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Transition Today – Friday, December 12th, 2008

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

President-elect OBAMA and Vice President-elect BIDEN have no public events today. Mr. Obama is in Chicago for private meetings and he will tape his weekly radio/internet address. Mr. Biden is in Delaware for private meetings.

Other schedule items:

*Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., will hold a news conference at 3pm CT in Markham, Ill., to discuss Obama's vacant Senate seat.

*Electoral College formally cast votes for president on Monday in state capitals around the country.


Wall Street Journal, "Obama to List Contacts With Illinois Governor": "President-elect Barack Obama promised to release in the next few days a list of contacts between his transition staff and staff or emissaries of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, as Mr. Obama sought to move beyond the embarrassment of his home state's disgraced governor. 'What I'm absolutely certain about is that our office had no involvement in any deal-making around my Senate seat,' Mr. Obama said. 'That would be a violation of everything that this campaign has been about.' President-elect Barack Obama issues statements in his first press conference since the arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The president-elect's first lengthy comments on the Blagojevich matter came at a news conference Thursday called to announce his health-policy team. Still, Mr. Obama and his aides have yet to answer some key questions related to the Blagojevich case. The president-elect declined to identify an anonymous Obama adviser whom a federal affadavit says Mr. Blagojevich ordered his chief of staff to contact. And Mr. Obama wouldn't comment on how Mr. Blagojevich determined that the Obama team was unwilling to participate in the governor's alleged schemes if their respective staffs never discussed them. 'I can't presume to know what was in the mind of the governor during this process,' Mr. Obama said."

Politico, "Obama damage control": "Obama's campaign lawyer Bob Bauer is taking a leading role in conducting what one top aide described as "an internal review" stopping short of a full-blown investigation. The goal is simple and urgent: find who talked with disgraced Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and when - and precisely what they said. But it's also loaded with hazards. They need to make sure they meet Obama's vow to release findings 'in a few days.' More importantly, they need to make sure they don't miss something that could come back to bite them later. In trying to meet the first rule of Washington scandal-management – get the facts out on your own terms, and fast – Obama may have promised something he'll later regret, one expert warned. 'What they're doing is either setting themselves up for inconsistencies, or creating a cache of evidence that otherwise wouldn't exist. It never helps when you dig up the dirt in your own yard and you find stuff,' said Stan Brand, a top Washington defense lawyer."

Bloomberg News, "Obama Asked Jarrett to Drop Bid for Senate Seat, Axelrod Says": "Valerie Jarrett withdrew from consideration to fill Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat after the president-elect told her he preferred that she serve in the White House, a senior Obama adviser said. 'Valerie Jarrett is a long-time friend, adviser, very able person,' David Axelrod, who was chief strategist for Obama's presidential bid, said at a forum on the 2008 campaign sponsored yesterday by Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 'His preference was always that she serve in the White House, and ultimately he expressed that to her and said look, 'I just need you,' and that's why she made that decision,' Axelrod said... 'No one in their wildest imagination could have imagined the scenario that ensued,' Axelrod said. 'There's a vacancy, the governor, apparently, in the complaint of the government had some ideas about what to do with it. We were not involved in that discussion or any discussion of that nature.'"

NY Times, "Obama to Air Any Staff Talks About Senate Seat": "In a rare firsthand account of how Mr. Blagojevich, a two-term Democrat, went about the selection process, an Illinois state senator said in an interview that he had felt pressured to respond to the governor's interest in him with a quid pro quo agreement and has withdrawn his name because of increasing wariness about the process. The state senator, Kwame Raoul, who represents the South Side of Chicago, offered few details of his interaction with the governor's office but said he received a call about a month ago confirming that he was under consideration. Soon afterward, however, Mr. Raoul said he ran head-on into another message: that the governor was looking for a candidate who offered something of tangible value to him. 'It was open knowledge among people in and around Springfield,' Mr. Raoul said. 'Legislators and lobbyists alike openly talked about the fact that the governor would want to appoint somebody who would benefit him. I can firmly say that I've had these conversations, that I've spoken with both legislators and lobbyists who felt that that would be the consideration in his appointment.' Mr. Raoul would not specifically say what the content of the conversations were, or whom they were with, except that the initial inquiry from the governor's office was made by Victor Roberson, deputy director for intergovernmental affairs. Interest in his candidacy died on both sides, Mr. Raoul said, adding, 'Obviously, the perception was that I didn't have anything to give other than my service.'"

