The Note: The More You Hear

— -- WASHINGTON, March 14 --


According to the Web site, it is 11 days until Easter Sunday. LINK

In fact, Easter is 13 days away.

(A helpful reminder: don't believe everything you read on the Internets.)

In any case, 13 days is still quite close, and, from a political point of view, 11 days just might be more accurate, since many Republicans have said they would like to see more progress on the Selling of the President's Plan to Fix Social Security by the start of the Easter congressional recess.

The President, the Vice President, the Treasury Secretary, and many others are still selling.

And the powerful Chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee is still saying that 90 percent of the task of getting this done is based on the White House PR effort, with the legislative lift deriving from that.

The Gang of 500 still sees the most likely outcomes in this order:

1. No major legislation revamping Social Security.

2. Semi-major bipartisan legislation revamping Social Security but with no significant "carved out" personal accounts (and/but with tax increases and benefit cuts).

3. The whole enchilada.

If the President isn't giving up the fight (and he isn't by any means), we aren't giving up covering it.

But let us present you with the two most significant data points we see in this news cycle.

First, a spanking new ABC News/Washington Post poll of national opinion. LINK

The President's job approval rating is 50 percent.

A majority -- 56 percent -- disapprove of the way the President is handling Social Security. And 58 percent say that the more they hear about the President's proposals, the less they like them.

Second, thee "unyielding opposition" from Blue Dog Democrat to the President's Social Security stems from partisan mistrust and opposition to deficits, the Wall Street Journal's Jackie Calmes explains. LINK

"The White House's Mr. Duffy predicts that the president ultimately will come to terms with enough Democrats. For now, he says, 'The easiest way to explain Democratic unity is that the labor unions and the AARP won't let them discuss this.'"

"But Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, who has a private-accounts bill of his own, wonders whether the unity against Mr. Bush on Social Security is the 'payback' that he says he and other Republicans warned the White House about. "For every action," he says, 'there's a reaction.'"

Because he shares Mr. Duffy's optimism, the President takes a break from selling his Social Security principles today to attend the National Medals of Science and Technology ceremony at 10:35 am ET and attend a reception for the U.S. Diplomatic Corps at 6:30 pm ET.

Now, per ABC News' Jon Karl:

Condoleezza Rice sure tried to close the door on running for President yesterday (Will somebody please ask her about vice president?), but today she'll announce a couple of high-powered hires that make it clear the State Department is becoming the kind of power center it hasn't been since the days of James Baker . . . or maybe even Henry K.

ABC News has learned that at about noon ET today, Rice will appear in the ornate Benjamin Franklin room with Karen Hughes. The President's most trusted advisor is running back to Washington not to rescue his Social Security plan, but to do something about America's image in the world (and maybe buff up Rice's image in the process).

Once confirmed, Ambassador Hughes' title will be Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy. And she's got some high-powered help: White House personnel diva Dina Powell will be Hughes' deputy and the Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs.

The Egyptian-born Powell is just 31, but she's the highest-ranking Middle Eastern woman in the Administration and she speaks Arabic. When she wasn't helping the President pick his cabinet secretaries, Powell often traveled to the Middle East as a White House emissary on reform and women's rights in the Arab world.

With Rice, Hughes, and Powell all at the State Department, the women who were closest to the President over the past four years (besides the First Lady, of course) will all be going to work at Foggy Bottom. Throw Liz Cheney into the mix (she started as an Assistant Secretary of State two weeks ago) and you have some real VP firepower over there as well.

Karl can keep the Social Security portfolio. Maybe, just maybe, the women are on to something. Could this President's best chance for a history-making second-term accomplishment be in the Middle East, not on Capitol Hill?

The Hughes announcement comes as a shock to almost everybody outside of Rice's inner circle. "They're really serious about this," says a senior State official who worked for Secretary Powell and now works for Rice. "The State Department will be a locus of power that it never was under Colin Powell."

Both the House and Senate begin work today to pass budget resolutions. The plans differ on many details, including a $30 gap in proposed tax cuts.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia speaks on "Constitutional Interpretation" at the Wilson Center in Washington. It's open press and open to cameras.

In Arlington, VA today, the AFL-CIO convenes a conference on organizing professional workers. SEIU's Andy Stern address the Drum Major Institute in New York.

