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Transition Today – Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2008

President-elect Obama holds a news conference at 11:45am ET today in Chicago to unveil his nominees for Interior Secretary and Agriculture Secretary. CBS News has confirmed that Mr. Obama has chosen Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., for Interior and former Gov. Tom Vilsack, D-Iowa, for Agriculture. Vice President-elect Biden is in Delaware and has no public events scheduled.

OBAMA & BLAGOJEVICH

Newsweek's Howard Fineman, "The Blago Distraction": "Political pros know that the best time of the year in which to bury a scandal is Christmas week. People are busy. Reporters are on vacation. Almost no one is watching the news. So perhaps you can excuse me for being a little suspicious about a recent announcement from Barack Obama's office. It said that he would release an internal report about his team's contacts with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich—the man the Feds allege is a one-man influence-peddling crime spree—in 'the week of Dec. 22.' I'm betting on Boxing Day, Friday, Dec. 26. Or maybe at 5 p.m. on Christmas Eve... Obama has said, publicly and repeatedly, that he is sure that no one on his staff did anything wrong. Emanuel, according to reports, has hired a lawyer to help him deal with the Feds—a prudent move—though Obama's staff won't confirm that or even identify the attorney. A source in the Obama inner circle told me Tuesday that Emanuel is on legally safe ground '100 percent.' Emanuel's famously foul-mouthed style may be heard, but that will do nothing more than 'authenticate the tapes,' said the source, who declined to be quoted because he was commenting about an ongoing legal matter... Still, however justifiable the silence and caution, Emanuel (and, by extension, Obama) could pay a price for both as the Chicago mess simmers on. Emanuel already has blown up at members of the Chicago press corps—a newspaper reporter and a cameraman. Obama's transition team, eager to show its openness and focus on naming cabinet nominees, has been forced to spend day after day dealing with the Blago story. There's too much focus on Emanuel, whose naturally abrasive personality clashes with his boss's cool demeanor. And Republicans are now piling on Emanuel—and are likely to continue to do so. At this point, there seems little doubt that Emanuel will survive, and will take his place on Jan. 20 as chief of staff in the Oval Office. But he is already a bigger story than is good for either him or his boss—and delay, however legally justified, just makes it bigger. We'll know more next week—at least those of us who are paying attention."


MORE BLAGO

Washington Post, "Rep.Jackson Said to Have Reported Blagojevich Request": "Rep. Jesse L. Jackson Jr. (D-Ill.) told federal investigators that Gov. Rod Blagojevich asked for a $25,000 campaign contribution during Blagojevich's 2002 run for governor and may have exacted retribution when the money did not arrive, a political source close to Jackson said Tuesday. After Blagojevich (D) won, he considered and rejected Jackson's wife, Sandi, for the job of state lottery director, the source said. Later, the governor saw Rep. Jackson at an event in Washington and, according to the source, told him he bet Jackson regretted not paying up."

NY Times, "Aide Says Jackson Approached Investigators on Corruption"

Wall Street Journal, "Lawmakers Reject Election for Illinois Senate Seat": "State Democrats slammed the door Tuesday on a special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama, reversing earlier calls for a vote and ending a rare sense of statewide bipartisanship that followed Gov. Rod Blagojevich's arrest last week."

NY Times, "Impeachment Inquiry Hits Bumps in Illinois"

Time Magazine, "Pat Quinn: "The Man Who Would Replace Blagojevich": "In a state so plagued by cronyism and shady self-dealing that the head of the FBI here didn't hesitate to call Illinois one of the — if not the — most corrupt states in the nation, Lieut. Governor Pat Quinn is considered something of a Goody Two-Shoes. Responsible for slashing the size of the state legislature, he has been booed by legislators on the capitol floor. He keeps a minimal staff and is said to charge $75 a ticket for fundraisers — at a time when entry to most is well into the hundreds if not thousands of dollars. The former tax attorney and divorced father of two started a citizens' oversight board for the state's utilities. His populist sympathies even led him to support a bill last year that would have allowed citizens to use recall campaigns to boot politicians from office... By most accounts, Quinn hasn't even spoken to Blagojevich — with whom he was twice elected, in 2002 and 2006 — in more than a year. At one point, as Quinn was pressing the governor over taxes and electricity rates, Blagojevich said Quinn was no longer a part of his administration. 'Quinn is known as a gadfly,' Blagojevich told a radio station last year. 'That's one of his charming qualities.'"

TRANSITION

CBS News has learned that Mr. Obama has selected former Gov. Tom Vilsack, D-Iowa, to be Agriculture Secretary.

Politico, "Obama chooses Vilsack for Agriculture"

The Hill, "Rep. Becerra turns down Obama job": "Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) will remain in Congress as vice chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and will not join the Obama administration as its lead trade negotiator, Becerra announced Tuesday. Becerra said working for Obama would have been 'an opportunity of a lifetime,' but decided to decline the post after negotiations with Obama's transition team."

