WASHINGTON, May 3
For all the press conferencing, for all the floor speechifying, for all the polling, for all the focus grouping, for all the media monitoring, for all the rubbing of the Hastert and Bonjean Buddha bellies -- for all of those things and more, the congressional Republican majority has no friggin' clue how all of the daily Hill rigmarole is playing back home.
Holding private district-by-district and state polling that belies their public confidence, GOP strategists for both chambers throw everything they can think of against the wall on a daily basis and see which Wacky Wall Crawlers seem to stick.
What is the net effect on voters' November choices of a series of feel-your-driving-pain news conferences versus some shaming Wall Street Journal editorials?
Or of haphazardly pitching a $100 rebate and then pulling it back?
Or of the daily Trent-Lott-thinks-Dr./Sen./Leader-Frist-is-about-as-competent-as-Karl-Rove quotes?
If you want to be the party of ethics, lower gas prices, tax cuts, national security, values, and something to do with immigration, can you win an election if you disappoint Gail Collins, drivers, people making less than $500,000/year, retired generals, Gary Bauer, Tom Tancredo, and John McCain?
Can you hold the majority by relying on the strategic stylings of Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, Ken Mehlman's pot o' money, some "defining" summer votes, the weakness of (Was) Big Labor, Rick Santorum's guile, and sophisticated micro targeting to bail you out?
If the whole game is keeping both majorities -- and you assume as fixed factors for the sake of argument POTUS job approval below 35% and an unpopular war in Iraq with no real end in sight -- does it matter what happens on Capitol Hill each day?
Because they want their lives to have meaning -- and their paychecks to continue clearing -- Kevin Madden and Jim Margolis certainly believe all of this jockeying matters. So the press conferences get planned, the releases get written, the background banners get commissioned, the talking points get distributed, and the Situation Room gets entered.
But The Note knows that only three things really matter in determining the outcome: how well Tony Snow and Jim Rutenberg get along; what the price of a box of cereal is on Election Day; and what psychologists at Northwestern University find in their on-going research are the effects on adult congressional challengers of being regularly yelled at as if they are children by a manic ballerina and former fundraiser.
But the ants will continue to race around the plastic farm today, with Democratic Sens. Durbin, Baucus, Dorgan, Boxer, and Johnson hold an 11:00 am ET press conference on gas prices.
House Republicans are expected to pass their ethics reform bill today, "despite vigorous opposition from Democrats and outside watchdog groups who assail the measure as too weak," writes Tory Newmyer of Roll Call.
Rep. Pelosi (D-CA) and her fellow members of the House Democratic leadership team hold a 10:00 am ET press conference following their caucus meeting.
Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and House Judiciary Chairman Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) brief reporters on the new voting rights bill via teleconference at 10:30 am ET.
President Bush pivots to some GOP bread and butter today and attempts to remind conservatives (and some independents and Democrats too) that he believes strongly in getting more of the people's money back in their pockets and spending the rest of it wisely. The President delivers 11:30 am ET remarks on tax and spending issues. Later in the day, he participates in a photo opportunity with teachers who won the presidential award for excellence in math and science and meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the Oval Office.
The White House is also set to release its response plan to a potential pandemic flu today. Here is Dr. Altman's New York Times preview. LINK
Secretaries Rumsfeld and Rice brief Senators at 2:15 pm ET in a closed press meeting. A stakeout has been approved for the Crypt. House members will get an earlier closed briefing from the Secretaries at 1:00 pm ET.
First Lady Laura Bush, having done the morning show rounds from New Orleans this morning, travels to Chalmette, LA and Biloxi, MS today to announce the first grants awarded in her "Gulf Coast School Library Recovery Initiative."
Vice President and Mrs. Cheney arrived in Lithuania this morning.
The grand jury investigating the CIA leak may meet this morning at the federal courthouse in Washington, DC.
