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Blog Home Page --> January 2009

Live Updates From The RNC Chair Election

Five Republicans are vying today to be the next chairman of the Republican Party. With Democrats in power in the White House and both chambers of Congress, the party's new leader will be tasked with getting the GOP back on track. Check out our story today on the state of the Republican Party and its path forward.

We're at the RNC Winter Meeting in downtown Washington, and will provide live updates from what will most likely be a multi-ballot election:

4:08: "As a little boy growing up in this town, this is awesome," Steele said. "It's time for something completely different, and we're going to bring it to them."

4:03: Steele wins with 91 votes, becoming the new leader of the GOP.

3:44: The 6th ballots are now being distributed, but it appears as though the race is already over. Look for Steele to come out on top. He needs just six more votes (85 out of 168) to win, and it's likely Anuzis will give him well more than that.

3:30: Anuzis withdraws. "We've got two great people still running." And then there were two...

3:28: 5th ballot tally: Steele, 79; Dawson, 69; Anuzis, 20.

3:04: Blackwell withdraws, endorses Steele. "We're back on path to become the majority party again." The 5th ballots are now being distributed, with just three candidates remaining.

2:42: Dawson takes the lead. 4th ballot tally: Dawson, 62; Steele, 60; Anuzis, 31; Blackwell, 15.

2:24: Overheard: As ballots are being dropped in the box at the front of the room, in the back of the room one Duncan staffer says to a Steele staffer: "I know which way we're sending our people. We'll see if they listen."

2:20: Following Duncan's exit speech, one member asked for a second 15-minute recess before the fourth ballot. However, the restless voting members rejected the idea, as well as a follow-up five minute option. Ballots are now being distributed.

2:14: Duncan withdraws. "Obviously the winds of change are blowing at the RNC," Duncan said, as he withdrew his candidacy. He received a standing ovation.

1:42: The end for Duncan? Surging Dawson? One thing's for sure, there will almost certainly be five ballots.

1:38: 3rd ballot tally: Steele, 51; Duncan, 44; Dawson, 34; Anuzis, 24; Blackwell, 15.

12:56: 2nd ballot tally: Duncan, 48; Steele, 48; Dawson, 29; Anuzis, 24; Blackwell, 19.

12:30: Second ballots are now being passed out, as are boxed lunches. What takes the longest in the voting process is that all 168 members, called on by state, must walk up to the front of the room -- graduation style -- and drop their ballot in the box.

12:12: One RNC staffer to me: "If I'm Duncan, I would've held back some of my supporters on the first ballot, then had them switch their vote to me over the next few ballots to build momentum." Perhaps that's what he's doing?

12:08: First ballot tally: Duncan, 52 ; Steele, 46 ; Dawson, 28 ; Anuzis, 22; Blackwell, 20. 85 are needed to win.

12:02: Overheard: Steele supporters are organizing a mass cheer when Steele's vote total is announced. "Whether its 40 votes or 3 votes," one Steele aide said. Votes are currently being tabulated and candidates are schmoozing.

11:24: Candidates spotted by this reporter so far: Steele, sitting off to the side with legs crossed and chewing gum; Saul Anuzis, standing with arms crossed; Katon Dawson, sitting and typing on his BlackBerry. As state party chairs, Dawson and Anuzis will vote.

11:18: The first ballots are now being passed out to the 168 voting RNC members, as time expired for endorsement statements. Michael Steele's endorsers spoke last.

Romney: Stimulate Economy, Not Government

It's turning out to be quite a week for the future of the GOP. The party's Congressional delegation is feeling good after a unanimous "no" vote on President Obama's stimulus package. Votes are still being cast in the RNC chairman race. Gov. Sarah Palin is coming to town for the Alfalfa Club Dinner. And not to be overlooked, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney spoke this morning at the GOP Conference Retreat about 200 miles west of here in Hot Springs, Va.

According to remarks prepared for delivery, the former and likely future presidential candidate was to say that he was optimistic about the future of the party: "Our ideas are good, our agenda will make America stronger, and your action this week showed that we have the kind of leaders who will stand up for what they believe in." As for how the party recovers, Romney said: "My first concern isn't about our party--it's about our country."

He said he believes that stimulus is needed, but criticized the current legislation for the "huge increase in the amount of government borrowing." "We're on an economic tightrope. That's why it is so important to exercise extreme care and good judgment," he was to say. True stimulus would boost the economy, not government, he adds.

As for Obama, Romney said he wants him "to adopt correct principles and then to succeed." But he also dug at the new president, saying he "can't vote 'present.' He can't let others run the show. He has to say yes to some things and no to a lot of others."

You can read the full prepared draft here.

Obama: Economy A "Continuing Disaster" For Working Families

President Obama called new GDP figures evidence of a "continuing disaster for America's working families" as he took steps to strengthen the middle class and the labor movement - entities he said are indelibly linked.

"I do not view the labor movement as part of the problem. For me it's part of the solution," Obama said to applause at an event in the East Room this morning. "We need to level the playing field, for workers and the unions that represent their interests. Because we know that you cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement."

Obama signed executive orders that will make it easier for labor unions to promote themselves in the workplace, and favor contractors who employ union members. He also promoted a Middle Class Working Families Task Force, led by Vice President Joe Biden, that will be "targeted at raising the living standards of middle-class, working families in America," according to a White House release.

Biden, stepping up his profile in the second week of the administration, said that previous administrations have "failed to put the American middle class at the front and center of our economic policies," and excitedly said to an audience that included labor leaders, "Welcome back to the White House."

He also added yet another dig at his predecessor, promising the activities of his task force will be "fully transparent." "Which coming out of the Vice President's Office will be a bit unique," he said, as Obama grinned but nervously rubbed his hands beside him.

Noticeably absent from the announcement today was Hilda Solis, whose nomination to be Labor secretary is being blocked by Senate Republicans. A White House spokesperson said rules limit the activities of Cabinet designees in the White House, but said she would be part of Biden's task force when she's confirmed.

That task force will hold its first public meeting next month in Philadelphia, Biden announced, and will focus on "green jobs."

Strategy Memo: RNC Chair Election Today

Good Friday morning to you. Republicans pick a new leader today, while the President overturns some executive orders of the GOP's former leader.

**Secretary Gregg?
*Sen. Judd Gregg is being considered for Commerce Secretary, setting up the potential for Democrats to take their 60th Senate seat.

*The Union Leader's DiStaso: "Gregg is up for reelection in 2010 and Rep. Paul Hodes has already said he is seriously considering running against him. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter has been rumored to be considering a Senate run, but she has not commented on the possibility."

*Coincidentally, the NY Times had led with Gregg in a story about Republican senators being targeted by Obama and Democratic-friendly groups who are working the Senate stimulus vote.

**President Obama
*Obama today will overturn four Bush executive orders that were opposed by unions. "Labor leaders have been lobbying the Obama administration to repeal scores of executive orders they view as hostile to their cause. Officials gave administration officials their top 10 executive orders they wanted to see dismantled."

*Today Joe Biden steps up his profile a bit, with the launch of the middle class task force. He continues to sell the stimulus, and next week heads to Munich. WSJ: "The flurry of activity follows a first week marked by gaffes."

*Biden has an op-ed in USA Today on putting the middle class "front and center."

*Yesterday's Ledbetter event was also a bit of a coming out for Michelle Obama, who had some of her first public appearances as first lady.

*Washington Post looks at the army of lawyers working in the Obama White House, "who will help formulate and interpret legal policy in the new administration, signaling a dramatic departure from the legal approach and policies of Bush and his aides. The list includes heavy-hitters educated at some of the nation's most prestigious law schools, and many who were sharply critical of Bush administration policies on detention, prisoner treatment, surveillance and other issues."

*LA Times: "As Republicans fight President Obama's gargantuan economic plan, they have plenty of ideas. What they don't have is a party-wide consensus: They can't agree among themselves on the best alternative, or on whether government action is even needed to pull the economy from its nose dive."

*Obama's labor secretary pick is still being held up.

**RNC Winter Meeting
*No one seems to know who the next chairman of the Republican Party will be. But they'll soon find out -- voting takes place this afternoon at the RNC Winter Meeting, being held in downtown Washington. Five candidates are competing, with former Tennessee GOP Chair Chip Saltsman dropping out, though Michael Steele's camp says it's a two-man race between Steele and current Chairman Mike Duncan.

*Marc Ambinder reports on a survey that finds that young Republicans feel ignored by party leadership and prefer Steele.

**Congress
*National Journal's latest Congressional Insiders Poll finds that 68% of Republican members of Congress say it's not desirable to have significant GOP support for the economic stimulus bill, with one member stating: "This needs to be clearly a Democrat initiative so blame is clear when money is misspent." Also, more than 60% of both Democrat and Republican members of Congress believe the recession will last another one to two years.

*The Senate yesterday extended government-provided health insurance to four million more children than were covered under the current plan, known as SCHIP.

**Campaign Stuff
*"In what could be a preview of the 2012 presidential race," Obama and Palin will share a stage at the Alfalfa Club dinner; a member says Palin won't speak, though her spokesman said she would.

*The St. Pete Times looks at how the possibility of Gov. Charlie Crist running for Senate has kept the field frozen, for now. "The governor has expressed zero interest in running for Senate, his political advisers haven't given the slightest hint that he is looking at it, and even Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp told a group in Bonita Springs the other day that he expected he and Crist would run for re-election. But it's a testament to Crist's remarkable popularity in these remarkably rocky times for Florida that almost everybody thinks he'd walk away with the race if he got in."

*While Norm Coleman puts up a fight for his Senate seat, Al Franken has gone to Florida for vacation. "In a variety of subtle ways, the Franken campaign has tried to portray Franken's installation in the U.S. Senate as inevitable -- and the trial now taking place a formality that is Coleman's doing, not theirs."

*The NY Times profiles Delaware's temporary senator, who denies that he's just a placeholder for Beau Biden. "I don't get it. It's the opposite. I'm going to fill the seat for two years, and anybody that wants to run in 2010 can run. So how am I a placeholder? The people of Delaware should pick the person they want, and they will do that in 2010 because Governor Minner selected me and I'm not going to run then."

