(Still) Casting (About) and Counting

37 Days Until Inauguration Day

Today at 11:30 am ET, President Bush awards the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Ambassador Paul Bremer, Gen. Tommy Franks (Ret.), and former CIA Director George Tenet at the White House.

The President and Mrs. Bush attend a reception for the Diplomatic Corps at Blair House this evening.

And the Prune Book's out!!

The two most evocative lines of the political day so far come from the morning papers. First, from the Union Leader, U.S. Magistrate Judge James Muirhead, referring to James Tobin, the former New England chairman of President Bush's re-election campaign who was arraigned on two criminal counts yesterday, said, ""He's no different than a street hooker in Manchester. If he's guilty, then I find his crime as offensive as any other crime." LINK

Second, in Washington state, where some newly found votes might allow the Democrats to pull ahead in the ongoing recount, a Republican lawyer got off this beauty at a state Supreme Court hearing (per the Seattle Times):

"'Your election law is not a blank coloring book to be filled at the desire of a candidate because they don't like the way a recount is going,' Mark Braden said." LINK

After that, it's all down hillish, with Kerik becoming a (mostly) local story, and no Homeland Security nominee in obvious sight.

The AP reports the tide could be turning to favor Democratic gubernatorial candidate Christine Gregoire in Washington state -- where 500 uncounted votes have been discovered in Democratic-leaning King County which were mistakenly rejected after the election. Meanwhile, the state Supreme Court heard arguments where Democrats asked county officials to reconsider all of Washington's rejected ballots, "including those thrown out because of voter errors such as failing to sign the ballot or missing a deadline to verify a signature." LINK

The decision from the court could come at any time.

The Seattle papers look at the newly found votes and the Supreme Court arguments. LINK and LINK

And the arguments are actually pretty interesting stuff.

With some serious trade deficit numbers out today, gas prices have fallen for the sixth straight week, AP reports. LINK

David Brooks of the New York Times decodes what he thinks will happen during the President's economic conference this week -- i.e., no news, and lots of agreeing with the President. We've never seen a reference to Englebert Humperdink in a column about economic policy before, but it's kind of charming. LINK

And it is now apparent that the left-wing commetariat is going to be going hammer and tong against personal savings accounts, and we'll all have to see whether that matters or not.

The Boston Globe's Tom Oliphant gets in the queue today. LINK

The New York Times' Edmund Andrews does a great job of laying out the issues involved in the various plans to overhaul Social Security, although he doesn't quite get at the "lowering of the guaranteed minimum benefit raison d'etre" part of all this. LINK

"Because Mr. Bush has yet to spell out any details of how he would overhaul the system, his stated principles sound like a free lunch: benefits for people at or near retirement should not go down; taxes should not go up; people who do not want private accounts should be able to keep drawing benefits."

More supplementals are needed for Iraq and Afghanistan. The Wall Street Journal's Greg Jaffe and Jackie Calmes report that the Pentagon will ask the Bush Administration for another $80 billion in emergency funding -- up from the expected $70 billion to $75 billion, and, according to one defense official, pushing total military costs since the war in Iraq began to more than $230 billion. LINK

In a Chicago Tribune op-ed, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) argues that the "ownership society" promised by more privatized Social Security and health care accounts still needs government oversight so that citizens are not left without level playing field in the interest of free market forces. Democrats will put up a fight for government oversight of retirement and health care, he writes. LINK

He says the Clinton Administration erred in some cases in this balancing act. On Monday, Bernie Kerik said "I'm not perfect" and asked for forgiveness. LINK and LINK

In an interview with the Associated Press on Monday, Sen. John McCain said he had "no confidence" in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. LINK

The New York Times' Slackman and Cooper look at George Pataki's reshuffling of his political deck and his ruminations over the re-elect, challenge Hillary Clinton, and '08 options. LINK

Dana Milbank, the Washington Post's resident Inigo Montoya, suggests the White House consider its use of the term "full confidence." LINK

Milbank writes, "In fact, the phrase has become a Bush euphemism, a warning to the person in question that this might be a good time to circulate the résumé." The Washington Post's E. J. Dionne Notes Democrats have come down with a bad case of Rove Envy, and they should hope they don't get better anytime soon as "It is a form of jealousy that could have some useful consequences."

"The longing is for the strategic clarity and organizational acumen that Karl Rove, President Bush's political top gun, brought to the 2004 campaign. Put aside the fact that Rove has been mythologized by both his friends and his enemies. Ignore (just for the moment) the fact that Bush's campaign against John Kerry was relentlessly negative. What really irks Democrats is that they did a lot of things right this year and were still out-hustled by the GOP. Figuring out why is -- and should be -- a Democratic obsession."

