The Note: The New Abnormal

ByABC News
May 12, 2005, 12:09 PM

— -- WASHINGTON, May 12

Brides gotta run, planes gotta stray, and cable news networks gotta find a way to fill a lot of programming hours as cheaply as possible. (CNBC gets to talk about the booming April retail sales numbers, and the NRA's television network will replay the Secretary of State on Larry King over and over.)

We say with all the genuine apolitical and non-partisan human concern that we can muster that the death and carnage in Iraq is truly staggering.

And/but we are sort of resigned to the Notion that it simply isn't going to break through to American news organizations, or, for the most part, Americans.

Democrats are so thoroughly spooked by John Kerry's loss --- and Republicans so inspired by their stay-the-course Commander in Chief --- that what is hands down the biggest story every day in the world will get almost no coverage. No conflict at home = no coverage.

Instead, think of the Bolton confirmation hearing, the Ways and Means Social Security kickoff hearing, and the evening tribute dinner for Tom DeLay (and the conservative movement) as classic Beltway set pieces, complete with (semi-)compelling casts of characters, dramatic arcs, conflicts galore, and pure unadulterated entertainment.

"Entertainment," that is, if you think, say, that debating "Resolved: Elizabeth Dole is having a better recruiting cycle to date than Chuck Schumer" is compelling.

To review the accumulated CW*:

1. Bolton will eventually be confirmed, because even if Sen. Voinovich votes "nay" in committee, the White House will find a way to get him to the floor. Sen. Dodd will out-Biden Biden at the hearing today. And Doug Jehl will go back to reading "Foreign Affairs," now that he is done excerpting ham-handedly leaked committee documents from Democratic staffers.

2. Social Security is still dead in the water. Chairman Thomas is a mercurial genius. Chairman Thomas knows how to think so far outside the box that sometimes people don't remember what box he is thinking outside of. Nothing that could win a majority of the majority in the House could get 60 votes in the Senate --- even on a secret ballot.

3. DeLay's dinner is too late for the network news evening newscasts, so it will be mostly a tree falling in the woods. DeLay is helped by all the revelations that other Members did comparable things ("everybody does it"); DeLay is hurt by all the revelations that other Members did comparable things ("get this guy out of here before more rocks get turned over"). No one has ever heard of Tom DeLay outside of Washington; DeLay is driving the Republicans congressional generic ballot number down.

So go practice in front of the mirror in your best Wolf Blitzer voice saying "In a moment, we'll take you live to Capitol Hill for all the latest," because nothing we type here will matter by the time the last glass is tickled tonight.

And all of today's action is wiped away by tomorrow's mega-cosmic base closings.

But first, as Wolf would say . . .

At 10:00 am ET, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee begins a day-long hearing to consider the nomination of John Bolton to be, ah, "U.S. Representative to the United Nations with rank of Ambassador and US Representative to the United Nations Security Council and to be U.S. Representative to Sessions of the United Nations General Assembly during his tenure of service as U.S. Representative to the United Nations."

As far as we can tell, Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) is the only (and decisive) unknown vote. But it seems that committee chair Richard Lugar (R-IN) intends to make sure Bolton's nomination gets to the floor regardless of how the committee votes today.

The Senate Judiciary Committee meets in closed session in the morning and has a 4:00 pm ET open session planned for consideration of judicial nominees Kavanaugh, Boyle and Pryor.

Democrats will try to get the picture of the day by appearing with those Princeton students who were filibustering in front of the Frist family building on the school's campus.

At 3:15 pm ET, Majority Leader Frist and Sen. Mitch McConnell meet with members of the Michigan House delegation about 6th circuit court of appeals judicial nominees.

We do not underestimate the weird mélange of nervous and confidence that both sides express about the eventual outcome of the filibuster wars. Our best nose counting suggests that the Republicans have at least 50 semi-solid votes --- but there are several wavering Senators who adamantly do not want to be that 50th vote --- but don't want to be the 51st vote either.

