The Note: Red Versus Blue, Part XXXII

— -- WASHINGTON, Sep. 7


What the White House thinks it knows about the politics of Katrina:

1. "Federalizing" the response to a natural disaster in advance or immediately after the fact is not politically or legally feasible, especially when state and local officials of the other party resist such an effort.

2. Most of the TV-picture-generating problems of the last week were caused by the rank incompetence of the New Orleans and Louisiana governments, whose mayor and governor both publicly and privately behaved abominably, regarding evacuation, health care, law enforcement, civil order, etc.

3. The national media and the people of New Orleans do not care one iota about (1) and (2), and, for now, the White House has to largely accept that.

4. Decrying the "blame game" and focusing practically and rhetorically on helping people now -- whether poll tested or not -- is the lynchpin of the best-available strategy.

5. As long as John McCain (on Imus this morning), Rush Limbaugh, Tom DeLay, rightist bloggers, and their compatriots all continue to point directly or obliquely at the failure of state and local officials, and downplay the need for immediate federal culpability, the bottom will not fall out on Capitol Hill or in poll numbers.

6. A real investigation into past funding fights for protecting New Orleans and into FEMA's leadership and reaction is not going to be pretty, and that can and should be kicked down the road as often and far as possible.

7. The biggest real danger, perhaps, is that some bad breaks on the economy -- involving a lethal brew of energy, steel, and housing prices -- could have serious 2006 and legacy implications.

What the Democrats think they know about the politics of Katrina:

1. This is open season on a president whose coverage right now is at the level of Nixon's final days (Note Note: we actually got an email from a Democratic strategist making the comparison!!!) or Reagan during the height of Iran-Contra. The season is SO open, in fact, that Democrats are seeing fit to attack the President's mother's comments, Dr. Rice's shopping habits, and the First Lady's hair (OK, they haven't gone after the First Lady's hair -- yet -- but see our exclusive on that below.).

2. There are no two better manifestations for the degree to which Democrats think that this is THE moment they have been waiting for five years than Hillary Clinton's morning show romp (belatedly responding to those Democrats who for weeks have urged her to be more assertively and visibly anti-Bush) and Howard Dean's expected full-throated attack later today.

3. The President's poll numbers -- even/especially among Republicans and conservative-leaning independents -- are about to take a major hit, as all but the hardcore begin to see him as a lazy, incompetent, radical conservative (as if we were a nation of Begalas and Carvilles).

4. The President's entire agenda is dead in the water.

5. This story will go on and on, and it's likely to get worse for the President before it gets better.

6. Eventually, things will get so bad for the White House that Republicans running in 2006 will abandon him in droves, dissipating the GOP unity that has been a hallmark of the Bush era.

7. The President is so weakened that he will have to nominate Larry Tribe for the O'Connor seat -- or, at least, he should.

Ask yourself: does the media filter of major newspapers and cable and broadcast TV entities agree more with the Bush list or the Democrat list?

(We will pause while you re-read the lists and answer the question.)

(Our pause is over.)

Although much of the politics of Katrina is taking place behind the scenes, with strategists constrained by the societal pledge to "keep politics out of this," senior strategists in both parties are now fully engaged on what all this might eventually mean in the short and medium term for American politics.

Democrats are still disorganized. Republicans are all still standing strongly with the President.

So in that sense, things haven't changed.

But Katrina is such a big, swirling, all-consuming story, that the President's life IS changed for the foreseeable future.

He can't pass Social Security. He can't be seen doing any other work. He can't go biking (we think).

Even in the first half of 2001, even when the press wouldn't fully acknowledge him as President of the United States, the White House wasn't in a hole like this.

Much of his agenda is incongruous with the pictures we are seeing behind Oprah in the Astrodome. The political advice of the Wall Street Journal ed board notwithstanding, this is not a politically smart time to talk tax cuts for the wealthiest.

