' There is widespread anxiety that any UN action -- unless carefully constrained -- could open the door for another US-led war."
In a Sunday "Washington Outlook" column about Iran's undue influence over the United States, Ron Brownstein criticized the energy bill Bush pushed through Congress last summer for reducing America's dependence on foreign oil by a grand total of: "nothing. Zip. Zero." LINK
Blunt v. Boehner v. Shadegg:
San Francisco Chronicle's Debra Saunders suggests in her op-ed piece yesterday that "if Republicans want to convince voters that they've reformed," their "glorious payback" would be to pick Rep Joel Hefley (R-CO), former chairman of the House ethics committee who stood up to DeLay in 2004. According to Saunders, Rep. Hefley received "'some encouragement' to run but he is not 'actively seeking it.'" LINK
Follow the Leader(ship race):
Congressman Blunt's Jessica Boulanger on the State of the Race:
Today, Congressman Blunt added the endorsements of Reps. Pitts, Bilirakis, Kelly, and Hayes bringing his total number of public supporters to 89.
With less than two weeks left before the ballots are counted, we fully expect our opponents' spin machines to kick into high-gear. But no matter what your vantage point, remember to not always believe what you hear.
Do you have questions about Congressman Blunt's earmark and grant reform principles?
Looking for a tally of how many Sunday shows Blunt has done in the last 3 years compared to Boehner and Shadegg? Total television hits? Press Conferences?
How about a general policy inquiry, interview request or looking for the latest vote count?
Call us at 202-226-7022.* We want to help you understand what more than 117 House Republicans already do: Roy Blunt is the right leader at the right time for the Conference.
*and for those of you lucky enough to have my cell number... (you know who you are) call anytime day or night. For the next two weeks that is. After that, I'm changing my number.
Congressman Shadegg's Man of Steel writes:
People have asked recently whether editorial endorsements and blogs matter in a race in which only elected members of the House get to vote. My answer is that they should. They are the voice of the grassroots of our party, and if we ignore them we will regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon - like in November.
Without a "press"-ing engagement on Sunday, Shadegg spent the weekend in sunny Arizona, continuing to talk to members by phone. He is back in DC today.
Sean Hannity invited the candidates to come on his radio show to discuss the Majority Leader race on Friday - but it seems Mr. Blunt already had plans. Is this a signal that his unwillingness to "meet" his opponents on TV extends to radio?
To paraphrase the Greatest, "John Shadegg will debate Roy Blunt in a phone booth in the middle of Times Square!"
Congressman Boehner's Kevin Smith weighs in with this:
Recapping last week:
Last Monday, the Chicago Tribune endorsed Boehner, calling him the GOP's "best choice" to "push the Republican Party . . . to get talking again about the power of ideas."
On Tuesday, Boehner's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal called for earmark reforms so Congress can discern worthy projects from worthless pork.
On Friday, the Wall Street Journal's John Fund called "Mr. Boehner the favorite in any one-on-one matchup."
This weekend, Tony Blankley of the Washington Times forecasted a Boehner victory on "McLaughlin Group."
Yesterday on Meet the Press, Mary Matalin echoed Boehner and Shadegg's call for earmark reform, saying the race was too tight to call.
And Boehner has gained 10 new public commitments, including three committee chairmen, since Mr. Shadegg entered the race.
Since beating the Carson Palmer-less Bengals, the once-underdog Steelers have demonstrated that momentum is everything. In the Majority Leader race, Boehner's doing the same.
Samuel Alito for Associate Justice:
Washington Times' Charles Hurt predicts that with only one Democrat endorsement of Alito thus far, the vote may be a tight one. LINK
John Kerry vowed to vote against Alito on ABC's "This Week," the Associated Press Notes. LINK
Following their appearances on Sunday morning television, the RNC chided Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. Barack Obama for being "pessimistic about the war on terror."
Sen. Obama, whom the RNC labeled as "the Dems' rising star," was chided for referring to US troops as "an irritant" that helps "spur the insurgency, even as we are defending a fledgling Iraqi government against that insurgency."
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), whom the RNC labeled as the Dems' "fading star," was chided for telling "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," that many people surmise that the reason the US hasn't been attacked recently is because the terrorists are "being so successful at doing what they need to do to attack us in Iraq and elsewhere."
Speaking of Sen. Kerry, when Stephanopoulos asked him about whether the Democrats should do the Adlai Stevenson thing and nominate as its presidential candidate someone who has failed in an earlier presidential bid, Kerry said that was a decision for the future. But he was not at all shy about pointing to the GOP's success in winning with Nixon in 1968 and Reagan in 1980 even though both men had lost earlier presidential bids. He also pointed to the GOP's possible inclination to nominate McCain in 2008 despite his loss in 2000.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Shelby Steele slams Sen. Clinton's plantation remark thusly: "On an emotional level, many blacks will hear Hillary's remarks as follows: 'I say Republicans run the House like a plantation because I am speaking to Negroes – the wretched of the earth, a slave people -- who will surely know all about plantations.' Is this a tin ear or a Freudian slip, blacks will wonder?"
In the same op-ed, Steele writes that "many Republicans (including Laura Bush) . . . salivate at the thought of a Rice presidential bid" because no other potential Republican candidate could "better 'heighten the contradictions' of modern liberalism and Democratic power than Ms. Rice."
Clintonistas like to point out -- as Carville did Sunday on "Meet the Press" -- that before invoking the plantation in Harlem, the Junior Senator from New York made a plantation reference while speaking to a white anchor on CNN.
