A Decent Interval, Part IV

WASHINGTON, Jan. 11

The President's new Iraq plan is based on a series of assumptions.

The Gang of 500 (ALL 500 members in this case, not just 492 of them) has its own set of core assumptions about the politics of Iraq:

1. The coming wave of public opinion polls are going to show pretty much what ABC News/WP found immediately after the Bush speech. LINK

2. Under the normal rules of politics, a president who has a determined and united congressional majority against him; public opinion against him; and many prominent voices in his own party against him, would look for a political way out -- but George W. Bush plays by different rules. He isn't up for re-election; he doesn't care about the polls; he does not seem to care about the long-term politial hopes of his party, such as if Sens. Coleman or Sununu have tough re-election fights; and he doesn't care if relentless pursuit of his Iraq goals crushes whatever chance he has of achieving anything else in the last two years of his presidency.

The Note also sees some seemingly flat-out wrong assumptions being made about the Iraq situation:

1. George W. Bush: "Most of Iraq's Sunni and Shia want to live together in peace." (More right is David Brooks in the New York Times: "The enemy in Iraq is not some discrete group of killers. It's the maelstrom of violence and hatred that infects every institution, including the government and the military. Instead of facing up to this core reality, the Bush administration has papered it over with salesmanship and spin.")

2. Howard Fineman: "I have never seen [George W. Bush], in public or private, look less convincing, less sure of himself, less cocky." LINK (You might have been knowing W for a long time, Howard, but the visual you and some others saw doesn't reflect the more fundamental reality: the man is as assured and as cocksure as ever.)

3. The bullies at the Wall Street Journal ed board: "We'll bet Mr. [Carl] Levin never has the political nerve to follow through on anything but TV sound-bite criticism." (We predict that there will be a snowballing of Democratic "nerve," as caucus unity, Bush recalcitrance, public opinion polls, donors, and bloggers lead towards increasingly loud choruses of "Change now.")

In the short term, watch two things:

A.The hearings on the Hill. B.More Republican defections.

In the medium term, watch two things:

A. How quickly congressional Democrats move from symbolic votes to substantive, teethy ones. B. (Have we mentioned), more Republican defections.

In the long term -- all that matters -- watch two things:

A. Facts on the ground. B. How long Mr. Bush is willing to defy political gravity to pursue his Unholy Grail.

Almost as if he is involved in a campaign run by Andy Card, President Bush participates in the presentation of a posthumous Medal of Honor to Marine Corporal Jason Dunham, who died on April 22, 2004, eight days after jumping on a grenade in Karabilah, Iraq at 9:50 am ET. President Bush then has lunch with troops and makes remarks at Freedom Hall in Fort Benning, GA at 12:40 pm ET.

Top Bush Administration officials will be on the Hill today.

After spearheading a morning White House presser that most of the cable networks inexplicably found too boring to stay with, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice testifies before both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at 10:00 am ET and the House Foreign Affairs Committee at 2:00 pm ET.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Join Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace testify before the House Armed Services Committee at 1:00 pm ET.

And National Intelligence Director John Negroponte and CIA director Michael Hayden and FBI Director Robert Mueller appear before the Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee at 2:30 pm ET.

Reps. Chris Carney (D-PA), Patrick Murphy (D-PA), Tim Walz (D-MN), and Joe Sestak (D-PA), who are new Democratic members of Congress with military experience, respond to President Bush Iraq plan at 10:30 am ET at the U.S. Capitol.

A coalition of liberal groups including domestic policy groups, unions, anti-war voices and veterans are holding a 12:30 pm ET presser at the National Press Club to announce the National Campaign Against the Escalation of the War. The coalition is hoping to use tactics similar to those used to oppose President Bush's plan to carve private accounts out of Social Security.

DC for Democracy and the Win Without War Coalition are holding a 6:00 pm ET "DC Says No to More Troops in Iraq" rally in Lafayette Square across from the White House.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) attends the White House Medal of Honor ceremony this morning and will be available to speak with reporters outside the White House at the conclusion of the ceremony.

