The Note: Leap to the Left

The 2008 Democratic field took a giant leap to the left last night with one of those rare Senate votes that will be remembered for a while. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., will have plenty of opportunities to explain why they were among the small minority of 14 senators to vote against war funding (and you can bet they'll be asked about it early and often). But what does it say about their read of the political landscape that they felt the need to vote the way they did?

Both camps spun the votes as a way to force President Bush to pursue a new course in Iraq. But somehow most other Democrats didn't find it necessary to vote against war funding to convey that message. "The no vote was not the mainstream Democratic view," ABC's Jake Tapper reports, adding that, "of the 16 sitting senators who voted against going to war to begin with, 11 voted to provide funds for US troops Thursday evening."

Chalk it up to intimidation: Clinton and Obama were pushed into voting no by liberal activists and former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., who has been heeding the anti-war call for months. (Can anyone imagine a scenario under which Clinton, Obama, and Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., would have voted against war funding -- not to mention the minimum-wage add-on -- if they WEREN'T running for president?)

For the record, Obama voted first, followed by Clinton. (Her vote was more of a surprise, but she fulfilled a key political objective: keeping her voting record on the war in line with Obama's.) They both learned the John Kerry Memorial lesson last night: It's no fun to be in the Senate while running for president. They may have helped themselves with primary voters, ( can save on its advertising budget, at least for now) but voting against war funding provides the GOP with ready ammunition for the general election.

The repercussions of the vote will be felt for months outside and inside of Congress, given the deep Democratic split the vote displayed. In the House, it was the minority leader, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, tearing up in support of the bill, while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., joined many of her committee chairmen in voting against it. The Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman labels it "a historical rarity: the passage of a bill opposed by the speaker of the House and a majority of the speaker's party."

In the end, Democrats calculated that they'd rather live to wage the fight another day. That day will come in September, when this batch of funds runs out. "You can change things if you just keep at it," Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., told The Wall Street Journal's David Rogers. "By September, they'll come around, I think."

Clinton gets more '08 scrutiny today: Washington Post reporters got a hold of the two forthcoming Clinton books, and find no shortage of nuggets that will be part of the presidential mix. Per the Post's write-up, Carl Bernstein's book has her contemplating divorce and considering a run for governor of Arkansas "out of anger at her husband's indiscretions," and has her deciding as first lady "not to be forthcoming with investigators because she was convinced she was unfairly targeted."

The book by Jeff Gerth and Don Van Natta Jr. (think The New York Times is happy to see their own folks scooped by the Post?) have the Clintons formulating a "secret pact of ambition" that would have had his-and-hers, back-to-back eight-year terms as president, and has her overseeing the hiring of a private investigator to undermine Gennifer Flowers "until she is destroyed." "The book also suggests that Hillary Clinton did not read the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq in 2002 before voting to authorize war," the Post's Peter Baker and John Solomon write.

The Clinton camp, which has been anxiously awaiting the books for months, responded with relief/indifference/spin that doesn't come close to reflecting their true concern. "Is it possible to be quoted yawning?" asked Philippe Reines, her Senate spokesman.

Fresh off releasing her healthcare proposal, Clinton heads to Iowa, where the campaign memo about possibly skipping the caucuses just might come up.

Yesterday was a big victory for President Bush, who endorsed the war-funding bill in his news conference and will sign it -- quietly -- this morning. His latest words on the war were designed to brace the public for more bloodshed in Iraq -- and included hints of a new, more limited military strategy, "embracing recommendations previously spurned by the administration," writes the Los Angeles Times' Peter Spiegel.

ABC News' Jonathan Karl reports on details of January 2003 National Intelligence Council assessments of what a post-Saddam Iraq would look like. "In stark contrast to the WMD fiasco, the intelligence community was largely on target about what the United States would face in postwar Iraq," Karl writes. Here's one that doesn't look so spot-on in retrospect: "a heightened terrorist threat" that "after an initial spike would decline after three to five years."

The 2008 race is mano a mano now. It's John McCain vs. Mitt Romney, Ron Paul vs. Rudy Giuliani, and John Edwards vs. Everybody Else. The president joined Romney, R-Mass., and Giuliani, R-N.Y., in piling on Edwards' rejection of the "war on terror" label yesterday. But Edwards is relishing this fight: "Republicans running for president of the United States are trying to be a bigger, badder George Bush," he said yesterday, per the Associated Press.

ABC's Kate Snow looks at Bob Shrum's tome, where Edwards draws most of the fire. Shrum relates a story -- sharply disputed by the Edwards camp -- of asking Edwards in 1998 about his position on gay rights. Edwards' reply, according to Shrum: "I'm not comfortable around those people."

McCain and Giuliani may be playing nice with each other, but McCain, R-Ariz., is fraternizing with a sworn Giuliani enemy. With the International Association of Fire Fighters preparing to send out anti-Giuliani tapes to its members, union president Harold Schaitberger dined last night on Capitol Hill with McCain. The meeting -- which came at McCain's request -- comes after Schaitberger panned McCain's appearance before his union in March.

Former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., served plenty of red meat last night in Connecticut, ripping Democrats over their war stance -- and blasting fellow Republicans (read: McCain) who are backing the immigration bill. "We are now living in a nation that is beset by people who are suicidal maniacs," Thompson said, per The New York Sun's Ryan Sager.

Thompson's rant aside, a New York Times/CBS News poll shows broad public support for the major provisions of the immigration bill. The measure survived multiple attempts at gutting it in the Senate this week, "significantly raising the prospects that the Senate will pass the controversial measure," the Los Angeles Times' Maura Reynolds reports.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales also looks like he'll survive past Memorial Day, with the president reiterating his support for the AG at his news conference yesterday. (Feel free to draw your own interpretation of the timing of the message delivered by the bird in the Rose Garden.) Senate Democrats are planning their no-confidence vote on Gonzales for after the week-long break.

The kicker:

"It was his lucky day. . . . Everyone knows that's a sign of good luck," Dana Perino, White House spokeswoman, responding to a bird's untimely deposit on the president's arm.

The Note will return on Tuesday, May 29. Enjoy Memorial Day weekend.