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Transition Today – Friday, Dec. 19, 2008

A roundup of news, schedules, and key stories from CBS News Political Director Steve Chaggaris:

President-elect Obama holds a news conference at 2:15pm ET in Chicago where it's expected he'll roll out his choices for Labor Secretary, U.S. Trade Representative and Transportation Secretary. CBS News has confirmed that Mr. Obama will name Rep. Hilda Solis, D-Calif., for Labor, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk for USTR and retiring Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Ill., for Transportation. Tomorrow, Mr. Obama departs for Hawaii for a Christmas vacation with his family.

***NY Times, "Picks for Labor and Trade Positions Disagree on Policy": "With his choices of a labor secretary and a trade representative, Mr. Obama appears to have sought to appeal to each side in the battle over free trade. Ms. Solis, a longtime labor advocate who is of Central American heritage, has been skeptical about free-trade agreements, while Mr. Kirk, a lawyer with a political bent, comes from the Texas establishment and has spoken out in favor of the North American Free Trade Agreement... Although Mr. Obama said in his primary campaign against Hillary Rodham Clinton that Nafta should be re-negotiated, he did not emphasize that approach during the general election campaign. Free-trade proponents remain hopeful that Mr. Obama will moderate his stance, as his predecessors did, now that he has been elected president... Labor activists who would speak only on condition of anonymity expressed wariness about Mr. Kirk, but made clear their strong support for Ms. Solis, a close ally of the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi. Ms. Solis was first elected to Congress in 2000 and represents a largely Hispanic and Asian district of working-class suburbs east of Los Angeles as well as part of East Los Angeles."

Vice President-elect Biden is in Delaware today and has no public events scheduled.

TRANSITION

Washington Post, "Diversity, Alacrity, Fraternity": "White males, as they were in Bill Clinton's first Cabinet, will find themselves again in the minority in the Obama regime. Of the 20 Cabinet-level positions, nine are to be filled by white men, two by white women (Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano), two by Asian Americans (Gen. Eric K. Shinseki and Steven Chu), three by Latinos (New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Sen. Ken Salazar and Solis), and four by African Americans (Eric H. Holder Jr., Susan E. Rice, Lisa P. Jackson and Kirk.) The Obama transition team has also posted the fastest completion time for a Cabinet in 32 years, beating his recent predecessors by at least four days."

Politico, "Obama Cabinet: Middle-of-the-roaders' dream": "Consider the scorecard: The centrist Democratic Leadership Council claims ties with half the group. Movement progressives count a single one, Calfornia Rep. Hilda Solis at Labor, a union favorite. But if Obama gives with Solis, he takes away with former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, a free-trade advocate for trade representative, no union favorite. Classic Obama, some grumbled."

Time Magazine, "What's Behind Obama's Rightward Outreach?": "One popular theory argues that the care and feeding of the right is a way to build cover for a progressive agenda. That may be true. Obama has enunciated some liberal foreign and domestic policy ideas, such as open-ended high-level talks with Iran, a rapid combat troop pull-out from Iraq and a possibly trillion dollar stimulus plan for the flagging economy: if he plans to roll them out soon, he might hope that one or two of his putative 'advisers' will support him, or at least hold off on their attacks, because of his outreach. But it's not at all clear that Obama has actually settled his positions on the more difficult foreign and domestic policy issues yet. Try drilling in with Obama's advisers on his approach to Arab-Israeli peace talks, negotiations with Iran or education reform, and you quickly find much debate but no hard policy decisions. In that light, Obama's outreach seems less about preventive cover for liberal policies than prudent network building for whatever positions, left or right, he ends up taking."

Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib, "Obama Team Takes Two Shapes": "The president-elect is giving the country two administrations for the price of one. The first, composed of Mr. Obama's initial wave of high-profile appointees, is full of familiar Washington veterans. This is the team that pleased moderates and even some Republicans, reassured financial markets -- and made the party's liberals complain about 'retreads' and wonder what all that change rhetoric was about. The second wave of appointments, most coming in the past week or so, is composed of lesser-known names, new faces and, all told, the kind of folks who look like the fabled 'agents of change' promised in the campaign."

