The Note: "Proudly Willing to Say Anything"

WASHINGTON, May 23

NEWS SUMMARY

The political playing field is frozen solid by the filibuster showdown.

If we were prescient and forward looking, we would tell you what is going to happen in the Senate in the next 48 hours.

If we were backward looking, we would tell you about all the hand wringing (in the papers, on TV, and at that super Lauriol Plaza brunch) the Gang of 500 did this weekend over the decline of the traditions of the Senate, can't we all get along, blah blah blah.

We are not backward looking, however, and/but also not prescient.

Our first impulse is to try to distract you while we all wait for the centrist negotiators to meet at some point later today and look to see if the Capitol Hill equivalent of white smoke emerges from the Hart Building chimney.

Some potential distractions:

--- The Wall Street editorial board hits a strong (Big Casino) forehand volley into Bob Rubin's court for his return.

--- Howard Dean (honestly) doesn't want the Democratic Party to have unified control of Congress and the White House.

--- Josh Gerstein (belatedly) spots Lynn Utrecht at the Rosen trial.

--- Hilary Rosen (no relation) uses our favorite "this town" cliché to refer to Washington.

None of those quite do it for us, either, we admit.

There is exactly one game in town at this point, on which all of the following hinge: the future of the Senate's traditions; the next Supreme Court nominee; George Walker Bush's second-term agenda, including Social Security and tax reform; the presidential ambitions of Bill Frist, Rick Santorum, John McCain, Sam Brownback, Chuck Hagel, and Barbara Mikulski; the Cruise-Holmes marketing campaigns for "War of the Worlds" and "Batman Begins"; the efforts to get the WB to re-air the missing 27-seconds of the cut-off "Gilmore Girls" season finale; and the world's getting used to the phrase "By Teddy Davis, Roll Call Staff."

For all the focus on the filibuster negotiators, there's been remarkable little public whip counting, allowing the undecideds to have more privacy (and fewer camera-crew stakeouts) than the modern era usually permits.

With strategists on both sides still thinking a deal is unlikely, few journalists have had the courage to step up and announce the count.

National treasure David Brooks wrote this (muscularly) in Sunday's New York Times:

"Positions will probably harden over the weekend, making a deal less likely tomorrow. The minority leader, Harry Reid, told a small group of us Friday he was cautiously optimistic that he had the votes to defeat the nuclear option, but I think he's wrong. John McCain, Lincoln Chafee, John Warner and maybe Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe will vote against the nuclear option, but none of the other Republicans are likely to. Bill Frist has the votes." LINK

A similar whip count as-of-this-ayem you must read (we demand it) from Paul Kane in Roll Call (see below.)

Be sure to read Roll Call's Mark Preston and the Des Moines Register's David Yepsen (yep!) on how the politics of the filibuster fight could resound for years to come, at least from the Republican perspective in presidential politics.

With those final five words of Brooks' ringing in your ears ("Bill Frist has the votes."), consider what is expected to happen in the next two days on all this:

The Senate gavels into order at 11:30 am ET and conducts a roll call vote at about 5:30 pm ET to make sure Senators are back from their recess. Cloture was filed Friday by Sen. John Cornyn, concluding the 25 hours or so of debate on the nomination of Priscilla Owen for the 5th circuit court of appeals.

After the vote tonight, the Gang of 12 is expected to meet privately to try to hash out a final deal. We're told by both sides that reconciling paragraphs three and four of the draft plan --- which deal with the future and what rights the majority leader and the minority will have --- remain the sticking point.

Republicans believe they're in a position of strength because the negotiators seem to agree that judicial nominees should ultimately get an up or down vote, whether it's this week or in, say, July. And Democrats don't really have an argument it seems to pick off the two or three more votes they truly need to prevent a rules change.

The cloture vote, of course, requires 60 ayes for passage under current Senate rules. If it fails Tuesday morning --- if the Senate does not vote to cut off debate --- the majority leader will ask the presiding officer of the Senate -- perhaps Vice President Cheney -- to rule that filibustering judicial nominees is out of order.

The chair would (presumably) do so, and then that's subject to an up or down vote because the Democrats will immediately object in the form of a request to table the point of order. THAT vote is the key. If a majority agrees to uphold the ruling of presiding officer by REJECTING the Democratic request to table it, then the rules will effectively have been changed and a revote for cloture will occur. 50 + 1 votes will spur an up or down vote.

And then the Democrats will retaliate, somehow. It's possible that Frist will seek to table the debate after the first cloture vote fails, but that route, which would also trigger the nuclear option, is not as likely as the one we just described.

While the world waits for all this, the President today meets with President Karzai of Afghanistan in the Oval Office, has a joint press avail at 11:00 am ET and later attends the swearing in of EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson.