The New York Post on Sen. Clinton's leaning left votes, although check out the overall Senate voting records hidden at the end of the tale. LINK
The Indianapolis Star writes that Sen. Bayh's has been "caught in Clinton's shadow." LINK
Gov. Bill Richardson (R-NM) has had his fair share of lobbyist dope, but presses the Legislature for an anti-corruption package, reports the AP. LINK
Mike Murphy officially left his post as Gov. Romney's political strategist in an effort to avoid potential conflict over his chummy relations to Romney and McCain, both possible GOP presidential candidates, Boston Globe's Brian Mooney reported Saturday. LINK
More Mooney: "A Republican operative with knowledge of the situation said that McCain's camp was growing increasingly irritated with Murphy's continued employment with Romney as the Massachusetts governor raised his national profile."
While appearing on "Meet the Press" with James Carville and Paul Begala, Mary Matalin (once again) plugged Sen. George Allen (R-VA) as the 2008 favorite among GOP insiders.
Pointing to Sen. McCain telling "Fox News Sunday" that "too many good Democrats over there … are as concerned about national security and work just as hard as I do," DCCC Chair Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) issued a statement on Sunday chastising Rove for encouraging last week's RNC winter meeting to use "issues of national security as a wedge with the American people."
McCain's guest worker plan gathers strength, writes Mike Sunnucks of the Business Journal. LINK
After a Baltimore judge ruled that Maryland's 33-year-old law banning gay marriage was discriminatory and could not withstand a constitutional challenge, Democrats hoped for a quick reversal by the state's Supreme Court while Republicans savored putting a gay marriage amendment on the state's November ballot, the Washington Post reported on Sunday. LINK
The Wall Street Journal ed board casts Gov. Jim Doyle's (D-WI) opposition to raising the cap on the number of kids who can participate in Milwaukee's private school voucher program as a "sell out" of Wisconsin's poorest kids done in order to win the backing of the state's teachers union.
"New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer's challenger for the state's Democratic gubernatorial nomination received hundreds of thousands of dollars from people with ties to Home Depot Inc. founder Kenneth Langone, a registered Republican and target of a Spitzer lawsuit," Bloomberg's Henry Goldman reports. LINK
The New York Post reports that Jeanine Pirro could see Republican competition coming her way in race for attorney general. LINK
"Charlie King, who four years ago ran as Andrew Cuomo's lieutenant governor, has called on his former running mate to offer refunds on $1.2 million left over from that race before he carries the cash over to his attorney-general campaign," The New York Post reports.LINK
The Schwarzenegger Era:
Conservatives turned up the heat on Gov. Schwarzenegger yesterday with a resolution demanding that the Governor fire his new Democratic chief of staff Susan Kennedy by March 15 or lose the party's endorsement for his 2006 re-election. The resolution will be introduced next month at the Republican State Party convention in San Jose. LINK
Washington Times' Valerie Richardson quotes Mike Spence, president of the California Republican Assembly who will lead the resolution drive as saying, "We're hoping to get his attention because he's on the wrong path to get re-elected." "Conservatives are going to sit on their hands come November if he doesn't get on the right track."
Clintons of Chappaqua:
Robert Litt, a Washington lawyer who served as principal associate deputy attorney general from 1994 to 1999, disputes the notion of a coverup in the investigation of Henry Cisneros in a Washington Post op-ed. LINK
Over the weekend, the RNC reported the largest cash on hand lead in over a decade. The RNC has total contributions of $101.6 million and cash-on-hand of $34 million, according to RNC spokesgal Tracey Schmitt.
Per the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza and Peter Baker, the DNC "raised $51 million in 2005 but showed $5.5 million on hand at the end of the year." LINK
The Los Angeles Times reports on corruption charges in the Atlanta mayor's race. LINK
The Los Angeles Times on the delicate dance of Hollywood celebrities coming inside the Beltway to support their cause. LINK
According to Josh Gerstein of the New York Sun, a gay Oregon couple lost their lawsuit against the United Senior Center, claiming libel for the use of their wedding photo without permission in an Internet ad attacking the American Association of Retired Persons. LINK
"The ad apparently was intended to call attention to a decision in 2004 by the Ohio branch of the AARP to oppose a ballot measure amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage as well as marriage-like privileges for gay couples."
"The ad was part of a campaign United Seniors launched last winter to criticize AARP for its opposition to President Bush's Social Security reform plan."
Al Gore and Ralph Nader dance it up at the Sundance Film Festival. LINK
On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee holds its Alito vote. President Bush meets with the Prime Minister of Pakistan. The Department of Labor releases regional and state employment numbers for the month of December 2005. The Secretary of Energy holds a press conference at the Washington Auto Show to discuss further support and funding for President Bush's Hydrogen Fuel Initiative. Gov. Vilsack holds a rally for Nick's Law. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) announces how she is going to vote on Alito during a speech in Los Angeles.
On Wednesday, the President visits the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, MD. He will also appear with Alito clerks in the Rose Garden. The Alito clerk event coincides with the Senate beginning debate on Judge Alito's nomination for the Supreme Court. Gov. Bob Taft (R-OH) and Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D-MI) deliver their "State of the State" addresses. The US Conference of Mayors convention gets underway on Wednesday (and runs through Friday). Confirmed participants include '08ers Clinton, Brownback, and Vilsack. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa chairs a new, post-Katrina task force on poverty in America.
On Thursday, the President has no public events while Vice President Cheney headlines a Washington fundraiser for Sen. Mike DeWine's (R-OH). Chairman Dean attends a Democratic Party unity event in Hobart, IN. And Sen. Reid and Rep. Pelosi address a National Press Club luncheon at 12:30 pm ET.
On Friday, the President meets with Lebanese member of Parliament Saad Hariri. The Commerce Department releases data on fourth quarter GDP. Chairman Dean attends a Rhode Island Democratic Party rally. Gov. Romney talks education reform in Milford, NH. And Sen. Clinton is the special guest at a fundraiser for Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) in Seattle, WA.