The Note: Pope Scope

WASHINGTON, April 4

NEWS SUMMARY

The passing of one of the most beloved figures in the history of the world -- coupled with at least a month of the kind of process-oriented and made-for-TV events that have the potential to roadblock any given day in April and early May -- changes a covey of political calculations.

The best-laid Easter recess plans of those strategizing on Social Security, the budget, the Bolton nomination, the Senate face-off on judges, the Schiavo aftermath, and turning "DeLayFrist" into "DoleGingrich" can go straight into the dustbin.

There will be enough activity and momentum from the weekend's events to carry through to Friday's world-stopping funeral. And the run-up to the papal selection will likely dominate TV and print space (but, particularly TV) in ways that will clearly have an impact on how much attention and focus any of the quasi-mega storylines listed above can get.

This isn't Martha, or Michael, or Scott -- the election of the new head of the Catholic Church is that rarest of modern stories -- something both important (and thus of interest to, say, ABC News and the New York Times) and event-generating (and thus of interest to, say, cable news).

So while the great process, policy, and political machines will continue to lurch hither and yon, Washington planners will have to factor in the Roman schedule on any given day to figure out if there is enough oxygen to justify entering the media room.

That's the most immediate political impact of the events at the Vatican. More are coming, however.

The New York Times' Adam Nagourney makes one of the first stabs (More are coming, however.) at the longer-term potential effect on American politics, with a little past and recent history, and a nod to President Bush's strong relationship with the Pope. It is a must-read, and not just because we like to see Nagourney writing about Mario Cuomo again. LINK

Maura Reynolds has a comparable piece in the Los Angeles Times that is also a must-read -- focusing on the President's relationship with the Catholic leader and his flock. LINK

The latest news from Rome: Pope John Paul II's funeral will be held at 4:00 pm ET on Friday. (The royal wedding is now Saturday.)

Thus this week's schedule of events is presented below with the big caveat that it is all subject to change. We checked in this morning with top House and Senate aides and no one knows what will -- or won't happen.

Today, the gates of St. Peter's Basilica will open at 11:00 am ET for the Pope's legions to pay their respects.

At 10:20 am ET, President Bush meets with President Yushenko of the Ukraine, followed by an 11:25 am ET joint press avail. And at 3:00 pm ET, the President attends a posthumous presentation of the Medal of Honor to Sgt. 1st Class Paul R. Smith.

The Supreme Court meets at 10:00 am ET.

Among the possible newsworthy decisions, according to ABC News' Manny Medrano: Ashcroft v. Raich, on whether California's medical marijuana law runs afoul of a federal ban on marijuana. Granholm v. Heald, MI Beer & Wine Wholesalers Assn. v. Heald, Swedenburg v. Kelly, on whether states can ban interstate liquor sales. And Veneman v. Livestock Marketing Assn, on whether the government can force beef producers to pay for catchy ads promoting beef.

The Department of Homeland Security conducts a major domestic terrorism drill today in several states.

At 11:45 am ET, RNC chairman Ken Mehlman holds a conference call with members of Congress who'll say they held successful Social Security town hall meetings over the recess.

The Senate meets at 2:00 pm ET. No votes today. Sen. Bill Frist will at some point soon formally and publicly offer Democrats his "compromise" to avoid what Dems call the "nuclear option" and what Republicans call the "constitutional option" -- seeking a rules change to allow cloture (or debate stoppage) with only 51 votes. The Democratic leadership in the Senate is likely to reject the "compromise," but both sides acknowledge that there are at least a half dozen Democratic Senators and about nine Republicans opposed to the "nuclear option" who might be amenable to middle ground.

Republican Hill sources say that Frist soon plans to schedule floor votes for the appellate renominations of Justices Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown for late April, with the anticipation that Brown's nomination will be the first under the new rules of consent.

Lots of grassroots activity on judicial nominations commences in earnest.

If the schedule holds, the House will probably pass its version of bankruptcy reform legislation, and the Senate on Wednesday has a hearing about end-of-life issues prompted by the Terri Schiavo case. And budget reconciliation talks begin to heat up.