Former President Bill Clinton and Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR) plan to announce that tens of millions of students will no longer be able to buy non-diet sodas in the nation's public schools, under an agreement with the nation's major beverage distributors. The distributors have also agreed to sell only water, juice, and low-fat milks to elementary and middle schools. The press conference with the current and former Arkansas governors is scheduled for 10:45 am ET in Mr. Clinton's Harlem office. Gov. Huckabee then heads down to Tennessee to join Gov. Bredesen (D-TN) for NGA "Healthy America" initiative events. The AP has more: LINK
At 11:45 am ET, Rep. Jack Murtha, Gen. Anthony Zinni, Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, and Lt. Gen. Frank Petersen plan to endorse former Reagan Navy Secretary Jim Webb for United States Senate at a DSCC-sponsored press conference.
Sen. George Allen (R-VA) chairs a 2:30 pm ET hearing on pool and spa safety standards. Gov. George Pataki (R-NY) hosted the 12th annual prayer breakfast this morning at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany, NY.
Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) joins his education commissioner to award three new public school charters and renew the charters of eight existing schools in Dorchester, MA at 10:30 am ET.
Massachusetts First Lady Ann Romney joins Jim Towey, outgoing director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, for a roundtable conversation in Boston, MA at 10:00 am ET. The two then head to Dorchester to visit TechMission -- a recipient of faith based funds.
Based on data showing that children in single-parent homes are more likely to be poor, go to jail, and fail in school, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) holds a hearing at 10:00 am ET to talk about how certain welfare policies create financial disincentives for low-income couples to get married.
Simon Rosenberg's NDN hosts a 12:15 pm ET "Conversation With SEIU President Andy Stern" in Washington, DC.
DNC Chairman Howard Dean addresses the American Jewish Committee's annual meeting in Washington, DC at 1:30 pm ET.
At 10:00 pm ET, California Democratic gubernatorial candidates Steve Westly and Phil Angelides go head-to-head at a Los Angeles debate hosted by the California League of Conservation Voters.
The AP's John McCarthy writes that Republican candidates who sought to tie their primary opponents to the exceedingly unpopular Gov. Bob Taft (R-OH) met with success in doing so. LINK
As Ken Blackwell shifts from his primary to the general against Ted Strickland, he will also shift from being on offense in seeking to associate his opponent with Taft to playing defense on the issue.
The Ohio Democratic Party issued a press release (well before all the vote totals were in) clearly indicating that it plans to link Ken Blackwell with Taft. The release called the Republican gubernatorial candidate: "Ken Taftwell" with the tag line, "Same Taft GOP record -- just angrier."
The Columbus Dispatch's powerful Hallett/Niquette team write that Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said DNC Chairman "Howard Dean has made a 'significant' financial commitment [to the gubernatorial race in Ohio], but he wouldn't say how much." LINK
Blackwell's primary victory may be the high point of his campaign, writes Mark Naymik of the Plain Dealer, who points to recent poll numbers showing Ohio voters poised to put a Democrat in the governor's office for the first time in 16 years. &LINK
The AP's Julie Carr Smith writes up yesterday's primaries results and argues that in Ohio, "Blackwell's prominence as a leading black voice in the GOP could be pivotal to Republicans" LINK
The fear of Rahm: Imagine, if you will, a phone call between DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel and Democratic congressional candidate in OH-06 Charlie Wilson when Emanuel learned that Wilson had failed to submit sufficient signatures to get on the ballot -- probably not a pleasant conversation, that. However, perhaps it served as a key motivator. (That and all that DCCC and labor money pouring into the district.) To the chagrin of the NRCC, Charlie Wilson is indeed the Democratic nominee in OH-06 which keeps this a competitive race going forward (with the advantage tilted toward Wilson) and fails to be the freebie pick-up for which the Republicans had hoped and spent money to ensure.
