The Note: The Special Relationship

WASHINGTON, July 28

President Bush meets with Prime Minister Tony Blair in the Oval Office at 11:10 am ET before the two proceed to the East Room of the White House to participate in a 12:30 pm ET joint press conference. ABC News' Ann Compton reports that President Bush can be expected to announce at his presser that Secretary Rice is heading back to the Middle East this weekend on her way back from Asia.

And then for the really important stuff befitting a nation at war, POTUS moves over to the Oval Office for a meeting and photo op with the Top 10 American Idol finalists at 2:35 pm ET.

Important: "Bush, Blair to discuss Mideast turmoil" -- Associated Press. LINK

Really important (semiotically): "Political Stage Is Next for `Idol' Stars" -- Los Angeles Times on "American Idol" reaching the "pinnacle of political validation." LINK

Important for 2006 midterms: "U.S. Hopes of Cutting Iraq Troop Levels Dim" -- Los Angeles Times on the Pentagon extending the tours of 3,500 soldiers to help bolster security in Baghdad. LINK

Important for 2006 midterms: "House to Vote on Increase in Minimum Wage" -- Washington Post on House GOP leaders "bowing to pressure from their politically embattled moderates." LINK

Vital for 2007 and 2008: "Hillary Clinton v. Howard Dean" Tom Edsall in the pages of the New Republic on "The Grudge," including some background quotes from the Hillary Clinton camp on 2008 that you won't believe were uttered (even on background), and Edsall ignoring Chris Cilizza's reporting on all the fundraising the Clintons have done for the DNC. LINK

Vital for 2006, 2007, and 2008: "Poll Position: The Ascendant Candidacy of John Edwards" – The New Republic's Ryan Lizza on why Edwards "may be Hillary Clinton's greatest threat in 2008," with appropriate attention paid to the labor strategy, but not enough to the fundraising piece. LINK

Vital for all eternity: "Media Mogul Summons the Powerful to Expound" -- Los Angeles Times on Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Shimon Peres, LA Police Chief William Bratton, Al Gore, Bono, John McCain, Newt Gingrich, and Larry Summers speaking to 250 News Corp. executives at a "posh" California seaside resort. LINK

In addition to his Blair and Idol meetings, President Bush is doing a 2:50 pm ET photo op with the 2006 Boys and Girls Nation Delegates in the East Room.

The focus on the Hill continues to be on the situation in the Middle East, with a slew of events scheduled throughout the day on the topic. First is a Senate Democratic Policy Committee forum featuring Sens. Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Mark Dayton (D-MN) to discuss the $243 million contract to improve Iraq's healthcare crisis at 11:00 am ET. The Arab American Institute (AAI) sponsors "Understand the Conflict and the Role of the U.S." -- a discussion on Lebanon, Hezbollah, Israel and the Palestinians -- at the Capitol at 12:00 pm ET. The New America Foundation (NAF) will host a discussion with Thomas Ricks, author of "Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq" at 1:00 pm ET. And Lt. Gen. Nasier Abadi, the deputy commander of the Iraq Joint Forces, is scheduled to address the U.S. Institute of Peace forum entitled "When Will Iraq Stand Up?" at 2:00 pm ET.

At 11:00 am ET, Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) addresses the Brooking Institution's 90th Anniversary Leadership Forum with a discussion about U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East followed by a Q&A session from 11:00 am - 12:00 pm ET.

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) travels to Iowa for a two-day trip, participating in a hearing on cancer research along with Lance Armstrong and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) at 9:30 am ET. He is also scheduled to campaign for local Democratic candidates during his visit. LINK

In a visit that is stoking lots of speculation about her 2008 intentions, former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R-NJ) campaigns for fellow Republican state Senate candidate Dan Hughes in Portsmouth, NH.

Elsewhere in Washington, NRCC Chair Rep. Tom Reynolds (R-NY) discusses the midterms at a 10:00 am ET pen and pad briefing. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds her weekly press conference in the Capitol at 10:45 am ET.

