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Transition Today – Thursday, Dec. 17, 2008

President-elect Obama holds a news conference at 10:45am ET today in Chicago to announce his choice of Mary Schapiro to head the Securities and Exchange Commission, replacing Christopher Cox, who has said that he will leave the post at the end of the Bush Administration. CBS News has also confirmed that Obama will name retiring Republican U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood of Illinois to be his Transportation Secretary. That announcement is expected to happen tomorrow. Vice President-elect Biden is in Delaware today for private meetings.

***Wall Street Journal, "Regulator Schapiro to Run SEC for Obama": "Ms. Schapiro, 53 years old, will take over an agency beset by problems, from its failure to catch red flags in the alleged $50 billion Madoff fraud to accusations of lax oversight of Wall Street banks. The announcement is expected Thursday in Chicago. She was credited with beefing up enforcement while at the National Association of Securities Dealers and guiding the creation of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, which she now leads. But some in the industry questioned whether she would be strong enough to get the SEC back on track."

***Wall Street Journal, "LaHood to Get Transportation Post": "Mr. LaHood would be the second Republican picked to serve in President-elect Barack Obama's cabinet, helping to fullfill a pledge for a bipartisan panel of advisers. The first was Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, whom Mr. Obama has asked to stay on in that role. Mr. LaHood's resume on transport matters was seen as thin by some critics. He does not currently serve on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, although he has in the past. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee he did not work on transportation funding. But Mr. LaHood, who is retiring from Congress, is very close to Mr. Emanuel and won high praise from key Democratic lawmakers for his efforts to bridge the sometimes bitter partisan divide in Congress. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D., Minn.) said Mr. LaHood's skills as an arbitrator will be essential at the Transportation Department."

TRANSITION

Politico, "Former chiefs of staff meet with Emanuel": "Most of the still-living former White House chiefs of staff had already offered their two cents to Rahm Emanuel at a breakfast earlier this month when it came time for perhaps the most serious man in a room of serious men to speak. 'The most important thing,' Dick Cheney told Emanuel with a sober stare, 'is that you have to control your vice-president.' With that, said a source in the room, the 11 other chiefs of staff and the one next in line for the job let out loud laughs. In a job as often thankless at it is prestigious, it helps to have a sense of humor, and that was what, among other things, Emanuel was told in a rare, perhaps unprecedented, private sit-down with some of the most prominent political hands in recent American history. At the invitation of the job's current occupant, Josh Bolten, top aides to every president back to Gerald R. Ford gathered at Bolten's conference table to spend an hour with Emanuel on the morning of December 5. Aside from the occasional state funeral, such high-powered men, and they are all men, don't often gather. But in a nod to the elite fraternity in which they all belong and an eye on the weighty challenges that await Emanuel and his boss, they returned en masse to their old office in the West Wing: Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld (Ford), Jack Watson (Carter), Howard Baker and Kenneth Duberstein (Reagan) John Sununu and Samuel Skinner (Bush 41), Mack McLarty, Leon Panetta, Erskine Bowles and John Podesta (Clinton) and Andy Card and Bolten (Bush)."

NY Times, "Praise and Criticism for Proposed Interior Secretary": "Environmental advocates offered mixed reviews of Mr. [Ken] Salazar, 53, a first-term Democratic senator who served as head of Colorado's natural resources department and the state's attorney general. He was not the first choice of environmentalists, who openly pushed the appointment of Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona, who has a strong record as a conservationist. Oil and mining interests praised Mr. Salazar's record as a state official and as a senator, saying that he was not doctrinaire about the use of public lands for resource exploitation. 'Nothing in his record suggests he's an ideologue,' said Luke Popovich, spokesman for the National Mining Association. 'Here's a man who understands the issues, is open-minded and can see at least two sides of an issue.'"

Washington Post, "The Obama Speechwriter: Helping to Write History": "The job requires him to work unnoticed, even in plain view, so Jon Favreau settles into a wooden chair at a busy Starbucks in the center of Penn Quarter. Deadline looms, and he needs to write at least half a page by the end of the day. As the espresso machines whir, Favreau opens his laptop, calls up a document titled 'rough draft of inaugural' and goes to work on the most anticipated speech of Barack Obama's life. During the campaign, the buzz-cut 27-year-old at the corner table helped write and edit some of the most memorable speeches of any recent presidential candidate. When Obama moves to the White House next month, Favreau will join his staff as the youngest person ever to be selected as chief speechwriter. He helps shape almost every word Obama says, yet the two men have formed a concert so harmonized that Favreau's own voice disappears."