About 900 conservative luminaries have tickets to tonight's tribute to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, which begins at 7:00 pm ET. (Cocktails, fellas and dames, are at 6:00.)

Highlights include:

--- a slew of video testimonials to DeLay during dinner (from, we are told, Reps. Hastert, Blunt, Reynolds, Cox and Pence; Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Dr. James Dobson, and Sen. Jesse Helms.)
--- an eight-minute video right before DeLay speaks, focused on his Texas ties and accomplishments.
--- short speeches from Bob Livingston, Phyllis Schlafly, Morton Blackwell, L. Brent Bozell, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, and others.

DeLay is scheduled to come to the mic around 8:40 pm ET.

Behind the scenes, organizers are telling guests to use the occasion NOT solely as a celebration of DeLay but as a celebration of the conservative movement --- the triumph of pushing the judicial nominees forward, the Bolton vote, etc.

And that's what DeLay intends to speak about: he'll trace the conservative movement as he sees it from 1994 to the present, with specific references to what he believes he and his colleagues have accomplished. There'll be plenty of red meat, too.

And so there will be protests outside the Capital Hilton, and the United States Capitol Police will augment a perimeter with armed patrols and barricades. Democrats have already begun to use the occasion to press DeLay and Republicans on ethics matters. They'll drop research today showing what they consider to be questionable activities of several of the banquet's founders.

We expect RNC chairman Ken Mehlman and whip Roy Blunt to attend. Look for many Friday stories about who DIDN'T attend, though, at $250 a pop, it ain't cheap.

Meanwhile, CongressDailyAM reports that the House Ethics Committee is working to figure out staffing and logistics and has begun to look broadly into the practice of congressional travel. And Rep. Marty Meehan is still looking for Republican co-sponsors for his lobbying reform act. (Can someone explain to us why Christopher Shays hasn't already signed on?)

President Bush meets this morning with the presidents of the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. CAFTA is on the agenda. A photo-op at 10:40 am ET precedes the meeting, and a statement on CAFTA (unclear at this writing if it comes with question time) follows at 11:35 am ET.

At 10:00 am ET, the House Ways and Means committee holds its first Social Security hearing: Larry Lindsey, Robert Pozen, Michael Tanner and others testify. The President's tax reform commission hears today from Glenn Hubbard.

The Senate Appropriations Committee's treasury subcommittee continues a hearing on Amtrak appropriations. At 10:00 am ET, the Commerce committee holds a public hearing on video news releases; guests include Barbara Cochran of the RTNDA; FCC commissioner Jonathan Adelstein and Judith Turner Phair, president and CEO of the PR Society of America. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin testifies on NASA appropriations at 2:00 pm ET. Also at 2:00, Secretary of State Rice testifies before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi holds her weekly news conference at 10:45 am ET. At 10:10 am ET, Speaker Dennis Hastert and Republican Policy chair John Shadegg introduce Shadegg's health care "choice" bill, which aims to use the forces of the market to help cut costs for uninsured Americans. Hastert appears at 1:30 pm with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Washington D.C.'s Anthony Williams to tout their Saving America's Cities work group.

Sen. John McCain has an immigration-themed day. He joins Sen. Edward Kennedy for a news conference at 1:30 pm ET and delivers what's billed as a major policy speech on immigration at the National Immigration Forum's annual Keeper of the American Dream Awards dinner at the Mayflower this evening.

Elsewhere in Washington, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a full day of events related to private sector fundraising for the tsunami reconstruction effort and its progress. The highlight: a 1:00 pm ET session with former Presidents Bush and Clinton.

Star Wars Episode III premieres in the District tonight at the Uptown Theatre at 7:00 pm ET.