The Washington Post ledes its Ohio coverage with Rep. Ney's smashing victory. LINK
Buckeye State Blog writes that, "Bob Ney is in a world of hurt only getting 68% - in a high turnout of almost 49,000 voters." LINK
Fighting a race that had become a series of nasty attacks, Rep. Jean Schmidt beat a difficult challenge by former Rep. Bob McEwen, reports the Cincinnati Enquirer. LINK
Bizzy Blog Notes, "there is widespread discontent with the establishment of both parties." LINK
Sharif Durhams and Eric Frazier of the Charlotte Observer take a closer look at Nifong's victory yesterday in an "obscure local contest [turned] into a nationally televised referendum on race, privilege and justice," Noting that "Nifong gave scores of media interviews, even physically demonstrating on national television his version of the struggle between the accuser and her alleged attackers. Defense attorneys say he put his political aspirations ahead of facts." LINK
The News and Observer's Benjamin Niolet, Michael Biesecker and Anne Blythe write that "no Republicans filed for the office, so unless someone petitions to run as an unaffiliated candidate or launches a successful write-in campaign, Nifong will be the district attorney for a four-year term." LINK
VPOTUS meets Todd Purdum:
Even as Mark Leibovich finishes his New York Times computer and here's-how-Jill-likes-it training, former Timesman Todd S. Purdum explodes on the Vanity Fair scene with his inside look at Vice President Cheney.
Purdum writes that Mr. Cheney is keenly aware of his public image and that it may cause harm to the President's popularity. Lou Cannon tells Purdum that he thinks President Ford believes Cheney has moved far to the right on the ideological spectrum.
On the Vice President's health, Purdum asked him if he was fatalistic. Cheney replied, "I am. I don't event think about it most of the time. You do those things a prudent man would do and I live with it."
Needless to say, it is a must-read.
The Washington Times excerpts the interview, highlighting Cheney's awareness of the image problem. LINK
Deb Orin of the New York Post previews Mary Cheney's upcoming book and her tale of coming out to her parents, as detailed by Purdum. LINK
Politics of gas:
Carl Hulse of the New York Times declares Bill Frist's $100 gas tax holiday rebate all but dead. LINK
The Washington Post's Murray and VandeHei ask whether the GOP can get it together on gas prices after "fumbling" out of the gate last week. LINK
The Wall Street Journal's Laura Meckler on the coming fight over raising fuel mileage standards: LINK
Robert Samuelson writes of the "real news" regarding gas prices: how despite "the public outcry and political hysteria, high gasoline prices haven't significantly hurt the economy -- and may not do so." LINK
The Washington Times reports that Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin and other Dems will join farmers and small business owners today to highlight the effect of gas prices on businesses that rely on transportation. LINK
As lawmakers grapple with ways to make oil prices more palatable to the general public, one of the President's top economic advisors recommends that cutting gas taxes is not the way to deal with soaring costs for energy, reports the AP. LINK
Maura Reynolds of the Los Angeles Times Notes the angst and "fear of voter backlash" on the Hill as Congress continues the debate on gas prices. LINK
In his New York Times column, Tom Friedman bemoans the proposals coming from the major parties in Congress and writes they are exactly what OPEC would hope Washington would do, which leads him to a search for a third party. LINK
ABC's Z. Byron Wolf reports Sen. Ted Stevens delivered the line of the day in the Senate yesterday when advocating his support for drilling in ANWR to increase the nation's oil supply. Stevens explained the alternative, thusly: "Taking SUVs from soccer moms makes no sense."
Big Casino budget politics:
Bloomberg reports that after a four-month deadlock, Republicans in Congress have finally come to a tentative agreement on a $70 billion package of tax cuts. &&LINK
Bloomberg Notes that the legislation, if approved, "would hand President George W. Bush a political victory to tout before the November mid-term elections," while also helping lawmakers by ensuring "that millions of families won't be subject to a tax increase in an election year."
