Who's afraid of a little generosity?
This is Sen. Barack Obama's chance to be the bigger candidate -- and already he's showing a tendency to give.
Buffeted by criticism over his foreign-policy chops, with the RNC and Sen. John McCain mocking him for letting 871 days elapse between Iraq visits, Obama, D-Ill., says he may take that Iraq trip after all -- though not with McCain at his side.
A foreign trip could do him some good: "Iraq would obviously be at the top of the list of stops," Obama tells The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny.
Maybe the strategy works in the primary too: Now that it's clear that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., is highly unlikely to get what she wants out of Saturday's Democratic National Committee meeting . . . why not just give it to her?
Obama's approach on Florida/Michigan -- in essence, waiting out the clock -- has already worked: Clinton can receive everything she's looking for at this late stage and it still won't make a real difference in the delegate count.
(And does anyone outside of Camp Clinton think this popular vote argument matters in the least? If it did, might it not have started working six weeks ago, or a month ago, or even now, with the superdelegates?)
"Democratic sources tell ABC News that the Rules and Bylaws Committee is not going to give Clinton the full undiluted seating of Florida and Michigan's delegations," ABC's Teddy Davis reports. "Instead, the DNC panel is likely to impose a 50 percent sanction on the two states' delegates. Under this scenario, Clinton will see a net gain in delegates (somewhere between 15 and 28 net pledged delegates for the two states combined)."
Per ABC's Jennifer Parker, "many of the panel members reached by ABC News this week agreed Clinton isn't going to get what she wants." Said committee co-chair James Roosevelt Jr.: "They'd [the Clinton campaign] have to persuade the committee that there was no violation of the rules and I haven't seen anything to support that."
Obama is up 206 delegates over Clinton -- and the supers have been moving in only one direction over the past month,per ABC's delegate scorecard. Obama is plus-63 since May 6; Clinton is plus-9 in that same time period.
Yes, Tuesday could be the night Obama goes over the top -- and changing the magic number makes that trickier. But Obama looks like he'll get to whatever number he needs (how many supers does Obama have in his back pocket?).
He can afford to be a little generous in the endgame of the nomination fight -- and it's well worth the delegate cost if that means avoiding a fractious convention.
Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pa., sees it: "I'm a realist, and I think most likely the superdelegates will give Sen. Obama the votes he needs," Rendell told Bloomberg TV Wednesday. With the DNC not likely to capitulate, "I think it's very unlikely that Sen. Clinton can prevail. I think that means we're not going to field our strongest candidate."
But Bill Clinton is still working it -- and what he's planting is not going to pretty for Obama if it starts to bloom. His wife, he said, is on her way to becoming "popular choice of the Democrats" -- an argument he wants to register at Saturday's meeting, and with the uncommitted superdelegates.
Then there's the swing-state advantage -- highlighted by Camp Clinton in the final push to supers.
"Hillary Clinton's campaign tried again Wednesday to convince Democrats, especially those on the party's rules committee, that she's their strongest candidate this fall, while her rival Barack Obama talked compromise and calm," McClatchy's David Lightman reports.
From the Clinton campaign's memo to supers: "When you look at her wins in the important swing states and her strength against (presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John) McCain in head-to-head matchups, there's no question that Hillary is the strongest candidate."
Bottom line on Saturday: The party is unlikely to shut out Florida and Michigan, but it's not likely to reward them, either -- and even full capitulation to Camp Clinton wouldn't be enough, not now.
"That decision could cost Barack Obama votes, but isn't likely to swing the nomination to Hillary Clinton,"June Kronholz writes in The Wall Street Journal. "But in an indication that Sen. Clinton sees the states as pivotal to her chances, her advisers said she may be willing to take the fight to the convention floor if she fails to win all the delegates she believes she is due."
Once again, it comes down to the math -- and the DNC's own analysis reminds everyone that rule are rules, even for the Clintons: "The lawyers' analysis said that as punishment for the primaries' being held early, party rules allowed the states nothing more than that their delegations be cut in half, or that the full delegations be seated with each delegate getting only half a vote," Katharine Q. Seelye writes in The New York Times.
"As a result, Mrs. Clinton would appear to need all the more superdelegates to swing her way if she has any remaining hope for the nomination," she continues.
