The Note: (Un)making a Federal Case


— -- WASHINGTON, March 22 --


Pity the ancient newsprint-based mode of distribution.

In the biggest political story of the week so far, old-fashioned newspapers were unable to deal with the judge's 6:30 am ruling in the Terri Schiavo case this morning.

In a move suggesting uncanny fidelity to (and awareness of) the network morning shows, U.S. District Judge James Whittemore denied the request to reinsert a feeding tube into the brain damaged woman just 30 minutes before Good Morning America and others took to the air.

Whittemore ruled that Schiavo's parents would not likely succeed at trial as he declined to order to her feeding tube restored. The court proceedings continue in Tampa today (agenda TBD), although Schiavo's lawyers say they'll appeal quickly to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which will probably have the case in full by tomorrow.

Smart, more modern newspapers updated the Internets.

Not everyone was ready to react, however.

At 9:00 am ET today, Matt Drudge's widely read Web site screamed "WAITING." (Although there was no siren or "DEVELOPING.")

Even with the judge's decision; the most deadly school shooting of the Bush Era; the Cheney Social Security road show; and, the Fed meeting, the Schiavo story remains at the head of the political parade today, if only as a prism to examine the health of the two major American political parties.

A Florida newspaper suggests that Gov. Jeb Bush is trying to find a way to remove Michael Schiavo as his wife's legal guardian. LINK

Sneaky Howard Dean held a conference call with Tennessee reporters and told then that "This is a deeply personal matter and ought to be left up to physicians." LINK

"'For Sen. Frist to say he could make a diagnosis based on a videotape is certainly not medically sound,' said Dean, who, like Frist, is a physician-politician. 'I wouldn't want my doctor making any diagnosis of me on videotape.'"

More on the political fallout and thumb sucking of this story below.

Elsewhere today, President Bush stumps for Social Security in Albuquerque, NM at 11:25 am ET. Vice President Dick Cheney does the same in Reno, Nevada at 11:55 am ET.

The President RONS in Crawford. In advance of tomorrow's release of the latest Social Security trustees report on the program's financing and future, RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman holds a conference call today at 11:30 am ET.

Both chambers of Congress are in recess. The Codel in Baghdad held a press conference at about 7:15 am ET to discuss their progress.

Howard Dean begins a two-day visit to Tennessee, stopping this afternoon at Roy Neel's Vandy class. The GOP is using the occasion to get in digs at Gov. Bredesen. LINK

The Federal Election Commission meets in executive session for much of the day. We suspect that a draft of the rules for Internet political communication will be in the mix. At 10:30 am ET, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission meets today in open session, hearing an update on HAVA, discussing the EAC's election day survey and pondering its own role as a clearinghouse.

The Federal Open Market Committee meets at 9:00 am ET and will release its decision to (probably) raise interest rates another quarter of a percentage point at 2:15 pm ET.

Former Sen. John Edwards holds a long discussion today on ameliorating poverty at his University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity.

In Des Moines, IA at 1:00 pm ET, Gov. Tom Vilsack will sing into law what's billed as the toughest anti-methamphetamine legislation in the country.

Schiavo in Washington:

The New York Times' David Kilpatrick and Sheryl Gay Stolberg write of the Schiavo family's tight connections with conservative groups and Tom DeLay's vow to the Family Research Council on Friday that he'd do everything he could -- left-wing conspiracy be damned.

"'One thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo, to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America,' Mr. DeLay told a conference organized by the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group. A recording of the event was provided by the advocacy organization Americans United for Separation of Church and State.'" LINK

"'This is exactly the issue that is going on in America, of attacks against the conservative movement, against me and against many others,' Mr. DeLay said."

"Mr. DeLay complained that 'the other side' had figured out how 'to defeat the conservative movement,' by waging personal attacks, linking with liberal organizations and persuading the national news media to report the story. He charged that 'the whole syndicate" was 'a huge nationwide concerted effort to destroy everything we believe in.'"

And the story Notes that Florida Rep./Dr/GOPer Dave Weldon, long an ally of the Schiavo's didn't like Sen. Frist's private relief bill.

