The Note: Hailing the Chief

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26

NEWS SUMMARY

President Bush holds a 10:15 am ET press conference in the Brady Press room, which is where Scott McClellan normally rules the roost.

So everything that comes before that event in Noteland is null and void. Per a senior administration official via ABC News' Jessica Yellin: "At the top of the press conference the President will give a brief opening statement previewing the State of the Union, that will touch on the issue of 'the times we live in and the key issues facing our country in the year ahead: war on terror, economy.' He'll also mention Judge Alito."

On the undercard:

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) deliver their prebuttal to the President's State of the Union address at a 1:00 pm ET National Press Club luncheon. And the pair will presumably respond to the presser too.

On "Politics Live" at 1:35 pm ET, Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack talks about his views of the state of the Union. LINK

The Senate continues debate today on the nomination of Judge Samuel Alito to replace Sandra Day O'Connor as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court.

The Congressional Budget Office releases its deficit projection at 10:00 am ET and holds a briefing an hour later. Reaction to the new numbers will come from Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) and Rep. John Spratt (D-SC), the Ranking Democrats on the Senate and House Budget panels, at 2:00 pm ET.

Vice President Cheney raises coin for Sen. Mike DeWine (D-OH) in Washington, DC at 5:00 pm ET.

Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA), the chairman of the Republican Governors Association and a potential Republican '08er, has a full schedule in Washington, DC today. He testifies on health care reform before the President's Medicaid Commission at 10:30 am ET at the Holiday Inn in Chevy Chase, MD. He does a by invitation only Monitor luncheon at 12:30 pm ET. And he delivers a presentation on health care reform to the Heritage Foundation at 2:00 pm ET.

Sens. Joe Lieberman (D-CT), Russ Feingold (D-WI), and Barack Obama (D-IL) hold a 12:30 pm ET presser in the Senate Radio and Television Gallery to call for immediate action on the Democrats' "Honest Leadership Act."

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO) call on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to appoint a Special Counsel to investigate the Abramoff scandal at 2:30 pm ET in the Senate Radio and Television Gallery.

Sens. Harry Reid (D-NV), Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) hold a 10:45 am ET press conference on "problems" with the Medicare drug benefit in Dirksen 406. (Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) was also talking about the drug benefit today at her 8:30 am ET event in Cohoes, NY).

Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), who recently stepped down as chairman of the House Administration Committee, announces his formal bid for re-election in Dover, OH at 5:30 pm ET. Ney told The Hill last week that he will run for re-election even if he is indicted for his connections to disgraced Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff. LINK

The US Conference of Mayors continues to meet at the Capital Hilton Hotel in Washington, DC today. Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) discusses his "Second Chance" legislation at 2:30 pm ET. The legislation addresses the accelerated population of people returning back to cities and counties from jail and prison. HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson delivers remarks at 12:30 pm ET. The new mayoral task force chaired by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa meets at 4:00 pm ET.

Families USA hosts its annual Health Action conference at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC today. Speakers include Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) at 9:00 am ET, Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) at 1:00 pm ET, and Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-IL) at 2:15 pm ET.

The Select Intelligence Committee receives a closed briefing at 2:30 pm ET in Hart 219.

RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman addresses the Senate Republican Conference retreat at the Library of Congress.

And Mayor Mike Bloomberg delivers his "State of the City" address at 1:00 pm ET on Staten Island, NY.

President Bush and the Wall Street Journal interview:

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal's Cooper and McKinnon, President Bush suggested Ford and GM make "a product that's relevant" instead of contemplating a bailout. LINK

President Bush tells the Wall Street Journal he has not spoken with any automakers about a government-supported bailout -- and he doesn't want to be asked.

"I have been very reluctant -- I'm mindful of the past where at one point in time, a predecessor of mine was faced with that same dilemma . . . I would hope I wouldn't be asked to make that decision," he says of a bailout.

He indicated, however, that he would take steps in his State of the Union to address concerns about health care, pensions, and the costs of developing fuel-efficient vehicles.

The President's proposal is likely to focus "more on government-sponsored research" than "expansive new tax breaks for purchase of flex-fuel vehicle."