First Lady Laura Bush had a full day in Israel and Egypt, visiting the Church of the Resurrection in Abu Gosh and then visiting with the wife of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo. Mrs. Bush ends the day with a tour of the pyramids, having just sat for morning show interviews, where she made no compelling news.

The Senate Finance Committee's subcommittee on Taxation and IRS oversight holds a hearing on the Alternative Minimum Tax with CBO, Treasury, and IRS officials in attendance. Robert Pozen attends a Cato Institute policy forum on Social Security at 4:00 pm ET.

The Supreme Court issues as many as four opinions today, including perhaps Ashcroft v. Raich, regarding whether the federal ban on marijuana trumps state law that allows sick people to use it with a doctor's orders.

AIPAC's legislative conference in Washington hears from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at 11:15 am ET. At 6:45 pm ET, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, Frist, Minority Leader Pelosi, and Sen. Reid attend a gala banquet at the Washington Convention Center.

Denizens of downtown DC, on guard: three world leaders who merit full intersection control and long, armored motorcades will tie up traffic: Bush, when he visits the EPA, President Karzai, for several events, and Israeli Prime Minister Sharon, who arrives in Washington this evening.

The 2004 gubernatorial election in Washington State goes to trial today, as Republicans promise to present evidence of voting irregularities that helped Democrat Christine Gregoire squeak to victory over Republican Dino Rossi by 129 votes.

Though the state Supreme Court will retry the case regardless of the outcome, both sides believe the evidentiary record presented over the next few weeks will certainly influence the higher court's decision.

For example: the deposition of King County (Seattle) absentee ballot supervisor Nicole Way. According to the Seattle Times, she acknowledged she that improperly signed an audit form stating that all absentee ballots were accounted for. She now admits that, at the time, they were not, and acknowledges the probability that several dozen absentee ballots were not counted. (Why did she lie? Simply, she said, as a matter of convenience --- not doing so would have tied up the process.)

Rossi and the Republicans hope they get final word from the state Supreme Court by the end of June. If the election is thrown out, Gregoire must vacate the governor's mansion immediately. In her place would be Lt. Gov. Brad Owen until November, when the state would vote anew for its governor.

Polls of varying quality suggest that Rossi, if he were to run again, would have an edge, but show that Republicans and Democrats are frustrated with the pace of getting this resolved. Most importantly, a majority of voters seem to believe that Rossi actually won, which is at least somewhat undermining Gregoire's legitimacy. That said, most voters do NOT want a new vote and seem resigned to the status quo.

Judge John Bridges, a Democrat, will hear the case, which is expected to last around two weeks. Arguments begin at the Chelan County Superior Court in Wenatchee.

For an election to be overturned, the Republicans will have show not only that enough disputed votes were cast to call the election into doubt but also that those votes would decisively have changed the outcome of the election. It won't be easy, but Republicans are confident that a favorable pre-trial ruling on how newly discovered votes are to be apportioned will help them. Democrats say they'll present plenty of counter evidence.

However, Rossi might not run again if he gets the chance. Republicans are courting him to run against Sen. Maria Cantwell in 2006.

On Tuesday, the President has a Social Security event in Rochester, NY --- his 30th since the State of the Union, per ABC News' Karen Travers. Americans United for the Preservation of Social Security will hold a protest.

The House debates H.R. 810, a.k.a., Castle-DeGette, which would allow federal funding for embryonic stem cell research on lines created from in vitro fertilization. There may be 218 votes to pass it, but the House leadership is solidly opposed and President Bush, as y'all know, has promised to veto it if it gets to his desk.

NFL owners in Washington meet in Washington, DC, and the host city for the 2009 Super Bowl gets announced.

Look Tuesday for existing home sale figures for April and watch how economists and analysts see them through the prism of the potential housing bubble pop. (New home sales come out on Wednesday.) Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon spends the day in Washington.

The United States Election Assistance Commission holds a hearing in Washington.

Wednesday, President Bush touts a hydrogen fueling station in Washington, meets with the President of Indonesia, and makes remarks at a celebration of Asian-Pacific American Heritage month.

Former Sen. John Edwards speaks on global challenges at the London School of Economics.

The Alliance for Justice hosts Sen. Chuck Schumer and Sen. Dick Durbin for their Just One Vote Annual Luncheon.

DNC Chairman Gov. Howard Dean attends a cook out with West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III and then flies to New York City for a fundraiser.

Thursday, President Bush meets privately with the President of Palestinian Authority and the two have a joint press avail in the Rose Garden. the second measure of first quarter growth domestic product is released. ABC News' Dan Arnall tells us that "recent positive reports on jobs growth and an unexpected drop in the trade deficit during March have most economists betting on an upward revision from the first reading."

Friday, President Bush delivers the commencement address at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. And Sen, Judd Gregg speaks at Boston College Law School's commencement.