The Washington Post's Peter Baker and Ceci Connolly discuss EPA head turned HHS nominee Mike Leavitt -- in the aftermath of the DHS nomination SNAFU. By most accounts Leavitt is a thoughtful guy who weighs decisions carefully, though Physicians for Social Responsibility isn't exactly rolling out the red carpet. LINK

BC '04 electioneer Marc F. Racicot says of Leavitt, "He does not have an incendiary personality," and The Note adjudges Racicot qualified to make that judgment.

Meanwhile Bush has a little more Cabinet business to consider. According to the Post's duo, "Two senior administration officials said yesterday that CIA Director Porter J. Goss was not under consideration and would remain at Langley working under the new intelligence director."

Bush still needs a U.N. ambassador, a new EPA director, and replacements for NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe and David Hobbs, the chief White House lobbyist on Capitol Hill.

The Wall Street Journal's Sarah Lueck profiles Leavitt, laying out his role at HHS and floating a couple of potential highlights of the confirmation process. LINK

"As governor, Mr. Leavitt was viewed as an innovator who helped shape national Medicaid policy. He said Monday that thousands of families in Utah had gained coverage as a result of his Medicaid policies. But critics said those policies had also cut benefits or increased costs for many people already on Medicaid," writes the New York Times' Robert Pear. LINK

Pear's colleague Michael Janofsky takes a look at Leavitt's record in Utah. LINK

Though he was not tapped to head HHS, Mark McClellan still had a busy Monday. The AP reports errors in Medicare payments rang up to $20 Billion last year and McClellan plans to do something about it. "Medicare wants to cut the rate of questionable payments by more than half, to 4%, by 2008," he said. LINK

The New York Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg looks at Senate Democrats' promise yesterday to be active on oversight. LINK

"The announcement, which came on a sleepy afternoon in an otherwise deserted Capitol, amounted to a throwing down of the gauntlet by Democrats, who are struggling to find a voice in Washington with Republicans in control of the White House and both houses of Congress."

The Washington Post's Helen Dewar reports Senate Democrats have plans for "wide-ranging hearings to examine Bush administration policies and conduct." Democrats charge Republicans who control both houses of Congress shirked responsibility for oversight of the GOP administration. LINK

Dewar reports Sens. Dorgan and Reid plan to take up "contract abuses in Iraq, the administration's use of prewar intelligence, misleading cost estimates for the Medicare drug benefit, the cost of the administration's plan for private Social Security accounts, the implementation of the No Child Left Behind education bill and administration policies on global warming."

Former Vice President Al Gore showed up at Harvard yesterday "as part of a star-studded panel" including Lawrence Summers and Michael B. McElroy, and criticized President Bush's environmental policies -- with a PowerPoint!! -- questioning where in the Administration's list of priorities global climate change follows terrorism. The Harvard Crimson's Reed Rayman Notes Summers' rather uncomfortable response to a question about the his role in promoting economic development , and is sure to mention Gore's bag of amusing quips about the Bush Administration ("when a student asked Gore for a catchphrase to describe the people obstructing the work against global warming, Gore fired back: 'Republicans'"). LINK

Chuck Lane of the Washington Post reports Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist "will not vote in every case that has been argued this term, and will instead participate in certain cases only when necessary to prevent a tie vote, the Supreme Court announced yesterday." Instead Rehnquist will become a tie-breaker. LINK

Which reminds us of that old Al Gore joke from his Senate presiding days ("Every time I vote, we win . . . ").

Electors in Ohio cast their 20 ballots for President Bush yesterday at a proceeding in Columbus as challengers asked the Ohio Supreme Court to review Bush's 119,000 vote win, the AP reports. LINK

Sen. Charles Schumer has tapped Sen. Jack Reed's chief of staff, J.B. Poersch, to serve as executive director of the Caucus' campaign arm. LINK

ABC News' very own Jake Tapper, writing for New York magazine, considers "one" as the loneliest number for Dems. LINK

"That is to say, the top five Zip Codes donating to the Democratic Party in the last election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, all started with New York City's telltale "1"—10021, 10022, 10023, 10024, and 10028. (They are also in the country's top seven Zip Codes for expensive real estate in 2002, according to Forbes.)"

"Of course, no major party can afford to neglect such geographic concentrations of cash. But one former Kerry campaign aide says New York money often came attached with bad advice: 'Fundamentally they think [President Bush] is stupid, and they can't fathom how anybody in their right mind would vote for him. There is a real elitism that is very dangerous.'"

Not even Christmas is non-partisan any more. Jennifer Skalka of the Chicago Tribune looks at a Web site called Choose the Blue, which helps Democratic voters who are stumped in their holiday buying choose merchants and companies that contributed to Democratic candidates. LINK