Remembering always our three rings -- the multi-act play that is the political winding down of the Iraq war, the other parts of the 2007-8 legislative agenda, and the looming 2008 presidential race -- the first two rings moved along in tandem (as they will for some time) over the weekend.

On Iraq, the President had his best TV performance in years, minueting with Scott Pelley on "60 Minutes," but that was largely offset by the grim news coverage out of Iraq (and the Gang of 500 mindset, which demands a fight over funding).

Ring Two remains in suspended animation (although check out Robin Toner's must-read New York Times piece which adds another brick to the theory that the Democrats have their PR act together LINK).

On Ring Three, all eyes are on the Junior Senator from Illinois, as he gets ready, apparently, to do some kabuki toe dipping.

So, without further ado, and back by popular demand, the ABC's of Barack Hussein Obama -- questions and answers, with only the most discerning Note readers being able to tell which are questions and which are answers.

B is for bedlam, which is what we will see on the cable nets when this thing pops.

A is for Axelrod (David), Obama's chief strategist, who told an interviewer last week regarding an imminent announcement: "It could come in two steps, because legally, in order to fully plan, you sometimes need to form an interim committee or an exploratory committee."

R is for Robert Gibbs, the Obama adviser who gets more voicemails and emails a day than do John Weaver and Howard Wolfson combined.

A is for advisers to Obama, and the Chicago Tribune did a favor for bookers everywhere over the weekend with a profile of them all. (Or did they miss some?) LINK

C is for Clinton, whose extended political family includes someone(s) who, (authorized or not), will try to sew doubts about Obama's experience.

K is for King, whose holiday Obama decided not to announce on. (thank you)

H is for hope, which, if you look at the fundraising commitments, doesn't seem so audacious after all.

U is for underdog, which, we predict, is a status he will attempt to reclaim in his announcement speech.

S is for Senate, where some Democratic Clinton-Obama colleagues privately (for now) have some serious worries about Clinton Fatigue.

S is for Sweet (the Sun-Times' Lynn), who still lives in fear of being scooped by the Trib. LINK

E is for Edwards (Johnny Reid), the only other Democratic presidential candidate not named "Clinton" who currently has an effective and aggressive anti-Obama strategy.

I is for issues, and he is going to need some fast.

N is for 'Net, where, if this is real, Obama should raise millions by May 1.

O is for Oprah, whose production schedule this week has been studied by all hard-charging reporters.

B is for Barnett, one of many FOBs and FOHs suddenly feeling very torn.

A is for Andy Shaw, superstar (of WLS) who just might spring an Andy Hiller pop quiz on his hometown candidate. LINK

M is for Michelle Obama, whose role will be at least 1/3 part Hillary Rodham, but how much Judy Steinberg?

A is for "any minute now" -- so be ready.

As we wait, today's other biggest political event comes courtesy of PBS.

President Bush will do an interview today for PBS' "Newshour with Jim Lehrer." The interview is set to air at 6:00 pm ET (excerpt release TBD).

Sen. Clinton's much anticipated post-CODEL press conference is being moved to tomorrow to accommodate part of the CODEL that remained in Germany unexpectedly. (On Sunday, Adam Nagourney and Patrick Healy of the New York Times set the stage for Sen. Clinton's now-delayed remarks. LINK

Also, jury selection is scheduled to begin at 9:30 am ET in the Scooter Libby trial in Washington, DC. Keep hitting that refresh button on your favorite blogs for updates. LINK

In South Carolina today, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) announces that he has won the endorsement of South Carolina House Speaker Bobby Harrell. More from the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza. LINK

Sen. McCain touts the endorsement on a three-city Palmetto State tour with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster which began at Greenville Downtown Airport at 9:00 am. The group also holds a press conference at the South Carolina Statehouse at 11:30 am ET and then at Charleston International Airport at 1:00 pm ET.

President Bush meets with the Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon in the Oval Office at 1:15 pm ET. The Major-League-Baseball-team-owner-turned-president then participates in a photo op and delivers remarks to the 2006 Major League Baseball champion St. Louis Cardinals in the East Room of the White House at 2:35 pm ET.

Vice President Cheney delivers remarks at the naming ceremony for the USS Gerald R. Ford at the Pentagon at 11:00 am ET.

The Senate returns today and resumes its consideration of the ethics bill with earmark disclosure scheduled to be one of the hot topics of debate.

The House convenes at 12:30 pm ET for morning business.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) holds his weekly pen and pad briefing with reporters at noon ET at the Capitol.