DNC Chairman Howard Dean (who, in case you didn't know, travels in coach), is in Oklahoma City tonight for a fundraiser benefiting the state Democratic Party, even while his staff beats the Abramoff drum on his behalf. LINK

Chafee's a reluctant yes vote and explains it to his local paper by saying, hey, Bush picked the guy, not me. LINK

Sen. Murkowski's constituents can catch Barry Schweid's AP story in the Juneau Empire. LINK

"One of their targets, however, Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I., told The Associated Press on Tuesday he reluctantly would vote for Bolton. Two other Republican fence-sitters, Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, said they too were inclined to vote for him."

"A fourth Republican, George Voinovich of Ohio, playing it close to the vest, declined to tip his vote in advance."

The Wall Street Journal's Yochi Dreazen says, "Earlier this week, Mr. Bolton met with Mr. Voinovich and Ms. Murkowski, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Mary Curtius and Sonni Efron of the Los Angeles Times report that Democrats say they have "overwhelming evidence" that Bolton manipulated intelligence to fit his views, tried to punish those who disagreed with him, and didn't level with Senators about his actions. Republicans said "nice try," but delaying the vote for further investigation didn't produce anything new. LINK

The Washington Post's Glenn Kessler examines the argument over Bolton's behavior and the tensions among intelligence and diplomacy at the State Department, and tries to put it in context of the, as one Clinton Administration official put it, "pretty rough game" of policymaking in Washington. LINK

The New York Times' Doug Jehl curtain raises today's hearing, with some dancing on the head of Cuba and "independent" intelligence mini-dramas. Jehl leans into likely confirmation a bit. LINK

The Indianapolis Star says Dick Lugar's patience, maligned by conservatives initially, may be what proved the key to Bolton's (eventual?) nod. LINK

Times columnist David Brooks says a fair reading of the record is all Bolton needs for confirmation. LINK

Bob Novak goes way behind the scenes into the committee's closed-door hearings without leaving his comfort zone: Cuba, Otto Reich, Chris Dodd et. al. are all stars in today's column. LINK

DeLay tribute:
Sheryl Gay Stolberg --- she of the New York Times --- focuses on the relatively few number of House Republicans who plan to attend. But really: each ticket costs $250 a piece. LINK

Sylvia Moreno of the Washington Post reports that two political associates of DeLay on Wednesday asked a Travis County judge to throw out the indictments charging them with money laundering and accepting unlawful corporate contributions in 2002. The judge set a deadline of June 27 to rule on the requests. LINK

Roll Call's John Bresnahan reports that there's another tussle on the House ethics committee --- the status of senior staffers and a new chief counsel --- which could further postpone the panel getting up and running and beginning its investigation of DeLay's travel.

Meanwhile, leaders on both sides of the aisle are thinking about restricting floor access to former members of Congress, report Roll Call's Ben Pershing and Tory Newmyer.

Bush agenda:
The Los Angeles Times' Ed Chen previews President Bush's meeting today with six Latin American leaders to discuss the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which faces opposition and Congress and could end up sandbagged by Bush's fellow Republicans. LINK

"The battle over CAFTA, as the agreement is known, illustrates the crosscurrents that swirl through Congress whenever a major trade issue surfaces, as local political imperatives often trump party loyalty. The trade controversy also underscores the pitfalls of Bush's strategy of relying on his slim majorities in Congress to enact a Republican agenda."

"Moreover, it hints at the limits to the political capital that a newly reelected Bush had claimed only six months ago, now that his job approval ratings are declining amid rising gasoline prices and the resurgent violence in Iraq."

USA Today's Dave Moniz reports that the list of base closures won't be as bad as expected. But, then, Moniz probably does not derive his income or that of his community from a base. LINK

Still having dreams/nightmares about the lists of donors who attended coffees and stayed overnight at the Clinton White House? Well, surprise surprise, it happens in the Bush Administration too, write USA Today's Judy Keen and Jim Drinkard. The duo point out that the list also includes family, Administration officials, and politicians. LINK

"Larry Noble of the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan watchdog group, said that while the practice of inviting donors to spend the night at the White House and the presidential retreat isn't new, it doesn't look any better than when it sparked a scandal during the Clinton administration."

