The Note: Won't Be Lame



Today's super-important capital doubleheader (the release of the President's budget and the Senate hearing on domestic surveillance) should not distract you from the long-term play (of which today's dramas are a small and symbolic part).

Nearly a week after Mr. Bush delivered his State of the Union, only two places seem to have broken the code to the White House's 2006 plan. Watch (for free!!!) last Friday's Charlie Rose political panel here LINK, or, for those of you who still don't know how to stream video on your computer (Get with it, Mr. President.), you can read Michael Barone's column.

Barone's Barnesian attempt to find heroic good news in everything the Bush White House does sort of fails in the end this time. Here is the key sentence, analyzing the SOTU and the year (but NOT the rest of the Bush presidency): "Bush's staying the course on national security and detour [to the center/left] on domestic policy may or may not produce the Republican victory in November his strategists are so confident of." LINK

The obvious (but still largely unspoken) consensus within the Republican Party: play the national security card (read David Savage's Los Angeles Times picture-perfect curtain-raiser on today's Judiciary hearing LINK); shore up the prescription drug benefit (read today's Robin Toner New York Times story on the sordid history of the benefit LINK and, if you work in the White House, yesterday's Des Moines Register poll showing Iowans are unstubbornly liking their drugs LINK).

All of this, after the largely wasted 2005, is intended to maintain the Republican majorities in Congress above all else, or 2007 and 2008 will be even more wasted than 2005. In other words -- with the "strong on defense, change the tone, budget cutters AND compassionate conservatives" mantra -- tread water in 2006 in order to live to fight another two years for the rest of the 2000 Bush agenda.

This plan seems so transparently silly that it must, must, must be doomed to fail, right? "Wrong," says, Paul Krugman implicitly, slapping Democrats as knuckleheads, behind the pricey Times Select wall. LINK

"Maybe not so wrong," says Joe Klein, in his Time essay panning the SOTU's lack of boldness and praising Tom Vilsack. LINK

"Probably wrong," says The Note, which asks this question: If Sens. Schumer and Kennedy are on the evening news tonight decrying a program the President swaggeringly claims exists only to protect Americans, does that undercut their party's message on Medicare cuts in the budget? Won't they be putting their most troublesome issue in the spotlight at the expense of what may be their best position of strength with the American public?

As The Note will say most every day between now and Election Day in November -- only time will tell.

PS: The biggest problem with this White House plan is the pending encroachment of 2008 and its presidential election. See Newsweek's story on the race to replace Bush LINK, and Adam Nagourney's New York Times story about Ken Mehlman's swipes at Senator Clinton (a story that is at once a huge over-reaction and way ahead of the curve). LINK

The press is trying to turn George W. Bush into a lameduck. Will today's two big events forestall or hasten that process?

Again, only time will tell, but we'll know a lot based on how both narratives are framed at 6:30 pm ET tonight. Stay tuned.

On surveillance: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee at 9:30 am ET in Hart 216.

On the money: OMB Director Josh Bolton holds an on-camera briefing at 10:00 am ET on the President's 2007 budget in the EEOB Room 450. Various Administration officials will hold department-specific briefings throughout the day.

The Democrats' congressional reaction to the President's budget will come from sunny Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) and sunnier Rep. John Spratt (D-SC), the ranking Democrats on the Senate and House Budget Committees, at 2:00 pm ET in the Senate Gallery Studio.

The Democrats' gubernatorial reaction to the budget will come at 2:15 pm ET from Govs. Jennifer Granholm (D-MI) and Bill Richardson (D-NM) at the National Press Club.

And the Democrats' potential '08 reaction will come from Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) at 10:45 am ET. She plans to call on the White House to "fully fund" critical programs for families and children in New York City.

President Bush participates in the swearing-in ceremony of Ben Bernanke as the new chairman of the Federal Reserve at 10:00 am ET. The President holds a social dinner in honor of the Dance Theater of Harlem at 7:50 pm ET. Note to the New York Times DC bureau and Metro desk: you need to try that Bloomberg-FDIC story again; you whiffed the first time.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) delivers the keynote address at Sen. Mel Martinez's (R-FL) "Freedom Forum" in Orlando, FL.

Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) is in Texas today for RGA meetings.

Former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) delivers a 12:00 pm ET lecture entitled, ""How the Legal System Can Protect the American Dream and America's Workers," at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's law school.

Sen. Clinton delivers 5:00 pm ET remarks at the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities annual meeting at the Hyatt Regency in Washington, DC.

RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman travels to Howard Dean's home turf of Vermont today. This afternoon Mehlman will be participating in a fundraiser and luncheon for the Vermont Republican Party. He is then off to a Massachusetts Republican Party reception and fundraiser.

"The public launch of the Election Reform Project will culminate in a half-day session at the Brookings Institution on February 8, 2006, featuring inaugural remarks by Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Following this address, public officials and election experts will participate in two panel discussions to evaluate the progress made under HAVA and identify areas needing improvements. More detailed information on the February event, including a registration form, can be found at LINK

The George Washington University holds an 8:00 pm ET program, "The Kalb Report: The Ombudsman's view of Today's Journalism – The In-house Critics Speak Out." Participants include Byron Calame of the New York Times and NPR's Jeffrey Dvorkin. The discussion will be moderated by the eponymous Marvin Kalb.

MSHA holds a conference call to brief members of the press about MSHA's national "Stand Down for Safety."

Sens. Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Pat Leahy (D-VT), the chair and Ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, hold an 11:30 am ET briefing on "The Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act of 2005." Under the legislation, the federal government would establish a $140 billion national trust fund that would be privately funded by asbestos defendant companies and insurers, with no liability by the United States government. If the fund is unable to pay all eligible claims, victims will also have the option to return to the tort system to seek compensation.

The Senate meets at 2:00 pm ET for debate and to consider the asbestos claims bill. Jury selection in the penalty phase of the Moussaoui trial begins at 10:00 am ET.

Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) and Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald (D-CA) participate in the kickoff of "National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention" week.

Politics of domestic surveillance:

According to a Senate Democratic aide familiar with planning for today's hearing, Democrats are eager to emphasize that they will take a back seat to no one when it comes to national security. Democrats are also wary of falling into what they see as the Republicans' trap that asking questions about a questionably legal program is similar to handing the terrorists the American playbook.

In his role as one of the principal authors of the 1978 FISA law, Sen. Kennedy (D-MA) is expected to question Gonzales about the effectiveness of the warrantless wiretapping program from the national security standpoint.

Per Time Magazine's Mike Allen, Gonzales will defend the program by telling Senators that the program targets suspects, not innocents. LINK

Gonzales plans to "lash out" at "misinformed, confused" news accounts about the program, and to declare it "is not a dragnet," according to administration documents provided to Time Magazine.

In a well-placed Wall Street Journal op-ed, the Attorney General argues that the surveillance program is not in violation of the FISA statute because he believes that the post-9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force provides statutory authorization for the program to operate as an exception to FISA.

The AG also argues that the NSA's terrorist surveillance program is "narrowly focused" on the international communications of persons believed to be members or agents of al Qaeda or affiliated terrorist organizations.

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) told his political supporters by e-mail last week that he will have "particularly strong questions" for Gonzales because the Wisconsin Senator believes the answers Gonzales gave a year ago under oath at his confirmation hearings "were misleading."

On Friday, Sen. Feingold's office distributed to members of the press the video of Feingold's questioning of Gonzales last year. Watch. The Washington Monthly's Kevin Drumm argues that what's remarkable about Gonzales' answers to Feingold last year is that he "rather plainly didn't promise that the president would never violate the law. What he said is that if he did ignore a statute, he would do it with a 'great deal of care and seriousness.' And furthermore that it was not the president's 'policy or agenda' to violate the law -- meaning, I suppose, that he would only do it occasionally." LINK

Per the AP's Hope Yen, Assistant Attorney General William Moschella sent Sen. Feingold a letter on Friday, saying that what Gonzales was referring to as "hypothetical" in last year's testimony is the idea that Bush would allow warrantless monitoring that was illegal. LINK

"That statement is accurate, Moschella wrote in a letter obtained by the AP, because the administration's position is that Bush had legal authority under the 2001 congressional resolution."