LA Times, "Obama gets a crisis test run": "Obama's evolving response was the first test of his team's capacity to cope with a fast-moving political scandal while staying true to his promise to run a transparent shop with a minimum of secrets. 'This may be an early test run for his administration,' said Scott McClellan, a former White House press secretary for President Bush. McClellan is the author of a book saying the Bush White House was not forthcoming with the public. 'This is how he might handle a scandal within his own administration, even though this may only tangentially involve members of his team,' McClellan said. 'Initially, I don't think he quite had his footing. . . . Today, he certainly had his footing under him and is making the right moves in terms of addressing the scandal.' Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said: 'The first answer -- I don't have any comment on an ongoing investigation -- sounded exactly like the comments we've gotten from President Bush. And I don't think that's much of an answer. The answer that he'll [make public] the complete list is finally the right answer.' After basing his campaign for president on a promise to transform Washington, Obama is obliged to set the highest ethical standards, some government watchdog groups say. His transition co-chair, John Podesta, further raised expectations when he vowed last month to run the most open transition in history... [I]n proclaiming that he was not involved, Obama may have made a tactical mistake, some veterans of past White House crises said. In his initial comments, Obama said he was 'not aware of anything that was happening.' If that turns out to be premature, it could prove damaging to Obama's credibility given the expectations surrounding his presidency, the former officials said. Mark Fabiani, a lawyer who represented the White House under President Clinton, said, 'When the president-elect says he didn't talk to the governor and didn't know what was going on, that's drawing a line in the sand that you'd better be able to defend. It's hard for anyone who's at the top of a sprawling organization like a transition to know everything that's going on. And it's something that may turn out to be 100% true, but it's a red flag that has been raised up. And everybody now is shooting at the red flag: the media, the Republicans.'"

Associated Press, "Scandal has risk, opportunity for Obama": "If inquiries and accusations touch Obama aides, even tangentially, his political foes will try to paint him with the broad brush of dirty Chicago politics. At a minimum, that would annoy and distract a new president.

If his associates get dragged in as witnesses, or if FBI wiretaps turn up embarrassing conversations — related to the current scandal or not — it could be worse. But if Obama can further his image as a political helmsman who navigates polluted waters without getting wet — as he generally did during the presidential campaign — he can endear himself all the more to those who see him as an agent of change and high-minded government. In short, Obama must show that while he's from Chicago's political world, he's not a part of it."

Washington Post, "Obama Worked to Distance Himself From Blagojevich Early On": "Long before federal prosecutors charged Blagojevich with bribery this week, Obama had worked to distance himself from his home-state governor. The two men have not talked for more than a year, colleagues said, save for a requisite handshake at a funeral or public event. Blagojevich rarely campaigned for Obama and never stumped with him. The governor arrived late at the Democratic convention and skipped Obama's victory-night celebration at Chicago's Grant Park. Even though they often occupied the same political space -- two young lawyers in Chicago, two power brokers in Springfield, two ambitious men who coveted the presidency -- Obama and Blagojevich never warmed to each other, Illinois politicians said. They sometimes used each other to propel their own careers but privately acted like rivals. Blagojevich considered Obama naive and pretentious and dismissed his success as 'good luck.' Obama disparaged Blagojevich for what he viewed as his combativeness, his disorganization and his habit of arriving at official events half an hour late."

Chicago Tribune, "Blagojevich fundraiser held by Jackson allies Saturday": "Blagojevich made an appearance at an Oct. 31 luncheon meeting at the India House restaurant in Schaumburg sponsored by Oak Brook businessman Raghuveer Nayak, a major Blagojevich supporter who also has fundraising and business ties to the Jackson family, according to several attendees and public records. Two businessmen who attended the meeting and spoke to the Tribune on the condition of anonymity said that Nayak and Blagojevich aide Rajinder Bedi privately told many of the more than two dozen attendees the fundraising effort was aimed at supporting Jackson's bid for the Senate. Among the attendees was a Blagojevich fundraiser already under scrutiny by federal investigators, Joliet pharmacist Harish Bhatt. That meeting led to a Blagojevich fundraiser Saturday in Elmhurst, co-sponsored by Nayak and attended by Jesse Jackson Jr.'s brother, Jonathan, as well as Blagojevich, according to several people who were there. Nayak and Jonathan Jackson go back years and the two even went into business together years ago as part of a land purchase on the South Side... Despite the parallels, it could not be determined if the actions outlined by the Tribune were the same as those discussed in the FBI affidavit that accompanied the pay-to-play charges against Blagojevich and his chief of staff, John Harris. But the details, gathered from more than a dozen interviews, make clear that some political operatives were connecting support for Blagojevich to his choice for the Senate seat."