Full list: LINK

As Ann Lewis would say, however, the difference is between "old" friends and "new" ones.

The politics of national security:
David Sanger of the New York Times writes up his sources' latest too-ing-and-fro-ing on whether or not the North Koreans have nukes (or nukes on the way). Note way Sanger allows one of his sources to walk back prior confirmation, all chalked up to the Hermit Kingdom's riddle-wrapped-in-an-enigma status. LINK

Nobel economist Gary Becker has a sober piece on rail safety under the headline "The Nuclear Option" and a subhead of "This is not a piece about Frist and judges."

Filibuster battles:
The Hill's boffo Alexander Bolton has a great scooplet on Sen. Frist's aides doing their best to calm conservative leaders' nerves about the timing of pulling the nuclear/constitutional option trigger. LINK

"Eric Ueland, Frist's chief of staff, and Bill Wichterman, a senior Frist aide who handles outreach to outside groups, held a conference call with about 30 conservative activist leaders to tell them that the majority leader has moved slowly and deliberately in an effort to put Republicans in a strong position heading into a showdown with Democrats, according to participants."

"The call was considered sensitive enough that Frist's staff used a scrambling device to prevent it from being recorded by participants."

Roll Call's Paul Kane reports that Sen. John McCain has become the Republican point person working with Sen. Ben Nelson (D-NE) on a compromise plan on the filibuster, as Sen. Trent Lott is pulling back from it. Don't miss Lott's quotes about the prospect of a deal and his role.

Roll Call's Mark Preston profiles Senate Parliamentarian Alan Frumin, a key player in how the Senate rules are interpreted and applied --- particularly in the filibuster showdown. Preston Notes how Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid looks to be trying to draw Frumin into the fight, as well as Sen. Lott's famous ambivalence about the arbiter's role.

"Not since then-Majority Leader Lott fired Robert Dove in 2001 has the Parliamentarian been drawn into such a highly publicized political fight. And the nuclear option, if it materializes, is likely to put Frumin, a career Senate staffer, in an awkward position of appearing to favor one political party over another."

The heat is being applied to both of Nebraska's senators over the filibuster fight. Check out this subtle tactic being employed in today's Lincoln Journal Star by Wendy Long, the Judicial Confirmation Network's legal counsel. LINK

"'I hope and believe Senator Hagel at the end of the day will do the right thing because it's so important to the Republican base,' Long said."

"'I grew up in New Hampshire and this is of tremendous importance to the Republican base there.'"

"'Doing the right thing,' she suggested, 'is the right thing to do from a political perspective.'"

David Kirkpatrick implicitly says "pull the trigger, for goodnessakes!!" in his New York Times round up in the day in filibusteria --- with a nod towards the Democrats' DeLayFrist (a la: "DoleGingrich") efforts. LINK

The Washington Post's Chuck Lane profiles North Carolina judge Terrence Boyle, who has been a candidate for the federal bench for 15 years, and the political arguments over his qualifications and philosophy, race, and partisan payback that have engulfed his bid throughout. LINK

The Washington Post's Mike Allen reports that House Republican leaders are prepared to try to exert control over the federal judiciary in ways that have nothing to do with the appointment and confirmation process --- through budget, oversight, and disciplinary authority. House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) told Allen in an interview that he would be undeterred by criticism and would be "very active" in pursuing tougher disciplinary processes for judges, including the possibility of creating an inspector general's office to oversee the federal judiciary. LINK

Social Security:
The New York Times' Toner and Rosenbaum preview Bill Thomas' Ways and Means hearing, and the Powerful Chairman's ideas for broadening the debate, while, as yet, not bridging House conference concerns about plank walking. LINK

The Wall Street Journal's Jackie Calmes looks at Sen. Santorum's wagering his re-election on Social Security.

Congress Daily AM, who we can't link to, unfortunately, quotes Charlie Rangel as saying that President Bush told him in "private" that he would not back away from private accounts and that they must be part of any bill he'd sign.

