Morning Political Note: Jan. 21

Enron continues to dominate the business sections, but as a political story, barring any unforeseen major developments, we expect it to take a back seat this week to the inexorable build-up toward two huge Big Casino events: the State of the Union, just eight days away; and the release of the White House budget in early February, the contours of which Administration sources are beginning to sketch out in the print media.

News Summary

According to the Washington Post, the budget went to the printer last night.

Setting the stage for these events, the Congressional Budget Office will release its revised estimates this week, with the CBO director testifying before the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday. Fed chief Alan Greenspan will testify before the committee on Thursday.

Still unclear are details on whatever separate economic address(es) the President may intend to give, per the earlier ideas being "kicked around" by the White House for him not to talk about the economy in detail in the State of the Union. Bush will give an economic speech tomorrow in West Virginia, but whether or not he plans to escalate his usual rhetoric remains TBD.

The Washington Post yesterday had this key point about the forthcoming White House budget: "The cost of fighting terrorism at home and abroad will require so much money in 2003 that President Bush plans to propose a budget with little or no growth in most other areas of government, according to administration officials. The budget, which goes to the printer tonight and will be released Feb. 4, is being submitted to Congress at a time when the economy is contracting, leading to heightened demand for social services."

"The White House plans to sell the lean budget as part of a process of bringing rationality to government by eliminating duplication and demanding results."

We wonder when, if ever, Concord Coalition types will start arguing that the Administration should be making harder and more precise choices on program and spending cuts. And of course, as more details leak out on what social programs aren't seeing increased funding, they'll get hit from the other side.

By simultaneously running a deficit, dipping into the Social Security and Medicare trust funds, failing to make substantial cuts in spending programs, and (yet) significantly restraining the rate of growth in spending on many programs beloved by members of both parties — all in one budget! — the White House is just asking to be smacked around.

They clearly are hoping that the President's wartime image will insulate him from this unusual budget vise.

One group who will be watching the budget battle closely and directly incorporating what happens there into their decisions on how to vote will be the elderly — who, as you know, tend to vote in higher numbers than other demographic groups. The New York Times ' Robin Toner gives both parties a front-page reminder that off-year elections see older votes turn out in even greater percentages, and that retirement income security is going to be big this cycle.

Newly elected Republican National Committee chairman Marc Racicot yesterday arguably gave Democrats their Ted Kennedy opening — their chance to retort to the GOP's attacks on them as tax-hikers — when, presumably in the interests of consistency, he conceded to Tim Russert that Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's scale-back of his promised tax cut essentially amounted to a tax increase.

We'll be watching to see whether Ari Fleischer and the White House economic team can continue to fight off requests for comment with that old Bush campaign stand-by ("The President doesn't comment on state issues," except, of course, when he does), and continue to relentlessly hammer Tom Daschle and the Democrats for supposedly secretly hankering to raise taxes, if not actually calling for that.

As the Washington Times ' Hallow records, "Asked by Tim Russert … whether Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's decision to delay, because of state deficits, a scheduled tax cut amounted to a tax increase, Mr. Racicot answered, 'I think that argument can be made in all fairness, yes.'"

"In tacitly criticizing the Republican Florida governor, Mr. Racicot evaded a trap. To have said otherwise would have contradicted President Bush's argument that efforts by Democrats in Congress to delay tax cuts passed last year amounts to a tax increase in the midst of an economic downturn."

We think Racicot fell into a trap (rather than evaded one), and we predict it won't be the last time that the President's hand-picked chairman's plain-speaking ways create some intellectual, if not personal, conflict with the White House.

Elizabeth Bumiller's "White House Letter" in the New York Times says Racicot's comments make him "the first member of [Bush's]inner circle to toss the president's younger brother over the side." The story also points out the White House's anxiousness to make the "Democrats = tax increasers" case again and again.

But for the average voter, that guy from Montana's measured remarks don't have quite the same impact as the image of Ted Kennedy pounding the lectern on behalf of what could be interpreted as a tax increase.