CLINTON'S SENATE SEAT / CAROLINE KENNEDY

NY Times, "Kennedy, Touring Upstate, Gets Less and Less Low-Key": "Wednesday's dash down Interstate 90 appeared to be a first stab at getting skeptical upstate voters used to the idea of being represented in Washington by yet another downstater... She met mostly behind closed doors, in meetings with mayors, union officials and other leaders at each stop...In her brief public appearances, Ms. Kennedy remained circumspect, speaking to reporters in her soft, slightly plummy tones, with an expression suggesting amusement at all the attention she was receiving. But at times she seemed jolted, as when she was asked what her qualifications were to hold office. Ms. Kennedy's tour reflected the delicacy of the situation she faces... With no prior experience in elected office, Ms. Kennedy is setting out to demonstrate that she is ready to handle the rigors of New York politics. Yet her allies fear that to appear to campaign openly would appear presumptuous and provoke Mr. Paterson, who had already signaled his worry, before Ms. Kennedy made her interest clear on Monday, that the jockeying over who would succeed Mrs. Clinton had become undignified... That has left Ms. Kennedy looking for a way to showcase her accomplishments while not appearing to campaign. So no platform. No Web site. Just a long series of conversations with elected officials and other influential people — whose opinion of her readiness, or not, will no doubt filter back to Mr. Paterson. (Nearly all of them appeared to be Democrats; she met with no Republicans on Wednesday.) While she appeared to be received warmly at each stop, it was not clear how many hearts Ms. Kennedy had won by day's end."

LA Times, "Caroline Kennedy: This isn't her father's Camelot": "Could this be an episode of 'Family Feud,' New York style? The contestants: Clintons, Kennedys and Cuomos, America's most famous Democratic dynasties. The prize they're sniffing around: a U.S. Senate seat, soon to be vacated by Hillary Rodham Clinton. This week, Caroline Kennedy made it clear that she, like Andrew Cuomo, wants Clinton's spot after the senator ascends to secretary of State. Famously press-shy, Kennedy created a political spectacle -- part civics, part soap opera and, for its audience worldwide, utterly captivating. But first the back story for this saga of ambition, divorce and betrayal: Kennedy's cousin was once married to Cuomo, and it ended badly. Kennedy and her uncle Ted once endorsed Clinton's opponent (a.k.a. Barack Obama) and, well, for Clinton that ended badly. Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, and Cuomo's dad, former New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, clashed as far back as five presidential campaigns ago -- and apparently some of that enmity still lingers. To cite Andrew Cuomo's daughter, as quoted by her mom this week on the 'Today' show: 'This is very awkward.'"

Syracuse Post-Standard, "Caroline Kennedy's Upstate Challenge": "Ten things Caroline Kennedy must do before she can say, 'Ich bin ein Upstater!' thus proving herself worthy of representing all of New York: 1. At the State Fair, devour an entire sausage sandwich with onions and peppers. (Note: Knife and fork not allowed.) 2. Attend a Buffalo Bills game in sub-zero weather. (Face paint optional.)..."

NY Times, "Mayor's Aide Pushes Hard for Kennedy": "When a powerful labor leader picked up the phone this week, he was surprised to hear the voice of a top aide to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York. The aide, Kevin Sheekey, a deputy mayor, made it clear: Caroline Kennedy is going to be the next senator from New York, 'so get on board now,' according to a person with direct knowledge of the call. As Ms. Kennedy's unusual campaign for the seat takes shape, the mayor's top political strategist is pushing hard behind the scenes for her, with Mr. Bloomberg's blessing. The involvement has helped immediately elevate and coordinate the debut of Ms. Kennedy, who lacked an experienced political staff of her own. But now, it is setting off a backlash among some Democrats who see in her well-orchestrated emergence the same message of inevitability and entitlement that surrounded Mr. Bloomberg's successful bid for a third term — a campaign overseen by Mr. Sheekey. They worry that the Bloomberg administration's advocacy for Ms. Kennedy will only reinforce her image as a privileged Upper East Sider whose biggest base of support is from Manhattan's exclusive social set."

Politico, "King: 'No evidence' Kennedy is qualified": "Republican Rep. Peter King of New York said Wednesday that there is 'no evidence' that Caroline Kennedy is qualified to fill Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate seat. 'The fact is, she has a well-known name. Her face has been in a lot of magazines. But, she has very limited involvement in the public sphere,' King said during an interview on CNN's 'Situation Room.' 'She has led, I believe, a life which is separate from what most New Yorkers do.' King, who announced interest in the seat this week, targeted Kennedy's upbringing, painting her as out of touch. 'I don't know if she's ever had to worry about mortgage payments or worry about working her way through school. Or any of those things that day-to-day New Yorkers are going to face with the economic crisis we have,' King said.' 'There's no evidence that she's qualified,' he added."