*Looks like members of Congress could all afford to chip in for the stimulus; the average net worth of the 535 members jumped by $1 million this year.

*Former NY Rangers goalie Mike Richter will not seek Kirsten Gillibrand¹s old seat.

**Blago No Mo'
*Rod Blagojevich was kicked out of office by the Illinois State Senate yesterday by unanimous vote. Pat Quinn, who served as lieutenant governor under Blago, now takes over.

*Quinn compared himself to Gerald Ford as he took office last night. "[Ford] pointed out that he was not elected by the ballots of the people, so he asked the people of America to confirm his office by their prayers, and I have the same request for the people of Illinois," Quinn said. "This is by far the most trying and difficult time in the history of our state."

*Obama's statement: "Today ends a painful episode for Illinois. For months, the state had been crippled by a crisis of leadership. Now that cloud has lifted. I wish Governor Quinn the best and pledge my full cooperation as he undertakes his new responsibilities."

**Sports Alert: Who ya got? Cardinals or Steelers? E-mail us and let us know.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Obama On Blago: End of a "Painful Episode"

The White House issues a statement from President Obama on Rod Blagojevich's removal from office:

"Today ends a painful episode for Illinois. For months, the state had been crippled by a crisis of leadership. Now that cloud has lifted. I wish Governor Quinn the best and pledge my full cooperation as he undertakes his new responsibilities."

Obama: "Now Is Not The Time" For Excessive Bonuses

President Obama, who called for a new era of responsibility in his inaugural address, spoke out strongly today about reports of excessive bonuses by the CEOs of companies who have received bailout funds and despite huge fiscal losses.

"That is the height of irresponsibility. It is shameful," the president said this afternoon after an Oval Office meeting with his economic team.

He said his administration will be "having conversations" with business leaders to underscore his desire to see them "start acting in a more responsible fashion."

"There will be time for them to make profits, and there will be time for them to get bonuses -- now is not that time. And that's a message that I intend to send directly to them," he said.

He noted that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner has already acted in the case of Citicorp, which had intended to purchase a corporate jet priced at about $50 million, despite receiving billions in TARP funds.

"We shouldn't have to do that because they should know better. And we will continue to send that message loud and clear," he said.

The president only briefly mentioned the stimulus vote, but did not comment at length about the lack of GOP support. He was, however, asked about the Super Bowl, indicating a preference for the Steelers on Sunday

McConnell Warns That GOP Becoming "Regional Party"

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke this afternoon at the Republican National Committee winter meeting, taking place this week in downtown Washington.

"The Republican Party seems to be slipping into a position of being more of a regional party than a national one," McConnell said. "In politics, there's a name for a regional party: it's called a minority party."

Much of McConnell's speech -- and the business of the day -- dealt with the state of the party and its path moving forward. The answer will be partially revealed here tomorrow, when the 168 RNC members will vote for a chairman to lead them.

-- Kyle Trygstad

Strategy Memo: Turning Up The Heat

Good morning, Washington, where you can vote against the president at 6 p.m. and have drinks with him at 8 p.m.

**Stimulus Vote
*All the focus this morning on the lack of GOP support in yesterday's first stimulus vote. "This was a bipartisan rejection of a partisan bill," House Minority Leader John Boehner said after the vote. "It is time for Capitol Hill Democrats to finally work with Republicans on a job-creation package that lets families and small businesses keep more of what they earn."

*Per the NY Daily News, GOP insiders said even if Senate Republicans toe the party line as their House colleagues did, many of them will eventually come around once the final version of the bill is crafted by merging House and Senate versions. With the economy in crisis, Republicans understand they'll be punished at the polls in 2010 if they're seen as obstructionists.

*White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on "Today": "This president is committed to reaching his hand out and working every day with people who want to work with him."

*But on the other hand, a group that includes labor unions and Moveon.org will release TV ads targeting Republican Senators on the stimulus package.

*A Republican wants to know if National Parks receive significant funds because their lobbyist just happens to be Budget Committee chair David Obey's son, Washington Times reports. Obey's spokesperson says no, and that the money was requested by Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA) and had wide support.

**President Obama
*Obama today will sign the Ledbetter Bill, then hold meetings at the White House with Hillary Clinton, Timothy Geithner, and VP Biden.

*It turns out the president "has not gone beyond a four-mile radius from the White House since his swearing-in." But with the economy a focus, advisers tell the Washington Post he's "likely to stay close to his new home for the foreseeable future." We do know he'll head to Canada next month, however.

*Biden is leading a more beefed up delegation to Germany next month; typically it's a job for the secretary of defense. "This is a break from tradition but one that the secretary thinks sends the perfect message to Europe that this new administration is committed at the highest levels to continue to work with our European allies on security matters," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told the AP.

*NY Times looks at the new, relaxed Oval Office dress code. No jackets, perhaps because Obama is cranking up the thermostat. "He's from Hawaii, O.K.?" David Axelrod said. More on his routine: "He reads several papers, eats breakfast with his family and helps pack his daughters ... off to school before making the 30-second commute downstairs. ... He eats dinner with his family, then often returns to work; aides have seen him in the Oval Office as late as 10 p.m., reading briefing papers for the next day."

*USA Today: Half of the Obama Cabinet are millionaires.

*Karl Rove notes that Obama's director of political affairs will be in the West Wing, not EEOB. "That's a sign of the importance of politics for Team Obama."

**Blagojevich Watch
*IL Gov. Rod Blagojevich will finally show at his impeachment trial today; it had been expected that a vote could come today. He'll get 90 minutes to make his case, per the Sun-Times.

*"I definitely plan to be in Springfield and I will be ready," Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn said.

**Politics Watch
*NoLimits.org, a non-profit and nonpartisan Web site being launched by some longtime Hillary Clinton supporters, could be a vehicle for her to come back to politics down the road.

*Sarah Palin talked to reporters yesterday about her new PAC, saying it was not a sign she's running for president. "No, not at all, not at all, no. It's helpful to have a PAC so that when I'm invited to things even like to speak at the Lincoln Day dinner in Fairbanks, to have a PAC pay for that instead of have the state pay for that because that could be considered quasi-political." She also said she's heading to DC soon "to meet with those who are making decisions for Alaska in the stimulus package."

*The Harvard Crimson agrees with Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.), who's pushing for Senate vacancies to be filled by special election only -- no more governor appointees.

**Minnesota Senate Watch
*In the third day of the Norm Coleman lawsuit, lawyers for Al Franken "sought to blunt Coleman's recent position that he is championing the counting of all valid votes while Franken is fighting to prevent it." A deputy secretary of state said that Coleman wasn't so eager to examine all absentee ballots when he had a lead in December.

Gibbs' Pitch: When Cornered, Play Ball

After just five briefings, the White House press corps has begun to pick up on some of Robert Gibbs' colloquialisms, cliches and go-to analogies. For instance, he's fond of saying he doesn't want to "prejudge" an ongoing process, or "get ahead" of an announcement to come from other White House officials.

Today, the press secretary was pressed on several elements of the recovery plan, mostly on the anticipated lack of Republican support. And he answered by stretching to the limits what he eventually admitted was a tortured baseball analogy. Here's the scorecard:

On allocations for programs like cessation programs, which some say aren't stimulative:

"There's a great tendency, and we've done this over the last few days in this room, to try to figure out what the score of the baseball game is after the third inning, okay? My team would probably be great if we stopped doing that."

On whether it's disappointing for President Obama that few Republicans were expected to vote for the bill despite his efforts to reach out:

"Again, I hesitate to call the game after the third inning. I hate to declare the winner. I hate to declare that -- I know we'll have analysis to write, but let's not stop after the third inning and tell us who won in the ninth."

On whether certain allocations might be cut back during the legislative process:

"I think this largely proves my somewhat maybe possibly weak baseball analogy that, again, this is a -- if the vote is happening in the third inning, we've still got six more innings to go."

At this point, the press took the pitch and swung back, reminding Gibbs that, "They keep score each inning." Here's where the analogy gets ugly:

"They do. They do. But they don't declare winners -- you get up and stretch at one point during the game and there's a man that says you can't buy beer after a certain time. But the umpire doesn't declare the game over except for one point in the game. (Laughter.) So I guess I would stress that even if you get up to stretch and buy beer, they only call one winner. So let's hope that that one winner is the American people because both teams have worked together."

But it wasn't over just yet. Toward the end of the briefing, Gibbs was asked for his reaction to the removal of funding for the DC Mall, after he strongly defended it yesterday. A lesson learned, Gibbs said:

"I think it demonstrates the perils of playing umpire in the third inning."

We'll see how long this plays out.

Dems Cheer Vote, GOP Cheers Moral Victory

The House passed H.R. 1, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, on a 244-188 roll call vote. There are only 178 Republicans in the House -- and one didn't vote -- meaning 11 Democrats crossed over and voted against the Democrat-written bill.

Not one Republican voted for the bill, despite President Obama's efforts to include them in the process. Republicans offered their own stimulus bill, which they said would create twice as many jobs, though it failed on a 266-170 vote shortly before the Democrats' bill passed.

"This bill we're about to vote on is not good enough," Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) said hours before the vote. "If this were a bipartisan effort, we could've had a better outcome."

At a Democratic press conference earlier in the afternoon, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) defended the bill against Republican criticism. "The opposition to this bill can speak out against this recovery plan all they want," Hoyer said. "But their policies have not worked. And Americans voted for change. They voted for a new direction. That's what we're going to get. "

Republicans let out a moral-victory cheer as voting ended, while Democrats cheered their actual victory as Speaker Nancy Pelosi gaveled the vote to a close.

The Democrats who voted against the bill include: Allen Boyd (Fla.), Bobby Bright (Ala.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Brad Ellsworth (Ind.), Parker Griffith (Ala.), Paul Kanjorski (Pa.), Frank Kratovil (Md.), Walt Minnick (Idaho), Collin Peterson (Minn.), Heath Shuler (N.C.), Gene Taylor (Miss.).

Obama Praises Stimulus Vote, Hopes To "Strengthen" Bill Further

Just out from the White House. No explicit reference to the lack of Republican support, but he does say: "But what we can't do is drag our feet or allow the same partisan differences to get in our way." Full statement:

"Last year, America lost 2.6 million jobs. On Monday alone, we learned that some of our biggest employers plan to cut another 55,000. This is a wakeup call to Washington that the American people need us to act and act immediately.