In an event that brings the Feinberg-Pfeiffer nexus into full effect, Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IN) raises coin in Atherton, CA (yes, that's right, CA) for Democratic congressional candidates Diane Farrell, who is running in CT-04, and Mary Jo Kilroy, who is running in OH-15.

Reps. David Obey (D-WI) and Ray LaHood (R-IL) address the "Mending the Broken Branch: Strategies for Restoring the Constitutional Role of the U.S. Congress" forum hosted by the Center for American Progress at 9:30 am ET.

Idol chatter:

Once again, ABC News has obtained an exclusive, private White House memo on a topic du jour. Once again, certain correspondents and anchors at Fox News Channel will take their initial confusion over whether it is real (or not?) and turn it into some sort of lash out at ABC News for having topical fun.

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TO: POTUS

FROM: Tony Snow

CC: KAREN HUGHES

DATE: 7/27/2006

RE: "American Idol" photo op

Sir -

I hope you had an opportunity to watch the American Dreamz DVD that Dan dropped off last night. I gather there was a particularly compelling episode of "Baseball Tonight" on, so it would be quite understandable if you didn't get to the film before bedtime. If that is the case, consider this an alternative to your regular visual briefings.

First, I can't stress this enough: stand as close to special invited guest Kelly Pickler as possible. If you make a gaffe of any kind, hand the program over to Pickler stat. You will instantly look better by comparison (unless she attempts to say the word "nuclear," in which case it'll likely be a draw).

Secondly, while I know we have spent a lot of time drilling on resisting using the word "yo" in formal settings, consider this a one-time exception.

Third, while "Bad Day" may be the official send off song for Idol losers, per Karl's request we are currently looking into its availability for November 7th.

Fourth, as you know, Idol has been plagued by a number of vote fiascos. So please keep that in mind if you hear anyone mutter, "that salt and pepper, no-talent clown should never have won." They are probably referring to Taylor Hicks. Probably.

Fifth, like that earthy minister at that Easter Sunrise service you took the press corps to in the wilds of Crawford, the Idol folks think recount jokes are funny. Humor them.

Sixth, we limited the press coverage to "stills at the top," so there will be no audio record of the visit, and the cameras will catch only your initial greeting. I hope that doesn't disappoint you too much, Mr. President.

Seventh, another unfunny humor alert. The American Idol web site makes a big deal about how Taylor Hicks won the most recent season's contest May 24 after 63 million votes were cast for him in the season finale. "That's more than the 59 million that the President got in 2004, a record in any U.S. presidential election. Although, to be fair, voters can cast more than one ballot on 'American Idol,' " the site notes. Some people just don't know how to be good guests.

Relax and enjoy it. As for the Blair event, winging it will probably work.

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Bush Administration agenda:

"2 Steps Back: Rice's Careful Diplomacy Falters Under Renewed Assertiveness by the U.S" - New York Times. LINK

President Bush Says Any Mideast Peace Reached `Must Be Real'" - Bloomberg LINK

"You Want a Peace O' Me?" - ABC News' Jake Tapper discusses yesterday's White House briefing with Tony Snow and his comments on the Middle East comparing the situation today with that in 2002. LINK

"Bush's 'regular guy' mode can backfire" - USA Today LINK

"U.S. stem-cell researchers sense a chill" - USA Today on Bush's stem cell stance allegedly draining scientists' motivation. LINK

"Americans See Bush's democracy agenda flagging" -- Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire on a new WSJ/NBC poll that has 58% of Americans calling the President's attempts to promote democracy around the world "unsuccessful so far." LINK

"Worries Rise about domestic spying, but public backs Bush on prisoners" -- Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire. LINK

Politics of the minimum wage:

"Republicans Now Want to Raise Wage" - Columbus Dispatch with a graph and story about the minumum wage. LINK and LINK

"Republicans Near a Vote to Increase Minimum Wage" -- New York Times. LINK

"Congress Divide Jeopardizes Pension Bill" - Associated Press LINK

"Minimum-wage increase draws support across political spectrum" -- Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire on "two-thirds of conservatives" joining liberals in wanting to raise the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour. LINK

Democrats' "Six for '06":

With just over 100 days to go until the election, House and Senate Democratic leaders held a pen and pad briefing Thursday to promote their "Six for '06" agenda.

