Recapping some lessons from a busy holiday week on the trail: There aren't enough festivals and parades to go around in Iowa. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is looking skyward (!) at the campaign kitty of Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas. Former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., doesn't care about his fund-raising numbers, except when he does. Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., wants to clone Paul Simon. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., wants to clone her husband (and Bob Barker just may be available to serve as a double, though she'd like to lose the Marc Rich baggage).
Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is just itching for this campaign to get personal (and the Clintons wouldn't mind much either). Former senator Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., has delayed his announcement so long that his honeymoon ended before his campaign is even official. And President Bush's commutation of "Scooter" Libby hasn't quite worked out the way he hoped.
It will be the president's relationship (or what's left of it) with Congress on display this week in Washington, with the Libby move combining with the Iraq war, the US attorneys scandal, Guantanamo Bay, and a raft of spending bills to set up a multi-faceted clash. With the White House losing friends by the day, it's gut-check time for the president: If he doesn't give an inch or two now, he may win temporary victories, but he'll be setting himself up to be steamrolled for the remainder of his presidency. His last 18 months will be a blur of investigations, accusations, and paralysis -- and that's not even counting the damage once the GOP presidential candidates bring out their knives.
This president sure looks like he has senioritis. He keeps his friend from jail (but in a half-measure sort of way that enraged those on both sides of the aisle) and is giving no indication that he'll budge in his numerous confrontations with the Democratic Congress. "Executive privilege," says the White House, in forbidding former aides to testify before Congress on the US attorneys matter, The Washington Post's Peter Baker reported Sunday. The Democrats may well lose this fight, who really loses? Remember which side would just as well see these issues linger right up to Election Day.
House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., said on ABC's "This Week" that Democrats are going to continue to push the issue even as he holds a hearing on the Libby commutation -- and Conyers let the I-word slip past his lips while saying that he'll consider holding White House officials in contempt of Congress. "We're hoping that as the cries for the removal of both Cheney and Bush now reach 46 percent and 58 percent, respectively, for impeachment that we could begin to become a little bit more cooperative," Conyers told George Stephanopoulos.
As for Iraq, as the Bush administration seeks to redefine "success," the drip-drip of Republican defections is emboldening Democrats to press harder. "We haven't done enough," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., tells The New York Times' Carl Hulse and Jeff Zeleny. Here come two weeks' worth of votes: "Democrats are increasingly confident they can assemble majority opposition to administration policies," Hulse and Zeleny write. If they can't, and the debate becomes little more than another platform for the Democrats who would be president, who are the true political losers? See above.
Is he prepared to give? It's not just that the president is recasting the fight in Iraq as a battle against al Qaeda, or that this week's interim assessment is promising to be grimmer than grim. The administration is talking about starting a redeployment this summer, instead of the post-September timeline that's been widely speculated on, David Sanger writes in The New York Times. "Inside the administration, debate is intensifying over whether Mr. Bush should try to prevent more defections by announcing his intention to begin a gradual withdrawal of American troops from the high-casualty neighborhoods of Baghdad and other cities." Sanger adds this intriguing nugget from an administration "official": "Everyone's particularly worried about what happens when McCain gets back from Iraq."
Meanwhile, keep an eye on the next front in the White House vs. Congress clash. The president is looking to pad his veto score by threatening to turn back nearly every spending bill Congress sends him in the coming weeks, Bloomberg News' Brendan Murray and Brian Faler report. "Bush and the Republicans, stung by criticism that they presided over a surge in government spending, are looking to rehabilitate themselves among core supporters by holding the line on the budget," they write. "Democrats, meanwhile, are trying to show they can deliver on promises to shore up education, health care and a host of other initiatives."
At least Bush has the Republican base -- but first he has to find it again. The conservative punditocracy isn't buying commutation as a substitute for pardon, and throw in big serving of immigration and a dash of Iraq and you get National Review's Rich Lowry writing that Republicans are saying "at least among themselves, something blunt and devastating: It's over." "Even his most ardent fans, the ones who wish him the best, are looking forward to Jan. 20, 2009," Lowry writes.
Also making news:
So as we wait for the Thompson announcement, another chink emerges in his pro-life armor, this one from his time as a lobbyist (hardly the biographical detail he wants highlighted these days). The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that in 1991, Thompson "accepted an assignment from a family-planning group to lobby the first Bush White House to ease a controversial abortion restriction." The Thompson camp is issuing firm denials, but the candidate is going to have to do better than the folksy non-responsive response he delivered over the weekend: "I'd just say the flies get bigger in the summertime. I guess the flies are buzzing." That sounds really nice in a Tennessee baritone, but -- I'm sorry -- come again?
Obama nabs the cover of Newsweek with an interesting look at the politics of race that you can bet Rev. Al Sharpton will parse carefully. "I think America is still caught in a little bit of a time warp: the narrative of black politics is still shaped by the '60s and black power," Obama told Richard Wolffe and Daren Briscoe. "That is not, I think, how most black voters are thinking."
It looks like the Web army knows how to write checks as well as e-mails: Ron Paul's $2.4 million cash-on-hand figure gives him more primary dollars to spend than McCain, and almost as much as former governor Mitt Romney, R-Mass., would have on hand if he hadn't loaned himself nearly $9 million. "I think some of the candidates are on the down-slope, and we're on the up-slope," Paul said on ABC's "This Week."
With Edwards set to announce a "poverty tour" that will take him through eight states next week, he is neutralizing his association with a high-profile hedge fund by becoming the first major candidate to endorse a series of tax hikes that would hit private-equity and hedge-fund managers. "Mr. Edwards's stance could help shore up his populist credentials after criticism of his personal wealth and lifestyle have eroded his poll standings," The Wall Street Journal's John Harwood writes.
Cindy Sheehan's retirement from politics doesn't appear to have been permanent. She's giving House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., two weeks to file articles of impeachment against the president, or she's moving to San Francisco and challenging Pelosi for her seat in Congress. "I would give her a run for her money," Sheehan tells the AP's Angela K. Brown.
The Boston Globe's Brian Mooney profiles the guardian of New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary status, longtime Secretary of State Bill Gardner. He has full discretion to set the date as early as he needs to ensure that New Hampshire's is the first presidential primary, and he's prepared to wait until December before deciding. "There's a few options, but if I say how we're going to do it, well, then, [other states] will know what to do themselves," Gardner tells Mooney.
Newsweek's Michael Isikoff delves into the internal deliberations that led Bush to keep Libby out of jail, and reports that White House counsel Fred Fielding "reluctantly concluded that the jury had reached a reasonable verdict: the evidence was strong that Libby testified falsely about his role in the leak." Vice President Dick Cheney didn't even have to speak to exert his considerable influence, Isikoff writes. "I'm not sure Bush had a choice," one Bush adviser tells Isikoff. "If he didn't act, it would have caused a fracture with the vice president."
"I'm fairly skeptical of all renovations. I'm just not a big renovation kind of guy," James Carville, on the remodeling that will close the Palm in downtown Washington from August 1 through mid-September. The faces on the wall will survive.
"I'm sorry you suffered, Seamus. We will never forget you," "Cinnamon," addressing the late Seamus Romney.