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Transition Today – Monday, Dec. 15th, 2008

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

President-elect OBAMA holds a news conference at 5pm ET in Chicago today where he's expected to announce his energy and environment team. As CBS News has already confirmed, Obama plans to name Carol Browner as "energy czar" to focus on energy, environment and climate issues. He will also name Steven Chu as his Energy Secretary and Lisa Jackson as head of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Before his news conference, Mr. OBAMA, Vice President-elect BIDEN and his national security team will meet at transition headquarters in Chicago. As questions swirl about his involvement with Gov. Rod Blagojevich, White House Chief of Staff-designee Rahm EMANUEL will attend the meeting. Also in attendance: Secretary of State designee Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Attorney General designee Eric Holder, Secretary of Homeland Security designee Janet Napolitano, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, Ambassador to the United Nations designee Susan Rice, National Security Advisor designee Jim Jones, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell, and White House Counsel designee Greg Craig.

Other schedule items:

*Presidential electors formally cast their votes for president today in state capitals around the country. The electoral votes will be counted by the U.S. Congress on Jan. 8.

OBAMA & BLAGOJEVICH

Bloomberg News, "Queries on Governor Clouding Obama Announcement on EPA, Energy": "Obama remains dogged by unanswered questions about any contacts his staff may have had with the governor, while banking on his team getting a clean bill of health from the federal prosecutor. Obama pledged Dec. 11 to disclose within a 'few days' any contacts between his aides and Blagojevich... 'As long as Blagojevich is still in office, this becomes a louder and louder distraction for Obama and his team,' said Rogan Kersh, associate dean of New York University's Wagner School of Public Service. Since his last comments on the Blagojevich scandal at the Dec. 11 press conference, where he promised to 'gather all the facts about any staff contacts' with the governor's office and disclose them in 'the next few days,' neither Obama nor his spokespersons has provided details."

Wall Street Journal, "Emanuel, Blagojevich Aides Discussed Senate Seat": "Mr. Emanuel didn't talk to Mr. Blagojevich directly about the matter, by phone or in person, according to people familiar with the matter. He spoke by phone with aides to the governor, those people say... The Chicago Tribune reported Saturday that Mr. Emanuel relayed to Mr. Blagojevich's team a list of candidates who would be acceptable to the Obama camp, and that these conversations were captured on a tape possessed by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald. There is no evidence that this was part of a deal or quid pro quo."

NY Times, "Businessman Tied to Fund-Raising Offer to Blagojevich": "An Illinois businessman caught up in the federal investigation of Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich offered to raise money for the governor on behalf of Representative Jesse L. Jackson Jr., investigators say. But state and federal records show that the businessman, Raghuveer Nayak, has also been a financial supporter of other politicians, including President-elect Barack Obama and Senator John McCain of Arizona. Mr. Nayak and his wife, Anita, have donated nearly $17,000 to Mr. Obama's campaigns since 2003, state campaign records show, and friends and associates say Mr. Nayak raised thousands more in the Indian-American community here for Mr. Obama in his 2004 Senate race. They also say that one of Mr. Obama's close friends, Alexi Giannoulias, the Illinois state treasurer, showed Mr. Nayak's teenage son around New Hampshire at the time of the presidential primary early this year. As a representative of an Indian-American business community that has been gaining influence here and elsewhere, Mr. Nayak has taken a bipartisan approach to his donations nationally. He and his wife contributed $6,600 this year to the presidential campaign of Mr. McCain and $6,000 to the campaign of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. He also donated $2,000 to President Bush's campaign in 2004."

MORE BLAGO

NY Times, "Resignation Is Rumored; Response Is a Firm 'No'": "Not only was Mr. Blagojevich not resigning, the spokesman, Lucio Guerrero, said, but he was planning to go to work on Monday and study a few bills that might at some point require either his signature or veto — including one that will be hammered out in a special legislative session in Springfield that would strip him of his coveted appointment power over President-elect Barack Obama's vacated Senate seat."

