WASHINGTON, Apr. 7
Better-than-expected jobs numbers are likely to do little to make this week into a winning week for the Bush Administration and the Republican Party. A failure to bring House Republicans together on the budget, a stalled immigration bill shortly after hailing compromise, and semi-silence from the White House over the President's approval to declassify and disseminate information to rebut war critics will all keep the "negative environment for Republicans" theme going at least through the recess, we'd imagine.
And then there's also this from the AP's ultra-fair Ron Fournier: LINK
"President Bush's approval ratings hit a series of new lows in an AP-Ipsos poll that also shows Republicans surrendering their advantage on national security -- grim election-year news for a party struggling to stay in power."
When the Democratic Party or one of its leaders makes a mistake, Republicans and conservatives -- from the White House to the Republican National Committee to the members of Congress to talk radio to the interest groups to the bloggers -- jump all over it, with speed and consistent talking points.
It is testament to the Democrats' certainty that this Bush/leak story is a winner for them -- as well as to their improved communication coordination -- that they are driving that same kind of Republican-style effort right now.
And in the media (the network news shows, on cable, the morning shows, and the newspapers), the White House appears well cemented in a very bad news cycle.
The (near-total) silence from the President's side is pretty deafening. That RNC release didn't seem to us to address the President's politically precarious position on this, simply his strong legal foundation. And claiming it was in the "national interest" to leak the information (as one network reports an Administration official did) might cause more problems than it solves.
ABC's Martha Raddatz reports, "a Senior Administration Official [said] last night said that only key judgments in the NIE and the part about uranium were ultimately released to the public. The official said that the CIA was part of that process on the broader dissemination but the official wasn't sure the President went through the CIA to get the NIE info to the New York Times, because, the official 'could not confirm Libby's account since the legal proceedings are still ongoing.'"
"When reminded about the clause in the Executive Order that calls for the President to go through the agency where the classified material originates, the official said 'There is a traditional process but that doesn't restrict his authority.'"
Democrats have been looking to argue for the midterms that Bush is weak on national security. Unlike, say Iraq or the secret surveillance program, this issue unites literally every member of the Democratic Party, from the far left to the centrists. That is a powerful political advantage.
If Libby is in fact making this claim, it begs many questions: What did Bush and Cheney tell Fitzgerald on this point when they gave statements? How long have White House officials known about Libby's alleged testimony? Will anyone else tell a new story? Can Libby ever be pardoned now? As a political matter, can the case actually go to trial?
At some point, whether the White House stays silent or not, Republicans on Capitol Hill are going to get nervous about this as a possible issue in the midterm elections. These folks are on many reporters' speed dial: Hagel, LaHood, and Shays.
The President made no reference to the leak story when he addressed the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast at 8:30 am ET. President Bush made a statement about the economy in the Diplomatic Reception Room when he returned to the White House this morning. We are not expected to see the President on-camera again for the rest of the day after that, so the focus will be on Scott McClellan's midday briefing -- which is sure to get roadblocked cable news coverage.
ABC's Dan Arnall reports, "The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the nation's employers added 211,000 jobs to their payrolls in March; higher than the 198,000 most economists expected. The nation's unemployment rate ticked down one-tenth of a percent to 4.7%."
So: the day is clear. Republicans will put out statements on the economy, Democrats on the leak. Guess which will get more attention on the Sunday shows.
But it seems to us to be a perfect day to ask John McCain about his thoughts on the latest developments of the leak case while making his first trip of the year to New Hampshire.
The Arizona Senator will be in the Granite State today and tomorrow participating in a town hall meeting with Rep. Charlie Bass (R-NH) and headlining a fundraiser for the New Hampshire State Senate GOP. You can catch Sen. McCain live on C-SPAN at 6:15 pm ET. Sen. McCain heads from New Hampshire to Florida on Saturday where he will keynote the Polk and Broward Counties Lincoln-Reagan dinners. (See a bit further down for the rest of the 2008 weekend travel.)
"Senators are expected to leave for the Easter recess by early afternoon. They will revisit the immigration debate when they return April 24," reports ABC News' Vic Ratner.
As it is each Friday -- though, we suppose there may be an extra television crew or two on hand today -- the grand jury looking into the leak investigation is scheduled to meet at 9:30 am ET.
Secretary Rumsfeld will have the opportunity to talk about Secretary Rice's recent comments about mistakes made in Iraq when he appears on Sean Hannity's radio show this afternoon from New York City. Thomas Friedman uses his New York Times column to weigh in on the debate. LINK
Vice President Cheney attends a very closed fundraiser for Senate candidate Michael Steele (R-MD) in Washington, DC.