NY Times' Gail Collins, "Send in the Celebrities": "My biggest concern about the Kennedy-for-senate boom is that the whole idea sounds as if it had been inspired by telephone conversations between Caroline and her Uncle Ted, followed by encouraging calls from her cousin Robert. We should always be leery of plans that develop during excited phone calls among family members. I remember a time when my sisters and I got extremely enthusiastic about renting a stretch limo at Christmastime and taking everybody on a tour of the holiday lights of Cincinnati. It turned out that unlike fireworks, Christmas lights work best in small doses, unless you have an unlimited appetite for viewing blowup replicas of the Nativity."

BLAGOJEVICH

Wall Street Journal, "Prospects Fade for Quick Ouster of Blagojevich": "Chances that Illinois would swiftly oust its governor faded Wednesday. The combative new lawyer for Gov. Rod Blagojevich arrived at the state capitol with a host of objections to the impeachment process just getting under way. Committee members themselves at times seemed unsure about how to proceed. And the state Supreme Court declined to hear a motion by state Attorney General Lisa Madigan to rule that the governor was unfit to serve. 'I don't think it's realistic that this is going to get done' anytime soon, says Kent Redfield, professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield."

NY Times, "Illinois Court Won't Hear Plea to Oust Blagojevich": "Without comment, the court denied an emergency request from Lisa Madigan, the state's attorney general, to consider removing Mr. Blagojevich from office as well as a motion for a temporary restraining order that would have immediately stripped Mr. Blagojevich of many of his powers, including the authority to appoint someone to fill the United States Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. The ruling stirred consternation among some lawmakers here, many of whom had seen the request to the court as the fastest, straightest route to Mr. Blagojevich's departure, even if a bit of a long shot. The court's decision drew new questions about how and when the Senate seat might now be filled, as Republican lawmakers called, once again, for a special election. It also increased pressure on the House committee here that is trying to conduct an impeachment investigation — with impeachment now apparently the only alternative left, short of Mr. Blagojevich stepping down."

Chicago Sun-Times, "Feds seek to freeze Blago campaign fund, sources say": "Federal authorities plan to freeze Gov. Blagojevich's campaign fund, crippling the governor's ability to use the money for his legal bills. In a letter this week, they put the Blagojevich camp on notice they intend to freeze the money, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times... The 'Friends of Blagojevich' fund hasn't been frozen yet, but sources said the letter alone will have a crippling effect on the governor's ability to move money out of the fund because of the possibility that prosecutors would later seize the money. As of June 30, the date of his latest campaign-finance report, Blagojevich had about $3.6 million in his campaign war chest. He's been on a major fund-raising swing since then, though any money he's raised might already have been spent on legal fees or other expenses."

OBAMA ADMINISTRATION

NY Times, "Generals Propose a Timetable for Iraq" "A new military plan for troop withdrawals from Iraq that was described in broad terms this week to President-elect Barack Obama falls short of the 16-month timetable Mr. Obama outlined during his election campaign, United States military officials said Wednesday. The plan was proposed by the top American commanders responsible for Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus and Gen. Ray Odierno, and it represents their first recommendation on troop withdrawals under an Obama presidency. While Mr. Obama has said he will seek advice from his commanders, their resistance to a faster drawdown could present the new president with a tough political choice between overruling his generals or backing away from his goal. The plan, completed last week, envisions withdrawing two more brigades, or some 7,000 to 8,000 troops, from Iraq in the first six months of 2009, the military officials said. But that would leave 12 combat brigades in Iraq by June 2009, and while declining to be more specific, the officials made clear that the withdrawal of all combat forces under the generals' recommendations would not come until some time after May 2010, Mr. Obama's target. Transition officials said the plan was described in only general terms to Mr. Obama by Robert M. Gates, who is staying on as defense secretary, and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when Mr. Obama met for five and a half hours with his national security team on Monday in Chicago. They said all participants had sidestepped the details of how to reconcile Mr. Obama's timetable for withdrawing combat forces with the more extended one recommended by the generals. A transition official said that in future meetings, 'the military will get a chance to articulate their preferences.'... Mr. Obama apparently did not ask Mr. Gates or Admiral Mullen for specifics on withdrawals, according to people briefed on the discussions. "There was not challenging or questioning of any particular timetable,' a transition official said. "There wasn't a point on which there was any pushback from either side.'"