The Supreme Court hears oral arguments at 10:00 am ET. Among the cases it will hear today are Safeco Insurance Co. v. Burr and GEICO v. Edo. Consolidated. These cases pit insurance companies against consumers over the issue of whether the companies should be required to notify customers when their credit score is used against them.

Be sure to check out the rest of today's schedule items and a look at the week ahead in politics below.

2008: Democrats: Obama:

Under the headline "Obama Hat Set for Ring," The New York Post's Maggie Haberman reports that several sources say that Obama will reveal something tomorrow and that the plan is for his headquarters to be in Chicago with a fundraising operation in New York. LINK

In an article headlined "Obama Inches Closer to Announcing," the Chicago Tribune's David Mendell writes that Sen. Barack Obama has added "a 'very' to the 'soon,'" but also Noted that he is having some security and privacy considerations referring to the People magazine photo, "Finding out that there was a photographer lurking in the bushes when I was playing on the beach with my kids is a source of concern. But that's not going to stop me from doing what I think is best for the country and how I can best serve." LINK

The Chicago Sun-Times' Maureen O'Donnell cites Obama's spokesman Robert Gibbs as (once again) saying that the decision would be announced this week, but Obama made clear he purposely didn't make the announcement on Martin Luther King Day, "'We will have an announcement very soon, but I didn't want to use this day to indicate my plans because I am humbled by what Dr. King accomplished.'" LINK

"Today, the nation's leading grassroots movement to encourage Illinois Senator Barack Obama to run for President in 2008 announced the launch of ObamaWasRight.com, an affiliated website and blog dedicated to discussion of the War in Iraq," reads a DraftObama.org press release.

2008: Democrats: Gore:

The Boston Globe's Scot Lehigh pens an op-ed arguing that former Vice President Al Gore just might be the Democrats' strongest candidate in 2008. LINK

With all due respect to Scot, we doubt this part, but if true, it is huge news: "Another Democratic source says that in recent weeks, the former vice president's camp has quietly put out feelers to presidential politicos, asking whether they are committed for 2008."

2008: Democrats: Edwards:

If John Edwards is elected president in 2008, history will likely record that his politically clever speech on Sunday urging greater opposition to the war in Iraq was a big moment in his quest.

Raleigh's News & Observer reporter Rob Christensen evaluates the two-year work former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) did for the anti-poverty center at UNC-Chapel Hill -- which gave Sen. Edwards a vehicle to talk about the issue that has become a centerpiece in his quest for the White House. LINK

For the Political Radar, ABC News' Teddy Davis wrote over the weekend that "based on conversations with the liberal interest groups which constitute the recently formed anti-escalation coalition," John Edwards, who voted for the Iraq war in 2002, "seems to have repaired his relations with anti-war activists by authoring a 2005 Washington Post op-ed which began with the words 'I was wrong,' by calling for the immediate withdrawal of 40,000-50,000 troops, and by urging Congress to flex the power of the purse." LINK

In the New Republic's must-read cover story on John Edwards as "The Accidental Populist," Jason Zengerle has Elizabeth Edwards reacting to Bill Clinton telling the New Yorker that her husband ran for president prematurely by saying: "'During the campaign, Bill Clinton was enormously supportive of John, constantly giving him advice and encouraging him in every conceivable way. At no point in my recollection did John ever get off the phone after a conversation with him where he said, 'Bill thinks it's too early for me.' Never. Not once.' Was this just Bill trying to talk down a potential rival to Hilary? 'I can come to the same supposition anybody else can about why he said that.'" LINK

Politics of Iraq:

Results of a weekend USA Today/Gallup Poll show that " President Bush's address to the nation last week failed to move public opinion in support of his plan to increase U.S. troop levels in Iraq and left Americans more pessimistic about the likely outcome of the war," reports Susan Page of USA Today. LINK

Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) says that the Iraqi government must meet specific conditions in order to prove their readiness to take control of their own country before sending over more U.S. troops to Iraq, reports the Union Leader's John DiStaso. LINK

As Secretaries Rice and Gates hit the road to sell the new U.S. strategy for Iraq, the Wall Street Journal's Greg Jaffe and Neil King Jr. report that they are "hammering the same message: that the cost of U.S. failure would be a stronger and increasingly aggressive Iran."