Sens. Kennedy and McCain will hold an immigration press conference following the cloture vote in the Senate today.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) was scheduled to address immigration reform in his remarks to the Republican National Lawyers Association's 7th annual national policy conference at the National Press Club at 9:00 am ET.
Sen. Dorgan (D-ND) holds one of those Democratic "oversight hearings" on whether Halliburton has failed to provide clean water to US troops in Iraq at 10:00 am ET.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) keynotes The New School's "Urban Conversations: Cities at Risk" conference in New York, NY. Also attending: Sen. Schumer, former FEMA directors Michael Brown and James Lee Witt, and Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D-LA).
Want to know what Cokie Roberts thinks about DeLay's resignation announcement? How about learning who Mark Halperin says took steps forward and backward in their 2008 presidential runs this week? George Stephanopoulos has it all for you on "This Week All Week," the best political webcast around. You don't have to wait until Sunday, you can check it out here right now. LINK
House Majority Leader Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) will be George's guest on "This Week" Sunday morning. Immigration reform, the delayed budget vote, and his predecessor Tom DeLay will all be up for discussion, so be sure to tune in.
On the 2008 campaign trail this weekend. . .
George Allen is checking up on recovery efforts in New Orleans, LA today. Over the weekend Sen. Allen keynotes at the South Carolina GOP state convention in Columbia, SC.
John Kerry addressed Al Sharpton's National Action Network annual convention in New York City this morning.
Sen. Bayh keynotes the Michigan Democratic Party's Jefferson-Jackson dinner in Detroit tomorrow.
John Edwards raises some money for Georgia House and Senate Democrats in Atlanta today before heading to Iowa for the weekend where he will headline the Linn County Democrats' annual Hall of Fame Banquet in Cedar Rapids, IA.
Former Gov. Mark Warner (D-VA) addresses Missouri Democrats as part of the annual Jackson Day event in Springfield, MO today and then heads to keynote the Wisconsin Democratic Party's Founders' Day Fundraiser in Milwaukee tomorrow.
Sen. Hillary Clinton speaks at Brown University in Providence, RI tomorrow.
The Fitzgerald investigation:
The Wall Street Journal's Anne Marie Squeo writes that Libby's coming criminal trial "threatens to renew questions about the invasion of Iraq and the White House's dealings with detractors." Squeo also provides some smart textural reading to Fitzgerald's tough words, making her story a must-read.
Josh Gerstein, the man who broke the story, has a vigorous DiGenova defense in the New York Sun. LINK
"A Republican attorney and former prosecutor, Joseph DiGenova, blasted Democrats and the press for describing Mr. Bush's alleged actions as an instruction to 'leak.'"
"'This was not a leak. This was an authorized disclosure,' the ex-prosecutor said."
(Note the White House can rely on at least one household to defend it, but where is the next wave of talking points?)
"At the very least, Libby's comments could make the White House look hypocritical for vigorously pursuing investigations of who leaked information damaging to the administration, about the domestic spying program, or secret detention camps, for example," write Jake Tapper and Mary Marsh of ABC News. LINK
More Tapper/Marsh: "'By definition, the president cannot leak,' [a Senior Administration Official] said. 'He has the inherent authority to declassify something. . . It's like accusing a shopkeeper of shoplifting from himself.'"
Per David Jackson of USA Today, "Libby's assertion marked the first time Bush has been named as a direct participant in the complex case that began when Plame's identity was revealed in a newspaper column in 2003." LINK
Bloomberg's Richard Keil reports that "even some Republicans said they were concerned about the effect of the new disclosures." LINK
"'Those that believe this is a huge story now have a reason to believe it is an even huger story,' said David Frum, a former speechwriter for the president."
The Washington Post's R. Jeffrey Smith reports that the White House on Thursday "did not challenge the prosecutor's account of Bush's and Cheney's role in orchestrating the effort to discredit Wilson." LINK
The Boston Globe's Michael Kranish has tight-lipped White House spokesguy Ken Lisaius saying, ''Our policy is not to discuss ongoing legal proceedings, and that remains our policy." LINK
The Los Angeles Times' Schmitt and Wallsten include this: "One former White House official said he found Libby's allegation that the president authorized such a leak hard to believe. 'It defies logic and all my experience with this president,' said the former official, who asked not to be identified because his comments concerned an ongoing criminal case." LINK
". . . the political impact of the disclosure could be more significant than the legal impact," reports the New York Times. LINK
The Los Angeles Times on the President's likely legal authority to declassify information as he did. LINK
The Washington Post's Michael Fletcher also has legal experts saying that President Bush had the "unquestionable authority to approve the disclosure of secret CIA information to reporters, but they add that the leak was highly unusual and amounted to using sensitive intelligence data for political gain." LINK
The New York Times editorial board: "We have seen no evidence that Mr. Bush authorized the outing of Mrs. Wilson. But at the least, revealing selected bits of intelligence, including information that officials may well have known to be false, seems like a serious abuse of power" LINK
John Podhoretz of the New York Post declares this much ado about nothing. LINK
Fitzgerald investigation: morning shows:
"Straight from the Top," said Katie Couric, referring to the Bush leak story in the "Today" show's lede headline.