Janet Hook of the Los Angeles Times has Chris Shays, Tony Fabrizio, and Cato's Boaz worried about the politics of the smaller-guvmint GOP, with Gary Bauer saying simply, "Intensity matters." LINK

The Boston Globe's Nina Easton covers the political waterfront on the issue, including the energy of religious conservatives, some Notion that Republicans might be overreaching, and divisions in the Democratic Party. LINK

The Washington Post's Babington and Fletcher have the same story. LINK

Sen. Kennedy speaks out against Congress' action, in the Boston Herald, which frames its Miga/Rosinski story around the intra-delegation conflict between Reps. Lynch and Frank. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Simon and Reynolds look at Dr./Sen./Leader Frist and his role, with Granite Stater Dave Carney giving his blessing and an anonymous Democratic Senate aide painting Frist as arrogant. LINK

Schiavo opinion:

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen takes a dark view of the Dr./Sen./Leader's actions. LINK

Dalia Lithwick in Slate has written a cogent, near-derliously-angry piece at what she thinks Congress just did, and even if you disagree profoundly with it, it's worth reading in full.

"Evidently, Congress has a secret, super-textual constitutional role as the nation's caped crusaders -- its members authorized to leap into phone booths around the world and fly back to Washington in a single bound whenever the 'culture of life' is in peril. Republicans acknowledged this weekend that their views on "the sanctity of life" trump even their convictions about federalism. Or, as Tom DeLay put it, when asked how he reconciles this bill with conservative calls to keep the federal government out of state matters, 'We, as Congress, have every right to make sure that the constitutional rights of Terri Schiavo are protected, and that's what we're doing.'" LINK

"This congressional authority to simply override years of state court fact-finding brings with it other superpowers, including the power of gratuitous name-calling: Members of Congress unable to pronounce Schiavo's name just last week are denouncing her husband as an adulterer and common law bigamist who withheld proper medical care from her. I wonder what they'd say about my parenting -- or yours -- if they decided to make a federal case out of every domestic-custody dispute currently resolved in state court proceedings."

While the nation's more liberal editorial boards are, not surprisingly, against what Congress did, there are at least two man-bites-dog examples in addition.

The New York Post ed board is down on what the Republicans in Congress did. LINK

The Boston Herald is too, and they slap Dr./Sen./Leader Frist as well. LINK

The National Review's editors say this: "The dispute between Schiavo's husband, who wants her to die, and her parents and siblings, who want to keep her alive, has perhaps inevitably led to ugly allegations all around. Some of those who have fought to keep Schiavo alive, including some congressmen, have speculated rather too freely about Mr. Schiavo's perfidy. But it is not necessary to believe the worst about him to think that it is madness to accept his word about his wife's wishes. He has fathered two children with another woman, to whom he has gotten engaged. It is not necessary to judge that behavior harshly to think that his desire to move on, however understandable, compromises his ability to represent his wife fairly." LINK

Schiavo: in Florida:

The Miami Herald profiles Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, who broke ranks with her party and calls the Schiavo affair "not a federal matter." LINK

Some Florida legislators worry that the controversy could delay or derail the legislature. LINK

And Florida state reps report getting hate mail. LINK

At National Review Online, lawyer Andrew McCarthy suggests prosecuting Michael Schiavo for torture. LINK

The Washington Times' Joyce Price Howard questions Michael Schiavo's motives. LINK

Schiavo: the Democrats:

So why, if Democrats privately say they strenuously object to Congress's interjection into this sad tale, were they mostly silent this weekend and yesterday?

Well, for one, many are not, including think tank progressives ( and Steny Hoyer and Barney Frank. And the Senate Minority Leader, the pro-life Harry Reid, is out of the country. And most Democrats are in their home districts (or traveling) for the recess. Rep. Gary Ackerman did a serviceable job on The Factor last night in contending that most Democrats who didn't vote for the measure simply had no desire to enter the fray.

But there's no question that the Terri Schiavo case is a touchy political issue for the party. And that the Democratic leadership had not fully counseled or prepared the party to handle the repercussions.

Even those with a propensity to comment and the expertise to do it well, such as DNC chairman Howard Dean (who on the campaign trail spoke rather eloquently of his direct experience with dying patients) won't say much loudly, except in those stealth Tennessee remarks.