Key insight: "It ain't over till Hillary says it's over," Michael McAuliff writes in the New York Daily News. "She still gets to say when that is -- no matter what an obscure party committee decides this weekend about votes she needs from Florida and Michigan."
There's always the convention -- which should be Obama's biggest fear. "Party lawyers determined that full restoration, as sought by Clinton, would violate DNC rules, although it did note a loophole that would allow her to carry the challenge to the first day of the Democratic National Convention in late August," Shailagh Murray and Karl Vick write in The Washington Post.
Assuming the status quo, "Obama could pull within about 10 delegates of the 2,026 needed for the nomination, assuming he wins the South Dakota and Montana primaries as expected on Tuesday," per Murray and Vick. "The Saturday meeting is likely to increase the threshold, possibly by several dozen delegates, but campaign officials said they are confident that uncommitted superdelegates will quickly move to endorse Obama, pushing him over the finish line as early as Wednesday morning."
NPR's David Greene, who takes note of Clinton's shifting rhetoric on whether Florida and Michigan count: "The Clinton campaign's best hope is that a compromise by the party on Florida and Michigan could bolster her argument that her popular-vote wins in Michigan and Florida should count. Even if some delegates are reinstated, Clinton will remain behind Obama -- which is the math that counts."
So why not be a little generous? "Should Clinton or her supporters come away feeling she was treated unfairly, they may prolong their argument all the way to the convention and hesitate to get behind Obama if the Illinois senator becomes the nominee," Peter Nicholas and Janet Hook write in the Los Angeles Times. "That outcome would leave the party weakened in its general election battle against John McCain, the presumed Republican nominee."
Said one Clinton ally on the Rules & Bylaws Committee: "At the end of the day, what we do on Saturday is not going to change the fact that Obama is going to win the nomination."
But it might get ugly: "Hundreds of her backers . . . plan to protest outside the Washington hotel hosting the party's Rules and Bylaws Committee," Joe Williams and Scott Helman write in The Boston Globe. "Clinton's loyalists are encouraging the protests -- and ratcheting up arguments for why Clinton deserves the lion's share of the unseated delegates because she handily won the two states' unsanctioned primaries."
"Outside the meeting, several hundred Floridians plan to protest on the sidewalk in front of the Marriott-Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C.," Jennifer Liberto and Robert Farley write in the St. Petersburg Times. "Many of them will be Clinton supporters, but others say they are simply angry at the party."
"Some Clinton campaign surrogates quietly encouraging vocal protests at the meeting; this will almost certainly backfire and wind up steeling the committee's spine,"per The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder.
Obama is not playing that game -- and his only incentive now is for comity. "Obviously with the click of a mouse it would be pretty easy for us to get thousands of people there," campaign manager David Plouffe told reporters Wednesday (showing off a little?), "but we don't think it's a helpful dynamic to create chaos and, in the interest of party unity."
Per ABC's Sunlen Miller, Obamaland is giving ground: "We're willing to compromise and I think that's where most of the party is," Plouffe said.
Throwing the Book:
The Scott McClellan media tour kicks off Thursday, with an interview on NBC's "Today," and later hits on NPR and MSNBC -- and plenty more rounds to come.
The first full day with the book in the public sphere gave his former colleagues a chance to tee off -- and remind McClellan of how coolly efficient this gang can be. All together now, with full mixture of pity and disbelieving anger: "It doesn't sound like the Scott we knew."
Said Ari Fleischer, on ABC's "Good Morning America": "It's so horribly unfair. . . . This is heartbreaking to me, that anybody could do this and turn so 180 degrees. It makes me wonder, did Scott ever believe [what he was saying from the podium]. . . . He's inventing facts."
Thomas M. DeFrank, in the New York Daily News: "It's hardly surprising the White House attack machine would furiously mobilize to turn Scott McClellan into a pariah. Now that he's off message, he never existed. . . . Confession is usually a powerful elixir. So is payback."
"Mr. McClellan got a taste of life on the other side," Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in The New York Times. "The White House and a tight-knit group of former aides pushed back. They sought to paint the former press secretary as a disgruntled man trying to redeem his own reputation after long remaining silent about concerns he is suddenly taking public."