DSCC Chairman Chuck Schumer said Democrats were ahead in five (of the six) Senate seats they need to take back that chamber. The DSCC's Phil Singer identified the five as Ohio, Montana, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.

DCCC Chairman Rahm Emanuel said Democrats were tied or ahead in 12 (of the 15) House seats they need to take back the House. The DCCC said the races in which they have public polls showing the Democratic challenger ahead are: IN-08 where Democrat Brad Ellsowrth leads incumbent Rep. John Hostettler (R-IN); IN-09 where Democrat Baron Hill leads incumbent Rep. Michael Sodrel (R-IN); IN-02 where Democrat Joe Donnelly leads incumbent Rep. Chris Chocola (R-IN); and OH-18 where Democrat Zach Space leads incumbent Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH). The DCCC would not identify the other 8 races in which it claims that it has private polling showing that it leads. (We're sure that Chairman Reynolds will be asked about all of this at his 10:00 am ET briefing).

As for the Democrats' "Six for '06: New Direction for America" agenda released by Democrats yesterday, we wanted to Note a few developments since we last told you about its initial stages on Jake Tapper's Political Punch blog in June. LINK

"Budget discipline" is now dealt with in the pre-amble; promoting stem-cell research has joined Medicare negotiation for lower drug prices as part of the Democrats' health-care plank; a plank devoted to retirement security (which includes stopping "any plan to privatize Social Security, in whole or in party"; enacting "real" pension reform, and expanding personal savings incentives) has been added; real security has been beefed up to include not only a pledge to implement the 9/11 Commission recommendations but also a pledge to "begin the phased redeployment of US forces from Iraq in 2006" and a commitment to "double the size of Special Forces to destroy Osama Bin Laden and terrorist networks like al Qaeda." There is also an energy independence plank that includes ending "tax giveaways to Big Oil companies and the enactment of "tough laws to stop price gouging."

"National Security, Gas Prices Top Democrats' Election Agenda" - Philadelphia Inquirer on both parties' strategies for November. LINK

"Democratic ad ties all GOP to Bush" - the Washington Times on the DCCC's new web ad. LINK

Sen. Lieberman's primary politics:

"Lieberman and Rival Step Up Ads in Final Leg" -- New York Times on Bill Clinton's appearance in a spot for the incumbent. LINK

"Lieberman Leans on Democrat Record: Under Fire Within Party, He Downplays Iraq, Stresses Loyalty" - Hartford Courant LINK

"Lieberman Backers Are Optimistic On Petition Signatures" - Hartford Courant LINK

Politics of immigration:

"A New Direction? (BTW: Check Out Kolbe On The GOP Leadership)" -- Hotline's On Call on retiring Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ) saying about the GOP and immigration: "There will be electoral consequences if we hype this issue as we have been and then don't follow up with action." LINK

2006: House:

"Laura Bush Boosts Chabot" - Cincinnati Enquirer. LINK

"RNC Chairman Visits S.C. to Help Congressional Candidate" - the AP on Ken Mehlman's stump for Ralph Norman, the GOPer taking on Rep. John Spratt (D-SC). LINK

2006: Senate:

On Don Imus' program, Rep. Harold Ford Jr. (D-TN) voiced his support this morning for Sen. Joe Biden's (D-DE) proposal to create three states within Iraq, saying "whether you like that idea or not it's clear we need some new strategies."

