WASHINGTON, Feb. 22 --
Team Bush is darn good at the mechanics of modern international presidential travel.
They herd the press corps; they create the photo ops; they manage the take-aways; they answer the questions the way they want them answered; they trot out smooth-as-butta Dan Bartlett; and they don't let the storyline get away from them.
No less an Owl Eyes than CBS News Mark Knoller used the phrase "tres bien" with his flawless French accent!) on the radio this morning pertaining to thawing Franco-American relations, although he might as well have been speaking about the whole trip so far.
And/but back here at home (as they say in the news dodge when they are trying to be transitional), the big game remains the President's Social Security overhaul vision.
The Gang of 500 (and/including Republican members of the Congress) continue to propagate the CW that what constituents say to members during the current Capitol Hill recess (and what members are able to convince constituents to believe) will go a long way toward determining the fate of the reform effort.
In fact, you don't need to get all that into the weeds of the tea leaves to say that many "observers" (read: "participants") see the first threshold as whether anything should be tried AT ALL -- and that comes before the questions of WHAT should be tried for and IF something can be passed in 2005.
Stories from two of the leading political reporters on the 2004 presidential campaign tell the tale:
The New York Times' Jodi Wilgoren writes about "folding before the flop . . . " LINK
And Pat Healy (formerly of the Boston Globe but now also of the Times), wrote yesterday about a "melancholy spell over the city." LINK
Now, Wilgoren was writing about poker and Healy about TV shows set in New York, but you get our gist.
Perhaps more on point: the Wall Street Journal today writes about intra-GOP divisions over taxes; personal-account-booster Rep. Paul Ryan doesn't seem all that optimistic; and Ways and Means point guy Rep. McCrery reveals a "Sopranos"-style sit-down with some Administration officials after he recently uttered a discouraging word -- and then closes his New York Times profile with some MORE discouraging words. (More on all this below.)
So while the President -- pre-departure -- cast the Social Security mission as convincing people that there IS a problem, we see the bigger issue right now as convincing Republicans that, in the end, Social Security reform is going to happen. Because without that, the heavy lift becomes excessively Sisyphean.
As both Peter Pan and Tug McGraw have said: You gotta believe.
The Believer-in-Chief -- surely monitoring all these developments from overseas -- has a European day that is packed.
By the time you read this, he has breakfasted with Blair; bi-lated with Berlusconi and met with Yushenko. At 10:45 am ET, he attends an EU meeting. He takes a class photo with EU leaders at 12:20 pm ET. Just before 1:00 pm ET, he takes questions at a news conference with EU leaders.
He has another bi-lat with the EU Commission President at 1:30 pm ET, a working dinner with the EU council and commission at 2:15 pm ET, and then RONS in Brussels.
Congress, of course, is on recess (but happy birthday, Sen. Frist!). The Supreme Court meets at 10:00 am ET for arguments without Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Today, the justices will hear the Kelo v. New London eminent domain case.
Howard Dean heads to upstate New York to talk about grassroots organizing and the Democratic Party at Alfred University tonight and Cornell tomorrow. LINK
By the time you read this, Dean plans to have "secretly" met this morning at party headquarters with a group of top Democratic strategists, sources say. Invitees include Donna Brazile, Ann Lewis, Steve Rosenthal, Kiki Moore, John Podesta, and Mary Beth Cahill favorite Paul Begala (invited but perhaps not attending).
Dean will be in Kansas and Mississippi mid-week.
Wednesday, President Bush spends the day in Mainz, Germany, meeting with Chancellor Schroeder there. He also visits the Gutenberg museum and addresses U.S. troops at Wiesbaden. He RONS in Bratislava, in the Slovak Republic.
Thursday, Bush meets with the President and Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic, speaks to Slovak citizens, then meets with President Putin of Russia. The two hold what should be a very interesting joint press avail.
The American entourage returns to the White House, and the President takes a day to rest on Friday. Sen. Bill Frist will be in Cleveland, OH for a meet and greet.
On Friday, we wonder whether any consultants for 2008 hopefuls will be at the Iowa Sportsmen Federation's annual banquet in West Des Moines. Sen. Frist continues his recess travels with a speech in Chicago, IL.
On Saturday, former Sen. John Edwards addresses the Broward County, FL Democrats at their Jefferson-Jackson Dinner.
The National Governors Association winter meeting begins Saturday in Washington with two days of forums on education. The other meaty topics will be discussed next Monday and Tuesday.