NY Times, "Bush Prepares Crisis Briefings to Aid Obama": "The White House has prepared more than a dozen contingency plans to help guide President-elect Barack Obama if an international crisis erupts in the opening days of his administration, part of an elaborate operation devised to smooth the first transition of power since Sept. 11, 2001. The memorandums envision a variety of volatile possibilities, like a North Korean nuclear explosion, a cyberattack on American computer systems, a terrorist strike on United States facilities overseas or a fresh outbreak of instability in the Middle East, according to people briefed on them. Each then outlines options for Mr. Obama to consider. The contingency planning goes beyond what other administrations have done, with President Bush and Mr. Obama vowing to work in tandem to ensure a more efficient transition in a time of war and terrorist threat."

Wall Street Journal, "Obama's Search for Intelligence Picks Faces Delays": "Obama advisers as recently as last week were soliciting recommendations for both jobs from allies in intelligence circles, suggesting that the Obama team is still deliberating over its picks, former intelligence officials said. In addition to stepping up efforts in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr. Obama wants to tackle some of the tougher intelligence issues that the Bush administration hasn't resolved. Two former intelligence officials said the Obama team is weighing whether to propose the creation of a domestic intelligence agency. Another idea under study is creating a White House office to handle cybersecurity, a growing national-security problem. One issue that affects the intelligence picks is whether the top jobs should go to military officers. Some intelligence professionals and lawmakers protested when President George W. Bush nominated Mr. McConnell, a retired admiral, as his director of national intelligence along with CIA director Michael Hayden, who was a four-star general. CIA officers say the military is too focused on tactical intelligence and favors hardware over human spycraft. Soldiers say that civilian spies play too fast and loose with rules and don't know how to manage organizations."

Wall Street Journal, "Obama Works to Overhaul TARP": "On Tuesday, members of President-elect Barack Obama's economic team briefed Mr. Obama on ways to address the financial crisis and also on plans for an economic-stimulus package. While Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has seized on equity investments in banks as Treasury's primary mechanism to help resolve the financial crisis, the Obama team is developing a broader approach that would likely incorporate multiple remedies. The new administration is 'trying to put components together that...will be complementary...while recognizing there's no easy answer,' said a person familiar with its plans. The Obama team, hoping to avoid the criticism leveled at Mr. Paulson by lawmakers that he lacks a consistent strategy, is also working to come up with a way to cogently explain the rationale behind its approach. One key distinction will be in the approach to helping homeowners facing foreclosure. Mr. Paulson and the White House have resisted calls to embark on a government rescue of homeowners. The Obama team, by contrast, sees that as a critical leg of its financial-crisis rescue plan, people familiar with the matter said."

NY Times, "Obama's $10 Billion Promise Stirs Hope in Early Education": "[T]he $10 billion Mr. Obama has pledged for early childhood education would amount to the largest new federal initiative for young children since Head Start began in 1965. Now, Head Start is a $7 billion federal program serving about 900,000 preschoolers. 'People are absolutely ecstatic,' said Cornelia Grumman, executive director of the First Five Years Fund, an advocacy group. 'Some people seem to think the Great Society is upon us again.' Despite the recession, Mr. Obama has emphasized his interest in making strategic investments in early childhood education. Asked if the financial troubles might force him to scale back, Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the transition, said, 'We simply cannot afford to sideline key priorities like education.'"

Wall Street Journal, "Education Pick Backs Test-Heavy Regime": "One of Mr. Duncan's first tasks will be deciding what to do about the federal No Child Left Behind law, enacted in 2002, and now due for reauthorization. The statute, which has divided educators, requires all students to be proficient in math and reading by 2014. Schools that don't make adequate progress on tests measuring student achievement face sanctions. During his campaign, Mr. Obama said he favored helping troubled schools rather than punishing them. Asked about the law in Chicago yesterday, Mr. Duncan told reporters he thought the ideas behind the law make a lot of sense, adding that he plans to look at data to evaluate it. Mr. Duncan is also taking over at a time when the financial crisis is taking a toll on colleges. His approach to post-secondary education isn't well known."

Washington Post, "Education Pick Is Called 'Down-to-Earth' Leader"

The Hill, "GOP probes Holder role in Elian saga": "Senate Republicans have requested information about Attorney General nominee Eric Holder's role in the Elian Gonzalez controversy as part of a broad probe into his tenure with the Clinton administration and potential ties to presidential scandals during that era. Eight of nine GOP members on the Senate Judiciary Committee wrote Clinton Presidential Library Director Terry Garner on Thursday to ask for 10 categories of material, including any information on Holder's involvement with the Cuban boy seized by U.S. agents in April 2000."

