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

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