As Racicot knows, sometimes governors just have to raise revenue by raising taxes or delaying tax cuts in order to get their budgets balanced. Even so, the state budget shortfalls around the country present a potential ticking time bomb for the Administration if they wind up suffering sweeping losses among the ranks of their governors in November.

As it happens, Jeb Bush will deliver his State of the State tomorrow in Tallahassee. Meanwhile, the Republican governor of Massachusetts will announce another round of emergency spending cuts today, plus the diversion of a scheduled payment to the state employees' pension fund.

President Bush himself will hear major speeches from two would-be Democratic presidential opponents this week, with Sen. John Kerry speaking on energy issues on Tuesday, and House Minority Leader Gephardt speaking on the economy on Thursday (something of a warm-up to his delivery of the Democratic response to the State of the Union a week from Tuesday). A third 2004 wannabe, Sen. Joe Lieberman, will kick off Enron hearings on Thursday in his role as chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.

The White House views the actions of these three Democrats and other would-be candidates through a strictly political prism, as do the advisors to the other Democratic potential candidates, all of whom will be watching to see whether any of these guys can gain some political mojo for '04.

Speaking of performance, Gephardt gave a well-received and favorably covered speech at the Democratic National Committee winter meeting on Saturday morning. Senate Majority Leader Daschle had the misfortune of "speaking" after Gephardt via brief pre-taped remarks which did not cover recent events like Karl Rove's comments in Austin, and thus got only polite applause from the crowd.

It's rare for a political adviser to the President, especially this President, to speak so openly about strategy and polling. No, we're not talking about Karl Rove's comments from Friday about the war — we're talking about party pollster Matthew Dowd's Saturday morning presentation at the RNC meeting, which is worth looking at in some depth (in part here, but more below).

Looking at public polling data, Dowd argued that Americans believe the economy is going to get better, which he thinks is more important than feelings about current conditions.

Comparing 43 to 41: President Bush the Elder was dealing with low optimism on the economy during his presidency; people thought things were going to get worse. Whereas this President Bush is in a position more similar to that of President Clinton, with greater optimism about the country's economic future.

The same comparison holds in terms of approval of the President's handling of the economy. Republicans overall today have an advantage on the question of who's better at handling the economy, and have a 30-point advantage on handling terrorism, while the White House continues to tout signs in the polls suggesting that the President has helped the GOP eliminate the gap on handling education.

Democrats are going to need to change the issues matrix to win this election, Dowd argues, bringing Social Security and health care back into play. Republicans are highly unlikely to lose their advantage on terrorism in the next 10 months, he says, so the big issue (no surprise) is going to be the economy. And Democratic efforts to win the message war on that issue are being sorely hampered now because they currently are on the defensive, having to deny they want to raise taxes.

Republican strategists laugh at Senators Daschle and Kennedy for giving high-profile speeches that have put them in the "When did you stop beating your wife?" situation. That's why party chair Terry McAuliffe has been trying to stop the tax debate, and is hoping to have the President's budget — with its cuts/restraints in growth, rosy scenarios, and deficits in the out years — be the organizing document around which the debate is conducted leading up to election day.

Which brings us to Gephardt's Democratic Leadership Council-sponsored speech on the economy: chances are it won't give Republicans another peg to hit Democrats on taxes. A Gephardt source has expanded on earlier suggestions that this will be different from Daschle's speech a few weeks ago: Gephardt will not be addressing "current budget choices" — he'll be talking about where the nation should be economically a decade from now. In other words, don't necessarily expect him to make the focus of his remarks President Bush's tax cut.

Roll Call's preview of the congressional agenda in the weeks to come is heavy on Big Casino. "In an effort to gain the political upper hand on Democrats in this crucial midterm election year, House Republicans are considering a third vote on an economic stimulus bill in the coming weeks … The House GOP leadership is also mulling several other legislative strategies they believe can help them at the polls in November. There is talk about holding a vote on whether to repeal President Bush's tax cut to force House Democrats to state their position on the record about the $1.3 trillion tax cut that Congress approved last year."