Chicago Tribune, "Illinois lawmakers to sort out Gov. Rod Blagojevich scandal": "Illinois lawmakers return to the Capitol on Monday with plans to disarm and dislodge Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich, whose arrest in an alleged attempt to sell President-elect Barack Obama's U.S. Senate seat has thrown state government up for grabs. But with Republicans looking to turn the tables on Democrats who control the Statehouse, and disagreement among leaders over whether to proceed with impeachment and how to handle the Senate dilemma, the only certainty on the agenda is chaos."

NY Times, "Two Sides of a Troubled Governor, Sinking Deeper": "At points in early 2004, Mr. Blagojevich appeared with Senator John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, at a community center in Evanston and a junior high school in Quincy. Mr. Blagojevich seemed confident, said two former employees, who refused to be named out of concern that their comments could jeopardize their current work, that he would soon be selected as Mr. Kerry's running mate. (An aide to Mr. Kerry's campaign says he was never under consideration.) At the time, there seemed only one problem: Mr. Blagojevich was uncertain he wanted to be a No. 2."

Wall Street Journal, "Blagojevich and Union Have Longstanding Ties": "Allegations that Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich approached the nation's largest union seeking help in a complex pay-for-play scheme involving an open Senate seat are the latest episode in a long, mutually beneficial relationship between the governor and the powerful Service Employees International Union. The two-million member union had long been a big political backer of Mr. Blagojevich, who helped it organize workers throughout the state, sometimes over the objections of competing unions. The relationship, while not illegal or even unusual for the SEIU, may help explain why the union finds itself involved with a federal criminal investigation against Mr. Blagojevich... The complaint said Mr. Blagojevich spoke twice, once in person, with an SEIU official about the Senate seat. An internal union communication, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, named Tom Balanoff, the head of SEIU's Illinois territory, as the SEIU official. The SEIU says that it doesn't believe any of its officials engaged in any wrongdoing and that it was cooperating with the federal investigation."

Politico, "GOP starts campaign for Senate election": "The Illinois Republican Party today stepped up its efforts to capitalize on the arrest last week of Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges by announcing a statewide television advertising blitz advocating a special election for President-elect Barack Obama's senate seat."

TRANSITION

Politico, "No Southerners yet in Obama cabinet": "Barack Obama is 15 picks into his Cabinet — he announced New Yorker Shaun Donovan as his Housing and Urban Development head on Saturday—but has yet to name one who hails from the South. 'Not a one,' grumbles a one senior Democratic aide who hails from the South. 'Not even half of one, unless you count Hillary Clinton, and she doesn't count because she's not even an Arkansan anymore. She's a Yankee.' To be fair, the official voice of the White House will come with a Southern drawl: Robert Gibbs, Obama's soon-to-be press secretary, is an Alabama native. But going back to at least John F. Kennedy, every other new president has populated his initial Cabinet with one or more Southerners."

NY Times, "Spousal Ties to Lobbying Test a Vow From Obama": "The ethics code that Mr. Obama imposed on his transition team takes a hard line against lobbyists. People are disqualified from working on any matters they lobbied about within the past year, and currently registered federal lobbyists are barred from playing a significant role — regardless of the issues they lobby about. But Mr. Obama's embrace of Mr. [Tom] Daschle and his presumed choice of Ms. [Carol] Browner suggest that he will take a softer line on lobbying by the spouses of the officials in his administration. In a town where influencing the government is a main industry, Thomas Susman, an expert on ethics rules who is also a lobbyist for the American Bar Association, said issues surrounding spousal lobbying presented a particular ethical challenge. 'On the one hand,' Mr. Susman said, 'you say a spouse shouldn't be disenfranchised from his or her professional activities because his or her spouse goes into government. But it does seem to me that a spouse ought not be allowed to lobby an agency or on issues under the control of the spouse in government.'"