In today's political ultra-must-read, the Washington Post's Dan Balz writes these two paragraphs of modern poetry:

"To his critics, Bush is now reaping what he has sown. Their case against him goes as follows: Facing a divided nation, the president has eschewed unity in both his governing strategy and his political blueprint. These opponents argue that he has favored confrontation over conciliation with the Democrats while favoring a set of policies aimed at deepening support among his conservative base at the expense of ideas that might produce bipartisan consensus and broader approval among the voters. His allies and advisers, while acknowledging that polarization has worsened during the past five years, say the opposition party bears the brunt of responsibility. Democrats, by this reckoning, have rebuffed Bush's efforts at bipartisanship, put up a wall to ideas that once enjoyed some support on their side, and, even in the current crisis along the Gulf Coast, are seeking to score political points rather than joining hands with the president to speed the recovery and relief to the victims." LINK

"Wherever reality lies between these mutual recriminations, the path from post-9/11 unity to the rancor and finger-pointing in the aftermath of Katrina's fury charts a clear deterioration in political consensus in the United States and a growing willingness to interpret events through a partisan prism. It is a problem that now appears destined to follow Bush through the final years of his presidency -- a clear failure of his 2000 campaign promise to be a 'uniter, not a divider.'"

To support his view, Balz points to a Washington Post-ABC News poll taken last Friday which shows that "just 17 percent of Democrats said they approved of the way Bush was handling the Katrina crisis while 74 percent of Republicans said they approved. About two in three Republicans rated the federal government's response as good or excellent, while two in three Democrats rated it not so good or poor."

Balz has RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman pointing "specifically" at Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as a Democrat who is now attempting to take advantage of the politics of Katrina.

Elsewhere -- and cleanly reflecting the Gang of 500's view -- USA Today's Susan Page practically declares the President's agenda dead. OK, no, she doesn't. But that is the tone of her tour de force romp through each item that was on the plate before. LINK

And even on the Family Wire: "Despite day after day of appearances by President Bush aimed at undoing the political damage from a poor response to Hurricane Katrina, the White House has not been able to regain its footing, already shaken by the war in Iraq and a death toll exceeding 1,880," writes the AP's Jennifer Loven. LINK

So, for now, our collective mission is clear: treat this like a campaign, and at the start of each day, predict who will win the news cycle, and at the end of each day, evaluate who won.

Yes, we are somewhat troubled at turning all Note readers into McLaughlin Group panelists, but it must be done.

So, quickly, quickly, quickly, who won yesterday's Katrina political battle???!!

The answer: the Democrats won by several hairs.

But today -- and tomorrow (as they say in the South) -- is another day.

Getting what will likely be, for the foreseeable future, a rare excused absence from strict Katrina focus, the President will attend the funeral services for Chief Justice William Rehnquist at St. Matthew's Cathedral in Washington, DC at 2:00 pm ET. President Bush and Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor are expected to be among the speakers at the service. There will be no still photos or television coverage inside the service, but reporters are able to attend.

Later in the day, there will be a private burial at Arlington National Cemetery.

The Rehnquist funeral is the only public event on the President's schedule as of this writing, although there will be more specifics batted around today about the next White House Katrina funding request.

Sen./Dr./Leader Frist met with committee chairmen this morning at 8:30 am ET, followed by a 9:00 am ET press conference where he is expected to announce plans related to the next supplemental aid package which is likely to pass before the week is out. He is also scheduled to meet with Speaker Hastert at 11:00 am ET. Later this afternoon, Frist will be meeting with available members from the affected states at 12:45 pm ET.

ABC's O'Keefe reports, "Sen. Frist said this morning that he expects a supplemental aid request to come from the White House 'later today or first thing tomorrow.' No figure yet, but it will be a 'significant amount' which will fund the recovery for 'several weeks.'"

"The Majority Leader promised it will pass 'cleanly. . . some time this week.'"

House Democratic Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will hold her weekly press conference at 10:00 am ET, following the Democratic caucus meeting.

At 12:30 pm ET, DNC Chairman Howard Dean addresses the National Baptist Convention in Miami, FL. (See below for some excerpts.)

The politics of Katrina: Bush test/strategy:

We look forward to the President's investigation into what happened. We have nothing else for you on that topic at this time.

Fred Barnes has a Wall Street Journal op-ed brimming with optimism for the President's legislative agenda, with Katrina cast as a low speed bump.

Dick Morris writes on the op-ed page of the New York Post that the President's political trouble caused by Katrina is merely temporary. Morris argues that as the federal aid continues to pour in, President Bush will be seen managing the disaster and benefit from the usual support presidents receive in times of national crisis. LINK

The rest of the coverage, however, suggests a different vector direction.