However, the story notes that "GOP aides stressed that the strategy is still in the formative stages. Decisions about whether to hold a third vote on the economic stimulus bill and offer a Democratic-inspired bill to postpone the tax cut will be made at the Republican retreat scheduled to take place later this month."

Meanwhile, "Ranit Schmelzer, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.), said that bills dealing with issues such as agriculture, electoral reform, energy and an economic stimulus are likely be at the top of the Senate agenda."

"A House Republican aide said GOP leaders expect the President to urge Congress to pass his economic stimulus bill, energy legislation, a prescription drug bill and trade promotion authority. In light of the collapse of the energy conglomerate Enron, Bush is also likely to stress the need for pension reform."

Not surprisingly, all those Senate Democrats who voted for the President's tax cut tell Roll Call they're sticking by their votes.

The Los Angeles Times ' Hook previews the Senate agenda through the prism of the stakes for Daschle, making the point that "Daschle personifies the conundrum his party faces in its relationship with Bush. He has struggled to balance his support for the president's war on terrorism against growing efforts to fight Bush on issues such as taxes and health policy that cut to the core of the differences between the parties they head."

"[T]he GOP onslaught seems to be getting under Daschle's skin. 'You have to go back a long way to find a situation where a presidential administration and Republicans have so aggressively and in such an organized fashion attacked the leader of another party,' Daschle said in a recent interview."

We found this news significant enough to merit summary status: although the Republican House campaign committee raised more than twice as much as its Democratic counterpart in 2001 — $69 million to $34 million — it spent about $53 million (about the same as the Republican National Committee). Jeez. While the committee certainly has a right to brag about its expanding donor base and the resources at its disposal, maybe it should stop and think about how it's disposing of them.

President Bush has one public event today: he'll sign an MLK, Jr. Day proclamation later this afternoon, while First Lady Laura Bush will make remarks at the annual commemorative service, Atlanta

This morning Jane Clayson showed some of her taped sit-down with Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, and Torie Clarke for a wide-ranging chat with fine china. More TK on tomorrow's "Early Show."

This week won't be devoid of action on Enron. Tomorrow brings a court hearing in the class action lawsuit on behalf of investors against Enron management, in US District Court in Houston. On Wednesday, the House Commerce Oversight and Investigation Subcommittee will hold a hearing on Enron, and on Thursday, Lieberman's Senate Governmental Affairs Committee will start its own Enron hearings.

The papers play up Sen. Fred Thompson's statement on Face the Nation that the White House would find it in its better political interests to release the energy task force records.

Time magazine follows up on earlier Washington Post reporting that the White House is looking for alternate ways to release the task force records rather than to the GAO: "the Bush team made one tiny bow to the explosive potential of the Enron scandal, hinting for the first time that it might fork over the details of Vice President Cheney's closed-door meetings with energy-industry officials last spring if a congressional committee requested them. Bush spokesman Dan Bartlett predicted that those papers, if released, would provide no evidence of a smoking quid pro quo between the Administration and Enron."

To recap and fill in the events this week:

On Tuesday, President Bush will travel to West Virginia to attend a rally and give a speech on the economy at a machinery company in Charleston.

Also on Tuesday, Sen. John Kerry (D) will make a major speech on energy policy, hosted by the Center for National Policy (the same folks who hosted Daschle's big economic speech). And, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) will deliver his State of the State address.

Marking the return of Congress on Wednesday, Bush will meet with a bipartisan group of Senators and House members, then make remarks at a Reserve Officers Association luncheon. NBC's "real West Wing" special will air Wednesday night.

Thursday, Bush will address a group of mayors and county officials at the White House, then meet with his Cabinet.

Also on Thursday, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt will give his major economic speech.

Friday's schedule remains TBD.

Secretary of State Powell returns this afternoon from his Central Asia tour.