Sure to get attention from insiders:
Nicole Harburger, the communications director of the Democratic Governors Association, sends us this late-breaking announcement:
"When Governors gather next week for the annual NGA Washington meetings, DGA's highly respected Executive Director, BJ Thornberry, and 2005 DGA Chairman Governor Bill Richardson, are going to announce that, after six years, Thornberry will be stepping down from her position as DGA's Director "
"Thornberry is widely admired by Governors around the country, and by Democratic political operatives around town, for her stewardship of one of the Party's most welcoming, successful, and lean political committees. Over the past six years, while Democrats have suffered Presidential and Congressional set-backs, the DGA has not only held its own, but has regularly won campaigns in Red -- even bright Red -- states. Every member of the current DGA caucus was either elected or reelected under Thornberry's watch, including all 6 of the women Democratic Governors. Thornberry is credited with transforming what was a fundraising entity into a full strategic services campaign committee. During next week's meetings, an interim Director may be named. Thornberry is expected to take some time off and then pick her next project."
She will be missed but not forgotten.
The Wall Street Journal's John McKinnon Notes a subtle sign of openness among many Republicans to the possibility of increasing taxes to shore up Social Security. Newt Gingrich tells the Journal that "at the end of the fight, there will be a tax increase on the core Republican base." And McKinnon Notes that the Bush budget already calls for revenue increases in the name of user fees for airlines and a few other things.
He then butts this sentence: "One top Senate Democratic aide calls tax increases 'a given' if the overhaul effort gets off the ground." with the outright opposition of Rep. Mike Pence. And/but there's even encouragement from a Heritage Foundation senior fellow.
The Washington Post's Mike Allen headed to Wisconsin with Rep. Paul Ryan as the congressman on the Ways and Means Committee began his listening tour of his district, both to push the President's Social Security plan and to gauge the reaction there to offer his party leadership some guidance on how to sell it. LINK
Ryan puts the chances of passage as not that high, and, as Allen points out, not as many Republican members are taking up the Social Security issue this recess as leadership would have liked.
The New York Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg has a canny look at the many ambitions of Rep. Jim McCrery; the man who wants to save Social Security; the man who wants to be the next chair of the Ways and Means committee; the man who wants to represent his skeptical constituents; the man who once a Democrat. (He doesn't want be in the Senate, though). LINK
The last sentence just might send chills down certain sensitive spines:
"'If we get a bill to the president, or we don't get a bill to the president,' he said, 'I hope at the end of this, people won't say, "Jim McCrery is the one who messed this up."' "
The Los Angeles Times' Peter Gosselin looks at how well personal investment accounts have fared among public employees over the last decade in seven states that have offered them. Answer: not all that well, in terms of levels of participation and rates of return. "While Americans are just beginning to grapple with the president's proposal for private accounts, employees and retirement officials in Michigan, Montana, Washington, West Virginia and other states have discovered that the accounts can fall far short of their promise. Their experiences sound a cautionary note for Bush as well as for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has proposed switching public employees to private accounts starting in 2007."
"The accounts Bush is proposing are not a precise match to the ones states have offered in recent years. And the low signup rate for accounts among state workers may be partly because more of them are covered by generous pensions than are American workers generally, so they may feel less need for the accounts. But the tepid response to accounts in some places casts doubt on one of the central premises of the Bush plan: that Americans are clamoring to join the investor class."
"The poor performance of many of the accounts leaves experts to wonder whether most people, even among those who want to make their own retirement investments, have the time or knowledge to do so successfully."
On Sunday, the Washington Post's David Broder, writing that the President's Social Security plan "is hanging by a thread," explained the treacherous waters for Republican lawmakers who risk finding themselves targets to groups who oppose the plan -- and likened it to the Clinton health care overhaul plan. LINK
On Saturday, the Washington Post's Jim VandeHei examined how private accounts for Social Security would affect the safety net for low-income workers -- and Sen. Lindsey Graham's statement that he'd support better benefits for the working poor to help the President's plan pass. LINK
The New York Times' Ray Hernandez on Sen. Clinton's growing popularity with Republicans in New York and the mutual kissy-kiss between her and Sen. John McCain on "Meet" this weekend. (Note to Ray, sitting on the set of a Sunday show, however, Sen. McCain would say that Barbara Milkuski would make a great president, too.)
