The Note: Boomer President Booms

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24

NEWS SUMMARY

Tussles continue over Alito's confirmation (a sure thing); domestic spying (E.J. Dionne on Karl Rove is a must-read, even if it is 67% misguided LINK); lobbying and congressional reform; the House leadership contest; and if it is a coincidence that "The West Wing" was cancelled on the very day it aired its first mention of The Note LINK

But exactly one week before President Bush delivers his State of the Union speech, what really matters is the mindset, the mojo, and the moxie of the Nation's 43rd commander in chief as he faces the make-or-break moment of the rest of his second (and final) term.

After a disastrous and defensive 2005, Mr. Bush must recover politically and substantively this year: to paraphrase Bob Eubanks, a good 2006 will give you a good 2007 and 2008, but miss it and go home to Crawford in last place.

This President has always been both an open book and a cipher. (An open book to Don Evans and Fred Barnes, a cipher to Henry Waxman and the staff of the New Republic.)

So: if you want to know if George Walker Bush is ready to use next week's big speech to take back full control of the national and international agenda, all you have to do is parse the very linear answer he gave to a question at yesterday's rock'em-sock-em town meeting in Kansas.

Here was what a fellow citizen of the president asked:

I have a question less with politics and more with leadership, in general. You're in a situation where you're under a lot of flack, especially for your character. And that's something that, it seems to me, means a lot to you, as it does to many of us here. As a leader, as many of us are going to need to know here because we're going to be leaders in just a few years, what's the best way that you go about preparing yourself for attacks on your character, and how do you deal with others in those matters?

Seems pretty simple, huh?

Here's how the president answered:

(Note to Jon Stewart and the staff of "The Daily Show": by our count, you should be able to get a week's worth of shows out of this one response.)

(Note to Dan Bartlett and Mike Gerson and a moonlighting Karen Hughes: HE'S READY!!!!)

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I appreciate that. I would summarize it: faith, family and friends. (Applause.) I am sustained mightily by the fact that millions of citizens -- for whom I'll never get to thank personally -- pray for me. It's hard for me to describe why I feel that way, why I'm so sustained. I guess it's just called faith. And I'm sustained by my family. And there's nothing better than going home to somebody who understands and is sympathetic and is part of -- we're working together. I mean, Laura's job is just as important as mine in many ways.

The girls still love me. (Laughter.) I really love them. And then there's my man, Barney, a little Scottish terrier. (Laughter.) I say this -- and Laura will be furious at me -- he's the son I never had, you know? (Laughter.)

I believe in what I'm doing. And I understand politics, and it can get rough. I read a lot of history, by the way, and Abraham Lincoln had it rough. I'm not comparing myself to Abraham Lincoln, nor should you think just because I mentioned his name in the context of my presidency -- I would never do that. He was a great President. But, boy, they mistreated him. He did what he thought was right.

A lot of politicians, a lot of Presidents have gone through some tough times in the presidency, and I understand that. One of my biggest disappointments is the tone in Washington, D.C. I've done my best to try to elevate the tone. I just -- needless name-calling, to me, is beneath the dignity of the office of the President. (Applause.) I also make time in my day not only for prayer, but also -- and my family, but also for exercise. I found that part of keeping a positive outlook is to kind of burn off that excess energy, you know what I'm saying? (Laughter.) I work out, I try to work out five or six days a week. It's really important -- if you feel that's important for your life, to schedule your life. In other words, I have trouble with people saying, I'm so busy I can't exercise. I don't think you're too busy for things that are important in your life, and you can figure out ways to make time in your life.

And so I'm the kind of guy -- I'm not running too well these days; I'm not running hardly at all. It's kind of like my knees are like tires, you know, and they're bald. (Laughter.) I'm a mountain bike guy. And it's a fantastic experience.

I think to answer your -- summarize your question, is to make sure that you've got good priorities in your life. By having good priorities in your life, it helps you keep perspective on your life. And perspective is very important, as you assume responsibility. Thanks for the question.

