The Note: The More Things Change

NEWS SUMMARY

The Note craves change, dynamism, new stuff.

But some things just seem to occur over and over and over again in our lives.

For a time, we fought against all that, trying to free ourselves from the shackles of routine.

But now, both beaten and wiser, we have surrendered to the constants of our lives.

The President is still answering only those questions he wishes to answer at press conferences and enjoying giving a hard time in front of the class to Ken Herman and the other reporters who covered him in Texas.

The MSM is still covering Bush pressers with pronounced skepticism about the war in Iraq and personal savings accounts.

John Kerry is still sharing the stage with Ted Kennedy.

Bob Shrum is still living off of Nicorette gum.

John Kerry is still unaware of the dimensions of the shadow of Hillary Clinton.

Network news is still the only place that can own a big story.

41 is still obsessed with losing to 42.

Iraq is still a dangerous place.

Karl Rove is still (semi-quietly) working on immigration reform, budget reform, and breaking the backs of the government employees unions.

Hillary Clinton is still of unending fascination to the Right.

Howard Dean is still of unending fascination to the Left.

Bill Clinton is still being unclear about who he thinks should be DNC chair (but we think we know who he thinks SHOULDN'T be . . .).

Rudy Giuliani is still raising money.

Mary Beth Cahill is still trying to figure out a way in public to push back against what John Kerry is saying in private.

Republicans are still trying to win the Washington state gubernatorial race.

New Hampshire is still more sophisticated than Iowa at protecting "first in the nation" status.

Health care is still the great untapped issue of American politics.

Thus, the President returns to Ohio today, participating in what the White House calls "a discussion on the benefits of health information technology" at 12:40 pm ET.

As part of a two-day focus on health care issues, the President will argue that better record-keeping can sharply cut medical costs and mistakes.

The President predicts that electronic records will prove "one of the great innovations" in modern medicine and that it will "wring out inefficiencies" without compromising privacy. Critics have accused Bush of focusing on small health-care initiatives while ignoring huge problems like soaring costs and the more than $40 million Americans who don't have insurance.

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission meets at 10:00 am ET today. The agenda includes a vote on whether to audit California's HAVA money.

At the FamiliesUSA conference in Washington, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton opens the session at 9:00 a.m., (watch her come out for MSAs . . . ha! That's a joke.)

Barack Obama also participates in the morning session.

At 1:00 pm ET, Sen. John Kerry discusses his bill to expand health care coverage for children.

(Excerpt: "On Monday I introduced the Kids First Act of 2005, which would cover every one of the 11 million uninsured children in America, putting the force of law behind a commitment that so many Democrats and Republicans have supported in principle over the years--a commitment that this Congress and this administration have failed to redeem for far too long. Seven million of those 11 million kids are already eligible for coverage under the federal and state Medicaid and SCHiP programs. But they aren't getting the insurance we promised to them. That's wrong, and we break that promise again and again each day we tolerate the status quo.")

At 1:00 pm ET, Sen. Ted Kennedy delivers what his office bills as a "major" address on Iraq. See below for more.

Speaking of Iraq, you will not want to miss tonight's "Nightline." The folks down the hall are producing a top-notch town hall meeting on Iraq. Ted Koppel will anchor from the St. John's Church on Lafayette Square across the street from the White House, often called the "Church of the Presidents." It is the same venue where Nightline hosted a town meeting two years ago, on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, called "Why Now?"

The audience will include military, both active and retired, military family, members of the audience from the previous town meeting, Iraqi-Americans, and a general audience with a wide variety of views. The panel will consist of former U.S. Ambassador Joe Wilson, defense consultant Richard Perle, Sen. George Allen, (R-VA) and Rep. Martin Meehan (D-MA.).

In New York tonight, Tom Daschle, Rudy Giuliani, and Simon Rosenberg are all doing stuff. And this morning, Mayor Bloomberg unveiled his budget.

Bush agenda: framing Iraq:

The Washington Post's Peter Baker wraps yesterday's presidential press conference, and Notes the President's careful toning-down of language during his al-Arabiya interview. LINK

As does the Los Angeles Times' Warren Vieth, who leads with the President's comments that the fact that the Iraqi vote will take place at all is a victory for democracy. LINK

"The president's words were part of an aggressive White House communications strategy this week and next to frame the risky Iraqi election -- a critical test of his assertion that the country is on the path to stability -- in the best possible light. The goal, a Bush adviser said, was not only to lower expectations but to avoid any definition of success," writes Elisabeth Bumiller in the New York Times. LINK

"Mr. Bush's decision not to mention the helicopter crash in his opening statement, the Bush adviser said, was part of a longstanding White House practice to avoid having the president mention some American deaths in Iraq but not others."

