The Note: Courage Mounteth with Occasion



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.

Bush agenda:

Sophomore slump? USA Today's Susan Page writes up the new USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll, which suggests President Bush's approval rating up to 48 percent, but support for his Social Security overhaul plans falling.

Thirty-seven percent of Americans say it's important for Congress to deal with it this year, down from 41 percent in February, and a majority for the first time say they oppose private accounts. LINK

Fifty percent say the Administration misled the American public on the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and 58 percent say they're facing hardship because of high gas prices. In addition, the fallout from the Terri Schiavo case hurt -- 42 percent of conservatives said they disapprove of how the President handled the situation, and 66 percent say they disapprove of Congress' intervention.

Page has more on the doubts cast on the GOP's moral agenda by the Schiavo case. LINK

Poll results: LINK

An unidentified Wall Street Journal reporter writes that "Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah is expected to meet with President Bush at his Texas ranch later this month to discuss a range of issues that likely will include high energy prices and the global war against terrorism."

Per the New York Times' Douglas Jehl: "The White House is maintaining extraordinary restrictions on information about the detention of high-level terror suspects, permitting only a small number of members of Congress to be briefed on how and where the prisoners are being held and interrogated, senior government officials say." LINK

Connecticut Attorney General and perennial Democratic higher-office hopeful Dick Blumenthal says his state will sue the government over No Child Left Behind. LINK

"Legal scholars said that previous lawsuits brought against the federal government over so-called unfunded mandates had had mixed success. But Connecticut's suit could gain traction because the No Child Left Behind law includes a passage, sponsored by Republicans during the Clinton administration, that forbids federal officials to require states to spend their own money to carry out the federal policies outlined in the law."

Who'll be the first GOP governor to do the same thing, we wonder?

Sen. Lincoln Chafee's office has received more than 500 calls from constituents opposed to the nomination of John Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. In the past, an aide says, Chafee ''has voted mostly with the people of Rhode Island's interests in mind . . . " LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Richard Schmitt writes that in his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday urging renewal of the USA Patriot Act, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales used "unusually strong language" in defending the Bush Administration's use of the law, saying that any efforts to take it apart would be like "unilateral disarmament" in the war on terror. LINK

FBI Director Robert Mueller argued in favor of giving the bureau more authority to issue administrative subpoenas in terrorism cases. Gonzales also agreed to meet privately with the American Civil Liberties Union to discuss the law. And now the fight over all this begins -- the House starts its hearings today, and Sen. Specter has scheduled a second Judiciary Committee hearing for May 10.

The Washington Post's Dan Eggen plays it more low-key. LINK

We Noted, with sadness for us but happiness for her, that Pam Stevens, the assistant White House press secretary who handles our world, is leaving her post to become a senior adviser to the Secretary of State, to help her with the real world.

And coming into the White House to deal with all those TV requests is Katie Levinson.

The creative, hard working, and spunky Ms. Levinson -- well known to all broadcast types and politicos -- worked for the Republican National Committee from September of '03 through the election, and previously toiled for MSNBC, Hill and Knowlton, and Nutmeg State stalwart Rep. Christopher Shays.

Leader DeLay:

We know enough about journalism and the separation of Post and Times reporting staffs to be reasonably confident that, say, Jennifer Palmieri didn't orchestrate two more front-page investigative stories about Tom DeLay, but both stories mention DeLay's trip to Moscow prominently, and we do get the strong sense that some committee somewhere, some career employee somewhere, maybe some colleague of DeLay's, is dishing out the scoops to (admittedly very talented) investigative reporters.

The Washington Post's R. Jeffrey Smith and James Grimaldi unravel the complicated relationships among various business interests who paid for yet another foreign trip for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, this time to Russia in 1997. DeLay reported that the trip was sponsored by a Washington non-profit, the National Center for Public Policy Research, but in fact the more than $57,000 in travel funds seem to have been fronted by a company, Chelsea Commercial Enterprises, which was registered in the Bahamas and lobbied in support of the Russian government. During a six-day trip to Moscow, the duo report, DeLay played golf, met with religious leaders and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, and had dinner with Russian business leaders and two registered lobbyists for Chelsea -- one of whom was the radioactive Jack Abramoff. LINK

The Times leads with the arguably unremarkable fact that DeLay's PAC and campaign accounts paid his wife and daughter handsomely, but the story Notes that both did seem to have legitimate, salary-deriving functions. LINK

Write Mike Forsythe, Kristin Jensen and J.D. Salant in Bloomberg News:

"One of the surest paths to riches in Washington is to have these five words on a resume: `Office of Representative Tom DeLay.'"

"Eleven lobbyists who once worked for the Texas Republican and House majority leader helped bring in at least $45 million in fees for their firms in the past two years. By comparison, former aides of House Speaker Dennis Hastert lobbying during that period helped bring in about $2.1 million."

