WASHINGTON, June 17
In an homage to the kerygma of Katie and Tom, and to the ethos of Page Six, which is always "Just Asking . . . . "
The Note presents its regular Friday version of "Is it really true . . . . "
Some of these predicates we think are true . . . . others -- well, smart people we know believe they are true, but we're not so sure.
So we ask . . . .
Is It Really True . . . .
That Jackie Calmes' Wall Street Journal story on how Chairmen Grassley and Thomas have essentially given up on legislation to ensure permanent solvency is the must-read of the day? (The answer is: yes.)
That Sen. Jim DeMint is on the verge of becoming a major player on the Social Security legislation?
That Harry Reid's December 2004 "Meet the Press" comments on Antonin Scalia left enough wiggle room to avoid haunting him this summer?
That CAFTA seems to many lawmakers as good as dead in the House? That all the sugar props in the world aren't going to help it?
That the House of Representatives helped Bernie Sanders' Senate bid immeasurably?
That the White House is suddenly facing a diner's menu of options for The First Veto?
That "conference" will truly be the cure-all sedative for significant disputes about the highway bill, the Patriot Act, and the energy bill?
That one potential 2008 candidates may surprise folks with his stem cell vote?
That the William Pryor excoriated in Judge Roy Moore's book about his Alabama Ten Commandments fight is the same guy who conservatives just HAD to have confirmed?
That Bill Frist is more acceptable to some rank-and-file social conservatives than George Allen will be?
That Senate Democrats are close to giving up on Bolton?
That House Democrats really have a national security message they're about ready to unveil?
That Sen. Salazar is getting home-state heat for blocking Bush judges?
That the formation of the Change to Win Coalition has little bearing on the future of the AFL-CIO?
That trade associations are salivating over Pence-Wynn? And that unions are scared witless by it? And that Senate Democrats will filibuster that chamber's version of the legislation?
That Progress for America plans to spend more on a SCOTUS fight than they did/will on Social Security? And that its most significant impact will be in the states, on the phones, at in the mail -- not on TV?
That Karl Rove is going to be in Bruce Springsteen territory on Tuesday?
That the White House and Republicans really, really, really, don't want Katherine Harris to be their nominee for U.S. Senate in Florida?
That Gov. Schwarzenegger will spend the next four and a half months talking more about property tax increases than the actual initiatives on the November 8 special election ballot?
That Gifford Miller smiles real big every time Anson Kaye sends his "Anthony will have to remain in Washington tonight due to votes and will not be able to make it to tonight's events in the city" emails?
That the Political Unit's Marc Ambinder will take your questions in a live online chat at 1:00 pm ET? LINK
It is an undeniable, hard-as-nails fact that President Bush concludes the week with a trip to Minnesota, a state he lost narrowly in the 2004 presidential election. The President visits a senior center in Maple Grove at 10:40 am ET, followed by a speech on Medicare at 11:10 am ET.
ABC News' Linda Douglass reports that the Senate plans a vote to cut off debate on the Bolton nomination next Monday evening.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice kicks off her visit to the Middle East today with trips to the Palestinian West Bank, Jerusalem, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Sunday morning, Secretary Rice is the guest on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."
At 2:45 pm ET, Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA) spearheads a protest demanding the release of the Myanmar's imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi.
Disputes over Social Security continue with the Labor and Employment Relations Association's conference "Benefits at Risk: Meeting the Challenges of Providing Health Care Benefits and Retirement Income in the 21st Century," starting at 8:00 am ET. At 9:00 am ET, representative Jan Schakowksy (D-IL) will deliver remarks.
The U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants holds a news conference to release its "World Refugee Survey 2005" at 10:00 am ET. The Cato Institute's Daniel Griswold and the Wall Street Journal's Steve Moore add their two cents to the immigration debate with a news briefing entitled "Immigration: The Economic Question" at noon ET.