The Judicial Watch lawsuit seeking access to former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean's closed gubernatorial archives gets a hearing today in the Vermont Supreme Court.

Chairman/Gov. Dean is in Trenton, NJ, raising money for the state Democratic Party.

Sen. John McCain hosts two fundraisers in Michigan and chats about them here: LINK

Sen. John Kerry, meanwhile, is in Georgia, holding a town meeting at the Atlanta Academy of Medicine. He then ed boards at the Atlanta Journal Constitution and attends a George Democratic Party event in the evening.

Tomorrow, the business and political worlds watch for Fed Chair Alan Greenspan's testimony about Social Security before the Senate committee on aging. President Bush hosts King Abdullah of Jordan at the White House and raises money for the NRCC at the Washington Hilton. The DCCC also has a big fundraiser.

Also Tuesday, Virginia Gov. Mark Warner keynotes the Georgia Democratic Party's Jefferson-Jackson dinner. The President's tax reform panel meets in Chicago, Il.

Warner's lieutenant governor, Tim Kaine, officially kicks off his gubernatorial bid Wednesday with a multi-city tour. Per Roll Call, the highway bill will be moved out of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee.

Thursday, President and Mrs. Bush celebrate St. Patrick's Day.

On Friday, President Bush sells his Social Security plan in Pensacola and other Florida cities. LINK

Also Friday. Majority Leader/Dr./Sen. Frist begins a two-day visit to New Hampshire.

Leader DeLay:

The Washington Post's Mike Allen writes that despite House Majority Leader Tom DeLay writing off criticism about his ethics as partisan, Democrats are finding their feet and Republicans are getting worried amid the reports last week about his travel and ties to lobbyists. Now the question becomes, does it get bad enough to be a black eye for the whole party, and go on long enough that DeLay's survival is in question? So that's really two questions . . . LINK

On Saturday, the Washington Post's James Grimaldi and R. Jeffrey Smith wrote that an Indian tribe and a gambling services company paid for a $70,000 trip to the UK for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay -- by donating the money to a Washington public policy group that then wrote the checks. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Chuck Neubauer on Sunday followed the Post story, writing that "Clients of a lobbyist under investigation for influence peddling donated a total of $50,000 to the conservative think tank that said it funded House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's trip to Britain in 2000, the head of that nonprofit group confirmed Saturday." LINK

The Washington Post's Susan Schmidt went further on Sunday in laying out the characters and the plot of the Abramoff story. Secretary Norton appears vividly. LINK

Mike Iskioff's latest lead: "The FBI is trying to trace what happened to $2.5 million in payments to a conservative Washington think tank that were routed to accounts controlled by two lobbyists with close ties to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay." LINK

"The payments to the National Center for Public Policy Research were meant for a PR campaign promoting Indian gaming, center officials said. But internal e-mails obtained by NEWSWEEK show the lobbyists, Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, DeLay's former press secretary, never documented any work performed or explained what they did with the money despite repeated requests."

Social Security: the politics:

The Washington Post's Sebastian Mallaby says this about the Democrats: "[A] party whose senators unanimously refuse to contemplate carve-out accounts is a party that's closed its collective mind. And a party that refuses to acknowledge the urgency of entitlement reform is a party of ostriches."

Mark Rice-Oxley and Jennifer Ross of the Christian Science Monitor look at the Social Security systems in Chile and England, which have been partially privatized for decades, and how it's working out (successful in Chile, less so in the UK). LINK

On Saturday, the Washington Post's Jim VandeHei and Peter Baker took another look at how the President's Social Security events are carefully choreographed and staged, with some good interviews with participants that might have the White House doubling back to review procedures. LINK

On Sunday, George Will examined the idea of Sen. Lindsey Graham of raising the cap on wages that can be taxed for Social Security, reasoning that while some might not like it, the idea could put Republicans in a stronger position by giving the Democrats less to complain about, and that in the end, Dems' negativity is what will hurt them. LINK

Will any anti-tax conservatives be swayed by the will of Will?

Investors' Business Daily's Jed Graham on the political possibilities of Sen. Robert Bennet's Social Security proposal, which wouldn't require heavy borrowing, wouldn't chop benefits for the neediest and would shelter those dependent on Social Security from market risk. LINK

The Wall Street Journal's Tom Lauricella explains how the government would implement changes to Social Security, from brochures to explain benefits to yearly benefit statements. He suggests that there are a lot of logistical hurdles to a transition. LINK

Bush agenda:

The AP's Pete Yost reports that "The Homeland Security Department's former independent watchdog says he was twice summoned to then-Secretary Tom Ridge's office last year and asked why his reports criticizing the agency were being sent to Congress and whether they could be presented more favorably." LINK

Ridge's denials make it a classic "he said/he said."