Washington Post's Dana Milbank, "Obama's Pressers: No Comment – and NoDoz": "The opposition sees sinister motives in Obama's noncommittal ways. 'The guy is strategically soporiferous,' charges Stephen Hayes of the Weekly Standard. 'He's trying to be so boring that no one will notice that he has avoided taking a position on virtually every issue that we've seen arise over the past three months.' The charge may be premature. Obama has proved himself to be far more willing to take questions than Bush, and if he makes good on his promise to release the full account of his aides' Blagojevich ties -- even on Christmas Eve -- it will be a major improvement in transparency over the current administration. Still, it often seems as though Obama is choosing his words in a way that will make them the least interesting."

NY Times, "Insurers Seek Presence at Health Care Sessions": "When supporters of President-elect Barack Obama hold house parties to discuss ways of fixing the health care system over the next two weeks, they may find some unexpected guests. The health insurance industry is encouraging its employees and satisfied customers to attend. A trade group representing some of the nation's largest health care businesses, including drug companies, is organizing several meetings. The American Medical Association and other medical societies are encouraging doctors to get involved... The meetings, originally envisioned as a way to make good on Mr. Obama's commitment to 'health care reform that comes from the ground up,' could thus turn into living-room lobbying sessions involving some of the biggest stakeholders in the health care industry."

The Hill, "Obama charm offensive sways Republicans": "Republicans who spoke with Obama said that the president-elect has called them directly at various times during the day, clearly enunciating his name on voice mail as though they might somehow confuse him with someone else. Some of these Republicans, who are poised to represent their party on issues ranging from the economy to healthcare to homeland security, say it is the most aggressive outreach from an incoming president that they can remember."

Politico, "Obama's e-mails raise cash, concerns": "[T[he flurry of fundraising e-mails has some subscribers pleading for a break from the solicitations and has raised questions about whether Obama has figured out how to harness the power of his online network once in the White House. In the five weeks since Election Day, Obama's once-cohesive Web presence has fragmented into a jumble of sometimes disparate-feeling fundraising pitches, YouTube videos and calls for activism spread across three websites."

NY Times, "Obama Team Has Forged Another Link With Clintons": "It's official. The old Clinton gang really is back together again. Answering the phones these days for the co-chairman of President-elect Barack Obama's transition, John D. Podesta, is none other than Betty Currie. Emerging from retirement in southern Maryland to volunteer at Obama headquarters, Ms. Currie was the personal secretary to President Bill Clinton, who became caught up in an independent counsel investigation into his trysts with the White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Since leaving the White House, Ms. Currie, 69, has shied from publicity and kept a low profile in Hollywood, Md., where she lives with her husband, Bob, and Socks, the presidential cat, which she took with her after Mr. Clinton left office."

CLINTON'S SENATE SEAT / CAROLINE KENNEDY

NY Times, "As Privacy Ends for Kennedy, a Rough Path Awaits": "On the day Caroline Kennedy declared she wanted to succeed Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, one of the first people she called was the mayor of Buffalo. She told him she wanted to visit western New York. She told him she wanted to learn more about regional issues. The mayor, Byron W. Brown, said he would welcome her. But he had a message for Ms. Kennedy, too, offering her a preview of what her life is about to become: "I think upstaters are going to want an upstater on the ticket," he said. The decision by Ms. Kennedy to end a highly private existence and enter politics — New York politics, no less — presents what even her supporters acknowledge is a gamble on a carefully cultivated reputation for quiet competence and dignity established over the 45 years since her father was assassinated. She must overcome skepticism about her experience and credentials, and deflate what some Democrats view as a sense of entitlement by a member of a storied American political family trying to begin her political career near the top of the ladder. These concerns are coming into sharp relief as Ms. Kennedy begins an understated if carefully orchestrated rollout, with calls to political leaders early this week, and a trip upstate, including a private meeting with the mayor of Syracuse, on Wednesday."

Washington Post, "Friends Say Kennedy Has Long Wanted Public Role"

LA Times, "Caroline Kennedy launches Senate campaign": "In making his pick, a key consideration for [Gov. David] Paterson [D-N.Y.] is self-preservation. A former lieutenant governor, Paterson assumed New York's top job in March when Eliot Spitzer resigned in a prostitution scandal. Paterson is expected to seek reelection in 2010 on the same ticket as Clinton's successor. Paterson has heard from about 20 prospects who would like to succeed Clinton, assuming she is confirmed, as expected, as secretary of State in the Obama administration. The governor, who has sole discretion in making the pick, has said he would announce a selection after Clinton steps down, which is not likely until late January at the earliest."

OBAMA ADMINISTRATION

Time Magazine, "Obama Power Will Be in White House, Not Cabinet": "In the Bush Administration, accomplished and independent-minded Cabinet Secretaries like former governors Christine Todd Whitman and Tommy Thompson bristled at marching orders from snot-nosed twentysomething White House apparatchiks. Obama's picks suggest that while his Cabinet Secretaries will take marching orders, the orders will at least come from seasoned heavyweights."

