The Note: I Know I Messed It Up Before


— -- WASHINGTON, June 16


Into the President's two current biggest boiling stews -- which even Fred Barnes acknowledges are creating a persistently stinky reservoir of unpalatability -- the Washington Post says Major New Ingredients are being added.

Per these must-read accounts, the recipe now calls for twin PMAs -- two Presidential Message Adjustments -- which are not the same thing as PMCs -- Presidential Mood Changes.

On Social Security, Mr. Bush is said to be being urged to start to hedge his bets.

On Iraq, he's getting ready to devote renewed and increased time to more forcefully justify his optimism.

1. Jonathan Weisman and Jim VandeHei breathlessly report that Republican Senate leaders have begun to tell the White House, in meetings with Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, that it needs to seek an exit strategy on Social Security. LINK

Because the Democrats have stuck together (and it is still Snoweing), Republican members of the Senate Finance Committee don't have the votes to move the plan, which would allow people to divert some of their payroll taxes to personal/private accounts -- or the votes to pass a plan restricted to dealing with solvency without personal accounts.

In the House, Speaker Dennis Hastert will not allow a vote on a bill to keep private accounts if the Senate won't act. The Speaker does not believe in plank walking his members.

"White House aides have been locked in a debate over whether it would be a victory if Bush settled for a Social Security deal without private accounts. Some White House domestic policy officials have suggested that the savings that would flow from reducing future Social Security costs would go a long way toward fixing the government's long-term financial problems."

"But Rove, among others, has told Republicans that it would be unwise, both from a political and policy standpoint, to reduce benefits without offering people the potential of better returns through personal accounts, aides said. 'It gets no easier without private accounts,' a senior White House official said."

"Bush shifted his strategy somewhat Tuesday night, setting the stage for what some consider the best excuse if his plan fails. Social Security will assume an even lower profile on his agenda in the weeks ahead, as Bush shifts more attention to Iraq and the economy."

(The Washington Times, on its brand-spanking new Web site, reports that "rank-and-file House Republicans, citing nervousness among colleagues and lack of intensity on the issue, say their leaders probably won't force a vote on Social Security this year. But the White House is calling for action and promising to campaign for those who back the effort to revamp the program.") LINK

2. With Americans increasingly discontented with the war in Iraq, President Bush is set to begin talking more publicly about the conflict to reassure both voters and congressional Republicans about the White House's plans, VandeHei reports in a separate solo treatise. Mr. Bush will meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari at the White House next week, and he'll talk about the war in several speeches, including a "major address on the first anniversary of Iraq's sovereignty this month, White House officials said." LINK

"Bush will streamline his message on the two issues White House strategists blame for the president's lower-than-ever poll numbers. 'In the coming weeks, the president will sharpen his focus on the two big issues facing the American people: growing our economy and winning the war,' (Dan) Bartlett said."

"A top White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Bush is not dropping Social Security, but believes he needs to show voters he has a plan to lower gasoline prices and prevail in Iraq. 'These are two powerful forces' shaping views of Bush, the official said."

"Bush, however, offers a generally optimistic view of Iraq that aides say comes from what he sees as substantial long-term progress. The president considers the January elections that allowed the United States to turn over more control of security one of the biggest triumphs of the broader battle against terrorism. He also believes the Iraqis are moving closer to a deal to form a new government and are creating a functioning security force that will eventually allow the United States to pull out."

"Bush has no plans to change his upbeat assessment of Iraq, where fresh waves of attacks since the beginning of last month have killed nearly 100 Americans and many more Iraqis. Vice President Cheney recently said the insurgency is in its 'last throes,' an assertion he did not back away from when asked this week, contradicting reports that Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) and Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) brought back from a trip to Iraq."

About all this, a senior Administration official who makes it a point to read the Washington Post early each day tells The Note that Sen./Dr./leader Frist and Karl Rove have NOT talked about an exit strategy. And that the notion of significant internal disagreement in the White House is "way too" overplayed.

