The Note: Approximately 3/5th of the Gang's All Here

WASHINGTON, Feb. 16 --


The third Tuesday of every month, The Note gathers a representative sample of the Gang of 500 into the back room at Capitol Hill's Bistro Bis to discuss the state of play in American politics.

Last night's group was more than "representative" -- we had 344 of the full Gang on hand, which included 11 Senators; 14 House members; 4 bureau chiefs; 7 people who think John King walks on water; 7 people who think John King should have his mouth washed out with soap; 4 Washington Post reporters; Jim Rutenberg; 12 GOP lobbyists who mean "Paxon" when they say "Bill"; Gwen Ifill; three of the laziest partners from the Glover Park Group; two of the most aggressive partners from Fierce, Isakowitz & Blalock; Mitch Bainwol; Steve McMahon; Tom Synhorst; Gina Glantz; Nina Easton; and Ron Kaufman (who BlackBerried with 41 the ENTIRE time!!).

Over moist rabbit with spaetzle, sautéed trout with capers, and pan-seared red snapper, the group reached its usual easy consensus:

1. Private accounts for Social Security are dead in the water; the only way the President is going to get a win on this issue is if he gets a massive (or gradual) shift in public opinion, or (more likely) if he gets a little bipartisan momentum for something in the Senate that will look nothing like he has proposed and that violates some of his bedrock principles.

2. Howard Dean hasn't screwed anything up yet, but hey, he's only been in the job for three days.

3. It is easy to see the rhetorical contours of the McCain and Clinton 2008 presidential campaigns -- but harder to see those contours for anyone else.

4. It is easy to see what Republicans will run negative-wise against McCain in '07; and/but no one can really imagine Bayh, Edwards, Kerry, Biden, or Richardson saying the words "billing records," "cattle futures," or "Ira Magaziner."

(OK -- maybe one CAN imagine Richardson saying them . . . .)

5. The Democratic nominee in '08 will likely run on three of the following four themes: "opportunity," "responsibility," "security," and "community," and she or he will likely not pay Al From a royalty.

6. The Republican nominee in '08 will likely come up with a great synonymous phrase for "compassionate conservative" -- and it won't be "kinder and gentler."

7. Glen Justice sees Tom Edsall in his nightmares; the Gang see Edsall in its dreams.

8. John Harwood just keeps getting handsomer and handsomer.

9. Legal precedents be darned -- we have to do everything we can to keep Matt Cooper and Judy Miller from spending even a moment's time in the pokey. LINK

10. It would be interesting to know who Gov. Romney is going to secretly meet with while he is in town for his NGA meetings; the Globe and/or Herald should probably stake him out, just in case a South Carolina paper is already planning to.

11. Why isn't anyone talking about the spat between Speaker Hastert and Congressman Emanuel, or about Emanuel's aggressive targeting of Republican House members on Social Security? LINK

12. We admired Will Lester asking a political question (disguised as a wonky question) of Al Gore on Tuesday's global warming conference call; we didn't quite know what to make of Gore seeming to take himself out of running for public office; and we L-O-V-E-D Gore's unbidden, unprompted reference to Jeff Gannon -- made with barely contained fascination and glee (once a journalist, always a journalist; once a Bush hater, always a Bush hater).

13. Shailagh Murray's upcoming move from covering Washington for the Wall Street Journal to covering Washington for the Washington Post is going to cause seismic shifts all over town, as her powerful prose moves from WSJ A4, A2, B5, and (sometimes) D1 (!) to WP A1 and C1 with delightful regularity.

14. And not a moment too soon: The front of the Style section and the Fed page continue to not be what they used to be -- except on Leibovich and Milbank days.

15. The Democrats have finally learned how to communicate with their bloggers -- to their advantage. But no one beats the Freepers, not even Kos.

16. Under Ken Mehlman, the RNC's minority outreach -- a true priority for him -- will probably bear fruit. But the Gang still can't figure out how Republicans can explain why Bush went to Bob Jones University and doesn't know whether aggresive efforts by some Republicans to restrict legal (and illegal) immigration will take away President Bush's apparent popular vote gains among Hispanics. Incidentally, even though there is much to like about George Pataki's Spanish, the Gang buys the Chuck Todd thesis that no potential 2008 GOP candidate has the connection to Hispanics that the Bushes have built in Texas and Florida.