Chicago Sun-Times, "What's next for Jesse Jackson Jr.?": "a source in Blagojevich's camp said Thursday that representatives of Jackson approached Blagojevich's brother Robert, who is the governor's campaign-finance chairman, about the open seat. Jackson has identified himself as the "Senate Candidate 5" listed in Blagojevich's criminal complaint... Sources say investigators are still sorting through information and interviewing witnesses to determine who knew what. The 'emissary' has not been identified, and Jackson's father, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, issued a statement Thursday night saying the person is not him."

Washington Post's Eugene Robinson, "A Playbook to Change": "In handling questions about the arrest of Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich -- for allegedly trying to sell President-elect Barack Obama's former Senate seat to the highest bidder -- Obama has gone strictly by the book. His statements have been cautious and precise, careful not to get ahead of the facts or make declarations that might later have to be retracted. For most politicians, that would be good enough. For Obama, who inspired the nation with a promise of 'change we can believe in,' it's not."


Washington Post, "Auto Bailout Talks Collapse as Senate Deadlocks Over Wages"

Time Magazine, "After Auto Bailout Blowup, Bush Must Take the Wheel"

Politico, "Cheney: It's 'Herbert Hoover' time": "Senate Republicans' dramatic revolt against a White House-backed auto industry rescue plan is fraught with political risk. While the high-stakes gambit places them squarely within the mainstream of anti-bailout public sentiment, at the same time it exposes the party to potentially devastating criticism that its failure to compromise doomed the Big Three automakers and deepened the economic recession. Republicans argue that their rejection Thursday evening of a $14 billion loan package came in response to the concerns of angry taxpayers who are unwilling to pay for an auto industry bailout on the heels of October's $700-billion financial bailout package... Administration officials have been warning for weeks that failure to pass the bill could lead to an even deeper recession. That was the message Vice President Dick Cheney brought to a closed-door Senate GOP lunch Wednesday, reportedly warning that it'll be 'Herbert Hoover' time if aid to the industry was rejected, according to a senator familiar with the remarks. A Cheney spokeswoman would neither confirm nor deny the vice president's remarks."


Chicago Sun-Times' Michael Sneed: "President-elect Barack Obama just got nixed!"

Sneed hears the White House has rejected a recent request by Obama to occupy Blair House, the president-elect's Washington residence, at an earlier date. To wit: Sneed hears Obama wanted to move his family and his transition team to Blair House, which is across from the White House, nearly two weeks before the president-elect historically moves there on Jan. 15 -- five days before the inaugural. The backshot: A source tells Sneed: 'There were reportedly two reasons for the request: Obama's children start school in early January -- and the move could be interpreted as a New Year's symbolic gesture showing the president-elect in a presidential capacity across from the White House on Jan. 2, the day after New Year's Day.' The buckshot: Blair House, the president's guest house for visiting dignitaries, nixed the request. 'It was a polite rejection,' the source added. 'But I'm told Blair House was appalled.' Responses: An Obama spokesman tells Sneed they were told Blair House had guests until Jan. 15. ... Sally McDonough, a spokesman for first lady Laura Bush, tells Sneed: 'Respectfully, we are keeping transition conversations quiet. But Jan. 15 is historically the time when incoming presidents occupy Blair House, which is the president's guest house.'"

Wall Street Journal, "Critics Top Shortlist for FDA Head": "A doctor who once denounced Pfizer Inc. for holding a marketing event in a pool hall is leading President-elect Barack Obama's team formally assessing the troubled Food and Drug Administration, boosting his chances of becoming the next FDA commissioner."

NY Times, "Health Care Policy Is in Hands of an Ex-Senator"

Washington Post, "Obama, Lawmakers Expanding Health Measures in Stimulus Plan"

Wall Street Journal, "Times Tough for Energy Overhaul"

Wall Street Journal, "Browner's Husband Lobbied on Energy Issues"

Washington Post, "Seasoned Regulators to Lead Obama Environment Program"


CBS News' Rob Hendin, "U.S. Secret Service: 4 Million Unlikely for Inauguration"

The Hill, "Inauguration emergency plans incomplete"

Washington Post, "Inaugural Rules Bar Overnight Camping"

USA Today, "Celebrities, musicians hosting inaugural ball"

Washington Times, "Gore's green gala to herald 'new energy'": "Former Vice President Al Gore will host a green inaugural ball the night before President-elect Barack Obama takes the oath of office. 'The Green Ball: Inauguration of a New Green Economy' will be Jan. 19 at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery. A draft version of the invitation, obtained by The Washington Times, urges people to 'please join' Mr. Gore to 'bring together a diverse coalition of environmentally-forward organizations, entrepreneurs, scientists and advocates, celebrating a commitment to growing the New Green Economy.' More than two dozen environmental organizations are listed on the invitation."