NY Times, "Obama Team Is Seeking Stimulus Bill by New Year": "President-elect Barack Obama's advisers hope to finish an economic recovery blueprint by Dec. 25 so that Democratic Congressional staff members can draft legislation by the new year, as the two branches of government try to converge on a two-year plan by late January that could total just under $1 trillion... Some Obama advisers have sought to tamp down expectations that Mr. Obama could sign a package immediately after he is inaugurated. The opposition of some Senate Republicans and House and Senate negotiations on a final compromise could force delays into February. Democrats familiar with the early deliberations say the preliminary price tag has grown to about $800 billion from the roughly $600 billion that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had estimated in recent days."

Washington Post, "Obama Team Assembling $850 Billion Stimulus": "President-elect Barack Obama and congressional Democrats have entered discussions over an economic stimulus package that could grow to include $850 billion in new spending and tax cuts over the next two years, a gigantic sum that some Democrats say could prove difficult to push rapidly through Congress. A package of that size -- which would include at least $100 billion for cash-strapped state governments and more than $350 billion for investments in infrastructure, alternative energy and other priorities -- is a significant increase over the numbers previously contemplated by Democrats. It would exceed the $700 billion bailout of the U.S. financial system, as well as the annual budget for the Pentagon. The potential for massive new spending has touched off a frenzy among interest groups eager to claim their share of the expanding stimulus pie. The profusion of requests from governors, transportation groups, environmental activists and business organizations is spawning fears that the package could be loaded with provisions that satisfy important Democratic constituencies but fail to provide the jolt needed to pull the nation out of a deepening recession."

Wall Street Journal, "Obama Keen to Regulate Finance": "New regulations are likely to fall on financial institutions currently seeking federal assistance that are either lightly regulated or not regulated at all, Obama aides said. Mortgage brokers are under particular scrutiny, as are hedge funds and private-equity firms."

NY Times, "Political Donor's Contracts Under Inquiry in New Mexico": "A federal grand jury in New Mexico is investigating accusations that Gov. Bill Richardson's administration gave lucrative contracts to a California financier because he contributed heavily to the governor's political action committees, a person familiar with the grand jury proceedings said Thursday. President-elect Barack Obama has appointed Mr. Richardson to be secretary of commerce, and questions about the contracts may be raised in his Senate confirmation hearings in February."

Associated Press, "Nomination of Vilsack puts Iowa in strong position"

CLINTON FOUNDATION DISCLOSURE

CBS News' Sharyl Attkisson, "Clinton Group Got Millions From Overseas": "Buried among the names of Saudi royals and super-rich businesses are thousands of people who gave to victims of Hurricane Katrina... Katrina donors ended up on the list of Clinton supporters when donations poured in before the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund was fully set up, so the former presidents held the money in two other charities: the Greater Houston Community Foundation and the Clinton Foundation... That pit stop in the Clinton fund officially turned those Katrina donors into Clinton donors--people who expected their money to go directly to hurricane relief.And just two weeks ago, thousands of them got letters saying their names were about to be made public. Among those 'surprised' to find themselves on today's list was former Congressman Rob Portman, a Republican on Bush's cabinet at the time."

CBS News, "Memo Outlines Restrictions Bill Clinton Will Face After Wife's Confirmation"

Bloomberg News, "Clinton's Diplomacy May Be Complicated by Husband's Money Ties": "All told, the foundation has raised more than $500 million from about 200,000 donors, including a number of groups with ties to foreign leaders or royalty. The Dubai Foundation and Friends of Saudi Arabia each offered up $1 million to $5 million. 'It's just not good for American presidents to be taking money from foreign governments, and whatever you take has to be disclosed,' said Representative Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican who recently urged President George W. Bush not to solicit contributions for his presidential library from China. 'Presidents and former presidents carry tremendous weight.' Still, Wolf said, 'I wouldn't want to say that this hurts her,' since she shouldn't be held accountable for her husband's donors. And the disclosure may mean the new secretary of state will be even tougher on those foreign governments to demonstrate the absence of influence, Wolf said."