17. The Federal Marriage Amendment is dead, dead, dead, no matter how many times Richard Cizik calls the White House to protest.

18. Air America is not half bad to listen to; IndTV will probably be fun to watch; Ed Schultz is entertaining, but there ain't anyone on the left who comes close to matching Limbaugh, Hannity and Dobson. And the left has no equivalent of the DCI Group, though Fenton is close to becoming the left's Creative Response Concepts.

19. "Liberal" is still a dirtier word than "conservative." "Chafee" is dirtier than both of those.

20. The Gang decided to offer associate memberships to the following: Matt Yglesias and Ross Douthat.

21. It was worth going up to New York for the Westminster Dog Show. Same with The Gates.

22. When Matt and Katie say "we'll hear from Howard Dean coming up" in a top-of-the-show tease, one assume that that means that Dean will be a live guest, but one assumes wrong.

23. Those who haven't switched to Treos from BlackBerrys know they should. But they are too busy to make that change.

24. Doug Jehl is to retired CIA agents what David Sanger is to North Korea.

25. The Gang reaffirmed that while everything it believes to be true is in fact true, that these things don't represent the views of The Note -- just The Note's sense of what the Gang thinks, Mr. Limbaugh.

After a closed-press breakfast with congressional leadership in the Oval Office, President Bush heads to Portsmouth, NH, to talk up his Social Security plan at 11:45 am ET.

Another piece of the President's agenda -- overhauling the tax system -- moves to center stage today. At 10:00 am ET, former Sens. Connie Mack (R-FL) and John Breaux (D-LA) hold the first meeting of the President's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform. Treasury Secretary John Snow speaks.

Former Vice President Al Gore delivers a "major address" on global warming and the Kyoto Protocol, which goes into effect today, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles at 7:00 pm ET.

At 8:00 am ET, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) was scheduled to address the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, talking about Senate legislation and issues facing businesses, including the class action bill.

At 9:00 am ET, House Republicans and Democrats hold closed party conferences.

At 9:30 am ET, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee considers the Clear Skies Act of 2005.

Also at 10:00 am ET:

--Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan testifies before the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee.

--The Senate Budget Committee holds a hearing on the transparency of budget measures, and CBO director Douglas Holtz-Eakin testifies.

--The Senate Foreign Relations Committee holds a hearing on President Bush's foreign affairs budget for FY2006; Secretary Rice testifies. She testifies before the House Appropriations Foreign Operations Subcommittee at 2:00 pm ET.

--The Senate Select Intelligence Committee holds a hearing on the world threat to the United States. Among those testifying: CIA Director Porter Goss (for the first time in this gig) and FBI Director Robert Mueller.

--The House Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on the FY2006 DoD budget. Secretary Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs Chairman Air Force Gen. Richard Myers testify. Rumsfeld testifies before the Senate Appropriations Committee at 2:00 pm ET.

--The House Budget Committee holds a hearing on homeland and national security needs.

--The House considers indecency legislation, which proposes boosting the maximum fine for broadcasters airing indecent material from $32,5000 to $500,000. The measure would also allow the FCC fine individual broadcasters/entertainers, such as morning shock jocks, without first issuing the warning now required.

--Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) addresses the Heritage Foundation about his bill to end wasteful and inefficient government spending.

At 11:00 am ET, Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) and Rep. Tim Johnson (R-IL) hold a news conference announcing the formation of the Center Aisle Caucus. We don't need to tell you what the Cynics Caucus in the Gang of 500 thinks of that . . .

At 11:30 am ET, Sens. Specter, Harkin, and Kennedy, and Reps. Mike Castle and Diana DeGette hold a news conference to announce a bill to expand the current federal funding policy for stem cell research.

At 3:00 pm ET, John Negroponte, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, briefs Senators in closed session. He moves to the House at 4:00 pm ET.

