The Note: Lessons, Questions, and Choices



This morning, Judge James Whittemore denied the latest appeal by Terri Schaivo's parents to restore her feeding tube. And late Thursday, Florida's Supreme Court also issued a ruling backing a lower court judge's refusal to allow the state to take custody of Schiavo.

Another trip to the 11th Circuit is on tap for today, as Christian conservative groups exert maximum pressure on Gov. Jeb Bush to do something.

If you watched "World News Tonight with Peter Jennings" last night, you'd hear Gov. Bush saying he'd do everything he could within his powers -- but he wouldn't exceed them.

Having read, and thought, and reported, and talked, and thought some more, we still are not sure at all what impact the Schiavo case might have in the short-, medium-, and long-terms on American politics.

Right now, although we are paid to offer up our views, the best we can do is say: as the nation reflects and watches basketball this weekend, here are some questions that will be batted around in certain circles:

1. What does all this do to the Democratic Party's struggle to deal with issues of "faith" and "values"? If Ms. Schiavo dies, will the polling data that has spooked some Republicans -- and simultaneously emboldened and confused some Democrats -- shift? Who are the most likely candidates to be punished by voters for "playing politics" with the issue?

2. Does this hurt the GOP in 2006? Can Democrats find tasteful ways to bring it up?. (If they can finesse this into a federalism issue or link it with privacy issues in a way that respects the claims on Terri Schiavo's life, maybe.) In the end, which party is more divided on this case?

3. Does this hurt Frist in 2008? He's lost respect from some of his doctor peers and there's oppo around that suggests his position on this wasn't always as clear. Did he gain the respect, finally, of conservative Christians? Or is the focus too much on Tom DeLay for that to have happened? Why did Frist's office put out a statement yesterday (in the name of the communications director) explaining that Frist hadn't intended to issue a diagnosis-by-videotape, as some have charged and some medical types (and pundits) have criticized? How will the Florida media treat Frist when he is there next week for a Social Security town meeting?

4. Does this make judicial confirmation battles more easy or less easy for the White House? (Unclear.) It certainly adds to the arsenal of "judicial arrogance" weapons the Republicans have rhetorically, but we can't help but think that the Schiavo case will come up in, say, Sen. Kennedy's questioning during hearings, and we're eager to see what conservative jurists have to say about the balance of power.

5. Does this galvanize the GOP base? Part of it? Alienate others?

6. Does this make it easier for Christian conservatives to exercise their political chits? Or will the GOP conferences conclude that their allies on the Right overreached?

7. Does Schiavo, given the wall-to-wall media coverage, enhance, or reduce, congressional approval ratings?

8. Whither Tom DeLay? Or: Welcome back, Tom DeLay? How will the next round of ethics stories play in light of all this?

9. How well do Democrats think their leadership prepared them for the post-vote public debates? Will Howard Dean become more outspoken on the issues involved?

10. How does this play in recess town hall meetings? Will there be another case after this that galvanizes opinion and pre-occupies the media?

11. How different would things have been if this happened when Congress and the President were in town? Will returning Members be eager to discuss it, or eager to move on?

Washington is elsewhere quiet. President Bush is at the ranch. There's a kick-butt day-long conference at the American Enterprise Institute on Social Security, starting with an 8:45 am ET address by CMMS head Mark McLellan.

According to a new USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll, President Bush's approval rating has fallen to 45 percent, the lowest point of his presidency. The finding, in a poll of 1,001 adults Monday through Wednesday, is a dip from 52 percent in a poll taken last week. Bush's previous lowest rating, 46 percent, was recorded last May. Some political analysts said the drop may reflect opposition to the White House and Congress intervening in the Terri Schiavo matter. The new poll found the largest drop for Bush came among men, self-described conservatives and churchgoers, although it is difficult to pinpoint how large a role the Schiavo case may have played in the drop. LINK

On "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" on Sunday, Rep. Barney Frank and Rep./Dr. Dave Weldon debate Terri Schiavo. And Cardinal Theodore McCarrick sits down with George.