The official is aware that some leadership aides may want to press Frist to call for one, but says that the White House continues to work closely with Sen. Grassley and Rep. Bill Thomas, and believes that both lawmakers are committed to bringing a bill to the floor. And the President's commitment to personal accounts as part of the plan to enhance the program's long-term solvency remains firm, this official said.

Well -- today Iraq and Social Security will have to wait as Mr. Bush kicks off what the White House is calling a "massive nationwide public health outreach campaign" to educate Americans about the new prescription drug benefit available for seniors through Medicare beginning in 2006, reports ABC News' Karen Travers.

White House officials said that from now through May 2006, the Bush Administration (White House, HHS, and public health officials) will be working to make sure every senior, particularly low income seniors, are aware of the prescription drug benefit and enrolls.

In remarks at 1:15 pm ET at the Department of Health and Human Services, Bush will talk about the progress that was made for health care for seniors and promote the choices and benefits available to them under the Medicare Modernization Act.

President Bush will talk with seniors at the Maple Grove Community Center in Minnesota on Friday about those choices, but this campaign is not just aimed at older Americans.

Without prompting, a White House official dismissed any Notion that the President was embarking on this campaign at a time when his polling numbers are down, saying that there will be critics who will say that, but the President would be doing this even if his polling numbers were sky high.

Meanwhile, on another key Bush agenda time, the Senate continues floor debate on the energy bill. The House takes up the United Nations Reform Act of 2005 and DoD appropriations. (The New York Times' prolific Steven Weisman writes that the White House and the House GOP leadership are at odds over a key provision of the bill. LINK)

'08 video clip FLASH: At 10:00 am ET, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Majority Leader Bill Frist join the docs at George Washington University to introduce "comprehensive health information technology and quality legislation." Their tour of the morning shows resulted in many Schiavo-based questions for Frist, and a line on "Good Morning America" from Sen. Clinton that while Sen. Frist is arguably the most hands-on practitioner of health care in the Senate, Clinton has "more personal scars from it than anybody else."

"Senate shocker" was the first headline out of Matt Lauer's mouth this morning at the top of the "Today" show -- which -- no offense to our good friend Noah Oppenheim -- strikes us as a little weird.

Frist on Schiavo autopsy: After again asserting that he did not make a diagnosis on the Senate floor and that he would never do so, Frist said, "It gives us the definitive information that we didn't have at that time."

On Bolton: Sen. Clinton towed the Dodd/Biden line. Sen. Frist said a vote may come as early as today or tomorrow or possibly next week.

On 2008: Laughter, laughter, and more laughter.

Which was our response too!

At 10:30 am ET, Reps. Neil Abercrombie and Walter Jones introduce their Iraq Withdrawal Resolution. It urges the Administration to set a beginning date for when troops would start returning home.

At 10:45 am ET, Rep. Nancy Pelosi briefs reporters on camera.

At 3:15 pm ET, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice holds a news conference on the eve of her trip to the Middle East.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (who doesn't laugh quite as hard as Sens. Frist and Clinton when asked about '08) meets with members of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission in Washington today.

At 9:30 am ET, the Senate Finance Committee meets to discuss the energy bill, marking up the "Energy Policy Tax Incentives Act of 2005" at 10:30.

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the National Association of Counties, the National League of Cities, and the American Public Transportation Association voice their support for the President's highway bill in a press conference at 10:00 am ET.

At noon ET, a group of injured and ailing Ground Zero workers calls upon their New York congressional representatives to vote against a proposed House Appropriations Committee provision that would lessen their 9/11 compensation by $125 million.

At 10:00 am ET, Sens. George Voinovich, Dianne Feinstein, and Tom Carper introduce the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act at a news conference.

The House Ways and Means Committee holds a hearing on "International Experiences with Social Security Reform" at 10:00 am ET. A hearing on Medicare reimbursement for post-acute care follows at 1:00 pm ET.