From the ABC News London Bureau: Lava flows from a volcanic eruption have set alight a gas station in the Congolese town of Goma, killing up to 50 people who were trying to siphon fuel from its tanks. Eyewitnesses claim that 50 to 60 people were inside the gas station and that "nobody could have escaped" … The United States pledged today to provide $296 million for initial reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan as the world came together to pledge billions of dollars to rebuild the country … British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been briefed by British officials on conditions they saw at Camp X-ray in Guantanamo Bay. A team of British officials who spent the weekend inspecting the detention center, reported back to ministers this morning. They confirmed that three UK nationals are being held as al Qaeda suspects at Camp X-Ray in Cuba. A Downing Street spokesman said the British team had confirmed the three have no complaints about their treatment and are in good physical health.

The Economy / Budget Politics

Robert Pear, who covers budget and social spending issues for the New York Times , actually can read budget documents himself (particularly the leaked kind), and he has no shortage of Hill staffers and interest group activists as sources to point him to the best stuff. He has long bedeviled Administrations who seek to cut programs, particularly in areas such as aid to the poor and health care. Just watch what he does to this Bush budget over the next month.

The Clinton Administration took seriously the damage a well-placed and well-timed Pear piece could do to its best-laid plans. It's not clear to us yet what level of importance the Bush Administration attaches to pre-spinning these Pear bombs. Today's test-run piece: Pear writes about the federal Medicare commission's recommendation to increase spending to health care providers.

"Mr. (Trent) Duffy, the spokesman for the White House budget office, said Mr. Bush would ask Congress to set aside $190 billion over a decade for 'Medicare reform' and drug subsidies. That is the same amount Mr. Bush requested last August."

"Medicare generally does not cover drugs outside the hospital. AARP and other groups representing the elderly plan to make Medicare a major issue in this year's elections. Mr. Bush and most members of Congress have said they want to add drug coverage to Medicare, but they have not found a way to pay for it."

The New York Times ' front page looks at how tight budgets are forcing states to consider cutting money for criminal justice, including closing prisons and laying off guards.

The economy: Every Fed hiccup deserves Wall Street Journal A2 treatment. The comedy level of the schizophrenic coverage of the economic health of the nation day-to-day is at least as high as a Chris Rock movie. Today, apparently, the economy is doing better: "Federal Reserve officials started the new year describing the economy as showing tentative signs of hitting bottom, but still facing numerous risks. Last week, in public and private they indicated the markets may have read too much pessimism into those remarks. In shifting their tone, the officials appeared to signal that they are leaning toward not cutting rates at the end of the month, but also may not raise them for at least several months."

"A decision to stand pat is by no means certain, but it would mark the end to one of the most aggressive rate-cutting campaigns in the Fed's recent history."


The Los Angeles Times previews upcoming court action on Enron, with one source calling it "the full employment act for Texas lawyers." "So far, 51 lawsuits have been filed in U.S. District Court [in Houston] naming former Enron Chief Financial Officer Andrew S. Fastow as a defendant. Fifty-six go after former Chief Executive Jeffrey K. Skilling. Fifty-three seek damages from Chairman Kenneth L. Lay. Dozens more suits go after the company itself."

The New York Times has a fine profile of the one energy investment analyst who wrote skeptically about Enron's prospects, complete with a photo that makes him look not wholly unlike a Lucian Freud painting.,

The Wall Street Journal 's "The Outlook" piece suggests that the President's constant promising to seek solutions to keep another "Enron" from happening is not just to demonstrate "feel your pain" concern or a fidelity to justice. Other stock prices could suffer (at risk to the economy and the President's political health) if confidence in the system is undermined.

The Washington Post has another one of those big-picture, lessons-learned overviews suggesting the Bush Administration may support greater disclosure, which must make the US corporate world shiver.

The Wall Street Journal continues its self-appointed role to explain why the Enron debacle doesn't reflect badly on capitalism and shouldn't lead to more regulation, with opinion pieces by Robert Bartley and Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute.