Today, Ret. Gen. Wesley Clark speaks at Clinton Presidential Library on the "Path to Presidency."

On Tuesday, President Bush travels to West Virginia to discuss Social Security and tours the Bureau of Public Debt. (!) In Arkansas, Wal-Mart makes its case to 100 journalists (and Paul Blank clears his schedule to make 100 additional phone calls.)

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller testify at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the USA Patriot Act. Sen, John McCain speaks to the Committee for Economic Development on campaign finance.

Voters in Kansas decide whether to permit a constitutional ban on gay marriages and civil unions. If so, it becomes the 18th state to ban gay marriage. (See: LINK

)

Correction: Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's office tells us he will not headline the Corry County GOP dinner in South Carolina. He was invited, but is not planning to attend.

The always in vogue New Democrat Network hosts its spring soiree at Top of the Hill in Washington, DC.

A health care forum sponsored by Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business in Phoenix hosts former Sen. John Edwards.

On Wednesday, President Bush meets with his cabinet in the morning. Ukrainian President Victor Yushenko addresses a joint session of the Congress. Fed chairman Alan Greenspan testifies before the Senate Banking Committee on regulatory reform. The Senate Finance Committee holds hearings on CAFTA. Senate Democrats present 1 million signatures opposing changes to Social Security.

The American Petroleum Institute issues its weekly gas price report in the morning.

Wednesday night, the Radio and Television Correspondents' Association holds its annual dinner at the Washington Hilton, with guests galore and the honor of President Bush's attendance.

Thursday, the President tentatively travels to Columbia, SC for a morning Social Security town hall meeting. (Will Sen. Graham be with him on the stage? Will Gov. Sanford get a presidential photo op to spur his advisers' presidential ambitions?)

The Senate Energy and National Resource committee holds a hearing about Yucca Mountain. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has a hearing with UN ambassador nominee John Bolton.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force honors Gov. Howard Dean in Washington, DC. That union election for health care workers in Illinois takes place, with SEIU having won the right to represent about 48,000 -- if they agree to it.

The Federal Election Commission holds an open meeting. And the Midwest Political Science Association meets in Chicago, IL.

Friday, President Bush was supposed to visit troops in Kileen, TX and had a big speech planned, but he will instead be in Rome at the Pope's funeral.

Fed chairman Alan Greenspan speaks at a Fed conference in Washington. Rep. Mike Pence and former Rep. Tim Roemer hold court on religion and politics at the National Press Club.

Al Sharpton's National Action Network holds its annual convention in New York City. Sen. John Thune hosts the Kinh County, WA Lincoln Day dinner in Seattle. DNC Chairman/Gov. Howard Dean speaks at a luncheon hosted by the Democratic Party of Arkansas and the Association of State Democratic Chairs in Little Rock, AR.

Saturday, Sen. Hillary Clinton keynotes the Minnesota Democratic Party's Hubert Humphrey Day Dinner in Minneapolis; Karl Rove keynotes Rock and Walworth county Republican Party Lincoln Day dinner, Lake Geneva, WI; he also keynotes the Waukesha County Republicans Lincoln-Day Day dinner.

Former Sen. John Edwards keynotes the Liston B. Ramsey Spring Gala in Asheville, NC, and Sen. John Thune hosts the South Carolina Republican Party Silver Elephant dinner.

On Sunday, Sen. John Kerry headlines a fundraiser for Rep, Marty Meehan, Lowell, MA.

John Paul II: a legacy is served:

Two very good paragraphs from the Wall Street Journal's Gabriel Kahn, though we are certain many conservative Catholics will quibble at his use of the verb "halt."

"Most strikingly, John Paul II halted the momentum for institutional reform that came out of the Second Vatican Council, which, among other changes, strove to create a more approachable and responsive church. Even many close allies of John Paul say it is time for an organizational housecleaning to get officials focused on the church's top challenges -- among them, a shortage of priests, the spread of a more assertive Islam and tensions created by the growing weight of Latin America and Africa in world Catholicism."