The Chicago Tribune Notes that Republicans "have reached agreement in principle on a $70 billion tax-relief package that would extend tax cuts on capital gains and dividends for two years" LINK
A little-noticed portion of the tax bill under consideration by Congress promises to give rich taxpayers "a boost" in their retirement accounts, the Wall Street Journal reports. LINK
House Republicans are backing Bush's veto threat of the Senate emergency spending bill, the Washington Times reports. LINK
Politics of immigration:
Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times offers up a news analysis in which she writes that the Monday marches across the country may not have changed any votes in the United States Senate and may have simply hardened already existing positions. LINK
With Congress stalled on immigration reform, states are wading into the issue, reports the Washington Post. LINK
The intrepid Peter Baker of the Washington Post examines whether or not President Bush may have once sung the Star Spangled Banner in Spanish. LINK
Ken Bazinet of the New York Daily News also has the story and has television producers scrambling to screen tape of Jon Secada's 2001 inaugural singing to confirm his account. LINK
In his lonely fight against earmarks, Sen. Tom Coburn "is like an imam at a pig roast," writes Dana Milbank of the Washington Post: "He sees pork everywhere, and he doesn't like it." LINK
Politics of Iraq:
The Wall Street Journal's David Rogers Notes that Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) got his way yesterday, with Majority Leader John Boehner committing to set aside time within the next month for discussion of a resolution related to the war. LINK
"The Congress ought to have a conversation about it," says Boehner.
GOP House leaders yesterday voiced their discontent with the work of their Senate counterparts on appropriations spending and the $100 gas rebate, reports Ben Pershing of Roll Call. Charlie Savage of the Boston Globe reports that Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) plans to hold a hearing in June and probe into Presidential "claims of authority." The White House has agreed to make all information readily available to the committee. LINK
One down and twenty to go. In the first installment of the new series of climate assessments ordered up by the Bush Administration, the folks who claim global warming is a scientific certainty score a victory. Here's the New York Times with more. LINK
Bloomberg previews Vice President Cheney's trip to Kazakhstan, which it writes has taken on new urgency given that Kazakhstan sits one of the world's 10 largest oil fields. LINK
The Boston Globe reports, that Boston College heats up in a "fiery" debate on whether Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice should be given an honorary degree from the college. LINK
The Abramoff affair:
The Hill's Alexander Bolton has Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) raising just $40,000 for his legal defense fund, "despite spending nearly $100,000 so far this year on lawyer fees." LINK
Kentucky businessman Vernon L. Jackson will plead guilty today to bribing Louisiana Democrat Rep. William Jefferson with hundreds of thousands of dollars, the Washington Post reports. LINK
If you want to fully understand the Iowa/Nebraska political nexus, make sure you read the Chicago Tribune's Jeff Zeleny's (the Nebraska native and former Iowa resident) blog item on Sen. McCain's endorsement conference call with Rep. Tom Osborne. LINK
The Wall Street Journal's Kimberly Strassel takes to her paper's op-ed page to slam New York gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer for responding to a "growing list of accusations of abuse by denying, dissembling and developing convenient cases of amnesia." LINK
The Washington Post's John Wagner and Matthew Mosk report that Doug Duncan is the first to hit the television airwaves with a campaign ad in the Maryland gubernatorial contest and he is doing so on his opponent's home turf of Baltimore. LINK
Rep. Katherine Harris (R-FL) is launching a TV ad that "seems aimed at scaring off potential opponents from her own party as much as it pits her against Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson," writes Beth Rienhard of the Miami Herald. LINK
Keith Epstein and William March of the Tampa Tribune on the same: "The ad barrage, coming unusually early in the election season, appears to respond to an increasing chorus of voices from within her own Republican Party saying she should drop out of the race." LINK
Antics in the Garden State. . . .