Enron investigative: The New York Times raises the specter (we were wondering where said specter has been) of a conflict between the various congressional and criminal inquiries: "Congressional committees have sent out hundreds of subpoenas, causing concerns among Justice Department lawyers who say they are worried that key executives at Enron and Arthur Andersen may compromise any future prosecutions."

Those of you old enough to remember Iran-Contra know what a problems this can be: "The hazard lies in any grant of immunity to the witnesses testifying before any of the Congressional committees investigating them. Prosecutors would then have to show they did not use any of this testimony to find witnesses or to gather evidence against them."

They aren't quite Vampires, but the New York Times scores some good Interviews with the Lawyers, getting legendary figure Earl Silbert, who represents Ken Lay, to talk about his client's practice of selling stock to pay off loans; and Philip Hilder, who might become legendary before all this is over for representing whistleblower Sherron Watkins, who tick-tocks his client's interaction with Lay before and after her now-famous memo.

The Wall Street Journal moves the investigative ball a bit: "Bolstering the account of a fired Arthur Andersen LLP auditor, an executive in the accounting firm's Houston office told congressional investigators that an e-mail from headquarters reminding employees of Andersen's document-disposal policy was unprecedented, people familiar with his interview say. The Oct. 12 e-mail arrived shortly before Houston personnel began destroying papers relating to Enron Corp."

"The account by Michael Odom, the head of risk management for the Houston office, is consistent with that given to lawmakers by Enron's lead auditor, David Duncan, who Andersen fired last week for overseeing the document destruction."

The Wall Street Journal has about the best story to date on Enron's electric-power project in India.

On C1, the Wall Street Journal does a Q&A on those pesky Enron partnerships, with the classic "Partnerships for Dummies" tone.

Enron politics: Noting that "public scrutiny is the only offset to the power of special interest cash," the Los Angeles Times ' Brownstein points out that "It's when the press and public aren't watching that money really talks. The Enron scandal illuminates this basic truth of Washington life: the more obscure the issue, the greater the leverage of special interests. Put another way, there's an inverse relationship between the amount of public and press attention a Washington decision attracts and the ability of special interests to shape the result."

The New York Times looks at the tough position Senator Lieberman finds himself in, criticized by all sides. And for you closer readers, see if you think the "longtime Republican strategist" quoted on Lieberman ("Lieberman's problem is simple — Enron's biggest creditor is his campaign's biggest contributor.") is longtime Republican strategist Charlie Black, quoted on the record elsewhere in the story.

Roll Call follows up on previous reporting on Senator Lieberman and Congressman Tauzin's Enron ties.

The Washington Post's Kamen also reports, that Wisconsin Gov. Scott McCallum gave Arthur Andersen the $265,000 contract for helping to put together his "'Build Wisconsin' economic development strategy … McCallum last week told reporters he still trusted the firm. Arthur Andersen — this is the consulting side, not the accounting side — is working on the Build Wisconsin plan now."

Legislative agenda: The return of Congress means the revival of the effort to bring the Shays-Meehan campaign finance reform bill to the House floor for debate. Roll Call captures some of the build-up: "According to The Minneapolis Star Tribune, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) appealed to thousands of Minnesotans in automated phone messages this week to 'press three Congressmen to seek a prompt House vote on his campaign finance overhaul bill.' The three-day phone blitz — which targeted Minnesota Reps. Collin Peterson (D), Martin Sabo (D) and Mark Kennedy (R) — was halted early because of Minnesota phone solicitation laws. According to the Tribune, advocates of the Shays-Meehan [bill] … 'also used the auto-dial tactic in 11 Congressional districts in 10 other states without such prohibitions, directing calls to about 136,000 voters.'"

ABC 2004: The Invisible Primary

At the bottom of Janet Hook's Daschle piece mentioned above is this: "When asked, Daschle does not rule out running for president, but insists he has not focused on it. 'I've really made an effort to block out any consideration of other political plans until after this election,' he said."