Former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) meets with what his spokesman calls his Homeland Security Advisory Committee at the Hyatt Regency Washington at 11:25 pm ET.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) meets with Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff at 9:30 am ET in the Hart Senate Office Building. He also will get to question Rice at 10:00 am ET when she appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

On the heels of announcing his presidential candidacy, Sen. Dodd heads to Iowa for the inaugural festivities of Gov. Chet Culver (D-IA), The Hotline reports.

As someone who continues to believe that Congress would never have supported the invasion of Iraq if more of them had family members in line for deployment, Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) will re-introduce legislation this afternoon that would mandate that during wartime all American men and women aged 18-42 are eligible for a draft lottery.

POTUS speaks: '08ers react:

Janet Hook of the Los Angeles Times dedicates her entire story to '08er reaction to the President's plan including Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) Noteworthy decision to break away from the McCain/Romney/Giuliani support for the plan while on a trip to Iraq. Hook also Notes that on the Democratic side, Sens. Kerry and Edwards specifically highlight the cutting off of funds as the approach that should be taken -- something Sen. Clinton stayed away from in her statement. LINK

Rudy Giuliani appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America" this morning to talk about the President's plan with ABC News' Robin Roberts and said, "I believe it is necessary."

On two different occasions, Giuliani tried to tie his experience as a New York City mayor in charge of the country's largest police force and aiming to fight crime to the President's role as Commander-in-Chief.

"I spent the last week, two weeks being briefed by everybody that would brief me -- generals and others about this. It seems to me he outlined the mistakes quite correctly. I think we took neighborhoods, we took areas, cleaned them up . . . and then we pulled the troops out. . . and within days the bad guys -- the militias, the terrorists -- came back. It reminded me, as I listened to these briefings, to what I faced in New York City when we had tremendously high levels of crime. That's one of the mistakes that had been made in the past in New York City," said Giuliani.

On his entering the 2008 presidential race, Giuliani said that he is exploring two key areas. "Should you do it? Can you make a unique contribution?. . . And can you raise the money?"

Giuliani said that he will make a decision "pretty soon," acknowledging that the nominating process is earlier now than it has been in past cycles. ". . . but we've got some time to decide this," he added.

As for that leaked campaign strategy document that listed many of his vulnerabilities in a presidential contest, Giuliani said that won't be a factor in his decision making process. "I learned a long time ago I'm not perfect. That will all be explored," he said.

Giuliani also reacted to the President's speech by issuing a paper statement saying: "I support the President's increase in troops. Even more importantly – I support the change in strategy – the focus on security and the emphasis on a political and economic solution as being even more important than a military solution."

While appearing this morning on NBC's "Today," Sen. Obama dodged a question about whether he would support Sen. Kennedy's Iraq resolution.

"Well, I think there are a range of options that are going to be proposed," he said before saying that "the first order of business in the Senate is an up or down vote on a non-binding resolution to see who approves and who doesn't approve of this plan."

Note that while he did not endorse Kennedy's resolution, he did implicitly separate himself from his major '08 rivals by pointing to his initial opposition to the war, describing himself as "somebody who thought that going in was a bad idea in the first place."

With the subject line "Tell Congress: No Funding for Escalation," John Edwards responded to President Bush's speech by asking his on-line supporters via email to join him in "calling on Congress to block funding for Bush's escalation in Iraq."

ABC News' Z. Byron Wolf reports that Sen. Hagel reacted to President Bush's speech with a statement that is arguably more critical than any Democrat's statement. The Nebraska Republican uses some strident words, including "unwinnable swamp" and "wrongheaded" and "bog of Iraq," and "more American troops will make it worse."

POTUS Speaks: headlines and ledes:

"President Bush embraced a major tactical shift on Wednesday evening. . . ," writes David Sanger of the New York Times. LINK

"An admission of error from a humbled president," said ABC News' Diane Sawyer on "Good Morning America," in her piece looking at speech highlights.