USA Today, "Obama faces a crush of demands from interest groups": "Al Gore wants quick action on climate change. Sen. Edward Kennedy says health care reform can't wait. Labor unions want a bill making it easier to organize. The American Civil Liberties Union is calling for the immediate closure of the military's prison for foreign terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org urges a steady troop withdrawal from Iraq. The National Governors Association is pleading for billions in aid to states, pronto. And, by the way, Mr. President-elect, the American Lung Association would like you to make all federal work sites smoke-free. New administrations always face a cacophony of competing demands, but few presidents have been confronted with the sort of urgent and varied pleas being made to Barack Obama, amid two wars and the worst economic crisis in generations, says Anthony Badger, a University of Cambridge historian of American politics. After eight years of a Republican president whose central domestic policy was tax cuts, Americans who want a more activist government are aching to see their causes addressed. During the campaign, Obama told many of them just what they wanted to hear. The question now is which pledges Obama tackles first, which ones have to wait and which ones will survive contact with Congress and special interest groups in Washington."

Wall Street Journal, "Big Drilling Issues Await Salazar": "Despite falling oil prices, the Obama administration will have to readdress the drilling issue in the new year. Under pressure from voters whose budgets were hit hard by $4-a-gallon gasoline, Congress allowed a federal moratorium on offshore drilling to expire, paving the way for a new lease schedule unless lawmakers and the administration reinstate the ban."

Wall Street Journal, "Bush-Era Abortion Rules Face Possible Reversal": "The outgoing Bush administration this week will finalize a regulation establishing a 'right of conscience' allowing medical staff to refuse to participate in any practice they object to on moral grounds, including abortion but possibly birth control and other health care as well. In transition offices across town, officials in the incoming Obama administration have begun considering how and when to undo it. The regulation is one of a swath of abortion and other reproductive-health issues under review by the Obama team, which is preparing to reverse a variety of Bush measures, according to officials close to the transition. The review is part of a sweeping scrutiny of Bush-era legislation and regulation on issues across the federal government, from environmental and labor rules to defense spending."

INAUGURATION

Washington Post, "Inaugural 'Last Call' Moved Up": "D.C. bars and nightclubs will be allowed to serve alcohol until 4 a.m., not 5 a.m., during inauguration week after the D.C. Council voted last night to modestly scale back the emergency legislation it approved two weeks ago."

MINNESOTA SENATE RACE

NY Times, "In Minnesota Recount, Scribbles, Mice and Other Ballot Puzzles":" The Minnesota Canvassing Board — four distinguished judges and the secretary of state — huddled in a basement room here Tuesday to ponder the meaning of squiggles and stray marks on ballots, trying to solve the near deadlock in the Senate race between the incumbent Republican, Norm Coleman, and his Democratic challenger, the comedian Al Franken... The board was beginning the process of ruling, one ballot at a time, on perhaps 1,500 ballots that have been challenged by the two sides. Before the board began its work, fewer than 200 votes out of 2.9 million cast separated Mr. Coleman and Mr. Franken. Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said the panel hoped to complete its task by the end of Friday. But that will not settle the matter. Mr. Coleman is going to the State Supreme Court here on Wednesday in an effort to prevent 1,500 additional ballots from being counted. They were filed by absentee voters, and county election officials throughout the state have said they were incorrectly rejected."

Minneapolis Star-Tribune, "A bumpy road to Friday finish": "The odds that the state Canvassing Board can finish ruling on an estimated 1,500 challenged ballots by the end of Friday seemed in doubt Tuesday after the panel finished its first day getting through just over 10 percent of that number. But there were also some signs late Tuesday that it might still be possible. As the afternoon wore on, the five-member panel quickened its pace as it moved through challenges made by Democrat Al Franken's campaign during the recount. It also will be reviewing challenges from Republican Sen. Norm Coleman's campaign."

FUTURE RACES

Politico, "Dems scramble to replace Salazar"

ALSO:

Politico, "Nepotism Nation: Dems embrace dynasty politics": "Barack Obama's path to the presidency included beating what had been one of the nation's most powerful families. But, in an unusual twist, his election last month is helping accelerate the trend toward dynasty politics. His secretary of state will be Hillary Clinton, the wife of the former president. The Senate seat she'll vacate is being pursued by Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of a president and the niece of two senators. Joe Biden's Senate seat may go to his son Beau. Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar, Obama's pick for Interior Secretary, could end up being replaced by his brother, Rep. John Salazar. And Obama's own seat could go to the son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. – less likely now in light of developments in the Rod Blagojevich scandal – or to the daughter of Illinois' current House speaker."

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