"Steering an organization of the Catholic Church's size would test the most seasoned executive or general. Catholicism counts some 1.08 billion faithful around the globe. The Vatican itself employs around 4,000 people, and there are close to 1.2 million priests, monks and nuns around the world. The budgets of the Vatican city-state and its political entity, the Holy See, add up to less than $500 million, but world-wide spending including local churches is far larger. The total expenses for all the parishes in the U.S. alone were $6.6 billion in 2000, and that doesn't include the country's 230 Catholic colleges and universities, 8,500 schools and 585 hospitals."

The Journal's editorial board has these fine thoughts:

"For this was a man eminently comfortable with modernity -- even while he refused to accept modernity's most shallow assumptions. Just as he offered his first public words as pope in Italian to make himself understood by those below his balcony, he held that ultimate truths about man and his relationship with his Creator are never outdated, however much they require constant expression in new languages and new circumstances. As he never ceased to declare, Communism's core failure was not economic. It was anthropological, stemming from its false understanding of human nature."

"We had our own disagreements with this pope, notably over America's efforts in Iraq in two wars. But even in disagreement we have always understood that this pope was no schizophrenic. It is possible, as many who otherwise admire him do, to disagree with Pope John Paul's teachings on marriage and homosexuality, on abortion, and so on. But it is impossible to understand him without conceding the coherency of his argument: that the attempt to liberate oneself from one's nature is the road to enslavement, not freedom."

"In progressive circles in the West, religion in general and Christianity in particular tend to find themselves caricatured as a series of Thou Shalt Nots, particularly when they touch on human sexuality. But it is no coincidence that George Weigel, whose column appears nearby, entitled his biography of John Paul 'Witness to Hope.' For billions of people around the world -- non-Catholics included -- that's exactly what he was. Perhaps this explains why China, where only a tiny fraction of its people are Catholic, remained to the very end fearful of allowing a visit from this frail, physically suffering man, fearing what he might inspire."

Overviews of what's next: LINK and LINK

Congress returns:

The Los Angeles Times' Maura Reynolds turns in an excellent tick-tock of the coming fight over filibustering judicial nominations, and lays out the train wreck that could either be coming or be avoided as both sides gauge how to carefully back track from some of their tougher talk -- if for no other reason, to avoid being blamed by voters for a virtual congressional shutdown. LINK

Roll Call's Paul Kane and Chris Cillizza report that Democrats are ramping up their efforts to draw attention to the fight over filibustering, trying to take the fight to a national stage -- and Sen. Reid is temporarily borrowing Stephanie Cutter from Sen. Kennedy's office to help do it. Expect Cutter's former boss, Sen. John Kerry, to try to get out in front this week as well, the duo Note.

On Sunday, the Washington Post's Jeffrey Birnbaum and John Harris reported that Congress' effort to rein in medical malpractice lawsuits has stalled -- and may signal a change in the President's efficacy in getting his agenda through Congress. Bush's plan calls for limiting to $250,000 the amount a health care provider would have to pay for pain and suffering, as well as payments over time as opposed to lump sum, and essentially shut down the possibility that old cases could be brought to court years later. And Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says it will need to be changed in order to pass. LINK

"The difference between the class-action and medical malpractice bills illuminates the extent -- as well as the limits -- of Bush's influence. The class-action bill had lingered on the verge of passage for years, and it had some important Democratic backers. With the expanded Republican majority in this year's Senate, its enactment into law was virtually assured."

"This convergence of factors does not exist for medical malpractice legislation. Although passage of the medical malpractice bill is seen by both sides as virtually assured in the House, Senate Democrats plan to block such legislation by using a filibuster, a procedural maneuver that prevents controversial bills from reaching an up-or-down vote. Republicans hold 55 seats in the Senate, five short of the 60 votes needed to stop a filibuster. In addition, a few Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), do not support the measure."

Republicans leaders, Cheney and DeLay:

Nice of the Vice President to tell us he was coming to New York this weekend!

