Senators, meet Mr. Stonewall. Arlen Specter and his Senate judiciary committee, fresh from their party-line vote on Sam Alito, wade into another contentious matter, holding hearings into the legality of the Bush administration’s warantless—some say unwarranted—eavesdropping. Senators may need to resort to some creative espionage of their own if they want to find out about what the administration calls its “terrorist surveillance program.” The administration has refused so far to hand over legal documents that justified (or challenged) the eavesdropping program when it began soon after the 2001 attacks. And the committee’s sole witness, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, is famously unforthcoming. Democrats on the committee are pushing Specter to call more current and former administration officials to testify, including former AG John Ashcroft and White House staff chief Andy Card, but the request, if made, will almost certainly run into “executive privilege” objections.
Washington’s answer to the Grammys. The music world hands out its awards on Wednesday. The political world does it on Monday: Budget Day. This is when the White House’s Office of Management and Budget announces all the winners and losers in the president’s 2007 spending plan. At 8:15 a.m., thick, paperback copies of the budget arrive in Room 608 of the Dirksen Senate Office building, home of the Senate Budget Committee. “Cameras may shoot budget books arriving in the 6th floor hallway, unloading in the hearing room and distribution to staff,” the committee advises. Next comes a flurry of budget briefings throughout the day from the bureaucracy: OMB, OSTP, DOT, EPA, DOI, DOL, HHS, NASA, VA, DOD, USACE, ETC., ETC. At 3:15, the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities holds its traditional conference call to contradict pretty much everything the administration said.
Early reports have the Pentagon getting a 5 percent boost, while NASA’s space plans and the military reserves could be cut. There should also be new money for nuclear plants and new medical tax breaks—and, according to congressional forecasts, a deficit of $270 billion.
Moussaoui’s star power. The trial of Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui is proving to be a tougher ticket than the baby panda at the National Zoo. Jury selection begins today at the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., and is expected to last the month. Moussaoui has already pleaded guilty, and a jury must decide whether he gets the death penalty or life in prison. The court, facing a crush of media interest, is granting no public access and is restricting admission to just two “pool” reporters, who must describe the proceedings to their peers.
And they’re off! Cheney will be in Alabama on Monday at a fund-raiser for Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., at the Racking Horse Breeders Association. The Racking Horse group, which promotes a breed known for its “evenly timed, bi-lateral gait,” should not be confused with the Arabian Horse Association, which is known for sending Mike Brown to FEMA. The peripatetic vice president then trots back for an interview with Jim Lehrer on Tuesday.
In other political wanderings, Mark Warner, the now-former Democratic governor of Virginia, makes another trip to New Hampshire Friday, preceded by RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman on Tuesday. Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., another presidential wannabe, tours Iowa on the weekend. Back in Washington, Bush sits down with the new Polish president, Lech Kaczyński, on Thursday.
Will the Capitol Police confiscate the muskets? “The Minuteman Project” holds a rally at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday on the Capitol grounds to highlight the “national crisis of illegal immigration.”
Fossils older than Robert Byrd: The world’s oldest tyrannosaur will be visiting the capital on Wednesday—or at least a sketch of him will. George Washington University biologist James M. Clark will describe details of his discovery of “the oldest known and most primitive tyrannosauroid.” In other science news, the National Inventors Hall of Fame will, on that same day, induct a person dear to Dick Cheney’s heart: the creator of the “intravascular stent.” Also to be honored is the inventor of “the protocol that is the basis for the Internet.” Isn’t that Al Gore?
The Washington Press Foundation’s congressional correspondents dinner. OK, so it’s a B-list affair compared with the Gridiron and White House Correspondents Association dinners later in Washington’s “silly season,” but it’s not a bad warm-up. (And Tom DeLay had ‘em rolling in the aisles last year.) The real event is the after-party hosted by the Creative Coalition and Congressional Quarterly.
Republicans go to Cambridge? Relax, that’s Cambridge, Md., not Cambridge, Mass. The GOP House Republican retreat begins out on the Eastern Shore, not far from the vacation homes of Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld. They’re close enough to D.C. that dedicated right-wingers can return to Washington for what may be the biggest conservative confab of the year, the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Omni Shoreham on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Cheney headlines CPAC on Thursday night, and John Bolton on Friday night. But that’s just the beginning! Hear presidential aspirant Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., give his views on immigration (he’s opposed). Hear “War Stories” from Oliver North. Get signed copies of Rick Santorum’s and Fred Barnes’ books. Much of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board will be in attendance, and even the diffident Ann Coulter will be coming out of her shell for the occasion.