The National Taxpayers Union kicks off its three-day National Taxpayers Conference at 7:45 am ET. Be sure to catch the remarks of Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) and Rep. Mike Pence (R-In.) at 8:15 am ET and 12:15 am ET respectively.
DNC Chairman Howard Dean speaks to the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin Conference in Houston. Tonight, he attends a DNC fundraiser at the home of Fred Baron in Dallas. Saturday, Dean attends a DNC grassroots fundraiser in Austin and then DemocracyFest at Stubb's Barbeque. LINK
Note to the Governor: at least taste the cornbread.
Tune in to Washington's WTOP today at 10:00 am ET today to hear Virginia State Sen. Russ Potts discuss his run as an independent in the soon-to-be-climactic Virginia gubernatorial race.
Sen. John McCain today delivers the commencement address at Northwestern University in Chicago.
And in case you've forgotten, Sunday is Father's Day. To celebrate, Sen. Barack Obama delivers the keynote address at Chicago's Christ Universal Temple at Sunday morning's service.
Not to trade in (semi-)obscure acronyms, but ALEC: move over. There's a new PLAN in state capitals. The Progressive Legislative Exchange Network plans to launch in August as a "new organization to support forward-thinking, progressive state legislators with the policy, communication, and strategic resources to help them fight the progressive battle at the state level." Former Sen. John Edwards already seems to be on board. LINK
Following up and revising (a bit) the Washington Post's reporting from yesterday, as well as breaking new ground, the Wall Street Journal's Jackie Calmes writes that "Congress's Republican leaders, convinced they are staring into the jaws of defeat on overhauling Social Security, are scrambling for an alternative approach to President Bush's top domestic priority that would allow him -- and them -- to seize some measure of victory."
"In coming weeks, the separate efforts of Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas will determine whether even that is possible, numerous Republicans say. What has become clear after months of meetings with Republicans on their respective panels, however, is that their packages won't include Mr. Bush's proposal for personal accounts carved from Social Security payroll taxes and may not meet his demand to keep the program solvent."
"The two plans are still emerging but have several common concepts. Both would reduce future benefits for all but the poorest workers, much as Mr. Bush proposes. Both would raise the retirement age for full benefits, contingent on increases in Americans' lifespans. Both want to avoid raising payroll taxes."
"But both chairmen have given up on finding enough Republican votes, in the face of Democratic opposition, to pass Mr. Bush's proposal to let workers born in 1950 and after divert a third of the 12.4% Social Security payroll tax to private accounts, in return for reduced regular benefits. With Republicans including House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois balking at having to vote for unpopular benefit trims, Mr. Bush's demand for 'permanent solvency' for Social Security also is increasingly unlikely to be met."
"Republicans say Mr. Bush's best hope is that Mr. Thomas can pass a solvency package with some modest accounts proposal in the House, which could yield a compromise with the Senate that sows the seed for the Bush-type accounts."
"In view of the president's problems, conservatives who favor private accounts are about to step in with their own alternative. Next week, Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina will introduce legislation, with support from third-ranking Senate leader Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas, that shuns the solvency goal in favor of creating small private accounts from Social Security's current surpluses. Trustees project the program will start running annual deficits in 2017."
The Bush presidency:
Robin Toner and Marjorie Connelly write in the New York Times: "Increasingly pessimistic about Iraq and skeptical about President Bush's plan for Social Security, Americans are in a season of political discontent, giving Mr. Bush one of the lowest approval ratings of his presidency and even lower marks to Congress, according to the New York Times/CBS News Poll." LIN
"Forty-two percent of the people responding to the poll said they approved of the way Mr. Bush was handling his job, a marked decline from his 51 percent rating after of the November election, when he embarked on an ambitious second term agenda led by the overhaul of Social Security. Sixteen months before the midterm elections, Congress fared even worse in the survey, with the approval of just 33 percent of the respondents, and 19 percent saying Congress shared their priorities."