On health care, the President said he would make an effort to draw Democrats into the debate. He is planning on pushing Health Savings Accounts, medical malpractice reform, and more information for consumers.

The Wall Street Journal duo Note that the auto industry's struggles could become "a big political issue in this year's midterm elections and beyond," especially in Michigan and Ohio, "where much of the industry's manufacturing base is located. . . . While resisting a bailout could cost Republicans support among some voters, it also would serve to shore up their support among those who favor free-market solutions."

On the international front, the President said he would not deal with the radical Hamas Islamist party, regardless of how many seats it won in yesterday's Palestinian parliamentary elections until it accepts Israel's right to exist. He also said he supports a plan in which Russia would enrich nuclear material for Iran.

SOTU:

The New York Times' Richard Stevenson delivers a must-read SOTU preview, less focused on the mostly "repackaged" health care proposals and more focused on the moment and the stakes. LINK

Check out Stevenson's expectations setting: "In the broadest sense, Mr. Bush's challenge is to demonstrate to both parties that he can still drive the national agenda despite the increasing difficulties he has had keeping Republicans together on domestic issues and in line with his assertively expansive view of his own wartime powers."

"After five tumultuous years in office, he must show that his administration is not exhausted and bereft of ideas, and that the more ambitious goals he has set out at home and abroad have not crashed up against the nation's tolerance for ideological change."

"The president's main goals for the year appear to be showing progress in Iraq, the issue that more than any determines his public support, and doing all he can to help maintain Republican control of Congress in the fall elections."

For Democrats looking to oppose a major a "Rovian reform" following next Tuesday's State of the Union address, Medicare prescription drug benefits are the new Social Security privatization, according to CBS's Dotty Lynch. LINK

Lynch Notices that Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) has already begun an effort to bring down the program, issuing five press releases on the issue in the last week.

Keying off of the health care initiatives in the SOTU curtain raisers, Matt Bai rails against the President's health care agenda (or lack thereof) in your upcoming New York Times Magazine this Sunday.

"The President . . . continues to focus on modest initiatives that don't begin to address the structural deficiencies in the system. The health savings accounts that are the centerpiece of his reform agenda, for instance, will help some families afford their doctors' bills -- but that's assuming they already have enough money to both buy a plan and save extra money in the first place. That Bush embraces such proposals, at the expense of more lasting reform, fits the larger pattern of his presidency, and it says more about his overarching governing philosophy than it does about his commitment to health care in particular," writes Bai.

Anti-Bush protestors filed a federal lawsuit yesterday demanding to be able to protest at the Capitol Reflecting Pool during Tuesday's State of the Union. LINK

The Bush Administration will soon introduce a plan to take in spent nuclear fuel from foreign countries for reprocessing domestically, reports the Washington Post. The program, which the Post says could "prove highly controversial" and represents a "break with decades of U.S. policy," will not be ready to be introduced at the State of the Union. LINK

"Even the discussion has stirred concerns among nuclear specialists and some members of Congress who consider it an expensive venture that relies on unproven concepts and could increase the danger of proliferation."

Virginia is likely to hold a referendum in November on amending the state's constitution to ban gay marriage, reports the Washington Post, after the state Senate yesterday approved the amendment. Governor Tim Kaine's spokesman tells the Post he will not veto the bill calling for a November referendum because he opposes gay marriage. LINK

The Washington Times on the same. LINK

USA Today reports that despite the way the liberal blogosphere's been criticizing him, Gov. Kaine is primed for his prime time debut. He tells the Nation's Newspaper that he wrote his own speech, the message of which is this: "Results matter. Management is important. Management can be life or death." LINK

In a break with precedent, the Virginia House of Delegates has decided to hold "Washington-style" (read: formal) confirmation hearings for Kaine's proposed cabinet secretaries. LINK

A Washington Post editorial approves of Kaine's plan to raise money to fix Virginia's roads. LINK

The Abramoff affair:

Take a look at what George Will slips in to his Washington Post column on how Tom DeLay is handling post-Majority Leader life. LINK

"His attorneys tell him not to trumpet the fact that the Justice Department told them he is not a target in the Jack Abramoff investigation."