In Minneapolis, MN, National Right to Life kicks off its annual conference. HHS deputy secretary Claude Allen speaks on "Building a Culture of Life" in the evening. Sen. Sam Brownback delivers in the keynote on Saturday. In Washington, the National Taxpayers Union begins its annual conference.

On TV:

C-SPAN 3 airs live coverage of the Democratic hearing on the Downing Street Memo and pre-war intelligence from 2:30-4:30 pm ET.

The hearing -- sponsored by Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) -- includes cameos by former ambassador Joseph Wilson and Reagan-era analyst Ray McGovern.

Conyers then plans to deliver a letter to the White House.

And Barack Obama's on Oprah!

And Bill Clinton's on the Letterman show.

Politics of Iraq and Gitmo:

"As bad news continues to emerge from Iraq and the U.S. detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, some Republicans are starting to edge away from the White House on its policies in the war on terror," the Wall Street Journal's Chris Cooper reports.

"The strains were on display yesterday, at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Guantanamo Bay to address what Chairman Arlen Specter called the "'crazy quilt' system that governs the treatment of about 520 suspected enemy combatants being held there. Mr. Specter, a Republican from Pennsylvania, called on Congress to set out rules."

"More pointedly, Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, warned that if the administration and Congress and the courts can't come up with an effective policy for Guantanamo Bay, 'we're going to lose this war if we don't watch it.'"

"While the complaints remain low-key and aren't enough to produce significant changes, they signal a lessening of the broad and deep support Mr. Bush has had among Republicans for his approach to both the war on terror and the conflict in Iraq. Even minor Republican defections may embolden Democrats, whose criticism of the administration's war strategy has at times been muted, in large part because of the public support Mr. Bush's efforts have received."

Chuck Babington of the Washington Post offers a blow-by-blow account of yesterday's four-hour hearing on Guantanamo Bay by the Senate Judiciary Committee, during which key Senators pushed for Congress to intervene in detainee policies in the face of Administration assertions that detainees can be held indefinitely. LINK

The Los Angeles Times' John Hendren Notes the heated clashing between lawmakers. LINK


Reports an unbylined writer for the New York Times: "In an effort to prod Democrats to approve the nomination of John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations, a leading Republican senator said Wednesday that he was convinced Mr. Bolton's requests for classified information were routine and that Mr. Bolton had not reviewed files on officials with whom he had clashed." LINK

Energy bill:

The Washington Post's Michael Fletcher and Justin Blum look at President Bush's "vigorous call" yesterday to get his energy plan -- which would allow oil and gas exploration in environmentally sensitive areas, give tax breaks to companies that develop cleaner fuels, and urge the construction of new oil refineries and nuclear power plants -- passed in Congress. And he made a point of indicating who he thinks are responsible for blocking the measures. LINK

Politics of the judiciary:

The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll shows the American public closely divided on whether or not the Senate should take into account the political views of a judicial nominee, with 51 percent saying they should play a role and 46 saying they should be off the table, reports ABC News' Dalia Sussman. Ideologically, however, the split plays out a little differently: nearly 60 percent of Republicans say personal political views shouldn't be considered, while 55 percent of independents and 60 percent of Democrats say they're fair game. In addition, 41 percent of Americans said they think the next justice should be more moderate than conservative or liberal. In terms of how President Bush has handled the nomination of federal judges, 46 percent said they approve, and 44 percent said they disapprove -- largely split along partisan lines. LINK

The Washington Post's Chuck Lane handles the paper's poll analysis duty, looking at the results showing that evangelicals would rather have lawmakers involved in handling social issues than the courts. He also takes Note of the survey from the Pew Research Center yesterday that showed conservatives' discontent resulting in a drop in public support for the Supreme Court. LINK

Speaking of that Pew poll, the survey found that 57 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the nation's highest court, and 30 percent said they view it unfavorably. Democrats in particular appear to have soured a bit on the court after the Bush v. Gore decision, according to Pew Director Andrew Kohut, but the bigger drop since January 2001 -- 20 points -- has been among conservative Republicans who want judges to take a tougher stance on abortion. However, the poll shows 63 percent of Americans oppose the idea of overturning Roe v. Wade completely. LINK

Reports Roll Call's Paul Kane: "A pair of conservative organizations with strong ties to the White House and Congressional GOP leaders on Wednesday announced a $21 million TV and grass-roots campaign in the anticipated battle over a Supreme Court vacancy later this summer."