Tonight at 7:00 pm ET at the Kennedy Center, the Bradley Foundation, one of the largest conservative philanthropic organizations in the country, honors George Will, Robert George, Ward Connolly, and Heather MacDonald for their contributions to public life.

Social Security:

The White House famously bypasses the filter of the national media to project its message to specific audiences in specific states. But Democrats, led by the Susan McCue-Jim Manley war room, are leaving their own mark on local coverage of the President's Social Security tour.

They did a fine job of helping to position stories ahead of President Bush's visit to Nebraska and Florida last week, and judging by some of the coverage in New Hampshire, they're similarly engaged.

The New Hampshire Democratic Party's permanent campaign continues with a rally tomorrow and with judiciously distributed talking points furnished by the national party. The rally, timed to counter Bush's visit directly, is being organized by the party and allies, like the Alliance for Retired Americans.

The DCCC is ginning up local coverage of GOP lawmakers' past statements on Social Security using this Web site: LINK

And Josh Marshall's close attention to what current members of Congress are saying about Social Security has proved an invaluable resource for Democratic discipline. LINK

To wit: the AP's preview of President Bush's trip to New Hampshire includes all the opposition arrayed against him, and Notes polls showing some healthy support for the personal accounts idea in theory, and/but much less so when the plan means giving up benefits. LINK

The Chicago Tribune's Jill Zuckman reports that Republican Senators are taking a cue from House Speaker Hastert in urging a slower and steadier pace in selling the Social Security overhaul. LINK

Roll Call's Mark Preston curtain-raises the plans of both Senate Republicans and Democrats to take their campaign for or against, respectively, the President's Social Security plan back to their constituents.

As Linda Douglass reported on "World News Tonight" last night, PowerPoints alone won't do for congressional Republicans who are holding town meetings to push the President's Social Security plan next week -- it's all about the DVDs, report the dust-eating Mike Allen and Brian Faler of the Washington Post. But can you get it on Netflix? LINK

In a letter to the White House, Sen. Tom Harkin writes that disabled Americans are being left out of the Social Security debate and their benefits are being threatened by the talk of personal accounts, reports the Des Moines Register's Jane Norman. LINK

Immigration! A new variable to consider in the Social Security debate, write Robin Toner and David Rosenbaum in the New York Times. The more legal immigrants, the more solvent Social Security could be. LINK

Big Casino budget politics:

The House plows away with efforts to consolidate approps bills; the Senate refuses to go along, so Carl Hulse wonders what will happen when the two chambers try to reconcile their spending desires. LINK

The Wall Street Journal's Amy Schatz on bipartisan outrage over the proposed hike in airline fees, with pretty definitive statements from Ted Stevens.

Bush agenda:

The Wall Street Journal's Chris Cooper looks at the White House's aggressive efforts to recruit just one friendly Senate Democrat. LINK

". . . White House lobbyists estimate that as many as a third of the 44 Democratic senators will provide occasional assistance on issues such as energy, judicial nominations, tax-code overhaul and perhaps even Social Security. Since Republicans need 60 votes to overcome Democratic filibusters, and have just 55 of their own, winning converts isn't optional."

"Perhaps most important for the White House are those Democrats who must cope with broad home-state support for Mr. Bush. Five Democratic senators -- Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan of North Dakota, Tim Johnson of South Dakota and Evan Bayh of Indiana -- represent states that Mr. Bush carried with at least 60% of the vote in November. Messrs. Nelson and Conrad are up for re-election in 2006."

There's a great clip-'n-save chart of where '08 hopefuls stand in terms of voting with POTUS.

As President Bush's advisory panel on taxes sits down for its first meeting today, the Los Angeles Times' Joel Havemann and Warren Vieth take a closer look at two savings accounts that President Bush has included among his tax proposals in the FY2006 budget. LINK

"Instead of costing the government money, as most Bush tax measures have done, the White House says these accounts would raise revenue over five years."

"But the windfall wouldn't last. After the first five years, the accounts would develop into major drains on the Treasury -- reducing future tax collections by an estimated $1 trillion over 75 years. Unlike traditional tax-sheltered retirement accounts, these accounts would require individuals to pay taxes upfront on money put into them. But when the accounts were cashed in, any profits would be tax-free."

