The Note: Cram Time for Democrats

Like college students pulling all-nighters, nothing forces Congress into action like looming deadlines. And this is the week where we will finally learn whether Democratic leaders pass Politics 101.

Consider House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's, D-Calif., pre-Memorial Day to-do list: Pass a war-funding bill without sparking a revolt from the left; keep her caucus just non-committal enough to give the immigration bill the oxygen it needs to survive the Senate; and keep her one-time choice for majority leader from being reprimanded on the House floor.

That's some serious political craftsmanship for the speaker and her allies to pull off. Considering the track record -- we're still waiting for the leaders of the (not-so-new) Congress to get something substantive signed into law -- there's little reason to expect big breakthroughs. And Pelosi certainly didn't sound like she's in the mood for compromise yesterday on ABC's "This Week": "When it comes to the war in Iraq, the president has a tin ear. . . . If the president says, 'No accountability; I want a blank check with a war without end,' we'll have to oppose that."

Pelosi may have public opinion on her side, but President Bush still has the votes on his, a point reiterated on "This Week" by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky, who offered Pelosi a quick civics lesson on the powers enjoyed by the minority party. "What the speaker needs to do is understand that there are two houses," McConnell said. That leaves a handful of Republican lawmakers in choice spots this week, and will test the political dexterity of Democrats who are anxious to show accomplishments -- and end the war.

As we ease into Memorial Day with record gas prices (watch for more Republican noise on that front), the latest 2008 storyline is being generated by a Des Moines Register poll published over the weekend. Coming off a strong opening debate performance and some early advertising, former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., "sprinted ahead" in Iowa with a 12-point lead in Iowa over Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., writes the Register's Jonathan Roos. LINK

It's tighter on the Democratic side, but former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., is shown to be holding an edge over Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. (third-place!), and Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M (welcome to the double digits). LINK

Insert the requisite caveats -- it's too early for polls to matter, the GOP field is still taking shape, and nobody really knows the impact of a scrambled primary calendar. But there are some happy consultants in Boston, Chapel Hill, and Santa Fe this morning.

And why not poll now when we may be choosing a 2008 nominee in 2007? Florida Gov. Charlie Crist this morning will tip a domino that could leave Iowa and New Hampshire voting before Christmas, by signing a bill that will have Florida pick its presidential choices Jan. 29, 2008. The bill also (finally) answers a problem made evident in 2000 by requiring all Florida voting machines to leave a verifiable paper trail.

Aside from the busy legislative agenda, this week could also bring a no-confidence vote in the Senate on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, though Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., dropped an intriguing hint about a way that vote could be avoided. "I have a sense . . . that before the vote is taken, that Attorney General Gonzales may step down," Specter said yesterday on CBS' "Face the Nation." LINK

Richardson formally announces his presidential candidacy today at 1 pm ET in Los Angeles, emphasizing his Hispanic heritage. "I'm not running as a Hispanic candidate, but I'm trying to convince Hispanics that I am Hispanic, and they don't know," he tells The Washington Post's Joel Achenbach, who sees his heritage as a lens to help focus Richardson's "fuzzy profile." LINK

Campaign announcements can be handy political springboards, but we're not sure you get to bite this particular apple after you've been on stage at a presidential debate -- and after you've started running campaign advertisements. Richardson is also facing an accusation that he exaggerated a conversation with the family of a fallen Marine for political effect. LINK

The formal reprimand Republicans have prepared against Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., will be filed in the House tonight, and Democrats can't put off a vote on the House floor beyond Wednesday, ABC's Jake Tapper reports.

While former vice president Al Gore (losing weight, Mr. Vice President?) is free with attacks on the Bush administration in his new book, he told ABC's "Good Morning America" today that he's still not in the race -- though he's still not slamming any doors shut. "I'm not a candidate, and this book is not a political book, it's not a candidate book at all," Gore said. "I'm not pondering it. I'm not focused on that." LINK

Weekend round-up:

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., used a speech at the late Jerry Falwell's university to attack the "growing culture of radical secularism" -- and bagged an almost-endorsement from Falwell's son. Jerry Falwell Jr. told reporters that his father was "very excited when he heard that Newt was even considering running for president," per Michael Shear of The Washington Post. LINK

Edwards' anti-poverty work gets more scrutiny, with Business Week finding that the not-for-profit he founded between his presidential bids "became a perch for several once and future Edwards staff members." The center also funded a national speaking tour for Edwards, and spent $259,000 on consultants -- though Edwards isn't revealing who got those payments, or who gave money to the center. LINK

The New York Times yesterday took a deep (largely positive) look at Clinton's Arkansas-era tenure as a member of Wal-Mart's board of directors, finding her fighting for including women in management but "largely silent" on the company anti-union activities. LINK

Two Republican governors -- Arnold Schwarzenegger (Calif.) and Jodi Rell (Conn.) -- are chiding the Bush administration for dragging its heels on emission controls, and have a particularly sharp assessment of the president's decision to give agencies until the end of 2008 before moving to control greenhouse gases. "To us, that again sounds like more of the same inaction and denial, and it is unconscionable," they write in a Washington Post op-ed. LINK

The kicker: Ex-presidents' edition:

"He has proven to be increasingly irrelevant," White House spokesman Tony Fratto, responding to former president Jimmy Carter's labeling the Bush administration "the worst in history." LINK

"I've decided women should run everything. George and I could go off and play golf,'' former president Bill Clinton, in his joint graduation speech with former president George H.W. Bush at the University of New Hampshire on Saturday. LINK

The Note's Must-Reads: LINK

The Note's Sneak Peek: LINK

I'll be moderating a panel discussion on the politics of global warming tomorrow morning in Washington, as part of ABC News' joint project with the Brookings Institution. Panelists will include policy advisers for four of the 2008 presidential candidates. LINK