The Note: Political S.A.T.


To the question "What will dominate cable and broadcast TV today?" the answer is: the massive loss of American life in the helicopter crash in Iraq and the President's morning press conference.

There are other -- more obviously political -- questions out there, too, however. Some are short-term and some longer.

To wit:

Short-term questions:

1. What will Sunday's elections look like on TV in America and around the world? How will "success" be measured? Can the White House "manage" it?

2. Is the aftermath of Saturday's DNC meeting in Gotham City -- the final audition for the national chair candidates -- more likely to cement Howard Dean's hold on a win or create (finally) an obvious Dean alternative candidate?

3. Will Friday's GOP congressional "retreat" (no retreat, however, no surrender there) produce more comity or comedy on White House-Hill Social Security reform efforts?

4. What will Democratic Senators who want to be president do on the Rice and Gonzales votes?

Longer-term questions:

1. Who will be the '06 Republican nominees against Hillary Clinton and Eliot Spitzer?

2. (There are other important long-term questions, but since most everything else derives from (1) above, that's all your getting from us today . . . )

ABC News' Martha Raddatz reports that 31 U.S. Marines have died in a helicopter crash near the Syrian border in Iraq. The military blames bad weather at the moment.

The President participates in a health care discussion in Bethesda, Maryland at 11:50 am ET and then returns to the White House for 2:00 pm ET meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus. To come to the stakeout or not come to the stakeout -- that is the question.

The President also chats Social Security with GOP members of the House Ways and Means Committee today.

Scott McClellan gaggles at 9:45 am ET and briefs at 12:45 pm ET.

The Senate's in session at 9:30 am ET to finish debate on Secretary-designee Rice's nomination and then vote. A vote on Secretary-designee Gonzales is expected later today by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The House is in session at 10:00 am ET.

Vice President Cheney has a full day ahead of him in Poland, including an Auschwitz commemoration and a meeting with dignitaries including new president Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine.

Social Security:

The Washington Times' Brian DuBose picked up the CBO's warning that Medicare and Medicaid will hurt the budget more over the long term than Social Security. LINK

Democrats will probably add the CBO's comments to their arsenal, but they may have stumbled onto a gold mine when Bill Thomas took to Nebraska Avenue last weekend.

Even if the Dems are deliberately misinterpreting what Bill Thomas was trying to say, the White House needs to come up with an effective way to rebut them, and quick!

It's doubtful that Democrats actually believe the White House coordinated or cleared Rep. Thomas' comments, but in a legislative session with a certain number of days and a political arena that has barely enough oxygen to contemplate changing the structure of Social Security, focusing on race and gender or whatever seems to us a day won by opponents of personal/private accounts and a day lost by the White House.

This isn't like the Swift Boat controversy, wherein the White House hemmed and hawed about 527s but failed to formally condemn questions about Kerry's military record. And this isn't a George Lakoff-style-problem either -- it's simply not -- and simply will not be -- a matter of linguistic contrivance that Americans are generally wary of changing the system.

At the same time, fretters who worry that the White House has totally lost its moorings on Social Security and think that it's too late for them to salvage a bill are way jumping the gun.

Lots of "the President was told" in the write-ups of yesterday's White House meeting with GOP Senators. Very little "The President said." So good message discipline from the White House, per usual.

The New York Times' David Rosenbaum does say that the President will offer specifics at SOTU, not just broad principles. LINK

The Washington Post's Mike Allen says that Bush asked the Senators for their patience on Social Security while they begin to figure out how to sell the plan to overhaul it to voters. LINK

Peter Wallsten of the Los Angeles Times writes that President Bush, in his meeting yesteday with 22 African-American business and civic leaders at the White House, told them that Social Security short-changes blacks. LINK

"The conversation demonstrated the White House's determination to build on outreach efforts to blacks that proved effective in battleground states last year, adding Social Security to issues -- such as opposition to same-sex marriage and support for faith-based social programs -- that Republicans believe can provide common ground with black conservatives."

Although we do wonder what the President says his plans are to raise the life expectancy of African-Americans . . .

The Washington Post's Michael Fletcher wraps the meeting and previews today's sit-down with the Congressional Black Caucus. LINK

More on today's CBC meeting from USA Today's Richard Benedetto. LINK

The Boston Globe's Frank Phillips reports that the AFL-CIO is launching a national grassroots campaign to oppose the President's Social Security plan today, kicking off in Boston and San Francisco's financial districts. ". . . [T]he rallies will be followed by events in other major cities. Another phase will include an Internet campaign urging investors to try to force their investment managers to take a public position on the creation of private accounts." LINK

USA Today's William Welch reports that the individual control that President Bush promises people will have under his Social Security plan isn't quite what he's selling. "Major proposals, including those from the president's own commission, to revamp Social Security with private investment accounts include provisions that place big limits on how much money individuals can invest, where it can be invested, what they can do with it when they retire and how much they can pass on to heirs." LINK

Roll Call's Chris Cillizza reports that pollsters are busy helping lawmakers test and shape the language they'll use to fight over Social Security, as well as figure out just exactly where their support is.

