The Note: Comfort Level


Will Karl Rove's radio whispers and Dubai Ports World announcement of an operational takeover delay be enough to stem the legislative tide on Capitol Hill? If you have the answer to that question, you are all set for your weekend. If you don't, we suspect you will by Sunday evening.

President Bush will try to remind the country who's boss on national security issues when he delivers 10:00 am ET remarks on the global war on terrorism to the American Legion at the Capital Hilton in Washington, DC. At 1:15 pm ET in the Oval Office, the President meets with President Saca of El Salvador.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) makes his re-election debut at 10:30 pm ET when he addresses the California Republican Party winter convention at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose, CA. (See more on that below.)

Hundreds of Teamsters will rally in 20 cities across the U.S. today against the agreement to allow Dubai Ports World to take over operations at American ports. A statement from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters says the union strongly opposes the $6.8 billion deal, and that it is "perplexed" by the Administration's "willingness to ignore the obvious increased security threats of opening our nation's ports to the UAE."

At the 2:30 pm ET status conference in the CIA leak investigation set to take place in Judge Walton's Washington, DC courtroom, two main issues will be on the agenda, per ABC's Jason Ryan: media subpoenas and access to intelligence materials requested by Libby and his defense team, including access to PDBs.

"The grand jury is also scheduled to meet but Fitzgerald has not been seen at the grand jury area since December 7, 2005. He may offer clues to the ongoing nature of the CIA leak investigation as well," adds Ryan.

In other Justice Department news, Jason Ryan reports, "A Washington, DC based defense contractor involved in the Duke Cunningham scandal will plead guilty this morning at the US District Court in DC. The man Mitchel Wade ran MZM, Inc. which funneled money to the former congressman who pleaded guilty last year. Wade is expected to plead guilty to bribery charges for improperly trying to influence Defense Department contracts." The hearing is set for 10:30 am ET with a noon ET press conference at the Washington, DC US Attorney's office to follow.

ABC's Luis Martinez reports, "Later today, the Pentagon expects to release it's quarterly Iraq Progress Report entitled "Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq." This will be the third of these quarterly reports commissioned by Congress when it passed the emergency Iraq supplemental in early 2005."

Vice President Cheney presents the distinguished service cross to Bernard W. Bail, 1st Lt. of the Army Air Corps at 11:30 am ET in the Roosevelt Room of the White House for "extraordinary heroism" in connection with military operations on June 5, 1944 while serving as the group mission's lead radar navigator on a heavy bombardment attack against defended enemy coastal positions in the vicinity of Boulogno-Sur-Mer, France, in preparation of the invasion of June 6, 1944.

The Maryland State House Environmental Matters Committee, Maryland Senate Finance Committee and Maryland Senate Budget &Taxation Committee meet for a special 1:00 pm ET briefing on the control of the Port of Baltimore in Annapolis, MD. Witnesses include Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and representatives of the Maryland Port Administration.

Treasury Secretary John Snow promotes tax credits for home energy efficiency in Richmond, VA at 10:00 am ET.

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) is in Miami, FL. She spoke to the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce breakfast at 8:30 am ET. Tomorrow, she headlines a Florida Democratic Party fundraiser in Tampa, FL.

RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman is also in the Sunshine State today. Mehlman attends donor maintenance events at a luncheon in Naples, FL and at an evening event in Boca Raton, FL. He will be joined in his Florida travels with Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) to talk about the political landscape with people who have given to the RNC in the past -- meeting with activists, past donors, party loyalists.

Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) holds a 2:00 pm ET news conference at the Cleveland Port Authority to demand stronger national security policy on ports and trade.

Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) calls attention to the new home heating fuel deduction, which is not being fully utilized by tax filers, at 10:30 am ET in Brookline, MA. He then heads north to address the Carroll County Republic Party Lincoln Day Dinner in West Ossipee, NH at 6:00 pm ET.

Former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) will be discussing poverty across the Hawkeye State this weekend.