"Plan B," reads the New York Post wood. LINK

"Sorry. . . But I am sending 21,500 more of you off to war," reads the New York Daily News wood. LINK

"A subdued President Bush, presenting his long-awaited new blueprint for Iraq, acknowledged for the first time Wednesday that his previous strategy had failed and said that averting defeat required more than 20,000 additional American troops and a different relationship with the government in Baghdad," ledes the Los Angeles Times' Reynolds, Spiegel, and Fiore. LINK

In the Washington Post's lead story, Michael Abramowitz and Robin Wright saw President Bush acknowledging for the first time the he had not sent enough troops to protect Iraqi civilians in an appeal to Americans to support a "renewed campaign to pacify Iraq." LINK

POTUS Speaks: congressional response:

On "Good Morning America," ABC News' George Stephanopoulos said, ". . . already there are six Republican Senators opposed to the President's plan. Leadership aides I've talked to on both sides in the Senate expect that number to climb and could go as high as 12 -- even more, if the President's plan doesn't show some success real soon. And that's provided an opening for the Democrats. They're likely to put the President's speech into bill form, put it up for a vote in the House and the Senate perhaps as early as next week, certainly after the State of the Union."

(The six Republican Senators who are opposed to the troop increase are Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR), Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), and Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN)).

"The criticism from Democrats resounded in near unison on Wednesday evening, a rare moment for a party that for more than four years has struggled to present a unified policy on Iraq," writes Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times. LINK

"Of more immediate concern to the administration was the bleak assessment from some Republicans."

Zeleny Notes that any battle over funding is most likely months away and that up first will be a vote on non-binding resolutions on the President's plan in both chambers next week.

(Although the Wall Street Journal's lede Iraq story suggests the money face off could come sooner: "One possible financial pressure point could come as soon as next month, when a stopgap spending bill that has been funding most of the government since October due to expire in mid-February. That is a powerful political tool for Democratic critics of Mr. Bush's policy. Failure to extend the stopgap funding could shut down many agencies -- making any amendment risky. But by the same token, if an Iraq amendment or funding limitation were attached by Congress, the president couldn't simply brush it aside." LINK

While House Democrats "attempt to derail funding for the president's plan," Senate Democrats will try to gain bipartisan support for a nonbinding resolution opposing the White House's Iraq plan in what some see as a strategy to isolate the president politically forcing a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq report the Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman and Dan Balz. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Levey and Gaouette write of the unified Democrats and splintered Republicans. LINK

Bloomberg News looks at the Republican Senators whose concerns about re-election might be influencing their positions on the troop increase. LINK

The Washington Post's Dana Milbank reflects on Sen. Ted Kennedy and Democratic leaders using "prebutters." LINK

POTUS Speaks: political analysis:

"The plan, outlined by the president in stark, simple tones in a 20-minute speech from the White House library, is vintage George Bush -- in the eyes of admirers, resolute and principled; in the eyes of critics, bull-headed, even delusional, about the prospects for success in Iraq," writes Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times in her analysis that looks at the gamble President Bush is taking against the will of the American people and many in the Congress. LINK

Remembering President Bush's past unwillingness to admit mistakes, Peter Baker writes up President Bush acknowledging "that some of the most fundamental assumption underlying the U.S. venture in Iraq were wrong."

LINK

POTUS Speaks: op-eds and editorials:

"The president will have almost no defenders and backers should this plan fail to improve things in Iraq - and make no mistake, if this proves to be the case, the war will be defunded by Congress in 2008," writes John Podhoretz in his New York Post op-ed column. LINK

". . . it must succeed - or at least be given a fair chance to succeed by the new Democratic Congress," writes the New York Post editorial board. LINK

The Washington Post ed board writes that strong opposition from Congress and the public could hurt the war effort thus President Bush must "do more to persuade the country that the sacrifice he is asking of American soldiers is necessary. And if Iraqis do not deliver on their own commitment in the coming weeks, he must reconsider his strategy--and suspend the U.S. reinforcements." LINK

The Wall Street Journal ed board concludes its editorial praising President Bush's plan to protect Iraqi civilians by wondering what the Democrats' plan is.