Sunday, Sen. Bill Frist serves as the honorary starter for the Coca-Cola 600 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, NC.

The filibuster fight:

First, to set the mood:

Sen./Leader/Dr. Frist chief of staff Eric Ueland, busy in the peace room all weekend (we can only presume) did find time late last week to compose this haiku:

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Note now strains at gnats,

But sometimes has real big scoops.

Must read in 08.

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From his lips . . .

Roll Call's Paul Kane has these must-read graphs:

"In an interview with regional reporters from targeted states Friday, Reid said he had a private commitment from a fourth Republican to oppose the nuclear option but declined to name who that person was. He told the reporters that he had four GOP targets remaining, of which two will be needed to outflank Frist. But Republicans have privately suspected that Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), a moderate who has been actively engaged in the centrist talks, would join her home-state colleague Snowe in opposing the move."

"The remaining GOP targets are Warner, Specter, DeWine and Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.), according to aides and liberal activists. Hagel has offered an interesting counterpoint to the other undecided Senators, all of whom have, at one point or another, engaged in the talks to craft a compromise. Even with three of Thursday's meetings being hosted by his close friend McCain -- whose office abuts Hagel's on the second floor of the Russell Building -- Hagel has taken a pass and not attended any of the nine negotiating sessions held last week."

"Aides still described Hagel as undecided on the parliamentary vote to end judicial filibusters, but they reiterated his outright opposition to the deal that McCain, Warner and others have been working on. That deal would allow for up-or-down votes on five of the seven filibustered nominees who have been renominated in the 109th Congress by President Bush. The remaining two nominees would essentially be cast aside."

The Washington Post's Shailagh Murray and Chuck Babington offer an absolutely fantastic overview of the state of the fight, with the "Gang of 12" freelancers looking to avoid the showdown by heading back to the negotiating table today after some discussion over the weekend, trying to figure out a solution that their respective party leaders would be willing to accept, given the relatively tight position, sans wiggle room that they've allowed. There's an air of many-a-mano overarching the party-v.-party debate, as both Frist, with his presidential ambitions, and Reid, with lots to prove in trying to keep his party united and in a position to retain and gain seats, stare at one another across the divide. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Ron Brownstein takes Frist to task, saying that he's falling far short of the great Senate majority leaders like Lyndon Johnson and Bob Dole, who would have defended the Senate's role instead of focusing on the short term --- or on their presidential ambitions or partisan rancor at the expense of the Senate's specifically designed deliberative role. LINK

Brownstein paints Frist as more anti-deal than Reid is.

John Hendren of the Los Angeles Times wraps the Sunday talk shows and looks at the prospects for potentially the last negotiation sessions, set for today, and Sen. Lindsey Graham's comments on CNN's "Late Edition" that at least one judicial nominee would be defeated by a bipartisan majority. LINK

David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times Notes John McCain's "downbeat" tone this weekend about the chance for a compromise and balances Focus on the Family's criticism of Sen. Lindsay Graham with The State's pro-Graham editorial. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Ed Chen and Warren Vieth on Sunday looked at how President Bush's public stance as bystander in the Senate fracas over the filibuster clashes with the active role the White House is playing behind the scenes. Vice President Cheney met privately with Republican Senators to make the Administration's case in favor of up-or-down votes as recently as Tuesday, the duo reported, and White House public liaison Tim Goeglein is in on conference calls and strategy sessions. LINK

"Other White House aides have been involved, such as Candi Wolff, head of the congressional liaison office, who last week shepherded Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla R. Owen and California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown around Capitol Hill for meetings and photo opportunities. Brown and Owen are the most visible of Bush's judicial nominees who were blocked by filibusters in the last Congress."

"Bush's strategy reflects a delicate balance that he and his strategists must maintain in the high-stakes effort to overcome Democratic opposition to some of his judicial nominees. Democrats have said they have filibustered a small number of Bush's judicial nominees because they find them to be extremists and judicial activists. They have accused the targeted nominees of relying more on conservative ideologies than the merits of the case in formulating their legal decisions."

" . . . For the most part, the White House has exercised its influence indirectly, working through allies and surrogates, such as Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), a former Texas judge and attorney general, and C. Boyden Gray, White House counsel during the administration of Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush."

"Three years ago, Gray assembled a coordinating group to build public support on behalf of Bush's judicial nominees. In addition to Gray, who heads an advocacy group called Committee for Justice, the coordinating council consists of Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice; Leonard Leo, executive vice president of the Federalist Society; and Edwin Meese III, attorney general under the Reagan administration."

