WASHINGTON, Feb. 23
After being chastised by many for focusing on a non-substantive process story for the entirety of last week, the White House press corps has plenty to sink its teeth into today. Iraq, Katrina, and port security are all on the agenda providing the Administration lots of opportunities for explaining, contextualizing, and nuance.
President Bush addressed all three issues when he spoke to the pool after his Cabinet meeting this morning.
On Iraq: President Bush again condemned the attack on the mosque and said the United States will continue to work with the "voices of reason," but he refused to directly address a potential civil war.
On Katrina: "I wasn't satisfied with the federal response," said Bush. "We will learn the lessons of the past," he added.
On the UAE ports deal: Mr. Bush said the more Cabinet members brief Congress, the more they are bringing a sense of "calm" to the issue.
Your news peg for today's port stories will come when the Senate Armed Services Committee receives a briefing in an open meeting at 11:00 am ET by a half-dozen federal departments and agencies about Dubai Ports World's planned takeover.
Senators expected to participate: Chairman John Warner (R-VA), Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA).
According to Bloomberg News, while appearing on the Fox News Channel on Wednesday, Sen. Warner said: "I anticipate that the views of the commander-in-chief will eventually prevail, and that the country will settle back and suddenly realize -- maybe not suddenly, but gradually realize -- that the Administration did the right thing." LINK
ABC's Zach Wolf reports that staff level meetings between the Administration and congressional Republicans occurred yesterday and a Frist staffer told Wolf those meetings constituted, "a good first step."
For the best indication as to where the political narrative over the ports is heading, we offer these four must-reads for you.
1. The New York Daily News' golden Thomas DeFrank predicts that because "Bush has placed his political reputation squarely on the line," Republicans in Congress are unlikely to "humiliate" their leader. LINK
"Delay is Bush's best tactical weapon. An emerging strategy is to slide next week's decision date by 30 to 60 days so the White House can launch the education job with Congress and the public it should have done weeks ago."
2. The Washington Post's Jim VandeHei and Jonathan Weisman write of the "unprecedented Republican revolt over national security" and have a "senior White House official saying that President Bush "realizes that Republicans are dug in and that he may have to compromise. 'We are sensitive to the fact that people have taken firm positions,' the official said. . . ." LINK
3. David Brooks of the New York Times takes on the "completely bogus" and "nativist, isolationist mass hysteria" gripping the nation and points fingers directly at Sens. Schumer and Clinton and Reps. Hastert and King while doing so. LINK
Raise your hand if you think Sen. Clinton and Sen. Frist disagree with Brooks' thesis.
Raise your hand if you think the American public cares to consider Brooks' thesis.
4. Peter Wallsten and Richard Simon of the Los Angeles Times capture the continued congressional Republican defiance on the port deal with the help of Rep. Mary Bono to explain why: "'This thing hit a fever pitch in my district,' Rep. Mary Bono (R-Palm Springs) said. 'To my constituents, when we're trying so hard to secure our borders and secure our ports, and then to hear this -- there's just a lot of concern that we're two steps forward, three steps backward.'" LINK
Grover Norquist's Brooksian kicker quote: "The only whiners left by next week will be the registered bigots."
President Bush met with his Cabinet this morning and released the White House's "lessons learned" report on Katrina. LINK
(See more on that below.)
ABC's Jessica Yellin reports the 217 page report includes this mea culpa: "The magnitude of hurricane Katrina does not excuse our inadequate preparedness and response, but rather it must serve as a catalyst for far-reaching reform and transformation."
Later today, the President heads to Mishawaka, IN for a Chocola for Congress event and remains on the 2006 campaign trail in Cincinnati, OH tonight at a fundraiser for Sen. DeWine's (R-OH) reelection campaign.
In its effort to paint President Bush as a liability for Republican candidates in 2006 -- fundraising prowess aside -- the DSCC has sent a memo to "interested parties" this morning reminding readers that ". . . last week, when Bush went to Ohio to promote health savings accounts, Mike DeWine was noticeably absent while the rest of the state's most prominent Republicans attended."
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) heads to Miami, FL to discuss immigration reform. He holds a media availability at 4:15 pm ET and a town hall meeting at 6:00 pm ET.
Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) heads to President Bush's old stomping grounds. The Delaware Democrat will argue that the Bush Doctrine, on its own terms, has left America "less secure" than it could or should be. Sen. Biden will argue that the time has come to "recapture the totality of America's strength."