That is why I am grateful to the House of Representatives for moving the American Recovery and Reinvestment plan forward today. There are many numbers in this plan. It will double our capacity to generate renewable energy. It will lower the cost of health care by billions and improve its quality. It will modernize thousands of classrooms and send more kids to college. And it will put billions of dollars in immediate tax relief into the pockets of working families.

But out of all these numbers, there is one that matters most to me: this recovery plan will save or create more than three million new jobs over the next few years.

I can also promise that my administration will administer this recovery plan with a level of transparency and accountability never before seen in Washington. Once it is passed, every American will be able to go the website recovery.gov and see how and where their money is being spent.

The plan now moves to the Senate, and I hope that we can continue to strengthen this plan before it gets to my desk. But what we can't do is drag our feet or allow the same partisan differences to get in our way. We must move swiftly and boldly to put Americans back to work, and that is exactly what this plan begins to do."

McCollum Won't Run For Florida Senate Seat

Florida Atty. Gen. Bill McCollum announced today that he will not seek the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Mel Martinez in 2010. McCollum is the second potential top GOP candidate to decide against running, following former Gov. Jeb Bush.

"Over the past several weeks since the announcement of Senator Mel Martinez that he would not seek re-election, I have given considerable thought to the possibility of running for his United States Senate seat," McCollum said in a press release. "Unless circumstances change it is my intention, at the appropriate time, to announce that I will be seeking re-election as Florida's Attorney General."

McCollum was elected attorney general in 2006, following two unsuccessful Senate bids in 2000 and 2004. He served in the U.S. House from 1980 to 2000.

On the Democratic side, seven-term Rep. Allen Boyd also announced today that he will not seek the Senate seat. Boyd's Democratic House colleague Kendrick Meek tossed his hat in the ring two weeks ago.

Freshman Dems Downplay Political Risk

Seven freshman House Democrats announced their intentions to support the economic stimulus package coming to a vote today. The members, speaking at a press conference, said political risks and partisan bickering needed to take a back seat in this time of economic crisis.

All seven represent districts held by a Republican in the last Congress, and all are already being targeted by the National Republican Congressional Committee.

"It's obvious that Congressional Democrats are trying to pull the wool over Americans' eyes as they rush this so-called 'stimulus' bill through Congress, while middle-class taxpayers are still finding out about frivolous spending provisions that have been hidden in the bill," NRCC communications director Ken Spain said in a press release that went out to the districts of freshman Democrats.

"It's not without political risk," Rep. Eric Massa (D-N.Y.) admitted. "But this nation is calling out for action."

"We need to get beyond that," said Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio). "The people want bipartisanship."

Rep. Betsy Markey (D-Colo.) defeated Republican Marilyn Musgrave in November, becoming the first Democrat in 35 years to represent her district. "I talk to Republicans every day in my district, and they know this is the way to go," she said. "And those are the Republicans I'm listening to."

Also at the press conference were Reps. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), Mary Jo Kilroy (D-Ohio) and Alan Grayson (D-Fla.).

Obama Confident Ahead Of Stimulus Vote

There was no major last-second arm-twisting by the president this morning as he spoke in the East Room following a meeting with the CEOs of large, national companies. Instead, Obama promised that should his recovery plan pass, there would be a "sweeping effort" on the part of his administration to make information public about how funds will be spent.

"I firmly believe what Justice Louis Brandeis once said, that sunlight is the best disinfectant," he said. "I know that restoring transparency is not only the surest way to achieve results, but also to earn back that trust in government without which we cannot deliver the changes the American people sent us here to make."

He said that information would be posted on www.recovery.gov, part of an initiative to "root out waste, inefficiency and unnecessary spending." The web site now simply urges visitors to "check back after the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to see how and where your tax dollars are spent."

"Instead of politicians doling out money behind a veil of secrecy, decisions about where we invest will be made public, on the Internet, and will be informed by independent experts whenever possible," Obama said.

Speaking before the president, Honeywell CEO David Cote said the group of executives supported Obama's plan, and told Congress not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

The White House will, of course, be closely monitoring today's vote, though the president himself will likely be at the Pentagon when it gets underway. Tonight, however, he has invited a bipartisan group of lawmakers to the White House for a cocktail reception, which aides say is a further demonstration of efforts to reach out to the legislative branch.

EMILY's List Endorses Gillibrand

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has won the endorsement of EMILY's List in her 2010 special election bid. The endorsement wouldn't be terribly surprising -- since the group works to elect pro-choice women candidates -- however, Gillibrand has received criticism for some of her non-progressive stances.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) of Long Island criticized Gov. David Paterson's selection of Gillibrand before he even officially announced the pick. McCarthy said she would challenge Gillibrand in the Democratic primary due to Gillibrand's stance on gun control issues, or find someone who would. EMILY's List apparently decided not to wait for a potential Gillibrand challenger to step up.

"In Congress, Gillibrand has fought for progressive policies such as equal pay and expanded health care for children," EMILY's List president Ellen R. Malcolm stated in a press release. "She has pioneered government accountability and transparency by becoming the first member of Congress to post her schedule online for all to see, and has championed economic development in a region hard-hit by the economic downturn. We look forward to her continued leadership for the people of New York and women across the country."

"Chicago Toughness"

The House of Representatives casts the first votes today on his stimulus bill, and he's about to meet with leaders of some of the nation's biggest companies to discuss the faltering economy. But it's the District's poor relationship with frozen precipitation that seemed to be most troubling to President Obama this morning.

"My children's school was canceled today, because of what? Some ice," Obama joked this morning in the Roosevelt Room, just before a meeting with the CEOs of Motorola, Google, IBM and other companies. "As my children pointed out, in Chicago school is never canceled."

The president said he's going to have to instill some "some flinty Chicago toughness" into Washingtonians, who today are grappling with a perilous mix of snow, sleet and ice.

Obama did briefly comment on today's recovery plan vote, saying he is "confident we're going to get it passed." He's due to comment at greater length after the meeting.

Inside Last Night's WH Meeting

White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel invited a group of Republicans to the White House last night.

"It was a friendly get-together," said Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), who was present at the meeting. "Clearly Rahm Emanuel is trying to keep in contact with his friends in Congress."

Although the House is scheduled to vote on the controversial economic recovery package today, Ehlers told RealClearPolitics that the vote was not the center of the meeting's agenda.

"We talked about it. But we talked about other things as well," Ehlers said. "There was no arm twisting. Very little discussion on it. He just wanted our opinion on it. What the chances were."

"We did talk about the stimulus," he said, "but only in terms of where the money is going."

Ehlers is an eight-term moderate Republican representing one of the most Republican districts in the Midwest. It's members like Ehlers whom Democrats -- in Congress and the White House -- hope to keep an open dialogue with and possibly win their votes.

Emanuel told the group that he wished to make their meeting a regular occurrence, "and that was our hope as well," Ehlers said.

Strategy Memo: The First Big Vote

Good morning, Washington. An ice storm just in time for the first major vote of the new Congress. How many members will use the weather as an excuse not to cast their vote?

**Economic Stimulus
*Politico: "President Barack Obama's economy recovery plan hits the House floor Wednesday after a day of final adjustments by Democrats, adding more tax relief in the Senate and excising a handful of expenditures that have drawn the ire of conservatives."

*The New York Times notes that the package "would shower the nation's school districts, child care centers and university campuses with $150 billion in new federal spending, a vast two-year investment that would more than double the Department of Education's current budget."

*While Republicans have been outspoken in their criticism of the package's size, "some Democrats on Capitol Hill and other administration supporters are voicing a separate critique: that the plan may fall short in its broader goal of transforming the American economy over the long term," the Washington Post reports.

*Meanwhile, House Dems have now stripped $200 million to refurbish National Mall from stimulus package. Robert Gibbs defended the spending yesterday.

*Notebook Leftovers: House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, in a pen-and-pad session with reporters yesterday: "I don't think [Obama] made a mistake talking to Republicans. ... I think that's what the American public expects him to do." Is the economic stimulus package large enough? "I'm not sure." On bipartisanship: "Bi- means two, at least."

**President Obama
*Today, Obama meets with some CEOs at the White House in advance of the House vote on his recovery plan. Later, he'll visit the Pentagon for the first time as commander in chief.

*The New York Times also notes how rare personal presidential visits are on the Hill. "Protocol generally holds that Congressional leaders come to the White House -- at the president's invitation -- when it comes time to negotiate legislation. But there Mr. Obama was, standing before an array of microphones without a presidential seal anywhere in sight. Had the hallway not been swarming with extra security, it might have seemed that Mr. Obama was back in the Senate."

*Bloomberg thinks that Obama needs a good "villain" to help his presidency. "Theodore Roosevelt railed against the 'malefactors of great wealth,' Franklin Roosevelt assailed 'unscrupulous money changers,' Ronald Reagan belittled government, which he said 'does not solve problems; it subsidizes them,' and Bill Clinton stared down Gingrich."

*Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), after a thorough grilling, announced he will vote for AG-designee Eric Holder. Any coincidence that this came after his only potentially serious primary challenger passed on the race?

**State of the Parties
*After 350,000 interviews last year, Gallup has ranked the 50 states and D.C. by partisanship. It's found that D.C., Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Hawaii are the most Democratic states; and that Utah, Wyoming, Idaho and Alaska are the most Republican. "All told, 29 states and the District of Columbia had Democratic party affiliation advantages of 10 points or greater last year. ... In contrast, only five states had solid or leaning Republican orientations in 2008."

*Perry Bacon of the Washington Post previews the RNC vote this week, and says current chairman Mike Duncan may suffer from an anti-Bush sentiment in the party. "In a further sign that the group wants to signal its displeasure with Bush policies, members are expected to adopt an unprecedented resolution attacking 'the bloated bank bailout bill' that Bush championed and demanding that the committee 'take all steps necessary to oppose bailouts of industries, individuals or governments.'".

*Rep. Phil Gingrey defends his colleagues. "I mean, it's easy if you're Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or even sometimes Newt Gingrich to stand back and throw bricks. You don't have to try to do what's best for your people and your party.You know you're just on these talk shows and you're living well and plus you stir up a bit of controversy and gin the base and that sort of thing. But when it comes to true leadership, not that these people couldn't be or wouldn't be good leaders, they're not in that position of John Boehner or Mitch McConnell."