Washington Post, "Risks Seen For Clinton As Husband Lists Donors"

NY Times, "In Clinton List, a Veil Is Lifted on Foundation": "Federal law does not require former presidents to reveal foundation donors, and Mr. Clinton had until now declined to do so, arguing that many who gave expected confidentiality. Other former presidents have taken money from overseas sources, including President George Bush, whose son has sat in the Oval Office for the last eight years. The elder Mr. Bush has accepted millions of dollars from Saudi, Kuwaiti and other foreign sources for his own library... Mr. Clinton's advocates said that the disclosure on Thursday showed he had nothing to hide and that most of his largest contributors were already known. Yet while unprecedented, the disclosure was also limited. The list posted on the foundation's Web site — www.clintonfoundation.org — did not provide the nationality or occupation of the donors, the dates they contributed or the precise amounts of their gifts, instead breaking down contributors by dollar ranges. Nor did the list include pledges for future donations. As a result, it is impossible to know from the list which donations were made while Mr. Clinton was still president or while Mrs. Clinton was running for president."

CLINTON'S SENATE SEAT / CAROLINE KENNEDY

NY Daily News, "Records show Caroline Kennedy failed to cast her vote many times since 1988": "City Board of Elections records show Kennedy has failed to vote in many elections since she registered in the city in 1988 - including votes for the Senate seat she hopes to fill and numerous Democratic faceoffs for mayor... Records show Kennedy did not pull the lever for any of her fellow Democrats in city primary races for mayor in 1989, 1993 and 1997 and 2005, which Republicans went on to win three out of four times in the general election. She was also AWOL for the primary and general elections in 1994, when Sen. Daniel Moynihan was running for reelection to the seat Kennedy hopes to hold."

Washington Post, "Caroline Kennedy Hits Harlem": "Kennedy's campaign rollout - likened here to Hillary Clinton's 1999 "listening tour" around the state before she ran for the senate - is all the more unusual since there is only one person she is appealing to; New York Gov. David Paterson, who alone has the power to appoint the replacement for Clinton's seat. Paterson has said he will make his choice only when Clinton's seat officially becomes vacant, once she is confirmed as secretary of state.

BLAGOJEVICH

Chicago Sun-Times, "Emanuel talked directly to gov: source": "President-elect Barack Obama's incoming chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had a deeper involvement in pressing for a U.S. Senate seat appointment than previously reported, the Sun-Times has learned. Emanuel had direct discussions about the seat with Gov. Blagojevich, who is is accused of trying to auction it to the highest bidder... Emanuel talked with the governor in the days following the Nov. 4 election and pressed early on for the appointment of Valerie Jarrett to the post, sources with knowledge of the conversations told the Sun-Times. There was no indication from sources that Emanuel brokered a deal, however. A source with the Obama camp strongly denied Emanuel spoke with the governor directly about the seat, saying Emanuel only spoke with Blagojevich once recently to say he was taking the chief of staff post... At least some of the conversations between Emanuel and Blagojevich were likely caught on tape, sources said."

Wall Street Journal, "State, Feds Move to Block Blagojevich Legal Funds": "Embattled Gov. Rod Blagojevich's money problems appeared to worsen Thursday, as the state attorney general denied a request from his lawyer asking the state to pick up his impeachment-defense costs and the U.S. attorney moved to freeze his campaign funds. Prosecutors are charging that the war chest 'comes from fraudulent or criminal activity,' said Michael D. Ettinger, the lawyer for Mr. Blagojevich's brother, Robert, who is chairman of the campaign fund and who received a letter from the U.S. attorney on Wednesday. Mr. Ettinger said if the governor is indicted attorneys will ask the court to free up enough money from the $3.6 million of campaign funds to pay for the defense... Mr. Blagojevich's salary as governor is about $177,000. He has unpaid legal bills of at least $500,000 from the firm Winston & Strawn LLP, according to an attorney at the firm. The firm represented him during the years-long federal probe that culminated in his arrest but dropped him as a client over the bills."