POTUS speaks: the polls:

On "Good Morning America," ABC News' Claire Shipman reported on a Chicago focus group's reaction to the speech and described the response thusly: "The headline? Not bad."

2008: Republicans: Romney:

Gov. Romney went on "The Glenn and Helen Show" yesterday to respond to video clips of his somewhat liberal debate performance in 1994 against Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) that is said to have been burning up the blogosphere.

He began by saying that the clips reminded him of why he ran against Kennedy in the first place before saying that the clips show "what 13 years will do."

"I'm grayer. I'm a little heavier. And I hope I've grown a bit wiser as well," said Romney.

He went on to say that "of course" he was "wrong on some issues back then," adding that he's "not embarrassed to admit that."

He then pointed to his record as governor of "the bluest of blue states" on the issues of marriage, the sanctity of life, abstinence, English immersion, school choice, the death penalty, and taxes.

He then wraps up his litany of conservative achievements by saying: "And I'm proud that at the same time, I've fought discrimination. I believe every American deserves equal opportunity."

Watch the debate clips: LINK

2008: Democrats:

With the headline Democrats' Litmus: Electability, Jackie Calmes of the Wall Street Journal writes that electability is paramount to Democratic activists donors and votes -- and it is electibility that is a big hurdle for front-runner Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL).

Of course, Calmes goes on to acknowledge that this was an issue in the 2004 race, and, of course, it was in an issue in 1992, too.

Ken Bazinet of the New York Daily News reports that the DNC winter meeting scheduled for Feb. 1-3 will be the first presidential candidate forum of the 2008 cycle. LINK

(Note: Not every '08er has accepted an invitation to speak yet and we don't expect a big cattle call photo.)

In her Chicago Sun Times column, the prolific Lynn Sweet writes up EMILY's List's likely endorsement for Sen. Clinton, should she enter the 2008 presidential race -- despite Obama adviser Steve Hilldebrand's presence on the EMILY's List board. Note, too, Sweet's reporting about an upcoming Ari Emanuel hosted fundraiser for Obama in Los Angeles despite his brother Rahm's likely support for Sen. Clinton. LINK

2008: Democrats: Dodd:

Saying that he knows "the difference between people being courteous" and people taking one's candidacy seriously, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) announced on Don Imus' program this morning that he has decided to get into the presidential race after testing the '08 waters since May 2006.

"I bring the luxury of being a fresh face to an awful lot of people," Dodd said before the I-Man shot back: "let's not get crazy with this fresh face stuff."

Prof. David Lightman of the Hartford Courant reports that Sen. Dodd plans to base his campaign in Connecticut, and intends to have Attorney General Richard Blumenthal acting as state chairman and Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3rd District, a former Dodd chief of staff, as a national co-chairmen. Sen. Dodd said this morning that he has about $5 million on hand for his run. ">LINK and ">LINK

Jennifer Medina of the New York Times previews Sen. Dodd's entrance into the presidential race and writes with a touch of understatement that Dodd "does not have the kind of national name recognition of some other Democrats who are strongly considering entering the race. . . " LINK

More from Bloomberg News on Dodd's announcement: LINK

Sen. Dodd was described as a "wonderful man" by Sen. Obama when the Illinois Senator was being interviewed on "Today."

2008: Democrats: Clinton:

A New Hampshire Democratic source tells The Note that "at the Hillsborough County Dem meeting last night, [New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairwoman] Kathy Sullivan said the '100 Club Dinner' is tentatively scheduled for March 9. The speaker was not announced, but Kathy said they were waiting for "her" to give the final okay."