*"Democrats are fortunate Barack Obama is commanding the bulk of the nation's attention this week because, well, the sporadic spotlight being shed on the rest of the party isn't that flattering," Carl Cannon writes.

**Campaign Alert
*"A public rift opened" Tuesday when Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning (R) "groused to reporters" that colleague Mitch McConnell hasn't backed him for re-election, the Lexington Herald-Leader reports. "[McConnell] had a lapse of memory when he was speaking to the press club last week when he said he didn't know what my intentions were," Bunning said. "Whatever Mitch says is whatever he says. He's the leader of the pack, and he can say whatever he wants and get away with it."

**Clinton-Gore Alert
*According to a new disclosure, Bill Clinton received $4.7 million in speaking fees from foreign nations last year.

*And look out for Al Gore on the Hill today, testifying on global warming as Washington skates to work in an ice storm.

**Sports Alert: Mark Sanchez, the USC quarterback who could be a top 3 pick in the NFL Draft this year, has signed his brother as his agent. Here's hoping Sanchez's bro -- with a bachelors from Yale and a law degree from USC but no known experience as a sports agent -- doesn't ruin his rookie contract like rapper Master P did for Ricky Williams.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

As Negotiations Continue, Moderates To Meet At White House

Following up on today's meetings on Capitol Hill, the Obama administration has invited a small group of House Republicans to meet at the White House tonight to discuss the stimulus bill on the eve of the first vote.

The members were invited by chief of staff Rahm Emanuel for what the White House described as another effort to "hear ideas and gather input from House Republicans." Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is also expected to participate; Obama is not at this point. A spokesperson for one of the invitees said it may just be an "icebreaking session," but that he expects the recovery plan to be the focus.

The names on tonight's guest list are notable because they tend to be more moderate Republicans, most of whom represent districts that Obama carried last November. The group of eleven includes Reps. Mike Castle (R-DE), Charlie Dent (R-PA), Jim Gerlach (R-PA), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Fred Upton (R-MI).

At today's press briefing, Robert Gibbs said there was a "genuine sense of cooperation" on the Hill when President Obama spoke to the House and Senate Republicans, even as he downplayed expectations for a strong bipartisan vote when the House weighs in tomorrow.

"We'll take what we can get," Gibbs said. "I think the most important thing about tomorrow is keeping this process going. The American people deserve a process that understands the severity of the crisis that they're involved in, not to get involved in some animal house type food-fight on Capitol Hill."

He downplayed Republican objections that House Democrats have been less willing to show a bipartisan spirit in negotiations, and even digged at some in the GOP for being similarly partisan.

"I'll leave aside that some members of the leadership invited the president to come up and announced their position on the bill before he got there," he said.

Gibbs also signaled that Obama intends to make the trip down Pennsylvania Avenue often, not just to see the recovery plan through.

"This may be somewhat unique in this town," he said. "If the president becomes a walking comment box that gets an economic recovery plan faster into the American economic bloodstream, then my guess is they'll have to fill up the cars and we'll go up there a lot more often."

GOP Leaders Meet With Obama

President Obama and GOP House leadership just emerged from a more-than one hour meeting at the Capitol to discuss their differences on the economic stimulus package.

In brief remarks after the meeting, both Obama and the GOP leaders said they appreciated each other's efforts at bipartisanship while recognizing no deal could ever make everyone on both sides happy.

"I continue to be optimistic," Obama said. "I recognize that we're not going to get 100 percent support. But I think everybody there felt good about that I was willing to explain how we put the package together, how we were thinking about it, and that we continued to welcome some good ideas."

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said they would continue to work on their ideas in regards to the bill, despite the fact that the House Democrats' version is coming to a vote tomorrow.

"The most encouraging statement that I think the president made today was the fact that he had no pride of authorship in this bill," Cantor said. "We take that to mean that tomorrow's vote is only the first step in the process."

Conference chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) lashed out at House Democrats for not including Republicans in the formulation of the package.

"As grateful as we are for the president's spirit, as I told him personally, House Democrats have completely ignored the president's call for bipartisan cooperation," Pence said. "The bill that is scheduled to come to the floor this week will come to the floor without any consultation among House Republicans, and with categorical opposition to the kind of Republican solutions that we believe are necessary to truly get this economy moving again."

Speaking to reporters at the same time Obama was meeting with Republican leaders, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) responded to questions regarding Republicans calling out the Democrats for not including them.

"It's hard to take the advice and counsel on policies from people who put us deep in debt," Hoyer said. "Being bipartisan does not mean you lay down and say you can have whatever you want."

Asked if he expects any Republican votes tomorrow, Hoyer said: "I hope. Expect would be too strong."

Before entering his meeting with Senate Republican leadership just after his meeting on the House side, Obama spoke briefly with reporters again. "The key right now is to make sure that we keep politics to a minimum," he said. "There are some legitimate philosophical differences with parts of my plan that the Republicans have, and I respect that."

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Strategy Memo: Obama On The Hill

Good Tuesday morning. It's snowing here in Washington this morning, and for the first time this year it's actually sticking. What if it had snowed one week ago, when 2 million people were crammed onto the National Mall to watch Barack Obama be sworn in as president? Pure chaos.

**President Obama
*Obama is headed to the Hill this morning to court GOP votes for his economic stimulus bill. Republicans have been talking for a week now about wanting to meet with him to offer their ideas for the bill, which was written by Democrats, and Obama will sit down separately with the GOP's House and Senate conferences.

"The president is betting that politeness and high poll numbers will help defuse some of the partisan tensions stirred up by the massive, fast-moving stimulus bill," Politico reports.

*"Americans are not your enemy." Those were the words, as well as the general theme, of Obama's first TV interview since becoming president, which he gave to the Arabic satellite TV network, Al-Arabiya. "The interview underscored Obama's commitment to repair relations with the Muslim world that have suffered under the previous administration," the AP writes.

*Obama's Treasury Secretary nominee Timothy Geithner was confirmed by the Senate yesterday by a 60-34 roll call vote. Three Democrats (and Independent Bernie Sanders) voted against Geithner's confirmation and 10 Republicans voted for him.

"The 60-34 vote speaks to the controversial nature of Mr. Geithner's nomination after disclosures that he failed to pay some employment taxes in a timely manner while working for the International Monetary Fund," the Wall Street Journal reports.

*The e-mail outage at the White House has caused some headaches. "One person, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the disruption was made worse by the fact that people were still finding their way around the West Wing and the Old Executive Office Building and were relying heavily on e-mail to communicate with their new colleagues."

*Meanwhile, automakers are worried about Obama's new environmental mandates. "One concern automakers have with states regulating tailpipe emissions is that keeping up with a hodgepodge of standards would be difficult. They expressed support Monday for the ideal of cutting emissions but want their engineers to be concerned with meeting just one set of requirements nationally."

**Economic Stimulus
*The Congressional Budget Office released its report on the Democrats' stimulus bill, stating that it would produce a "noticeable impact on economic growth and employment," the Washington Post reports. "That would fall short of President Obama's goal of pushing at least 75 percent of the cash out the door over the next 19 months to create millions of jobs and ease the effects of what many economists say will be the longest, deepest and most painful recession since the Great Depression."

*The Hill calls today "high noon" for the stimulus. "Republicans are expected to press the president strongly on the stimulus bill, and if the meeting becomes tense, it would quickly remind voters that partisanship in the nation's capital - despite Obama's vow to reduce it - is alive and well. There are risks for Republicans as well. If they are highly critical of the popular president, Democrats could portray them as childish."

*L.A. Times: "Whether or not he picks up support from Republican lawmakers, Obama has already accomplished one important aim: He is winning over more Republican voters than he did on election day. If that continues, the president's hand could get stronger on Capitol Hill."

*The AP reports that family planning funding will likely be dropped from the stimulus bill.

*The Obama administration is insisting it wants no earmarks in the stimulus. "We don¹t want any room for Republicans or Democrats to put earmarks in - even to worthy projects," said a West Wing aide.

**Congress
*Democratic lawmakers from the Midwest and Plains states, which are heavily dependent on coal and manufacturing "have banded together to fight legislation they think might further damage their economies."

*House Judiciary Committee chair John Conyers subpoenas Karl Rove again.
"Change has come to Washington, and I hope Karl Rove is ready for it," Mr.
Conyers said. "After two years of stonewalling, it's time for him to talk."

**Interesting Revelation of the Day: The "17-year conference call" ­-- Bill Clinton alums chat each morning, John Harris reports. James Carville, Rahm Emanuel, George Stephanopoulos and Paul Begala manage to hold the daily chat "about what's happening, what the implications are of what's happening and what's going on," said Emanuel.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Obama: We Can't Afford Stimulus Delays

President Obama this morning couched his announcement on environmental policy as an economic initiative, saying that higher fuel efficiency standards will help the struggling automobile industry. He also led his announcement by noting the most recent layoff announcements by some of America's top employers, using the news to push his economic package.

"We owe it to each of them and to every single American to act with a sense of urgency and common purpose," he said at an East Room event. "We can't afford distractions and we can't afford delays, and that is why I look forward to signing an American Recovery and Reinvestment plan that will put millions of Americans to work and lay the foundation to stable growth that our economy needs and that our people demand."

He said the stimulus plan "places a down payment" on a new economy, and that its clean energy components would create 460,000 jobs while saving taxpayer money by making federal buildings more energy efficient.

"This is the boost that our economy needs and the new beginning that our future demands," he said.

The executive orders signed by the president would grant a waiver to the state of California and others who seek to raise fuel efficiency standards on automobiles beyond the mandate of the Clean Air Act.

"Our goal is not to further burden an already struggling industry. It is to help America's automakers to prepare for the future," he said.

Today's event was the latest in a series of actions by Obama through executive order, as he begins to reverse policies of the Bush administration quickly and without the delay of legislation.

McAuliffe Airs First TV Ad Of The Campaign

Despite being the last to enter the race for Virginia governor, Terry McAuliffe's fundraising pace has put him in position to air the first TV ad of the campaign.