Does impending triplets on a government salary + solicited gifts to an expensive nanny service + a baby shower at Signatures = ethical impropriety? The Hill asks Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and friends. LINK

Samuel Alito for Associate Justice:

In his column, Robert Novak looks at the Alito stakes for Red State Democrats like Sen. Conrad (NE) and Sen. Nelson (FL) up for re-election in 2006, but the column is behind the times on Bob Casey's position. LINK

"A filibuster is a radical tool. It's easy to see why Democrats are frightened of it. But from our perspective, there are some things far more frightening. One of them is Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court," writes the New York Times editorial board under a headline that reads "Senators in Need of a Spine." LINK

Politics of spying:

Quick: Which Republican operative said the following on The Big Show with Keith Olbermann in 1998?

"The president is breaking the law. There is no need for it. It's a bad example for our kids for the President to insist it's alright to break the law."

Time's up: It was a trick question . . . sorry. Those words come courtesy of Howard Dean on network morning television this morning.

Wethinks doing everything you believe to be legal and justified to protect Americans against terrorism is not at all viewed the same way by the American people as doing everything you believe to be legal and justified to protect yourself from an intern sex scandal.

Howard Dean seemed off to a good start when he reaffirmed the Democrats' belief that the United States should most definitely be spying on terrorists. Then the DNC Chairman was unable to come up with any evidence of a wiretap of a domestic-to-domestic call having nothing to do with Al Qaeda or its associates. Dean also ventured into his message that Democrats also "believe in the law."

Note to Cornell Belcher: What data are you using to brief Dean that shows his take on the NSA spying story as the right approach to win over half a football stadium in Columbus, OH?

James Sterngold of the San Francisco Chronicle shows in one of today's must-read articles how the President's troubles regarding the NSA program are bipartisan. Leave-us-aloner Grover Norquist, he of the "K street project," opposes Pres. Bush on the domestic spying program. LINK

"Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, says he knows some fellow conservatives have labeled him a traitor for condemning the same administration that instituted the biggest tax cuts in recent American history -- cuts for which Norquist vigorously lobbied. But an even greater disloyalty, Norquist responds, would be to allow what he regards as the trampling on civil liberties to go unimpeded."

More Sterngold: "Referring to what some see as a conflict between fighting vicious terrorists and upholding all civil liberties, Norquist said: 'It's not either/or. If the president thinks he needs different tools, pass a law to get them. Don't break the existing laws.'"

Elisabeth Bumiller on the NSA spying news of day including the stream of letters coming from Members of Congress looking to play in the story: LINK

The Washington Post reports Democrats and some national security experts say the White House's opposition on constitutional grounds to a 2002 Senate amendment that would have made it easier for the FBI to obtain surveillance warrants in some terrorism cases "seriously undermines arguments" made by the Attorney General and others about the constitutionality of the NSA spying program. LINK

The Washington Post calls the remarks by Sen. Clinton yesterday just the "latest sign of the escalating debate on the issue." LINK

The New York Daily News writes up Sen. Specter's letter to Attorney General Gonzales in advance of the Feb. 6 hearings on the NSA spying program. LINK

"'On the surface, it appears to conflict very directly with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but let's hear from the attorney general and give him a chance to state his case,' Specter said yesterday."

The question remains: real hearings, or Kabuki?

Dean's Democrats:

If you missed the entertaining exchange between Howard Dean and Katie Couric over Abramoff donations, we urge you to find a copy for your viewing pleasure. Katie Couric will likely spend some time today reading up on the difference between Abramoff money and Abramoff-related money. Howard Dean is probably still smiling that knowing smile of his that he got to repeat "not one dime" several times.

Lobbying reform:

Per the Washington Post's Jeffrey Birnbaum, one of the last vestiges of the K Street Project fell by the wayside yesterday, when Republicans in Congress agreed to stop bringing lobbyists to the Hill to ask them to hire their aides and colleagues. LINK

"The decision could provide a public relations benefit to Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), the conference head and the person who has long chaired the lobbyist meetings."

House Democrats are raising the stakes and preparing to offer some heavy proposals for the lobbying reform, writes Tory Newmyer for Roll Call.

