The Note: All of the People


President Bush told Elizabeth Vargas in an interview yesterday that he has oodles (that's a paraphrase) of political capital.

So that isn't the problem, apparently.

But West Wing gallows humor dished to Baker and VandeHei --and Republicans spending more time worrying about a CBS News poll than attacking it -- spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E with a captial "T" and that rhymes with "P" and that stands for "Plan.". So a "Plan" is the solution, it would seem.

The problem, actually, is figuring out -- a "Plan" for whom?

A quick survey of what Mr. Bush could do to solve his problems with just three of his many constituencies shows how tough things are.

What the American people want:

-- While in Pakistan, catch bin Laden and bring him home in a tiger cage on Air Force One.

-- Fix the Medicare prescription drug benefit to the point that Robert Pear has got to move on to a new topic.

-- Have a White House wedding for one of the twins (patterned after the Morgenstern-Gerard nuptials).

-- Kill the Dubai port deal via an abject mea culpa.

-- Lower gas prices and bring many, many troops home from Iraq.

What the Gang of 500 wants:

-- Replace Andy Card with co-Chiefs of Staff James Baker and Howard Baker.

-- Raise the gas tax two dollars per gallon and the top income tax rate on the wealthy to one percent higher than it was on Bill Clinton's last day in office.

-- Hold an open "American-Idol"-meets-Mondale-'84 casting call for a new veep (complete with long walks down Pebble Beach and post-meeting stakeout appearances by the "contestants"), after announcing in a primetime Oval Office address that you demanded Dick Cheney's resignation.

-- Lead a PowerPoint talk in the White House briefing room, going through all of the official photos of you and Jack Abramoff, explaining in excruciating detail what transpired between you two and any cute nicknames you remember doling out.

-- Kill the Dubai port deal via an abject mea culpa.

What the balance of House Republicans want:

-- Cut taxes, eliminate the deficit, and make no spending cuts that Democrats can use as campaign issues.

-- Raise your approval ratings into the high 40s so they don't have to decide whether to have you campaign for them or not.

-- Fix the Medicare prescription drug benefit to the point that Robert Pear has got to move on to a new topic.

-- Kill the Dubai port deal via an abject mea culpa.

-- Lower gas prices and bring many, many troops home from Iraq, but don't interfere with the market or cut and run.

Giving all three groups what they want (in addition to making over-estimating White House political aides happy), President Bush made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan while en route to India. After meeting with President Karzai privately, the two men held a press availability. Mr. Bush then headed to the US Embassy in Kabul to cut a ribbon and then back to Bagram Air Force Base to address American and coalition troops.

"It's not a matter of if they're brought to justice, it's when they're brought to justice," President Bush said in response to a question about the search for Osama bin Laden and his associates.

The AP has a Pakistani government minister saying that Pakistan's president will seek US support for international laws to prevent future "insults" to Islam

After spending five hours on the ground in Afghanistan, President Bush picks up his previously announced schedule and heads to India where he will have no public schedule for the rest of the day. You can check here for the current time in New Delhi: LINK

The Supreme Court hands down decisions at 10:00 am ET and hears oral arguments in the Texas redistricting case.

When the Senate convenes, it will immediately resume consideration of S. 2271, the Patriot Act. A roll call vote has been scheduled to occur on passage of S. 2271 at 10:00 am ET.

Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi addresses a joint session of Congress at 11:00 am ET.

Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Norm Coleman (R-MN), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Tom Coburn (R-OK), and others meet at 12:15 pm ET to discuss strategy on their bipartisan legislation to review the Dubai Ports World deal. A media availability is scheduled to follow the meeting at 12:45 pm ET.

The House Domestic and International Monetary Policy, Trade, and Technology Subcommittee holds a hearing on the Dubai Ports deal at 2:00 pm ET.

The House Democratic leadership discusses port security at 10:00 am ET, following the weekly Democratic caucus meeting.

Sen. Kennedy is expected to be joined by more than 300 UNITE hotel workers at Union Station to discuss his plan for comprehensive immigration reform at 11:30 am ET in advance of tomorrow's Judiciary Committee hearing on the topic.

HHS Secretary Leavitt testifies before the Senate Budget Committee at 10:00 am ET.

DHS Secretary Chertoff testifies before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee at 9:30 am ET.

Democratic Sens. Biden, Levin, Reed, and Menendez hold a 1:45 pm ET press conference on national security to mark the third anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security's creation.

Speaker Hastert along with House GOP leadership and members of the "High-Tech Working Group" are scheduled to hold a 1:30 pm ET media availability regarding the Bush Administration's "American Competitiveness Initiative" and House GOP high tech agenda for 2006.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D-MT) struts his stuff in front of Prof. Larry Sabato's class at the University of Virginia today. He will also speak at the University's Rotunda.

