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The Minority Leader

"And then, as you'll see, the president takes the Saudi crown prince by the hand and shows off some of the spring flowers, the blue bonnets that are just outside the president's ranch office there in Crawford, Texas. Now once the two began meeting, however, the only coverage allowed was some still photographers. And so at the end, there was no chance for any questions by reporters for either of the leaders."

Galveston Bound

Marty Schladen writes in the Galveston Daily News: "When President Bush convenes a meeting today on the future of Social Security, a lot of people who want to be there won't be. . . .

"Only about 700 will be able to attend the session at 12:30 p.m. in the University of Texas Medical Branch's Levin Hall. Local officials say that far more have expressed an interest."

Schladen says tickets are being given out by Democratic County Judge Jim Yarbrough and the university, as well as by Chris Stevens, chairman of the Galveston County Republican Party.

"Stevens added that the White House did not instruct him on whom to invite," Schladen writes.

"Today's hour-long roundtable will consist of the president, two active county employees, a retiree, Yarbrough and an expert on Social Security.

"The president will speak for about 15 minutes before the discussion takes place. Bush will take no questions from the audience or the press."

Employees of Galveston County have been doing without Social Security for more than 20 years, as part of a pilot program.

Kevin Moran writes in the Houston Chronicle that "opinions still are divided as to whether people fare better or worse than if they had participated throughout their working years in the federal program spawned by the Great Depression of the 1930s."

The Galveston Daily News editorial board writes: "As the hometown newspaper, we're sometimes asked what we think of this plan. We're open to changes in Social Security but don't think the Galveston Plan is the best model for change."

Taking DeLay Along

Julie Mason writes in the Houston Chronicle: "President Bush is expected to give a high-flying boost to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, appearing with him in Galveston today and giving the embattled Sugar Land Republican a lift back to Washington on Air Force One."

Mason writes that "the timing of the invitation signals the president is standing by DeLay for now."

James G. Lakely and Joseph Curl write in the Washington Times: "In press coverage of today's events, the president inevitably will appear in photographs and video clips with Mr. DeLay and, if typical form holds, Mr. Bush will shower him with compliments in his opening remarks."

Social Security Watch

Julie Mason writes in the Houston Chronicle: "With his '60 Stops in 60 Days' Social Security sales tour wrapping up with less public support than he started with for private accounts, President Bush is looking to Congress for a face-saving bailout."

Robin Toner and David E. Rosenbaum write in the New York Times: "After months of political maneuvering, presidential campaigning, advertising and ultimatums, the 20-member Senate Finance Committee plans to start grappling this week with overhauling the Social Security system."

Dana Milbank writes in The Washington Post: "On the eve of the first congressional hearing on the restructuring of Social Security, Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee signaled that they will not insist that personal accounts be part of the legislation and that they will not seek further details from President Bush about his plans for the government-run retirement program."

No WMD, and That's Final

It was the White House's last hope for vindication. Maybe Iraq did in fact have weapons of mass destruction -- they were just all spirited away to Syria before the invasion?

No dice, says the absolute final report of the Iraq Survey Group.

Dana Priest writes in The Washington Post: "U.S. investigators hunting for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq have found no evidence that such material was moved to Syria for safekeeping before the war, according to a final report of the investigation released yesterday."

The Calvin College Rebellion

I wrote in Friday's column that Bush will be giving a commencement address next month at Calvin College, a small Christian institution in Western Michigan, highly regarded for its contributions to evangelical intellectual thought.

I'm betting that most of you readers out there, like me, suspected that Calvin was picked at least in part to assure Bush a supportive audience -- as opposed to, say, what he might find at your typical Ivy League university. (The other commencement address he'll be giving will be at the U.S. Naval Academy.)

But we -- and possibly the White House -- may have been wrong.

On closer inspection, it turns out that Calvin College is not the bastion of the Christian Right it appeared to be. In fact, judging from my e-mail, it's a veritable hotbed of those other Christian values -- the ones that oppose war, work for social justice, and don't think much of the president at all.

Professor Kenneth Pomykala, chair of Calvin College's Department of Religion (and a regular White House Briefing reader!) wrote to me that some members of the community "are unhappy with Bush's visit because we believe that Christian values require public policies that seek social justice, compassion for the disenfranchised, human rights, a commitment to peace, care and preservation of the environment, and honesty, say, from political leaders -- in short, policies opposed to the Bush agenda."

Pomkala tried to help me understand where Calvin fits into the Christian spectrum: "Calvin is confessionally Reformed/Presbyterian (in other words, Calvinistic -- no surprise there, I guess), with a much more positive view of the intellect and participation in the broader culture than is characteristic of American evangelicalism, much of which is anti-intellectual (e.g. 'creation science') and escapist (e.g. the Left Behind series), not to mention morally barbaric (e.g. opposition to stem cell research; anti-gay)."

Kate Bowman, the student activities coordinator at the college, e-mailed to say: "Many of us do not believe that Calvin's graduation ceremony is the proper forum for a partisan political address, particularly from such a divisive and controversial figure. . . .

"Many of us believe that his actions since taking office contradict the teachings of the Gospel, and though we love President Bush as our brother as we are called to love all (even our enemies), we profoundly disagree with his appeals to Christianity to support his own political aims."