Sen. Clinton responded to President Bush's speech with a statement saying the President "simply has not gotten the message sent loudly and clearly by the American people, that we desperately need a new course. The President has not offered a new direction, instead he will continue to take us down the wrong road -- only faster."

The New York Post ledes its congressional reaction piece with a couple of graphs dedicated to Sen. Clinton's response. LINK

2008: Democrats: Biden:

"Luis Navarro, who led Florida Democrats through their first successful election in 16 years, is leaving the state party to run U.S. Sen. Joe Biden's presidential bid," reports the Miami Herald's Reinhard. LINK

New York Times columnist David Brooks chastises the Democrats for never producing a viable alternative plan (though, he praises Biden's plan as an "intellectually serious framework") and the President for not facing up to reality. LINK

2008: Democrats: Richardson:

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM), scoring a small diplomatic victory, secured a 60-day cease-fire in the Sudanese Darfur region, though failed to get the Sudanese President Omar Hassan-Bashir to agree to allow the addition of UN peacekeeping forces.

LINK

2008: House:

The Washington Post's shockingly political correct Lois Romano might feel the need to apologize for using the word "catfight" (Note to Lois: what WOULD they say in Tulsa about such lilly-livered behavior? LINK), but we embrace it in all gender situations, as circumstances warrant. So we have spoken, for instance, in the past, about the "Stevens-Shrum catfight."

So it is with great fanfare that we point out that the 2008 cycle will feature not just a presidential contest but a battle for control of the House, which will be fronted by two women who will surely engage in their own well-mannered catfight. In order to counteract the Pelosi-Van Hollen thrust of moving cagey spokesgal Jennifer Crider to the D-trip, Rep. Tom Cole has parried by recruiting the hyper-aggressive Jessica Boulanger to run the NRCC communications shop, direct from her seven years with various members of the House leadership and a brief-but-effective stint at Progress for America during last year's Supreme Court battles.

Both women, like some sort of nuclear-powered cats, eat nails for breakfast.

Meow.

Democratic agenda: stem cell research:

The New York Times' Swarns writes up the Bush Administration's efforts to keep today's expected House vote on expanding federal funding for embryonic stem cell research well below a veto-proof margin. LINK

Democratic agenda: minimum wage:

Richard Simon of the Los Angeles Times Notes that 82 Republicans joined with all the Democrats to pass the minimum wage increase from $5.15 to $7.25 per hour. LINK

Bush Administration agenda:

Bob Novak writes that "at a time when the U.S. global position is precarious," Republicans in Congress say that under the leadership of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice the State Department is in a mess. LINK

No smoking in the House:

The New York Times' Kornblut on the smoking ban: LINK

Los Angeles Times: LINK

Rep. Alan Mollohan:

The Associated Press Notes Rep. Alan Mollohan's (D-WV) decision to recuse himself from conducting work on the Department of Justice's budget due to an ongoing DOJ investigation into some of his financial dealings. LINK

New Congress:

The Washington Post's David Broder eyes Democratic Majority Whip Dick Durbin's task on keeping Senate Democrats on task in the 100 Hours. LINK

Dean's Democrats:

The Washington Times' Valerie Richardson reports that Democrats are having a hard time nailing down Denver as its 2008 convention site because the town is not a "union-friendly town." LINK

Other schedule items:

The Manchester, NH Republican committee hosts a forum for candidates running to be the next New Hampshire Republican State Committee chairperson, Manchester, NH. The regular meeting begins at 7:50 pm ET. The spaghetti dinner at 6:30 pm ET.

Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) holds a media availability to discuss the President's new Iraq strategy at 10:45 am ET in the Senate Radio-TV Gallery Studio.

House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH) holds an on-camera press briefing at 11:15 am ET in the House Radio-Television Correspondents Gallery.

The Senate takes up ethics reform at 9:30 am ET.

The House of Representative convenes at 10:00 am ET to consider legislation to expand stem cell research.

First Lady Laura Bush participated at a tour and then delivers remarks at the restored Treasury Building at 9:10 am ET.