Gary Hart, Bruce Fein, and others discuss the President's warrantless domestic wiretapping program at the Center for American Progress at 12:30 pm ET.

Bush Administration agenda:

Peter Baker's A1 analysis in the Washington Post of the latest Bush woes focuses on the GOP's waning support of the President on national security issues -- as evidenced through the torture ban, the Patriot Act renewal, the NSA spying uproar, and the ports controversy. LINK

Say Baker: "The breakdown of the Republican consensus on national security both reflects and exacerbates Bush's political weakness heading toward the midterm elections, according to party strategists."

Baker also throws in this nugget from yesterday: "[A]t the White House, aides were decidedly downbeat, making dark jokes about the latest political trajectory and the Murphy's Law quality of life in the West Wing these days -- what can go wrong will go wrong. At least, some consoled themselves, Bush beat out Vice President Cheney, who was viewed favorably by just 18 percent in the CBS survey."

The Washington Times chronicles the rising tensions between GOP lawmakers and the White House, giving significant play to Sen. Trent Lott's (R-MS) response to Bush using the v-word: "OK, big boy, I'll just vote to override your veto." LINK

USA Today's David Jackson writes about the delicate art of diplomacy in a nation with nuclear weapons, the world's second-largest Muslim population and "long memories". LINK

The Associated Press reports that as many as 100,000 Indians, many of them Muslims, rallied in New Delhi to protest the President's visit and burn him in effigy. LINK

The New York Post's Deborah Orin highlights the protests awaiting President Bush's arrival in India. LINK

Per the Washington Post's Walter Pincus, less than 24 hours before President Bush arrived in Afghanistan for his "surprise" visit, the Defense Intelligence Agency director told Congress yesterday that the insurgency in Afghanistan has grown to the point where it represents a threat to the government's authority that is greater "than at any point since late 2001." LINK

David Ignatius on the hypocrisy he sees in supporting India's ownership of nuclear weapons while simultaneously trying to block Iran from acquiring them: LINK

Port politics:

The Washington Post takes Note of the continued "zeal with which Democrats are continuing to lash the White House" on the ports deal. LINK

Democratic Senators touted the Jerusalem Post report that Dubai participates in an Arab boycott of Israel "demonstrating that the administration-backed plan still faced significant obstacles despite an agreement for a more extensive review of any security risks posed by the change in control," writes Carl Hulse of the New York Times. LINK

More on the anti-Israel angle from the New York Daily News' McAuliff. LINK

In an op-ed for the New York Daily News, Sens. Clinton and Menendez make the case for their legislation aimed at blocking any foreign country from running US ports. LINK

"Is it in the national security interest of this country to turn over control of critical security assets to a foreign nation?"

"The answer is no," they write.

The Wall Street Journal's Greg Hitt and Jason Singer look at efforts by Edward Bilkey, the Dubai port executive, to dispel "myths" surrounding the port deal.

(Note that the Washington Post's Dana Milbank has a delegate from New Jersey at yesterday's Jewish Council for Public Affairs meeting wondering aloud: "Isn't xenophobia wonderful?" And when reading the Milbank Sketch be sure to Note the reference to the USS Ken Mehlman, an "agile vessel" if there ever was one). LINK

The New York Post's plays up intra-family splitting with a "Bill vs. Hill on Dubai" header. LINK

"'I have a very high opinion of UAE and Dubai in particular,' Bill Clinton gushed. 'They're trying to build a new Middle East -- they really are.'"

The Washington Post's Dan Balz Notes that Clinton's presentation ended with the former president taking a "long, slow walk around the big, square table, greeting individual governors, embracing old friends, posiing for photos and fielding questions from reporters." LINK

The Washington Post's Steven Pearlstein blames both sides in the ports controversy -- the Democrats for "racist hypocrisy"; the White House for "political hypocrisy" -- before concluding that the entire mess is nothing more than "pig-headed protectionism." LINK

The Dallas Morning News' editorial on the port issue concludes thusly: "Congress must confront the most likely threats, not just rail at the politically sensitive ones. Only then will American ports and citizens be safer." LINK


Looking forward to today's oral argument in the Texas redistricting case, Roll Call's editorial board writes: "If ever a case cried out for Congressional redistricting to be carried out each decade by an Iowa-style nonpartisan commission, it would be the Texas case being heard today by the Supreme Court."