"The Bush administration this week will propose the first federal controls on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. The new rule will abandon the Environmental Protection Agency's original tilt toward a remedy favored by most environmental groups in favor of a system of tradable pollution allowances that is more congenial to industry," the New York Times' Felicity Barrenger reports. LINK

Interior Secretary Gail Norton pushes ANWR drilling in the New York Times. LINK

Bob Novak on David Keene's one-time intern, Josh Bolton. (And you wondered where Bolton got his edge . . . ) LINK

E. Bumiller's White House Letter in the New York Times ponders: Is the President a closet Tocqueville fanatic? LINK

The Washington Post's Mark Leibovich sizes up the President's stand-up skills -- and implicitly concludes that a good joke writer might be in order. LINK

Doug Wead apologizes profusely in USA Today and lists his amends-making. LINK

Poetic irony in that Wead says he won't publicize his new book but the USA Today tag line does it for him!!!!!

On Sunday, the New York Times' David Barstow and Robin Stein aggressively surveyed the Administration's use of self-packaged news reports, concluding that "least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years, records and interviews show. Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government's role in their production." LINK

Big casino budget politics:

Writes the Wall Street Journal's editorial board: "This week's budget battle will be the first important test of whether the new and larger Senate GOP majority can govern in a philosophically coherent way. Mr. Gregg's draft includes some good policy, especially oil drilling in Alaska, and as spending control it is hardly onerous. It slows spending growth by less than the House proposes and much less than President Bush's budget. So as the week progresses, keep your eyes on the paygo fine print."

The Congress:

Roll Call's John Bresnahan and Amy Keller report that several House members are concerned over foreign travel they took part in over the last five years steps over the line regarding funding by lobbyists or foreign agents, but the ethics committee's too caught up in the partisan fighting over Majority Leader DeLay's travel to provide advice or guidance.

George Will gets wonderfully sarcastic on the subject of Congress examining the problem of steroids in baseball. LINK

The Boston Globe's Michael Kranish looks at Sen. Patrick Leahy's efforts to establish a $140 billion fund for victims of respiratory diseases caused by asbestos -- with the death of his grandfather from respiratory disease in mind. LINK

On Sunday, the Washington Post's David Broder sounded Kennedyesque when he disgustedly examined the life of the bankruptcy bill, and how it finally passed. LINK

2008 Democrats:

The New Yorker's Jeffrey Goldberg has an absolute must-read about 2008, the Democratic Party, 2004, and national security. LINK

The star of the piece is Sen. Joe Biden, who is seen (1) using the a-word and the f-word; (2) telling a story about a constituent calling John Kerry weak (and President Bush strong); (3) thinking big thoughts about how to change the party's image; (4) advising Kerry about how to deal with terrorism; (5) by aides and friends as perhaps possessed of too much "verbal indiscipline" and/but beyond the Kinnock statute of limitations.

There's a Hillary Clinton cameo (She often wonders what Biden thinks on security issues.); a Kerry cameo (Has he mentioned he almost won Ohio?); a Lieberman cameo (His jury remains out on Howard Dean.); a Richardson cameo (tough, tough, tough); and, naturally, a Dick Holbrooke cameo (as Owl Eyes).

Newsweek's Eleanor Clift looks at the very smart triangulation that Sen. Clinton has made between what her critics think of her, what her supporters think of her, and the kind of lawmaker she wants to be. LINK

Jane Norman's write-up on Saturday's meeting of the DNC commission on the nomination calendar includes highlights of Elaine Kamarck's presentation and the Iowa strategy of showcasing minority involvement in caucus politics. LINK

Will Lester of the Family Wire sized up Saturday's meeting, too. LINK

2008 Republicans:


Dr. Rice will not run!!! She says.

But, humorously, the New York Times> says this: "Just to be sure, she finally said she would not run for president -- but she did not rule it out." (Italics added by a convulsing Googling monkey.)

And she didn't rule out 2012, or joining someone's 2008 ticket as vice president, or all sorts of other things.

