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:

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