Dick Stevenson on the White House's somewhat selective citations of Sen. Moynihan. LINK

Bush agenda: the economy:

Deficit write ups:

The Washington Post's Weisman: LINK

The New York Times' Andrews: LINK

$427 billion and growing, sans Social Security projected spending. The Times seems skeptical that the White House is truly on track to cut the deficit in half by 50 percent.

In the Wall Street Journal, John D. McKinnon Notes that the Administration seems to have set the deficit-cutting bar quite low:

"With anticipated growth in the economy, even a $300 billion deficit in 2009 would equal only about 2% of the overall economy -- far less than the 4.5% of GDP that the White House once projected for the 2004 deficit, the year the White House is using as a benchmark. An administration official noted that the White House estimate of a $427 billion deficit in 2005 is still an improvement when measured against the size of the economy -- 3.5% versus 3.6% for fiscal 2004 when the actual deficit was $412 billion."

The Journal's editorial page has a sunny outlook: "We realize these CBO estimates don't include future spending on the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. But as CBO points out, revenues are expected to grow rapidly over the decade, especially in individual income taxes. The progressive nature of the U.S. tax code means that, as growth raises incomes, more and more people are pushed into higher tax brackets, even if President Bush's tax cuts are made permanent."

"Budget estimates beyond the current year are always a guess, and CBO's is hardly more educated than others, but the larger point of these numbers is that with even a modicum of spending restraint the federal deficit will fall back to zero over the next few years."

The cabinet confirmation votes:

ABC News' Ed O'Keefe reports that following nine hours of debate yesterday, the Senate is expected to confirm National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice as the nation's 65th Secretary of State today.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee reported the Rice nomination favorably to the full Senate by a vote of 16-2 with only former Democratic presidential contender Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) voting in the negative.

So far, the following senators have publicly announced their intention to vote against Rice on the Senate floor: Barbara Boxer (D-CA); John Kerry (D-MA); Mark Dayton (D-MN); Ted Kennedy (D-MA); Evan Bayh (D-IN); Robert C. Byrd (D-WVA); and Carl Levin (D-MI)

If that tally of seven holds, Rice's Senate confirmation will succeed with the second largest number of nay votes in history. In the history of the United States, the Senate has NEVER rejected a Secretary of State nominee.

Since 1789, only eight nominees to the position of Secretary of State have received votes AGAINST their confirmation; Rice will be the ninth, historian O'Keefe tells us.

The New York Times Notes the Barbara Boxer/DSCC fundraising letter that went out yesterday. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Sonni Efron puts the estimate by Senate staffers that at least 10 and as many as 20 Senators plan to vote against Rice's nomination right up top, Noting that if that happens, she'd be the first secretary of state since 1981 not to win unanimous confirmation. LINK

The New York Post wonders how Sens. Schumer and Clinton will vote today. LINK

Dana Milbank watched the theater on the Senate floor. LINK

More debate's on the way, the AP reports -- this time focusing on Alberto Gonzales, on whose nomination the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to take its final vote today. LINK

Republicans and conservatives:

During yesterday's meeting with conservative black leaders and pastors, President Bush was asked about marriage, the New York Times reports, and he responded that his position on the issue was clear. LINK

But Note the wholly different take in the Washington Post account:

"The issue of Bush's support for a constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage was raised by several participants at yesterday's meeting, but Bush demurred, explaining that the issue is a non-starter in Congress -- at least for now. 'He was noncommittal on it because he's got other priorities,' (Robert) Woodson said."

PBS, a bunny, lesbians, Vermont, and Margaret Spelling's ire. LINK

We do not think conservatives will like this New York Times Public Lives profile of Christie Whitman. LINK

It's Mehlman v. Schwarznegger on redistricting in California. LINK

Dems regroup:

Paul Starr's New York Times op-ed urges liberal Democrats to accept their place as "one of several influences in an ideologically varied party that can win at the polls." LINK

"Rebuilding a national political majority will mean distinguishing between positions that contribute to a majority and those that detract from it. As last year's disastrous crusade for gay marriage illustrated, Democrats cannot allow their constituencies to draw them into political terrain that can't be defended at election time. Dissatisfied with compromise legislation on civil unions and partner benefits, gay organizations thought they could get from judges, beginning with those on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, what the electorate was not yet ready to give. The result: bans on same-sex marriage passing in 11 states and an energized conservative voting base."