The National Governors Association's four-day "Healthy America" forum and winter meeting gets underway tomorrow at the JW Marriott in Washington, DC. (We're sure each of the nearly 50 governors attending are well prepared to answer questions on the Dubai ports controversy.)

To get governors in the mood to talk about health and fitness, Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR), the chairman of the NGA, has scheduled an 8:00 am ET "5K Fun Run/Walk" in East Potomac Park for Saturday.

The opening news conference will be held on Saturday at 10:30 am ET. Gov. Huckabee will deliver welcoming remarks at 1:30 pm ET. Gov. Huckabee recently told reporters that the goal of his ""Healthy America" initiative is to bring about a cultural shift akin to past transformations in American attitudes towards littering, smoking, drunk driving, and seat-belt use.

Lee Scott, president and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., will offer a keynote address to open the summit's closing plenary Sunday.

The governors will spend an evening with the President and Mrs. Bush at the White House on Sunday at 7:30 pm ET.

Some partisan activity is on tap for the weekend as well. The DGA is holding a press conference on Saturday at 1:00 pm ET to unveil its 2006 initiative and preview Monday's scheduled meeting with the President at the White House. Democratic governors expected to attend the presser: Gov. Richardson, Gov. Manchin, Gov. Kaine, Gov. Lynch, Gov. Minner, Gov. Schweitzer, Gov. Sebelius, and Gov. Vilsack.

The Republican Governors Association, headed up by Chairman Mitt Romney, has no public events planned for this NGA weekend. Instead, the RGA will be hosting several "donor fulfillment events," according to RGA press secretary Rob Van Raaphorst.

You won't want to miss "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" on Sunday when George's guests will be Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) on the Dubai ports deal, the state of affairs in Iraq, and much more.

Later in the day on Sunday, Sen. McCain attends a fundraiser for New Jersey Republican senatorial candidate Tom Kean, Jr. in Short Hills, NJ. Whether or not the two men will discuss their quite different responses to the UAE ports controversy is still to be determined.

Port politics: analysis:

The New York Post's John Podhoretz seeks deeper meaning from the ports deal and tries to figure out what happened to the "well-oiled machine" that was the Bush White House during its first term: "What's the Bush White House's excuse for handling things so poorly in the second term?" Podhoretz asks. LINK

The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman writes that it is "not at all clear" whether the offer to delay the deal will "placate" lawmakers, who have vowed to "block the deal as soon as Congress reconvenes Monday." LINK

Port politics: news of day:

The AP's Liz Sidoti broke the news late last night that the Dubai company has agreed to delay part of its controversial $6.8 billion takeover of most operations at 6 US ports. LINK

The company's chief operating officer, Ted Bilkey, said in a statement: "We need to understand the concerns of the people in the U.S. who are worried about this transaction and make sure that they are addressed to the benefit of all parties. Security is everybody's business."

Keying off of the overnight news, ABC's Charlie Gibson opened "Good Morning America" by asking: "Does the White House now have time to put out the political firestorm?"

The New York Times' Cloud and Sanger write the ports deal delay came after the White House and Sen. John Warner "quietly told the company that more time was needed to derail Congressional action to block the deal." LINK

And/but: "A senior White House official said, however, that Mr. Bush was still firm that he would veto any effort by Congress to overturn the deal."

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) issued a statement in response to the Dubai Ports World announcement saying, "This promise isn't worth the paper on which it is written. . . We can't rely on nonbinding promises from foreign governments to secure our ports. If the Bush administration will not stop this deal from closing, Congress must."

ABC's Jessica Yellin reports a slightly different tone in the response from Sen. Menendez' legislative partner on this, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. "Senator Clinton has made it clear that she expects the law to be followed and welcomes the news that the investigation that she and others have called for will have a chance to proceed. The Administration should now use this delay to conduct the investigation that the law requires," said Sen. Clinton's press secretary Philippe Reines.