"Congressional Progressive Caucus chairwomen Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Out of Iraq Caucus Chairwoman Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) will tout their legislation tomorrow calling for a withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq within six months," reports The Hill's Jacobs. LINK

While attending a Martin Luther King holiday event in San Francisco, Speaker Pelosi pushed back against the President's "60 Minutes" remarks and proclaimed --without much specificity -- the need for congressional oversight over President Bush's plan to add more troops to Iraq. The New York Sun's Gerstein has the story. LINK

In an interview with Bloomberg's Al Hunt over the weekend, Rep. David Obey (D-WI), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said: "It's pretty hard to stop the president from building up with troops who are already there." In the end, Obey said, "this is going to stop when the Republican members of Congress go down to the White House the way they did with Nixon and Watergate and say: `Mr. President, the jig's up, the country isn't supporting this anymore and neither are we.' I hope it happens very soon because there is no point to seeing more Americans killed in a futile policy.'" LINK

Bush Administration agenda: State of the Union:

In their piece curtain-raising today's no-new Social Security taxes policy conference on Capitol Hill, Bloomberg's Matthew Benjamin and Kevin Carmichael have Grover Norquist saying: "'I talked to the president directly, who told me he would not do this,' referring to a possible increase in Social Security taxes." LINK

In every one of his State of the Union addresses, President Bush has pledged to wean the U.S. off foreign oil, report Bloomberg's Brendan Murray and Tina Seeley. "With the Democrats now in control of Congress, he may be able to start delivering on that promise." LINK

On the issue of health care, the Wall Street Journal's John McKinnon and Deborah Solomon are reporting that the "big new idea" in President Bush's State of the Union this year could involve "tax changes around employer-provided plans. While officials said major decisions are still being made, the White House tax proposal likely would cap some taxpayers' ability to exclude employer-provided health care from their income, as part of an effort to broaden availability of health-care insurance."

"Currently, health-care benefits aren't subject to federal income tax, no matter how generous the benefit -- a factor many economists have said has contributed to health-care inflation. The Bush administration is considering a change that would tax some executives' 'gold-plated' plans and possibly even affect some rank-and-file union members with particularly generous benefits. The savings would be used to pay for tax credits for lower-income people who buy their own health insurance or for state insurance pools, or both. The effect could be relatively small now but could grow over time."

"Some of the administration's possible proposals, particularly the changes to the tax code, are likely to meet resistance from Democrats, who worry about further undermining the market for employer-provided coverage and driving up costs for those who remain in the system."

Tom Hamburger and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar of the Los Angeles Times take a closer look at the unlikely coalition of powerful business interests, labor unions, and others as they push for extending medical insurance to millions of Americans. LINK

"The broader coalition of insurance companies, doctors and activists on Thursday will present a detailed proposal to expand healthcare coverage to as many Americans as possible -- starting with children. Coalition members range from generally conservative groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to Families USA, a liberal advocacy group that was one of the principal champions of the Clinton healthcare proposal."

The Libby trial:

On "Good Morning America," ABC News' Claire Shipman reported that the Libby trial promises to be a "high-profile blood-letting. . . and the central subject matter -- Iraq -- is just devastating for the White House right now."

In his curtain-raiser, Richard B. Schmitt of the Los Angeles Times writes "the trial is likely to provide a glimpse into how the White House responded to critics of its Iraq war policies. It will also include testimony from Cheney, marking the first time that a vice president has appeared in a criminal trail." LINK

Martinez for RNC Chairman:

In a must-read, the Washington Times' Ralph Z. Hallow reports that "rebellion" is "brewing" among conservatives on the Republican National Committee over President's Bush's attempt to "impose" Sen. Mel Martinez (R-FL), who favors "amnesty" for illegal aliens, as "general chairman" of the party. LINK

"'I will be voting against Senator Martinez if he is nominated for any chairmanship of the RNC,' Tina Benkiser, Texas Republican Party chairman, told The Washington Times yesterday."

Is this normal RZH pre-RNC meeting panting, or the real deal?

Democratic agenda:

Democratic leaders claim to be seeking some common ground with Republicans on the controversial social issues of the day as part of their plan to govern from what they say is the center of the ideological spectrum. Robin Toner of the New York Times takes a closer look. LINK


The Hill's Elana Schor writes up the endorsement primary -- presidential hopefuls gaining early nods from home-town MOCs and also from those representing early states in the nomination calendar, including South Carolina and Iowa. LINK

The Hill's Sam Youngman assesses the reluctance on the party of many MOC's from Iowa and New Hampshire to endorse a presidential candidate at this point in the cycle. LINK

For the Sunday edition of "World News," ABC News' Laura Marquez looked at the positions that '08ers have staked out on the Iraq war. Follow this link to read the story and watch the video: LINK

2008: Republicans: McCain:

"Gov. Tim Pawlenty's decision Monday to help Sen. John McCain pursue a possible run for the White House comes as the two Republicans have diverged in recent days on a key issue: sending more troops to Iraq," write the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Doyle and Olson. LINK

"While McCain supports an escalation of troops, Pawlenty says it's unfair that Minnesota soldiers will have their tours extended as part of the strategy."