(See Adam Smith's great article in the St. Petersburg Times: "When he was a presidential candidate in 2003, Howard Dean, the new Democratic National Committee chairman, said Florida lawmakers should not interfere in the Schiavo case. He called it a 'private family matter.' 'I am tired of people in the Legislature thinking they have an M.D. when what they really have is a B.S.!' he told an approving crowd in Tallahassee. And what did Dean have to say Monday, after President Bush signed a bill aimed at prolonging the Pinellas woman's life? 'We're just not going to weigh in on this,' said a Dean spokesman. LINK)

There is a basic conundrum here: Republicans were clearly on the offensive during the weekend's debate, and yet the ABC News poll shows people overwhelmingly opposed to the GOP's position.

What explains this?

Maybe the best defense is none at all.

The Democratic leadership whipped the bill quite effectively, getting it plenty of votes and leaving to Floridian representatives like Jim Davis to be its public face. So it's Tom DeLay that people associated with Terry Schiavo. And if they're inclined to think that the Schiavo affair represents an outrageous case of congressional overreach or "theocon" hubris, they'll blame Republicans, not Democrats.

And we don't know it for sure, but we bet some Democratic leaders were reluctant to support Michael Schiavo, given the fact that he has a girlfriend with whom he has two children. Not quite Woody Allen and Soon-Yi, but the same thematic that has singed (and sometimes burned) Democrats in the past.

Perhaps. To some extent, though, the silence reflects the condition of the Democratic Party. Many are scared of their own shadows (and unsure of their own instincts) after losing three national elections in a row. When the DeLay-Frist-Bush political machine labels something as in the cause of "the culture of life," Democrats these days tend to run and hide. Anything that strikes Democrats as a "moral" issue triggers the joint that makes their mouths shut quickly.

"We are terrified by a fear of a backlash," says an aide to a Democrat who privately has grave doubts about it. Backlash from whom is a more complicated question, because Democrats don't need the evangelical conservatives who oppose removing the feeding tube.

It is also testament to the Internet Age, in which an energized minority (no matter how small) can generate waves of grassroots activism (phone calls, e-mails, blogs, talk radio chatter) that can give public officials a warped sense of where public opinion stands. Republicans have heard from their most loyal and intense supporters (the "base"), and not much from what appears to be a more "silent" majority.

Rush Limbaugh, still the voice for millions of conservatives, spent an hour on his broadcast Monday lambasting Democrats and liberals on this very issue, ignoring the majority who voted in favor of the bill and calling those who did political hypocrites. And big media abetted the hot soup by nourishing it with round-the-clock coverage.

That's not to say that some Democrats don't want the party to fight; to use this to portray the GOP leadership as captive to a small minority in the country that panders to pro-lifers and turns off moderates in both parties. Some in the party think the entire affair is unseemly and that Republicans have poisoned their own well by grandstanding. Democratic silence, this theory goes, will pay off in the end.

But so long as the party has a perception (and self-perception) problem with life issues broadly defined -- even among many voters who might support them in this instance -- reticence, lack of clarity and weakness are the orders of the day.

Schiavo: in Texas:

A few thoughts about the Texas Advance Directives (or "Futile Care" law) signed by then-Gov. George W. Bush in 1999.

The press coverage at the time, as well as many policy entrepreneurs who are familiar with it, represent it to us as a law that strengthened, not weakened, protection for the dying and incapacitated.

It expanded, as White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan says, a 72-hour waiting period after a formal, post-appeal decision has been made by seven days. It also required a hospital to spent those 10 days in total looking for another facility who would care for a patient.

It created a mechanism for an independent, outside panel to review decisions made by doctors that disagree with court-appointed surrogates (rather than, as the existing law seemed to allow, the doctors' word to be presumed final).

And it was written with help from Texas Right To Life. As McClellan hinted at, after a controversy involving allegedly death-happy doctors in Houston, Bush in 1997 refused to sign a law that allowed hospitals to essentially disregard the rights of surrogates if doctors felt another way, and he worked with legislators from both parties and to craft a newer law that reflected his own values.

So while the law clearly does allow for treatment to be discontinued even over disagreements, it also represented for Bush a significant tightening on what had been a relatively loose, hospital-centric futile care law.