The Washington Post reports that the ad will air in Hampton Roads, where there is a large African American and military population.

While McAuliffe takes aim at Democratic voters in Hampton Roads, rival Democrat Brian Moran has decided "to run as the insurgent, progressive alternative" to McAuliffe and state Sen. Creigh Deeds, writes Bob Holsworth, a Virginia political analyst.

"I've spoken to insiders who believe the strategy will have tremendous appeal to the activist groups in the party most likely to participate in the June primary while others are equally convinced that Democrats don't win in Virginia by outflanking their opponents on the left," Holsworth writes on his indispensable Virginia Tomorrow blog.

The Democratic primary is set for June 9, the winner of which will take on Atty. Gen. Bob McDonnell (R) in the general election.

Strategy Memo: Off To A Good Start

Good Monday morning, the first day of Super Bowl week. The administration begins its second week with a high approval rating and an economic stimulus package quickly making its way through Congress.

**President Obama
*Obama's first approval rating came in over the weekend. Taken over the first three days of his presidency, 68% said they approved of the job Obama is doing, according to Gallup. That number places him in a tie for second among the last eight presidents -- trailing only JFK. Gallup reports this morning that Obama's approval rating is up to 69%.

*Obama "plans to instruct key federal agencies today to reexamine two policies that could force automakers to produce more fuel-efficient cars that yield fewer greenhouse gas emissions," Washington Post reports.

New York Times' Green Inc. blog: "Barack Obama has been talking about the need for higher fuel-economy standards for the past five years. And now Detroit can see that he means it."

*Mark Leibovich has a good profile of the new White House chief of staff. "At a White House gathering with Mr. Obama and a bipartisan team of lawmakers on Friday, the House majority leader, Steny H. Hoyer, Democrat of Maryland, joked that Mr. Emanuel was too busy to talk to him, so he called the president instead. In meetings, it is not uncommon for Mr. Obama and Mr. Emanuel to engage in teasing banter."

*The New York Times also reports that Obama's new "Democracy for America" could be a way in which the administration bypasses traditional media to get its message to the public. "The most prominent example of the new strategy is his weekly address to the nation what under previous presidents was a speech recorded for and released to radio stations on Saturday mornings."

**Economic Stimulus plans
*Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown tells Democrats and Republicans how to sell a stimulus. Both parties have spent the last few weeks dropping buzz words that help their side of the argument. "Even the title of his economic package is a gem of opinion-gathering precision: the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, which mixes buzzwords and policy goals that scored best in polling on the crisis."

*House Minority Leader John Boehner said on "Meet the Press" yesterday that he and he and "a lot of Republicans will vote no because they see this as a lot of wasteful Washington spending padding the bureaucracy and doing nothing to create jobs and save jobs." Here is the video.

*John McCain stated his opposition to the stimulus as well, calling for "major rewrites" of the plan. He was also critical of other early moves by the Obama administration.

Larry Summers and Vice President Biden carried the torch for the administration. Biden said Republican ideas have been incorporated and predicted a strong bipartisan vote. Summers warned that the coming months are "going to be very, very difficult," but said the package was sized properly.

*Obama talked stimulus as well, using his weekly radio address to sell the plan. Watch the video here.

**Campaign Stuff
*This is interesting booking. Virginia Democrats have a competitive primary on their hand in the governor¹s race, which of course includes Terry McAuliffe. Who will speak at the party's Jefferson-Jackson Dinner next month? Bill Clinton.

*It's early, but trends show that fundraising is in sharp decline for Democrats. "The good news for the Democrats? They're not the Republicans," Politico writes.

*Sen. Russ Feingold is sponsoring a constitutional amendment to end the practice of filling Senate vacancies by gubernatorial appointments. He calls special elections the "democratic approach." "People have seen this as a spectacle and it's not very attractive," he said of recent attempts to fill vacancies.

**Blago Alert: Gov. Rod Blagojevich's impeachment trial begins today, but it's his TV blitz getting the most attention. "I thought about Mandela, Dr. King, Gandhi, and tried to put some perspective in all of this, and that's what I am doing now," he said of the idea he would go to jail.

**Sports Alert: It's Super Bowl week, and we're excited about the prospects for a good game. Sports Illustrated's Peter King is "dizzy from all the connections between" the Arizona Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers are still favored by 7 points with six days to go.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

McConnell On Bipartisanship, 2010 Landscape

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) opened up to reporters today on bipartisanship and Republicans' outlook for the 2010 elections.

Speaking at the National Press Club in downtown Washington to a room filled largely with reporters, McConnell said that "from a numbers point of view," the outlook for Republicans in 2010 Senate races is "not great." The numbers he was referring to: Four of the 19 Senate Republicans up for re-election are retiring at the conclusion of their terms, and more could be on the way.

However, McConnell said the "fundamental drag" on the party in the last two elections will no longer be an issue Democrats can use against the GOP, and that he's actually "optimistic that the landscape for my party in 2010 will be much better than it was" the last two elections.

"As much as I like and admire President Bush...the president became quite the political liability," McConnell said. "Presidential popularity, or lackthereof, is the currency of the realm for the party of the president."

Adding to the poor numbers for Republicans are rumors that even more of the party's senators could be retiring. McConnell refused to comment on Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's (R-Texas) possible run for governor because she hasn't made a decision yet, as well as on the reports that fellow Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning (R) was being pushed to retire.

McConnell cited recent history as another reason for his 2010 optimism. Bill Clinton's unpopularity, he said, was directly linked to the Republican Party winning control of both houses of Congress in 1994. "With all due respect to the new president and the enhanced majorities in the House and Senate, governing is tough business," he said. "It's very difficult to govern and not create issues and make mistakes."

Politics, however, wasn't the point of McConnell's speech today. In fact, it was President Obama's "promise of post-partisanship" and the possibilities that offered for Congress.

"President Obama's campaign reminded many in Washington, including many Republicans, of the aspirations that the American people have about their government," he said. "People want their leaders to work together to solve problems, not to set traps."

Without mentioning him by name, McConnell expressed his outrage at Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who, as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, signed off on campaign ads late in the 2008 election that hit McConnell for voting in favor of the economic rescue package -- the same one that put the presidential campaign on hold, however briefly.

"Soon after the deal was struck, one of the very people who had sat at the negotiating table with me ended up running ads against me on that very issue," McConnell said. "He saw that it made me vulnerable back home and tried to capitalize on it politically, which I certainly didn't expect."

On whether Republicans have enough bodies in the Senate for their voice to be heard -- in terms of adding amendments to bills and in other ways -- McConnell reminded reporters that despite his party's dwindling numbers in the Senate, a number of Democrats represent "right-of-center" states.

"Obviously my hope is that someplace along the line here, they'll figure out that not only their political health but their own views warrant voting with us more frequently than they might have demonstrated they were willing to do in the first couple of weeks of the new session," he said.

Smoke In The White House Press Room

This can't be a good omen.

Just after 4 pm today, deputy press secretary Bill Burton was attempting to open the door to the James Brady Briefing Room at the White House today, but it wouldn't budge. A reporter attempting to leave the room at the same time couldn't get it to open either. And seconds later, smoke started coming from the panel above the door.

It's created quite a stir amongst the omni-present press corps, but doesn't appear to be serious. Apparently the motor that operates the automatic door overheated. Nonetheless, smoke anywhere in the White House is a concern, and building maintenance is on the scene.

Press had been waiting for a photo opportunity with President Obama, which was later canceled.

Gibbs Won't Address Pakistan Strike

It's one of the first military actions of the Obama administration, but press secretary Robert Gibbs wouldn't say a word about it at today's briefing.

Reports indicate that a U.S. Predator drone fired three missiles in Pakistan, near the border with Afghanistan. When the subject came up, Gibbs said, "As you know, I'm not going to comment on those matters."

He moved quickly on to the second part of the reporter's question, prompting some laughter, but then serious questions from the room: would he really not comment on any military action ever?

"I'm not going to speak about these matters today," Gibbs clarified.

When told later that some U.S. officials had commented on the strikes, the press secretary simply repeated his intention not to comment.

"I think there are many things that you should be justifiably curious about, but I'm not going to get into -- talk to you about these things," he said.

Very early in his candidacy, Barack Obama gave a policy speech in which he said that if the U.S. had actionable intelligence "about high-value terrorist targets" in Pakistan, and then-President Musharraf would not act, the U.S. would. Whether today's action was a signal that he's carrying through on that promise -- we won't know from asking Gibbs.

Q: What do you mean by that?

I'm not going to speak about these matters today. I gave you my answer. My answer was I'm not going to talk about it.

Q: Other US officials have confirmed predator drone airstrikes.

I'm not going to get into these matters.

I think there are many things that you should be justifiably curious about, but I'm not going to get into, talk to you about these things.

As Negotiations Continue, Leaders Optimistic On Stimulus Timing

President Obama and the leadership of both parties expressed optimism today that an economic stimulus package will be through the Congress by President's Day. Still, despite the usual statements about bipartisanship during and after a White House meeting this morning, Republicans raised concerns about the size and the substance of the stimulus.

"We believe that spending nearly a trillion dollars is really more than what we ought to be putting on the backs of our kids and their kids," House Minority Leader John Boehner told reporters as he left the White House this morning. "We've got ideas that lowering tax rates and allowing people to keep more of what they earn will allow them to spend that money, invest that money, or save it, all of which will be good for the economy."

He questioned, somewhat suggestively, how spending "hundreds of millions of dollars on contraceptives" would "stimulate the economy." "You can go through a whole host of issues in this bill that have nothing to do with growing jobs in America and helping people keep their jobs," he said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the Republicans today made some "constructive suggestions" which they would review, and claimed that many of their ideas have already been incorporated in the House bill, like tax cuts.

"They have had their voices heard and their provisions in the legislation. So this isn't starting from scratch," she said. "There are some additional suggestions that will be reviewed, as to their ability to help our economy turn around, create jobs or save jobs."

A Republican leadership aide disagreed, and said the Democrats have failed to even meet Obama's ideas on tax cuts.

Asked about concerns among economists that the bill, already estimated to be around $825 billion, may still be insufficient to rejuvenate the economy, Pelosi even seemed to suggest it is large enough.

