Let us pause to consider the (wide) stance the GOP finds itself in 14 months before Election Day:
Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, wins his own stall in the rogue's gallery that is the Republican caucus in the 110th Congress. He can share notes with Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and swap wacky law-enforcement tales with senior colleagues such as Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska.
In the House, weary veterans are simply retiring. Over in the executive branch, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been hounded out the door, following Karl Rove on a long road back to Texas that won't free either of them from legal scrutiny.
And the 2008 field is a bunch of men in search of fresh starts, from Sen. John McCain (who does Leno tonight and wants his 72nd year -- which starts tomorrow -- to be happier than his 71st) to former senator Fred Thompson (next time, have enough staff consistency so the same person can deny all the rumors of internal turmoil) to former mayor Rudolph Giuliani and former governor Mitt Romney (who would love to selectively edit their governing records to get a dispirited base to trust them).
Late in the summer after Republicans lost control of Congress, the scandals have metastasized, the "culture of corruption" has spread, the Iraq war continues, and the GOP turns its lonely eyes to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton -- the party's best chance at unity. It's just enough of an opportunity for Democrats to squander -- and they have the congressional approval ratings to make that a real possibility still.
The Craig revelation, broken yesterday afternoon by Roll Call, pushed Gonzales (mostly) out of mind after barely eight hours of a single news cycle. The actions that earned Craig the disorderly conduct charge -- stemming from an incident in a men's room at the Minneapolis airport -- have enough details to ensure that a once-obscure senator will be memorable (at least until he faces the voters again next fall).
No reason to tap our legs and go through the particulars of the "he said/he said." Craig pleaded guilty, though he now says that was a mistake (watch that "stance," senator). And this, per Roll Call's John McArdle: "At one point during the interview, Craig handed the plainclothes sergeant who arrested him a business card that identified him as a U.S. Senator and said, 'What do you think about that?' the report states." Oh, the possibilities . . .
Craig in May "told the Idaho Statesman he had never engaged in homosexual acts," the Statesman's Dan Popkey reports. In a lengthy report that reveals far more than you ever wanted to know about Craig's sex life, the newspaper reports that a reporter interviewed a "professional man with close ties to Republican officials" who said he had oral sex with Craig in Union Station. Craig said in May, "I don't do that kind of thing. I am not gay, and I never have been."
Craig last night resigned his post as "co-Senate liaison" to the campaign of Romney, R-Mass. Politico's Jonathan Martin noticed that a video where Craig declared his support for Romney was suddenly removed from YouTube's public realm. (It's not the only YouTube video that the Romney campaign would like labeled "private.")
Here's what Craig says in that video, which has been posted on Talking Points Memo: "Knowing Governor Mitt Romney is knowing somebody who first and foremost has very strong family values. That's something I grew up with and believe in."
As for Gonzales, President Bush expressed regret that his old friend was forced out by politics, and he leaves a politicized legacy at the Department of Justice. "His dogged and sometimes robotic defense of the president's wartime powers -- in the face of Congressional pressure, adverse court rulings and public scorn -- often proved ineffectual or counterproductive," write The New York Times' Eric Lichtblau and Scott Shane. "Even after leaving the White House for the Justice Department in 2005, Mr. Gonzales was seen both by insiders and outsiders less as an independent legal thinker than as the president's loyal retainer."
His departure marks a bookend for Bush's second term. Gonzales got the job when Bush still thought he had "limitless political capital," The Washington Post's Dan Balz and Michael Abramowitz write. Bush's defense of his attorney general mirrored his long-held loyalty to Donald Rumsfeld, and his nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. "His case is not unique -- and that is what has confounded Bush's allies," Balz and Abramowitz write.
Politico's Roger Simon writes that Gonzales' departure "will not keep the wolves from pursuing the administration. But it could slow them down a little." And he sees signs of the president hunkering down for the final stretch, with Gonzales and Rove joining Rumsfeld (and Miers) in leaving before their time was through: "Bush is desperately seeking to shape his legacy in the last months of his presidency, and he is taking down those lightning rods who have attracted too much negative attention."
"With Karl Rove's near-simultaneous exit from the political scene, it's as if the White House is shedding its political baggage for President Bush's final 17 months in office -- at the very time that the 2008 presidential race is starting to subsume the nation's political activities," per ABC News. "But if the White House is hoping for smoother sailing by clearing its roster of controversial figures, Democrats in Congress and the presidential race are giving no indication that they plan to let up."
The Democratic reaction was predictably jubilant. "Democratic presidential candidates held a mini Gonzales primary," per The Washington Post's Dana Milbank "John Edwards was the first out with a statement, at 8:34 a.m., followed by Barack Obama (9:09), Bill Richardson (9:28), Joe Biden (10:15) and Chris Dodd (11:12). Hillary Rodham Clinton (11:04) was uncharacteristically slow -- but she leapfrogged ahead of the pack by condemning not only Gonzales but also his rumored replacement, Michael Chertoff."
Also in the news:
"A tiny, lime-green bungalow that lies under the flight path from San Francisco International Airport" is the source of some big campaign money for Clinton, D-N.Y. -- since 2005, $45,000 donated by six family members who live at that house, The Wall Street Journal's Brody Mullins reports. "It isn't obvious how the Paw family is able to afford such political largess. Records show they own a gift shop and live in a 1,280-square-foot house that they recently refinanced for $270,000," Mullins writes.
