With less than 36 hours before the president kicks off his bamboozlepalooza tour, the turmoil and turnover within the Fainthearted Faction continues to grow.
The first news comes in a piece from the New York Times titled '6 Key Democratic Senators Oppose Bush Plan on Benefits.'
On first glance, the title seems to signal a veritable Fainthearted Faction Monday Night Massacre. But while the content isn't nearly so dramatic, the piece nonetheless contains some important news.
The lead graf reads: "Six of the seven Democratic senators from the states where President Bush plans to campaign this week for his Social Security plan say they are unalterably opposed to his main principle of diverting tax money into personal investment accounts." And then later down in the piece: "If Mr. Bush cannot win the support of these Democratic senators from states where he is politically strong, it may indicate that he cannot provide the political cover that many Republican lawmakers say they will need if they are to take the political risk of voting for the president's plan."
The question is, which senators are they talking about? Four of them are Sens. Baucus, Dorgan, Nelson of Florida and Pryor. And they aren't in the Faction to start with. The seventh is Sen. Nelson of Nebraska "who said in an interview [with the Times] that he could not make a commitment on Social Security until he saw the specifics of the president's plan."
So that leaves him where we have him now -- in the Faction, but with OFO status.
The two final ones are Sens. Conrad and Lincoln.
Conrad was only barely in the Faction and only entered a few days ago. He tells the Times: "I will not be part of the unraveling the commitment of Social Security based on gutting the benefits and hoping the stock market makes up the difference and funding the transition with borrowing."
That, combined with the Times' characterization of the whole interview, and the only slight signs of Faintheartedness which got Conrad into the Faction, now takes him out.
From Sen. Lincoln, the Times got: "I'm opposed to what the president presumably wants to do. It puts in jeopardy a program that is vital to the people of Arkansas and is misleading to the young people about what they're going to end up with."
Based on the that and the totality of earlier evidence, she's out of the Faction too.
That leaves a winnowed down Senate Fainthearted Faction of four, including Nelson of Nebraska. The other three are Carper, Landrieu and Lieberman.
We haven't heard much from Carper recently.
Lieberman has had almost two feet out the door ever since his appearance on The Daily Show back on the 20th of last month. His comments on Social Security to Jon Stewart all but took him out of the Faction. But given the venue and the nature of the remarks combined with Lieberman's earlier history of recidivist Faintheartedness on phase-out, we've had something of a vexed internal debate about Lieberman's standing in the Faction.
What we decided was that we would wait for one more statement of opposition to phase-out from Sen. Lieberman, at which point he would be automatically removed from the Faction. We spoke to his office this morning and apparently the Daily Show remarks are still his most recent. So for the moment, he stays.
That leaves us with Sen. Landrieu of Louisiana. At the moment, she appears to be the senate Democrat most wedded to membership in the Fainthearted Faction, having not even given hints of imminent withdrawal. One of our most prized TPM readers is a retiree from Landrieu's home state and she's been trying for weeks now to get an answer from the senator's office about where she stands on phase-out. Finally, this week, she was able to get hold of someone in Landrieu's office who could speak to the issue. And the senator's position, she was told, is that she hasn't yet taken a position.