At least one 2004 cattle call may be in the making: word at the DNC meeting was that former Vice President Gore is expected to attend the Florida Democratic party convention in mid-April, along with other potential '04 candidates. California party officials are hoping their mid-February confab will draw a bunch of candidates, too, but it's getting a bit late for RSVP's to that one.

The Washington Post's Broder noted on Sunday, in the wake of the DNC vote to speed up their nominating process, chairman Terry "McAuliffe told reporters he did not anticipate 'any great rush' to move up, but in states such as South Carolina, Michigan and Arizona, where Republicans already have earlier primary voting dates, Democrats are almost certain to pick those same dates. Wisconsin, whose early April primary has lost its once prominent role in presidential nominee selection, may move up to the third week in February, party officials said. And other states are sure to reexamine their options, other strategists said."

The city of Boston, aspiring host of the 2004 Democratic convention, threw a packed reception at the DNC meeting. A dozen cities have put in for applications to win the convention (note: so far no West Coast cities and no cities in Florida), and the DNC also put together its site selection committee over the weekend, as did the RNC.

The New York Post looks at the weekend chatter that the parties are looking at Gotham City as a possible convention host in 2004, but note how both party chairs downplayed that on Meet the Press yesterday.


A pair of partisan cross-pollinization notes from the DNC and RNC meetings. Those who listened closely to Republican National Committee pollster Matthew Dowd give his presentation in Austin noticed Dowd's occasional use of the word "you" rather than "we" in addressing the GOP faithful. Especially since Dowd used to run Democratic campaigns before George W. Bush entered his life.

Meanwhile, in Washington, some of those standing at the back of the room during McAuliffe and Gephardt's addresses to the Democratic National Committee were a little surprised to see former McCain political director John Weaver there to check out what they had to say about campaign finance reform.

To get back to Mr. Dowd's polling presentation, obviously, much of the White House polling analysis now looks at things from the perspective of September 11. One number they have looked at closely is how long presidents who enjoy a big rise in their approval ratings sustained presidential approval. So far, Bush has done it two and a half times longer than next, FDR.

As many others have done, Dowd points to how redistricting in a large number of states effectively has served to protect incumbents, limiting the number of House seats that will be truly competitive this year. Dowd estimates that Democrats will have to win 87% of the House seats in play to take control of the chamber — not impossible, but tough to do.

Dowd also says Social Security is an issue that Republicans "can lead on and confront directly and be very successful on as candidates." But White House political advisers concede that this is now an issue that likely won't get a real legislative push any earlier than 2005, assuming President Bush gets re-elected.

Here are some issues the White House is worried about as it takes the long view on the President's re-election: Nevada and Yucca Mountain; seniors; Hispanics; and the ag(riculture) vote (see Senator Lugar's op-ed piece in the New York Times trashing the Daschle-Harkin farm bill

When James Bennet left his cushy perch writing for the New York Times magazine to go cover Israel, he presumably figured he was taking a break from covering Bill Clinton, whom he chronicled during their shared White House years. Per usual with Clinton, he has followed Bennet to the Holy Land, where the latter writes about the former's speech, with the usual style: "In a 38-minute speech, Mr. Clinton was in familiar form, ranging over favorite subjects like global warming, poverty, gee-whiz technology, and, wistfully, himself. He noted, with obvious emotion, that he departed office a year ago today. Now, he said, 'I have no power, no responsibilities."'

George W. Bush's one-year anniversary in office means Bill Clinton is marking his first year out of office, and the Washington Times gives that anniversary just about the kind of treatment you'd expect.

USA Today marks today's holiday by noting that the country doesn't have a single African-American governor.

We think the text of MSNBC's ad on A14 of the Wall Street Journal for the premiere of Alan Keyes new show speaks for itself: "He's Alan Keyes. But you'll just call him Frank. One of the most influential (sic) cultural thinkers in America is now on MSNBC. Love him. Hate him. You can't ignore him (sic). Wafflers are toast."