"Despite months of presidential effort, the nationwide poll found the public is not rallying toward Mr. Bush's vision of a new Social Security that would allow younger workers to put part of their payroll taxes into private investment accounts. Two-thirds said they were uneasy about Mr. Bush's ability to make sound decisions on Social Security. Only 25 percent said they approved of the way Mr. Bush was handling Social Security, down slightly from what the poll found in March."
"Still, Mr. Bush continued to have majority support for his handling of the war on terrorism -- 52 percent -- one of his strengths throughout his 2004 re-election campaign."
"The sharpest drop in Congressional approval in recent months occurred among Republicans. In February, 54 percent of Republicans said they approved of the way Congress was doing its job; in the most recent poll, that had dropped to 40 percent. Some analysts suggest that Congress is paying the price for months of intense partisan struggle over judicial nominations and the decision to intervene in the right-to-die case of Terri Schiavo."
The President's tax reform panel got a two month extension because tax reform is a high priority for the White House and Administration officials didn't want it lost in the CAFTA/Social Security/energy bill/spending bills shuffle, reports Edmund Andrews gracefully in the New York Times. LINK
The Bush agenda:
The Minnepolis Star-Tribune previews the presidential visit today. The paper Notes that there are approximately 675,000 Medicare recipients who qualify for the drug plan. LINK
The St. Paul Pioneer Press says locals have spent more than 500 hours in preparation, but only a few hundred will get to see Bush speak. John and Agnes Jurek, of Brooklyn Park, MN will be special guests. LINK
"On the eve of Iran's presidential election, President Bush yesterday denounced Tehran's theocracy for manipulating the vote by eliminating candidates and ignoring the "basic requirements" of democracy. Whatever the election's outcome, power will continue to be held by "an unelected few" who are out of step with political changes sweeping the rest of the region, Bush said in a statement released by the White House," write the Washington Post's Robin Wright and Michael Fletcher, who also include the criticism of the election from Elizabeth Cheney of the State Department's democracy program and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who said that at the moment, the Administration isn't looking to overthrow Iran's ruling clerics. LINK
With the United States under heavy international pressure to double aid to poor countries, one of President Bush's signature foreign aid initiatives is facing severe cuts in its proposed budget, intense criticism from African leaders and the departure of its director after only a year in the job," the New York Times' Celia Dugger reports. LINK
"In effect, the Millennium Challenge Account is an experiment to test the idea that past aid has often failed because it went to corrupt, ineffective governments, while grants to nations with relatively honest governments, low trade barriers and soundly managed economies will create economic growth and reduce poverty, said Todd Moss of the Center for Global Development in Washington. The assumption was that success would be built on large grants that would make the United States the biggest, or one of the biggest, donors in a country. In Madagascar, which signed the first compact, the $108 million project makes the United States only the fifth largest donor, though Mr. Applegarth said a second, bigger grant lay ahead."
Carl Hulse of 43rd Street sums up the day: "Heading toward a collision with the House and White House, the Senate sought Thursday to put an environmentally friendly stamp on its energy legislation as lawmakers and President Bush struggle to agree on an elusive national power policy." LINK
From John Harwood's Washington Wire: "Democrat Sen. Bingaman of New Mexico seeks Republican support for a plan to gradually lower the intensity of carbon-dioxide emissions in proportion to U.S. economic output. Coal-mining unions and some utilities swing behind the idea. A more aggressive regulatory approach from McCain and Connecticut Sen. Lieberman draws fire from business and some environmental groups over incentives for nuclear power, a priority Bush will push at a Maryland event next week. Other environmentalists eye nuclear plants as an alternative to fossil fuels, opening potential for compromise. But Oklahoma Sen. Inhofe may filibuster mandatory reductions."
CongressDaily AM says Leader Frist plans to file cloture as early as next week.