"It's not just about how big the package is, it's about how fast jobs are created and how those initiatives that are added in the spending will contribute to the long term stabilization of our economy," she said, adding that the deficit should also be a factor.

Obama did not address the specifics of the pending legislation, but only thanked the leaders for "moving forward very diligently" in the process. And he said there is more to be done after the bill is signed.

"The recovery package that we're passing is only going to be one leg in a -- at least a three-legged stool," he said. He referred to reports of abuse by some recipients of buyout funds, and also waste in the government. "Those all have to be part and parcel of a reform package if we're going to be responsible in dealing with this economic crisis."

Senate Seat Fills, House Seat Opens

As one seat fills, another opens. New York Gov. David Paterson's ensuing appointment of Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's former Senate seat leaves open a Republican-leaning congressional district.

Gillibrand first won election to Congress in 2006, when incumbent Republican John Sweeney faced extremely bad press (photos of him at a Union College fraternity party, a report that his wife made a domestic violence call to police, connections to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff) in a bad year for Republicans. Although Gillibrand was outspent, she knocked off Sweeney by 6 points.

She followed that up with a 23-point win in 2008, despite being outspent once again. However, the open seat levels the playing field for Republicans in a district that George W. Bush won by 7 and 8 points in 2000 and 2004, respectively.

Democrats may face a tough challenge holding on to the Senate seat as well. The new senator will now need to begin fundraising for the next two elections, a 2010 special election and the seat's regularly scheduled 2012 election. Clinton spent a total of $75 million on her Senate elections in 2000 and 2006.

Strategy Memo: Murtha In Trouble?

Good Friday morning. After 30,000 interviews last year, Gallup finds that an average of 36% of Americans identified themselves as Democrats and 28% as Republicans. The 8-point gap is the largest since Gallup began regular phone interviews in 1988.

**Top News: New York Gov. David Paterson has selected Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to replace Hillary Clinton in the U.S. Senate, the New York Times reports. Gillibrand, a second-term congresswoman, represents upstate New York.

**President Obama
*President Obama and Vice President Biden will meet with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders at the White House this morning. The topic of discussion is the economy and the economic stimulus package Democratic leaders hope to have ready for the president by Feb. 13, when Congress is scheduled to recess. However, Republicans are upset that they've been left out of the crafting of the bill, which House Democrats are currently rushing through committee markups so it will be ready for a vote by the middle of next week.

*Obama will also meet with Treasury-designee Tim Geithner, and have lunch and meet on the budget with Biden.

*National Journal's Stuart Taylor sees a promising start for Obama's administration, partly due to his national security and economic cabinet choices: "I worried in a pre-election column that Obama's down-the-line liberal voting record and associations with some extremists did not give a centrist like me much confidence that he would "resist pressure from Democratic interest groups, ideologues, and congressional leaders to steer hard to the left." But since then he has done much to fulfill the hope expressed in that same column that he might prove to be "the pragmatic, consensus-building, inspirational Obama who has been on display during the general election campaign."

*A day after the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Obama will issue an executive order to restore funding for family planning groups involved with abortion.

*Washington Post: "With the stroke of his pen, [Obama] effectively declared an end to the 'war on terror,' as President George W. Bush had defined it, signaling to the world that the reach of the U.S. government in battling its enemies will not be limitless."

*The big issue with Gitmo: where do the detainees go. Among the options, per USA Today: "transfer them to other countries or try them in court. About 525 detainees have been sent elsewhere, but a few nations, such as Germany, have balked. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Obama's inauguration has made some European nations more willing to cooperate."

*NY Times speculates that the appointment of high-level envoys, Richard Holbrooke and George Mitchell, to global hot spots "could pose a challenge to Mrs. Clinton as she seeks to carve out her place as the nation's chief diplomat. Each was once viewed as a potential secretary of state, and Mr. Holbrooke, in particular, will have a wide-ranging portfolio."

*Helen Thomas' review of Robert Gibbs: "He acted like a pro. He dodges like every other one. But it's only the second day. We'll give him a little slack."

**Congress
*Lots of back and forth between Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate about the economic stimulus bill. See our write-up on what happened on the House side yesterday, and Washington Post's overview of the situation.

*"Federal agents raided two small Pennsylvania defense contractors that were given millions of dollars in federal funding by Rep. John Murtha, chairman of the defense appropriations committee and one of the most powerful men in Congress," the Wall Street Journal reports. A federal official said ties to lawmakers would be part of the probe.

**Inauguration Leftovers:
*According to National Journal's Political Insiders Poll, Democratic members of Congress gave Obama an average grade of B+ for his inaugural address, and Republicans gave him a B.

*How's this for bizarre: the musical interlude at the inauguration was piped in, not live. "Truly, weather just made it impossible," Carole Florman, a spokeswoman for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, said. "No one's trying to fool anybody. This isn't a matter of Milli Vanilli."

**Campaign Leftovers
*Mac is back? Washington Post writes about the Arizona senator's "maverick" persona returning. "In the weeks after his loss to Obama in November, McCain kept a low profile. He often cut a lonely figure as he walked from his office to the Senate floor for votes, fending off reporters with a clipped, 'Not now.' This week, McCain appeared to be loosening up."

*Gov. Sarah Palin gave her state-of-the-state address last night. She announced a hiring freeze, talked national gas pipeline and wants to build a road to Nome. And, she hinted at her run: "Alaska, as a statewide family, we've got to fight for each other, not against, and not let external, sensationalized distractions out there on the periphery draw us off course," she said.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Obama Pays A Visit To White House Press Corps

President Obama exchanged pleasantries, but took no serious questions from the White House press corps during an unannounced visit to the press briefing room just moments ago.

As he shook hands with the reporters who remained late this afternoon, he joked about his workout routine and the lack of healthy snacks in the break room. But when a reporter tried to ask about the lobbying ties of William Lynn, his nominee for deputy secretary of defense, Obama grew more stern.

"I can't end up visiting you guys and just shaking hands if I'm going to get grilled every time I come down," he said to Politico's Jonathan Martin. "I guess Jonathan didn't like my question, Mr. President," press secretary Robert Gibbs shouted from afar.

Obama stressed this was just a courtesy call.

"We will be having a press conference at which time you can feel free to answer questions. Right now I just wanted to say hello and introduce myself to you guys, that's all I wanted to do," he said.

The president asked for patience in learning everyone's names, though he recognized some familiar faces from the campaign trail.

He was also goaded into touring not just the briefing room but the narrow corridors of the downstairs area where reporters have workstations. There, he promised the members of the fourth estate to have a "relationship that's respectful, and where you guys feel like you're actually getting answers."

He then praised Gibbs' performance at his first briefing.

"I'm very proud of him today. He got a fist-bump from me," he said.

On his way out through the briefing room again, one reporter shouted out to ask for Obama's e-mail address. Needless to say, that was one more question he would not answer.

GOP Wants Inclusion In Stimulus Planning

House Republican leaders today continued to push for inclusion in building an economic stimulus package, while their Democratic counterparts argue a plan needs to be passed sooner rather than later.

The Democratic plan, currently making its way through committees, is en route to the House floor for a vote next week, according to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. However, Republicans in the House are upset that they've been left out of the process, despite President Obama's statement that he was open to any and all ideas, no matter what side of the aisle they come from.

House Minority Leader John Boehner said today that Republicans "were told we should expect a meeting with the president next week to outline our plans to him." Republican leaders in the House and Senate will also be present at a bipartisan meeting tomorrow morning at the White House.

Meanwhile, Boehner said, "it appears House Democrats are going to continue to barrel ahead" with their plan without including Republican ideas.

"We want to include them," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters today. "We welcome their ideas." However, he also said that the stimulus bill that will come to a vote on the House floor next week will likely be "pretty close to" the Democratic bill making its way through committees now.

"I would like to see us have a large bipartisan vote," Hoyer said. "But we have to act...to get the economy moving."

At her weekly news conference today, Pelosi explained the reasoning behind the Democrats' quick action on the bill and reiterated her commitment to have the package passed by Feb. 13, when Congress leaves for its scheduled President's Day recess.

"This is the crucial first step in a concerted effort to jump start the economy," Pelosi said. "Every month we don't have an economic recovery package, 500,000 Americans lose jobs."

At his morning press conference, Boehner questioned how the Democrats' bill would actually create jobs and maintained Republicans needed to be included in the process. Hoyer said the Democratic bill was forged after "extensive discussions" with the previous and current administrations, as well as economists on the left and right of the political spectrum.

"From a Republican standpoint, this is probably the largest tax cut they're going to get to vote for over the next 24 months," Hoyer said. "They should grab it."

Gibbs' First Briefing Marked By Gitmo, Transparency Questions

Determined to hold the new president to his promise of an open administration, reporters peppered Robert Gibbs with questions about transparency on a host of subjects at the new press secretary's first briefing this afternoon.

Gibbs stood under the bright lights of the jam-packed James S. Brady Press Briefing Room for about 50 minutes, taking at least 20 questions. Some were deflected with humor (the transcript reflected "laughter" 22 times), others with a hint of frustration - and he even answered a few of them outright.

On the biggest news of the day -- Obama's executive orders on the handling of terrorism suspects --
Gibbs managed to wiggle out of some tough questions by saying that he did not want to "prejudge" (a word he used five times) the result of an ongoing process.

"The president believes that what he did today will enhance the security of the American people," Gibbs said when discussing the plan. He added that there was a "real palpable pride" about the decision among retired military officers Obama met with this morning, a belief that Obama "made America safer, made America stronger, lived up to our values," and protected servicemen.

Asked how Obama's new policies would play if the nation's most-wanted terrorist, Osama bin Laden, were captured, Gibbs wasn't afraid to punt, saying he'd check with the National Security Council.

"It's fair for you to conclude that I want to make sure I don't make a mistake," he explained.

Gibbs was pressed at various points about the second swearing-in ceremony last night. The subject produced the first bit of contention at today's briefing, as NBC's Chuck Todd pressed Gibbs on the decision to have Obama re-take his oath of office. If it was out of an "abundance of caution" that they did the oath twice, Todd asked, would Obama then out of the same sense of caution re-sign any executive orders he had previously issued?

"Because the counsel's office continues to believe that the president was sworn in appropriately and effectively," Gibbs said.