NY Times, "Uncertainty on Obama's Education Plans": "As President-elect Barack Obama prepares to announce his choice for education secretary, there is mystery not only about the person he will choose, but also about the approach to overhauling the nation's schools that his selection will reflect. Despite an 18-month campaign for president and many debates, there remains uncertainty about what Mr. Obama believes is the best way to improve education. Will he side with those who want to abolish teacher tenure and otherwise curb the power of teachers' unions? Or with those who want to rewrite the main federal law on elementary and secondary education, the No Child Left Behind Act, and who say the best strategy is to help teachers become more qualified? The debate has sometimes been nasty."

INAUGURATION

The Presidential Inaugural Committee announced this morning: "[T]he President-elect, Vice President-elect and their families will travel - via railroad -- to Washington, D.C. on Saturday, January 17th and host events along the way in Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore. The trip marks the final leg of a journey that began on the steps of the Old State Capitol in Illinois and will culminate on the steps of the United States Capitol... '[W]e hope to include as many Americans as possible who wish to participate, but can't be in Washington,' Emmett Beliveau, the executive director of the Presidential Inaugural Committee, said in a statement.'"

USA Today, "Scope of Obama's Secret Service protection proves daunting": "The scene on Nov. 4 offered a preview of the excitement and a crowd expected to top the previous inaugural high of 1.2 million in Washington when Obama takes the oath of office Jan. 20. The occasion will be a huge test for the federal and local authorities charged with protecting the new president... The Pentagon plans to deploy about 5,000 troops, a mix of personnel from every branch of service for both security and ceremonial purposes, according to the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee. In addition, Washington's police department is coordinating with 96 police agencies across the nation that are sending 4,000 officers to help secure the event, says D.C. police spokeswoman Traci Hughes. Burke says challenges include providing the large crowds with enough space to 'appreciate the historical significance of the event,' while maintaining a high level of security for Obama. Ray Mey, a former FBI agent who helped with security for the 1997 Clinton inauguration, says the crowds that gathered during the 2007-08 campaign and Obama's close interaction with them signal the new president will be 'a tough guy to protect.' 'He likes to get out in the crowd,' Mey says."

Washington Post, "Roads, Trains Can't Handle Jan. 20 Droves": "[G]etting into town might be easier than getting out: If 1 million people try to board the subway at the same time after the main festivities end, it could take more than eight hours to move everyone. In other words, consider staying home in front of the TV with a bowl of popcorn. 'It's going to be a lot of walking, a lot of waiting, and you might not get too close to the president,' City Administrator Dan Tangherlini said. Of course, plenty of people can't stay home -- they'll have to work. At the 1,316-room Wardman Park Marriott in Northwest, the District's largest hotel, employees can sleep on cots. Homeland Security employees will be sleeping in a trailer. Transportation experts are not mincing words. 'If millions of people are coming to the National Mall, Metro can't handle everyone. It's impossible,' agency spokeswoman Candace Smith said. People should expect 'long lines, long walks, and they need to make decisions about what they're willing to put up with.'"

Chicago Tribune, "Inaugural party planners walk the taste line": "Reporting from Washington -- As Washington gears up for a big night of inaugural balls, a delicate dance is taking place. Planners want to stage a splashy celebration worthy of the historic moment but are doing it in tough economic times, perhaps even as President-elect Barack Obama calls for sacrifice in his inaugural address. 'Anything too flashy or expensive and the new presidency starts off on the wrong foot,' said Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington watchdog. 'It would be difficult to call for sacrifice on the one hand and toast with Dom Perignon in the other.'"