The New York Times' Edmund Andrews doesn't get a Republican on the record to tell him that the President's agenda is in trouble due to the expected enormous costs associated with Katrina, but he does sum up nicely some potential fiscal ramifications. LINK

"Though it is still too early for accurate estimates, the costs are all but certain to wreak havoc with Mr. Bush's plans to reduce the federal deficit and possibly his plans to extend tax cuts," writes Andrews.

The New York Times main news story covering the President still leads with language like this: "Under relentless political fire over the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, President Bush on Tuesday tried to steer the public debate toward progress in the region. . ." LINK

Per the Washington Post's Dana Milbank: "The normally adept White House has had trouble settling on a message over the past week. Officials have condemned the 'blame game' even as they point fingers at state and local authorities. They have made public assertions -- that nobody anticipated a levee breach and that Louisiana did not declare a state of emergency -- that turned out to be flat wrong. Now, Bush is in the position of promising to lead an investigation but saying it's still a question of 'if things went wrong.' LINK

Republican Sen. Gordon Smith says Social Security reform is "off the radar." LINK

Michael Kranish of the Boston Globe follows the Bush Administration's language and actions as they try to define "what went wrong." LINK

The politics of Katrina: Democratic strategy:

The Democrats appear to be putting forth a three-pronged approach to their messaging on Katrina:

1. The country needs to come together and move forward to rebuild.

2. Continue ("in the days and weeks to come") to press for answers on what went wrong and why.

3. Fight for "our shared values, taking care of the weak and the poor."

Here is one excerpt from the speech Howard Dean is prepared to deliver to the National Baptist Convention in Miami, FL this afternoon at 12:30 pm ET.

"As survivors are evacuated, order is restored, the water slowly begins to recede, and we sort through the rubble, we must also begin to come to terms with the ugly truth that skin color, age and economics played a deadly role in who survived and who did not."

"And the question that emerged: how can this happen in America?"

Note to Ken Mehlman: a good barometer of how things are going will come when you see if your normal delight when Dr. Dean takes front and center is justified.

The New York Times editorial board agrees with Sen. Clinton that any investigation should be independent, but is not yet ready to sign up for her plan to remove FEMA from DHS. LINK

Rick Klein of the Boston Globe writes that Democrats will incorporate current issues from Katrina into the questioning of nominee John Roberts next week. LINK

The politics of Katrina: Congress reacts:

ABC's O'Keefe reports, "Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced this morning, at a meeting of Republican Senate Committee chairs, that the Katrina recovery effort is now costing $1 Billion per day."

"Cochran said this is DOUBLE the previous clip set last week of $500 million per day."

The Wall Street Journal's trio of McKinnon, Rogers, and Searcey blare: "The federal government could spend as much as $150 billion to $200 billion ... for ..Hurricane Katrina and rebuilding from its devastation, according to early congressional estimates -- a total bill that would far surpass the initial costs of recovering from the 9/11 terror attacks and could put Katrina on track to become the most expensive natural disaster in American history."

The Washington Post's Weisman and Fletcher report that with FEMA spending more than $500 million a day, lawmakers from both parties said that the cost will climb much higher than President Bush's $40 billion request. "Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) suggested the total could exceed $150 billion, with $100 billion for FEMA alone. Lott said the cost will be 'well in excess of $100 billion,' and few were disagreeing." LINK

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay thinks it's too soon to put a price tag on the cost of Katrina relief but he said Tuesday that Congress would try to "reduce red tape so that federal agencies could extend Social Security, student-loan and unemployment benefits to people displaced by the hurricane," The Hill reports. LINK

Per Roll Call's triumvirate of Pierce/Pershing and Billings: "Proposals to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina ran the gamut in Congress on Tuesday, with Democrats pressing for action as early as this week on a long list of social welfare bills while Republican leaders cautioned that Congress may need more than a few days to devise legislative solutions."