"The Paws' political donations closely track donations made by Norman Hsu, a wealthy New York businessman in the apparel industry who once listed the Paw home as his address," Mullins continues. It would be very illegal for Hsu to have funneled money through the Paws, but there's no evidence of that, per Mullins. Said Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson of Hsu: "We have absolutely no reason to call his contributions into question."
Sen. Barack Obama's new California campaign director launched a blistering attack on both Clintons over the weekend at a hip eatery in Los Angeles. Per Variety's Ted Johnson, Mitchell Schwartz cited Sen. Clinton's tenure on Wal Mart's board of directors in the 1980s, "while they perfected the art of denying health care and retirement benefits for their workers." Schwartz, who was Bill Clinton's New Hampshire state director in 1992, blamed the former first lady's healthcare taskforce for Democrats' loss of Congress in 1994, and blasted her for failing to read the National Intelligence Estimate prepared shortly before the vote on the Iraq war: "She didn't bother reading it." Schwartz, a PR executive, was named to his post on the campaign of Obama, D-Ill., just last week.
Former President Bill Clinton comes to his wife's defense in a new book. Per the AP's Beth Fouhy, Clinton says Hillary's healthcare plan "was killed by politics" (wait -- isn't that what ended Gonzales' career?). While "Giving" is mostly apolitical, "Clinton also uses the book to tout his successes in the White House and gets in several glowing mentions of his wife," Fouhy writes. "He also takes some subtle digs at Republicans, including President Bush." The former president on climate change: "too many politicians have been resistant to implementing proven strategies to reduce emissions."
There wasn't much disagreement between the Democrats who came to Lance Armstrong's cancer forum yesterday in Iowa (and Republicans follow them there today). But former senator John Edwards, D-N.C., sought to draw a distinction with Clinton on how to handle insurance and drug companies, reports Ed Tibbetts of the Quad City Times. Edwards: "I think if you give drug companies and insurance companies and their lobbyists a seat at the table, they'll eat all the food." Clinton: "I believe in working with everybody and being influenced by nobody." And Armstrong (sounding more like Clinton than Edwards): "There has to be some cooperation and some collaboration there."
We'd like to place a moratorium on news about Thompson's staff until he actually has a campaign, but here comes another morsel that's too delicious to resist. Linda Rozett, who has spent much of her month as the non-campaign's communications director denying rumors of internal turmoil ("We are strengthening the organization as we enter the next phase," she said last month) is now out herself. (The organization must be really strong by now.) ABC's Liz Marlantes reports that Rozett is gone because new campaign manager Bill Lacy felt "it was critical to have a communications point person with significant campaign experience."
Even Thompson, R-Tenn., is confused. "I don't know what the story is," said Thompson, who was asked about Rozett's departure while at the Minnesota state fair, per the AP. He may want to find out before the campaign starts. But he did have this to say about how he's leaning: "I think it's pretty clear the direction I'm headed in."
Giuliani, R-N.Y., sat down with US News & World Report's James Pethokoukis to talk economic policy, and did he ever have a lot to say. His Social Security plan: "Social Security, I'm going to say, and I mean this, Social Security is something we can straighten out if I get elected." On the mortgage crisis: "Right now the president should be watching it very, very carefully." On what to cut in the federal budget: "I never ran out of budget cuts when I was mayor of New York City." Also, he likes tax cuts (and did he mention he likes cutting taxes?): "We have actually done more job creation by lowering taxes than by raising taxes."
Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., is in line for a major endorsement (one that is very much not going to Giuliani): The International Association of Fire Fighters is set to throw its support behind Dodd, in a bit of a surprise, Politico's Ben Smith reports. "Labor insiders had expected the union, one of labor's big endorsements, to go with one of the front-runners," Smith writes.
Looking forward on Gonzales, ABC's Jan Crawford Greenburg reports on the names of seven potential successors -- including Chertoff (though Bush hardly wants two confirmation hearings for the price of one).
Confirmation hearings "could unlock the Bush administration's legal closet, bringing new details tumbling into the open about issues including the treatment of terrorism suspects, warrantless surveillance of Americans, and the administration's definition of official secrets," The Boston Globe's Peter Canellos writes. "Democratic senators have been awaiting the prospect of confirmation hearings for a new attorney general to extract more information about Bush's expansive use of presidential power in wartime."
And a story that might have driven another day . . . The president delivers another major Iraq speech today, in Reno, Nev. "President Bush aims to inspire patience with the war Tuesday by arguing that the fight against extremists in Iraq is crucial to U.S. security and the future of a strategic, struggling region," per the AP's Jennifer Loven.
"I've been in this business 27 years in the public eye here. I don't go around anywhere hitting on men, and by God, if I did, I wouldn't do it in Boise, Idaho! Jiminy!" -- Craig, to the Idaho Statesman, in May.
"I could hear several unknown persons in the restroom that appeared to use the restroom for its intended use. The presence of others did not seem to deter Craig as he moved his right foot so that it touched the side of my left foot which was within my stall area." -- Sgt. Dave Karsnia, the plainclothes officer who arrested Craig in June, in the police report.