In a Saturday must-read looking at Sen. McCain's isolation on the Iraq war, the Washington Post's Dan Balz and Shailagh Murray wrote: "As a forceful advocate for a policy that appears to fly in the face of the message voters sent in November, the politician who has long played for the center of the electorate now finds himself isolated on the right." LINK

Roll Call's David Drucker jumps ahead to the dilemma Gov. Janet Napolitano would face in appointing McCain's Senate replacement if he wins the Republican nomination.

2008: Republicans: Giuliani:

The AP's Mike Glover reports that Giuliani has signed Jim Nussle, a former Iowa congressman and 2006 candidate for governor, to advise him on his possible presidential run. LINK

Note that Nussle has signed on with Giuliani despite what Glover calls "deep philosophical differences between the two Republicans" on abortion and gay rights. (And/but the two clearly share an appreciation for the pro skills of Maria Comella.)

National Review Online Editor Kathryn Lopez writes an op-ed piece in the Albany Times Union, laying out the Republican presidential field, and arguing that the strategy of waiting may prove fruitful for Giuliani. LINK

Stu Rothenberg writes in a Roll Call column how he finds it "very difficult" to conceive of Giuliani being nominated president by the Republican Party whose core, social views differ from the former mayor's.

2008: Republicans: Huckabee:

In a column that dubs him the "Next New Republican Thing," the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne writes: "If Republicans want a conservative nominee who has never attacked Bush on Iraq but can still signal a change in direction, Huckabee could be their man." LINK

The State runs an Associated Press story reporting that the South Carolina Republican Party has named Hogan Gidley as its new executive director, who among other credits has served as a spokesman for former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR). LINK

2008: Republicans: Hunter:

The North County Times' Mark Walker reports Rep. Duncan Hunter's (R-CA) long-shot bid for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination got a boost over the weekend when he emerged on top in a straw poll of Republican precinct committeemen in Arizona's most-populated county. LINK

Copley News Service's Dana Wilke writes that in the coming weeks, Rep. Hunter will counter pessimism about his long-shot presidential prospects with a message that contrasts his staunch conservatism on defense, trade policy, and immigration with the more moderate views of other GOP candidates. LINK

2008: Republicans: Thompson:

Iowa Muscatine Journal's Pam Martz writes up Gov. Tommy Thompson's (R-WI) recent visit to the area where explained some of his positions to the assembled 25 potential supporters. LINK

2008: Republicans: Tancredo:

Des Moines Register's David Yepsen reports that Rep. Tom Tancredo, who signed up Iowa activist Bill Salier to chair his Iowa campaign, "could be a real factor in Iowa's leadoff 2008 caucuses" and could potentially shift the field of GOP candidates to the right with his hard-line position against illegal immigration. LINK

2008: Republicans: Paul:

ABC News' Jake Tapper's reports Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX) filed papers on Thursday with the Texas Secretary of State's office to set up the "Ron Paul 2008 Presidential Exploratory Committee" -- but Rep. Paul is considered a fringe candidate with the Republican Party and known for his eccentric congressional votes, Notes Tapper on his "Political Punch" blog at abcnews.com. LINK

2008: Democrats: Clinton:

The AP's Holly Ramer and Mike Glover Note that while both Clintons are first-rate players in their ability to strengthen their ties in early nominating states, forging new friendships is just as important. New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairwoman Kathy Sullivan explains that her state has changed since the Clintons first campaigned there and recommends presidential hopefuls to speak to the top five Democrats in New Hampshire: the governor, two members of Congress, the state Senate president and House speaker. LINK

Roll Call's Nicole Duran and Josh Kurtz follow Lynn Sweet's EMILY's List reporting with a look at the well-financed group's first potential foray into putting its muscle behind a presidential candidate.

2008: Democrats: Dodd:

The Harford Courant's indispensable David Lightman offers an excellent look at Sen. Chris Dodd's (D-CT) non pie-in-the-sky approach to his presidential run. LINK

2008: Democrats: Biden:

The AP's influential Jim Davenport reports Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) -- before an NAACP march and rally in South Carolina -- said Monday that the Confederate flag should be kept off South Carolina Statehouse grounds. LINK

2008: Democrats: Richardson:

Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) delivers his State of the State address today. The New Mexico Daily Times has a preview. LINK

2008: Democratic National Convention:

The Rocky Mountain News' Penny Parker, in an editorial victory dance, rubs the Democrats' choice of Denver for their 2008 nominating convention in New York's face. LINK


The Los Angeles Times' Mark Barabak took a Monday look at the in-development Nevada caucuses. LINK

"The Democrats have hired experienced hands from Iowa to oversee the caucuses, along with a team of national political strategists. The state's gambling industry and other business interests are being tapped to finance the operation. Nobody wants to stumble in the spotlight, or embarrass Reid, Nevada's senior Democrat."