The politics of Katrina: assigning blame:

USA Today's Jill Lawrence on FEMA's Michael Brown, with Bill Kristol appearing not supportive and Dr./Sen./Leader Frist in wait-and-see mode. LINK

Scott Shane of the New York Times files a "Man in the News" look at Brown. LINK

"The head of FEMA waited a mind-boggling five hours after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf before even contacting his boss about sending personnel to the area — then suggested workers be allowed two days to get to the ravaged region, shocking internal documents reveal," leads the New York Post's news account of the FEMA memo. LINK

The New York Post editorial board places a large portion of the blame squarely in Mayor Nagin and Gov. Blanco's laps. LINK

The Washington Times also takes Louisiana's Democratic governor to the woodshed for her procrastination. LINK

"The three top jobs at the Federal Emergency Management Agency under President Bush went to political cronies with no apparent experience coping with catastrophes," reports the New York Daily News' Bazinet. LINK

The Coast Guard's chief of staff has been tapped to help "bail out" Director Brown, the Washington Post reports. LINK

Morning show summary:

Sen. Hillary Clinton appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America," NBC's "Today," CBS' "Early Show," and CNN's "American Morning" to talk about Hurricane Katrina.

Sen. Clinton told GMA that an independent commission should be appointed to investigate the government's response to Katrina because she doesn't think that the government can investigate itself. She said she wanted an investigation of the federal response, as opposed to the state or local response, because once the President signed an emergency declaration, the federal government took responsibility for coordinating the response.

She also criticized President Bush for pursuing tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and for not supporting infrastructure improvements that will keep Americans safe. In a reprise of one of her husband's 1992 campaign themes, she said, "We have to put the American people first."

Following her interview, ABC's Gibson referenced an off-air conversation with her and said, "You can't get a politician to say definitively that you have to raise taxes."

ABC's Diane Sawyer, who is in the field, added that President Bush had ruled out raising taxes during her interview with him last week.

When Matt Lauer of NBC's "Today" show read Sen. Clinton today's Ken Mehlman quote, she responded thusly: "That's what they always do. I've been living with that kind of rhetoric for the last four and a half years. . . It's time to end it. . . It's time to show leadership."

Sen. Clinton told the CBS "Early Show" that it is up to the President and his people to decide what to do with FEMA Director Mike Brown but she said she never would have appointed such a person in the first place. "FEMA worked very well during the Clinton administration," she said.

While calling into Don Imus' radio show, Sen. John McCain said, "People should be held responsible. People should be fired." He refused, however, to "leap to conclusions" as to who should be fired before Sens. Collins and Lieberman investigate what happened. McCain said that people should be held accountable up and down the line. He repeatedly emphasized -- per the GOP talking points -- the culpability of state local officials as well.

With regards to President Bush, McCain said he thinks the President has done everything that could be done to marshal the resources of the federal government.

On "Good Morning America," ABC's Charlie Gibson reported that a new Gallup Poll shows that 42 percent rate the government's response to Katrina as bad or terrible and that 35 percent rate it as good or great.

The O'Connor seat:

The Hill's Alexander Bolton reports that the right wants President Bush to pick a woman to succeed O'Connor. "It may suggest that, with the president faltering in opinion polls, the right believes it needs the sop of liberal identity politics to get a second conservative justice confirmed. Priscilla Owen, Edith Jones and Edith Brown Clement, all three from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Janice Rogers Brown, of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, are considered by conservatives to lead the list of potential female nominees." LINK

The Washington Times' Bill Sammon reports that President Bush "reignited speculation" yesterday that he would nominate Gonzales to succeed O'Connor, prompting a "fresh round of grumbling from conservatives." LINK

The New York Times account of President Bush's playful Cabinet Room remarks about Attorney General Gonzales includes The Weekly Standard's Bill Kirstol's response. LINK

"'Would any of his aides have the nerve to tell him that as Supreme Court jurists go, Gonzales would be mediocre - and not a solid bet to move the court in a constitutionalist direction?' William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, wrote in an article posted Tuesday afternoon on that conservative magazine's Web site. 'Would any of them have the nerve to explain to the president that a Gonzales nomination would utterly demoralize many of his supporters, who are sticking with him and his party, through troubles in Iraq and screw-ups with Hurricane Katrina, precisely because they want a few important things out of a Bush presidency - and one of these is a more conservative court?'"

Publicly, conservative groups seem to be taking the "we'll cross that bridge, if we have to, but we don't think we'll have to" approach.