We want to grab your attention for a moment and direct it to our political calendar, which we humbly think is one of the best in the biz. POLITICAL CALENDAR

If your organization's event is not on there, if you know when Sam Brownback first visits Iowa or when Bill Richardson does Merrimack County, or Roy Barnes hosts a major GA L.G. fundraiser for Max Cleland, e-mail Marc Ambinder and let him know.

Big events small events -- as long as we deem them Noteworthy, we'll include them.

Our calendar, once again: POLITICAL CALENDAR

Schiavo and Jeb Bush:

Randall Terry's RightMarch says in a mass e-mail to supporters this morning: "We had a meeting on Wednesday between folks from RightMarch (William Greene and our attorney, Larry Klayman) and Governor Bush's chief counsel (his top lawyer on staff). We presented information on why the Governor has the authority RIGHT NOW under Florida Law and the state constitution to take Terri into protective custody NOW, and save her life. Gov. Bush failed to take action."

"We had a meeting on Thursday between our folks (this time, Larry Klayman AND Ambassador Alan Keyes) and Gov. Bush's Chief of Staff. Dr. Keyes eloquently explained to him why the Governor has the authority RIGHT NOW under Florida Law and the state constitution to take Terri into protective custody NOW, and save her life."

"Gov. Bush failed to take action."

"Judge Greer has shown more courage in trying to KILL Terri Schiavo than Gov. Bush has shown in trying to save her. But instead of facing Judge Greer down like he should have... Bush blinked."

"This is THE pivotal moment in Gov. Bush's political career."

That all speaks for itself.

But the New York Times' Adam Nagourney suggests the Schiavo case has helped cement Gov. Bush's conservative credentials more broadly. LINK

" . . . inevitably, the events of recent days have fed the mystique of Mr. Bush as a reluctant inheritor of perhaps America's most famous dynasty since the Adams family two centuries ago."

Read the whole thing, and then read these Florida newspaper articles for analysis and background: LINK and LINK and LINK


The Rev. Lou Sheldon acknowledges to the New York Times' David Kirkpatrick that the Schiavo case has increased donations to his group. LINK

"'That is what I see as the blessing that dear Terri's life is offering to the conservative Christian movement in America.'"

The Miami Herald reports that during the January 2000 court battle in which Bob and Mary Schindler sought to wrest Terri's guardianship from Michael Schiavo, the Schindlers repeatedly conceded that their daughter's brain damage was extreme. LINK

''We do not doubt that she's in a persistent vegetative state,'' Pam Campbell, then the Schindlers' lawyer, told the court. Later, Michael Schiavo's lawyer, George Felos, asked Mary Schindler, ''Is Terri in a vegetative condition now?'' to which she replied, "Yes. That is what they call it.'' The article goes on to detail the differing opinions the two sides have formed over the years and also Notes that the Schindlers once embraced Michael Schiavo's dating of other women after Terri's condition worsened.

The Los Angeles Times' Richard Simon and Janet Hook write that after their emergency actions last week, congressional lawmakers seem to have backed off after the U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to hear the case, and Note Senate Majority Leader Frist's careful comments to "clarify" his weighing in questioning the diagnosis of Schiavo's condition. LINK

The Chicago Tribune's Jeff Zeleny Notices the silence as well. LINK

David Broder argues that judicial and legislative restraint are precious principles, weakened by Republican lawmakers who usually fall on the side of restraint but got involved in the Schiavo case -- and now should be called into account by their conservative brethren. LINK

E.J. Dionne asks what it really means to be considered "pro-life," arguing that despite Republicans' seeming disgust with connecting the Schiavo case to questions about Medicaid funding, questions of health care are about both life and money issues, and argues that the principle of life isn't what's going on here. LINK

The Wall Street Journal's lead editorial opines that "On this Good Friday, in the holiest week of the Christian calendar, Americans of various religious beliefs are keeping vigil for a woman many of them had never heard of until one week ago. If Terri Schiavo's ordeal, and that of her husband and parents, can help our society reach a better understanding of how to deal with these difficult issues, that will be a worthwhile legacy."