Based on the questions and comments during oral argument yesterday before the Supreme Court on a Vermont law which places spending limits on spending by candidates, the Washington Post's Charles Lane predicts "the Supreme Court is likely to … reject Vermont's invitation to reinterpret Buckley." LINK

Justice Greenhouse of the New York Times is on the same page. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Savage also agrees, saying Vermont and its supporters got a "skeptical hearing" before the High Court yesterday, where the state's argument "fell flat." LINK

Democratic superlawyer Bob Bauer writes: "The Justices seemed skeptical, with varying degrees of emphasis, about the size of the contribution limits Vermont had chosen to enact." LINK

Abortion politics:

President Bush spoke with ABC News' Elizabeth Vargas on Tuesday about South Dakota's recently passed bill banning abortion except when the life of the mother is at stake. VARGAS: "This law would outlaw abortion except when a mother's life was at stake. The life was at stake, not health. Would you support that kind of law being the law of the land?"

BUSH: "Well, that, of course, is a state law, but my position has always been three exceptions: rape, incest, and the life of the mother."

VARGAS: "Rape and incest you would include?"

BUSH: "Yeah."

VARGAS: "What about health?"

BUSH: "Well, health is, you know, the life of the mother is how I view health."

VARGAS: "So you would lump that together. It doesn't have to be she's going to die if she doesn't get this abortion."

BUSH: "No. I said life of the mother, and health is a very vague term, but my position has been clear on that ever since I started running for office."

Several '08ers have also weighed in on South Dakota's recently passed abortion bill banning abortion except when the life of the mother is at risk.

Gov. Tom Vilsack (D-IA) told the National Press Club on Tuesday that "he would not favor tighter restrictions on abortion similar to those recently approved in South Dakota," reports the Des Moines Register's Jane Norman. LINK

A spokesperson for Sen. McCain told The Hotline's always resourceful Marc Ambinder on Tuesday that the Arizona senator "would have signed the legislation, but would also take the appropriate steps under state law -- in whatever state -- to ensure that the exceptions of rape, incest or life of the mother were included." LINK

Sen. George Allen's (R-VA) chief of staff, Dick Wadhams, told The Hotline that "Sen. Allen has consistently supported the rights of the people in their states to pass laws which reflect their views and values."

The Boston Herald has Julie Teer, Gov. Romney's spokesperson, telling The Hotline that: "If Gov. Romney were the Governor of South Dakota he would sign it. The Governor believes that states should have the right to be pro-life if that is the will of the people." LINK

Gov. Huckabee is on record supporting the South Dakota bill while accepting that some states might want additional exceptions for cases of rape and incest. LINK

Fifty-five House Democrats decided yesterday was the day to issue a joint statement to the press "on the central role that the Catholic faith plays in their public lives." LINK

Politics of surveillance:

It doesn't take much reading between the lines of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' letter yesterday to Senators to conclude, as the Washington Post's Babington and Eggen do, that "Gonzales appeared to suggest yesterday that the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance operations may extend beyond the outlines that the president acknowledged in mid-December." LINK

Sen. Frist said his meeting with Republican Senators and staff on the President's domestic warrantless wiretapping program produced "great progress," but others involved in the meeting (anonymously) told the New York Times' Kirkpatrick that "deep disagreement remained." LINK

While speaking to the American Legion on Tuesday, Vice President Cheney repeated the claim that "previous presidents have used the same constitutional authority" that President Bush is using with his post-FISA surveillance program and that "federal courts have approved the use of that authority."

Politics of immigration:

The Los Angeles Times has influential Catholic Cardinal Roger M. Mahony criticizing the "'hysterical' anti-immigrant sentiment sweeping California and the nation." Mahony tells the Times he will ask his priests to "fast, pray and press for humane immigration reform" and will tell them to ignore legislation that might require churches and charities to ask immigrants for legal documentation before providing them with assistance. LINK

Elizabeth Vargas interviews President Bush:

Elizabeth Vargas' interview with President Bush on Katrina, Iraq, the ports deal controversy, and his low approval ratings: LINK

Elizabeth Vargas' interview with President Bush while walking through some of the White House grounds about life inside the bubble, his family, and his Vice President. LINK

Ken Bazinet of the New York Daily News ledes his coverage of Elizabeth Vargas' presidential interview with the President's support for Vice President Cheney and his suggesting he share his shooting experience with the American people. LINK


Peter Savodnik of The Hill in a must-read story wonders how many House Republicans will announce their retirement in the coming months. LINK

David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times writes up the highest profile test case for the Democrats' anti-corruption message this year -- the Senate race in Montana. LINK

"He said he could not predict whether he or his staff might become caught up in the Justice Department's investigation," writes Kirkpatrick.