Big casino budget politics:
The New York Times' Carl Hulse only hints at the implications of a Bush veto (and override?) of the highway bill. LINK

The Washington Post's Shailagh Murray tick tocks the passage of the bill, which the Senate's 76 to 22 vote allows to grow by $11 billion, but the President insists should be capped at $284 billion. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Richard Simon calls the bipartisan vote an example of the "power of pothole politics" as the Senate continues to be riven by partisanship in the filibuster battle. LINK

The New York Times' ed board H-A-T-E-S the emerging bill and seems to want a veto. LINK

The Congress:
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called her party's caucus together and told them to zip the lip and not air their differences in the press, Roll Call's Erin Billings reports.

The Rosen trial:
"Some Republicans are so sure that the Rosen case will hurt Clinton that they're livid with New York Republicans, who have yet to come up with a strong candidate to challenge her for Senate in 2006," writes Deborah Orin of the New York Post and then goes on to quote Kellyanne Conway's attempt to bring Sarbanes-Oxley into the debate. LINK

The New York Sun's Gerstein reports Chicago businessman and Democratic fundraiser (and former strip club owner) James Levin is on the government's witness list and has other exclusive info. LINK

The New York Daily News team on the case sees the prosecutor's opening statement as "a blow to Clinton opponents." LINK

The New York Times' Leslie Eaton is a gal with an eye and penchant for inserting color in her daily stories, such as the fact that the defense is using Noted jury consultant Jo-Ellen Dimitrius. LINK

In order to make Gerstein jealous and the RNC oppo children high five, the New York Post's "Los Angeles"-datelined story ends with this: "In Washington, Hillary Clinton didn't answer when asked about the case. She shrugged and lifted her palms skyward." LINK

2008 Democrats:
Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack is at Harvard today talking about innovations in government and the possibility of boosting biotechnology efforts in his state. LINK

Ray Hernandez of the New York Times writes a wire-y story about the former First Lady and the former Speaker chatting in public about serious health care policy. LINK

It makes the Providence Journal, too. And lots of other newspapers. LINK

Note how Gingrich coopted the line Sen. Clinton used when she was promoting her adoption initiative with Rep. DeLay. LINK

USA Today's Andrea Stone has more detail and points out Sen. Clinton's list of bipartisan cooperation with conservative Republicans. LINK

2008: Republicans:
Jennifer Steinhauer Notes in the New York Times that Gov. Pataki, not wanting to wait another moment to fix the serious political damage from the Freedom Tower, will announce in his major speech today that confidante John Cahill will take over (and fix?) the mess. LINK

The Post has it too. LINK . (Inexplicably, the Daily News does not, especially since NY1 News was first to report it last night at 7:00pm ET.)

If Mitt Romney moves into the White House in January, 2009, his odd professional relationship with the New York Times' Pam Belluck, and how it must freak out the Boston Globe reporters, will be part of the narrative.

Today, Ms. Belluck leads thusly: "Hoping to make a recently passed bill on stem cell research more restrictive, Gov. Mitt Romney said Wednesday that he would ask the legislature to amend the bill by changing the definition of when life begins and by excluding a type of embryonic stem cell research that he opposes." LINK

The Globe has the story, but apparently not an interview. LINK

Tom Beaumont looks at Newt Gingrich's sudden prominence in his state. (Will he be equally as prominent when the book goes to soft cover? Probably!) LINK

Here's the lede: "Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich said in Iowa on Wednesday that he would consider running for president in 2008 if enough people agreed with ideas outlined in his new book, including dramatically tougher border security and immigration policies."