In short: faith, family friends; daughters and dogs; Lincoln had it rough and/but I'm no Lincoln; change the tone; no pain, no gain; my knees are like tires; mountain biking -- good; priorities and perspective.

That is the kind of answer and vision that will get a man's approval rating back over 53% any day now.

And it all starts with placing two "fabulous" men of "unquestioned" qualifications on the Supreme Court. The Senate Judiciary Committee votes on Judge Samuel Alito today. ABC News' Zach Wolf reports that the 9:30am ET hearing is expected to last about two and one-half hours. Alito's nomination is expected to pass the committee and go to the full Senate for a vote. Planned Parenthood supporters carrying signs that read "Save Roe" and "Oppose Alito" were demonstrating outside of the Russell Senate Office Building from 8:00-9:00 am ET. Judge Alito meets with Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) at 1:00 pm ET.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) plans to stun the world when she announces how she is going to vote on Alito during a speech in Los Angeles.

Following today's Judiciary Committee vote, Sens. Reid, Durbin, Leahy, Kennedy, Stabenow, and Schumer will speak at 2:00 pm ET on Capitol Hill about their deep concerns about Judge Alito.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales continues the Bush Administration's push-back on the legality of its warrantless wiretapping program in 10:30 am ET remarks at the Georgetown Law Center. The AG's remarks are entitled: "Intercepting al Qaeda: A Lawful and Necessary Tool for Protecting America."

President Bush meets with the Prime Minister of Pakistan at 11:10 am ET in the Oval Office. The President has a photo op with the 2005 NASCAR Nextel Champion at 2:00 pm ET.

In a pre-buttal of the President's Jan. 31 State of the Union address, Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will call on the President to clean house and end the culture of corruption during an 11:00 am ET speech to John Podesta's Center for American Progress.

According to an advance excerpt of his speech, Sen. Reid will say: "In his 2000 campaign, George Bush promised to bring 'dignity' to the White House, but we're finding out he brought Jack Abramoff instead. Tuesday night, the president needs to quit stonewalling about his White House's connection to corruption, and finally tell us how he's going to reform."

Today's session of the Iraqi High Tribunal was delayed until Sunday, Jan. 29.

The Department of Labor releases regional and state employment numbers for the month of December 2005.

The Secretary of Energy discusses the President's Hydrodgen Fuel Initiative at the Washington Auto Show.

Gen. Wesley Clark joins Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and endorses the bipartisan bill to stop the sale of cell phone call logs.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) addresses the Sacramento Press Club at 3:00 pm ET.

Gov. Tom Vilsack (D-IA) holds a rally for Nick's Law, which places new limits on teen drivers, including tighter restrictions on passengers and late-night driving, and a new ban on cell phone use while driving. (Jeff Zeleney, take Note.)

Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) announces funding for rodeo initiatives at 1:00 pm ET.

Finally, The Note wishes to express its true happiness over the health and exuberance of Howard Fineman. We are honored to know you, and delighted to compete with you in covering the 2034 midterms.

Samuel Alito for Associate Justice:

The AP writes that "with victory assured" in today's Senate committee vote, the 10-Republican member Judiciary Committee is expected to advance Alito's nomination. LINK

"From Rhode Island to New Mexico, operatives in both parties are using the nomination as a referendum on abortion and an indicator of a candidate's independence," writes Washington Times' Charles Hurt. Hurt points out that newly-elected Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) will cast his closely-watched, first vote as Alitor's homestate Senator. LINK

According to a CNN/USA Today poll, public support confirming Alito to the Supreme Court grew to 54%. LINK

USA Today's ed board worries about Alito's vague answers and previous decisions regarding the protection of individual rights. LINK

SOTU:

USA Today's Susan Page on Mr. Bush's approval ratings steadying at 43 percent. LINK

According to Jennifer Harper of the Washington Times, both the Republican Party and the DNC will be organizing over 1,200 State of the Union watch-parties. LINK

You can find the State of the Union prebuttal video produced by the Center for American Progress here: LINK

John Stanton's Roll Call headline sums up what's on Democrat's minds: "Ethics to Be Foil for Bush Speech."