The Journal's Dan Henninger says that Schiavo will probably wind up being good politics for Republicans because it reframes the abortion debate and forces Democrats to avoid the appearance of being the "Right To Die" party.

Ralph Nader, in a news release, calls on the courts to save Schiavo's life. He and Wesley J. Smith wrote: "Benefits of doubts should be given to life, not hastened death. This case is rife with doubt. Justice demands that Terri be permitted to live."

Social Security: the must-reads:

John Harwood, in the Wall Street Journal's Washington Wire, Notes the Administration's fondness for Pozenian indexing, and writes: "Bush tells an aide 'We're making good progress,' but personal-account backers fear solvency-only deal."

The New York Times' Edmund Andrews gets Sen. Lindsey Graham to call progressive indexing a "great" idea. LINK

The New York Times' entrepreneurial reporting has uncovered that the Social Security Administration's Web site has taken a different stance on individual investment accounts than the Bush Administration has taken while promoting the President's Social Security reform plan across the country. On the SSA Web site's Q&A section, the Agency warns against the risks of allowing citizens to invest their social security funds into private investment accounts. The Times does Note that this entry has apparently been on the website for years, yet when the subject was brought to the attention of the SAA's press office they gave no indication they plan to amend the page. LINK

The Wall Street Journal's Macro Investor Steve Liesman writes: "There are some Republicans who argue that the president has done a poor job marketing his plan to privatize Social Security. (It was amusing that after the president campaigned for more than a month, the White House this week decided to roll out the real big gun: Dick Cheney.) Marketing isn't the problem. The idea appears to be losing on its merits -- or lack of them -- as Americans seem to have a preference for guaranteed benefits, as opposed to those that fluctuate with the market. To the extent that the issue is one that concerns fiscal prudence, President Bush lacks credentials."

Chimes in the Journal's editorial board, which wants to put all the chips down on personal accounts: "Letting individuals keep and invest this excess payroll tax money, which they've earned, is the nub of the entire Social Security debate. And we suspect it's the only argument that reformers have that will trump the scare tactics and accounting obfuscation of opponents."


Coming to a state near you in 2006: the new Medicare law and whether it hurts or helps.

Robert Pear's story in the New York Times today suggests that states will lose money. LINK

Bush agenda:

ABC News' Jessica Yellin reports that the Government Accountability Office will investigate the Bush Administration's practice of paying journalists to promote its policies. The GAO will look into HHS' payments to Maggie Gallagher. Sens. Kennedy and Lautenberg called for the investigation claiming the payments were an illegal use of taxpayer dollars. The White House, Yellin reports, responded perfunctorily: "The President has made it clear there must be a bright line between advocacy and journalism."

But Bill Pierce, spokesman for HHS, had some choice words.

He would NOT say that there are no longer journalists on HHS' payroll. When asked he'd only say, "What is a journalist?"

On the GAO: " It's Surprising the GAO would spend taxpayer money on this when there are real issues like Social Security and health care issues that need attention," Pierce said.

The Washington Post's Ceci Connolly picks up where Ron Brownstein left off yesterday, writing that Native Americans across the country have Noted President Bush's silence on the school shooting in Minnesota at the same time's he's publicly commented on the Terri Schiavo case, and they're angry and frustrated about it. LINK

The Washington Post's Peter Baker reports that President Bush's May trip to Moscow now includes stops in Latvia and Georgia, which is expected to cause a little friction in Russia, was well as a visit to the Netherlands. LINK

USA Today's Judy Keen gives the once-over to President Bush's team and priorities for his second term. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Robin Abcarian takes a look at the turn Doug Wead's life has taken since the story broke about his taped conversations with President Bush -- it's a big change from being an insider to the "Hair Shirt Tour," during which he's apologized again and again, on television and in print, is now not accepting speaking engagements and, to put it mildly, is on the outs with the Bush family and some evangelicals. Abcarian also Notes that Wead's third book, on presidential siblings, is in the works -- and he will use tapes made with the permission of the Bush family. LINK

The economy:

The Wall Street Journal's John Harwood, in Washington Wire, says that anti-tax activists are upset that GOP Senators refuse to propose to cut the federal gas tax because they don't want to reduce proposed spending for highways and surface transportation.