"Along the way, Delay's former assistants have aided clients such as ChevronTexaco Corp., Wyeth and Reynolds American Inc. in achieving legislative victories. They have also given DeLay the kind of Washington-insider clout he once criticized when Democrats were in power."

We wonder if Gigot will read that piece.

NB: USA Today's poll showing DeLay with a 27/31 percent fav/unfav

Congress: the judicial nominations:

The Chicago Tribune's Jill Zuckman looks at the fight revving up between Senate Democrats and Republicans over the judiciary, culminating yesterday in another round of Democrats calling their colleagues across the aisle extremists who are trying to undermine judges in light of Sen. John Cornyn's comments on the floor Monday. LINK

The New York Times' Carl Hulse writes that Sen. Bill Frist " moved quickly to separate the emotionally charged case of Ms. Schiavo from the politically charged possibility of a showdown over Democratic filibusters against President Bush's judicial nominees" by disagreeing with Tom DeLay over the federal judiciary's fairness in the former matter. LINK

Which is exactly the opposite of what most Republicans were trying to do last week, and which puts a damper on the argument made by defenders of the GOP's conduct that somehow the Schiavo case would inflame passions (within the base, and subtly, among everyone else) that the judiciary was arrogant and out of control.

Now, says Hulse, "that tie could complicate Dr. Frist's push to change Senate rules."

"Dr. Frist's comments were similar to a view expressed last week by Vice President Dick Cheney, who told the editorial board of The New York Post that he did not believe retribution against judges for their decisions was a good idea."

"Republicans say it is Democrats who are stirring up the issue, noting they have established a special political strategy office, under Mr. Reid's control, on the filibuster fight. The Republicans say that Dr. Frist is facing increasing pressure from Republican senators to move forward and that his options are diminishing."

"'We will reach a point where negotiations, I guess, will have to end, because they will be fruitless, and then votes will have to be cast,' said Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, the No. 3 Republican."

The Boston Globe picks up the same Santorum quote: " LINK

"Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) told his Republican colleagues in a private meeting Tuesday that he stood by his decision to have Congress intervene in the Terri Schiavo debate -- but added that he would support a full review of Congress' action," reports Roll Call's Mark Preston.

A New York Times editorial straightforwardly bashes Sen. Cornyn for his remarks. LINK

We'll leave it to the Hotline to summarize the conservative blogosphere's reaction, but suffice it to say -- we haven't read anything that convinces us that any smart rightie blogger actually believes that Cornyn didn't cross the line.

Politically, his comments armed Democrats with a new Kalashnikov.

From the Washington Times: "All 55 Republican senators say they have never seen the Terri Schiavo political talking-points memo that Democrats say was circulated among Republicans during the floor debate over whether the federal government should intervene to prolong her life. A survey by The Washington Times found that every Republican said the memo was not crafted or distributed by him or her. Every one of them said he or she had not seen it until the memo was the subject of speculation in major news organs, particularly ABC News and The Washington Post." LINK

Congress: the nation's business:

The Washington Post's Jeffrey Birnbaum writes that the Senate ethics committee has decided that the private medical practice of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is a conflict of interest with his work in Washington, and has given him until Sept. 30 to shut down his practice in Muskogee, OK. Coburn has vowed to fight the ruling. Senate rules have prohibited lawmakers from holding outside jobs for nearly 20 years. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Ron Brownstein reports that MoveOn's fundraising on behalf of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) is a powerful asset for the Democrat and also a big bull's eye for Republicans, who are raring to make the group's support an issue in all the states they can. LINK

The Hill's Josephine Hearn looks at the new PAC created by the Republican Study Committee, headed up by Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK), and aimed at electing more conservatives to Congress. LINK

Social Security:

The Washington Post's Mike Allen and Peter Baker look at the great difference between the original town hall meetings between lawmakers and their constituents on Social Security, and the way the meetings have evolved into "workshops in which administration officials did most of the talking and lawmakers stepped up to answer a few questions after lengthy presentations from Bush appointees." They Note the change came after critics and tough audiences emerged in the first round, and call it emblematic of the back seat members of Congress have taken in the campaigning to overhaul the Social Security program. LINK

Note the tough talk ("failure") from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who said the President and Congress need to start over by targeting workers under 40.

The Los Angeles Times' Warren Vieth and Richard Simon wrap President Bush's visit to West Virginia, where he stirred up Democrats by suggesting that the Social Security trust fund is non-existent because of the pay-as-you-go nature of the program. LINK

We're guessing it was Sen. Max Baucus' day to distribute the Democratic talking points. (He says personal/private accounts are dead.)

The Washington Post's Robert Samuelson seems disgusted with the debate over Social Security that doesn't address the program's solvency, and the entitlement ticking bomb. LINK

Allan Hubbard gets real estate in the Wall Street Journal to reframe, reframe, and reframe Social Security yet again: "Personal accounts do involve a transition -- a transition to a more transparent, more honest system of accounting for Social Security. And, more importantly, by providing ownership, control and the opportunity to save and invest, they lead to a more secure retirement for America's workers."