"The result was a kind of public excommunication of Mr. McClellan, waged by some of the people with whom he once worked most closely, among them Karl Rove, the political strategist; Frances Fragos Townsend, the former domestic security adviser; Ari Fleischer, Mr. Bush's first press secretary; and Dan Bartlett, the former counselor to the president," she continues.
Trent Duffy, McClellan's former understudy, tells The Washington Post: "Tomorrow maybe we're going to learn he's rooting for the Oklahoma Sooners. . . . Here's a man who owes his whole career to George W. Bush, and here he's stabbing him in the back and no one knows why. . . . He appears to be dancing on his political grave for cash."
If you recognize this playbook (Paul O'Neill, Richard Clarke, David Kuo, John DiIulio . . . ) that may be because McClellan used to read from it.
Per ABC's Jake Tapper, this is McClellan in March 2004, referring to the Clarke book: "Well, why, all of a sudden, if he had all these grave concerns, did he not raise these sooner? This is one-and-a-half years after he left the administration. And now, all of a sudden, he's raising these grave concerns that he claims he had. And I think you have to look at some of the facts. One, he is bringing this up in the heat of a presidential campaign. He has written a book and he certainly wants to go out there and promote that book."
Maybe not everyone's shocked: "Several of the reporters who jousted with McClellan during his tenure at the briefing room podium from July 2003 to April 2006 -- the same group of reporters who McClellan now describes as being 'too deferential' in the run-up to invading Iraq -- say they are not surprised that the mild-mannered spokesman has lashed out," Politico's Michael Calderone writes.
But of McClellan playing media critic, saying reporters weren't aggressive enough? "It's a stunning and unsupportable statement," CBS radio's Mark Knoller tells the Los Angeles Times. ABC's Ann Compton: "Is Scott suggesting the White House press corps can stop, or start wars?" NBC's David Gregory: "I think he's wrong."
The AP's Terence Hunt on the fallout: "His word, it turns out, was worthless, his confessional memoir a glimpse into Washington's world of spin and even outright deception."
And who knows how to get in the news? "Scott McClellan must now appear before the House Judiciary Committee under oath to tell Congress and the American people how President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, and White House officials deliberately orchestrated a massive propaganda campaign to sell the war in Iraq to the American people," said Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla.
Such a pity -- the RNC clock on Obama had just started ticking, too. Obama's plans for Iraq could de-fang what could have emerged as a powerful McCain argument -- a key data point in his efforts to portray Obama as too inexperienced for the job.
This is fertile McCain ground: "Speaking with evident condescension, Arizona Sen. John McCain needled Barack Obama on Wednesday by offering to travel to Iraq with the Illinois senator to help him gain a better understanding of the war and the consequences of withdrawing troops," Maeve Reston and Scott Martelle write in the Los Angeles Times.
To the news of a possible trip, McCain responded: "It's long overdue. . . . And I'm confident that when he goes he will then change his position on the conflict in Iraq."
McCain is leading with foreign policy -- any question as to why?
"With his experience and leadership credentials under sharp criticism, Senator Barack Obama and his advisers are trying to clarify what has emerged as a central tenet of his proposed foreign policy: a willingness to meet leaders of enemy nations," Jim Rutenberg and Jeff Zeleny write in The New York Times. "In an interview on Wednesday, Mr. Obama, of Illinois, sought to emphasize, as he and his aides have done continually over the last few days, the difference between avoiding preconditions for talks with nations like Iran and Syria, and granting them automatic discussions at the presidential level."
Obama now: "I didn't say that I would meet unconditionally as John McCain maintained, because that would suggest whether it was useful or not, whether it was advancing our interests or not, I would just do it for the sake of doing it."
McCain is still looking for ways to break with the president -- but it isn't always easy. "John McCain's nuclear proposals are largely in line with those of the unpopular President Bush, and even where the two disagree, the Republican presidential candidate has waffled," AP's Robert Burns writes, in a day-after analysis of McCain's nonproliferation speech.