"'It's almost a policy,' said the adviser, who asked not to be named because the president does not want aides talking about the inner workings of the White House, 'because if you mention one, you have to mention them all.'"

"'Expectations do have to be set so it's clear that this is not a magnificent day in Iraq,' said a communications strategist who talks regularly to senior officials at the White House. 'The key message you'll be hearing is that even if we have an imperfect form of democracy in Iraq, even if we can't get the turnout in the Sunni areas that we want, it's substantially better than when one party controlled everything and the leader got 99.9 percent of the vote.'"

And then some: Peggy Noonan responds to her critics. She won't back down. She will stand her ground. LINK

Bush agenda: at home and abroad:

The Boston Globe's Susan Milligan leads with the President pledge to take his case to overhaul Social Security directly to the people. LINK

The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler and Scott Wilson on the Terry Moran question about the Jordanian man jailed for speaking out against the U.S., and the question about how this fit into the U.S. supporting the expression of dissent that stumped the President at his news conference. LINK

Howard Kurtz on the President's statements that his Administration shouldn't be paying columnists. LINK

And the Los Angeles Times' Maura Reynolds: LINK

USA Today's Jim Drinkard looks at a report by congressional Democrats that concludes the Bush Administration has more than doubled its contracts with PR firms, spending at least $88 million in 2004 -- $250 million in the President's first term. LINK

Michael Fletcher of the Washington Post wraps the plan President Bush laid out yesterday in Maryland to cut health care costs, including tax credits for health savings accounts and small businesses pooling their health coverage together. LINK

David Broder has a conversation with departing HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson about all that's left to accomplish on welfare and health care as Thompson takes his leave. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Mary Curtius looks at Rep. James Sensenbrenner's bill that would keep undocumented immigrants from holding driver's licenses, shore up the border fence between California and Mexico, and make political asylum more difficult to claim. LINK

"Even as he pledges significant aid for the victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami, President Bush is falling further and further behind on promises to boost funding to combat poverty in the developing world," the Wall Street Journal's Michael Phillips reports. "The president quietly notified the Millennium Challenge Corp., a newly created foreign-aid agency, that his proposed fiscal 2006 budget likely will include billions of dollars less than he promised during his first term. Mr. Bush's budget plan, scheduled for release early next month, also includes an increase in global anti-AIDS funding that is much smaller than the pledge he made when announcing an ambitious health initiative two years ago."

"The Millennium Challenge Corp. altered its Web site over the weekend to erase a reference to the president's initial funding promise, made in 2002. 'There are no second-class citizens in the human race,' Mr. Bush said at the time. 'I carry this commitment in my soul.'"

Over to you, Dr./Sen./Leader Frist.

Bypass liberal media filter; give $$ to the GOP: LINK

Social Security:

"On Social Security," write Richard Stevenson and David Sanger, "Mr. Bush did not provide any details of the approach he has in mind. In particular, he did not discuss the likelihood that it would include cuts to the government-paid benefits scheduled under current law. He said he would disclose more about his thinking in the State of the Union address next Wednesday and in appearances around the country afterward. The White House has hedged on whether Mr. Bush will ultimately make a detailed proposal." LINK

"Asked if he would consider raising the levels of wages subject to the Social Security payroll tax -- currently $90,000 -- or eliminating the wage ceiling, Mr. Bush appeared to rule out such a change. But his answer was vague enough that it could be interpreted as leaving open the possibility of increasing the wage cap without changing payroll tax rates."

"Lawmakers at Wednesday's [other] meeting said there was pointed discussion of Social Security. Representative Charles B. Rangel of New York, the senior Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, said he had told Mr. Bush the caucus could not support any proposal that would cut into a guaranteed entitlement relied on by so many older black Americans," the New York Times' Carl Hulse reports. LINK

"Mr. Rangel also said he quoted to the president from a 1978 magazine article in which Mr. Bush, then running for Congress, was warning of an imminent collapse of Social Security unless it was privatized. 'And he said, 'I lost,' said Mr. Rangel, referring to Mr. Bush's defeat for Congress that year. 'And I said the Lord works in mysterious ways.'"