Maryland Professor Karen Kohn Bradley, a "certified movement specialist who studies the nonverbal and movement behaviors of political leaders," throws some hints on what to pay attention to when President Bush delivers his SOTU. LINK

On a lighter Note: take Dana Hork's SOTU test. LINK

Politics of spying:

The Washington Post's E.J. Dionne argues that Karl Rove succeeds by getting some Democrats to turn on some in their own party on the question of toughness and by persuading some Democratic consultants to turn away from the security issue altogether. LINK

Dionne: "Does having a 'post-9/11 worldview' mean allowing Bush to do absolutely anything he wants, any time he wants, without having to answer to the courts, Congress or the public? Most Americans – including a lot of libertarian-leaning Republicans – reject such an anti-constitutional view of presidential power. If Democrats aren't willing to take on this issue, what's the point of being an opposition party?"

In advance of his Georgetown Law Center speech, the Attorney General made the morning show rounds earlier today.

In an interview with ABC News' Jessica Yellin, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales addressed why the Bush Administration did not pursue FISA warrants retroactively: "I think there's a misperception out there in the minds of the American people that you can simply get 72 hours of free surveillance. But it doesn't work that way. The statute requires that I not give authorization, give permission to engage in an emergency surveillance unless I am satisfied that all of the standards of the warrant ultimately be met 72 hours later. That means we have to do the same level of analysis as the initial matter and that would mean a delay because it would take us a period of time to get comfortable that we could satisfy the requirements of the statute."

While appearing on NBC's "Today," the Attorney General said the Fourth Amendment "does not require a warrant in every case. It requires common sense." Gonzales went on to compare the program to airport searches.

As part of the Bush team's blitz to defend domestic wiretapping, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, deputy director for national intelligence, claimed yesterday that, had the "Terrorist Surveillance Program" been in place before 9/11, "we would have detected some of the 9/11 operatives in the U.S., and we would have identified them as such," according to Solomon and Searcey of the Wall Street Journal.

In their write-up of the Bush Administration's domestic spying PR blitz, the Washington Post's Dan Eggen and Walter Pincus include this bit of political analysis: "Rather than hope the matter goes away, Rove and other Bush advisers are eager to engage on the topic because they see it as a useful wedge issue to define Democrats as weak on terrorism. A similar tactic was used with great success by Republicans during midterm races in 2002." LINK

Coverage of the Bush pushback from the Houston Chronicle's Julie Mason LINK, the Boston Globe's Charlie Savage LINK

. Politics of torture:

In an interview with ABC News' Jessica Yellin, AG Gonzales refuted a new story on the US outsourcing torture. "Based on what I know," Gonzales said, "I would have to disagree with his conclusion."

According to AP and APTN, Swiss Senator Dick Marty today alleges that "it has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt" that the US has outsourced the torture of suspected terrorists; however, he says he has no definitive proof of secret prisons. APTN quotes Marty saying, "The sources that claim that such detention centers do exist are reliable, multiple and very well informed." He's calling for a continued investigation.

In response to the story, Gonzales told ABC's Yellin: "I'm not aware of the story you're talking about. What I can say as a legal matter is we don't engage in torture. There are legal prohibitions both domestically and internationally against torture."

More Gonzales: "We also have an obligation not to render someone to another country when we believe there is a chance they might be tortured and we take steps to ensure that obligation is met in every case." "I'm not aware of his report. But based on what I know I would have to disagree with his conclusion."

Politics of Katrina:

According to documents released on Monday, the Homeland Security Department was warned a day before Hurricane Katrina hit that the storm's surge could breach levees and leave New Orleans flooded for weeks or months, the AP's Lara Jakes Jordan reports. LINK

Roll Call dishes that Brownie was having lunch on the Hill.