Free Matt Cooper and Judith Miller:

The Washington Post's Carol Leonnig reports on the decision by a federal appeals court ruling that Matt Cooper and Judith Miller are in contempt of court and could be jailed if they keep refusing to testify before a grand jury about their source(s) in relation to the leak of a covert CIA agent's name. The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that reporters have no First Amendment privileges to conceal information they learn from a criminal investigation, Leonnig writes. LINK

"The decision by the panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the most recent to threaten reporters with imprisonment, seems likely to accelerate congressional efforts to pass a 'shield' law allowing reporters to keep the identities of their sources secret," write the Los Angeles Times' David Savage and James Rainey. LINK

National security:

Congratulations on your new job, Secretary Chertoff. LINK; LINK

Sen. Clinton: "Aye"!!!!

The Washington Post's Walter Pincus reports that CIA Director Porter Goss today will give President Bush his plan to ramp up the agency's clandestine service and analyst ranks, focusing on recruiting field officers who can blend in with the groups they're watching. Goss appears today in closed session before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. LINK

Environmental politics:

The Washington Post's Shankar Vedantam takes a very good look at the Kyoto Protocol, which goes into effect today, what it means for climate change and the environment worldwide, and the effect that the United States not being a party to it will have on its efficacy -- and global politics. LINK

The Bush Administration reasons that the treaty is extremely costly and detrimental to the U.S. economy, as well as discriminatory because it doesn't pose the same restrictions on emissions to all countries. While the debate continues, Congress and several states are taking matters -- i.e., emissions standards and controls -- into their own hands. One of those measures -- a proposal by Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT) touted by former Vice President Al Gore in his conference call yesterday, imposes less restrictive emissions limits and a trading system to urge American companies to find ways to lower their emissions.

The Al Gore conference call got some coverage in the business and Midwest press. LINK and LINK and LINK

Gregg Easterbook, one of the President's more compelling environmental defenders, likes Clear Skies and urges enviros to take a second look. LINK

House Republicans have left ANWR out of the comprehensive energy bill, hoping to attract more Democratic support. LINK

Judicial politics:

The Los Angeles Times' Henry Weinstein looks at a memo by the Interior Department's inspector general criticizing a settlement while William G. Myers III, one of President Bush's judicial nominees, was the agency's top attorney. LINK

Democrats regroup:

The Los Angeles Times' Robin Abcarian looks at Democrats' shift from depression to pugnaciousness as they focus on hitting the President's agenda -- without (apparently) realizing that THEY STILL DON'T HAVE A MESSAGE. LINK

David Kirkpatrick in the New York Times writes of efforts by Democrats to accommodate divergent views on abortion, and while healthily quoting skeptics, manages to find a sincere Sam Brownback:

"'Just the language that allows for the Democrats to open up and even encourage people to run for office as a pro-life candidate is an enormously positive development for me,' Mr. Brownback said, adding that NARAL's decision not to oppose his fetal-pain bill made him much more optimistic about its passage." LINK

And Kirkpatrick includes what appears to be a veiled, well, something, aimed at the party by one of its top allies:

"Karen Pearl, interim president of Planned Parenthood, said some of her allies were saying that 'to the degree that the Democrats move away from choice, that could be the real birth of a third-party movement.'"

"But Ms. Pearl added, 'When the day is done, I don't believe they will backslide,' in part because of the importance of abortion rights advocates to the party's base of activists and contributors."

Look out consultants: Reid and Pelosi are looking to cut your meal tickets and bring in advisers from outside the Beltway, The Hill's Alexander Bolton reports. LINK

Gov. George Pataki defended Democrats yesterday from his own state party chairman, which pretty much tells you all you need to know about the state of Republican politics in New York. LINK

America Coming Together's new (well, reconfigured) leadership team: Gina Glantz will be chairman of the board, Harold Ickes will be President, and Steve Rosenthal remains CEO.