Cheney Calls DeLay's Conduct Inappropriate LINK

From the New York Post, which got an interview LINK : Cheney said he backed efforts to help save Terri Schiavo's life, but strongly disagreed with House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), who wants retribution against judges who blocked restoration of her feeding tube.

"I don't think that's appropriate . . . There's a reason why judges get lifetime appointments."

(There's an item about the Cheney family worth reading in Time this week, but it's not online.)

On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times' Mary Curtius took a closer look at House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's efforts to counterattack in the face of the harsh criticism that's come down on his head -- in a meeting last week with the heads of several social conservative organizations. As Congress returns this week, Democrats are spoiling for a fight over the Leader's ethics controversies and are looking to make him more of a national figure to call attention to their issues with him. As DeLay frames the fight as a battle between good and evil, some Republicans are concerned that he'll stumble by coming back at his opponents too forcefully. LINK

The Houston Chronicle published a poll on Sunday showing nearly 40 percent of voters in DeLay's district said their opinion of him is less favorable than it was last year, and nearly 69 percent said they opposed government intervention in the Schiavo case. The Leader's support comes from his principles, his office responded. LINK

On Saturday, the Washington Post's Mike Allen looked at DeLay's plans to ask the Judiciary Committee to review how the courts handled the Terri Schiavo case -- though the specifics are as yet up in the air. LINK

The Republican agenda:

Bloomberg's Holly Rosenkrantz and Laura Litvan write that the GOP Congress "may now put political survival ahead of party unity" from now on. Immigration, the budget, Social Security, and lots more make it into the article, as does Sen. Rick Santorum's minimum wage proposal.

"Republicans in the capital are reviving Big Government -- and social conservatives aren't the only ones happy about it," writes John D. McKinnon in the Wall Street Journal.

"Republicans are moving to expand Washington's role on other fronts. In banking, insurance and telecommunications, the Bush administration and Congress are pushing federal regulation instead of state oversight -- to the applause of business constituents who now consider that more efficient and less onerous than in the days of Democratic rule."

"Perhaps the most sweeping change has occurred in banking regulation. In recent years, banks have pushed through changes in federal regulations that have pre-empted many state consumer safeguards, at least as applied to federally chartered banks, according to state regulators."

"A broader change could occur in insurance regulation, if big national insurers succeed in their effort to shift more oversight to the federal government from the states."

The Los Angeles Times' Ron Brownstein turns in a must-must read on how Republicans are dominating the agenda, and at the moment at least, the best Democrats can do is try to hold down the GOP score as they play defense. But it's not because Dems lack ideas, he reasons. It's at least partly because they don't have a natural spotlight to highlight what they stand for, much less to woo moderate Republicans to their point of view. And the majority of parliamentary, or even strictly tactical, moves they're able to make leaves them in danger of being easily painted obstructionist and as the party that can only criticize instead of promoting its own ideas. LINK

Sentences in Bob Novak's Monday column accomplish which of the following tasks:

1. Remind the world that Novak has better sources than you do. "A senior Republican senator who avoids the headlines and tries to help President Bush as much as possible was discussing with me . . . ":

2. Tries (unsuccessfully) to convince the world that it really matters if few Senators know who Candida Wolff is and what she's supposed to do.

3. Pads several paragraphs with a recapitulation of the unfilled senior political positions in Treasury and DoD.

4. Reminds readers of his long career and historical knowledge: "This is a post held in the past by such major figures as Bryce Harlow, Lawrence O'Brien, William Timmons and Kenneth Duberstein. President Lyndon B. Johnson even gave O'Brien Cabinet status, naming him postmaster general while retaining his congressional liaison duties."

5. Manages to be both self-parodic and interesting and newsworthy, all at the same time.

6. All of the above. LINK

On Sunday, The State's Lee Bandy praised Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is "not afraid to cross swords with the party leadership or to stake out a position contrary to the Bush White House." Will others follow? LINK

On Saturday, the Washington Post's Dana Milbank took a look at the Danforth-like criticisms that former New Jersey Governor and EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman is leveling against the Republican Party -- but without the same weight or counterbalance to the problems she sees. LINK

Social Security:

The Boston Globe's Rick Klein looks at the uneasy feeling that Republican lawmakers and the public continue to have about the President's Social Security plan, and the widespread conclusion that he hasn't done a good job of selling it. LINK

Read to the end.