But we do take her at her word that she will not run in 2008.

But let's just say, for the sake of argument, that the Draft Rice folks get a million signature . . .

Note to Dr. Rice: we are joshing.

Tom Slade, a former chairman of the Florida Republican Party, doesn't think Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is "mature" enough to be Commander in Chief. And there are other revelations from a soon-to-be published book by South Florida political scientist Darryl Paulson. LINK

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Dane Smith and Patricia Lopez say that not one of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's aides is assigned to think about 2008 yet and besides, Pawlenty in Minnesota has entered somewhat of a "slump."

"Several initiatives that Pawlenty has at one time named as priorities -- the death penalty, stadium funding, securing a state share of casino profits without expanding gambling -- have gone nowhere. Republican leaders such as Senate Minority Leader Dick Day have been blunt and rather harsh in their criticisms of Pawlenty's latest gambling proposals; even such a close ally as House Speaker Steve Sviggum has broken with him by backing a potentially costly package of health care programs for the disabled."

"Conservatives commonly say that despite any differences with Pawlenty, he's still the best governor in their lifetime. But the governor got so irritated with the open criticism that he had a frank private meeting with senators at the Lexington Restaurant in St. Paul earlier this year, and urged Republican senators to keep their differences more private. The potshots nevertheless have continued."

"Perhaps his biggest challenge is what to do about the bottom line on state taxing and spending. His gambling proposal could bring the state more than $500 million in the next two budget periods, but it's not enough for the interest groups, especially the public education system, and Pawlenty himself has spun off a series of major spending proposals for things ranging from environmental clean-up to tougher penalties for sex offenders."

Mike Madden dons his best Walter Shapiro hat and writes about Sen. Bill Frist's evolution towards becoming a fixture on the New Hampshire campaign trail.

Boffo quote from Tom Rath: "'He's a very compelling figure, particularly in view of his life experience (as a heart surgeon),' said Tom Rath, a Concord lawyer and a power broker in the New Hampshire GOP who isn't supporting any one candidate yet. 'The (Republicans) like to have an heir apparent, and when we don't have one, we create one. . . . People understand his role out there, fighting for the president's agenda every day.'" LINK


Fred Dicker: "State contracts awarded to an officially certified woman-owned business skyrocketed after a close friend and key Republican ally of Gov. Pataki's married the owner and became company president, The Post has found." LINK

"Records show annual contracts to CMA Consulting Services, owned by the former Kay McCabe, quadrupled to more than $16 million four years after her marriage in late 2000 to then-state Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ronald Stafford."

Great digging, Fred!!!!

Former congressman and undersecretary for Homeland Security Asa Hutchinson is running for governor of Arkansas in 2006. LINK


Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore officially begins his gubernatorial campaign in Gate City, VA on March 21.


The Los Angeles Times' Ron Brownstein takes a look at the debate about overhauling the health care system, both nationally and in California, writing that while so many ideas are being considered by states like California, there's a piece missing when it comes to "reform" -- the federal government. And until states like California go forward with their own plans, there might not be the momentum to get the national government involved. LINK

On Saturday, the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne examined the skill of Republicans in casting the issue of abortion to their advantage, and the lack of skill by Democrats in handling even those who consider looking at the issue from a different perspective. LINK

Lewis Kamb of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer writes that most of the Washington state Supreme Court justices have ties to either the candidates or other participants in the legal challenge to the 2004 gubernatorial election, raising at least the appearance of conflicts of interest. But for now, no justices have recused themselves. LINK

Newsweek's Eleanor Clift reports that former Sen. Bob Dole recruited former Sen. Tom Daschle to the Washington office of the law firm Alston & Bird, where he's chief counsel. LINK

The Washington Post's Christopher Lee follows up today, Daschle's first day of work. LINK


The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz writes up the new study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism that found Fox News letting loose with the opinions of anchors and journalists 73 percent of the time in covering the Iraq war, and had other interesting conclusions about the nature of news coverage and the 24-hour news cycle. LINK

There's also stuff in here about the presidential race of 2004 and the apparently tougher coverage that the incumbent garnered.

The Los Angeles Times' James Rainey leads with the finding that though American news consumers have much broader offerings to choose from, not all reporting and sourcing is equally reliable. LINK

Bob Fertik's blog calls get New York Times treatment. LINK