Bloomberg News, "Obama May Seek a Stimulus Plan Exceeding $850 Billion": "Obama's transition team believes the amount, about 6 percent of the U.S.'s $14 trillion economy, is needed to reverse rising unemployment, said the adviser, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The sum would exceed initial estimates by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, as well as surpassing what some economists and the International Monetary Fund say is required. The latest proposal is circulating in Congress as Obama's advisers work with lawmakers to craft a package aimed at improving roads, bridges and other parts of the U.S.'s crumbling infrastructure. The plan probably will also include state aid for unemployment and health-care programs and incentives such as tax credits to promote renewable energy production, lawmakers have said."

Washington Post, "Obama Administration Diplomacy Off to a Quiet Start": "Conversations this week with a senior diplomat from a major European country, a Middle Eastern ambassador and an Asian ambassador revealed a common angst: Barack Obama's folks aren't talking. All three diplomats are getting constant messages from their home offices wondering what's going on, and all three said they feel worthless having to respond that they still can't get a meeting. And we are not talking minor players here. These are all major, big-league countries, our colleague Glenn Kessler reports."

Christian Science Monitor, "For Obama, split looms over education reform"

Wall Street Journal's Karl Rove, "Organizing the White House Is Obama's First Test": "As he organizes his presidency, Barack Obama continues to receive glowing reviews. Three out of four Americans approve of how he's handling his transition. But organizing and operating the White House will be a much bigger challenge than he can possibly yet understand."

INAUGURATION

Washington Post, "Star-Gazing Forseen at the Inaugural Balls": "Forget the millions on Metro, and the bus caravans inching in from beyond the Beltway. Barack Obama's inauguration is destined to create the greatest red-carpet gridlock in the history of the Federal City. Oprah at the Kennedy Center. Yo-Yo Ma at the swearing-in. Sting at the Harman Center. Consider all the stars circling The One: Aretha Franklin, Spike Lee, Melissa Etheridge, Lou Gossett Jr., Ashley Judd, Dick Gregory, LL Cool J and T.I., for starters. And the rumor mill is loudly buzzing that Bruce Springsteen (and his new album), Kanye West and Will.I.Am just might drop by. That doesn't count all those waiting for his people to call their people: A bunch of really big names aren't announcing their plans because they're hoping the Obamas want them at an official inaugural event. "If they need me to volunteer, they need me to sing, I'm there, and I'm ready," Beyoncé shamelessly hinted to reporters the day after the election... The Presidential Inaugural Committee hasn't released the names of any celebrities attending official events, and probably won't until after the New Year. Yesterday, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies said Aretha Franklin, Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma will perform at the swearing-in ceremony. No chance for tickets there (unless you're "political"), but no worries -- you can see them on television. (Franklin also is giving a free concert at the Kennedy Center on Martin Luther King Day, and those tickets will be available that afternoon at the venue.)"

Politico, "Gay leaders furious with Obama": "Barack Obama's choice of a prominent evangelical minister to deliver the invocation at his inauguration is a conciliatory gesture toward social conservatives who opposed him in November, but it is drawing fierce challenges from a gay rights movement that – in the wake of a gay marriage ban in California – is looking for a fight. Rick Warren, the senior pastor of Saddleback Church in southern California, opposes abortion rights but has taken more liberal stances on the government role in fighting poverty, and backed away from other evangelicals' staunch support for economic conservatism. But it's his support for the California constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage that drew the most heated criticism from Democrats Wednesday."

MINNESOTA SENATE RACE

CQ Politics, "Hopes Dim for Settling Minnesota Senate Race by Friday"

ALSO:

USA Today, "What kind of first lady will Michelle Obama be?":" You could call it 'Obamalot.' That makes some sense. The incoming presidential couple, Barack and Michelle Obama, bear superficial similarities to John and Jacqueline Kennedy of the 1960s "Camelot" White House — charisma, vigor, her fondness for sheath dresses, for instance. But maybe the most obvious similarity is that many Americans are as excited and curious about her as they are about him. 'People will be riveted,' predicts Donna Brazile, Democratic strategist and CNN analyst. 'She is going to set a record in the amount of attention she will receive.'"

U.S. News and World Report, "Sarah Palin's To-Do List if She Wants to Run for President in 2012": "'She's still a hot property, but she needs to put a system together. She doesn't have much in the way of political infrastructure up there [in Alaska]. It will be interesting to see how she allocates her time.' Another senior Republican who advised presidential nominee John McCain this year said, 'She needs to focus on being a good governor. If she is going to be a national figure, she needs to be known for her reform work in Alaska.'"

Politico, "Politico's guide to the RNC chair race"

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