Roll Call's Emily Pierce and Ben Pershing report that the White House and congressional Republicans will coordinate their campaigns for overhauling Social Security more in the next month, complete with press conferences and a staged Senate floor debate.

The AP's classy Dave Espo reports that the new Ickes-Smith-Jordan group, ProtectYourCheck.org, is this week launching nearly $1 million of cable TV ads for three weeks, calling President Bush's private accounts plan the beginning of a process that will cut benefits and raise the national debt. LINK

On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times' Warren Vieth looked at how President Bush's ideas for personal investment accounts as part of the Social Security system are flying with the Better Investment Group of Waco, TX, as a measure of how his plan is playing in the heartland -- particularly near his adopted hometown of Crawford. Answer: despite some support, the President has a lot of persuading to do. LINK

On Saturday, the Washington Post's Chuck Babington took a look at Sen. Lindsey Graham's "chancy, even audacious" plan for overhauling Social Security, which argues for raising taxes and cutting benefits -- and his personal story of how Social Security survivor benefits helped his family get by, which he uses to open the door to discussing changing the system. His plan includes raising the cap on wages subject to Social Security tax to $160,000 and tying the benefits of higher income retirees to inflation, while keeping benefits tied to wages for those who earn less than $30,000 a year. Personal accounts are great, he says, but shouldn't be the focus of the plan. LINK

AARP watch out, Generation Y debates the President's Social Security Notions. LINK

Big casino budget politics:

On Sunday, David Broder reasoned that in the aftermath of the Schiavo "fiasco," the pressure is on Republicans to get a budget resolution passed in Congress -- not only to redeem themselves but also to ensure any hope that their President's agenda has of passing. LINK

What would a Monday be if not for a story about some interest group lobbying to prevent some type of cut in the federal budget? In this case, it's doctors, Medicare reimbursement rates, and it's by Robert Pear. LINK

Bolton:

AP reports that undersecretary of state John Bolton has plenty of allies in his nomination to be U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, with 66 retired diplomats and arms control specialists have written a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee supporting him. LINK

On Sunday, the Boston Globe's Peter Canellos offered up an excellent curtain-raiser on this week's confirmation hearings on Bolton, and explained why he's the Administration's "most-feared wolf in wolf's clothing" by internationalists. LINK

But in the midst of the hard-line questioning sure to come, Canellos wrote, "Bolton's ability to rethink his positions, moving away from past rhetoric, is of intense interest at the UN, where many officials have speculated that Bolton will soften his positions once he interacts with other ambassadors."

Newsweek's Mark Hosenball outlines the hunt to find information that will slow or kill Bolton's confirmation, including a Senate Foreign Relations Committee look into charges that he tried to intimidate two intelligence officials for not offering strong enough analyses of intelligence on suspected biological weapons in Cuba. Whether or not Bolton's opponents will have time to make their case before Thursday's hearing is another question. LINK

Bush agenda:

On Sunday, the Washington Post's Mike Allen looked at the President's end-run around Sen. Trent Lott's move to stall a military base-closing commission. Lott had a "hold" on the Senate vote on Anthony Principi for the commission, but President Bush then appointed him with Congress still in recess. LINK

(Of course, the New York Times had this story on Saturday.)

On Saturday, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings penned a Washington Post op-ed looking at the hows and the whys of the current debate over No Child Left Behind, reasoning that change takes time to shake out, and it's her job to help the states implement and stabilize it, particularly now that the Administration is turning its education focus to high schools. LINK

2008: Republicans:

Deb Orin today gets Tony Carbonetti to say that it's highly unlikely Rudy Giuliani will run for governor in '06. But as for 08 . . . he doesn't have to decide for a while. LINK

Over the weekend, The State picked up South Carolina Rep. Tracy Edge's request that Giuliani return his speaking fee, as did the AP. LINK and LINK

The South Carolina Hospital Association provided this statement to ABC News:

"In the Fall of 2004, the South Carolina Hospital Association contracted with Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani to serve as keynote speaker for a event to be held in connection with the Hospital Association's annual meeting. From the outset, the Hospital Association planned to solicit private sponsorships to cover Mr. Giuliani's fee. The fee was in fact paid from private sponsorships."