On Saturday, Janet Hook of the Los Angeles Times took a big-picture look at how the filibuster fight signifies how much different the Senate has grown, having stepped away from its more deliberative nature to absorb some of the partisan rancor of the House. LINK

The Des Moines Register's Jane Norman announced on Sunday that Iowa Senators Chuck Grassley (R) and Tom Harkin (D) will both walk the (party) line on the seemingly nigh filibuster vote. LINK

On Sunday, the Union Leader wrote that Sen. Sununu's stance on the filibuster skirmish is still a mystery --- perhaps inspiring bipartisan concessions --- while Judd Gregg will go with the Republican flow and say yea to up-or-down votes. LINK

Bob Novak writes another one of his "in my 48 years of covering the Congress" columns, bashing Democrats for being unreasonable and criticizing Republicans for selling out. LINK

The filibuster fight: 2008 fallout:

In Novak's weekend column, he wrote that Sen. McCain was close to brokering a deal last Wednesday just hours before he attended a reception with President Bush. LINK

As Senators debate today and 12 of them meet tonight to hash out a compromise before the nuclear trigger is pulled tomorrow, social conservative activists in Iowa and New Hampshire have sent letters to major Republican presidential candidates, including Sen. John McCain, warning them against opposing an up or down vote on all ten contested nominees.

McCain handily won the 2000 Republican primary in New Hampshire, which, as you'll recall, was "open" to independents and Democrats. (Bush and McCain roughly split the self-described conservative vote and McCain won the lion's share of self-described moderates. And 41 percent of GOP primary voters in 2000 said they were independents, according to the exit polls.)

Here's the letter from New Hampshire:

"As leaders of several New Hampshire organizations, we want to applaud all of the potential Republican presidential candidates who currently serve in the U. S. Senate and have pledged to support an up or down vote for President Bush's judicial nominees, including Senators Allen, Brownback, Frist, and Santorum."

"Our organizations are comprised of very knowledgeable and sophisticated members. They know that prior to 2002, the Senate has never filibustered a judicial nominee who enjoyed majority support. They also understand that a small minority of senators have now hijacked the judicial confirmation process and abused Senate rules to prevent an up or down vote."

"These extremists filibustered 10 of President Bush's 52 U.S. Circuit Court nominees during his first term and have now threatened to filibuster another seven nominees, including Justices Owen and Brown. Further, they have even threatened to shut down the Senate if their colleagues allow a simple vote on these nominees."

"This is totally unacceptable. The job of a U.S. Senator is to vote. If individual senators oppose specific judicial nominees, then they should vote against them -- not block an up or down vote."

"The undersigned organizations want to thank Senators Allen, Brownback, Frist, and Santorum for doing what they are supposed to do. Moreover, it is important to understand that our members will find it extremely difficult to support any potential candidate who will stand-by silently while a small band of partisan extremists abuse the Senate rules and twist Senate history in order to obstruct President Bush's nominees."

David Yepsen looks at the slew of Iowa conservative bigwigs who threw down the gauntlet last week. In their declaration, they alerted Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel and John McCain that if they stray from the flock at the filibuster weigh-in, they will do so at their own (caucus) peril. Reflecting on the message Sunday, Yepsen deemed it deplorable that centrism is so uncool these days. LINK

Roll Call's Mark Preston quotes Paul Weyrich as saying a defeat on judges wouldn't hurt First because he's given his all; Jim Backlin of the Christian Coalition, who has his eyes on Chuck Hagel; and Tony Perkins, who says a defeat would "let the air out" of the conservative movement.

The filibuster fight: more fallout:

The Sunday New York Times and Carl Hulse took a stab at measuring the political implications of the filibuster battle to date.

The story does its best to lean into the notion that the Republicans could be in danger with the public over the fight because they are the majority party. LINK

However, Republican strategists close to the White House, the Republican National Committee, and the congressional leadership argue (mostly persuasively so far):

1. The 2006 election is far away.

2. The public isn't paying much detailed attention to all this (yet). Washington is obsessed --- the country is not.

3. Democrats haven't come forward with a positive agenda (a la the Contract with America) that would allow them to take advantage of public discontent with Congress.

4. The few number of House seats currently in likely play and the (Reddish) locations of the 2006 Senate races at this point don't give Democrats too much of a playing field.

5. The filibuster fight will likely be a distant memory before anyone votes in the next election, and Republicans will have plenty of time to talk about other issues.

6. Republicans still have at least two strong talking points --- the public likes the notion of up-or-down votes and the Democrats are the party of obstruction.

Still, political types tend to worry for worrying's sake, and as Tuesday's expected showdown gets closer, there is some obvious nervousness on both sides. There are indications in the public and private polling that the message the GOP majority would like to be getting out isn't working right now.

No one really knows how the vote or aftermath will flow (assuming no deal), and the thing politicians hate most is not knowing what the future holds.

Journalists hate that too, so/but while the Times story was a good snapshot of where things are now, we would recommend not rushing into believing that any of this will have an impact on this week's debate or on 2006. The Republican leadership is aware of the worries of some, but they are hanging tough --- along with the White House.