Politics of the judiciary:
From John Harwood's Washington Wire: "Appeals-court judge Wilkinson of Richmond, Va., becomes bigger target of the left for siding with White House over indefinite detention of enemy combatants. Roberts, of the Washington, D.C., appeals court, is seen as tougher for Democrats to challenge. Ex-clerks are somber after recent reunion with Rehnquist, although he said nothing about his plans. Committee for Economic Development says executives don't want to align with social-issue groups in court fight."
Note to Harwood: those Rehnquist clerks are in general a pretty somber bunch.
Politics of Gitmo:
The Chicago Tribune's Jill Zuckman profiles Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), with a lengthy look at the role of agitator that he's taking among his colleagues, including his comments Tuesday comparing the alleged treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay to the behavior of the Nazis and the Soviets -- which he defends -- and his role in shaping the Democrats' strategy in the fight over the filibuster. LINK
"It was Durbin who came up with the Democrats' plan for responding to Frist's proposal to eliminate the filibuster for judicial nominations, the so-called nuclear option. Originally, Democrats were threatening to largely shut down the Senate."
"But Durbin tried to envision how voters would perceive Democrats if they repeatedly objected to Republican requests on the Senate floor, halting the chamber's legislative business in what might have appeared a fit of pique. 'It wasn't an image we wanted,' he said."
Zuckman also Notes that Sen. John Kerry says he considered picking Durbin as his VP, but was concerned about having two Roman Catholics on the ticket.
John Podhoretz uses his New York Post column to excoriate Durbin. LIN
"Dick Durbin has slandered the American military. He has slandered his country. He has defiled truth and he has spat on reason. He has given aid and comfort to all those who seek to use America's tough stance in the War on Terror as a recruiting tool for anti-Americanism."
We ask (semi-)rhetorically: what if a Republican Senator had said such a thing?
Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times rounds out the day's developments, including Bolton's meeting with Sen. Dodd and the prospects for Monday's vote. LINK
The AP reports that Nancy Reagan may lobby MOCs on stem cells. LINK
The Los Angeles Times' John Hendren and Cynthia Cho look at the mounting pressure on Iraq not only of public opinion but also in the form of a bipartisan House resolution introduced yesterday calling on President Bush to submit a plan for troop withdrawal and to begin pulling soldiers out of Iraq by fall of 2006. They also wrap the ongoing protests and the meeting yesterday by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) on the Downing Street Memo. LINK
The New York Times covers the Downing Street Memo! Sort of! LINK
Dana Milbank of the Washington Post describes the somewhat surreal scene at Conyers' meeting. LINK
The New York Times' Stephen Labaton reports that the House appropriations committee approved proposed budget cuts for PBS. LINK
The Washington Post's Jeffrey Birnbaum and Renae Merle gather all the details about the ties between Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA) and defense contractors that have Democrats and outside groups clamoring for an ethics investigation. LINK
Big casino budget politics:
The Washington Post's Justin Blum explains the details of the tax breaks for energy production -- particularly renewable and cleaner-burning forms of energy -- the Senate Finance Committee approved yesterday. LINK
The Washington Post's Shailagh Murray writes that the House is whipping through the appropriations process, approving spending for the Justice, State, and Commerce departments and edging closer to approving spending for the Pentagon, with some arguments and holdups (but not many) along the way. Despite lawmakers' chafing at the President's tight spending caps, House members have only four more bills to get out the door to accomplish Appropriations Committee Chairman Jerry Lewis' goal of getting them all approved by July. LINK
USA Today's Richard Wolf writes that congressional Republicans are pushing back on some of President Bush's more controversial spending cuts and fee increases. LINK
"The changes -- as much as $7 billion in additional domestic spending and more than $2 billion in rejected user fees -- are small in relation to the overall $2.57 trillion budget Bush submitted in February. Nevertheless, they allow Congress to exert its influence and set its own priorities. Final House and Senate action isn't expected until the fall, and some of these early decisions could be reversed."