Gov./Chairman Howard Dean:

In an e-mail to the DNC's mailing list yesterday, DNC Chairman Howard Dean outlined his five priorities for the party, including his vow to "Show Up" -- compete everywhere; to Strengthen State Parties (more money in exchange for more accountability); Focus on Core Values (which means to use George Lakoff and try to reframe Democratic values and proclaim them loudly); Technology (Demzilla, consumer marketing, the Net), and Training (tomorrow's leaders, that is).

In the e-mail, Dean's language suggests he has taken sides in a very important and longstanding internal debate -- whether the Democrats have a message problem or a mechanics problem.

Dean says " . . . there is no crisis of ideology in the Democratic Party, only a crisis of confidence. Bill Clinton once described the Democratic Party's problems in the era of George W. Bush, saying that in uncertain times people would rather have a leader who is strong and wrong than weak and right."

We have never been quite sure what that means exactly, although it gives credence to those who think that the Democrats biggest problem is that they are too afraid to assert their core values, whatever they may be.

Suffice to say, even from many Dean supporters and certainly from his opponents, there are those who believe that the Democrats need to do more than refine talking points; they face Americans who are skeptical of their national security judgment; their commitment to a few precise political tenets (in that sense, Dean is correct when he diagnosis that folks don't believe Democrats, but that's not necessarily because Democrats don't shout themselves hoarse); their secularism.

Perhaps Dean will wait for Gov. Bill Richardson and Gov. Tom Vilsack and Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Nancy Pelosi to articulate those values and then articulate them with gusto.


Rep. Tim Johnson (R-IL) and Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) are looking to bring civility back to political discourse with the Center Aisle Caucus, their brainchild whose goal is to grow their personal collegiality into a more formal collective whose goal is policy and legislation with a touch of cross-party civility.

"This is not members getting together to sing kumbayah," said Israel spokesman Ryan Rudominer, who said the venture is going to be ongoing. "Steve Israel and Tim Johnson disagree on a lot of issues, and this doesn't mean they're caving in."

Johnson spokesman Matt Bisbee agreed, saying there can't be 100 percent, across-the-board agreement on every issue. "There are going to be issues where we're not going to find a middle ground."

Which may involve agreeing to disagree -- but in a civil way.

The duo, colleagues in the freshman class of 2000, floated the idea to former House former House Speaker Tom Foley (D-WA), former Republican leader Bob Michel (R-IL), and former Rep. David Skaggs (D-CO), who not only endorsed the plan but are showing up alongside them at the press conference today.

To start, the caucus will focus on Social Security and veterans' issues, and they'll get down to the business of recruiting following the President's Day recess, sending out a "Dear Colleague" letter, and ultimately forming a working group and steering committee.

Both MOCS say they're after a small, committed membership, and that response to the idea from other House members has been overwhelming. "We're not looking to have the biggest caucus out there," Bisbee said, indicating that there would be a "fairly rigorous process" to becoming a member. "We want to keep it kind of small, manageable, sincere -- and committed."

Sen. John Kerry:

The Los Angeles Times' Mark Mazzetti was at Sen. Kerry's breakfast meeting with Pentagon reporters, where he talked up his proposal to add 40,000 troops to the U.S. military and boost benefits for military families. He also talked about the tough time he had during his presidential campaign over raising national security issues. LINK

"'When you're running against an incumbent president of the United States, they've got a bully pulpit that you don't have and they have an automatic trust factor that [challengers] don't have,' Kerry said."

"'Americans accepted that I could be commander in chief,' he said. 'What they were unwilling to do was shift commanders in midstream. That's a tough argument. It's never happened in the course of a war. It didn't happen now.'"

USA Today's Tom Squitieri broadens the push for expanded money for military families to an effort by Senate Democrats, as outlined by Sen. Kerry, who will ask for up to another $8 billion for the troops and the families. LINK

Stem cell politics:

Sen. Kennedy has thrown down over Gov. Romney's proposal to ban cloning embryos for stem cell research, the Boston Globe's Rick Klein and Gareth Cook report. And Romney's looking to learn about ways to generate stem cells without embryos. Kennedy is signing on to a bill being introduced today and sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) that would allow research on embryos in fertility clinics that would-be parents have decided they don't want. LINK