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank sketches the core Democratic line of attack represented in yesterday's Senate Armed Services Committee briefing. LINK

Bloomberg's Fitzgerald writes that "just four months ago," Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert Kimmitt "appeared before a Senate committee and made the same promise to lawmakers who said the process was too secretive." LINK

Rowan Scarborough of the Washington Times points out that DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff also first learned of the ports deal by reading about it in the newspapers. LINK

In a speech yesterday, New Hampshire Sen. John Sununu "stressed that the U.S. should not discriminate" against Arab companies, but said he was "disappointed that the President wasn't informed, I am disappointed that Congress wasn't informed." LINK

The Washington Post's Blustein and Pincus Note that of all the reasons to fret about vulnerabilities to terrorist attacks, "the nationality of the companies managing the terminals is one of the least worrisome." LINK

Port politics: editorials and op-eds:

Reprising the advice-giving role that he played during the Harriet Miers fight, the Washington Post's Charles Krauthammer suggests the following exit strategy:

"(1) Allow the contract to go through; (2) give it heightened scrutiny by assigning a team of U.S. government agents to work inside the company at least for the first few years to make sure security is tight and information closely held; (3) have the team report every six months to both the executive and a select congressional committee." LINK

"Are some opponents of this deal motivated by xenophobia?" asks the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne. "Of course, and xenophobia is both wrong and dangerous. But it's also wrong to dismiss every Democrat and every Republican who has raised questions about this deal -- i.e., most members of both parties -- as either a bigot or an opportunist." LINK

A New York Times editorial claps its hands in glee that the "chickens are coming home to roost" for the White House. LINK

On the opposite editorial page, the New York Times' Thomas Friedman puts the "reap what you sow" narrative to use as well and writes that while he has "zero empathy" for the White House's "political mess," he "will not join this feeding frenzy." LINK

"On the pure merits of this case, the president is right. The port deal should go ahead. Congress should focus on the N.S.A. wiretapping. Not this."

Port politics: 2008 angle:

Bloomberg's Roger Simon has McCain adviser John Weaver saying: "Perhaps it is good the White House didn't consider the politics if the ports policy is the right thing to do. What we are seeing now is a rush to judgment based on people's political calculus, even within our own party'' while Bayh adviser Anita Dunn thinks the port issue is one where Democrats "see an opportunity to take advantage of a weakness in what has been a Bush strength: keeping us safe and being tough on terrorism." LINK

In Miami yesterday, Sen. John McCain was asked about "Arab control" in the context of the Dubai deal and he expressed concern that some were "lumping all Arabs into one category" which he called "unfortunate and simplistic," reports ABC News' Arash Ghadishah.

On the lighter side, ABC News' Niels Lesniewski unearthed what transpired when an Arizona reporter kept pushing McCain to whack the president over the ports controversy on Tuesday:

REPORTER'S QUESTION: "You don't think the Bush Administration kind of just secretly pushes things through?"

McCAIN: "I think this was a secret conspiracy to overthrow the United States of America, and it's first revealed here on channel 12."

The joking Senator then returned to his more serious response.

Port politics: the K Street angle:

Bob Dole's role lobbying on behalf of the Dubai-owned company is "creating a political problem for his wife, Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC)," reports Jeffrey Birnbaum of the Washington Post. LINK

"The chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party, Jerry Meek, yesterday called on Sen. Dole to remove herself from 'any congressional oversight' of the Dubai port deal. 'The fact that Dubai is paying her husband to help pass the deal presents both a financial and ethical conflict of interest for Senator Dole,' Meek said."

Former Sen. Dole issued a statement yesterday saying that he will confine his lobbying to the Bush Administration. "I have not nor will I 'lobby' Members of Congress on this issue, not even at home,' he wrote. 'I have not discussed the port issue with any Senator or member of Congress or anyone working for the Congress, nor will I do so in the months to come."

Lindsay Taylor Mabry, Sen. Dole's communications director, told The Note: "Anyone who knows Elizabeth Dole knows that her work is completely separate from Bob Dole. Bob Dole works for a law firm. Elizabeth Dole works for the people of North Carolina."