"Independent political analysts say her strong standing may give pause to any big-name Republican thinking about challenging her in 2006, chief among them Rudolph W. Giuliani and Gov. George E. Pataki. In fact, a Quinnipiac poll released earlier this month found that Mrs. Clinton would defeat both Mr. Pataki and Mr. Giuliani in head-to-head contests." . . . "[But] New York Republicans also say that the senator has had a free ride so far and that her opponent in the campaign will have an easy time driving up her negative ratings -- and halting her rise in the polls -- by pointing out what they describe as her poor record of accomplishment and her liberal ideology." LINK
The Boston Globe's Raphael Lewis looks at Gov. Mitt Romney's warmly received visits to Missouri and South Carolina over the weekend, where he talked about his opposition to cloning human embryos for stem cell research, how the gay marriage issue came to pass in his state, and to give Republicans far removed from Massachusetts a chance to view him as a possible commander in chief. LINK
The State's Lee Bandy takes special care to mention in his lead that Romney is a devout Mormon, Noting that the governor was happy with the crowd he saw in Columbia, but as state GOP chairman Barry Wynn put it, "the dating is just starting." LINK
The Boston Herald leads with Romney's statements to the South Carolina crowd that he's opposed civil unions "from day one," pointing out that the governor "has for months backed a constitutional amendment which would ban gay marriage while allowing Vermont-style civil unions" and has told state lawmakers that civil unions are the lesser of two evils. LINK
Alexander Morrison of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal describes a warm, though somewhat skeptical crowd for Romney's speech. LINK
The Herald-Journal also offers audio: LINK
We enjoyed the Bill Heffley-led C-SPAN coverage -- which gave us access to Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer's objectively-not-funny "joke" about the ocean; Romney's joke comparing Speaker Wilkins to the All Mighty (an apparent Beatles reference); the state chair's trashing of Howard Dean; and the way the Governor handled a post-speech question about immigration.
All in all, that is one optimistic and cleverly crafted road stump speech.
Of course, the Boston Globe's Joan Vennochi writes her column this morning about the continuing drumbeat/speculation that Romney will pass on a try for a second term. LINK
Rudy Giuliani heads to Jackson, MS to help Sen. Trent Lott raise money for his re-election campaign today. LINK
Democratic hopefuls are already plowing the field in California for cash; Carla Marinucci has news on an impending Bayh visit, Kerry visits, an impending Edwards visit, and a Joe Biden meet and greet that might be a fundraiser. LINK
The AP write-up on Sen. Edwards' exclusive "This Week" appearance includes his non-response to George Stephanopoulos's question about whether he'll sit out until and unless Kerry doesn't run. LINK
In case you missed it, here are the results from the 2005 CPAC poll of conservative activists conducted by Fabrizio McLaughlin. N=641.
One question asked attendees who they thought would be the Democratic nominee in 2008:
Another question asked who participants thought would be the Republican nominee in 2008.
11% Allen, Frist, McCain
4% Owens, Romney, Santorum
1% Hagel, Huckabee, Pawlenty, Santorum
** = figures provided to ABC News by CPAC.
Conservatives and Republicans:
The Log Cabin Republicans are regrouping after an election suggesting a national consensus against gay marriage has broadened the group's legislative goals this year. The Cabiners are reaching out to conservative organizations and vowing to be a partner with the Bush Administration.
The group, which claims thousands of dues-paying members, paid at least $3,000 to co-sponsor the Conservative Political Action Conference, marking the first time a gay rights group has been officially recognized by the nation's annual gathering of conservative activists. They've also begun to lobby members of Congress about Social Security reform, changes to the tax code, and immigration.
Read the whole story here. www.abcnews.go.com/Politics/story?id=512945"> LINK
On Sunday, the Washington Post's Tom Edsall took a look at the shifts among conservatives, and the division emerging among them between those who feel the government should have a role in regulating morals and individual conduct, and those who think it should do more to stay out of the way. LINK
There's an excellent Wall Street Journal article on Page A-4 by John Fialka that examines why key Republicans have begun to reappraise their opposition to curbs on emissions. One hint: Alaskan villages are starting to see effects.