"'You can't say yes and you can't say no,' Mr. Burns said. 'The Justice Department, they have never contacted me, and until they do it is business as usual.' He added, 'You can't hold your life up waiting for them.'"

Whether or not Tom Suozzi gets to address the New York Democratic Rural Conference in Ithaca, NY this weekend is still to be determined, writes Pat Healy of the New York Times. LINK

Beth Reinhard of the Miami Herald previews Vice President Cheney's fundraiser for buddy Rep. Clay Shaw (R-FL) next Monday. LINK

Sen. Kerry is planning on sending an email today to his subscriber list of three million-plus people urging them to donate and support the candidacies of three Iraq war veterans running as Democratic candidates for Congress this year. Tammy Duckworth, Patrick Murphy, and Joe Sestak will be the beneficiaries of Kerry's support.

More from the Boston Globe: LINK

"Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's campaign for governor secured an unusually early and lopsided endorsement yesterday from Maryland's largest labor organization," the Washington Post reports. LINK

Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD) has picked up the endorsement of the state's AFL-CIO in his race for the US Senate, Congress Daily reports.

The Arizona Republic reports that the national Democratic Party is shopping for a candidate to take on Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ), "suggesting that the six-term Republican is vulnerable in the wake of a Capitol Hill lobbying scandal to which he has been linked." LINK

Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA), a favorite enviro and DCCC punching bag, has one more ethics issue to worry about, according to The Hill's Alexandra Bolton who shows how his aides were approved to serve "more than twice the length defined by the House ethics manual" by Bob Ney. LINK

Carole Keeton Strayhorn's (I-TX) gubernatorial campaign complains about Secretary of State Roger Williams, whose political ties to Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) and Republican donors are contradictory of his position as the state's chief election officer, writes Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News. LINK

Rep. Chris Shays (R-CT) says he intends to cross party lines and vote for Sen. Joe Lieberman's re-election (D-CT). LINK

Per the AP, a 95-year old Mr. Smith is trying to get to Washington. LINK

2008: Republicans:

The New York Times' Richard Perez Pena and Dr. Lawrence K. Altman write of Gov. Pataki's more serious medical condition than previously announced by his doctors or staff. LINK

"The surgeons, who have been treating the governor at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia hospital in Manhattan for the last week, said for the first time that he had suffered peritonitis and abdominal abscesses -- both potentially life-threatening conditions -- and fever. They would not predict when he might be able to leave the hospital, but said that it could be as long as two more weeks."

You don't need to read between the lines to see: Dr. A is MAD.

The New York Post on Pataki's health: LINK

The Boston Globe reports that Massachusetts is one step closer to approving a new health care policy, the legislation passed in the Senate yesterday and will be sent now to the House. LINK

Gov. Romney "signaled new openness" to banning gay couples from adopting children from Catholic agencies, the Boston Globe's Patricia Wen and Frank Phillips report. LINK

The Boston Herald reports that Romney is not only against gay adoption, but would like to make Massachusetts a pro-life state, "Julie Teer said the governor would back a state ban on abortion if, as occurred in South Dakota, lawmakers passed such a measure." LINK

Andrew Barr of the Hill on Sen. McCain's New York immigration crusade: LINK

Mark Pazniokas of the Hartford Courant discusses Sen. McCain's March 17 stumping for Gov. Jodi Rell: "donors will be asked to pay between $250 and $1,000 to dine at the Hartford Club and listen to McCain praise Rell as a reformer." LINK

2008: Democrats:

Gov. Vilsack spoke to the National Press Club on Tuesday about what he sees as a "crisis in confidence" in the nation's idea of community.

Jane Norman of the Des Moines Register writes that yesterday's speech was "a debut of sorts" for Gov. Vilsack in front of members of the national media who are "always eager to take a look -- and sometimes a swipe -- at the newest crop of possible presidential candidates." LINK

E. Michael Myers of the Cedar Rapids Gazette Notes that Vilsack "used Biblical analogies and his own difficulty in growing up as an adopted child in a troubled home to call for the spirit of community and cooperation in America -- and to disparage political partisanship and the bottom line of being re-elected." LINK

On the issue of Iraq, Gov. Vilsack said it was "incumbent upon us to create a degree of stability" in Iraq. He added, however, that it was important to send a signal that the US would not be there "forever" and that it plans to surrender responsibility for security to the people of Iraq.

Despite last week's explosion of violence, Gov. Vilsack told The Note following his remarks that he agrees with "experts" who say that "an increasing number of trained Iraqi troops" means that it is "about time to start taking a couple of brigades out of there."