"In January of 2005, as news reports from South Asia described a region in desperate need of aid, the Hospital Association refocused its event as a tsunami relief effort. Mr. Giuliani enthusiastically endorsed the decision to refocus the event, and he volunteered to make a contribution to the fundraising effort. Mr. Giuliani generously donated twice the amount suggested by the Hospital Association, for which we were deeply appreciative. He has already made a substantial contribution, and in our mind there is no need for a further contribution."

"As a direct result of Mr. Giuliani's enthusiastic support and significant donation, the South Carolina Hospital Association was able to convert a private event into a public fundraiser. It was very successful, and it generated more than $60,000 for the relief of suffering in South Asia. Because Mr. Giuliani's fee was covered by private sponsorships, it did not diminish the amount raised for the relief effort."

All three items in Fred Dicker's column today are worth reading and parsing: Gov. Pataki meets with Arthur Finklestein, Edward Cox talks himself up for the anti-HRC slot and Rick Lazio gets back into the political game. LINK

Scott Greenberger and Frank Phillips of the Boston Globe discuss Mitt Romney's middle ground views regarding embryo cloning research: will they propel him forward in 2008? LINK

Dear Gov. Romney: This kind of thing will happen when a chief executive thinks about running for president, particularly in Boston: if you hire someone who doesn't appear to be working all that much, a newspaper will find out about it, write about it, and call you to account: LINK

This is a great Boston Globe story, for those who like that sort of thing.

2008: Democrats:

Attention Susan Estrich: the land of Democratic speechwriters (largely a male province) is about to lose one of its most talented women: Wendy Button, who is soon to leave team Edwards, according to a source close to her.

Thomas Beaumont of the Des Moines Register reported over the weekend that John Edwards is making no political promises for 2008 LINK

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel covered Edwards' visit to Madison closely. LINK

When will these local reporters learn: Sen. Edwards is focused on his family and eradicating poverty, not running for president.

Sen. Evan Bayh has good home-state approval ratings and the traditional 50-50 split in whether folks in Indiana want him to run for POTUS. LINK

The AP explores Sen. Russ Feingold's PAC and national travels. LINK

Former NH Gov. Jeanne Shaheen welcomes top political leaders to the Granite State, but won't comment on their commitments to 2008 or her commitment to John Kerry. LINK

An announcement (paper only) about Al Gore's IndTV's launch happens today, per the New York Post's Saturday Sunday edition. LINK

The Wall Street Journal's Joe Flint reports that IndTV will launch Aug 1. as "Current.":

"In an interview Friday, Mr. Gore said the goal of Current is to connect 'the Internet generation with television in a brand new way.' Its Web site will be a key part of its service, listing topics on which it wants material, such as reviews of movies, CDs or videogames; items on social trends; and advocacy journalism. Current will pay $250 for videos it airs."

"A segment called 'Google Current' will report on what topics are generating the most interest on the Web, using Google as its source. Google doesn't do its own reporting, but will rank the topics, based on which subjects generate the most search queries. A Google spokesman confirmed it struck an agreement with Mr. Gore 's group.

Publishing:

If the typical Note reader found herself at some sort of political event and had a restaurant reservation for four people at 7:30, there is no doubt that the Dream Team of dinner companions would be Ron Fournier (Harvard professor and Associated Press bigfoot), Matthew Dowd (Lone Star statewide officeholder in-waiting and Bush '00/'04 strategist), and Doug Sosnik (NBA/DGA adviser and Clinton strategist).

Rare is the lucky bird who has had a chance to actually dine with those three extraordinarily nice, smart, and interesting souls, but coming in the fall of 2006, we all will get the benefit of their company -- in book form.