Borrowing a page from Lyndon LaRouche, the New York Times writes about how Chile's Social Security personal accounts/privatization plan isn't working so well. LINK

And David Rosenbaum poses the unanswered questions that many have raised. LINK

We love this new blog from the Club for Growth folks -- you can guess which side it supports. LINK

Iraq:

Tommy Franks' faaavorite Pentagon official, Doug Feith, is retiring. LINK

ABC News' Ed O'Keefe reports that today, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) continues a series of speeches critiquing the post-war efforts in Iraq. Arguing that the upcoming elections provide the means by which to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of forces, the Massachusetts Democrat repeatedly invokes the historical example of Vietnam, insisting America's military presence has become an obstacle to the growth of an Iraqi democracy.

Labeling the Bush Administration's efforts a "catastrophic failure", Kennedy insists the United States must "rethink the Pottery Barn rule" to assert what we broke must now, in part, be owned and fixed by the Iraqi people.

And one begins to wonder: how many 2005 "major" Ted Kennedy speeches will there be, and to what end?

The cabinet confirmation votes:

Rice: 85 to 13. LINK (Bayh, Kerry: NO. Sen. Clinton: YES)

Gonzales: 10 to 8. LINK .

Dems tell the Times that a filibuster is not likely.

"When White House counsel Alberto Gonzales was a Texas Supreme Court justice running to stay in office in 2000, he took thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from companies that had business before him and he did not recuse himself from voting on their cases," writes the Boston Globe's Charlie Savage, Noting in the next graf that "the practice is legal in Texas, and Gonzales was not the only judge to benefit from it.." LINK

The 2004 election:

Adam Nagourney flew down to College Station, TX to hear Ken Mehlman and Mary Beth Cahill discuss the election at a forum moderated by President G.H.W. Bush.

The conversation was a model of civility, but there were moments of interest:

"Ms. Cahill, addressing a concern voiced by a student who sounded a bit frustrated with one of Mr. Kerry's tactical decisions, allowed that perhaps the campaign should have moved more quickly in responding to attacks on Mr. Kerry's war record by a group of Vietnam veterans." LINK

"'Looking back, should we have gone out two days earlier?' she said. 'Very possibly.'"

"Mr. Bush was unfailingly even-handed, though he allowed at one point that he did not think much of the independent 527 groups that attacked both candidates. Though he let things go mostly on their own steam, he could help a bit when Susanne Carpenter, 24, a medical student, delivered a detailed question to Ms. Cahill about the state of the Democratic Party that ended like this: 'I consider myself a conservative Democrat. And what do you say to us who are watching in horror as Hillary prepares to run in 2008?' The room exploded in laughter. Mr. Mehlman grinned. Mr. Bush grinned. Ms. Cahill winced a bit."

"'I think I'll let her go first,' Mr. Mehlman said. Ms. Cahill offered a long detailed discussion about the party's problems and what it needed to do, though she never quite got around to Mrs. Clinton, until Mr. Bush leaned over and reminded her of the oversight."

"'I served in the Clinton White House with Senator Clinton, and she's someone I came to greatly admire,' she said. 'This campaign has just ended. And the 2008 race has so robustly begun,' she added wearily." (Note Note: maybe it was actually "warily.")

Mehlman touted talk radio, blogs, and other independent media. LINK

Chris Hedges profiles a new New Yorker, Robert Shrum. LINK

Roll Call's Chris Cillizza reports that there's $23 million left in compliance accounts for President Bush ($15.6 million) and Sen. Kerry ($7.2 million). "Under FEC law, money left in a GELAC account can be used for one of four purposes. It can be used to help defray costs related to the presidential campaign; donated in unlimited amounts to local, state or national party committees; transferred to another personal campaign committee for the candidate that raised it; or given to a 501(c)(3) charitable organization."

But spokesmen from both sides say there's no plans yet to spend or disburse the money beyond winding down the campaign.

DNC chair's race:

With the Democratic party chair's election less than three weeks away, former Texas Rep. Martin Frost has begun to forthrightly challenge his biggest rival, Howard Dean, in private conversations with DNC members.

According to several people who have participated in the discussions, Frost argues that Dean would be a poor choice because he could hurt Democratic efforts to compete in less liberal areas of the country. And Frost asks those he is courting to join him now because he fears Dean will soon acquire enough momentum to be virtually unstoppable.

And several Democrats and labor officials say Frost told them that electing Dean party chair would discourage Democrats who don't like Dean from running for office.

That request, coming from a dedicated booster of the labor movement, has several top labor officials considering a Frost endorsement as early as next Tuesday, when a key group of labor leaders next meet.

Labor leaders estimate that at least 150 members of the DNC are either members or close allies.

An endorsement is not assured, and there are many influential labor officials who support Dean and are lobbying on his behalf.

Frost has not made the same arguments publicly, and few of Dean's direct rivals have said in open forums why they think Dean would be bad for the party.

