WASHINGTON, April 6
The presidential party went wheels up to Rome at 7:37 am ET, ABC News' Ann Compton reports, just around the time that the Vatican announced that the conclave to elect a new pope will begin on April 18. Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told reporters this morning that the Cardinals have read John Paul's will and plan to release its text tomorrow.
A paper statement sent out by spokesguy Ron Bonjean this morning says that House Speaker Dennis Hastert will have surgery today to remove kidney stones. A quick recovery is expected, and we wish the Speaker good health.
Bonjean says he "doesn't know" whether this means Hastert won't be able to lead the House delegation to Rome.
As we watch the pilgrims pour into Italy and ponder the challenge of the next pope, here are other things that fascinate us, in no particular order:
-- the identity of the in pectore cardinal.
-- what the 41, 42, and 43 in-flight banter will be about.
-- the deal (whatever it is) between 39 and 43 (and maybe 41).
-- the high-wire, principled acts of the two Republican Majority Leaders (much in the news).
-- the discussions Sen. Santorum and Sen. Frist have about filibuster reform.
-- why the Pennsylvania press corps has so far only lightly scrutinized its junior Senator's apparent political maneuvers for '06 and '08.
-- how most people fundamentally misunderstand why -- and to what extent -- Tom DeLay has the loyalty of his caucus.
-- why no newspaper (we can find) in Ohio has yet written extensively about Rep. Bob Ney's alleged entanglement with the Abramoff affair.
-- the apparent renewed confidence of some lawmakers in being able to cut, without fear, money from the President's emergency supplemental request.
-- the delay of the Bolton confirmation hearing until Monday (and/but the Boston Globe says Sen. Chaffee is wobbly).
-- the semiotic play of the Gallup poll on the front of the Nation's Newspaper.
-- the differing worldviews on the state of the Social Security debate.
-- the formation of the Iraqi government.
-- gas prices, the housing bubble, the trade deficit, and real wages.
-- Howard Dean's meeting today with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and what results from it (with more caucus meetings to come, as part of Dean's commitment for regular consultation).
-- what comes of the Dean/Leader Pelosi discussion yesterday about communication strategy (as part of Dean's regular on-going talks with the Leaders).
-- whether the veins in Lewis Black's head really do pop out in person like on television.
-- how Laura Capps makes such great lasagna.
As we said, the President and his posse went wheels up this morning for Italy. They have no public events today. The President arrives in Rome at 3:25 pm ET.
The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee meets at 9:30 am ET to discuss end-of-life issues -- the first post-Schiavo action on the Hill.
At 11:15 am ET, both chambers of Congress, along with Vice President Dick Cheney, hear from Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko
At 9:30 am ET, Fed chairman Alan Greenspan testifies before the Senate Banking Committee on Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.
Leader Nancy Pelosi has her regular 1:30 pm ET press conference.
Vice President Cheney attends the Radio/Television Correspondents' Association dinner tonight in the President's sted, and the comedy will be provided by the very funny but decidedly un-non-partisan Lewis Black.