The immigration reform proposal that he is co-sponsoring with Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) would make it possible for illegal immigrants in the United States to regularize their status. But in order to do so, they would have to pay a fine, stay employed for a prescribed period, and pay back taxes. The McCain-Kennedy proposal enjoys support from big business and big labor; but it is opposed by some conservatives who feel that it amounts to amnesty. (Sen. Clinton is also expected in Miami, FL on Thursday for a fundraiser).
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) speaks to students at Rider University in Lawrenceville, NJ at 12:00 pm ET about the Dubai deal. Sen. Menendez is introducing legislation with Sen. Clinton to ban the sale of operations at U.S. ports to companies owned by foreign governments.
Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) speaks at the Citadel at 11:00 am ET and addresses the Lexington County Republican Party Bronze Elephant Banquet in Columbia, SC at 7:00 pm ET.
Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) headlines an event for the DFL in St. Paul, MN. The St. Paul Pioneer Press has more. LINK
First Lady Laura Bush participated in a 9:00 am ET "Glory Road" screening event at the White House.
Former Sen. Birch Bayh (D-IN), former presidential candidate John Anderson, former Rep. John Buchanan (R-AL), and Common Cause's Chellie Pingree release a book at 9:45 am ET at the National Press Club advocating a state-based popular vote for president.
Specifically, they are launching efforts in state legislatures across the country to pass legislation that would award the states' electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. They hope that such a system would increase voter participation as candidates campaign in more states than the current battleground strategy dictates, giving more voters a say in the outcome of the election. The Chicago Tribune's Jeff Zeleny has a preview. LINK
Port politics: news of day:
Indicating that there is likely a bit more string to unravel here. . .
"Under a secretive agreement with the Bush administration, a company in the United Arab Emirates promised to cooperate with U.S. investigations as a condition of its takeover of operations at six major American ports, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press," reports the AP's Ted Bridis. LINK
The New York Times' duo of Bumiller and Hulse wraps the political climate by Noting that the rift between Republicans in Congress and the White House is "not seen as a permanent break." LINK
But: "Lawmakers and aides said the nearly united Republican resistance in Congress was a new atmosphere for a White House accustomed to strong public support for its policies and the willingness to settle any disagreements privately."
The Wall Street Journal's Greg Hitt reports that the "brushfire" over the deal showed "no sign of abating" with Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) suggesting that Treasury Secretary Snow had a "conflict of interest" because DP World in 2004 purchased the international port operations of CSX Corp., the firm Snow headed before joining the Bush Administration.
The Washington Times has Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), the chief deputy whip in the House, saying that opposing the ports deal is a "no-brainer." LINK
"'I am totally in opposition to a company controlled by the UAE having access and running, managing our ports,' he said.
'Frankly, I think the UAE has demonstrated it wants to be selective in terms of its position in the war on terror. Where are they in terms of Hamas and the West Bank and what's going on in that conflict?' he said."
The Washington Times story also makes reference to Snow's "more personal connection" to the Dubai company.
John Stanton of Roll Call reports that the White House briefed Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's national security advisors yesterday as part of an effort to combat the wave of negative sentiment toward the ports deal.
The Chicago Tribune's Mike Hughlett reports that transfer of port operations to Dubai Ports World is not viewed as a security risk by members of the shipping industry and some security experts. LINK
President Bush's homeland security advisor Fran Townsend defended the UAE ports deal to Charlie Gibson on Good Morning America this morning, emphasizing that the transaction has already been thoroughly reviewed and that port security would still be done by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Port politics: analysis:
Under a "Bush is leaning left" header, the Washington Times' Stephen Dinan and Charles Hurt write that President Bush is "on the defense" on national security for "the first time in his presidency." LINK
Be sure to Note the jujitsu by the DCCC's Bill Burton:
"'To paraphrase Karl Rove, Democrats and Republicans have fundamentally different views on national security,'" said Burton. 'For example, Republicans think we should outsource national security to a state used by 9/11 hijackers as an operational and financial base. Democrats think we should not.'"