Per Newmyer "Included in the measure will be provisions that force lawmakers to report when they are sponsoring earmarks, require them to pay fair market value for travel on private jets and create an office of public integrity to oversee these and other new lobbying rules."

Lobbyists are none too eager to jettison all of the congressional trips for which they pay, reports the New York Times' Carl Hulse. LINK

The proposal to double the time necessary to move from an office on Capitol Hill staffer to a (larger, plusher) one on K Street is quickening the pace of job-seekers. Roll Call asks if it could trigger a mini-exodus. LINK

Yesterday's hearings before the Senate governmental affairs committee on lobbying reform revealed a "yawning disconnect between the problem and the proposed remedies," says Washington Post's Dana Milbank. LINK

Americans United to Protect Social Security, which previously had "success in raising a grass-roots wave of public opposition" to the White House's attempts to overhaul Social Security, has reinvented itself as an organization that lobbies for lobbying reform. LINK

Roll Call searches for bipartisan love in a Congress torn apart by lobbying reform: LINK

Blunt v. Boehner v. Shadegg:

The Hill's Daily Tally:

Blunt 91

Boehner 47

Shadegg 12 LINK

Parick O'Connor of The Hill looks at the delicate Boehner-Shadegg dance and the possibility of a second ballot in the race and. The prospect, he writes, "generates significant uncertainty for each team heading into the Feb. 2 election, but it creates a particularly difficult dynamic between Boehner and Shadegg because the two lawmakers must work together in forcing the second vote while trying to beat each other on the first." LINK

USA Today's editorial page takes a swipe at all three candidates for Majority Leader, offering readers a litany of their lobbying sins. LINK

Follow the Leader(ship race):

The Googling Monkeys slacked off yesterday and didn't total up the number of words in Congressman Blunt's Wednesday submission. He had gone over the 150-word limit by 24 words; so the Acting Majority Leader was limited to 126 words today.

Vaguely repentant Blunt spokesgal Jessica Boulanger on behalf of Mr. Blunt:

Eight* Things to Know

1) Rep. Bartlett (#91) endorsed Blunt.

2) Blunt's fence-mending skills will come in handy post-Feb 2.

3) 117+ commitments. Nothing's changed. It must be really hard. To be a reporter. And find something pertinent. To write about this race. Everyday.

4) The state of the union is strong.

5) Blunt retired the unbeaten champ of the "KTTS Celebrity Cow Milking Contest" in Springfield, MO, home to The Bachelor's Aaron Buerge.

6) Terry Holt called me yesterday.

7) Blunt's favorite actor is Gene Hackman and he really likes the Olive Garden (he knows you do, too).

8) With 7 days and 5 Note entries left, Marshall Whittmann would be useful right now.

(* I had 10 but ABC docked me. Email and complain!!)

From Congressman Boehner's Kevin Smith:

There has been much discussion of a "Rose Garden Strategy" being used to win this race. Turns out that John Boehner has a Rose Garden Strategy of his own, one that's a proven winner.

John's Rose Garden Strategy focuses on advancing reform legislation from bill introduction all the way to a White House signing ceremony. And he's the only candidate for Majority Leader who's done it.

From demanding accountability for results in our schools to ending onerous Clinton-era regulations to eliminating mountains of red tape from education programs for students with disabilities, John has shepherded reforms from his committee room to the House floor to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The key to John's Rose Garden Strategy? He's worked with his Committee members to develop a unified vision for moving the bold reforms America expects of Congress. Now, he's poised to lead all his House GOP colleagues to accomplish just the same.

From Congressman Shadegg's Michael Steel:

I blame Joe Lieberman. Ever since he coined "Joe-mentum" reporters and pundits have searched for a clever way to combine a candidate's name with "momentum" when they're on a roll.

So, over the past 24 hours, there has been a debate in the House Press Gallery, newsrooms, and the blogosphere - "John-mentum"? "Shadegg-ellic"?

The name games don't really work, but after the race-changing Bass/Flake public endorsement was followed yesterday by Intelligence Chairman Pete Hoekstra and respected members like Rep. Dave Weldon and Rep. Frank Wolf, Team Shadegg clearly has what George Bush the Elder once called, "The Big Mo".