Privately, they admire the enthusiasm he draws from liberal Democrats and they don't doubt his commitment to the DNC. But they feel he underestimates his ability to alienate those who disagree with him, and they worry that he done little to address the fundamental ideological concerns that many in the party have with him.

Dean's campaign, sensing the rise in public and private opposition, have begun to strike back in classic fashion: by turning the criticism into a crusade for the future of the party and mobilizing members of Dean's e-mail list to contribute to him.

And blog critics of Frost and some prominent Dean supporters have begun to distribute storyboards from an advertisement Frost ran in his 2004 congressional race, in which Frost favorably compared himself to prominent Republicans, including President Bush.

Dean opponents, some of whom are close allies of his chair candidate rivals, are circulating Newsweek writer Howard Fineman's discovery of a private remark by Dean in 2003, which allegedly bragging to a group of gay Democrats that if Bill Clinton could be the first black president, Dean could be the first gay president.

Speaking of Dean, he received an important endorsement yesterday.

Mame Reiley is not only a DNC delegate from Virginia who chairs the DNC women's caucus. She's also a top political adviser to Gov. Mark Warner and a long-time friend of former Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi.

Late in the afternoon, we got this press release from Dean's campaign:

Ben Johnson: "I am 100% Behind Governor Dean"

"I want to reaffirm my private and public support for Governor Howard Dean for DNC Chair. I want to make it clear that on February 12th, I will be casting my vote for Gov. Dean and that I am supporting him 100%. like many other people, I signed the petitions of a number of candidates who wanted to run for DNC Chair, including Wellington Webb, so that they could get on the ballot. This was not meant to be an endorsement of Mayor Webb or any of the other candidates whose petitions I signed."

Johnson confirmed in an interview that he is, indeed, supporting Dr. Dean.

The Dean campaign says that six more DNC members, including Rep. Elijah Cummings Jr., will endorse him today.

Roll Call's Chris Cillizza reports that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is backing Rep. Mike Honda for DNC vice chairman over Rep. Greg Meeks.

2005:

Codey: will he? Won't he? Can he? LINK

2006:

Schiro v. Clinton in 2006? LINK

We bet it never happens.

2008:

Will Saletan's close reading of Sen. Clinton's abortion remarks are quite illuminating and he gives her more credit for advancing the debate than many others (including we) have. LINK

"Once you embrace that truth -- that the ideal number of abortions is zero -- voters open their ears. They listen when you point out, as Clinton did, that the abortion rate fell drastically during her husband's presidency but has risen in more states than it has fallen under George W. Bush. I'm sure these trends have more to do with economics than morals, but that's the point. Once we agree that the goal is zero, we can stop asking which party yaps more about fighting abortion and start asking which party gets results."

We bet some sharp Clinton advisers had thought of all this. Our revised pronouncement on the original remarks: one part Sister Soulja, two parts triangulation, one part proxy, and four parts moxie!!!

Rudy's PAC is fundraising at the St. Regis tonight and Mayor Bloomberg will be in the house. LINK

John DiStaso of the Union Leader breaks news about the DNC's nomination calendar commission. Do read. LINK

The AP has some of it too. LINK

Congress:

Reports David Rogers of the Wall Street Journal: "A Republican plan to revamp Congress's annual budget process would reduce the number of spending bills required each year and break up the powerful appropriations panels charged with funding veterans, housing, science and environmental programs."

"Though details remain secret, the closely held proposal was outlined at a private meeting between the leaders of the House and Senate appropriations committees and Speaker Dennis Hastert (R., Ill.) and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R., Tenn.)."

"Past Congresses have periodically changed committee jurisdictions, but the proposal reflects a larger political agenda, driven by the leadership's frustration with the appropriations committees in both chambers and a determination to exert more control over the spending process. This year's budget debate is likely to be difficult, given the White House's desire to rein in the federal deficit."

Freshman Sens. Thune and Obama are getting in on the PAC game, reports Roll Call's Paul Kane.

Republicans fight Republicans on immigration: LINK

Clear Skies: stalled, still. LINK

Media:

No more commentator-paying from the Administration. LINK

Maureen Dowd resigns from the liberal media elite and wants to join the other side. Why? Because, she says, it pays better. LINK

Washington governor's race:

The Seattle Times' David Postman reports that Washington state Republicans on Wednesday said in court papers they found 300 illegal votes, and another 400 that can't be verified. The margin that gave Christine Gregoire the governorship was 129 votes. LINK

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Neil Modie breaks down both sides' cases. LINK