The Congress:

The Washington Post's Shailagh Murray offers a very good outline of the ideological split among Republicans over how to handle illegal immigration, between those who favor programs like President Bush's "guest worker" suggestion, and those who want to clamp down on asylum seekers and deport those who crossed the border illegally. LINK

Keep your eyes on the McCain-Kennedy work on this.

The Washington Post's Rick Weiss reports that the House leadership has agreed to allow a vote on a bill that would loosen the restrictions on embryonic stem cell research imposed by President Bush in 2001. The "Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act," expected to come to a vote in the next two or three months and introduced by Reps. Mike Castle (R-DE) and Diana DeGette (D-CO) would allow researchers to use federal funds to study new stem cell lines from embryos discarded by fertility clinics, and establishes the first federal ethics rules for the research. LINK

House of Labor:

In Las Vegas, the coalition of unions who want to oust AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and institute their version of reform had a coming out party of sorts. But their main proposal at the time, a fifty percent per capita dues debate pushed by the Teamsters, was defeated in executive session, and a Sweeney-backed plan to double the AFL-CIO's political budget passed.

So the dissidents moved forward. Several top officials conceded that the emphasis on the per capita rebate might have been a tactical error because it allowed critics to suggest that such a small amount of money wouldn't really help push forward new union organizing. Others say it helpfully brought public attention to their case. The leaders of the five unions, UniteHere, SEIU, UFCW, the Teamsters and the Laborers, meet regularly now to plan their next moves, and several sources, who asked not to be identified because they didn't want to be seen as revealing details about internal debates, said that the unions are thinking much more broadly about how to promote their growth agenda for workers and building worker power. (The AFL-CIO continues to promote its political priorities.)

UCFW's President Joe Hansen, a key figure in labor's efforts to organize Wal-Mart, has many allies throughout organized labor. Several AFL-CIO officials and union officials say they're watching Teamster President James Hoffa closely. If Hoffa, who is widely respected within the movement, threatens to bolt the labor group, he might be able to tip the balance of power away from Sweeney. But labor officials familiar with his thinking say he has no plans to leave now. But they say Hoffa has grown more and more frustrated since Las Vegas about the slow pace of AFL-CIO reform and is more and more inclined to find a candidate to run against Mr. Sweeney. John Wilhelm of UniteHere is weighing his options carefully, sources say, to make a bid.

The AFL-CIO's executive committee next meets on May 9, and then on June 13. The Executive council, made up of all AFL-CIO union presidents, meets on June 27.

Internet and politics:

Reports the New York Times' Glen Justice: "The Federal Election Commission on Thursday proposed new ways to apply campaign finance rules to online political activity, inviting members of the public to comment on how the agency should regulate things like online advertising and e-mailed political messages." LINK

"The proposal suggests extending campaign finance rules that cover advertising in other media like television to cover Internet advertising as well, meaning, for example, that advertisements could not be bought using unlimited 'soft money' contributions in many cases."

"But it also proposes exemptions for political activity conducted by individual advocates, as well as for Web sites that carry news articles, commentary and editorial content. There are also proposed exemptions for state political parties."

"Other provisions seem to indicate that the panel might be leaning away from heavy regulations on most 'bloggers,' whose online commentary played a major role in last year's election."


2008 Republicans:

The Washington Times says that a "growing number of conservatives want Dick Cheney to reconsider his refusal to run for President." LINK

The Boston Globe's Scott Greenberger reports that Gov. Mitt Romney omitted a reference to Roe v. Wade this week in the annual "Right to Privacy" proclamation marking the anniversary of a court ruling legalizing birth control for unmarried people -- a change from last year and yet another uproar/tea leaf into Romney's positioning for 2008. LINK

Note that the paper suggests that the Governor's office gave serial explanations for the change; Note that neither pro-life nor pro-choice advocates at this point want to claim the Governor as their own.

The Boston Herald reports that Romney held a $300,000 fundraiser for his gubernatorial campaign last night and has the state GOP chair on the record as saying Romney is planning to run for re-election. LINK

Sen. John McCain will be the commencement speaker at the University of Oklahoma on May 13.