Bloomberg's Margaret Carlson savors what it must be like for the President to see his 9/11 card "played against him." LINK
While the validity of the arguments against the ports deal is still in question, the New York Times' David Sanger says the one thing that is clear is that the dispute has "become a proxy for long simmering debates about security and a battleground for resurgent tensions between the White House and Congress." LINK
"It is also convenient for the Democrats, who are able to sound more hawkish on domestic security than President Bush. Mr. Bush finds himself burdened with the more nuanced argument that turning down this deal would send a message to the entire Arab world that it is not to be trusted, no matter how friendly individual countries may have been."
Mark Sandalow of the San Francisco Chronicle writes, "Splits between Republicans and the president -- unheard of during Bush's first term -- have emerged on matters from domestic surveillance and prescription drugs to balancing the budget. As the 2006 election approaches, members have become more and more willing to differ publicly with a President whose approval ratings are near an all-time low." LINK
USA Today's Jackson and Benedetto wonder whether President Bush can convince congressional Republicans to join his side now, or if the port plan will go down in flames, Harriet Miers-style. LINK
Port politics: editorials and op-eds:
The Des Moines Register's editorial board asks Congress to "proceed with passing legislation to put the deal on hold," and, if necessary, to "force Bush to make the first veto of his presidency and then override that veto." LINK
For the second day in a row, a New York Post editorial raps the Bush White House for its tone deafness on the ports deal. LINK
Deb Orin blames the ports trouble on two factors: "incompetence" by the President's staff and Bush's "I-know-best stubbornness." LINK
The editorial board at the Nation's Newspaper chides Congress for reacting to a "scare story" by "tripping over each other on the way to the cameras." LINK
Former DHS inspector general Clark Kent Ervin takes to the New York Times op-ed page to blast the ports deal and calls for changes to the workings of the Committee on Foreign Investment that would allow for Congressional review. LINK
Port politics: 2008 angle:
Per the Wall Street Journal's front page story by Wysocki, Phillips, and Schroeder, Sen. Frist says Congress should have "a role in vetting deals and 'possibly voiding them if necessary.' At a minimum, he says, the" Committee on Foreign Investment in the US 'needs to be more transparent,'" while Sen. Bayh says he plans legislation that would require the director of national intelligence to approve foreign investments in the U.S., so that homeland security is given greater consideration before deals are approved.
Sen. Bayh's proposals are also mentioned in a Wall Street Journal story by Michael Schroeder and Greg Hitt that looks at the port issue from the Capitol Hill angle.
Sen. Kerry "demanded a public accounting of all contacts between Administration officials and DP World. Unless he receives it, Mr. Kerry threatened to block the president's nomination of Dave Sanborn, DP World's director of operations for Europe and Latin America, to serve as the Administration's maritime administrator," the Wall Street Journal's Greg Hitt reports.
Note the way Scott McClellan invoked Sen. McCain from the podium at yesterday's briefing:
McClellan: "Senator McCain said we shouldn't be rushing to judgment here; we should understand what the facts are. As he said, he supports the President and he knows fully that this President is going to do everything he can to make sure that the American people are protected, and that includes in a situation like this."
Port politics: congressional response:
Rep. Tom Delay joined those criticizing White House approval of the ports deal yesterday, reports Michael Hedges of the Houston Chronicle. LINK
"'When it's a matter of national security, the president will be overturned,' DeLay said. 'We will overturn it within the next few weeks.'"
The State's Bandy provides Sen. Lindsey Graham's (R-SC) non-McCain like reaction:: "'It's unbelievably tone deaf politically at this point in our history, four years after 9/11, to entertain the idea of turning port security over to a company based in the UAE.'" LINK
The Abramoff affair:
The investigation is expanding beyond Indian tribes and into Abramoff's dealings with the Russian government, according to a subpoena obtained by The Boston Globe's Michael Kranish. Drawn into the tangled web: a somewhat mysterious Dutch company and more goings-on in that box at FedEx Field. LINK
Politics of Katrina:
The New York Times previews the recommendations of the White House's Katrina report, which focuses more on the politically palatable changes that "must be made to prepare for the next catastrophe, rather than on the flawed reaction to Hurricane Katrina." LINK
Statements from eyewitnesses of Vice President Dick Cheney's hunting accident are consistent with the Vice President's account, according to the Houston Chronicle's Terri Langford. LINK
The Smoking Gun has the affidavits. LINK
Get to it bloggers!