Ms. Mabry was not able to imagine any client that former Sen. Dole could take on that would present a conflict of interest for the current Sen. Dole.

Birnbaum Notes that the "controversy" confronting the Doles is an increasingly common one in Washington. "According to Public Citizen's Congress Watch, at least three dozen members of Congress have relatives who are professional lobbyists."

The Los Angeles Times includes the Dole relationship in its coverage too. LINK

The politics of Iraq:

Per the New York Times, the White House is worried that the violence in Iraq may imperil or delay the planned troop drawdown later this year. LINK

The Wall Street Journal's ed board writes that it would "be foolish to dismiss" the possibility that Iraq is destined for "sectarian civil war." But it could equally be that this week's "glimpse of hell will be the medicine that pushes Iraq away from the brink." The paper writes that President Bush's statements condemning the mosque attack have been "helpful but don't go far enough. A televised address to Iraqis would be in order . . ."

The Senate Intelligence Committee may launch its own probe into whether Doug Feith's since-disbanded Office of Special Plan's "twisted intelligence data before the Iraq war" after the Pentagon releases its own probe, the Wall Street Journal's John Harwood reports.

The Fitzgerald investigation:

ABC News' Jason Ryan reports, "Scooter Libby's attorneys have asserted that Fitzgerald does not have the proper authority to represent the United States since he was not designated by the President in his role of special counsel. . . Libby's attorney's say this is "unlawful authority" and that the indictment must be dismissed."

The Washington Post's Leonnig on the same: LINK

"Several legal experts said yesterday that the Libby defense team was making a valiant and appropriate effort to defend its client, but said they doubted that the central argument for dismissing the charges would gain traction with the court," writes Leonnig.

The AP on same: LINK

The Schwarzenegger Era:

When Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) takes the stage tonight at the California Republican Party convention in San Jose, CA, it will represent the political debut for his 2006 reelection effort.

For most candidates, making a high profile speech before his/her base is something to relish. However, it is Schwarzenegger's political base that may prove to be one of his toughest obstacles this election year.

After Californians rejected his ballot initiatives last November, Schwarzenegger was widely criticized by some California conservatives for tacking left -- as best evidenced by hiring Democratic operative Susan Kennedy as his Chief of Staff.

However, the movie star-turned-politician appears to have quelled a rebellion from a conservative faction within the party that was urging the California GOP to rescind its endorsement of the Governor. Now he must turn to, perhaps, the more difficult task of firing up his base to work hard for his reelection.

California gubernatorial candidates do not formally run with Lt. Gov. running mates, but Schwarzenegger has all but declared Republican State Senator Tom McClintock -- a favorite among conservatives and an opponent in the 2003 recall campaign -- as his running mate.

Tonight will also mark the first high-profile look at how some key political operatives from the Bush-Cheney 2004 presidential campaign, recently hired by Schwarzenegger, package the Republican Governor in Democratic California in his first regularly scheduled (non-recall) campaign.

Tony Quinn, co-editor of the nonpartisan California Target Book, sees danger signs of a "great Democratic landslide" nationwide in November that could hurt Schwarzenegger in California, reports Michael Finnegan of the Los Angeles Times in his must-read convention curtain-raiser. LINK

The AP's Michael Blood also previews the speech. LINK

Politics of Medicare:

The always-thorough Sarah Lueck of the Wall Street Journal asks "which party wins" with Medicare's drug benefit in play.

"The Democratic strategy is to tie troubles with the drug benefit to broader campaign themes: that the Republicans are too cozy with big industries and that the Bush Administration stumbles when responding to crises."

GOPers are planning "a blitz" of events and mailings ahead of the May 15 enrollment deadline while DCCC honcho Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) warns that late enrollees will pay a "Medicare Complexity Tax."

"Another flashpoint: In the summer and the fall, a large number of seniors are expected to reach the 'doughnut hole.'"