Per the Washington Post's Baker and Becker: Sens. Specter, Hutchison and Cornyn "all advised the president to consider a woman or a member of a minority" yesterday while Bill Kristol advised the president not to pick his Attorney General. "'The court is a long-term thing,' said William Kristol, the influential editor of the Weekly Standard. 'It's crazy to mess up your long-term legacy to possibly help him with a short-term PR problem. I think Gonzales would be a disaster.'" LINK

2008: Republicans:

The Boston Herald takes a look at how Gov. Mitt Romney could potentially use Katrina to position himself for a possible presidential run. LINK

2008: Democrats:

When Howard Fineman pulls the trigger on Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign, you know it is time to start paying closer attention. LINK

Dan Gearino of the Sioux City Journal writes that Gov. Tom Vilsack -- now ready and waiting for up to 5,000 evacuees from the Gulf Coast -- has received inconsistent reports from the federal government on why many hurricane victims have yet to be airlifted to Iowa. LINK

The Raleigh News and Observer caught John Edwards' reference to his "two Americas" in an e-mail to supporters lamenting the now-evident disparate worlds of Katrina-ravaged News Orleans. LINK


The New York Post's David Seifman has the latest campaign finance woes for the Miller campaign as it awaits a final decision from the Campaign Finance Board on Friday. LINK

Stefan Friedman's New York Post campaign column leads with a look at Quinnipiac University's polling which has indicated that Hispanic participation in the Democratic primary may be lower than four years ago, possibly giving Fernando Ferrer some trouble in reaching 40 percent. LINK

Quinnipiac University is out with a Democratic primary poll this morning and its release leads thusly:

"Just one week before the New York City Democratic primary for Mayor, Fernando Ferrer has gained no ground in his quest to reach 40 percent and avoid a runoff, but he still leads the pack with 32 percent among likely Democratic primary voters. . ."

". . .U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner has moved up to second place, with 21 percent, followed by City Council Speaker Gifford Miller at 17 percent and Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields with 13 percent."


The Philadelphia Inquirer account on the Santorum and Casey camps back and forth over Sen. Santorum's comments about considering stricter penalties for those who disobey evacuation orders in advance of a natural disaster: LINK

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports on Santorum's clarifying his remarks. LINK

"'Obviously, most of the people here in this case, an overwhelming majority of people, just literally couldn't have gotten out on their own,' he said. 'Many didn't have cars. ... And that really was a failure on the part of local officials in not making transportation available to get people out.'"


The San Francisco Chronicle calls yesterday's Assembly passage "a stunning victory for the gay-rights movement." LINK

The Washington Post weighs in on the politics facing California's governor: "If he vetoes the bill, Schwarzenegger will retain the support of his GOP base, which he needs in a special election he has called for November. But he could also alienate many Democrats who voted for him and whose backing he still covets." LINK

The New York Post's Orin reports Sandy Berger will "get at least a year's probation and do community service -- but no jail time -- for stealing top-secret memos and lying about it," according to federal authorities' recommendations. LINK

The Democrat and labor favored redistricting initiative makes it onto the November ballot in Ohio, for now. LINK

A Note exclusive for you:

DNC Research Director Mike Gehrke has accepted the opportunity to be the executive director of the "Senate Majority Project," the 527 Jim Jordan formed earlier this year. Last night, Gehrke sent around this email to members of his staff at the DNC:

"Friends, coworkers et al.--

I've been offered a spectacular opportunity that requires me to leave the DNC. It was a difficult decision because I was excited to have a chance to work toward making this organization effective in returning Democrats to power, and I feel like we are succeeding. I will be around through September 30th to ease the transition, but I'm confident that we've got a strong research team that will keep Republicans on the run for the next 14 months and beyond.

Although I'm leaving the building, I won't be leaving the family. I look forward to joining with you over the next several months to hold this Administration and its Congress accountable for their incompetence, arrogance and corruption.


Mrs. Bush's style:

ABC News' sharp-eyed Karen Travers reports: "Lindsay Lohan, Ashlee Simpson, Kelly Clarkson, Laura Bush? All seem to think that blondes do have more fun and have recently turned in their dark tresses for a lighter summer do, including the fashionable First Lady."

"Mrs. Bush was sporting noticeably lighter highlights on Monday after her trip with the President to the Gulf Coast region. She reportedly has left her longtime stylist Andre Chreky this year and now frequents Toka Salon in Georgetown."