Unsatisfied, Todd pushed back, with an exchange that lasted until Gibbs tried to diffuse the situation: "You know lawyers," he said, saying again they were confident there was no problem with the first oath.

Todd again followed up to ask, and the subject was raised again later, about the decision not to allow a non-White House photographer or video camera capture the second oath (whether anyone outside of the journalistic community shares the same concern is rather unlikely). Reporters thought it insufficient for such a significant event to be documented only by a reporter's "crackly" audio recording. Gibbs' glib responses, about getting a bigger room or that it was easier to get tickets for this than the inaugural, proved unsatisfactory, until he finally moved on.

There was some news that came from the affair. Gibbs began the press briefing by announcing that President Obama would now each morning hold an "Economic Daily Briefing" in addition to the customary daily intelligence briefing, signaling again the administration's focus on the nation's troubled economy. It will be led by Larry Summers, head of the National Economic Council.

Gibbs also made it known that in the battle of the Blackberry, President Obama has proven victorious. The 44th president would be the first with the hand-held device attached at the hip, but that the parameters of its had been carefully planned. Only some members of the senior staff and a small circle of personal friends will be able to e-mail the most powerful man in the world. His device will be "security enhanced."

Most interestingly, Gibbs said that the presumption will be that the messages he sends and receives will be subject to the Presidential Records Act - though he noted the provision exempting "purely personal" communication."

And how is the president settling in, Gibbs was asked. It was here that he made reference to one of the unique factors in his appointment as press secretary -- a close relationship to the principal.

"I've known the President a long time, and he looked very comfortable in his surroundings yesterday," Gibbs said. "I do think he enjoys, to use a phrase, living above the company store."

So much so that yesterday, he even was able to have dinner with his family.

Two Senate Vacancies Remain

Michael Bennet's swearing-in as senator from Colorado today means just two Senate seats remain vacant after a turbulent few months since the November elections.

Hillary Clinton resigned from her Senate seat from New York yesterday after being confirmed by the Senate and sworn in as U.S. Secretary of State. Her seat will likely be officially filled next week after New York Gov. David Paterson appoints her successor. He's expected to make his announcement tomorrow.

The Minnesota Senate seat, held for the last six years by Republican Norm Coleman, is the other remaining vacancy. Recently filled Senate seats include Roland Burris, who was appointed to President Obama's Illinois seat, and Ted Kaufman, who was sworn in Friday to Vice President Biden's former seat from Delaware.

Boehner, McConnell Respond To Gitmo Closing

The Senate and House GOP leaders responded today to President Obama's executive order that Guantanamo Bay detention center be closed within one year.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell:

"Senate Republicans stand ready to work with President Obama to achieve the commitment stated in his Inaugural Address to defeat and outlast 'those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents...' . I am committed to working with the new Commander in Chief to ensure that the symbolism of the Executive Order directing the closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay does not lead to action that imperils the American people, either through the release of terrorists on American soil or into the wider world. Our first responsibility is to protect our nation. And, in my opinion, it is safer for the American people to keep committed terrorists at a secure facility hundreds of miles away from our shores rather than in facilities located in or near American communities."

House Minority Leader John Boehner:

"The Guantanamo Bay prison is filled with the worst of the worst -- terrorists and killers bent on murdering Americans and other friends of freedom around the world. If it is closed, where will they go, will they be brought to the United States, and how will they be secured? Will they be released by the courts, despite reports that more than 60 former terrorist detainees have already returned to battlefields to fight us again? Unfortunately, in briefings yesterday the new Administration did not have any real answers to these concerns.

"Just as important, if a terrorist detainee is brought to the United States that terrorist is automatically afforded more constitutional rights than U.S. military personnel under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. That only increases the threat that a judge will release the detainee into the U.S. population."

Strategy Memo: Oath, Take Two

Good Thursday morning. President Obama took the oath of office again yesterday, allaying any doubts that he may legally be president.

**Top News: Caroline Kennedy has decided she no longer wants the New York Senate seat, the AP reported late last night. Recent reports indicated that Kennedy had been Gov. David Paterson's choice all along. She would have, of course, been a legacy to the seat, which her uncle Robert once held.

A bit of confusion ensued when, one hour after reporting Kennedy was out of the race, the AP came out with a follow-up story that she was back in. However, Kennedy released a one-sentence statement early this morning that she was indeed withdrawing her name from consideration.

**President Obama
*Obama is expected to begin his presidency with a job approval rating well above 50%. This will continue the streak of presidents who have begun their first terms with ratings above that mark, Gallup reports. Every president since Dwight Eisenhower has received a 50%+ initial approval rating.

*Hillary Clinton was confirmed as secretary of state by the Senate yesterday, on a 94-2 vote, with Senators Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and David Vitter (R-La.) the two detractors.

*D.C. is reporting that 1.8 million people were on the National Mall Jan. 20 to watch Obama's inauguration, the Washington Post reports. As expected, others estimate it was much smaller. But those of us who were there sure believe it.

*The official statement from White House counsel Greg Craig, on the reasoning behind Obama taking the oath of office for a second time: "We believe that the oath of office was administered effectively and that the President was sworn in appropriately yesterday. But the oath appears in the Constitution itself. And out of an abundance of caution, because there was one word out of sequence, Chief Justice Roberts administered the oath a second time."

*Today's the day Obama will sign executive orders to shut down Gitmo and direct the CIA to shut down its secret network of prisons and end coercive interrogation techniques.

Washington Post: "The actions are dramatic evidence that Obama is ready to use his authority and political capital to turn back some of the most controversial practices of George W. Bush's administration. They also suggest that he believes he needs to push quickly for broad changes."

*Hillary Clinton is now secretary of state, having been sworn in at her Senate office, former President Clinton at her side. She and Obama will meet at the State Department today, and address staff.

*WaPo's Anne Kornblut looks at the frustration of the high-tech Obama staffers entering a low-tech White House. Former Bush staffer David Almacy: "The White House itself is an institution that transitions regardless of who the president is. The White House is not starting from scratch. Processes are already in place."

*Politico reports that Obama will get to work on his health care plan in late winter or early spring by convening a "working session" on reform.

*The president signed executive orders on ethics yesterday. But The Hill reports that K Street is bracing for "a bonanza" because of the push of legislation.

*NBC News's Andrea Mitchell and Chuck Todd wondered this morning whether Obama will need to re-sign the executive orders he signed yesterday due to the oath re-do.

**Congress
*The House passed -- on a 260-166 vote -- new rules on the TARP funds, after last week releasing the second half of the $700 billion bailout.

*While Clinton was confirmed yesterday, Republicans have delayed the votes on Treasury Secretary nominee Timothy Geithner and Attorney General nominee Eric Holder. A vote on Geithner could come as early as today, while Holder will have to wait until next week, the Baltimore Sun reports.

**Sports Alert: Virginia Tech upset No. 1 Wake Forest in an ACC basketball matchup last night. It was the Demon Deacons' first loss of the season. Go Hokies.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

"Abundance Of Caution"

President Barack Obama, who yesterday swore to execute the office of President of the United States faithfully, today swore to faithfully execute the office of President of the United States. The re-do occurred at 7:35 pm in the White House's map room, administered again by Chief Justice John Roberts.

A statement from White House counsel Greg Craig:

"We believe that the oath of office was administered effectively and that the President was sworn in appropriately yesterday. But the oath appears in the Constitution itself. And out of an abundance of caution, because there was one word out of sequence, Chief Justice Roberts administered the oath a second time."

It's a rather serious issue for some, but Obama tried to make light of it tonight, hours after his vice president did the same. When Roberts asked him if he was ready to take the oath, he answered: "I am, and we're going to do it very slowly." Twenty-five seconds later, Roberts smiled and said, "Congratulations, again."

"All right," Obama said. And referring to the small group of reporters who was present, he joked again: "The bad news for the pool is there's 12 more balls."

Not true, though there is one last celebratory ball tonight for members of the campaign staff.

Obama Tells Advisers To Plan Iraq "Drawdown"

The White House just issued this statement from President Obama on Iraq:

"This afternoon, I met with our Ambassador to Iraq, the commander in Iraq, and the overall theater commander in the region in order to get a full update on the situation in Iraq. Key members of my cabinet and senior national security officials also participated in this meeting.

"The meeting was productive and I very much appreciated receiving assessments from these experienced and dedicated individuals. During the discussion, I asked the military leadership to engage in additional planning necessary to execute a responsible military drawdown from Iraq.

"In the coming days and weeks, I will also visit the Department of Defense to consult with the Joint Chiefs on these issues, and we will undertake a full review of the situation in Afghanistan in order to develop a comprehensive policy for the entire region."

Hillary Clinton, whose confirmation as secretary of State came this only afternoon, did not attend the meeting; a representative from the department was on hand.

The More Things Change ...

It's day one (or is it two?) for the Obama administration, which means there are probably more than a few wide-eyed, nervous and/or confused faces milling about the White House. Even the president himself seemed a bit unsure of how to proceed at times during an event to announce new executive orders and swear in staff, and he joked that he's still getting used to seeing everyone stand up upon his entering a room.

lowerpressIn the White House briefing room, things were busier for the incoming president than they had been for the lame duck. With space more limited, reporters sat arbitrarily around the room. In the staff offices adjacent to the briefing room, familiar faces from the campaign - Bill Burton, Reid Cherlin Josh Earnest, Ben LaBolt, Jen Psaki, Nick Shapiro and Tommy Vietor -- got settled at their government posts, sitting where helpfully-labeled, though possibly misspelled, nametags indicate.

Everyone, some press included, was simply getting his or her bearings. The staff is still using Gmail as their official accounts get activated. Used to dealing with campaign reporters that were a safe distance from Chicago, they now had a steady stream of reporters popping in the lower press offices with questions. Unfortunately for Cherlin, his desk is right at the entrance, meaning he was often the first one to be asked any of the hundreds of mundane questions. A pen and blank sheet of paper were close by to list questions and contact info.

0121briefing.jpg Accustomed to the workings of the Bush White House, veterans of the White House beat tried to be patient when information was not flowing at the usual pace. One joked that this is the time when they know more about the job of the communication staff then they themselves do.