Bowman reports: "There is a lively and thoughtful discussion happening on our in-house faculty listserv at the moment around the issue of Bush's visit. Currently the hot topic is how protest should be approached at this event. People want to be respectful without appearing to give a stamp of approval to the actions of the administration."

And Raleigh Chadderdon, who will be one of the approximately 900 Calvin College students getting their diploma on May 21st, wrote that "the majority of graduating seniors I've talked with since have generally been disappointed, frustrated, and feeling betrayed by the school's decision to politicize our graduation. . . .

"Once word was out, a significant number of students were scrambling to counteract the event, setting up dialogue over e-mail which now will hopefully take place on a public online venue, just recently started."

That Web site is called Our Commencement Is Not Your Platform .

And what is Professor Pomkala planning to do during Bush's speech?

"As a faculty member, I'm required to attend commencement, but I plan on reading a book during the president's speech -- probably My Pet Goat."

Denver Three Update

Denver Post columnist Diane Carman writes: "The White House keeps insisting that the guy impersonating a Secret Service agent who tossed the so-called Denver Three out of President Bush's Social Security road show here on March 21 was a nobody, an overzealous Republican Party volunteer, a rogue vigilante bouncer.

"If that's true, this guy really gets around."

Carman writes about another incident, in Portsmouth, N.H., on Feb. 16: "Carol Shea-Porter and Susan Mayer had tickets and were admitted to the event staged in an airplane hangar. They even were allowed to stay through the entire show, despite the fact that they sat near the TV cameras and removed their sweaters to reveal red T-shirts that said, 'Turn Your Back on Bush.'

"But when they left their seats to join the crowd on the floor as the president left the hangar, two burly guys grabbed them and gave them the bum's rush."

It looks like Larry Clow wrote about this back on Feb. 23 in the Wire, an alternative weekly in New Hampshire.

And in my Feb. 18 column , I noted Boston Herald columnist Peter Gelzinis's report about another person who was kicked out of that same event.

Beetle Watch

Carolyn Y. Johnson writes in the Boston Globe with the latest in the saga of the two former Cornell University entomologists who admiringly named three newly discovered species of slime-mold beetle after Bush, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

The naming has "generated a torrent of hate mail from the liberal left, and touched a nerve" at the International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature, which regulates such things.

" 'What is unusual is to name species after living political figures, and that is almost never done, it's considered in very poor taste,' said Edward O. Wilson, the famed Harvard biologist, who recently published a report in which he named an entire genus of ants -- 347 species -- and said he had no trouble coming up with Greek and Latinized form of descriptive words for each one."

Gannon Watch

Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.), posting on the Daily Kos blog, has some more questions for White House press secretary Scott McClellan about the Jeff Gannon affair.

From her latest letter: "We write to ask you to identify who in your office, or in the White House generally, gave Mr. James Guckert a.k.a. 'Jeff Gannon' virtually unfettered access to the White House."

The Big Dinner Will Be Televised

For those of you who can't make it, C-Span announces: "On Saturday, April 30, the annual White House Correspondents' Association Dinner will air live on C-SPAN starting at 9:30 p.m. EDT. Guest speakers include comedian Cedric the Entertainer and President George W. Bush. The event takes place in the Washington Hilton International Ballroom in Washington, D.C."

The Wonkettes

Finding the White House Correspondent Association's actual awards somewhat staid and entirely lacking in dirty words, the Wonkette blog has launched its own irreverent awards for White House correspondents. Among the categories are "most overrated" and "biggest suck-up."

A White House Press Intern Unburdens

Former White House press office intern Justin McLaughlin writes a letter to media blogger Jim Romenesko, describing some of his experiences with the press.

"There was the Today Show producer who called me a moron, the Houston Chronicle reporter who threatened to set off a bomb because no one had called him back, the freelancer who called me 30 times a day for a measly quote for her measly spec article, the camerman who yelled at me because security wouldn't open the gate he wanted them to open, the photographer who had to be man-handled by the Secret Service because he ignored my instructions, the CNBC crew that got in trouble for moving a table in the VP's ceremonial office that I told them not to move and the small-time Pennsylvania newspaper that thought it deserved special access to Tom Ridge, etc. You get the idea."

Poll Watch

Richard Morin and Dan Balz write in The Washington Post about the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, which finds overwhelming opposition to changing the rules to make it easier for Republican leaders to win confirmation of President Bush's court nominees.

"The wide-ranging survey also recorded a precipitous decline in support for the centerpiece of Bush's Social Security plan -- private or personal accounts -- despite the fact that the president and other administration officials have been stumping the country in a 60-day blitz to mobilize support. The Post-ABC poll found that a bare majority -- 51 percent -- opposed such accounts, while 45 percent supported them.

"The poll also registered drops in key Bush performance ratings, growing pessimism about the economy and continuing concern about U.S. involvement in Iraq."

In fact, Bush's approval rating is now at 47 percent, down three points from last month and tying his all-time low in The Post poll.

"Taken together, the findings suggest that Bush is off to a difficult start in his second term, with Democrats far less willing to accommodate him and his agenda than his reelection victory last November may have foreshadowed. Beyond that, the survey highlights the divisions within the Republican Party, whether that involves Bush's signature Social Security proposal or the intersection of religion and politics that has become a defining characteristic of today's GOP."

Here are the complete poll results . And here's a graphic showing Bush's approval rating over time.


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