The filibuster fight: the judges:

In the Wall Street Journal, Jeanne Cummings puts the Bush nominees on their benches and assesses how the different circuits would fair in terms of ideological composition. The DC circuit (with Rogers Brown), the liberal 9th circuit (with William Myers) and the balanced 6th (Henry Saad) are the focus.

Dean debuts on Meet:

For many Democrats, Dr./Gov. Dean turned in a rather satisfactory performance on "Meet The Press" Sunday.

Headline: He called the battle between Republicans and Democrats a battle for the soul of the country.

He managed to parry Tim Russert's offensive questions with slight, Dean-ish "I didn't really mean THAT" throw-away lines before pivoting to full-throated and often subject-changing defenses of Democratic values and politics.

We still don't quite get why Osama deserves more doubt than DeLay, and we can't recall the last time the chairman of the DNC said it would not be the best thing for the country for Democrats to control House/Senate/White House.

But we also can't recall the last time we saw him so non-defensive in his demeanor, suggesting he was comfortable in his element and confident of his answers.

"Fiesty and unbowed," crows the New York Times headline writer over a Nagourney story. LINK

Alan Miller of the Los Angeles Times Notes Gov. Dean's message discipline on "Meet" as he once again suggested DeLay could go to jail for his relationships with lobbyists. LINK

A Tracey Schmitt release called Dean "unfocused."

And Dick Polman is at least somewhat skeptical. LINK

Bush agenda:

"Calvin College, a small evangelical school in the strategic Republican stronghold of Grand Rapids, Mich., seemed a perfect stop on Saturday for the president's message," writes White House diarist Elisabeth Bumiller. "Or so thought Karl Rove, the White House political chief, who two months ago effectively bumped Calvin's scheduled commencement speaker when he asked that Mr. Bush be invited instead." LINK

"At first glance, it seemed as if a mainstay of Mr. Bush's base, the Christian right, had risen up against him. At second glance, the reality was more complex. The protests at Calvin showed that Mr. Bush's evangelical base was not monolithic and underscored the small but growing voice of the Christian left."

"That movement, loosely defined as no more than several million of some 50 million white evangelicals, opposes abortion and generally supports traditional marriage. But as a group it is against the Iraq war, the administration's tax cuts, Mr. Bush's environmental policies and, not least, the close identification of evangelicals with the current White House."

The Washington Post's Jim VandeHei recounts some of the more tense moments of emotion that First Lady Laura Bush has witnessed during her trip to the Middle East, in Israel, where Muslims protested her visit to the Dome of the Rock, and Israelis demonstrated against the U.S. imprisonment of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard. LINK

"From late-night comedienne to international goodwill ambassador, Laura Bush has emerged from the first-term bubble of the East Wing to carve out a more prominent role in her husband's second term, finding an independent voice that at times has even diverged somewhat from the official White House line," wrote VandeHei and Peter Baker on Saturday about the First Lady's high-profile trip. LINK

Jordan's King Abdullah sat down for a Q&A with super-interviewer Lally Weymouth to talk about Iraq (it will succeed, and without a civil war), President Bush's calls for democracy in the Middle East (they're helpful), a possible pardon for Ahmad Chalabi (looking into it), and subjects from Syria to Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. LINK

The economy:

Ruth Simon and James Hagerty in the Wall Street Journal chronicle an important trend in the real estate market: homeowners who use the equity on their home to buy more, all the while digging themselves deeper into debt:

"Five years into a housing boom that has boosted U.S. home values an average of 50% and added an estimated $5.5 trillion to the total market value of residential real estate, many Americans no longer think of their home as just a place to live. Instead, it's a cash machine that can be used to rapidly build wealth. To that end, a growing number of people are tapping into their home equity to invest in more real estate."

"That's a lot like using a margin account --- a line of credit backed by securities in an investor's portfolio --- to buy stocks. During the 1990s, many investors used such accounts to buy shares in fast-rising tech stocks. When the dot-com bubble burst, the value of the shares bought on credit cratered and investors' borrowing worsened their losses. Economists say today's debt-fueled investment binge in real estate is fanning the flames of an already overheated housing market, and making demand from people who actually need houses to live in seem stronger than it truly is."

The Wall Street Journal ed board Notes rising government revenues, attributes them to tax cuts, and chides Republicans for not working more aggressively to make the 2003 tax cuts permanent.

Social Security:

On Sunday, the Washington Post's Jonathan Weisman looked at the provision in the Social Security plan that House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas will present, which will make employees' enrollment in 401(k) plans automatic unless they opt out. LINK

The New York Times' Raymond Hernandez assesses how New York Republicans are dealing with their party's standard bearer selling a plan not popular with their constituents. LINK

Note Howard Wolfson damning Tom Reynolds with faint/loud praise.