Bush agenda (circa 2005):
On Monday, the Washington Post's Lois Romano and Mike Allen talked to author Doug Wead, who said he taped his conversations with then-Gov. Bush for "historic" purposes, and not to harm the President -- though book promotion certainly doesn't seem out of bounds. LINK
The David Kirkpatrick story that started it all in the New York Times: LINK
On Monday, the Boston Globe's Charlie Savage turned in an interesting read about how the debate about immigration policy and how and to whom to grant political asylum is presenting conservatives with a thorny problem. Evangelical Christians, joining with groups like Human Rights First and Amnesty International, support what they call a compassionate asylum system, while others endorse giving the Department of Homeland Security the ability and authority to turn away people seeking asylum. The measure, sponsored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and passed earlier this month, and he plans to attach it to the Iraq supplemental spending request. LINK
First Lady Laura Bush sat down with Newsweek's Tamara Lipper to talk about her own plans for the second term in the White House -- particularly her Helping America's Youth Initiative, focusing on boys, education and raising expectations for boys' achievements in schools and life -- including a summit in the fall. " LINK
Paul Krugman predicts the Bush Administration will shift focus to international conflicts to prevent the President from losing support at home. LINK
Bush in Europe:
On Sunday, the Washington Post's Peter Baker wrote a very good curtain-raiser on the President's meeting on his trip with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and what the President hopes to accomplish -- or at least discuss -- with Putin during their sit-down. LINK
Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times on an emphasis she didn't see: "White House officials had promoted the speech as a major embrace of European unity, and had released excerpts on Sunday night suggesting that the president would extensively support the idea of the 25-member European Union as a partner rather as a rival to the United States. But he did not devote more than a few sentences to those ideas, and cast his support for a new European unity in the context of his goal of advancing liberty." LINK
Elaine Sciolino of the Paper of Record on the de-rechristening of freedom of fries and the clash of world views. LINK
A powerful Senator takes a shot at Bill Gates in Robert Pear's take-out on the debate over Medicare coverage for erectile dysfunction: "There's no reason we should be covering lifestyle drugs for senior citizens such as Viagra and Cialis,' said Senator Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee. 'There's no reason a working American should have to pay for that type of drug if, for example, Bill Gates needs it when he retires.'" LINK
The New York Post says New York taxpayers have "shelled out" $20 million for Viagra and other ED treatments. LINK
Chairman Dean, the Democrats and labor:
After trolling the blogs on the DNC Web site, the Washington Post's Dan Balz on Sunday took a look at how Howard Dean's trademark transformation of the Democratic Party from the grassroots up could end up taking them leftward. LINK
"At a minimum, say party strategists, the shift will mean a more confrontational Democratic Party in battles with President Bush and the Republicans. But some strategists worry that the influence of grass-roots activists could push the party even further to the left, particularly on national security, reinforcing a weakness that Bush exploited in his reelection campaign."
Newsweek's Eleanor Clift examines how "secular" got to be a dirty word, and how Howard Dean is framing his leadership of the Democratic Party as Dems start to look at how to talk about faith and morality. LINK
The Washington Post's Tom Edsall on Saturday previewed the reportedly upcoming Sweeny vs. Wilhelm battle for the leadership of the AFL-CIO. LINK
In Sunday's New York Times, two fellas (who go by the names "Chalian" and "Halperin") wrote about Mayor Bloomberg's current commanding position as he seeks Republican re-election in a Democratic city. LINK
Roll Call's Chris Cillizza writes that House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) is gearing up for some possible redistricting payback, talking with several Democratic governors, including Illinois, New Mexico, and Louisiana, about redrawing their states' congressional boundaries.
On Sunday, the Boston Globe's Frank Phillips looked at the fundraising powerhouse that is Sen. Ted Kennedy's 2006 re-election bid, Noting that while the Massachusetts GOP is having trouble rustling up a candidate, the Senator is following the Steve Grossman-endorsed playbook to keep raising cash and not let his guard down. LINK
Rep. Jim Nussle to Iowa Republicans: we've got a lot of work to do. LINK
On Monday, the Los Angeles Times' Ron Brownstein wrote that the Civil War brewing over the President's judicial nominations could be circumvented if both sides swallowed hard and reached a compromise. LINK
"The root of the problem over judicial nominations is that neither side sees political gain in compromise. Each energizes its electoral base by standing firm. That translates into money and activism for elections in 2006 and beyond. And the White House and Democratic leaders know their most ardent supporters would denounce any compromise as capitulation."
"Both sides need a longer view. Democrats genuinely consider the nominees they have blocked to be out of the mainstream. But the republic has survived the appointment of individual judges that either side considered extreme. At this point, it's more important to establish a process that would allow future presidents to reach reasonable agreements with Congress on how to fill vacancies."
Not necessary to read the entire Supreme Court Memo in today's New York Times: it's about Rehnquist and preps to appoint a successor, and all the familiar names are mentioned. LINK
The New York Times' editorial board endorses the Senate Democrats' version of election reform but has nice things to say about the Ensign and Holt legislation. LINK
Roll Call's Amy Keller previews the fight over the influence and operation of 527 groups in the future -- including the March 7 debate between Bob Bauer and Trevor Potter.
On Saturday, the New York Times' Rick Lyman paid a visit Mitch Daniel's home territory, listening to the gov's explanation for raising taxes on Hoosiers, his knowledge that the "Grovers" of the world think he's crazy, that he has few allies right now and a long four years ahead of him. LINK
On Monday, the Los Angeles Times' Robert Salladay looked at Gov. Schwarzenegger's rhetoric about big money in politics when he was campaigning, and how now that he's governor, his actions haven't followed suit. Salladay takes Note of the series of fundraisers Schwarzenegger has scheduled this year with the goal of raising at least $50 million. LINK