As an example of the perception problem the Administration faces on this story, when referring to the President's potential involvement in this leak, Matt Lauer asked,"Did he break his own rule?"
Chris Matthews told Matt Lauer this morning that on a scale of 1 to 10, this story is "heading towards 10."
Rep. Jane Harman's (D-CA) calling the President "leaker-in-chief" made it into the coverage on more than one national television network.
The Fitzgerald investigation: the blogs:
"If it isn't true that Vice President Cheney told him that, then Vice President Cheney must know that Libby has again perjured himself. I would think the Vice President has an affirmative duty to come forward and say that Libby's testimony is false," writes Josh Marshall on Talking Points Memo. LINK
Arianna Huffington deconstructs Scooter Libby's writing style in his Note to Scott McClellan urging an equally strong defense for him as McClellan provided for Karl Rove in his denial of any involvement from either of them in the CIA leak affair. LINK
Oh, how Huffington longs for vintage Libby from his turning aspens days. Power Line links to Andrew Sullivan and Tom Maguire's divergent takes on the return of the Plame case into the media spotlight. LINK
Politics of immigration:
Nothing is done until everything is done. Much of today's immigration coverage in the papers captures the roller coaster that was yesterday with bipartisan bonhomie on display in the television gallery boasting breakthrough and compromise, but disintegrating as the day wore on. As we learn more about the compromise bill over recess, we shall also gain a better understanding of where this continuing debate is heading.
"Senate Deal Set for Immigration, but then Falters," reads the headline above the New York Times' lede story. LINK
Kathy Kiely of USA Today writes up the "procedural dispute that threatened prospects for passage by week's end, if not longer," Noting that "Democrats blocked votes on Republican amendments, and Republicans responded by accusing Democrats of trying to scuttle a bill they had embraced earlier in the day." LINK
Maura Reynolds of the Los Angeles Times writes, ". . .members of each party were apparently concerned about substantive details of the overhaul plan and potential political fallout. . ." LINK
The Washington Times' take: "Senate Republicans killed an immigration bill yesterday…" LINK
The Wall Street Journal's June Kronholz and David Rogers reports that if the Senate immigration proposal were enacted it would be "a major victory for an unlikely coalition of business, unions, churches, ethnic groups, pro-business Republicans and Democrats." The Wall Street Journal duo Note, however, that the bill "still faces big hurdles to final passage" and that implementation of "a plan so vast could prove difficult."
In his Washington Post analysis, Dan Balz writes that the Senate's bipartisan breakthrough on immigration "underscored the urgency among leading Republicans to undo the political damage they feel was inflicted by a punitive measure passed earlier by the House. But the pending deal puts pressure on President Bush to guide his fractured party to a final compromise that can win approval of both chambers of Congress." LINK
The Washington Post's Charles Krauthammer writes that a solution to the immigration problem requires "two acts of national will: the ugly act of putting up a fence and the supremely generous act of absorbing as ultimately full citizens those who broke our laws to come to America." LINK
The immigration debate continues to dominate conservative blogs. Check out the posting Mark I. on Red State under the heading, "Mr. President, This is where I get off." LINK
Big Casino budget politics:
Republican leaders failed to reach agreement on major elements of their economic agenda yesterday, pushing action on tax and budget bills "until after the spring recess," reports the Wall Street Journal's Brody Mullins.
"The decision to halt the budget debate hours after it had begun and send lawmakers home for a two-week spring recess was the latest and clearest illustration of the Republicans' difficulties in holding lawmakers together with a crucial election approaching," writes Carl Hulse of the New York Times. LINK
The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman calls the failure to secure a budget plan before the spring recess "an embarrassment" to a new Republican leadership "eager to show it could hold its ranks without" Rep. DeLay, "the party's chief discipline enforcer." LINK
Bloomberg's Donmoyer and Faler have Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) saying that the budget "got hung up on his group's call for new restrictions on 'earmarks.'" LINK
The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire reports that Bush advisers are considering tapping a former lawmaker such as Trade Representative Portman or former Sen. Gramm if Treasury Secretary Snow departs.