Sen.Charles Grassley has been bombarded by Iowan constituents and organizations against the President's Social Security plan. LINK

2008: Democrats:

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson signed yet another tax cut into law yesterday. LINK

Scot Lehigh writes of Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell's critique about Democrats and John Kerry; the Governor says that Democrats, on the issues, are "dumbing them down." And the man affectionately called "Fast Eddie" seems to think he can run for re-election and then maybe the White House right after that -- or maybe not. LINK

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen tries to walk back comments he made about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, and his staff even called her office to explain, but we still don't know what context Bredesen thinks his comments were taken out of! LINK

2008 Republicans:

Another Rudy Giuliani best seller? A memoir covering his years as a New York prosecutor will be published in 2007. LINK

Just in time!


The United Food and Commercial Workers' Web site made it into most stories we've seen about yesterday's conclave for print journalists at Wal-Mart's headquarters in Bentonville, AR.

Here's the AP's take. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' article focuses on dissidents who could get no closer to Wal-Mart's headquarters than the Embassy Suites nearby. LINK

Yesterday, an errantly placed sentence suggested inadvertently that Democratic uber-consultant Jim Jordan is helping Wal-Mart craft strategy. While we can't say for sure that Jordan has never shopped at the retailer, we do know, and did know, that he's working for a non-profit set up to change the company's culture. Our apologies to him.

One young lady working with Mr. Jordan, former DNC research deputy director Tracy Sefl, e-mails this morning that her data collection efforts in Bentonville are beginning to pay off.

"While at the Wal-Mart Museum yesterday I bought a miniature replica of Sam Walton's iconic red pickup truck for one of my new colleagues . . . and I see it has a big MADE IN CHINA sticker on its box."

The Maryland state Senate approved a bill yesterday to require Wal-Mart to spend more money on health care for its workers, the Washington Post's dashing John Wagner and Michael Barbaro report. Lawmakers said they didn't intend to target the bill, which mandates that companies with more than 10,000 employees spend at least 8 percent of their payroll on health care, at Wal-Mart, but as debate went on, it became clear that it would be the only company in the state affected. LINK

Conservatives and Republicans:

Conservative economist Bruce Bartlett, long an opponent of a V.A.T., has changed his mind, he tells readers of the New York Times op-ed page. LINK

"In the 1980's and 1990's, I thought it was possible to restrain the growth of government by cutting taxes. This would 'starve the beast,' as Ronald Reagan used to say, and force government to live on its allowance. And after Republicans got control of Congress in 1994, I thought the means had finally come to make a frontal assault on the welfare state."

"I have been sadly disappointed. After an initial effort at restraining Medicare spending -- squelched by President Bill Clinton's veto pen -- Republicans in Congress have become almost indistinguishable from Democrats on spending. They have been aided and abetted by President Bush, who not only refuses to veto anything, but also aggressively worked to ram a $23.5 trillion (of which $18.2 trillion must be covered by the general revenue) expansion of Medicare down the throats of the few small government conservatives left in the House."

"This behavior has led me and other conservatives to conclude that starving the beast simply doesn't work anymore. Deficits are no longer a barrier to greater government spending. And with the baby-boom generation aging, spending is set to explode in coming years even if no new government programs are enacted."


The New York Observer's Ben Smith reports that Freddy Ferrer's campaign has agreed to let a documentary crew led by filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker follow them through the election.

Says Pennebaker of Ferrer: "He's such a fundamentally decent guy, you wonder why he's getting involved in this whole mess.'" LINK

We'll use this occasion to plug Smith's blog about New York politics, now at LINK

When we need to know, right now, what's happening with city and state politics, we do two things: we call David Chalian, and then we check the Observer's blog, now a 24/7 must-read for all Gotham Gang of 500 members.

The New York Times' Patrick D. Healy auditions to be the latest Herb Muschamp, exploring the social significance of where the mayoral campaigns in New York City have set up shop. LINK


The trial to determine the fate of the GOP challenge to Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire's election will take place May 26.

Unlike the USA Today ed board -- which yesterday took a swipe at Sandy Berger and his plea deal -- the Wall Street Journal in an editorial uses its anti-Clinton cred to say that it is fine with the outcome (which some conservatives have called a whitewash and a wrist slap).

You can guess what Dick Morris thinks about it: LINK

The New York Post picks up the news about an alleged federal probe into Rev. Al Sharpton's political activities. LINK

More than 70 percent of Kansans voted to ban gay marriage and civil unions -- but now a battles arise over how to amend the state constitution. Stay tuned. In Connecticut, lawmakers say they may have enough votes to pass a bill that would recognize civil unions between same-sex couples. LINK