Washington Post, "Blagojevich Allegations Are Expanded": "The Illinois House impeachment committee questioned witnesses Thursday about allegations that Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) had trampled over the state's system of checks and balances by making policy end runs around lawmakers, expanding the testimony against him beyond the charges in the criminal complaint unveiled Dec. 9. Among the allegations was that the governor had abused his power to push through controversial programs to expand health care and access to foreign-made prescription drugs for the poor and middle class, initiatives he has touted."

NY Times, "Illinois Inquiry Goes Beyond Criminal Complaint": "Much of the testimony before the special committee centered Thursday on the machinations behind two high-profile and controversial moves by the Blagojevich administration: to expand health care to middle-income parents unilaterally in 2007 after the proposal was defeated in the State Legislature, and to buy flu vaccine from a European supplier before receiving necessary federal approval during the shortage scare in 2004-5. The health care expansion is now tangled in court, and the flu vaccines were blocked from entering the United States. The vaccines, worth $2.6 million, were donated to Pakistan, but The Chicago Tribune reported that Pakistani heath officials destroyed all 500,000 doses because they had expired."

INAUGURATION

Washington Post, : "President-elect Barack Obama yesterday defended his selection of megachurch pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his inauguration, saying that he disagrees with the minister's opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage but that there should be room for 'dialogue' on such difficult social issues. Liberal groups and gay rights activists were outraged at the choice of Warren, one of the country's most prominent evangelicals, who has spoken out in favor of a ban on same-sex marriage in California. Although Warren's views are not far from those of other clergy members who could have been asked to deliver the invocation, Obama found himself emphasizing his own record as 'a fierce advocate of equality for gay and lesbian Americans.' 'It is important for America to come together, even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues,' Obama said. Wall Street Journal, "Choice of Pastor Aims to Bridge Divide": "The invocation gives both men the opportunity to build on their longstanding efforts to create big tents and extend their appeal beyond their natural constituencies. As a result, both have taken some criticism from their traditional supporters."

MINNESOTA SENATE RACE

Minneapolis Star-Tribune, "Coleman's lead over Franken shrivels": "Democrat Al Franken picked up several hundred votes at Thursday's state Canvassing Board meeting, all but erasing the narrow unofficial lead that Republican Sen. Norm Coleman has maintained for weeks. The DFLer seemed poised to move ahead today, at least temporarily, as the board rules on more challenged ballots."

Washington Post, "Holidays, Court Ruling Will Further Extend Minn. Senate Recount": "With the latest projections showing incumbent Norm Coleman (R) clinging to a lead of a handful of votes, Minnesota's U.S. Senate race headed deeper into political limbo yesterday, raising the possibility that the contest could still be undecided when the rest of the class of 2008 is sworn in Jan. 6. Election officials said they are unlikely to finish the recount in the race between Coleman and Democrat Al Franken before Dec. 30, and the state's Supreme Court issued a verdict mandating the inclusion of perhaps more than 1,000 absentee ballots that had been rejected, making it appear likely that the process could take even longer than envisioned."

ALSO:

USA Today, "Obama picks leave opening for GOP": "Obama's incoming administration would open vacancies in seven states, more than each of the past two presidents. His picks could put a Republican in the Arizona governor's seat and create other competitive races in the elections in 2010, including in his home state of Illinois... Obama has rapidly named his Cabinet and many top agency positions this month before the inauguration Jan. 20. Five of his picks are governors or members of Congress — all Democrats — who have time left in their terms."

Washington Post, "'Deep Throat' Mark Felt Dies at 95"

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