In a Sunday must-read, the Washington Post's Barton Gellman, Dafna Linzer and Carol D. Leonnig reported that "intelligence officers who eavesdropped on thousands of Americans in overseas calls under authority from President Bush have dismissed nearly all of them as potential suspects after hearing nothing pertinent to a terrorist threat, according to accounts from current and former government officials and private-sector sources with knowledge of the technologies in use." LINK

More from the Washington Post: "Valuable information remains valuable even if it comes from one in a thousand intercepts. But government officials and lawyers said the ratio of success to failure matters greatly when eavesdropping subjects are Americans or U.S. visitors with constitutional protection. The minimum legal definition of probable cause, said a government official who has studied the program closely, is that evidence used to support eavesdropping ought to turn out to be 'right for one out of every two guys at least.' Those who devised the surveillance plan, the official said, "knew they could never meet that standard -- that's why they didn't go through" the court that supervises the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA."

Time Magazine reports this week that some Senators are considering a constitutional amendment to limit presidential war powers. If you caught "This Week," you know that RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman doesn't think too highly of the effort. LINK

Attention television producers: You may want to have a PA start pulling archival footage for your spot tonight. The New York Times' Scott Shane writes up the debate over domestic wiretapping from 1975 that eventually led to the creation of the 1978 FISA law. LINK

In Sunday's Boston Globe, Charlie Savage quoted the usual conservatives uncertain about the legality of the President's warrantless wiretapping program. LINK

The program that included cooperation from AT&T, MCI and Sprint, reports Cauley and Diamond of USA Today. LINK

Sen. Specter and Gen. Hayden's Sunday talk show appearances provide a helpful primer to some of the rhetoric we will likely hear today. Here's the Los Angeles Times' Drogin with more. LINK

"The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday said the Bush administration does not have congressional authority to conduct warrantless eavesdropping on overseas phone calls," according to Washington Times' Audrey Hudson. LINK

Big Casino budget politics:

Will there be the most coverage of the cuts or the deficit reduction, or the lack of deficit reduction? And which does the White House want?

Bloomberg Notes that borrowing costs are about to go up. LINK

President Bush's pledge to cut the deficit in half will "likely become a casualty of election-year politics and his own policy goals," Bloomberg's Dodge and Faler report. LINK

According to USA Today's Richard Wolf, the $2.7 trillion budget proposed by President Bush later today will include increases in, "defense, homeland security and benefit programs that grow faster than the economy." LINK

Most of the President's $2.7 trillion budget proposal will go to defense and anti-terrorism programs. At the same time, writes the Associated Press, over one hundred programs will either shrink or disappear in order to meet the $36 billion goal in Medicare savings. LINK

The Wall Street Journal breaks down President Bush's health care tax break plan. LINK

The Washington Post has more: LINK

Catherine Dodge and Brian Faler of Bloomberg report that politics may trump the U.S budget in an election year. LINK

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the Family Opportunity Act President Bush plans to sign -- one of the few expansions to a health program in this year's federal budget that will give 115,00 disabled children Medicaid access— is expected to cost $872 million over five years, writes Boston Globe's Rick Klein. LINK

Joel Havemann has the budget preview for the Los Angeles Times. LINK

Politics of Iraq:

The New York Times reports on the Defense Department's expanded effort to combat the increasing IED attacks proving to be so lethal to American soldiers, Iraqi soldiers, and Iraqi civilians. LINK

Politics of Iran:

When asked on morning network morning television if he would restart diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran, Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) said, "I would talk directly to them."

David Sanger's compelling New York Times news analysis on the United States' posture towards Iran includes experts who believe a nuclear-armed Iran is inevitable. LINK

Bush Administration:

Jeffrey Goldberg dubs Michael Gerson "The Believer" in this week's New Yorker.