So it's hard to argue, on the basis of this law alone, that Bush is being anything but consistent.

Perhaps a case can made on the basis of some other concept, but not here.

Social Security:

In a memo soon to be sent to RNC members, chairman Ken Mehlman sees trends he likes in the Social Security battle, citing a variety of polls that show an up tick in those who think Social Security needs strengthening and has a solvency problem. He also finds a generic question about personal retirement accounts in the latest ABC News/ Washington Post poll he likes -- and suggests that the President's popularity and Americans' trust in him will win the day.

Vice President Cheney and Chairman Thomas love private/personal accounts but aren't that into raising the cap on taxable benefits, they told Jim VandeHei of the Washington Post (and everyone else who attended the town meeting on Social Security in Bakersfield). LINK

The Vandyman Notes: "The vice president heads to Battle Creek, Mich., and Pittsburgh on Thursday."

The Wall Street Journal's Jeannie Cummings profiles Bill Patterson, who, if you oppose personal/private accounts, you should know, but probably don't. He's heading up the AFL-CIO's campaign to convince financial services firms to refrain from endorsing the President's Social Security plans. And he and his colleagues have been quite effective.

Why do we call it "private/personal" (or) "personal/private?" As Robin Toner suggests in today's New York Times, there's more than meets those words. LINK

Much of the local coverage in both Colorado and Arizona focused on the pre-planned, staged nature of the President's event, with lots of reporters Noting that Bush was among friends as he made his Social Security pitch. See LINK and LINK

The Tucson Citizen says 500 demonstrators greeted the President. LINK

After President Bush left Phoenix, his man, Rep. J.D. Hayworth, was "grilled" about Social Security at his own town meeting. LINK

Bush agenda:

Writes Freddy "the Beadle" Barnes in a very good Wall Street Journal op-ed:

"Anyone shocked by the nominations of Messrs. Wolfowitz and Bolton doesn't understand the president's approach to multilateral organizations. The conventional idea is that these organizations are wonderful, though perhaps flawed and infused with too much anti-American sentiment. And the chief task of U.S. representatives is to get along amicably, not buck the system and cause problems. This idea is popular in the press, the State Department bureaucracy and diplomatic circles, and with foreign-policy 'experts.' But not with Mr. Bush."

"The president's idea is simple: No more Mr. Nice Guy. He believes international organizations have failed largely and must be challenged and reformed. He was miffed when outgoing U.N. Ambassador John Danforth rushed to the defense of Kofi Annan in the midst of the Oil for Food scandal. Mr. Annan opposed the war in Iraq ared it illegal. More important, he's viewed by Mr. Bush as part of the problem at the U.N."

The Washington Post says that Wolfowitz is closing in on the World Bank job (with German support) LINK, and covers his personal life too. LINK

The Washington Post's Sylvia Moreno uses Census and other data to suggest that the flow of illegal immigration keeps, uhm, flowing. LINK

Snags at Treasury: per the Wall Street Journal, Mark Weingarten, in line for the number two post, has taken his name out of consideration. And the Journal reports delays in confirming Tim Adams as undersecretary for international affairs. Sen. Max Baucus's hold is one reason, per the Journal.

The New York Times' Edmund Andrews writes about the resignation of John B. Taylor, the current undersecretary for international affairs. LINK

2008: Democrats:

John Podhoretz fantasizes in the New York Times about Sen. Clinton not seeking re-election. LINK

Sen. Clinton spoke at Betsy Cronkite's funeral, per the Daily News. LINK

2008: Republicans:

The New York Post reports: "The head of the FBI's New York office has been named chief executive officer of the security consulting division of Giuliani Partners, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani announced yesterday." LINK

"Pasquale D'Amuro, who retires from the FBI at the end of the month, fills a spot vacated by former Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik."

Bloomberg reports that Kerik is stepping down from the board of Taser International.