"Progress for America plans to take the lead role in defending the expected nomination -- or nominations -- to the Supreme Court. The group, a so-called 527 run by GOP media advisers with connections to both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, is devoting a minimum of $18 million to its campaign, with roughly 70 percent of that going to a national and localized TV campaign."

"While stating that the organization had no inside knowledge about whether Chief Justice William Rehnquist or other justices would announce their retirements later this month, the group's president said he had already raised most of the $18 million for the campaign."

Bush agenda:

The nomination of Lester Crawford to be the FDA's commissioner is headed out of committee and to the Senate floor, but the outlook is less than perfectly promising, reports the Washington Post's Marc Kaufman. LINK

"Two days after a group of African leaders complained that the Bush administration's signature program to aid poor nations had proved slow, the head of the program told his staff on Wednesday that he would resign," reports an unbylined writer for the New York Times. LINK

Judy Keen and Richard Benedetto of USA Today look at President Bush's increasingly vocal irritation with Congress -- or, more specifically, its Democrats. LINK

Politics of tobacco:

The New York Times -- armed with leaked DOJ internal memos -- reports that senior Justice Department officials overruled government prosecutors and ordered them to slash the penalties sought against the tobacco industry by $120 billion. The top lawyers for the trial team said they "do not want politics to be perceived as the underlying motivation, and that is certainly a risk if we make adjustments in our remedies presentations that are not based on evidence." The lawyers also said the lower penalty recommendations would weaken the department's position in any possible settlement with the industry and "create an incentive for defendants to engage in future misconduct by making misconduct profitable." The decision generated protests from health advocates and Democratic lawmakers, who accused the Bush administration of political motives. LINK


Seems that the boat Rep. Duke Cunningham lives on in Washington and the slip where the boat resides, belong to the same defense contractor who helped Cunningham absorb a $700,000 loss on his home. LINK

"Investigators at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting are examining $15,000 in payments to two Republican lobbyists last year that were not disclosed to the corporation's board, people involved in the inquiry said on Wednesday," reports Stephen Labaton in the New York Times. LINK

"One of the lobbyists, Brian Darling, was paid $10,000 for his insights into Senator Conrad Burns, a Montana Republican who sponsored the provision. This year, he briefly served as a top aide to Senator Mel Martinez, Republican of Florida, but resigned after the disclosure that he had written a memorandum describing how to exploit politically the life-support case of Terri Schiavo."

"Mr. Darling did not return a telephone call seeking comment."

"The other lobbyist, Mark Buse, a former top aide to Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said he provided advice on the legislative process over a month and did not talk to any lawmakers. Mr. Buse, who was paid $5,000, said he was hired at the suggestion of Katherine M. Anderson, a former chairwoman of the corporation and a current board member."

The New York Times' Glen Justice tallies Rep. Tom DeLay's legal bills. LINK

As does the hometown Houston Chronicle. LINK

Mary Curtius and Chuck Neubauer of the Los Angeles Times lead with Majority Leader DeLay's five domestic trips for which outside groups picked up the tab. LINK

The Congress:

Anne Kornblut of the New York Times reports that Sen. Mel Martinez is having second thoughts about the wisdom of federal involvement in the Schiavo case. LINK

USA Today has the same thing. LINK

"The Senate may be within one or two votes of passing a constitutional amendment to ban desecration of the U.S. flag, clearing the way for ratification by the states, a key opponent of the measure said Tuesday," reports Andrea Stone of USA Today. LINK