Politics of domestic surveillance:
The Washington Post's Dana Milbank has former Bush Justice Department official John Yoo saying at the Heritage Foundation on Wednesday that "the President has a 'choice' about whether to follow" the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. LINK
"FISA 'says, 'Look, you have a choice,' ' Yoo said. 'If you work through FISA, then you can use the fruits of those searches in criminal prosecution.' By contrast, if a President 'doesn't follow FISA and still collects the information, it's doubtful it will be admitted. That's a choice presidents have to make.'"
The Wall Street Journal's McKinnon and Wonacott report that President Bush wants closer relations with India and Pakistan while Sen. Kennedy attacked the President's globalization's policies, calling for greater investments in education, health care, and R&D. Note the secretary of the Communist Party of India calling for street protests and saying: "We don't agree with US policies -- attacking Afghanistan or occupying Iraq."
In his column, Robert Novak takes on the Senate's "lion in winter" -- Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens -- for continuing to stand "athwart" lobbying reform. LINK
The politics of abortion:
The South Dakota Senate passed a comprehensive ban on abortions that may eventually make its way to the Supreme Court as a challenge to Roe v. Wade. LINK
Malia Rulon of the Cincinnati Enquirer previews President Bush's Ohio visit today to attend a fundraiser for Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH). LINK
The New York Daily News' Bazinet questions whether Bush's visit to Ohio will benefit the Senator in his tough reelection fight. LINK
The Washington Post's Linton Weeks writes that the mayor's powers in New Orleans have been sapped. And yet, at least 10 people want Mayor Nagin's job. LINK
Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu (D-LA), who formally entered the New Orleans mayoral race yesterday, will be a "formidable challenger" to incumbent Ray Nagin, the New York Times' Adam Nossiter predicts. LINK
Yesterday's New York papers called it all but a done deal that Republican William Weld would not receive the New York Conservative Party's endorsement for governor, but today's New York Daily News says to think again, after three Conservative Party county leaders endorsed Weld on Wednesday. LINK
The New York GOP called on Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Eliot Spitzer to return $84,000 in campaign donations it says it are tainted. LINK
The Helena Independent Record reports Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) is looking for further investigation, but has yet to take a stand on whether or not the UAE port deal should be blocked. LINK
Glen Florio of the Great Falls Tribune Notes that President Bush will be giving a boost to Sen. Burns by joining him for a fundraiser at Washington's Madison Hotel on March 27. LINK
Rep. DeLay received an award and an endorsement from the U.S. Chamber of Congress yesterday, per Ruth Rendon of the Houston Chronicle. LINK
State House Democratic Leader Jim Craig (D-NH) made it official yesterday. He will challenge Rep. Jeb Bradley (R-NH) for the US House seat in New Hampshire's first congressional district, reports John DiStaso of the Union Leader. Craig will face at least three other candidates in the Democratic primary. LINK
Tom Beaumont of the Des Moines Register Notes the Hawkeye State GOP glee with the Nussle - Vander Plaats ticket and avoidance of a primary. LINK
The Washington Post ed board wants Dr./Leader/Sen. Frist to stop dithering on re-scheduling the asbestos bill. LINK
While New York Gov. George Pataki has spent more than a week in the hospital due to complications from an appendectomy, the New York Times reports Pataki's doctors say he should be able to fully return to his job after he leaves the hospital. LINK
Brent Wistrom of the Wichita Eagle has Sen. Brownback (R-KS) telling his Kansas State University audience: "'. . . thanks for not talking about Brownback Mountain,' he said. 'I've gotten that thrown at me several times lately. . . And thank goodness for Dick Cheney's hunting accident. It pulled me off of Saturday Night Live routines. His was just too good.'" LINK
David Yepsen writes Sen. Evan Bayh "is a tad stiff and has a distinct charisma deficit" in his Des Moines Register column which outlines Bayh's task at hand: "selling dovish Hawkeyes on the idea they really do have to be hawks." LINK
Gov. Vilsack (D-IA) is urging the state legislature to set a statewide goal for renewable and alternative fuel this year, reports the AP. LINK
In an editorial that chides Virginia's GOP for forgetting its identity as the anti-tax party, the Wall Street Journal's ed board remembers the way in which the GOP proposed a tax plan 18 months ago that was so onerous that even the tax-raising Gov. Warner was able to criticize it as "too heavy a burden."
Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton looks deep into his crystal ball and predicts Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will move into the Governor's Mansion following a second Schwarzenegger term. LINK
George F. Will on a Pew poll which shows that conservatives (in all income groups) are happier than liberals. LINK