As does the Daily News. LINK

And, separately in the New York Post: "Count Mayor Bloomberg among those writing checks to Rudy Giuliani's political action committee . . . Records show Bloomberg chipped in $5,000 to Solutions America, Giuliani's PAC . . . " LINK

Gov. Romney is awfully proud of Lt. Gov. Healey, but his administration is doing some distancing from her recent remarks on property taxes and the elderly, says the Boston Globe. LINK


Sen. John Kyl's re-election bid will get help from Majority Leader/Dr. Frist and from Karl Rove. LINK

Now, Patrick Kennedy might run for Senate. LINK


We bet Mudcat Saunders would be proud of the new ad Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine is running in Virginia:

"I'm Tim Kaine. I'm running for Governor, and I'd like to tell you about myself. My family and Christian faith are the core values that guide me. I'm tight with a dollar; my own dollar and the public's dollar. I'm a dedicated husband who holds his marriage vows sacred and I'm the father of three great kids. As a young man, I served for a year as a Christian missionary teaching religion, carpentry and welding to poor children in Honduras, to help them improve their lives and expand their opportunities. From that experience I learned that every individual can make a difference."

"The Bible teaches us that we accomplish great things when we work together. As governor, I will bring people together -- Republicans, Democrats, working people, business and community leaders -- to keep us on the right track and bring economic opportunity to all areas of Virginia. These are my values and that's what I believe."

Jerry Kilgore (R) formally kicked off his gubernatorial campaign, with an emphasis on taxes, education, and transportation -- pretty big issues in the Old Dominion for years. LINK

We can't find the AP's lede on line, but it's a beaut: "It was one place -- maybe the only place -- where Jerry Kilgore hasn't had to explain the ripe, nasal Tennessee mountain twang in his voice. This is Scott County. It's a place closer to five other state capitals than it is to Richmond. It's where the former attorney general and his identical twin, Terry, are still known as 'John and Willie Mae's boys.'"

New polls show an early lead for Freddy against Mike, even as another new poll shows the Diallo comments might be hurting him. LINK and LINK


A man of rising influence and steady principles, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Hoosier) gets the standard favorable Fed Page treatment from the Washington Post's Christopher Lee. LINK

David Yepsen of the Des Moines Register writes about Roxanne Conlin and why she didn't become governor of Iowa and the Deeper Meaning of It All. LINK

Hats off to the New York Times' Ray Hernandez, who gets a parody of a Marc Humbert wire story into the paper.

The "story" is supposedly about how the Democratic consulting firm the Glover Park Group has become a powerhouse in New York politics, complete with an "attack" from Bloomberg strongman Kevin Sheekey, a fawning, suck-uppy "wanna-do-some-business-together?" quote from Mike McKeon, and ClintonsClintons everywhere. LINK

A must-read if your Zip Code starts with a "1" or your name is "Feldman."

(Speaking of which: Note to Dominic Carter -- keep those consultants in line!!!!)

(And, Note to Ray: that's Patti S.D . . . with an "I.")

The Vote:

Much of the 501c energy and activism about voting rights, voting integrity, and voting reform has come from the center-left.

The American Center for Voting Rights, (, aims to change that. It's a new 501c3 that seeks an active voice in shaping the state and federal policy fights over fraud, intimidation, and registration fraud. By our use of those buzzwords, you can assume that the ACVR will be more skeptical than many liberal groups about loosey-goosey voter registration laws, lenient voter ID provisions. We bet that both will find common ground on uniform standards for ballot counting.

The ACVR's general counsel is Thor Hearne (whose name we like to pronounce as much as "Doug Chapin"), who was national counsel to BC04 in 2004, counsel to then Missouri Secretary of State Matt Blunt, and a memorable chad examiner in Florida in 2000.

Yesterday, ACVR forwarded a compendium of its preliminary findings on these subjects to the Department of Justice.

The group plans to release studies of voting integrity problems in Florida, Pennsylvania and most importantly, in Wisconsin over the coming weeks.

Jim Dyke, formerly the RNC's communications director, said that ACVR will not disclose its donors but plans to have a multi-million dollar budget.

He writes in an e-mail: "ACVR will be a counterweight to the many organizations who committed voter registration fraud, tried to get the courts to remove the safeguards in the hours before the election and are now pushing legislatures to do what the courts rejected (across the board -- they were 0-65). ACVR will push for organizations to be held accountable (not just the guy who committed the registration fraud but the organizations who orchestrated it in multiple states and will act as a watchdog going into the next election cycle against the same."

Welcome to the fray.

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