House of Labor:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. outlined plans Thursday to improve its benefit offerings, including opening more clinics in stores and shortening the period that part-time employees have to wait before they can buy coverage, the Los Angeles Times reports. LINK

"The proposals are in a speech that Wal-Mart's chief executive is scheduled to deliver Sunday. They follow promises the company made last year to bring healthcare within reach of all its nearly 1.4 million U.S. employees."

In advance of Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott's Sunday speech to the NGA, Wal-Mart Watch Executive Director Andrew Grossman issued the following pre-buttal: ". . . We hope that as Lee Scott calls for a 'new commitment from leaders in government and business,' he will first acknowledge that his own corporation's woeful health benefits are a unique contributor to this nation's crisis."

More from Wal-Mart Watch: "Our curiosity is certainly piqued by his interest in 'significantly reducing the waiting period for part-time associates.' After all, that waiting period is a stunning two years. Moreover, Wal-Mart has admitted in internal documents that it is actively pushing full-time workers onto part-time status, reducing both their earning power and benefits."

The endorsement of a guest worker program by the vice president of the SEIU underscores the "growing tensions" among labor leaders and those on the left about how to deal with illegal workers in the U.S. -- a tension that the New York Times says has been "overshadowed" by similar divisions among Republicans. LINK

The Wall Street Journal's John Harwood reports that AFL-CIO chief John Sweeney meets regularly with leaders of the Change to Win Coalition "splinter group." Legislation that would ease union organizing currently has 200 co-sponsors in the House but Sweeney concedes it has "no chance" in Republican-controlled Congress.

Politics of Katrina:

The New York Times' Eric Lipton contrasts last week's House Katrina committee report with yesterday's White House report, which "provides little detailed criticism of the performance of top leaders after the storm, including President Bush and his staff." LINK

The changes to disaster response advocated yesterday by the White House are opposed by some key governors, including Jeb Bush and Haley Barbour, reports the New York Times. LINK

The Washington Post on the Katrina report: LINK

The Abramoff affair:

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Sen. Ken Salazar (D-CO) are calling on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Jack Abramoff's activities in two Pacific island territories, the Los Angeles Times' Walter F. Roche Jr reports. The two Senate Democrats are also asking Gonzales to provide the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee with a "secret Justice Department report" on security risks in Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. LINK

Lobbying reform:

Per the AP, the bipartisan group of senators dealing with ethics reform plans to meet next week and vote on lobbying and ethics issues including travel, gifts, earmarks transparency, and ethics guidelines and enforcement. LINK


"Peter Blute, a former Republican congressman and executive director of the Massachusetts Port Authority, said yesterday he has decided not to challenge US Senator Edward M. Kennedy this fall, possibly leaving the Massachusetts Democrat without a reelection opponent for the first time in his 43-year Senate career," reports the AP's Glen Johnson. LINK

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports, "The Ohio Republican Party's regional director in Northeast Ohio has resigned, contending that party officials have secretly promoted the gubernatorial candidacy of Attorney General Jim Petro while publicly expressing neutrality." LINK

While the President's fundraisers in the Midwest yesterday brought in more than $1.6 million for Republican candidates, the New York Times has one unnamed "Republican Party official" in Washington acknowledging that there "'will be some candidates and some races where it won't be beneficial for the president to come into their districts.'" LINK

Under the headline, "RNC chief hails progress in luring blacks," Washington Times' Brian DeBose has RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman saying "'Outreach is when I go and speak to people about the party; inclusion is when Michael Steele does it.'" LINK

Mehlman also concedes that Hurricane Katrina has made this effort more difficult.

New York gubernatorial hopeful Eliot Spitzer will receive Rep. Charles Rangel's endorsement today, in a move the New York Post says signifies a burying of the hatchet between the two prominent New York Democrats. LINK

The Wall Street Journal's ed board writes that Gov. Jim Doyle (D-WI) "finally did right" by inner-city school kids last week when he signed on to a bipartisan compromise that would expand Milwaukee's "successful school voucher program" from 15,000 students to 22,500 students.