The Washington Post's Mike Allen has the details of the contentious vote yesterday in the House that defeated provisions in the USA Patriot Act allowing the FBI to seize library and bookstore records in terror investigations -- the provisions that President Bush has been traveling the country to build support for. Bush has threatened to veto any bill that weakens the FBI's investigative powers. Passed by a vote of 238 to 187, the House version would require the Bureau to get a search warrant or a grand jury subpoena to get the records. And boy are House Republican leaders not happy about it. LINK

"Wednesday's vote in the House suggests that the effort to renew the law, though not necessarily in serious jeopardy, may face tougher sledding than once thought," writes Richard Schmitt of the Los Angeles Times. LINK

Richard Simon and Warren Vieth of the Los Angeles Times look at the provision added to the Senate's energy bill yesterday requiring the amount of ethanol added to the nation's gas supply be doubled to 8 billion gallons by 2012. LINK

Mike Allen and Brian Faler of the Washington Post delve a little deeper into the disclosure reports detailing travel by members of Congress paid for by outside groups. LINK


The Chicago Tribune's Andrew Martin and Jeff Zeleny report that the Bush Administration is promoting CAFTA through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, with three dozen radio and television news segments distributed to broadcasters nationwide, including a third dealing specifically with the sugar industry. The reports were produced while the Administration was dealing with the fallout over its payments to journalists to tout its policies, the duo write. LINK

David Broder takes a look at the much larger implications of the Central American Free Trade Agreement. LINK

Ron Brownstein of the Los Angeles Times write that Democratic centrists who aren't high on the idea of CAFTA are the ones the White House needs to court in order to get passage, which it's pushing before early July. Democrats' resistance betrays not only "short-term hostility to Bush's economic strategy," but also "a long-term shift away from the free trade views embodied by Clinton's support for NAFTA." LINK

And getting a lot (read: "enough") of Democratic votes is going to be tough.

Get some rest, Dan Allen:

The Hill's Patrick O'Connor on Dan Allen's resignation as Tom DeLay's communications director: "Allen's departure appears to be attributable to a combination of the office's around-the-clock schedule and a conflict of personalities between Allen's laconic but steely manner and the rest of DeLay's hard-driving staff." LINK

"Through much of Allen's tenure, DeLay's media strategy has required the input of several senior aides as well as a coterie of lawyers. DeLay has skipped several leadership press conferences to avoid becoming the center of attention, and he has had to establish 'ground rules' at his weekly pen-and-pad briefings to prevent reporters there from focusing only on ethics-related questions," reports Roll Call's Ben Pershing.

"Since DeLay's office has not yet filled the position of press secretary, Allen was handling the work load previously done by two people, Grella and Roy."

We wish Dan and his family the best. And we congratulate Scott Howell on his new hire.

Big casino budget politics: Medicaid:

"The National Governors Association offered sweeping bipartisan proposals on Wednesday to rein in the growth of Medicaid, saying states should be allowed to charge higher co-payments to beneficiaries and should be entitled to larger discounts from drug companies and pharmacies," reports the New York Times' Robert Pear. LINK

Per the Wall Street Journal's Sarah Leuck, who nicely salts her article with appropriate quotes from Govs. Huckabee and Warner:

"The governors' preliminary recommendations, unveiled at separate House and Senate hearings, aimed to reduce Medicaid spending in ways that won't harm the states. They also would increase states' ability to reconfigure their programs. The governors suggested tax breaks and credits to help people buy private long-term care insurance, as well as incentives for seniors to take reverse mortgages on their homes to pay more of their long-term-care costs."

"The governors made a pitch for broad flexibility to charge higher co-payments and to vary benefits packages in Medicaid. Current law limits co-payments to $3 in many cases. Governors want to increase that amount, though they said the poorest recipients shouldn't have to pay more than 5% of total family income and higher-income Medicaid patients shouldn't have to pay more than 7.5% of their income toward the program. Advocates for the poor say even minimal cost-sharing could discourage Medicaid recipients from getting needed care."

