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Transition Today – Wednesday, Dec. 31, 2008

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

President-elect OBAMA will ring in the New Year in Hawaii as he begins to wind down his holiday vacation with his family. Tuesday, Mr. Obama's transition office announced that he will move to Washington over the weekend. He and his family will live in an undisclosed D.C. hotel until Jan. 15, when the Obamas will move to Blair House, across the street from the White House – the traditional pre-inaugural accommodations for incoming presidents. Mr. Obama's daughters begin class at Sidwell Friends School on Monday; Mr. Obama himself will spend his time working with Congress on the stimulus package he's looking to sign after he's inaugurated on the 20th. Mr. Obama will also attend a lunch with President Bush and former Presidents Carter, Bush and Clinton at the White House next Wednesday.


(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Tuesday defiantly announced a replacement for Mr. Obama's vacant Senate seat: 71-year-old former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris, the first African-American to win statewide office in Illinois. Senate Democrats vowed not to seat Burris when they reconvene next Tuesday; Mr. Obama agreed with them. "Burris does not appear to have deep or longtime connections to Blagojevich, nor was he among the five candidates the governor and his top aide were heard discussing as potential appointees on FBI surveillance recordings, portions of which were included in criminal filings accusing the governor of several felonies. For the past decade, Burris has been a partner in a consulting firm and a law firm that have received some government work, mostly, he said, to ensure that the state government was complying with regulations requiring that a certain portion of its contracts are awarded to minority-owned businesses," writes Paul Kane in The Washington Post. This morning, Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., repeated his suggestion that racism might be a factor here – Burris is African-American and would be the only African-American in the U.S. Senate if he's seated. "All these folks opposed to Gov. Blagojevich, they need to take a chill pill," Rush said this morning on CBS' The Early Show. "The people of the state of Illinois should not be deprived of a representative in the U.S. Senate."

The New York Times, however, points out this might not be resolved as easily as the Senate refusing to seat Burris. "It is likely that the issue will end up in court," Carl Hulse writes in the Times. "Democrats said they were confident of their standing under Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution, which says 'each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own members.' On rare occasion, the Senate has denied seats to candidates whose election outcome was in doubt or who were caught up in corruption. Yet constitutional experts question the extent of that authority, particularly in light of a 1969 Supreme Court decision in the case of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. of New York. The court found that the House could not bar Mr. Powell, who had been accused of financial impropriety, if he met the constitutionally determined qualifications for age, citizenship and residency. 'I think the best reading of the text of the Constitution and the Powell case together is that the Senate has to seat Burris,' said Abner S. Greene, the Leonard F. Manning professor of law at Fordham University School of Law."

The Wall Street Journal's David Kesmodel and Douglas Belkin add, "The Senate has refused to seat just four members since direct elections were instituted for the chamber in 1913, said Donald Ritchie, a Senate historian. It takes a simple majority to refuse a seat under Senate rules, giving Democrats the power to block Mr. Burris from taking office. But legal scholars say that move may not withstand legal scrutiny if the issue went to court. Paul Sracic, a professor of constitutional law at Youngstown State University, said a 1969 Supreme Court ruling 'is pretty clear that when judging the qualifications of members, each house is limited to age, citizenship and residency qualifications.'"

Jonathan Martin and Carrie Budoff Brown write in Politico, "Barack Obama doesn't need this, not right now. Already, Obama's Hawaiian vacation has been interrupted by news of an Israeli incursion into Gaza. He faces a mounting economic crisis even before he takes office. And now, just as Obama was starting to distance himself from the machinations over filling his Senate seat, Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's surprise pick is dragging him back in to the home-state mess – along with the kind of hard-edged racial politics Obama tries to avoid."

Ray Long and Rick Pearson give a little insight on Burris in the LA Times: "Burris served three terms as Illinois comptroller from 1979 to 1991, and was then elected state attorney general. He ran an unsuccessful race to dislodge Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and failed three times in bids for governor, including a 2002 primary loss to Blagojevich. He last held state office in 1995.
Burris' terms in office largely are remembered for a steady-as-he-goes approach, and he is not known for emotional or uncompromising political stances. During his 16 years as a state official, Burris' image was of a friendly, hardworking official with a bit of an ego, the Associated Press reported. He often talked about himself in the third person, saying, 'Roland Burris thinks this,' and 'Roland Burris will do that.' He named his son Roland II and his daughter Rolanda Sue. ... Burris has given more than $20,000 to Blagojevich's campaign fund on his own and through his consulting and law firms, state campaign finance records show. Burris' consulting company also received about $290,000 in state contracts with the Illinois Department of Transportation a few years ago, according to state comptroller records. Burris has built a mausoleum for himself in Oak Woods Cemetery on Chicago's South Side. Carved under the words 'TRAIL BLAZER' is a long list of accomplishments, to which he had hoped to add 'first black governor in Illinois history.' Given the surprise decision by Blagojevich to appoint Burris to Obama's vacated seat, he may be able to fill that space with a new title: U.S. senator."

On another note, it seems that Burris, a lobbyist, appears to not be in compliance with federal lobbying laws. "In April, Burris & Lebed Consulting registered with Congress to lobby the federal government on behalf of MicroSun Technologies on defense, manufacturing and science issues — with Burris listed as one of the three lobbyists," writes Alex Knott in CQ Politics. "The required second- and third-quarter reports detailing how much Burris and his two colleagues were paid are not available for examination on Senate and House Web sites. Nor are there campaign contribution reports required twice a year of all lobbyists."