"Senate race tight in red-and-blue Minnesota" - Washington Times LINK

"Bush says he won't enter Senate race" The Tallahasee Democrat saying Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) is not involved in any scheme to replace likely Senate nominee Katherine Harris. LINK

"Harris demands Dean apologize for comparison to Stalin" - Associated Press LINK

"Campaigns Slinging Oil Money Allegations" - Washington Post on the Virginia Senate race LINK

2006: Governor:

"Tom Tunes Out Mario" - New York Post has gubernatorial hopeful Suozzi rejecting Mario Cuomo's attempt to get him to drop his primary bid against Eliot Spitzer. LINK

"Suozzi: I'm no party puppet" - New York Daily News on the same. LINK

"GOP Employee Loses Job over E-mail Attack on Stricklands" - Columbus Dispatch on Gary Lankford's dismissal from the Ohio Republican Party. LINK

2006: Ballot measures:

"Tax Foes Push State Spending Caps" on ballot measures expected in Maine, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, and Oregon - Wall Street Journal near must-read.

2008:

"Romancing New Hampshire" -- Boston Globe on 2008. LINK

2008: Republicans:

Go read the Boston papers if you are interested in the latest Big Dig developments. LINK

"Campaign Finance Effort Resumes, Without McCain" -- New York Sun on Feingold, Shays, and Meehan going ahead on legislation without their fourth. LINK

"A spokeswoman for Mr. McCain, Eileen McMenamin, did not return calls seeking comment for this article, but several people involved in discussions about the legislation said the senator's absence was related to his widely expected bid for the presidency in 2008."

"Frist: Abortion opponents can back me despite vote" - Des Moines Register LINK

(Note details of Gov. Romney's and Sen. Frist's weekend visits to Iowa).

"On Giuliani's Abortion Problem" - New York Observer LINK

2008: Democrats:

"Bill a Hill Shill in Iowa" - the New York Post's Deb on the former President's October trip to Iowa. LINK

"A Woman's Dilemma" -- Harvard Crimson on "how to journey from First Lady Macbeth to Madame President." LINK

"John Edwards to Visit Montana for Minimum Wage Rally" - New West. LINK

The Schwarzenegger Era:

"In Central Valley, Angelides Vows to Take On Childhood Asthma, Pollution" - LA Times LINK

"Villaraigosa Plays a Waiting Game With Angelides On Endorsement" - LA Times LINK

Politics:

"A political career on the rebound" - the Los Angeles Times on the "Round Mound of Rebound's" who recently told the Birmingham News: "I was a Republican until they lost their minds." LINK

Weekend politics:

President Bush has no scheduled public events for Saturday, but plans to participate in the White House Tee Ball Game on the South Lawn of the White House at 2:45 pm ET on Sunday before traveling to Miami Beach, FL to attend a dinner with community leaders at 7:00 pm ET.

Karl Rove is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at the Commencement of the George Washington Graduate School of Political Management in Washington, DC at 1:30 pm ET.

It's a big weekend in Iowa, as potential '08ers flock to the state to do some campaigning for fellow party members . . . as well as themselves. Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) wraps up his two-day trip with campaign appearances on behalf of local Democrats. Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) also visits the state, as does Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN), who is scheduled to attend campaign events for gubernatorial candidate Jim Nussle, congressional candidate Mike Whalen, and other GOP-ers.

Former Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R-NJ) ends her three-day trip to New Hampshire on Sunday after attending numerous events, including the Strafford County Federated Women's Breakfast, the New Hampshire GOP luncheon, a press event for her book, "It's My Party Too," and the Vesta Roy BBQ on Saturday, followed by the Monadnock Lyceum on Sunday.

On Saturday, former Vice President Al Gore participates in a three-way videochat sponsored by the non-partisan Generation Engage group. The conference broadcasts from Asheville, NC, Harlem, NY, and Los Angeles, CA at 6:00 pm ET, following a screening of Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth."

Looking ahead, the liberal Americans United for Change plans to release two 15-second back-to-back ads next week in five states expressing opposition to the Bush Administration's privatization of Social Security and targeting local candidates. The ads pose the question: "If George Bush and his backers in Congress privatize Social Security and cut benefits almost in half, what will you have to cut in half?" The ad shows elderly citizens forced to cut in half an already-meager meal in the first spot and a pill in the second.