House of Labor:

Frustrated by their failure to reform the nation's labor federation from within, five unions representing a third of the AFL-CIO's members founded a rival group Wednesday and pledged to coordinate a sustained effort to recruit new workers .LINK

The presidents of two of those unions, the Service Employees International's Andrew Stern and the Food and Commercial Workers' Joe Hansen, strongly hinted they would withdraw from the AFL-CIO after the federation's July convention.

The new organization will be called the Change to Win Coalition. Its formation marks a turning point in a year-long campaign by Stern and the others to persuade other unions adopt to their reform proposals, which stress structural reform and organizing new workers over political action. In setting up this new coalition, these union leaders acknowledged that their effort failed.

Besides the SEIU and the UFCW, the other participating unions include the Teamsters; Unite-Here, which represents textile and food service workers; and the Laborers, an important construction union. Laborers' President Terry O'Sullivan said his union will remain in the AFL-CIO, but the Teamsters and Unite-Here may withdraw from the federation.

"This coalition is an historic occasion for working people. I hope and believe that it will spark a change in the labor movement that will change the face of America," said Unite-Here President Bruce Raynor.

These unions believe the AFL-CIO's own reform effort, which was endorsed by an executive committee on Monday, preserves the status quo and will do nothing to expand labor's size and clout. The unions plan to oppose AFL-CIO President John Sweeney when the labor federation votes on his re-election at its July convention.

"I sincerely hope that the unions forming this coalition outside the AFL-CIO will continue to join -- and help lead -- the rest of the union movement from within the AFL-CIO," Sweeney said in a statement. "Disunity only plays into the hands of workers' worst enemies at a time when working families are already under attack."

"We don't think throwing more money into a political process and ignoring organizing is going to get the job done," Hansen said at a news conference.

Writes Steven Greenhouse in the New York Times, "The five union presidents said the issue was not personalities or Mr. Sweeney, but rather principles to help unions grow. Several union presidents said they would press the Chicago convention to adopt accountability standards, like requiring all member unions to do a specific amount of organizing and to have the capacity, in terms of money and trained organizers, to grow." LINK

Tom Edsall of the Washington Post details the splintering and Notes that Republicans "are watching the split within labor with relish, foreseeing a weakened political adversary." LINK

Nancy Cleeland of the Los Angeles Times writes, "If a split indeed goes forward, the implications for local labor are huge. The dissident unions represent more than half the members of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, including thousands of militant, recently organized immigrant workers. The county federation, a local body of the AFL-CIO, would be financially crushed if it lost dues from those unions." LINK

Jonathan Tasini's take is, as usual, unique, intelligent, and worth reading. LINK

The Clintons of Chappaqua:

"Bill Clinton could soon be battling his old nemesis Rush Limbaugh for air supremacy as the ex-president reportedly considers hosting his own radio show," writes John Mainelli of the New York Post in his follow-up to a Business Week report. LINK

"According to Clinton's old Hollywood pal, director Harry Thomason, the former president has talked with radio giant Clear Channel about starting a new show."


Mayor Bloomberg has received some of those taxpayer funded mailings sent by City Council Speaker Gifford Miller, reports the New York Post's David Seifman. LINK

And Note David's description of Steve Sigmund as "quick-thinking." We completely concur.

Stefan Friedman's New York Post campaign column leads with a look at Fernando Ferrer's position(s) on taxpayer-funded stadiums. LINK

The Washington Post's Michael Shear and Chris Jenkins write that now the primary is over and the Kilgore v. Kaine general election matchup has been enjoined, the gloves are off. LINK


Roll Call's Lauren Whittington writes that particularly in the aftermath of his son's defeat in the primary to fill the seat in Ohio's 2nd congressional district, Sen. Mike DeWine (R-OH) could be move vulnerable to challenge next year because of his role in the compromise over the filibuster.