Later today, the august publishing house Simon and Schuster will announce (ALL CAPS IN THE ORIGINAL!!):

"TWO POLITICAL STRATEGISTS WHO HELPED ELECT AND RE-ELECT PRESIDENTS BUSH AND CLINTON TEAM UP WITH AWARD-WINNING ASSOCIATED PRESS REPORTER TO REVEAL HOW POLITICIANS AND APPLEBEE'S INC. RESTAURANTS USE SIMILAR TACTICS"

"Aimed at political leaders, business executives and the people they covet, the book will be a survivors' guide to life in an era of transition."

Naturally, the deal was done by the incomparable Robert B. Barnett of Williams & Connolly.

We hereby volunteer to be the voice on the audio version -- if only so we can read it early.

2005:

Though most of the oxygen in New Jersey politics has been sucked out by the Norcross tapes, the GOP gubernatorial primary is becoming brutish. The party has broken up over whom to support. The New York Times summarizes the race. LINK

One of the best stories in the history of political journalism was recounted by Seth Mnookin in the March 25, 2002 New Yorker. It involves Frank Bruni and liberal New York activist Reba Shimansky. LINK

Those familiar with the Shimansky oeuvre will be shocked by two aspects of her letter to the editor in this week's New York Magazine: the fact that she seems to have moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan (Note to Bruni: beware!!!), and the fact that she is (Note to Stu Loeser!!!) voting for a Republican for the first time ever. LINK

A must-read for Dickerson and Carney.

Politics:

The Los Angeles Times' Mark Z. Barabak looks at how politics -- for candidates and elected officials alike -- has gone from cycles to "the permanent campaign" in which the stumping and the fundraising, for legislative priorities, issues, and specific fights with legislative bodies of all stripes, and become a round-the-clock way of life. Massive campaign costs and 24-hour news cycles are just part of the reason; the increased polarization of political life is forcing the constant offensive as well. LINK

Brian McQuarrie of the Boston Globe looks at the constitutional amendment that Kansas lawmakers are expected to vote on tomorrow -- one of the most restrictive in the country, not only definining marriage as a union between a man and a woman, but also prohibiting the privileges and rights of marriage to civil unions and domestic partnerships. LINK

On Sunday, the Washington Post's Jonathan Finer reported that Connecticut lawmakers are considering legislation to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples -- and not prompted by a court order. LINK

The New York Times' Steven Greenhouse wrote Sunday about the coalition of groups who'll work to pare down Wal-Mart's influence. Andy Grossman, formerly of the DSCC, will coordinate efforts among the unions and center-left public interest groups doing the heavy work. LINK

Added value: Jim Jordan and Erik Smith will serve as consultants. The 501c3 component of the new group will be called the Center for Corporate and Community Ethics. The c4 side will be walmartwatch.org.

Is praise by environmentalists for the Administration really "remarkable," as the New York Times would have it, or simply a case where the left and the Administration agree on what the best policy is? LINK

But a makeover the White House press facilities (and on-the-record quotes from Joe Hagin) is quite remarkable, thank you Ms. Elisabeth Bumiller. LINK

Rev. Jerry Falwell is recovering nicely. LINK

Speaking for the Speaker

Ron Bonjean gets help, as new staff joins Speaker Hastert's communcations shop: Lisa Camooso Miller, the new deputy communications director (and Bonjean's wartime consigliere) is a two-time marathon runner who makes one hell of a ziti; Janelle Carter is a reporter - turned - Republican who takes over as the speechwriter; and Larry Farnsworth, the incoming deputy press secetary, is the only person in town with a Fresno State football helmet -- proudly on display in the office.

Half empty or half full: The Note homage to The New Republic:

"In a nearly empty courtroom, Berger stood and said, "'Guilty, your honor,' when asked how he pleaded to one misdemeanor charge of knowingly removing classified documents." -- the Los Angeles Times Johanna Neuman 4/2/05 "'It was a mistake, and it was wrong,' Mr. Berger, 59, said outside the United States District Courthouse here after entering his plea before a packed courtroom." the New York Times Eric Lichtblau 4/2/05 OK: who was right??