"Still, it is unclear how vigorously the Democratic presidential hopefuls will compete. No one is abandoning Iowa or New Hampshire -- the leadoff caucus and primary states, respectively -- to take up residence in Sparks or Elko. But no one is talking about ignoring Nevada, either. A one-two sweep of Iowa and Nevada could make nationally known candidates such as Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois or former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina unstoppable heading into New Hampshire's primary, tentatively set for three days after Nevada's caucuses."

A Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial takes a critical look at Speaker Pelosi's move to exempt American Samoa from the minimum wage hike. LINK

Sen. Allard bows out:

The Denver Post's Karen Crummy and Anne Mulkern report on Sen. Wayne Allard's (R-CO) decision to honor his campaign pledge to serve no more than two terms in the US Senate, and will not run for re-election in 2008, saying, "In an age when promises are cast away as quickly as yesterday's newspaper, I believe a promise made is a promise kept." Allard's announcement was followed by the distinctive sound of hats being thrown into rings from all directions, including those of Rep. Mark Udall (D-CO) and Rep. Scott McInnis (R-CO) who, dispensing with equivocation said there was "no question I will run." LINK

Sen. Allard's announcement that he does not intend to seek re-election has made the GOP's path to reclaiming the Senate majority in 2008 more difficult and opened up what will be one of the most closely watched Senate races of the cycle, reports The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny. LINK

Here's the Rocky Mountain News' Sprengelmeyer and Barge on the Allard-induced "free-for-all." LINK

A Denver Post editorial laments Allard's early announcement, positing that his influence in the Senate will only be diminished by his sudden transition into lame-duckhood. LINK

The Los Angeles Times: LINK

2008: House:

National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) chairman Tom Cole, who anticipates 2008 to be more of an "issue-based election," is optimistic that Republicans will take back the House, writes The Hill's Aaron Blake. LINK

Big Casino budget politics:

The Washington Post's Lori Montgomery and Nell Henderson look at efforts on the part of President Bush to shift the burden to Democrats on the deficit by espousing the goal of a balanced budget by 2012 while leaving it to Congress to make the painful choices to get there. LINK

The Democratic majority:

With lots of lobbyists returning to Congress to work for the new Democratic majority, the Washington Post's Jeffrey Birnbaum reports that the Hill's anti-revolving-door rules don't work in both directions. LINK

The Schwarzenegger Era:

The San Francisco Chronicle ed board is none too pleased with the Schwarzenegger's support of Bush's decision to send additional troops to Iraq. LINK


Jeff Dufour and Patrick Gavin of the Washington Examiner report impersonator/comedian Rich Little has been tapped to headline the April 21 White House Correspondents Association annual dinner. LINK

Political potpourri:

The Boston Herald's Casey Ross writes that Howard Dean's appearance in Boston for Martin Luther King day festivities could be a sign that Gov. Deval Patrick (D-MA) is "already being eyed by power-brokers on the national political stage." LINK

The New York Post caught New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's lighthearted 2008 presidential endorsement of Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) "if he chooses to run as a New Yorker." LINK

Other Tuesday schedule items:

Four of the biggest U.S. anti-tax organizations hold a "policy conference" on Capitol Hill today to warn Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson away from a deal with Democrats to overhaul Social Security that includes higher payroll contributions. Today's conference is organized by Mallory Factor's Free Enterprise Fund.

As the new chair of the subcommittee on immigration, border security and refugees, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) holds a hearing today to address the issue of Iraqi refugees. For security reasons, two of the Iraqi witnesses testifying at this hearing are using pseudonyms to protect their identity. Photographs and video of these witnesses will be prohibited.

The political week ahead:

On Wednesday, President Bush participates in a visit to National Institutes of Health Laboratories at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, MD at 10:35 am ET for some pre-SOTU policy test driving. Mr. Bush also participates in a roundtable discussion on advances in cancer prevention at 1:15 pm ET.

On Thursday, the Republican National Committee's winter meeting gets underway with House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and outgoing RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman as headliners. Also, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) delivers a speech to The Jordan Company at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York, NY.

On Saturday, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) is set to announce his intentions to seek the 2008 Republican nomination for president in Topeka, KS.