2008: Democrats:

Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen broke real news yesterday about a deal reached between the Administration and Iowa about Medicaid, the entitlement paid for by federal and state governments and administered by the states.

Yepsen wrote that HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt on Tuesday told Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack that the Administration has agreed to give states significantly more flexibility in how they can spend their money. And that Iowa can test-drive the new proposal. LINK

Leavitt, of course, is a former governor of Utah who restructured his state's Medicaid program to give a basic package of health care to more poor people while reducing access to more expensive, less preventative health care techniques.

Even if Congress rejects President Bush's call for billions in overall Medicaid cuts (as the Senate did last week), states, it seems, have won a significant concession from the Administration about flexibility.

Vilsack, the popular two-term Democratic governor of Iowa, is said to harbor national ambitions and recently set up a political action committee to raise money for gubernatorial candidates in 2006

This doesn't hurt, we would say.

More from the Register's Jonathan Roos: LINK

The Boston Globe's Joan Vennochi adds up the recent comments and actions by Sen. Hillary Clinton, and concludes that the junior Senator from New York is doing an early and effective job at carving up Sen. John Kerry's support base, making it harder perhaps for him to get in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. LINK

"As she slices up the traditional Democratic base, Clinton is also reaching out to the middle, seeking common ground on contentious issues from war to abortion. It is an early, but impressive show of political gamesmanship. And it is all happening while the rest of the Democratic pack of presidential possibilities train their arrows mainly at President Bush and Republicans in Congress."

Or has she? Peter Brown in the Orlando Sentinel believes that not-no way, not-no how has Sen. Clinton convinced anyone outside of the Beltway (and the Hub) that she's a different species of Democrat. LINK

The Vennochi piece is a Web only and a must-read for all; the other piece is optional, unless your name is "Craighead."

The AP wrote up Barbara Bush's belief that Sen. Clinton would be the '08 Democratic nominee and lose the general election. And that Secretary Rice won't run for President. LINK

John Edwards made his second lifetime appearance on ESPN2's "Cold Pizza" this morning.

Edwards said he is pro-Tar Heel (instead of Wolfpack). And he advocated a "run, run, run" strategy for the Heels against 'Nova.

His favorite tournament memories involved Michael Jordan and Jim Valvano (and somehow the folks at the Deuce had the video ready to roll in!!).

Edwards said Dean Smith is better at motivating the troops than is Howard Dean (Good question, Dana Jacobson!!!).

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) is scheduled to spend next Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday in Alabama, returning to the site of his vacation last fall that spurred him to write a Salon op-ed about the need for Democrats to reach out to Americans in the South.

Feingold spends Monday touring Greenville, where he'll visit the high school and a car parts plant and speak at a city council meeting. On Tuesday, he'll visit Montgomery, where he'll visit the Civil Rights Memorial and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Then he heads to Birmingham for a health care round table, talk with community leaders, and speak to a meeting of the city's Democrats.

WesPAC's new Web site claims hundreds of thousands of hits. The Wesley Clark political vehicle now wants money. In a fundraising appeal sent out to members, Clark wrote: "In the coming weeks and months, WesPAC is going to be a forceful advocate for new, wiser approaches to foreign, economic, and social policy that will help secure America's future for generations to come."

One thing Clark learned when he ran for the Democratic nomination: Americans like their presidential candidates to be optimistic!!!


The New York Post's Fred Dicker sees Rudy Giuliani's attendance at a Westchester County GOP dinner as further evidence he's considering a run for governor. LINK

Giuliani on Imus this morning talked about seeing a video of Mel Gibson's "Passion," about going to church, and about what a great guy Imus is.

"U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's decision on whether to challenge Gov. Rick Perry in the GOP primary next year may rest heavily on whether she keeps a promise she made 13 years ago: to serve no more than two full terms in the Senate," writes the Houston Chronicle's R.G. Ratliffe. LINK

From the trenches: New Hampshire State Rep. Peter Sullivan explores a challenge to Rep. Jeb Bradley. And progressive professor/activist Dave Loebsack weighs a bid to take on Jim Leach in Iowa.