What two words does Team Blunt dread? Even more than "joint appearance" or "fire ants"? - "Secret Ballot".

It ain't over til February 2.

Politics of Iraq:

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld issued a tough response yesterday to critics, including Democrats' point man William Perry, for questioning the strength of the military. LINK

The Politics of National Security:

The Associated Press reports that an EU panel investigating secret CIA prisons in Europe may ask Cheney and Rumsfeld to testify. LINK

New Hampshire:

In an effort to defend New Hampshire's #1 spot in the presidential primary circuit, a bill, "allowing Secretary of State Bill Gardner to set the filing date for future Presidential primaries whenever he sees fit," comes to the state legislature next week, reports John DiStaso in the Union Leader. LINK

2008: Republicans:

According to the Union Leader's John DiStaso, Gov. Romney is expected in New Hampshire tomorrow, as is Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN) next Friday. LINK

Distaso also reports that the White House has "begun making inquiries" about a possible Granite State visit by President Bush "on or around Feb. 7."

Apparently even Sen. McCain is feeling the impact of the slowing real estate market, as he cuts down the selling price for his home in Arizona. LINK

2008: Democrats:

The Washington Post does Al Gore doing Sundance. LINK

In the New York Daily News, Michael McAuliff writes up Sen. Clintons Conference of Mayors speech and her announcement that she intends to vote against Alito as a one-two punch "Bush-whacking" of a day. LINK

McAuliff also reports Sen. Clinton could not recall if she suggested Wal-Mart do more for providing health care to its workers when she sat on its Board of Directors from 1986 to 1992. LINK

The New York Post's Ian Bishop writes up Sen. Clinton's floor speech on her decision to vote against the Alito nomination and includes her (now familiar) description of abortion as a "tragic choice." LINK

John Kerry has gotten hip. No, he does not wear "J.K" bling-blings (well, at least none that we know of). Instead, as Daniel Terdiman on ZDNet News Notes, John Kerry began posting messages on a blog. LINK

Here is a preview of John Kerry, the blogger: "I want you all to know that I'm reading your many comments. My wife Teresa reads blogs passionately, and I follow blogs too, and I'm glad I can be a part of this – and frankly I'm not worried about taking some slings and arrows along the way. I've faced worse! So keep the comments coming -- good, bad, hopefully not indifferent."

Read the blog: LINK

2006:

Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times reports on the creation of a new PAC that will fund Iraq and Afghanistan vets running for office. LINK

The group, which counts Wesley Clark among its advisors, will be led by Jon Soltz, who coordinated veterans outreach for John Kerry's campaign in Pennsylvania.

Gov. Granholm's election year State of the State address includes a plan for a state-run 401(k) retirement program and health care coverage for 500,000 uninsured working poor, "but offered no sweeping new plans to create jobs. Measures approved last year by the Legislature must be given time to work, she said," reports the Detroit News. LINK

Roll Call reports that Republican media mogul John Raese will announce today his intention to unseat the Senate's longest-serving member, Robert Byrd (D-WV).

The Cincinnati Enquirer writes up DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel's fundraising trip to a Republican corner of the Buckeye State, which Sarah Feinberg calls "ground zero for ethics issues," which is not the first "ground zero" quote used in the story. LINK

The Schwarzenegger Era:

California state controller, dot com millionaire, and wannabe Schwarzenegger opponent Steve Westly is launching an early ad campaign (to run in small cities beginning with Chico and Redding) that will introduce voters to his bio and Democratic bona fides. LINK

DeLay:

Two liberal groups behind the commercials that criticized some of DeLay's funding methods paid for the ads in a way that avoids mandatory disclosure of their financial backers reports Samantha Levine of the Houston Chronicle. LINK

Politics:

Next week's Conservative Members Retreat will feature Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, columnist George Will, former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, reports the Washington Times. LINK

Don't be fooled, David Broder writes in the Washington Post: conflicts on immigration, NSA spying, and free trade aside, party cohesion in Congress is "striking." LINK

For sale on the Internet: Thongs that read "I heart Harry Reid." The jokes here are so easy that The Note is going to take the high road and not make them. We'll leave that to Mary Ann Akers – everyone's favorite child bride. LINK