Tom Kean's (R-NJ) campaign launched a Web-based audio "ad" accusing Sen. Menendez (D-NJ) of seeking headlines instead of solutions on gas prices and mentions that he travels around the state in an SUV while doing so. &LINK
Just to make sure no attack goes unanswered, the DSCC is launching an "Animal House"-inspired Web page aimed at emphasizing the "Jr." at the end of Tom Kean's name so that New Jerseyians don't confuse him with his dad. The DSCC site also tries to paint Kean as a close Bush/Cheney/Rove ally. LINK
K.T. McFarland's New York primary battle with former Yonkers mayor John Spencer certainly couldn't get negative, what with McFarland's pledge to not criticize her opponent. But just a few weeks after McFarland herself faced off with NY1's Dominic Carter on "Inside City Hall," her strategist Ed Rollins assumed the same seat and suggested with unhalting specificity that Spencer's personal life and mayoral hiring decisions would not survive the scrutiny that a statewide race brings.
When the quick-witted Carter suggested that Rollins' oppo upload violated his candidate's vow to stay on the high road, Rollins gave the finest answer in the history of political consulting (not including blogosphere hero Mike McCurry, who laps the field). To find out what Rollins said, read tomorrow's New York tabloids, who inexplicably skipped the story in today's editions. (Or you can go watch it for yourself right here: LINK)
The New York Times Ray Hernandez looks at how the battle for control of the House is playing out in the Northeast and wonders if some moderate Republicans who have defied presidential voting patterns in their districts for years are more vulnerable this fall due to the President's dismal poll position. LINK
Having once rejected the idea of calling for Rumsfeld's resignation, the Republican candidate for the Vermont at-large House seat, former Vermont National Guard commander Martha Rainville, is now saying that Rumsfeld should be encouraged to step down. The Associated Press has the story. LINK
Jane Norman of the Des Moines Register has the details of Bruce Braley's (D-IA) first ad to air in Iowa's first congressional district. LINK
Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) helped out Rep. Don Sherwood (R-PA) last week by sending automated phone calls to voters endorsing Sherwood, reports Jonathan Kaplan of the Hill. LINK
Kind words from Santorum may improve Sherwood's image in the eyes of conservative voters after Sherwood, "acknowledged having an extramarital affair with a younger woman with whom he also settled a lawsuit last year."
Eric Roach may still challenge Brian Bilbray for the GOP nomination in California's 50th district, despite having already come in second to Bilbray in the special primary election, according to Roll Call's David Drucker.
Kimberly Atkins of the Boston Herald reports that Gov. Mitt Romney is prepping for a speech of a lifetime. "Romney knows he must make the speech of his life from the presidential campaign pulpit to set American voters at ease with his Mormonism, just as John F. Kennedy did in 1960 to help them accept his Catholicism." The governor's press office says no speech is planned at this time. LINK
The rumors of Sen. John McCain's soul-selling have been greatly exaggerated, David Ignatius columnizes in the Washington Post. LINK
Mayor Bloomberg is not yet ready to give Rudy Giuliani his endorsement for president in 2008, reports the New York Post. LINK
The Washington Times has Democrats and Republicans alike that disagree with Sen. Biden's plan to split Iraq in three slices under the headline: "Colleagues advise Biden to put away Iraq carving knife." LINK
The Hill's Roxana Tiron writes that Gov. Tom Vilsack (D-IA), who "has publicly disagreed with those pushing for firing Rumsfeld and immediately pulling out of Iraq" and Sen. Clinton, who "has a more nuanced approach" and stopped short of calling for Rumsfeld's resignation, "stand out among the bevy of 2008 Democratic hopefuls." LINK
The Union Leader's John DiStaso covers the New Hampshire angle of Donna Brazile's Roll Call editorial calling for states other than Iowa and New Hampshire to be included early in the nominating process. &LINK
Roll Call's Erin Billings reports that the "gang of 14" is planning to meet "real soon" to discuss strategy in an effort to avoid another filibuster battle over controversial judicial nominations.
The Washington Post on the "Crunchy Con" phenomenon: LINK
The New York Times writes up the blogosphere chatter brewing over Stephen Colbert's WHCA dinner performance and the "MSM's" treatment of it. LINK
Chris Lehmann of the New York Observer on what Stephen Colbert's Saturday night performance means for Washington's glitterati. LINK