The Note: Death watch

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Speaking of difficulties, as former mayor Rudolph Giuliani, R-N.Y., copes with the (Larry Flynt-sparked?) damage caused by his association with Sen. David Vitter, R-La., he's fending off fresh allegations from firefighters who are taking aim at the "America's mayor" reputation that forms the entire rationale for his candidacy. Per ABC News, the anti-Giuliani video from the International Association of Fire Fighters will be made available starting today at 5 pm ET to the union's 280,000 members and the general public. "He's running on his 9/11 leadership and it was lacking -- and there was none," Jim Riches, a deputy fire chief and a father of a 9/11 victim, says on the video. In a preemptive response, Giuliani has released a "Research Briefing" rounding up testimony that's more flattering to the former mayor's image.

Also in the news:

With Senate debate unfolding in Washington, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., both hit Des Moines yesterday to talk about Iraq. Clinton was sharper than she's been in calling for end to the war, and Obama aimed his sharp words in Clinton's (general) direction. "I believed then, and I still believe, that being a leader means that you'd better do what's right and leave the politics aside, because there are no do-overs on an issue as important as war," Obama said, per the Chicago Tribune's Rick Pearson. Someone sure wants to be on the attack. . . .

Back in Congress, GOP leaders are scrambling to limit the number of defections on the Iraq front, but could see their efforts backfire with a restless rank-and-file. "The GOP leadership's use of a parliamentary tactic requiring at least 60 votes to pass any war legislation only encouraged the growing number of Republican dissenters to rally and seek new ways to force President Bush's hand," Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray write in The Washington Post. "They are weighing a series of proposals that would change the troops' mission from combat to counterterrorism, border protection and the training of Iraqi security forces."

McCain cited progress in the troop "surge" in his speech on the Senate floor, his chief rivals for the nomination "have been quietly backing away from any commitment to continue the buildup," report Paul Richter and Peter Nicholas of the Los Angeles Times. "Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson have made it clear that their original support for the escalation does not mean they are signed on to keeping the current 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, even as they have laid out hawkish positions on other aspects of foreign policy." There's an opening here for one of them -- who will be the first to turn on the president's strategy?

Former White House political director Sara Taylor will appear at 10 am ET today before a congressional panel as a "willing and cooperative private citizen." But don't expect much in the way of cooperation as she honors the White House's decision to invoke executive privilege in the US attorneys' scandal.

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