"Rumored candidates Al Hubbard, now a White House economic adviser, and former Commerce Secretary Don Evans would gain clout from relationships with Bush. With Mack of Morgan Stanley and Paulson of Goldman Sachs believed uninterested, administration emissaries approach Merrill Lynch's Stanley O'Neal."
"An associate says O'Neal, who'd be the first African-American to head Treasury, 'doesn't want it.'"
Bush fields a tough question in Charlotte:
The New York Times' Jim Rutenberg writes of the continued "White House strategy to put Mr. Bush in front of crowds, including those hostile to him, as he tries to reverse sagging support for the war, and his presidency, in a crucial election year for his party in Congress." Rutenberg cites the tough questioner in yesterday's forum as a "downside" of that strategy and Notes that member of the audience belongs to MoveOn.org. LINK
USA Today writes up outspoken Harry Taylor's Bush moment. LINK
The Washington Post's Peter Baker has Harry Taylor, the man who "told off the president" on Thursday, saying that he "wanted to say what" he "wanted to say" to the President and he "wanted him to know that despite being in a room with a thousand people who love him . . . there are plenty of people out there who don't agree with him in any way, shape or form." LINK
The New York Daily News on the President enduring a "barrage of soft-spoken insults:" LINK
Politics of surveillance:
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales refused to rule out the possibility that President Bush may have the legal authority to order domestic-to-domestic wiretapping without a warrant, reports the New York Times. LINK
The Washington Post on the same: LINK
The New York Times on the conventions three days apart from one another: LINK
Be sure to read Pat Healy's fascinating Page One, total must-read look at the pros and cons for Rudy Giuliani as he continues to keep his 2008 options open. And with folks like Tony Carbonetti and Vinny LaPadula on the record, Team Giuliani clearly wants you all to know that the 2008 option is still very much being discussed. (Of course, as one Giuliani friend points out in the story, that's good for business too.) LINK
And Sunny's sunny views of the voters' interests in the Mayor's past (and the Mayor's alleged awareness of how nominating activists feel about partial birth abortion and Shiatsu dogs) are fascinating as well.
And the Healy story is nicely timed to Giuliani's Moussaoui testimony. Here's more from the Los Angeles Times on that. LINK
The Washington Post's Al Kamen received an invitation to join Sen. Frist's "5th Annual VOLPAC'06 Weekend" in Nashville, TN on April 21-23 but found the invitation to be "a bit too 'Brokeback Mountain.'" LINK
"Problem was you had to unbuckle the cowboy's pants and look inside" in order to read the invitation. The other problem was that the back of the card "shows the cowboy from behind with a red flowered handkerchief sticking out of his right pocket.
In an op-ed, the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne refers to the Bay State's recently-passed health care plan as "a visionary plan requiring all residents to buy health insurance and providing subsidies for those who can't afford the full freight." LINK
Cato's Arnold King voices his skepticism about the Massachusetts health-care plan in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.
The Boston Globe reports that Gov. Romney, "who is riding a wave of mostly positive national media attention for his role in the pioneering healthcare effort, has tentatively planned a tickets-only signing ceremony at 11:00 am on Wednesday at Faneuil Hall." LINK
"Romney would not be the first Massachusetts governor cum presidential aspirant to seize on a major bill signing for good publicity."
"In 1988, Michael Dukakis signed a comprehensive healthcare bill before a big crowd outside the State House in a festive ceremony with music and balloons."