The Abramoff affair:

According to "a source familiar with Abramoff's legal situation," the Republican lobbyist has "more than half a dozen photos with Bush, including one of the two men shaking hands." But the White House will not release them on the grounds that "they are not relevant to the on-going money-for-favors investigation," the Washington Post's Jim VandeHei and Susan Schmidt report. LINK

USA Today on the Dan Bartlett playdown. LINK

DC restaurants have noticed a drop in business as the lobbying scandals create frustration and uncertainty on the Hill and on K Street, the Los Angeles Times reports. LINK

SCOTUS:

The Supreme Court issued a unanimous opinion yesterday that suggests that some political advertisers may eventually be entitled to an exemption from regulations imposed by the McCain-Feingold law, the Washington Post's Charles Lane reports. LINK

Lane: "Yesterday's ruling leaves the law unchanged through the 2006 election cycle. But it creates the real possibility that the courts could later devise a loophole for many corporate or union advertisements."

Justice Greenhouse on the ruling: LINK

The Wall Street Journal ed board hails yesterday's Wisconsin Right to Life v. FEC ruling as a "shot in the arm" for free speech advocates.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) reacted to the Wisconsin Right to Life decision by saying in a statement: "Today's decision means the issue ad provisions of McCain-Feingold, which was upheld by the Court in 2003, should remain in effect for this election cycle. That is good news. Ultimately, I believe the courts will reject challenges to the law based on ads that are intended to affect elections."

Read the Supreme Court's decision. LINK

In a separate ruling, the Supreme court voided restrictions on Minnesota judges' ability to solicit money and declare parties, a move which Savage thinks might spur partisan judicial campaigns. LINK

Lobbying reform:

The New York Times' John Broder on the push for lobbying reform at the state level. LINK

Bloomberg News' Laura Litvan on Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) spearheading efforts to limit lobbyist's influence during a timely federal corruption inquiry. LINK

Mine safety:

In West Virginia, Gov. Joe Manchin (D-WV), the House, and the Senate moved unusually swift to approve a mine safety regulations bill that was introduced Monday, writes Tom Searls of the West Virginia Gazette. LINK

Blunt v. Boehner v. Shadegg:

"Two of the candidates for House majority leader have been touting their commitment to pro-life issues to advance their campaigns against front-runner Rep. Roy Blunt," writes Washington Times' Amy Fagan. LINK

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch has Blunt telling about 450 march participants from Missouri that this week's Alito vote one of the most important in a generation. LINK

Roll Call looks at where bloggers line in the leadership race.

Follow the Leader(ship race):

Congressman Blunt's Jessica Boulanger weighs in on the State of the Race:

What the person at the desk next to yours is focused on: David Brooks

What you should focus on: Dave Reichert

What the person at the desk next to yours is focused on: Mary Matalin's pick

What you should focus on: Marsha Blackburn's pick

What the person at the desk next to yours is focused on: Majority Leader candidates debating each other on TV (winner: Rahm Emmanuel)

What you should focus on: Majority Leader debating the Minority Leader on TV (winner: GOP)

What the person at the desk next to yours is focused on: Taylor/Boulanger vs. Steel and Smith/Seymour

What you should focus on: Taylor/Boulanger, Steel, and Smith/Seymour (...and Bonjean ...and Spicer...) vs. Daly/Crider

What the person at the desk next to yours is focused on: Bobby Van's, Pundits, Bloggers and Fire ants

What you should focus on: The scoreboard.

Best variation of boffo Ragin' Cajun wisdom: It's the Members, Stupid!

Congressman Shadegg's Man of Steele writes:

Yesterday afternoon, Rep. Shadegg and Chairman Boehner had a 20-minute discussion about the Majority Leader race on Sean Hannity's radio program. They talked about their records on controlling spending, Republican principles, and the need for reform. 420 different radio stations across the country carried the conversation to as many as 12 million listeners (including we'd guess, some Members driving back in their districts).