OBAMA ADMINISTRATION

Politico, "Biden to shrink VP role – big time": "It's not just that Biden won't sit in on Senate Democrats' weekly caucus meetings – a privilege Republicans afforded outgoing Vice President Dick Cheney. He won't have an office outside the House floor, as House Speaker Dennis Hastert gave Cheney early on. Biden will not begin every day with his own intelligence briefing before sitting in on the president's. He will not always be the last person Obama speaks to before making a decision. He also will not, as a transition official calls it, operate a 'shadow government' within an Obama administration. One of the few ways he will resemble Cheney is in making clear his future ambitions, or lack thereof: Biden doesn't expect to run for president after leaving the vice presidency, according to a transition source who was not authorized to speak on the record."

Wall Street Journal, "'Czars Ascent at White House": "On Monday, Mr. Obama will name former Environmental Protection Agency chief Carol Browner as a White House energy czar... he is also planning to name an urban-affairs czar to work out of the White House, likely Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion. He has already named an economic czar, former Federal Reserve Board chairman Paul Volcker, to look at big-picture economic issues -- while he also has a Council of Economic Advisers, a National Economic Council and a large Treasury Department right next door. He has made former Sen. Tom Daschle a health czar of sorts, in addition to making him secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Congress came close to creating a car czar, and even though that legislation died, the idea could return. And public interest groups are lobbying for a consumer czar. 'There've been so many czars over last 50 years, and they've all been failures,' said Paul Light, an expert on government at New York University. 'Nobody takes them seriously anymore.' He pointed to officials placed in charge of homeland security and drug policy. The problem is that 'czars' are meant to be all-powerful people who can rise above the problems that plague the federal agencies, he said, but in the end, they can't."

NY Times, "A Defense Secretary at Work for 2 Commanders in Chief": "Mr. Gates, who will be staying on as Mr. Obama's defense secretary, is making his own transition from one commander in chief to the next. The metamorphosis was particularly startling last week on his unannounced trip to Afghanistan and Iraq, where he traveled as an emissary and reconnaissance agent for his next boss. What was originally conceived as a goodbye tour for a lame-duck defense secretary instead offered a preview of the president-elect's strategy for winding down one war, building up another and tackling the issue of Iran. Mr. Gates acknowledged that effectively working for two commanders in chief created certain strains."

USA Today, "Obama's national security players must manage hot spots"

CLINTON'S SENATE SEAT

NY Daily News, "Key Hillary friends oppose Caroline Kennedy for N.Y.'s Senate seat": "In recent days, Robert Zimmerman, a Clinton adviser and member of the Democratic National Committee, and Stuart Applebaum, a former Clinton delegate and president of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, ripped Kennedy's qualifications. Reps. Anthony Weiner (D-Queens, Brooklyn) and Gary Ackerman (D-Queens), both of whom are loyal to Clinton, have also harped on Kennedy's lack of political experience. Ackerman compared Kennedy's name recognition with that of Jennifer Lopez, saying popularity doesn't make someone qualified to be a U.S. senator. Some New York Democrats are still miffed that Kennedy, along with her uncle, Sen. Ted Kennedy, endorsed and campaigned for Obama over Clinton - who is leaving the Senate to become Obama's secretary of state - during the primaries. 'It's been a little vicious,' said longtime Democratic strategist Joseph Mercurio of the backlash. 'It's a little over the top.'"

MINNESOTA SENATE RACE

Minneapolis Star-Tribune, "A nasty bug emerges in the state election system"

ALSO:

McClatchy Newspapers, "With election in past, McCain declines to back Palin for 2012": "'Listen, I have the greatest appreciation for Governor Palin and her family, and it was a great joy to know them. She invigorated our campaign. She was just down in Georgia and invigorated their campaign. But I can't say something like that. We've got some great other young governors. I think you're going to see the governors assume a greater leadership role in our Republican Party.' As examples, he mentioned Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. Pressed by moderator George Stephanopoulos, McCain joked that it's still early to expect him to take sides so soon after losing his own campaign. 'My corpse is still warm, you know?' he said."

NY Times, "Obama's Friends Form Strategy to Stay Close"

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