"In the long run, Democrats will benefit from their strength among younger voters and the growing Hispanic population. But the last thing the Democrats need is a revived interest group or identity politics. As the response to Senator Barack Obama's convention speech showed, the party's own members are looking for an expansive statement of American character and national purpose."

True, the willingness of many Democrats to speak about finding compromise language and positions on the issue is an amazing sea change for the party (Roemer's troubles in the chair race notwithstanding). Same with Democrats permitting without a peep Harry Reid to ascend to majority leader.

Sen. Hillary Clinton's comments reflect what we've heard from many staunchly pro-choice women: that abortion IS a moral dilemma, it IS a sad choice, and it's not simply an unencumbered "right" that women should celebrate and revere. (Starr gives Sen. Clinton an "attagirl.")

(And/but, writing in the New York Daily News, Michael Goodwin believes Sen. Clinton's comments were based on her desire to showcase her acceptability to moderate swing voters in Red States. LINK )

Many believe there has got to be some way of acknowledging the legitimacy of the pro-life point of view without opening the door to a ban on abortion. (We call it the Will Saletan Project. See: LINK )

The other side of the coin is true: pro-choicers can't simply be more accommodating in their rhetoric alone if they want to find common ground. It's quite interesting to hear a Democrat say they generally oppose partial-birth abortions but then refuse to support anything but the broadest and more comprehensive of exceptions for the health of the mother. Or a Democrat supporting parental notification laws in theory but opposing them in practice every time.

We're not saying these positions aren't principled, just that they belie an actual attempt to resolve the issue by legislating at the margins of a very complex moral question.

Speaking of George Lakoff, many Democrats seem to have digested the Berkeley linguist's magic potion and think that they can change the parameters of the abortion debate simply by changing how they frame their arguments.

That will be hard. For one thing, when was the last time YOU changed someone's mind about abortion? More broadly, abortion is linked to many other social and cultural issues that have contributed to the Democrats' image problem in certain parts of the country: that they are too secular, too materialistic and too quick to dismiss religion and tradition.

(The Republicans have problems too.. Richard Viguerie Noted on the "Daily Show" Monday evening that it angered him, but didn't surprise him, that a Republican president in 2004 didn't want to be seen with pro-life banners in the background and instead continued the "tradition" of phoning in his support for their cause.)

Carol Tobias, the political director of National Right to Life, e-mailed us her thoughts: "Senator Clinton says she would like to find 'common ground' on abortion. If she was serious about this, she would support reasonable limits on abortion, such as the ban on partial-birth abortion. I also wonder, is she going to support the Child Custody Protection Act, thereby supporting the right of parents to be involved in a crucial decision by their minor daughter?

"Unless Senator Clinton can support these common sense measures, which have overwhelming support among the American public, it's not really believable that she wants to work with pro-lifers to reduce the number of abortions."

Gary Bauer, the conservative activist, wrote this to supporters yesterday: "Whatever you think of Bill and Hillary, they are politically smart. The Clintons know the Democrats' association with one million aborted babies every year is deeply hurting their party. Ironically, they may understand that fact better than some Republican establishment types. Does anyone have any doubts that Hillary will run for president in 2008? By then she will look like a 'centrist' unless the Republican Party confronts her early and often."

(The RNC did just that yesterday morning by sending out the earliest 2008 oppo memo we've seen.)

Says one smart observer: "If there was one sneaky, cynical component of Hillary's message, it is this: By emphasizing that the goal should be to PREVENT unwanted pregnancies, you remind people that some pro-life groups also oppose birth control. I have heard that connection made by some Democrats."

The Washington Times' Joseph Curl recaps several "centrist" positions taken by Sen. Clinton and speaks to Republicans like Charlie Black about the wisdom of her moves. LINK

DNC chair's race:

Yesterday's Hotline, with its list of confirmed public supporters, helps to put things in perspective. And we gotta say: if you claim you've got DNC members supporting you but haven't released more than a few, well, we reserve the right to view your claims to have dozens of members privately locked up with appropriate skepticism.

If there's a correlation between confirmed public DNC member supporters and actual level of support, then Martin Frost, Howard Dean, Wellington Webb and Donnie Fowler are doing well.

But wait a minute: Webb sent out a long list of confirmed endorsees last night. One of them is DNC vice chair Ben Johnson, who last night reiterated to Gov. Dean's campaign that he was publicly and privately a Dean supporter.

We were not able to reach Mayor Webb's campaign manager to figure out what happened.

We do hear that Dean will announce several more member endorsements today or tomorrow. Frost will rightly enjoy public acknowledgment of the 14 Texas DNC members who affirmed their support for him yesterday. David Leland picked up a 447er, too: DNC member Mark Mallory, the assistant minority leader in the Ohio State Senate.