The Lobbyist Dance:
First, Obama: "The co-director of Barack Obama's presidential campaign in Puerto Rico is a Washington-based federal lobbyist for the government of Puerto Rico," Jeffrey Birnbaum writes in The Washington Post. "Ethics watchdogs said that the high-profile role of Francisco J. Pavía appears to contradict the Obama campaign's ethics guidelines, which forbid federal lobbyists from working on staff. But Obama spokesman Bill Burton said Pavía is an 'active volunteer' -- not a paid staffer -- and can hold the job without running afoul of the campaign's rules."
Then, Clinton: "Harold Ickes, a longtime Clinton family confidante and member of the Democratic National Committee, is a registered lobbyist with the Ickes and Enright Group," Newsweek's Jake Sherman reports. "Lobbying disclosure forms show that in 2007, when the Senate was preparing a bill called the Labor, (Health and Human Services) and Education Appropriations Act 2008, Ickes lobbied Congress on behalf of the Brooklyn Public Library and the New York Hall of Science. Records show Clinton and fellow New YorkDemocratic Sen. Chuck Schumer earmarked $500,000 for the Brooklyn Public Library and $600,000 for the New York Hall of Science."
Finally, McCain, grappling with that new 527 policy: "Senators Joseph I. Lieberman and Lindsey Graham, prominent surrogates for Senator John McCain's presidential campaign, stepped down Wednesday from their positions with an independent group that released a pair of Internet advertisements attacking Senator Barack Obama on Iraq," Michael Luo writes in The New York Times.
McCain could have bigger problems, though. He was quick to throw the Rev. Rod Parsley overboard, but not everyone liked what they saw: "The candidate's abrupt turnabout brought criticism not only from secular viewers, who questioned why he had aligned himself with controversial religious voices, but also from evangelicals, who said he may have alienated a powerful bloc of potential Republican voters," Kimberly Kindy reports in The Washington Post.
Says political consultant Doug Wead: "For McCain to have to repudiate these people is much worse than ever having their endorsement in the first place."
And transparency has clear limits: McCain isn't the only candidate who's holding closed-door fundraisers, per Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times. "On Tuesday, likely Democratic nominee Sen. Barack Obama slammed GOP rival Sen. John McCain for holding a fund-raiser with President Bush with 'no reporters' around. [Wednesday], Michelle Obama is headlining a fund-raiser in California for Hollywood elites that the campaign did not announce."
"Both Senator McCain and Senator Obama have reputations as crusaders for transparency in government and campaign finance, but neither presidential contender has shown much interest in letting the sun shine in on their own fund-raising events," Josh Gerstein writes in the New York Sun.
Here's a story the Clinton campaign could have used, say, three months ago (don't worry, McCain is watching): "Obama has not emphasized any signature domestic issue, or signaled that he would take his party in a specific direction on policy, as Bill Clinton did with his 'New Democrat' proposals in 1992 that emphasized welfare reform or as George W. Bush did with his 'compassionate conservatism' in 2000, when he called on Republicans to focus more on issues such as education," per The Washington Post's Perry Bacon Jr.
Also from that department: "A high-profile supporter of Barack Obama accused American Jewish groups of engaging in 'McCarthyism,' a statement that could further complicate the Illinois senator's appeal to Jewish voters," per the New York Daily News' Michael Saul. Said Zbigniew Brzezinski: "It's not unique to the Jewish community -- but there is a McCarthy-ite tendency among some people in the Jewish community. . . . They operate not by arguing but by slandering, vilifying, demonizing."
No Rezko verdict yet, but more trouble for Tony himself: "Las Vegas judge has issued a felony arrest warrant for a politically connected Chicago businessman whose ties to Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama have become an issue in the campaign," Jeff German writes in the Las Vegas Sun.
Clinton campaigns in South Dakota, while Obama is down in Chicago (in time for the Resko verdict?). McCain campaigns in Wisconsin, and President Bush continues fundraising, in Utah and Kansas.
Get the full political schedule in The Note's "Sneak Peek."
"I . . ." -- Hillary Clinton, not finishing her thought in front of Mount Rushmore, when a reporter asked her if she could see her own face going up on the monument one day.
"I can assure you, I will feel the same way then that I feel now, that I can say to Scott, 'Job well done.' " -- President Bush, April 2006, seeing a day where he and Scott McClellan would reminisce about the old days.
"If you look back at his past comments and his past actions, they contradict his current rhetoric." -- Scott McClellan, March 2004, on Richard Clarke's new book.
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