Elisabeth Bumiller's "White House Letter" in the New York Times depicts a pensive President Bush of late who is thinking about turning 60 years old this year and what he will do when he leaves the White House. LINK

Majority Leader Boehner:

Nina Easton of the Boston Globe shows her ownership of the Boomer movement conservative beat and her archival bent with a must-read look at CR Jack Abramoff. Check out the revival of the 40-41 wars of yore!!! LINK

Richard Serrano of the Los Angeles Times wraps Rep. Boehner's Sunday debut as Majority Leader highlighting his call for more openness about lobbyist/lawmaker interactions and his resistance to a ban on all privately funded travel. LINK

The Washington Post has Boehner voicing his disagreement with the specifics of lobbying reform, talking about possible seat losses in 2006, and saying he won't necessarily step aside from his new post if Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) is cleared of all charges. LINK

Gannett's Malia Rulon takes a look at Boehner's "money-raising prowess", Noting Boehner's PAC, the Freedom Project, and an event known as the Boehner Beach Party. Boehner, who has taken more than three dozen privately funded trips since 2000, disagrees with House Speaker Dennis Hastert's proposal to ban all lobbying trips, reports the Boston Globe's Jim Abrams. LINK

The Washington Times' Stephen Dinan reports on Boehner's resistance to top-down leadership and on his old House Republican way of supporting earmarks and sponsored travel. LINK

Boehner's election as Leader could open the door for Rep. Buck McKeon to become the chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, increasing the clout of Democratic-leaning California in a GOP Congress, the Los Angeles Times reported on Saturday. LINK

Lobbying reform:

Both Sen. McCain and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) have adopted bans on their own personal use of corporate jets, encouraging others to do the same, Roll Call's Paul Kane reports.

The Washington Post's Jeffrey Birnbaum Notes that the progress of lobbying reform in Washington depends on whether or not Abramoff gives off immediate and instigating testimony. LINK

Fitzgerald investigation:

Michael Isikoff reports in the current Newsweek that Valerie Plame's status was still covert at the time her name was published in Bob Novak's column in July 2003. LINK

The Los Angeles Times saw some hints at a Libby defense over the weekend. LINK

2008: Democrats:

While on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman departed from the President's "formidable" opponent line and unleashed some new talking points on Sen. Clinton -- describing her as an angry, left-wing liberal.

Here's the New York Times' Adam Nagourney with more. LINK

The tabloids and AP pick it up, too: LINK, and LINK

On Sunday, the New York Post's Ian Bishop wrote up the Hollywood celebrities who have donated to Sen. Clinton's reelection campaign. LINK

Clinton called for America's youth to become involved in their communities and work for change in a speech at the American Democracy Institute's Youth Leadership Summit in Philadelphia Saturday, reports Adam Fifield of the Philadelphia Inquirer. LINK

"Bring your hopes, bring your dreams, bring your iPods and your cell-phone cameras, and change the world in your way," she said.

2008: Republicans:

Sen./Dr./Leader Bill Frist avoided talking to reporters about 2008 aspirations while visiting New Hampshire to "nurture the GOP at its grass roots," reports Mark Leibovich of the Washington Post. href="">LINK

"My job is to herd these Republicans," Frist says. "And if I have too many frogs jumping out of the wheelbarrow as I'm moving down the field, it means I've gotta be putting people back in." The AP's Beth Fouhy looks at Rudy Giuliani's flying under the radar lately as he considers a presidential bid. LINK

"'Rudy's national security credentials could bring him to the No. 2 spot on ticket, but not No. 1,' [Former McCain aide Marshall] Wittmann said. 'Pro-life voters care about national security, but they are Republicans because it's the pro-life party and they'd leave the party if it nominated a pro-choice candidate. The mayor's an intelligent guy, and I'm certain he knows that.'"

Newsweek's Richard Wolffe looks at the team of Bush political operatives and fundraisers being put to work by 2006 and 2008 candidates -- perhaps a bit sooner than the White House would like. LINK

Make sure you look for the photo illustration showing Inch High Private Eye versions of adorable Steve Schmidt and cute-as-can-be Mark McKinnon.

Sen. John McCain's (R-AZ) weekend tough talk on Russia included questioning whether the G-8 leaders should attend a June summit in St. Petersburg, reports the International Herald Tribune. LINK


National Democratic leaders are still discussing whether to roll out the party agenda in a single, comprehensive plan or in, "waves over the next 10 months," writes Erin Billings of Roll Call.