The Washington Post's Michael D. Shear looks at "Obama's 'One President' Gambit": "When it comes to repairing the faltering U.S. economy, Barack Obama offers vision, numbers and detail. But as Israeli bombs and Palestinian rockets explode in the Middle East, the president-elect has responded with silence. With 20 days until he takes office, Obama is likely to encounter a region reshaped by new violence once he becomes commander in chief. But he has refused to engage in diplomatic conversation before then, insisting that to do so would undermine President Bush. 'President-elect Obama is closely monitoring global events, including the situation in Gaza, but there is one president at a time,' said Brooke Anderson, Obama's national security spokeswoman. But while the 'one president' philosophy has kept Obama mum on emerging foreign policy crises since the Nov. 4 election, he has abandoned it when it comes to the economy, talking at great length and in great detail about his plans for the nation's financial recovery. Obama -- and the usually loquacious Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. -- are deferential to Bush on international affairs. Meanwhile, they have all but taken over from the current White House occupant the job of designing an economic rescue, declaring weeks ago that 'work starts today.' The difference offers a glimpse into Obama's careful governing style, in which the 44th president and his team weigh the risks of action against the political advantages of doing or saying nothing."

Peter Nicholas points out in the LA Times, "Obama plans to campaign for economic stimulus package": "By mounting an aggressive public relations campaign, Obama may be seen as bypassing the GOP en route to a major legislative victory. For a new president who promised bipartisanship, Obama's methods could leave Republicans feeling isolated and marginalized. Republicans, who seem convinced that the stimulus bill will ultimately pass, want it steered onto a slower track so they have more time to evaluate it with a view toward rooting out pork-barrel projects. That can't happen if a bill is sent to Obama for his signature on Jan. 20 or shortly thereafter, Republican leaders cautioned. Republicans also want Obama to consult them in crafting the bill -- something they contend hasn't happened yet. 'They've not contacted us about putting together this package,' said Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). Obama doesn't want to see his first legislative initiative bog down in partisan infighting. So he will quickly strive to shape public opinion, casting the substantial stimulus package as crucial to the nation's recovery."

But the Wall Street Journal's Naftavi Bendavid points out, "Democrats Are Concerned Over Stimulus Plan Delays": "Democratic leaders are increasingly concerned that they won't be able to offer an economic stimulus package for congressional debate until late January because they haven't received a plan from President-elect Barack Obama's transition team. Democrats initially had hoped to unveil details of the economic recovery package this week and to pass it by Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, so it would be ready for Mr. Obama's signature soon after his swearing-in. Estimates are that the plan will call for spending as much as $850 billion over two years. 'The weak economy demands quick action, and that is our intention,' House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) said in an interview Tuesday. 'But significant work remains to be done. We need to do this right and make wise investments, plus members and the public need time to review it. So the timing very well may slip.'"

The Hill's Sam Youngman reports, "Obama dismisses Bush Pentagon appointees": "Despite keeping Defense Secretary Robert Gates in the Pentagon, President-elect Obama's transition team informed 90 Bush appointees their services will not be needed after Inauguration Day. Scott Gration, a senior official on Obama's transition team, called and emailed several of President Bush's Pentagon appointees about 10 days ago to inform them they were being dismissed. Those calls and emails were followed up by an email from Jim O'Beirne, the special assistant to the secretary of defense for White House liaisons, who expressed exasperation that Gration informed the employees directly instead of letting O'Beirne's office know first. ... Traditionally political appointees resign at the end of a president's term, leaving the new commander in chief to put his own team in place but with Gates staying in the top Pentagon job there was reason to believe many of his staff would also stay."

Nicholas Confessore and Jeremy W. Peters write in the New York Times, "For Kennedy, Self-Promotion is Unfamiliar": "[A]fter a lifetime of being wooed by others — to speak at events, to write books, to lend her aura of celebrity and glamour to this or that cause — it seems clear that Ms. Kennedy is still finding her stride in what is, for her, a kind of reverse challenge: selling herself. Interviews with more than a dozen people who have met or spoken with her in recent weeks reveal a fairly uniform portrait of the private Ms. Kennedy in her first turn as a very public woman. Most described her as courteous but reticent, unfailingly gracious but not exactly passionate."

The Associated Press's Jennifer Peltz writes that Kennedy's habit of saying "you know" – a lot – while speaking is garnering her a lot of negative attention: "If Caroline Kennedy had, you know, only known. Tracking the would-be New York senator's verbal tics has become a political parlor game in the days since she gave her first round of in-depth interviews, even spawning a hip-hop-style mash-up online blending her 'you knows' with President-elect Barack Obama's 'uhs.' Such conversational fillers are, of course, as common as, like, speech itself. But the buzz about Kennedy's 'you knows' illustrates how problematic a few extraneous syllables can be for a public figure, especially in an era when today's verbal foible is tomorrow's viral video."

Democratic Senate candidate Al Franken still clings to a small lead, write Pat Doyle, Mike Kaszuba, Kevin Duchschere and Larry Oakes in the Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Canvassing Board nudges Franken's lead up to 49"

The Washington Post's Jerry Markon reports on Vicki Iseman – the lobbyist who it was suggested in a New York Times article last year might have had an affair with Sen. John McCain. She filed a $27 million defamation suit against the Times yesterday.

Florida Republican Party chairman Jim Greer is "considering" running for the Republican National Committee chairmanship, reports Reid Wilson in The Hill. "Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer is once again considering a bid to head the national committee in the wake of the scandal surrounding Chip Saltsman and the 'Barack the Magic Negro' parody. In a statement, Greer criticized Saltsman, the chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, for sending a CD that included the song as a Christmas present to Republican National Committee members. He also offered support for those RNC candidates who have criticized Saltsman."

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