The Republican candidates for governor of California will meet for their first debate tomorrow at San Jose State University. The Los Angeles Times sets up the debate:

The Washington Post's Kamen gives a humorous twist to the fight over unions using dues to fund political contributions and activities. "It was barely a year ago that (failed Labor Secretary nominee) Linda Chavez was on [CNN,] lamenting her ill-fated bid to be secretary of labor and organized labor's opposition. 'I think organized labor, I think quite mistakenly, somehow thought that I was going to be their worst nemesis,' she told Wolf Blitzer … Well, that was then. Nowadays, in a recent fundraising letter for her effort to block unions from using dues for political contributions, Chavez calls her pal Sweeney a 'big labor boss' and says 'big labor has a radical socialist agenda' … One section of the missive sure to bridge that gap with the 'radical left-wing' Sweeney is when Chavez deftly compares him and his folks to Osama bin Laden, saying 'Don't let the terrorists have another victory.'"

President Bush always has been ambivalent toward courting labor unions, aside from his undercovered courtship of the Teamsters. Some GOP leaders have grown so frustrated with the AFL CIO's tilt toward Democrats that they want to give up seeking their support and simply appeal over to rank-and-file workers, with whom they can forge common bonds on many issues, as compared to the leadership.

One Republican who not only hasn't given up, but has made huge strides with labor is New York's Gov. George Pataki, whose inroads with his own state's labor leaders are positioning him to defy the odds and win a third term in November, in a Democratic state with a slow economy. Read about Pataki's latest labor play in today's Fred Dicker column in the New York Post .

Mayor Mike Bloomberg has decided to march in the St. Patrick's Day Parade, risking the wrath of gay groups in what has become one of the city's perennial political showdowns.

Roll Call looks at the family ties linking Capitol Hill to K Street.

Bush Administration Strategy/Personality

Bob Novak shows his populist side in criticizing the Administration for withholding those documents from Reps. Dan Burton and Henry Waxman, and for picking Marc Racicot: "The Bush White House's cavalier attitude toward Burton's subpoenas presaged inept handling of the Enron scandal. Its insistence on secrecy about Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force stems from the same root as its attempt to permit a Republican national chairman to double as a registered federal lobbyist. That root is arrogance of power."

In addition to previewing Nightline's series on the Congo, the Washington Post's Howard Kurtz gets some skinny from Brokaw himself on the kind of access NBC got for its "real West Wing" special airing Wednesday night.

"'It goes without saying that they don't wake up and say, "Oh, my God. NBC is coming!"' Brokaw says. 'They obviously arranged a very full day for him.'"

"Bush laughed at the notion that the press has gone easy on him during the war, arguing that he got roughed up over civilian casualties in Afghanistan and the initial lack of military progress, Brokaw recalls."

"The political war over Enron was also a hot topic. 'They were not overly defensive,' Brokaw says of administration officials. 'They've obviously got their message and they're working on it.'"

Homeland security: The New York Daily News writes up the experience most of us have had: some public buildings are still pretty easy to get into.

The war over there: The Los Angeles Times offers a good "lessons learned" from Afghanistan piece on how the Pentagon will approach future targets as the war continues.

The New York Post divides its wood between Nicole Kidman, K-Mart, bad grades for New York hoop stars, and this: pickup of Newsweek's story that there's a (screaming tab ALL CAPS!!!) "SECRET PLAN TO TOPPLE SADDAM."

Yesterday's "get tough" words from Senator Joe Biden are only the latest demonstration of the existence of a bipartisan caucus in Congress fed up with many of Saudi Arabia's practices. Still, the Administration continues to avoid the tough issues there. Nonetheless, the Saudis' incredibly expensive PR and legal efforts to try to keep the lid on its jar of peanut brittle continue apace. There's a fun and interesting letter in the Wall Street Journal today from a legal adviser to the Saudi Arabian Mission to the United Nations, that includes sentences such as this: "Saudi Arabia is a democratic Muslim state. It has a responsible, efficient government of a king, a prince, cabinet ministers and a Consultative Council of 120 members."