Politico, "Not so sweet on Caroline": "Rivals – including at least three members of the New York congressional delegation — are starting to doubt Kennedy's viability and experience, and Paterson is said to be less than enthusiastic about picking her, people close to him say. Critics are even questioning the substance of her accomplishments in education, her most high profile issue. 'There is no frontrunner - period,' snapped a person close to Paterson, when asked about Kennedy's prospects. Kennedy faces several obstacles for her candidacy. She has a low public profile in New York, and beyond her name, the most robust element of her public record is a part-time, unpaid fundraising position in New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg's Department of Education. She's never demonstrated much appetite for the folksy, repetitive rituals of retail politics. The most potent argument being used against her, however, is the little matter of Kennedy's backing of Barack Obama in the primary over New York's native (if adopted) daughter Clinton, a genteel betrayal many Clinton supporters haven't quite forgotten. 'This isn't a jihad or anything, but I'd be lying to you if I said that supporters of Hillary don't remember where she was in the primary,' said Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Queens/Brooklyn), a possible mayoral candidate who is close to the former first lady. A senior Democrat said Clinton supporters had expressed their resentment over a possible Kennedy pick to people around Paterson, and that tacit resistance has opened the door to other members of the congressional delegation to violate party taboos and directly criticize a Kennedy."


St. Paul Pioneer Press, "Next up in the U.S. Senate recount: tossed absentee ballots"

Minneapolis Star Tribune, "Franken presents affidavits from 62 with rejected ballots"


Associated Press, "A friendlier McCain visit with David Letterman": "John McCain paid a lighthearted visit to David Letterman on Thursday... The former GOP presidential candidate also praised President-elect Barack Obama for some of his staff choices, including Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton, and shared Letterman's incredulousness at Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich... McCain... was asked by Letterman what the transition from a frantic campaign to a slower pace was like. 'I don't want to talk about the bleeping campaign,' McCain said with a smile. 'Understand? If you think I'm going to go back to that bleeping situation, then bleep you.' McCain said Clinton will bring 'instant credibility, a certain amount of celebrity' when she travels around the world as the nation's top diplomat. 'She is extremely knowledgeable on the issues,' he said. 'I think it's a good team and I think it's a very wise choice. And I would like to say that I think President-elect Obama has made a number of very wise choices which I think shows a centrist approach to government, which, obviously, the way America and the world is today, is necessary.' He still disagrees with Obama politically, but McCain said, 'I applaud his selections.' McCain said that Blagojevich, arrested and accused of trying to sell Obama's Illinois Senate seat to the highest bidder, once asked for a meeting and told McCain he was going to be a great reformer. Letterman said that people consider Blagojevich either stupid or nuts. 'What do you think?' Letterman asked. 'I think it's a rare combination of both,' McCain replied."

NY Times, "G.O.P. Sounds Theme of Democrats: Ethics"

Boston Globe, "Insight of presidential election insiders proves riveting": "So, with just a few more weeks, could John McCain have pulled out a victory over Barack Obama? 'No - we lost,' McCain's chief pollster, Bill McInturff, said without hesitation before a packed auditorium last night at Harvard University's Institute of Politics. 'We were happy it was over.'... McCain's top aides also conceded McCain was hurt by his embrace of President Bush's unpopular economic policies, and said they wished McCain had never said, as he did when Wall Street was collapsing in September, that the US economy remained fundamentally strong. 'That would be one he'd want to do a redo on,' Davis said... Axelrod and Plouffe often struck the tone of gracious winners, but they also took opportunities to boast about their accomplishment, lauding the consistency, discipline, and successful state-by-state strategy of their campaign. They did, though, admit to some panic during the primary fight with Senator Hillary Clinton when the controversy first broke over Obama's fiery pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. "It was a moment of great peril," Plouffe said. Axelrod shared a few intimate details from those frenzied days in the spring, which culminated in Obama giving his high-profile, well-received speech on race in Philadelphia in March. Obama was still writing the speech until late the night before. 'I woke up at 2 a.m., and there was the speech on my BlackBerry,' Axelrod said. 'I e-mailed him back and said, 'This is why you should be president.'"

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