Despite a rise in the polls, Democrats are still struggling to find a cohesive message, and a leader to speak it, writes Dick Polman of the Philadelphia Inquirer. LINK

Despite sagging poll numbers for Republicans, party strategists point out that emphasis on improvements in the U.S. economy will help preserve the party's status quo in Congress, writes Washington Times' Donald Lambro. LINK

On Saturday, the New York Times' Pat Healy seemed to be none too pleased that the Weld campaign had edited an article of his for publication on its Web site. LINK

The New York Post's Dicker reports Donald Trump is backing Eliot Spitzer's gubernatorial campaign and will host a fundraiser for Spitzer in the not too distant future. LINK

The National Review suggests that the GOP dump left-leaning Sen. Lincoln Chafee after his vote in opposition to Samuel Alito's Supreme Court nomination. LINK

Democrats can't wait to get their hands on Ohio, and the DCCC Chairman, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), likes what he sees in Rep. Deborah Pryce's (R-OH) district as well as in Rep. Bob Ney's (R-OH), writes Jeff Zeleny of the Chicago Tribune in one of today's must-reads. LINK

John Distaso of the Union Leader, and Dan Barrick and Meg Heckman of the Concord Monitor outlined on Sunday some of the issues that the GOP faces in Ohio as Republican State Committee Chairman Warren Henderson resigns. LINK and LINK

Adam Smith of the St. Petersburg Times gives a detailed account of the Democratic gubernatorial candidates in Florida. LINK

The Schwarzenegger Era:

Mark Z. Barabak of the Los Angeles Times writes up the "strange bedfellows" campaign team Gov. Schwarzenegger has assembled with Susan Kennedy and Steve Schmidt leading the pack. (Well, Maria Shriver clearly leads the pack, but you know what we mean.) LINK


In a Sunday must-read, Peter Beinart reviewed Carville and Begala's "Take It Back" for the Washington Post's book review, spelling the name of The Note wrong and slamming us in the process!!!! Thanks, Peter. We will match the populist cred of our readers with yours in any dark alley in Northwest Washington you choose. LINK

Roll Call's Stuart Rothenberg plays GM and proposes a cross-party trade: Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) for Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE). LINK

Bloomberg on asbestos legislation. LINK

The US Department of Health and Human Services' refusal to purchase enough doses of a drug that would serve as a defense of a nuclear attack or accident is what the Boston Globe editorial predicts to be "the Bush administration's next FEMA." LINK

Week ahead:

On Tuesday, President Bush attends Coretta Scott King's funeral in Lithonia, GA. Institute of Politics hosts a panel discussion called, "The Abramoff Scandal: Has Ethics Collapsed in DC?," in Cambridge, MA.

On Wednesday, President Bush makes remarks to the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire in Manchester, NH. He also meets with King Abdullah of Jordan at the White House and signs the "Deficit Reduction Act." The Minuteman Project holds a rally from 11:30 am to 2:00 pm ET on the west side of the Capitol to bring attention to "the national crisis of illegal immigration and the impending 'guest worker' amnesty program before Congress. Minuteman Project Founder Jim Gilchrist and Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-CO) will speak against the proposed legislation.

On Thursday, the President delivers remarks on the war on terrorism in Washington, DC and meets with President Kaczynski of Poland. Rep. Tancredo speaks to CPAC about immigration at 10:15 am ET. Vice President Cheney and Sen. George Allen (R-VA) address CPAC at a 7:30 pm ET presidential banquet.

On Friday, the President makes remarks to the House Republican Conference in Cambridge, MD. Gov. Mark Warner (D-VA) keynotes the New Hampshire Democratic Party's "100 Club" annual fundraising dinner in Manchester, NH.

On Saturday, the results of CPAC's presidential preference straw poll will be announced at 5:30 pm ET by ACU's David Keene and Tony Fabrizio. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) speaks to CPAC at 5:00 pm ET. Gov. Ed Rendell (D-PA) keynotes the Virginia Democratic Party's Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Richmond, VA. Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) begins a three-day visit to Iowa.