A blow to Los Angeles Mayor Jim Hahn: Rep. Maxine Waters endorsed Antonio Villaraigosa yesterday. LINK

Eat your heart out, Davidson Goldin -- a genuine, certifiable Gotham City Note exclusive follows:

Though the four Democrats vying for the nomination in this year's New York City mayoral primary have yet to meet in an official side-by-side-by-side-by-side candidate forum (never mind an actual debate) it's never too early to start preparing. (Yes, we too are very much looking forward to that April 19 Crain's Breakfast Forum.)

Democratic frontrunner Fernando Ferrer has begun debate prep with his cadre of advisers cast in the leading roles.

Ferrer pollster (and proud papa) Jef Pollock is playing the boisterous and witty Congressman Anthony Weiner. Edgy communications strategist Jen Bluestein takes on the role of the genteel C. Virginia Fields. And David Axelrod's New York colleague, John Del Cecato, will take a break from the edit room (and the downtown club scene) for that much anticipated television ad campaign, to play the tireless Gifford Miller.

Pollock and Bluestein will no doubt feel the pressure of performing on the same stage as Del Cecato whose portrayal as Mark Green in 2001 debate prep is the stuff of legend.

And despite the recent bravado some Ferrer advisers may have displayed on an (accidental) voicemail message left for a New York Times reporter, there is no word yet as to who will play Mayor Mike should Ferrer make it to the general election.

Don't get Freddy tickets to the Super Bowl . . . LINK

Meanwhile, the New York Times says Al Sharpton is leaning toward endorsing Virginia Fields, but the deal isn't done. LINK

One more Note from the world of Ferrer '05. The campaign is set to announce today the addition of Juli-Anne Whitney as press secretary. Ms. Whitney cut her teeth across the Hudson in the world of Jersey politics and more recently has been the mouthpiece for Fox Searchlight touting such films as "Sideways" and "Garden State."

Welcome to Gotham politics, Juli-Anne. Remember: Gabe gets as many follow-ups as he'd like. And Rutenberg has a Mona Lisa smile.

Dr. Dean and the Democrats:

The Boston Globe's Nina Easton writes that Gov. Dean seems to have found an ideological and temperamental ally in Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, despite a bit of a bumpy start. LINK

"Reid and Dean have strategized by phone at least a dozen times over the past few weeks with the Democratic National Committee, which Dean chairs, producing television ads to bolster Reid's efforts to crush White House plans to create private Social Security accounts for younger workers. Together with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California, Dean, the doctor from the Green Mountains, and Reid, the lawyer from the Nevada desert, are shaping a Democratic Party that is rigorously oppositional, a strategy that GOP opponents call 'obstructionist,' and one that some Democrats find invigorating while others criticize as shortsighted."

The Republicans:

More Karl Rove travel: He'll visit Lake Geneva, WI on April 9. LINK


The controversy over an aide to Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich and his whisper campaign against a political rival hasn't faded -- and now involves accusations by the Governor that a former state employee is trying to "blackmail" him. Yesterday Ehrlich suggested that the aide, whom he fired, might have been set up, and that there's a campaign going on against his Administration. LINK

King County, WA, purged 99 felons from its voter rolls yesterday, and prosecutors are planning to challenge another 93 people they say are illegally registered to vote as Republicans' case challenging the election of Gov. Christine Gregoire continues. The total number of felons who illegally cast ballots is now 192. LINK ; LINK

Former President Jimmy Carter will lead a bipartisan commission to study problems with the U.S. election system, along with former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle. The group will hold public hearings -- at American University in Washington, DC on April 18 and at Rice University in Houston in June. LINK

The Wall Street Journal's Brody Mullins has a nice look at former AIG chief Hank Greenberg's political donations.

The joys of Hot Springs, Arkansas and the meaty ribs of Bill Clinton's favorite, McClard's, in the New York Times' Escapes piece. LINK


Imus is in the clear, re: his ranch, the Wall Street Journal reports today, in a piece that spends a lot of time defending the paper's original story.