All these camps promise more endorsements after the ASDC meets on Sunday in New York City. That's when the Brewer Directive, which asked party chairs and vice chairs to refrain from publicly endorsing, expires.

(The order the candidates will speak: Frost, Rosenberg, Fowler, Leland, Webb, Dean.)

We've learned that Rep. Tim Roemer will not attend the because of a scheduling conflict.

Ruben Polito, a Roemer spokesman, would not say what will prevent Roemer's audience with Brewer and Co.

"I don't think it's relevant. He's still working hard and he's still accessible to them," Polito said.

The next cattle call: On Friday in New York, the DNC women's forum will hear from the candidates. Then Saturday's regional forum. Then ASDC. Then . . . nothing.

The final Washington, DC candidate gathering took place yesterday at AFL-CIO headquarters on 16th Street, where AFL-CIO's political directors heard from all the declared candidates. Per several folks in the room, Frost, Roemer, Fowler, and Dean came off well. Frost's solid labor credentials are an often unremarked plus for his candidacy.

The Hill has details of some private meetings of AFL-CIO president John Sweeney's with a select number of the DNC chair candidates. LINK

So where is the House of Labor today? Divided.

Some political directors like Frost, a few like Dean; others like others.

"We are not resigned to Dean winning," said one influential labor leader present at the meeting . "I don't mean to imply we are a stop Dean movement there is a belief that others are as well or better qualified," the labor official said. (Sounds like the ASDC . . . and the Democratic governors . . . to us.)

In other DNC chair news, the folks today will say that they will poll its their million members and release state-by-state recommendations the night of the chair meeting. MoveOn will first ask its members to submit questions to the chair candidates, it will forward their answers to the members.

The Los Angeles Times' Ron Brownstein outlines's play to institutionalize its influence in Democratic politics. LINK


The New York Observer's Ben Smith is on the trail of pay-for-pay, NYC2012, and more. LINK


The GOP's new state party chair in New York says he's ask Rudy Giuliani to re-challenge Sen. Hillary Clinton next year, ace Michael Slackman reports. LINK

"Mr. Giuliani, through his spokeswoman, Sunny Mindel, said he 'is not even thinking about politics right now,' and at least one person close to him said he had no desire to be one of 100 senators."

Justin Sayfie has the latest polls from Florida on his supersite: LINK


The Boston Globe's Rick Klein looks at the plan unveiled yesterday by Sen. John Kerry to provide health care coverage for all children, funded by rolling back tax cuts and encouraging states to expand their Medicaid and children's health programs. Kerry sat down for a Globe interview and talked about how his campaign experiences are fueling his desire to be a "national voice" on issues. LINK

"Kerry said the bill fulfills a pledge he made on the campaign trail, where he vowed to make such legislation the first bill he'd file as president. He has signed up 300,000 'citizen cosponsors,' recruited via his campaign e-mail list. Kerry said he is planning to 'gin up energy' for his bill through speeches around the country."

"He will have his work cut out for him: The bill is not expected to get a warm reception in the Republican-led Senate, although Kerry promised to reach across the aisle to Republicans members who favor expanded healthcare."

Interesting comments from Sen. John McCain as well, who knows a thing or two about increased influence in the Senate after a presidential campaign.

Tealeaves from:

Biden: LINK

Santorum: LINK


The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz reports that another syndicated columnist, Maggie Gallagher, was on the Bush Administration payroll in 2002, getting $21,500 from the Department of Health and Human Services to defend the President's plan to encourage marriage, writing a magazine piece for the HHS official in charge of the initiative, writing brochures and briefing officials. LINK

"'Did I violate journalistic ethics by not disclosing it?' Gallagher said yesterday. 'I don't know. You tell me.' She said she would have 'been happy to tell anyone who called me' about the contract but that 'frankly, it never occurred to me' to disclose it."


The Washington Post's Karl Vick and Robin Wright turn in a great story detailing the work by the "midwives of democracy" -- the organizations in Baghdad to train Iraqi candidates, parties, and election workers. LINK

The Washington Post's Doug Struck spends some time with two Sunni leaders who weighed the dangers and upsides of running in the elections -- one who decided to run, and one who decided to sit it out. LINK

The Boston Globe's Thanassis Cambanis looks at some of the female candidates on the Iraqi ballot. LINK

Paul Richter of the Los Angeles Times writes that the $92 million push to register Iraqi ex-pats to vote has "fallen far short of expectations, drawing fewer than 10% of the eligible voters in the United States and fewer than 25% worldwide, officials said Tuesday." LINK

What's a big issue in the Iraqi election: electricity and water. Iraqis tell the New York Times they won't vote for slates that sponsor those ministers and officials. LINK

Just another word for nothing left to lose:

There's a must-read front-page Wall Street Journal story on Bush Administration policy toward Russia.