DCCC Chairman Emanuel boosted the troops with some internal polling numbers that show seven quite vulnerable Republican incumbents, The Hill reports. Carl Forti is included to remind all readers about the dangers of partisan polling. And Note how Rep. Emanuel promises to keep his eagle eye trained on Rep. Cunningham's district. LINK

Thomas Beaumont reports that Democratic Iowa Sen. Mike Gronstal is almost through knotting his laces (and we all should know for sure on Sept. 1 whether they will stay tied) for the state governor's run. LINK

The New York Post editorial board sees a tarnished Jimmy Stewart image in New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer. LINK

2008 Democrats:

Des Moines Register opinioner/reporter David Yepsen conjectures that -- for the sake of a 2008 campaign -- John Edwards may be praying that supportive Democrats have selective hearing when it comes to his poverty-related message. Edwards will essentially need to pull off a balancing act, Yepsen declares. By insinuating that individual citizens have a duty to shoulder some of the burden, the former Senator could antagonize leftists who have thrown their energy into welfare programs. On the other hand, if he is not forthright in assessing the low-income situation, voters might view his cause as a (self) attention-getting mechanism. LINK

Lee Bandy reports that Richland County Democrats in South Carolina held the nation's first straw poll for the 2008 presidential race Wednesday and Sen. Hillary Clinton won. LINK

Deborah Orin turns in a must-read New York Post column looking at how Republicans may be starting to treat Hillary Clinton as another "run-of-the-mill Senator" rather than the "arch-enemy" of the right wing. LINK

"Republicans may finally be wising up to the fact that it's dumb to turn Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton into a victim by always attacking her and trumpeting every possible scurrilous claim about her."

"'She is never stronger than when she's the national victim. People in our party finally get the joke -- we're not going to let her be the victim of the right,' says Republican strategist Rich Galen."

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner gets a mention in a Wall Street Journal editorial celebrating the defeat of "pro-tax" Republican lawmakers in the state.

2008: Republicans:

Bob Novak writes these must-read-and-savor paragraphs:

"Any real doubt that Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will run for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination should have been resolved by his performance Monday in suburban Oakland County, Mich. He did not merely drop into his native state for a political fund-raising speech. He spent a 12-hour candidate's day working a key presidential primary state." LINK

"Indeed, Romney's preparation for 2008 is more advanced than any of his potential GOP rivals. While he recently spoke in his neighboring state of New Hampshire, Romney's Commonwealth fund has raised and distributed $225,000, concentrated in three early primary states: Iowa, South Carolina and Michigan."

"Michigan is central to Romney's presidential hopes. It has been 36 years since George Romney, his father, served three terms as governor of Michigan, and the name is no longer familiar in the state. Mitt left Michigan at age 18 to attend Brigham Young University and has never lived here since. But Romney has made several political visits to the state, including three days starting last Saturday with his 40th class reunion in Oakland County.

"Romney strategists would like Michigan's still-unscheduled primary to come as early as possible in 2008 to give their man a boost."

"Behind the scenes, Republican politicians ask each other the same question that went unanswered when George Romney sought the 1968 nomination: Can a Mormon be elected president of the United States? Nobody talks about it, as Mitt Romney meticulously prepares the field for 2008, but that potential bias is his one great liability as a presidential candidate."

The Boston Globe previews Gov. Romney's trip to California to help the Orange County GOP raise some money, and goes back to claiming to believe the Governor has not decided between seeking to keep the Corner Office or go for the Oval one. LINK

USA Today's Susan Page reports that the leaders of conservative Christian groups, including James Dobson of Focus on the Family, Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation, Rev. Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, and Gary Bauer of American Values, plan to jointly interview Republicans running for the 2008 presidential nomination, likely after the 2006 elections. We particularly love this quote from Charlie Black on how coordinated efforts among the groups would affect their influence within the Republican Party: "It would have an impact." LINK

Mark Preston has great details:

"In an effort to maximize its political capital in the 2008 presidential contest, a conglomeration of socially conservative organizations is considering establishing a formal interview process to discern candidates' positions on policy issues important to their members," he writes.

"Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said the idea is under discussion by several socially conservative leaders and he suggested up to 18 organizations would be involved in the effort."

"'We are interested in who the candidates would be and where they stand on the issues so that we can educate our constituencies on their positions,' Perkins said at a Wednesday breakfast hosted by The Christian Science Monitor."

While not formally endorsing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Perkins suggested Wednesday that the Tennessee Republican is looked favorably on by people who describe themselves as cultural conservatives."

"'A lot of people have been impressed with Bill Frist and his leadership,' Perkins said. 'He has been one of the most vocal supporters of issues we care about, like pushing the marriage amendment. He was one of the first ones to come to the Senate floor, calling for that. He's been staying the course on judges. Now, some criticize him, saying he's not moving fast enough. But I think he's moving very methodically, with precision.'"

"Perkins also mentioned Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) as a candidate social conservatives might be able to support, but said it was too early to judge whether Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) would be embraced by socially conservative voters if he decides to run for president."

"'I like George, he has a very good personality,' Perkins said. 'He's a very enthusiastic and youthful kind of campaigner. I think that's good. I have not seen him out front providing a lot of leadership on a number of core issues that conservatives care about, but then you know that just might because he is a little newer to the process.'"

And Perkins does not have good things to say about Sen. John McCain.

Incidentally, for the seed of the joint interview idea, read the fifth paragraph of this article from long ago. LINK

Yes, that really is a New York Times editorial praising Dr. Gingrich. LINK

New Hampshire:

'Tis the season for Congress members to release their personal finance records, John DiStaso pens in this week's Granite Status; and he spells out/spills the specifics for New Hampshire's delegation. Krazy for Hillary man Bob Kunst (of received such a warm welcome in the Bible-belt states of Tennessee and South Carolina, that the logical next step would be to a primary state, where he will test the waters of Hillary support with a TV ad. DiStaso also Notes that John Edwards will celebrate the summer solstice (Tuesday) in New Hampshire at a state Democratic fundraiser. LINK

The Manchester Union Leader reports that New Hampshire state education spending will be expanded, whether by Gov. John Lynch's signature or his pocket veto. LINK

Property tax = kept. Cigarette taxes = increased.


Former Attorney General John Ashcroft is hoping that doling out good ol' fashioned ice cream will keep good ol' fashioned values at the top of voters' priority lists when choosing a GOP candidate in 2008, Abby Simons of the Des Moines Register writes. Visiting the notoriously presidentially-associated state of Iowa this week, the I'm-not-running-myself-but-I'll-tell-you-what-matters-to-me-anyway man is wholly in support of the Patriot Act and (unborn) life preservation, but nonetheless advocates restrictive government powers. LINK


The Wall Street Journal's editorial board tries to diagnose what ails the Democrats: "The Democratic leadership has arguably never been more overtly hostile to free markets, deregulation, tax reform and free trade than it is today."

Weirdly, it says next to nothing about social issues.

The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz looks at how the press is taking a second look at the Downing Street memo. LINK

Tom Hanks as Mark Felt? LINK

Wendy Koch of USA Today looks at the efforts in at least seven states (Alabama, Connecticut, Minnesota, New Mexico, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin) pursuing medical marijuana legislation despite the recent Supreme Court ruling that federal drug laws trump state regulations on the issue. LINK

Kate Ackley of Roll Call reports that Wal-Mart president and CEO H. Lee Scott Jr. recently wrote a letter to President Bush urging him to support the renewal of the expiring provisions of the Voting Rights Act, saying that voting rights are relevant to the 1.2 million employees of Wal-Mart Inc., the largest private employer of black Americans in the U.S. The Congressional Black Caucus welcomes the company's backing, Ackley writes.

Jill Lawrence of USA Today profiles Los Angeles Mayor-elect Antonio Villaraigosa. LINK

Roll Call's Suzanne Nelson looks at the departure of Republican appointee Bradley Smith from the FEC.

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