So, Republican senators, what would you like to talk about when President Bush comes over for lunch today?
The war in Iraq, perhaps? Not so much, unless you want to discuss the non-timeline timeline counting the days until your patience wears out. The attorney general? Also not ideal, not with seven GOP senators joining Democrats in rebuke of Alberto Gonzales yesterday. The courts? Try to avoid discussing the judicial slap-down on "enemy combatants." Certainly the president wants to talk about the immigration bill -- but yes, that would be the same one most of you voted to filibuster last week. Just everybody promise not to say "amnesty." And you thought lunch with Cheney was awkward. . . .
The president is seeking to resurrect his leadership mantle while standing on the shakiest ground of his presidency. The issue of the moment is immigration reform -- Bush's last best chance at a domestic-policy victory -- but the challenges far exceed one piece of legislation, even if it is a monster of a bill. A president who has taken little time to cultivate relationships on Capitol Hill needs Congress more than ever -- but finds few Republicans ready and willing to follow his lead.
That is the story within the story of last night's failed "no-confidence" vote on Gonzales. Yes, it fell short of passing, but pause to consider: Seven Republicans broke ranks on a Democratic measure that was all theater and no substance -- precisely the sort of motion where party unity is normally automatic.
ABC's Jake Tapper reports that the motion's ultimate failure was a setback for Democrats who want to oust Gonzales, though he points out that "no Senate Republican offered a defense of Gonzales." (Presidential candidates Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., missed the vote. And notice how the list of GOP "ayes" coincides so well with the list of senators facing tough 2008 reelection fights.)
On the campaign front, with the presidential candidates busily raising money this week, a few new polls confirm the race's dynamics. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., holds a solid lead in New Hampshire and nation-wide, according to the new CNN/WMUR-TV and Bloomberg/Los Angeles Times polls.
In the New Hampshire poll, despite Clinton's 14-point lead, Obama is seen as more "believable" and "likeable." Poll director Andy Smith says of Clinton, in a sentence that could define her march toward the nomination: "Although she is not particularly liked, she is the one viewed as the strongest leader."
In the Bloomberg/LA Times poll, Clinton is well in the lead, but Obama fares better than Clinton "in hypothetical match-ups with Republicans in the general election, running even or well ahead of the GOP's top contenders," Michael Finnegan writes in the LA Times. And former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., is fading nationally, garnering the support of just 8 percent of likely Democratic voters.
Fred Thompson is the GOP headline: He surges into second place, bleeding support away from front-runner Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is running third. Giuliani is the clear leader, but Thompson, R-Tenn., "has the most momentum on the Republican side," Bloomberg's Heidi Przybyla writes, though remember that he hasn't faced a single tough question on the trail yet.