Times poll, day two: higher favorability ratings for Bloomberg; still net negative approvals; New Yorkers can't name a "good" thing he's done; he loses in head-to-head against an unnamed Dem; New Yorkers disapprove with his takeover of the Board of Ed and more generally, of the state of public schools; 53 percent of GOPers have a good impression of the mayor. LINK

Two takes of the Mayor's campaign kick-off last night: the Post's Seifman on the substance -- LINK


The New York Times' editorial board ponders the several sides of Gov. Pataki: Northeastern moderate or New York politician of old. It wants more of the former; less of the latter. LINK

The New York Observer concludes it is not too early to write Gov. Pataki's obituary, reminding us that Medicaid and education funding could doom his political fate even if Fred Dicker cannot. LINK

Kieran Mahoney and others say the Governor is poised for a comeback, though.

Roll Call's Chris Cillizza writes that the Senate Democratic leadership are pushing those up for re-election in 2006 to commit as soon as possible to get the money ball rolling.

The DSCC will no doubt be doing its best today to inform you all about the Quinnipiac University poll results out of Pennsylvania today. The poll shows Republican Sen. Santorum trailing Democratic Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. 46 percent to 41 percent (MOE: +/- 2.8%) in a head to head general election match-up.

But the Blue State Republican's approval rating appears relatively healthy to us (52 percent approve, 31 percent disapprove) with no small help from the 36 percent of Democrats who give a thumbs up to the way Santorum handles his job.

Lots o' money, time, and support are going to be poured into this one, so keep your eyes on it!

Expect a Senate announcement next week from Rep. Harold Ford (D-TN), report The Hill's Bob Cusack and Hans Nichols. LINK


Cindy Adams sez that author Ed Klein has Sen. Clinton in his sights. LINK

Giuliani in Arizona next week for Sen. Kyl funder, per reports. LINK

Not in the Union Leader online, but in it nonetheless: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is scheduled to visit New Hampshire on March 4 for the Lincoln-Reagan Dinner.

On Sunday, "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" hosts former Sen. John Edwards for his first post-election interview, in which he'll talk about Democratic politics, the work of the One America Committee, and his new post at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity.

The Granite State:

Gov. John Lynch (D-NH) turned in a two-year budget yesterday short on new programs and new spending, but big on raising $87 million in revenue by increasing taxes -- on cigarettes, to 80 cents a pack from the current 52 cents. The money would go to the Education Trust Fund. Details from the (Manchester) Union Leader LINK; the Concord Monitor LINK and LINK; and the Nashua Telegraph. LINK

In the Concord Monitor, New Hampshire Democratic Party chair Kathy Sullivan makes her case against the bill passed last week in the state House to make it tougher for independent voters to switch back to their independent status after casting their ballots in the primary, pledging to work to allow independents to vote in the Democratic primary should the bill pass the state Senate. LINK


Liz Cheney is back to work as deputy assistant secretary of state for the Near East, AP reports. LINK

Former colleague Josh Gerstein, who now lends his reporting zest to the New York Sun, took up our assignment and covered the National Religious Broadcasters convention in Anaheim, CA, finding an FCC commissioner who doubts the fairness doctrine will return and plenty of Israeli tourism hawking. LINK

The folks at the Center for American Progress today launch their long-awaited campus outreach program. Check it out here: LINK

The Wall Street Journal's editorial board gives mad props, yo, to Gov. Schwarzenegger's retirement benefit proposals and slams Phil Angelides and other state treasurers.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) is getting on the tobacco tax-hike bandwagon -- another 75 cents per pack -- in his budget, along with state pension cuts and reduced growth in aid to schools. LINK and LINK

Ex DSCC-aide Chaing admits theft. LINK

Correction: Due to a coffee-induced stupor, The Note provided an incorrect surname for Democratic super-connector and America Votes executive Cecile Richards. We apologize.


Howard Kurtz delivers the latest installment in the whole sordid Gannon tale. LINK

The whole Joe Hagan piece on CBS News can be found here. LINK

As predicted in this space yesterday, the Los Angeles Times today runs a correction about a correction that appeared in Tuesday's paper, but AMAZINGLY it is NOT a correction about Roger Simon. LINK