Brick-a-BRAC:

"The independent commission assessing the Pentagon's proposed list of domestic base closings will spare some installations but could add others that are not on the list now, the panel's chairman says," Notes the (properly) obsessed New York Times. LINK

Sen. Lieberman takes his fight to save the New London, CT submarine base to the op-ed page of the New York Post. LINK

Abramoff:

The New York Times' Kate Zernike and Anne Kornblut largely summarize what's known about Grover Norquist's intersections with Jack Abramoff, though they Note that Abramoff attended Norquist's wedding in April (no crime there, to be sure) and that Norquist seems to be distancing himself from the entire affair. Oh, and McCain "hates me," says Norquist. LINK

"Abramoff is not the capital's only conniving lobbyist, but he may be the best example of what Washington has come to. He was not some fly-by-night operative but was a close ally of DeLay and other leaders. As such, his fall from grace could --- and we hope will --- bring pressure on Congress to mend a system that is broken," writes USA Today's editorial board. LINK

Abbe Lowell defends his client in a USA Today op-ed, saying that the coverage of Jack Abramoff's activities has been without context, and he's being scapegoated. LINK

The Chicago Tribune's William Neikirk takes a closer look at the yearly congressional boondoggle sponsored by the Nuclear Energy Institute, which has treated 17 members of Congress, and in some cases their spouses, to tours of nuclear facilities in locations such as Paris, Rome, and Barcelona since 2000. LINK

Washington gubernatorial election on trial:

The Seattle Times' David Postman writes that the impending trial will likely have far-reaching (to the national-level Washington) party implications. "In a nation with a near-deadlocked electorate and little interest in compromise or concession, Democrats and Republicans have turned the once-rare postelection legal fight into a standard piece of political campaigns." LINK

The New York Times' Timothy Egan has a good overview for those of you who haven't been paying attention to pre-trial motions and the different political communication strategies. LINK

A quick FAQ to catch you up: LINK

2008: Republicans:

Newt Gingrich sat down with the Sioux City Journal editorial board and kept his lips sealed as to his 2008 agenda (though they would bank on seeing his name on the ballot). He instead put in his two cents on Social Security, judicial power, defending human dignities, foreign relations, and health care connectedness. Conclusively, he remarked on the indelible partisan line in Washington today. " 'You have two very different visions of America right now,' he said. He said it's not so much that lawmakers are 'being nasty to one another,' but more a 'really profound fight about the nature of the country.'" LINK

On Sunday, Sen. George Allen argued in a Washington Post op-ed that No Child Left Behind aims to accomplish the same things that the Virginia Standards of Learning accountability program he introduced when he was the Commonwealth's governor -- except not as well. Therefore, he and Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) are introducing a bill to amend NCLB and gives states guidelines to get a little freedom from the specific accountability requirements. LINK

Pegged to the "Faith of My Fathers" premiere on A&E, Connie Bruck's McCain profile in the current issue of the New Yorker (a clip-n'-save for 2008 Republican and Democratic hopefuls) includes an excellent scene of the Senator shooting craps in New Orleans, a rehashing of the dramatic behind-the-scenes maneuverings from 2000 to bring a then-defeated McCain on board with the Bush campaign, and McCain's belief that Americans have little tolerance for sore losers.

The New York Post's Deborah Orin read the New Yorker piece as well. Orin writes up Gary Bauer's retelling of John McCain's pledge (in 2000) to nominate pro-life judges to the Supreme Court. LINK

2008: Democrats
: Thomas Beaumont of the Des Moines Register presented on Saturday a duo of Democrats surrounding themselves with the company of Iowans. John Edwards --- journeying to the state in June --- has spent ample time since last November endearing himself to Iowa voters, but is not so chatty on the subject of 2008. Similarly reticent, Sen. Hillary Clinton --- hosting Hawkeye State political peoples in Washington sometime soon --- is just a chummy gal "and obviously she's got friends in Iowa." Beaumont tossed in that Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack "also has been mentioned as a potential presidential candidate" and Noted that some candidates may be ready to run (away) --- fearing someone with home-field advantage. LINK

Stewart Powell of Hearst newspapers writes of Sen. Edwards' anti-poverty crusade. "Edwards' far-flung efforts could help position the 52-year-old Democrat as the "stop Hillary" candidate in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008 . . . " LINK

The AP covered Gov. Bill Richardson at political fundraiser in Nebraska where he poked fun at potential Democratic presidential candidates. LINK

"Richardson alluded to the day the Clintons left the White House with, some reports say, more than they came with:"

"'On the Democratic side, there is an impressive field of potential presidential candidates,' Richardson began."

"'There's Joe Biden (of Connecticut (sic) who may be able to bring back national security voters; Senator Evan Bayh from Indiana may be able to bring back the Midwest."