But something was missing ... the third candidate, again. Acting Majority Leader/Majority Whip Blunt apparently turned down the chance to talk on the show not once, but twice. Hannity said, on the air, that Blunt refused to appear with Shadegg and Boehner. Hannity said he was "aggravated". And when Sean Hannity is aggravated, our base isn't happy. Just a reminder that it's a long time 'til Feb. 2. I don't think the lovely Jessica should start decorating her new office just yet.

Congressman Boehner's Kevin Smith weighs in with this:

"Thinking big" is not a new concept for John Boehner; his legislative accomplishments demonstrate a capacity for boldness and a skill for being successful.

In an op-ed for the conservative Townhall Web site this morning, Boehner describes a recent example. Tasked with crafting legislation to help students displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it would have been easy just to throw money at the problem. But John wanted a bolder direction - one focused on efficiency, speed, and choice. LINK

He helped craft an innovative proposal focused on empowering individuals, not existing government bureaucracies, and it reflected an approach that's consistent with our broader conservative vision. The NEA relentlessly attacked it as a "risky voucher scheme." In the end, the final bill reflected our key priorities: streamlining bureaucracy, allowing full participation by public, private, and charter schools, and targeting relief based on individual students. It's a victory that should make all conservatives proud.

From Michael Steele of the Shadegg operation:

Yesterday afternoon, Rep. Shadegg and Chairman Boehner had a 20-minute discussion about the Majority Leader race on Sean Hannity's radio program. They talked about their records on controlling spending, Republican principles, and the need for reform. 420 different radio stations across the country carried the conversation to as many as 12 million listeners (including we'd guess, some Members driving back in their districts).

But something was missing ... the third candidate, again. Acting Majority Leader/Majority Whip Blunt apparently turned down the chance to talk on the show not once, but twice. Hannity said, on the air, that Blunt refused to appear with Shadegg and Boehner. Hannity said he was "aggravated". And when Sean Hannity is aggravated, our base isn't happy. Just a reminder that it's a long time til Feb. 2. I don't think the lovely Jessica should start decorating her new office just yet.

GOP leadership:

Roll Call reports that Rep. Marsha Blackburn is "seriously considering" a challenge to Republican Conference Chairwoman Deborah Pryce (Ohio). LINK

Big Casino budget politics:

The indispensable Jonathan Weisman reports for the Washington Post's front page that when House and Senate GOP negotiators met last month, they agreed on a change to Senate-passed Medicare legislation that would save the health insurance industry $22 billion over the next decade, according to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service. LINK

Although non-security discretionary spending has gone down during President Bush's tenure, the Wall Street Journal observes that total federal spending has gone up."Conservatives are fuming because this is occurring when Republicans control both the White House and Congress. 'The White House always says it's [due to] defense and homeland security...but even without defense and homeland security it's record spending,' says Brian Riedl, budget analyst at the conservative Heritage Foundation. 'The brakes are off everywhere.'"

This piece is fair and will make everyone who bothers to read it angry -- for whatever reason(s).

Bush Administration:

The Washington Post's Christopher Lee Notes that President Bush's Kansas State appearance provoked "61 instances of laughter" as well as "off-message questions" about education cuts. LINK

The Washington Post's Nick Anderson on the "lighter touch" Margaret Spellings is developing as Education Secretary. LINK

2008: Democrats:

The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza on the boost Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) received on Monday when a group of Iowa state legislators "introduced an education plan based on the "21st Century Scholars program Bayh shepherded to passage during his tenure as Indiana governor." LINK

The New York Times' Ray Hernandez writes up Sen. Clinton's criticism of the implementation of President Bush's drug plan for the elderly and Notes that her comments "seemed to reflect a growing sense among Democrats that the troubles with the new drug program are becoming a liability for Republicans as they seek to maintain control of both houses of Congress in the November elections." LINK

The New York Daily News on the same. LINK

Liz Smith doesn't see what the big deal is about Sen. Clinton's "plantation" remarks. LINK

Per the New Mexican, Gov. Richardson pushed last week for a bill to crack-down on illegal movie recordings. "Richardson has received hefty campaign contributions from Hollywood stars, including Sylvester Stallone, Michael Eisner, Rob Reiner and Merv Griffin," reports the New Mexican. LINK