The Chicago Tribune's Jill Zuckman reports that Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) is once again taking an unpopular stance on the Patriot Act. LINK

"'If Democrats can't stand up on something like this when the president's poll numbers are 34 percent, I just wonder how much right we have to govern this country,' Feingold said in an interview Tuesday. 'You've got to show people you believe in something, not just that you're gaming the issues.'"

Dick Morris of the Hill has some wise analysis hidden in his self-help-section motivational discourse to the GOP, stating that "Hillary's candidacy will not be Democratic so much as demographic and not nearly as political as it will be cultural. The pent-up emotions of half of America will rise to the surface just as Catholics rallied to JFK's candidacy in 1960." LINK

The Boston Herald reports that Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) is calling for the creation of a congressional inspector general that would look over allegations of misconduct. Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) is heading to the Granite State again, the AP's Deborah Baker reports. LINK

Lobbying reform:

The Wall Street Journal's David Rogers analyzes the Senate's first steps towards lobbying reform through the November 2006 lens:

"Going into November's elections, Republicans are fearful that the party will lose seats unless it shows a real commitment to make changes. But at one level, the internal debate is also a distraction from more routine but difficult chores like the spring budget resolution."

Rogers also has Majority Leader John Boehner weighing in: "[Boehner] said that 'earmark reform' must be part of lobbying overhaul this year, but the Rules Committee package is only the opening shot in a larger debate in Congress this spring."

The bill passed yesterday by the Senate Rules Committee that allows a 60-vote to strike down extraneous provisions from a bill without killing a conference report is also Notable "for what it does not address -- campaign finance, tribal contributions and increasing the so-called 'revolving door,'" write Jonathan Allen and Elana Schor of The Hill. LINK

Yesterday's committee votes "demonstrated just how hard it might be to reach consensus on changes in lobbying law," writes the New York Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg. LINK

Earmark reform:

The Washington Post's Zachary Goldfarb on the role of a handful of Web sites in making the earmarking process more transparent. LINK

Abramoff affair:

The Boston Globe's Michael Kranish reports that lobbyist Jack Abramoff worked with Russian partners to establish "a company that envisioned a high-risk plan to drill for oil in Israel, which he hoped would bring him riches and reshape the Middle East, according to documents and his former lobbying partners." LINK

Politics of Medicare:

Robert Pear of the New York Times writes that one of the "glitches" the Administration has been speaking of lately when describing the Medicare prescription drug benefit is that some people are actively enrolled in two plans simultaneously. LINK

Big Casino budget politics:

Bloomberg's Brian Faler parses the White House's 2007 budget proposal and finds it would raise $47 billion in new revenue over the next five years by creating, raising, or extending fees on a wide variety of transactions.

"'It's a way for the administration to get around its we'll never-raise-taxes' attitude,' said Stan Collender, managing director of the Washington office of Financial Dynamics, a business-consulting firm." LINK

The Schwarzenegger Era:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) pressed Congress yesterday to fix his state's levees, and the Los Angeles Times says he won over one at least one of his targets -- Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM). LINK

Dean's Democrats:

The AP's Pete Yost reports that Chairman Dean is accusing the Bush Administration of "playing sleight-of-hand budget games with veterans' benefits." LINK

The Dukester:

Providing some fodder for the research departments at the DNC and DCCC, the New York Times writes up some of the documents released by prosecutors in the Cunningham case in advance of his sentencing. LINK

Federal prosecutors are "strongly opposing" efforts by Rep. Duke Cunningham (R-CA) to shorten his potential jail term as he prepares to go before a federal judge on Friday, reports Roll Call's John Bresnahan.

New Hampshire:

The Union Leader has Sen. Judd Gregg's (R-NH) criticizing the Bush Administration's handling of security. LINK

"They've made a very robust commitment to our national defense, from the standpoint of military, but they've not made an equal commitment to securing the borders or upgrading the Department of Homeland Security as a force for interior defense."


Majority Leader Boehner (R-OH) spokesman Kevin Madden felt like he "just dropped two 40-pound sandbags from each shoulder," after his jefe's first pan-and-pad with the Capitol wolves, writes Patrick O'Connor of the Hill. LINK


The Republican Main Street Partnership plans to launch ads supporting stem-cell research in states with undecided Senators, but will need to take care "not to threaten the campaigns of vulnerable Republicans," writes Jeffrey Young of The Hill. LINK

Coin dealer Noe sues to disqualify judges from his criminal cases in Ohio, the Enquirer reports. LINK

Charles Simon lost yesterday's special election for a seat in the New York State Assembly, despite the Upper West Side connections of his father-in-law Tom Brokaw. LINK