"'Virginia Governor Mark Warner may bring back the South, and Hillary Clinton -- she's the only one who can bring back the White House furniture.'"

Wow.

The Rosen trial:

Writes Josh Gerstein with exclusive brio in the New York Sun:

"Since the criminal trial of a top fund-raising official on Senator Clinton¹s 2000 campaign began here nearly two weeks ago, a middle-age woman has been quietly perched on one of the wooden benches in the back of the courtroom. She jots down her observations in a small notebook and regularly consults with defense lawyers, but does not socialize with the handful of journalists covering the trial. The unobtrusive and taciturn woman is the general counsel for Mrs. Clinton¹s campaign, Carolyn Utrecht. She has served, it appears, as the senator¹s eyes and ears in the courtroom as a parade of witnesses involved with an August 12, 2000, fund-raiser have marched in and out to recount their memories of the star-studded event." LINK

There is also a disrupted Ickes interview!!

With no weekend court action to write of, The New York Post's Ken Lovett keys off the testimony thus far to look at the demands celebrities made to appear at the fundraiser. LINK

On Saturday the New York Post reported Judge Matz expects the jury could begin deliberations as soon as Wednesday. LINK

And check out this priceless Ickes testimony: "'It was a big deal out here,' he said. 'It involved Hollywood and stars and people who wanted to be stars and people who used to be stars.'"

New Hampshire:

Thanks to the Boston Globe's Yvonne Abraham's Sunday story, political reporters will have a New Hampshire town to visit as the immigration debate inevitably heats up during the 2007/2008 presidential primary season. LINK

2005:

Chris Smith explores Virginia Fields' "accidental" candidacy in this week's issue of New York Magazine. And/But it is these three sentences buried at the end of the piece that are most key: LINK

" . . . Fields has a long way to go to convince voters that there's substance beneath the pleasant surface, that she has the hunger to seriously challenge Bloomberg, and that she's her own woman. Fields's advisers are counting on a low turnout in the Democratic primary, believing she can triumph by scoring well with female and black voters. The Bloomberg campaign, which for months had been polling only Ferrer as a general-election opponent, has recently begun preparing for the possibility that the mayor could face one of the other Democrats."

In his campaign column full of excellent nuggets, the New York Post's Stefan Friedman reports the details of a private call between Fernando Ferrer and one of his top supporters, Eliot Spitzer. According to Friedman, Spitzer made it clear that he was no fan of Ferrer's stock transfer tax plan. LINK

Friedman also provides this telling statistic: "By May 11, 2001, Ferrer, Mark Green, Alan Hevesi and Peter Vallone had $19.6 million for their war chests. This year's quartet -- Ferrer, C. Virginia Fields, Gifford Miller and Anthony Weiner -- has raised a comparatively paltry $10.9 million, campaign-finance records reveal."

The New York Post plays up Fields supporter Charles Barron's call on Freddy Ferrer to "bow out" of the mayor's race in the name of a more united Democratic Party. LINK

Writes Sam Roberts and Jim Rutenberg in the New York Times: " . . . in the four years since his first mayoral race, the breadth of his philanthropy has expanded starkly. Now, many more community and cultural groups and social-service organizations in New York City are as likely to be beneficiaries as are medical centers in Baltimore or professorships at Harvard. And as Mr. Bloomberg gears up for a re-election campaign, the vast impact of his charitable contributions -- a total of about $140 million in donations last year alone to more than 800 institutions and groups, a growing number of them local - is emerging as a potentially formidable weapon as he cultivates alliances in all five boroughs." LINK

"All incumbents dispense favors. But Mr. Bloomberg's personal wealth has made him a modern-day Medici -- a role that, some critics say, can also stifle dissent from institutions that have quietly absorbed city budget cuts because they worry that what the mayor gives he can also stop giving."

Stem cell politics:

On Sunday, the Washington Post's David Broder traced the lineage of the bill likely to see a vote this week to ease the restrictions President Bush placed on stem cell research, Noting that these days, legislation with Democratic parentage rarely comes to a vote. Even though the measure faces a serious veto threat from the President, it's far more than a small victory that it's made it this far, Broder opines. LINK

Meanwhile, Michael Kinsley took a personal tack in laying out his moral arguments that the U.S. government is weighing regarding stem cell research which is slowing the process here while countries like South Korea are announcing that they're pushing ahead. LINK

Andrea Stone of USA Today explains what's at stake, and the conflicting stances of the White House and the various state laws governing it. LINK

CAFTA:

The Washington Post's Tom Edsall on Saturday reported that the four chairmen of the 40-member House New Democrat Coalition have declared their opposition to the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement, perhaps endangering their support from the high-tech community. LINK

2006:

The New York Post's Albany guru Fred Dicker was unsuccessful at pinning down Eliot Spitzer on his position on the West Side stadium. Dicker also writes that Tom Golisano will consider another run for Albany's top job if the GOP leadership asks him to do so. LINK

Roll Call's Chris Cillizza looks at the time and effort the RNC is putting in on new targeting tactics for the 2006 races --- particularly for the Senate in Missouri, Pennsylvania, New York, and Tennessee.