2008: Republicans:

Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) called for a probe into the state's approach towards a right-to-die case, USA Today reports, citing "errors in judgment" about disconnecting a brain-damaged girl from life support. LINK

Gov. Romney surprises many in Massachusetts by disagreeing with a state bill that would require religious institutions to disclose their finances publicly, a Globe story most remarkable for its failure to question the Governor's motives (by invoking 2008). LINK

Venezuela's vice president to McCain: "go to hell," writes Reuters. LINK

2006:

Michael Berg, the man whose son was beheaded in Iraq in 2004, has decided to run for Delaware's lone U.S. House seat on the Green Party ticket. Berg, who moved to Delaware last spring, will be a decided underdog in his attempt to unseat seven-term Republican incumbent Michael Castle. (But as an avowed Bush and Iraq war opponent, his congressional bid is sure to receive outsized national media attention. . . .) LINK

NRSC Chairwoman Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) says that continuing concern about national security will keep the GOP in the Senate majority following the 2006 elections, according to Mary M. Shaffrey of the Winston-Salem Journal. LINK

Spitzer's got a running mate!

Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (D-NY) chose state Sen. David A. Paterson of Manhattan as his running mate for the '06 elections, reports newsbreaking Patrick Healy of the New York Times. LINK

"The unusually early selection of a lieutenant governor candidate carries several political benefits for Mr. Spitzer, and some potential risks," Healy writes. The early timing would allow the Democrats to gain strength and rally around Spitzer, and it would provide him with a stronger minority support.

More Healy: "By tapping Mr. Paterson, Mr. Spitzer also gives his political opponents another target to attack. Mr. Suozzi has made clear that if he runs, a part of his platform will be overhauling the state government that Mr. Paterson has helped lead."

The New York Post on the same. LINK

The New York Daily News says an official announcement is coming in a week. LINK

In an op-ed for the New York Daily News, Juan Gonzalez chronicles the life of the would-be lieutenant governor of New York. LINK

Per the New York Post's Fredric Dicker: "Jeanine Pirro has quietly donated $575,000 to the Republican State Committee, even as GOP leaders gripe that Gov. Pataki won't give his financially hard- pressed party any of his $2.5 million war chest." LINK

Cindy Adams says attorney general hopeful Charlie King was schmoozing with Al Sharpton in the Four Seasons Hotel lobby. LINK

Massachusetts's gubernatorial candidate Attorney General Thomas Reilly (R ) prepares to kick off his campaign at his alma mater American International College LINK

Washington Times' Donald Lambro on reasons why GOP will be hard-pressed to keep its majority of governorships in 2006. LINK

Gov. Doyle spokesman Dan Leistikow reacted to yesterday's Wall Street Journal editorial by telling The Note: "Gov. Doyle supports lifting the cap on the Milwaukee School Choice program, but he thinks that if taxpayer dollars are going to private schools, there schould be some accountability. He doesn't want to read any more stories about schools founded by convicted rapists, schools with two kids that take field trips to McDonalds, and principals using tax dollars to buy two Mercedes."

Delay:

USA Today reports that the Texas prosecutor Ronnie Earle's investigation into a $500,000 political contribution made by NSRCC to U.S. Family Network in 1999 led to the subpoena of Delay's former campaign manager Robert Mills, who was president of the group at the time. LINK

Politics of immigration:

Stephen Dinan of the Washington Times reports that Sen. Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Jon Kl (R-AZ) are co-sponsoring a plan that would require temporary workers to return home even before entering a guest worker program. LINK

Tucson-based human rights agency provides detailed maps of the desert to Mexican citizens who are trying to cross the border illegally. Strangely, several other organizations, as well as Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), agree with the initiative, writes Chris Hawley of the Republic. LINK

The Schwarzenegger Era:

The Los Angeles Times reports, on the "power struggle" between Democrats and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's over a $200-billion public works package. LINK