Jeanine Pirro revealed to the New York Post's Fred Dicker (on his must-listen radio show) that she has asked federal prosecutors to look into claims that her husband leaked sensitive information to the Mafia. Pirro called the claims "hogwash." Once again we have to ask, what, if any, effect will this new round of stories about Pirro's husband have on her future political career? LINK

The Houston Chronicle reports that Kay Bailey Hutchinson has a 67% job approval rating in Texas. Some wonder if the Senator could a be a possible challenge in 2006 to current governor Rick Perry, whose numbers have been slipping. LINK

Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox didn't need to wait for Jane Abraham (or anyone else) to enter the race. He has already decided to back Republican Keith Butler in his campaign to unseat Sen. Stebenow next year, reports The Hill. LINK

The increasingly potent New York Times double byline of Jim Rutenberg and Patrick D. Healy has the mayoral hopefuls (including the incumbent) lusting after the Working Families Party nod, and the lastest on the polling and polling reax. LINK

The New York Post's David Seifman sees the poll almost exclusively through the Diallo lens. LINK

Under the headline, "Mike's hot, Fred's not," Maggie Haberman of the New York Daily News takes a look at the latest Q-poll numbers. LINK

New Hampshire:
John DiStaso contemplates which one of the New Hampshire fellows on Capitol Hill will be held accountable if the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard appears on the Pentagon's to-shut-down list. He introduces several new PACmen (and women): among them, Bruce Keough and Bill Richardson (through the DGA), and he braces for a weekend meeting that could unhinge the Granite State's primary status: "For 15 to 20 minutes on Saturday in Chicago, the state's leadoff Presidential primary will be defended before the Democratic National Committee's primary and caucus system commission." As we always say (and not just to please his publisher), read the whole thing. LINK

The Clintons of Chappaqua:
So much for "off the record." The New York Daily News' enterprising Rush and Molloy have the full story of a tough talking Bill Clinton at the Time-Warner Center on Tuesday. LINK

Schwarzenegger era:
Los Angeles Times' dreamboat columnist George Skelton argues that politics is a serious and collaborative business, and simply likening it to the process of writing a script or making a movie doesn't acknowledge the way it works or the stakes involved, and it just isn't enough. LINK

Congratulations to Mike Oreskes, one of the original anchors of "Political Points," the first Internet streaming video daily show about politics ever.

Mike is taking over the Herald Tribune, and, thus, moving to Paris --- which makes us ask, whither Times TV? LINK

With significant bipartisan cooperation all but gone from Washington these days, Republicans and Democrats will join together on Monday May 16 to recognize their former colleague, Charlie Wilson (D-the World). They will remember and praise the bipartisanship that set the stage for the important victory in Afghanistan turning back the Soviet invasion and call for a return to the collegial tradition of days past.

Appropriations Chairman Rep. Jerry Lewis and Ranking Member Rep. David Obey will lead the ceremony, and are expected to be joined by leaders such as Rep. Nancy Pelosi, James Baker, former Speaker Tom Foley, Tom Hanks, former CIA Director Jim Woolsey, and many more. (We don't know about Gust Avrakotos . . . He's our favorite character from the book.)

Information on, and pictures of, Charlie Wilson, from the book "Charlie Wilson's War," which is being developed into a film by Tom Hanks, is available at

"Two months after pledging to "rock the system" with sweeping ethics reform, Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Wednesday proposed a complete overhaul of Illinois' anything-goes method of financing state political campaigns that would copy federal limits on donations," report the Chicago Tribune's Rick Pearson and Ray Long. LINK

Spokane Mayor:
The city of Spokane has asked the FBI and the Washington state Attorney General's office to investigate allegations that Spokane, WA Mayor James West abused his office to entice young men he met online. LINK ; LINK

The Los Angeles Times' Sam Howe Verhovek looks not only at the controversy and allegations surrounding West, but also the tactics of the Spokesman-Review in pursuing the story. LINK

* CW isn't (necessarily) what we believe or endorse --- just what is dominating the minds of the Gang of 500, we remind you.

House of Labor:
Correction: Joe Hansen, the UFCW's president, did not attend Monday's gathering of Teamsters in Las Vegas. We regret the error.