In Iowa, windmills are becoming trendy, writes Judy Keen of USA Today. LINK


"A Diageo/Hotline poll finds 56% believe America is ready for female president. . . Census Bureau identifies potential agenda item for her: women earned 77 cents for every $1 earned by men in 2004," the Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire reports.

2008: Republicans:

Paul Weyrich writes that Sen. McCain might pick up the support of Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS) and former Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN) for his presidential campaign. He writes that picking up Coats' support would be the "real shocker" because Coats was thought to be supporting Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS). LINK

Alfonso Chardy of the Miami Herald writes that Sen. McCain's Miami rally dealing with immigration "had the feel of a campaign rally." LINK

Gov. Mitt Romney has hired Sally Canfield, former Bush campaign advisor, writes the prolific Glen Johnson of the AP. LINK

Per Johnson: "She said her hiring should not be construed as affirmation that Romney is running for president in 2008, even though the Republican chief executive announced in December that he was not seeking a second term this fall."

The New York Times takes Gov. George Pataki's staff to task for not being more revealing about the details of his hospitalization from an appendectomy gone wrong, at least as compared to Gov./Dr. Fletcher's staff. LINK

Our favorite line from the Cooper/Altman story: "Both governors -- who have each received calls from President Bush, and flowers from the Republican Governors Association -- have spoken briefly to the press since their hospitalizations."

Send your best guesses on what Gov. Romney wrote on the card to Gov. Pataki here:

2008: Democrats:

Sen. Clinton is bringing in the Carville/Begala team for a fundraising one-two punch, writes Mark Humbert of the AP. LINK

The New York Daily News' Helen Kennedy reviews Sen. Clinton's latest presidential numbers -- from her approval rating to the size of her war chest. LINK

A New York Post editorial raps Clinton for allegedly suggesting at a speech earlier this week that school "vouchers would lead to a publicly-funded racist 'School of the Church of the White Supremacist' or a radical Muslim 'School of the Jihad.'" LINK

The AP on Gov. Vilsack's (D-IA) upcoming trip to India. LINK

Casting and counting:

New York City's chief lawyer blasted a New York state voting modernization proposal as "gravely defective" yesterday, saying it lacks sufficient security tests. LINK


The Wall Street Journal's Wirey John Harwood reports that a Campaign Finance Institute study finds most of the $120 million for 2004 conventions went to "producing political events, not advancing civic causes."

In a report written for former Rep. Cunningham's defense team in advance of his sentencing next Friday, a doctor wrote that Cunningham's fall grew out of "an outsized ego and a mantle of invulnerability" that allowed him to rationalize his behavior. Cunningham's doctor says he suffers from "a major depressive disorder, is suicidal and is 'terrified' about his pending imprisonment," the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. LINK

The Note offers its most heartfelt congratulations to former top Bush spokesguy and South Carolina legend Tucker Eskew and his family on the birth of Elizabeth Carroll Eskew at Alexandria Hospital yesterday afternoon. "She came into this world at 7 lbs. 1 oz. She has red hair. She is beautiful," reports the proud papa.

Her first name comes from her great-grandmother and, as many of you might have guessed, her middle name comes from the "late great former South Carolina Governor, without whom my former NGA staffer wife and I might not have met," explains Eskew.

And now it's time for The Note's regular Friday film feature.

As you probably know by now, Thursday night is movie night for the Googling Monkeys, and last night's feature was "Our Brand is Crisis," a documentary by Rachel Boynton that reveals what happens when Democratic superstars James Carville, Tad Devine, and Jeremy Rosner drop American, war room-style political strategy into a volatile Bolivian election.

During a strategy session, Rosner teaches Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, the Bolivian presidential candidate, the cherished American tradition of staying on message: "Who cares what they're asking?" he asks. "The point is: what point do you want to make?" LINK

"Our Brand is Crisis" shows that focus groups, message formation, and obsessive polling are the key tools in the business of "progressive politics and foreign policy for profit."