"The changes show the willingness of Congress, controlled by Republicans, to alter Bush's proposals in significant ways. They reflect the parochial interests of lawmakers looking ahead to their own re-election bids next year and the pressure brought to bear by special-interest lobbyists. They also may signal lawmakers' belief that the estimated $350 billion federal budget deficit isn't a major priority, budget watchdogs say."
Virginia Fields supporter Percy Sutton had very kind things to say about Michael Bloomberg at a Harlem Business Alliance breakfast yesterday. LINK
"Former Mayor David Dinkins has also said nice things about Bloomberg. And yesterday, just hours after Sutton spoke, Dinkins was flying to Africa with the mayor to help push the city's Olympic bid," add the New York Daily News' Munoz and Saltonstall. LINK
And be sure to Note Mayor-elect Villaraigosa's recent pleasantries about Bloomberg.
The New York Post editorial board keys off of a Drum Major Institute study to urge Fernando Ferrer (the former head of DMI) to state his school safety platform. LINK
Michael Saul of the New York Daily News is entertained by all the singing on the campaign trail of late. LINK
"Florida House Speaker Allan Bense said Thursday the White House and Gov. Jeb Bush are encouraging him to challenge Democrat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, underscoring GOP fears that a bid by famed former Secretary of State Katherine Harris would only motivate Democrats," the Miami Herald's Lesley Clark reports. LINK
"Bense said he is considering a run for the seat -- despite Harris' candidacy. A spokesman at the White House said administration officials have talked with 'several individuals' about the race, but that President Bush, who named Harris a co-chair of his successful 2000 presidential campaign in Florida, has not taken a position."
"A spokesman for the national Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is recruiting candidates for Senate seats across the country, said party leaders have been talking with Bense 'for some time' about the 2006 election."
"'We believe he'd be a great Senate candidate should he decide to run,' spokesman Brian Nick said. `This race is a high priority and it's our intent to make sure we're doing everything we can to eventually have a great candidate to win the race.'"
"The entreaties are the clearest signal yet that Republicans harbor deep doubts about Harris' chances of beating Nelson. Gov. Bush said he told Bense even after Harris declared that he'd make 'an awesome candidate.'"
"'It's important for our party to have a strong candidate for the U.S. Senate,' said Bush, who has expressed disapproval of White House involvement in state politics. "I have had the privilege and pleasure of working with him and I just know he's an extraordinary guy.'"
The Free Enterprise Fund today plans to launch a "draft Rogan" campaign, hoping to persuade former Rep. Jim Rogan to jump into the race to replace Rep. Chris Cox, who is headed to the SEC.
Hillary Clinton's performance in the Richland County, SC straw poll inspired the New York Post's Ian Bishop to take a leap and write, "Clinton's surprising popularity in South Carolina could help her lock up the Democratic nomination for the White House if she decides to run, because the state hosts an early presidential primary election -- the first in the South." LINK
Raymond Hernandez of the New York TimesNotes that parts of the conservative message pyramid are hawking the Ed Klein book, but as Mickey Kaus points out, many conservatives won't touch it. LINK and LINK
(The Notion that Sen. Clinton is often at her best when opponents attack her character is a point that both smart Democrats and smart Republicans have digested.)
A Granite State birdie tells us that Sen. John Edwards will be the guest speaker at the Merrimack County Pig Roast sometime this summer.
Sen. George Allen, in an interview with Victory New Hampshire, made clear that, although death and taxes are a certainty, "death" taxes need not be. The Virginia Senator does not believe a government should babysit its people, which is why he applies the NH "Live Free or Die" motto to four basic principles: religion, expression, property ownership, and law abidance.
(Incidentally, that fourth point spells out the judicial branch's responsibility in complying with laws' original framework.)
Allen talked of taxes, taxes, taxes, on everything from indexing capital gains (he's a yea) to an Internet tax (he's a nay), and of keeping a flatline on the flat tax.
Speaking of yeas and nays, judges deserve 'em, too, and probably could have gotten/may still get them. "As soon as Harry Reid made these threats, we should have called his bluff," quoth Allen.