"Academy Award-winning actor-director Warren Beatty delivered a devastating critique of Arnold Schwarzenegger at a UC Berkeley commencement Saturday, and refused to rule out a Democratic run for governor -- saying that he would 'think about it' if Schwarzenegger continues to endorse 'a totally unnecessary special election,'" wrote Carla Marinucci in Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle.

Might we see a Meathead vs. Bulworth primary?

Sen. Dole went to Nebraska over the weekend staking ground for a top priority Senate race. LINK

The Clintons of Chappaqua:

The Clintons' Embassy Row residence has skyrocketed in value according to the New York Post's Ian Bishop. (Note Bishop's attempt to instill real estate envy in the Clinton world.) LINK

Politics:

Susan Page of USA Today examines the one-is-the-loneliest-number feeling of Blue governors in Red States --- and vice versa. LINK

In Sunday's Los Angeles Times, Ron Brownstein gave a big batch of well-deserved love to John Harris of the Washington Post for his new book on President Clinton, "The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House," which he says "provides all sides in the debate with the most complete and accessible account of Clinton's presidency yet available. In crisp, unmannered language, Harris displays an impressive command of the broad themes and minute details of the Clinton era. And though the author is evenhanded, he is not indecisive: He has not only reported widely on the Clinton record but also thought hard about it, and his brisk judgments will rattle many assumptions about the man and his presidency." LINK

Bob Novak's weekend column Notes that the Arlington Group disinvited Sen. James Inhofe because the NAE's Ted Haggard disapproved of Infone's appearance on the grounds that it deflected attention from marriage issues. LINK

Los Angeles mayor's race:

On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times' Noam Levey and Jessica Garrison looked at how Mayor-elect Antonio Villaraigosa is assembling his administration. LINK

Newsweek's Andrew Murr gives Villaraigosa the profile treatment and explains how he managed to build the coalitions that brought him victory. LINK

His colleagues, Arian Campo-Flores and Howard Fineman, take a fantastic, must-read look at Villaraigosa as a prime example of the new power that Latino politicians and voters are suddenly packing, and how crucial it is for Democrats to win them back if they hope to succeed going forward. LINK

"How did things become so dire for the Democrats? For starters, John Kerry's campaign botched its Hispanic outreach, according to many accounts. Latino operatives complained that the campaign leadership marginalized and undermined them at every turn. The leadership's assumption, according to Paul Rivera, a senior political adviser on the campaign: that Latino votes would break down roughly as they did in 2000, as a Democracy Corps poll last July wrongly suggested. The Hispanic team struggled constantly for resources, the operatives say, and assurances of ad buys in battleground states often went unfulfilled, keeping Kerry off the Spanish-language airwaves for days at a time."

"Over at the Bush-Cheney campaign headquarters, where Latino outreach was embraced zealously, a different world order prevailed. "We were sitting at the big kids' table," says Frank Guerra, a consultant on the national media team. He and Lionel Sosa -- a Hispanic marketing guru and veteran of six presidential campaigns -- joined weekly conference calls with campaign strategists and chimed in freely with suggestions for Hispanic ads and even general-market ones. A master of the softly lit spot saluting Hispanic heritage and patriotism, Sosa built his ads around a consistent theme: 'Nos conocemos' ('We know each other')."

Newsweek retracts:

Richard Smith, chairman and editor-in-chief, explains the magazine's changed anonymous sources policy and the larger principles that guide the magazine. LINK

Newsweek explains the story. LINK

Jonathan Alter explains the conundrum of using confidential sources. LINK

The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz examines the rock and the hard place Newsweek finds itself between amid criticism from the right and the White House, whose spokesman Scott McClellan insisted that the magazine "help repair the damage" in the Muslim world that resulted from its item alleging desecration of the Koran at Guantanamo Bay. LINK

On Sunday, the Los Angeles Times' Richard Serrano and John Daniszewski looked at the dozens of accusations about the mishandling of the Koran at Guantanamo Bay, which prompted the military in 2003 to draft extremely specific guidelines about how the Koran should be handled. LINK

The politics of same-sex marriage:

On Saturday, the Washington Post's John Wagner cast Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich's veto of a bill to grant rights to gay partners who register with the state as part of Ehrlich's larger siding with business and conservative Christian interests. LINK

Wal-Mart:

The Washington Post's Michael Barbaro looks at the variety of legislative barriers that Washington, DC and its suburbs are throwing in the path of Wal-Mart as local grocery unions are working to keep it out of the area. LINK