The Boston Globe's Stephanie Ebbert reports that Gov. Romney, "an opponent of the wind farm proposed for Nantucket Sound, would gain the authority to kill the controversial project under a tentative agreement reached yesterday in the US Senate." LINK
The Des Moines Register writes up on former Sen. John Edwards upcoming weekend visit. LINK
"Mystery solved," reads the two word lede in Ian Bishop's New York Post story following on his story yesterday about a Defense Department official looking into Sen. Clinton's financial filings. All is explained here: LINK
Oren Dorell of USA Today writes up McKinney's apology yesterday and Notes that this came "after a meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus on Wednesday night." LINK
". . .the ordinarily flamboyant congresswoman was on the House floor, the picture of polite contrition," writes Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times on McKinney's words from the floor. LINK
The Washington Post's Pressley and Babington report that Rep. McKinney "yielded to pressure from her party's colleagues yesterday and apologized for her role in an altercation with a Capitol Police officer." LINK
The Atlanta Journal Constitution' Bob Kemper provides an additional reason for McKinney's apology yesterday: "Democratic leaders complained she was overshadowing other important matters in Congress, including the resignation of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay." LINK
The Washington Post's Style section on McKinney's hair. LINK
Eric Hanson and Clay Robison of the Houston Chronicle have Lampson campaign manager Mike Malaise criticizing "Perry's decision, saying the Republican governor is trying to give DeLay a chance to handpick a successor" and DeLay former campaign manager Chris Homan meddling in the Lampson presser. LINK
The Washington Post's Cillizza and Wright report that Gov. Perry "must receive DeLay's resignation by today to call an election for May 13, the next date Texas voters go to the polls." LINK
"The Democratic challenger running for DeLay's seat, former representative Nick Lampson, called on DeLay to resign immediately."
". . . some in the evangelical community are starting to worry that the Christian right's credibility on moral issues is being undercut by the movement's close association with scandal-dogged figures like DeLay," writes Dan Gilgoff of US News & World Report. LINK
Democrats will get to test drive their "culture of corruption" message on Tuesday when voters in California's 50th congressional district north of San Diego choose from among 19 candidates to replace Duke Cunningham, the former California congressman who was sentenced last month to more than eight years in prison for taking bribes from defense contractors.
The shoo-in on the Democratic side is Francine Busby, a local school board member who captured 36 percent of the vote against then-Rep. Cunningham in 2004.
On the Republican side, the leading candidates are former Rep. Brian Bilbray (who used to represent a nearby district), former state Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian, state Sen. Bill Morrow, and businessman Eric Roach.
Busby has focused her campaign on "the cost of corruption," running ads that denounce the Medicare prescription drug bill for helping drug companies instead of seniors, the lack of a plan to stop illegal immigration at the border, and billions of dollars in secret pork-barrel spending.
The NRCC recently bought $300,000 worth of ads to attack Busby. The ads say: "Francine Busby . . . said she's different. She'd end gifts by lobbyists and financial deals with government contractors. Busby said "no exceptions." Now we discover . . . Busby has taken thousands of dollars of campaign money from lobbyists and employees of government contractors."
Brennan Bilberry, Busby's spokesman, says the Busby camp is responding point for point with an ad in which she charges that Washington insiders are using money from Duke Cunningham and Tom DeLay to attack her. The ad includes an image of a story that appeared in The Hill with the headline: "As Parting Gift, Duke Cuts Check to NRCC." By spending nearly $2 million self-funding his campaign, Roach, a Republican businessman, triggered the millionaire's amendment allowing the DCCC to "help with the response," according to Busby's spokesman.
DCCC spokesguy Bill Burton says National Republicans are spending "hundreds of thousands of dollars to stop" Busby because they are "scared out of their minds" by her. But mindful of the significant Republican tilt of the district, Burton adds that Busby has "already exceeded expectations."
California's 50th District consistently re-elected Cunningham by wide margins and favored President Bush over Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) by 11 percentage points.
If no candidate receives over 50 percent of the vote Tuesday, the top vote getter from each party will move on to the special general election to be held on June 6.
John Kerry will use his email list this week and next week on behalf of Busby to recruit volunteers and get out the vote for the special election. Kerry will also travel to the district on Monday to meet with Busby supporters on the eve of the election.
The Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire reports that Republicans hope to "snag" the House seat of ex-Rep. Cunningham, "though an outright win on next week's crowded ballot is unlikely."
Brent Kallestad of the AP has Gov. Jeb Bush's take on Katherine Harris' campaign: "I am the party leader. I've got concerns. . . The campaign can't be about her. It has to be about Bill Nelson and the future of our state and so far, she asked my advice and I gave her that exact advice and it's gotten worse since." LINK
John Fritze of the Baltimore Sun has Senate candidate Michael Steele (R-MD) distancing himself from President Bush, even as his campaign "prepares to host Vice President Dick Cheney at a $1,000-per-person fundraiser tonight." LINK
The Union Leader reports that congressional hopeful Gary Dodds was found "slipping in and out of consciousness," in the woods, "a mile or more from the accident site" last night. LINK
Some clergy members are urging the IRS to investigate potentially illegal political activity at two Ohio churches, reports the New York Times. LINK
Ron Burkle, Page Six, and an FBI and federal prosecutor investigation all mixes deliciously into a story that should keep the New York media culture fascinated for quite some time. LINK and LINK and LINK