He suggests that Sen. Durbin isn't doing military morale any great service with recent criticism, but he and Mary Landrieu are hoping their proposal of "tax incentives for private employers" of reservists may -- indirectly -- ease any lingering resentment. LINK
The Los Angeles Times' Janet Hook describes the rock and the hard place between which Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist found himself after the release of Terri Schiavo's autopsy results. LINK
(Give the staff credit, though, for keeping their Man on the chosen message!!)
E.J. Dionne says it's time Frist ponied up an apology for his comments on Schiavo's condition in March, regardless of his morning show denials that they was a diagnosis. LINK
Gov. Mitt Romney is endorsing a grass roots effort to ban same sex marriages in Massachusetts. He called past Bay State gay marriage and civil union legislation "muddied" and some say this move is a nod to conservative voters for a possible 2008 presidential run. LINK
Scott Greenberger of the Boston Globe writes about Romney's recent mass mailing to Republican party leaders of 17 states. The mailing is one of many ways Romney is hoping to attract attention to his conservative stance on issues like human cloning and gay marriage. Although Romney hasn't stated whether he will run for president he is certainly laying the ground work for funding and recognition. Romney is also off to California today to speak with GOPers and Romney officials confirm that last week the governor met with Michigan leaders and donors. LINK
Note (as other potential candidates will) the quote out of the Palmetto State about Romney buzz.
(And Note to the Globe: maybe you need to follow your governor a bit more closely when he leaves the commonwealth, so as to not get scooped by Novak!!)
The Los Angeles Times' Elizabeth Mehren Notes Romney's appearance today at the Flag Day dinner of the Republican Party of Orange County, CA. LINK
Romney also gets New York Times ink on the same-sex marriage amendment. LINK
Dan Gearino of the Quad City Times writes that an Iowa Supreme Court judge ruling expected today in a gay divorce case could rile gay rights or anti-gay rights activists. LINK
Jonathan Roos of the Des Moines Register reports: "Gov. Tom Vilsack completed action Thursday on next year's $4.9 billion state budget by approving nearly all of a catch-all spending bill." LINK
The Schwarzenegger Era:
San Francisco Chronicle scribes Marinucci and Wildermuth explore why Gov. Schwarzenegger is talking more about property taxes than the initiatives to appear on the November 8 ballot. LINK
"Insiders say the no-new-taxes theme illustrates the harsh reality facing Schwarzenegger, who wooed state voters early on by portraying himself as a bipartisan reformer ready to bust up gridlock in Sacramento. His agenda has stalled, his approval ratings are sliding, and his call for a special election has been opposed by almost two-thirds of voters in a state poll."
John Danforth writes another editorial in the New York Times extolling the virtues of being what he calls a "moderate Christian." LINK
Paul Krugman starts his drumbeat on the Noe/coin/GOP controversy in Ohio. LINK
AP reports that former First Lady Nancy Reagan is actively lobbying lawmakers on behalf of a Senate bill expanding embryonic stem cell research. LINK
The Washington Post's Juliet Eilperin has details of former House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt's new life as a strategic consultant. LINK
The Wall Street Journal is tickled about the pro-Tabor groups popping up in twenty states, but how could it not mention "Amercians for Prosperity?" That's the Washington group that's helping to spearhead the effort. LINK
Z. Hallow interviews Paul Weyrich like only Hallow can. LINK
In an article co-published by Rolling Stone (hitting newsstands today) and Salon, attorney and environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. blasts the federal government for supposedly covering up evidence that a mercury-based vaccine preservative causes autism.
Kennedy alleges that the CDC, the Institute of Medicine, and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, among others, deliberately whitewashed the effects of the preservative thimerosal. He calls it a "chilling case study of institutional arrogance, power and greed." He continues: "If, as the evidence suggests, our public-health authorities knowingly allowed the pharmaceutical industry to poison an entire generation of American children, their actions arguably constitute one of the biggest scandals in the annals of American medicine."