Press secretary Robert Gibbs chose not to give his maiden briefing as press secretary today -- word came this morning that he'd put it off another day as everyone settled in. Suspicions were aroused at one point when a staffer began tinkering with the rotating panels behind the podium, producing a screen that signaled he might just brief.

Before people get too caught up in over-analyzing the first-day glitches, a cautionary note from one of the more experienced bodies in the press corps: "This is the third time I've done this and it's exactly the same."

Obama Orders Pay Freeze, Ethics Regs

He has a number of promises to follow through on, but President Obama led off with ethics today, enacting with a simple signature initiatives meant to reduce the influence of lobbyists on the administration.

Obama also offered a token gesture in light of the economic crisis, announcing before his senior staff that he was instituting a freeze on their pay, at least those who earn more than $100,000.

"During this period of economic emergency, families are tightening their belts, and so should Washington," he said. "Some of the people in this room will be affected by the pay freeze, and I want you to know that I appreciate your willingness to agree to it."

The freeze will last "until further notice," the text of the memorandum to executive department heads states. But since the senior staff is barely on payroll yet, the impact would appear to be minimal unless it remains in effect for a period of years.

Obama opened his remarks by saying how "inspired" he was yesterday "by the sight of Americans as far as the eye could see." To ensure that his administration keeps faith with those who came to his inaugural, Obama signed an executive order that would affect three areas of lobbying. First, it prohibits current employees from accepting lobbyists' gifts. Secondly, it would bar former employees from lobbying the administration. And finally, he'd require that government hiring "be based upon qualifications, competence and experience, not political connections."

"We are here as public servants and public service is a privilege," he said. "It's not about advantaging yourself. It's not about advancing your friends or your corporate clients. It's not about advancing an ideological agenda or the special interests of any organization. Public service is, simply and absolutely, about advancing the interests of Americans."

At the EEOB press conference, Obama also announced that "transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency." To that end, issued directives on how to interpret the Freedom of Information Act, which he said is the "most powerful instrument we have for making our government honest and transparent."

"I will also hold myself as President to a new standard of openness," he said. He did not, take questions from the pool reporters present. But he did later welcome into his home several hundred ticket-winners for an "Open House."

"Roam around. Don't break anything," the president told one guest. "This is even better than we expected," another guest told him.

The First Biden Moment As VP

President Obama's inaugural address was noted for the strong contrasts he drew with his predecessor. Today, Joe Biden gave us a reminder that there is significant change in the office of Vice President as well.

Of course, Dick Cheney and Biden have major differences when it comes to policy -- some of which were aired during what was otherwise a friendly transition. Today, though, it was all about style, as the new Number Two joined Obama for the swearing-in of senior staff.

When Obama turned the program over to Biden, there was an interlude as they waited for the script of the oath. And then it came... the first Vice Presidential Bidenism:

"My memory is not as good as Justice Roberts," he said, referring to yesterday's bungled oath of office.

An honorable mention came last night, however. Before taking his wife's hand to dance at the Neighborhood Ball, he confessed that he was more of a talker than a dancer. "I may not be able to dance, but I sure like holdin' her!" he added.

House GOP Leaders Request Meeting With Obama

House Republican leaders sent a letter to President Obama today requesting a meeting to discuss economic solutions that its working group came up with over the last two weeks. The GOP leaders requested the meeting take place tomorrow.

"In response to your request for input, we created a House Economic Recovery Working Group from a broad cross-section of our House conference and started talking to experts, other elected officials and citizens from across the nation to hear their thoughts on what Congress needs to do to help our economy," the leaders wrote. "After thoughtful deliberations, we are ready to present our principles to you to continue the dialogue we started at the beginning of this year."

Will Clinton Make The Meeting?

Whether Hillary Clinton will arrive for a meeting at the White House on time is still undecided. President Barack Obama is holding an afternoon meeting to discuss Iraq. In addition to Vice President Joe Biden, Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Mullen and National Security Adviser General James Jones, among others, a representative from the State Department is scheduled to attend as well.

While seven other Obama cabinet-level nominees were approved by the Senate prior to the inauguration yesterday, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) placed a hold on Clinton's nomination as Secretary of State so a floor debate could be held prior to a vote. Cornyn indicated in a letter to Clinton on Friday that he was not yet comfortable approving of her nomination when her husband's foundation continues to accept foreign donations.

"I remain deeply troubled that America's foreign policy and your diplomatic mission will be encumbered by the sweeping global activities of the Clinton Foundation...unless tighter foreign fundraising restrictions and transparency protocols are adopted by your husband's organization," Cornyn wrote in the letter.

Discussion began on the Senate floor at noon ET today, as the Senate opened for business, with three hours allowed for debate. With a 90 minute recess at 12:45, if all three hours are used for debate, a vote on Clinton's nomination would not occur until 4:30, 15 minutes after the meeting with Obama is scheduled to start.

Cornyn and Clinton spoke briefly in the Captiol following the swearing-in ceremony yesterday. Politico reported yesterday that the conversation appeared "intense but cordial." Explaining his position from the Senate floor today, Cornyn brought up the exchange.

"I argued to Senator Clinton yesterday. Or, I didn't argue to her, but I explained to her my position that I thought greater transparency would make it better for her as she enters this new job as secretary of state," Cornyn said. "Because any cloud or question that remains because of the lack of transparency or lack of disclosure really, I think, hurts her and hurts the Obama administration at a time when we want to see it succeed." He went on to say that Clinton hoped any new rule put in place would be set for all current and future nominees, not just Clinton.

Cornyn also further clarified his position on Clinton's appointment to the post. "My concern is not whether our colleague Senator Clinton is qualified to be secretary of state or not. She is," Cornyn said. "And I intend to vote for her confirmation. But I also believe it's important to flesh out some of the concerns that have been raised with legitimacy by Senator Kerry, Senator Lugar and others, that I think bears some public discussion and debate here in the Senate."

Following Cornyn and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Sen. John McCain said from the floor that the Senate "shouldn't delay" the vote on Clinton's nomination.

"I, like all good politicians, pay attention to the president's approval ratings -- very high," McCain said. "But more importantly, I think the message that the American people are sending us now is they want us to work together and get to work. I think we ought to let Senator Clinton, who is obviously qualified and obviously will serve, get to work immediately."

Now President, Obama Engages On Mideast

During the transition, then-President-elect Obama was extremely cautious when asked about the conflict in Gaza, citing the one-president-at-a-time mantra. Well, now he is that president, and on his first day he has initiated contacts with the relevant parties.

The White House announced this morning that Obama spoke by phone with both Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as Jordan's King Abdullah and Egyptian President Mubarak.

"He used this opportunity on his first day in office to communicate his commitment to active engagement in pursuit of Arab-Israeli peace from the beginning of his term, and to express his hope for their continued cooperation and leadership," press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

Without getting into details, the statement said that Obama "appreciated the spirit of partnership and warm nature of these calls."

Obama's Day

This morning's prayer service marked the final event under the inaugural umbrella, and so President Obama now sets off to the business of state. Below is his schedule for the day:

  • 1:15 pm: Obama will attend the swearing in of his Cabinet, and sign an executive order on ethics.
  • 2:30 pm: The president and Mrs. Obama will welcome citizens to their new home at a "White House Open House."
  • 3:15 pm: Obama will meet with his economic advisers in the Roosevelt Room.
  • 4:15 pm: Obama meets with Iraq military commanders.

Strategy Memo: First Full Day On The Job

Good Wednesday morning, America. And Happy Day Two, officially, President Barack Obama. After a long night and surely an early morning, the country is watching to see what the new president does on his first day on the job.

**Inauguration
*Be sure to check out our Inauguration Notebook, pictures from our seat on the Capitol's west lawn and a write-up on Obama's speech.

*Most Inauguration commenters have noted that the most amazing thing from yesterday was the never-ending crowd along the National Mall.

*Peggy Noonan calls the inaugural a "subdued, moderate speech both in tone and content, a serious and solid speech."

*Corn Alert: We were cold yesterday, but when 2 million people fell completely silent as the new president spoke from the inaugural podium, the shivers went away.

*Ted Kennedy should be released today after suffering a seizure at yesterday's luncheon. Doctors said it was probably "simple fatigue."

*Spotted At The Ceremony: Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon pushing their way through a security gate line (Carey took an elbow from someone who only later realized who it was -- "Did I just elbow Mariah Carey?"; Cannon, to upset people in line: "She's gotta sing! What, do you want to sing for her?"); Former Fugees rapper Wyclef Jean in a gray and white fur coat; Vanessa Williams, with huge sunglasses on.

*The Obama girls apparently had a scavenger hunt instead of heading out to the balls. It ended with a surprise visit by the Jonas Brothers.

*Major Newspaper Headlines (You can see them all at the Newseum website)
Washington Post: Obama Takes Charge
New York Times: After a Day of Crowds and Celebration, Obama Turns to Sober List of Challenges
Los Angeles Times: Obama Era Begins
Wall Street Journal: President Barack Obama
Chicago Tribune: Barack Obama's Inauguration: Amid Bleak Times, A Bright Day for U.S.
Boston Globe: Obama: 'The Time Has Come'

**President Obama
*Obama wasted no time, apparently. Shortly after being sworn in, "the Obama administration instructed military prosecutors late Tuesday to seek a 120-day suspension of legal proceedings involving detainees at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- a clear break with the approach of the outgoing Bush administration," the Washington Post reports.

*A Gallup poll out this morning finds that 45% of Americans think Obama should not close Gitmo, while 35% think he should and 20% aren't sure.

*ABC News reports that though the Obamas didn't make it home until about 1 a.m. ET, the lights were on in their living quarters before 8 a.m. Jake Tapper also notes that Obama will hold an early-afternoon event at the White House "in which he will issue presidential declarations and executive orders dealing with ethics and openness and the way he wants his White House and administration to operate."

*Six Cabinet secretaries were confirmed unanimously yesterday. Hillary Clinton's nomination will be voted on today. Meanwhile, Timothy Geithner will finally face his hearing at the Senate Finance Committee. WSJ: "Geithner will likely be grilled over his tax missteps and his role in helping to craft the Bush administration's financial-sector rescue. But senators' seeming reluctance to derail his confirmation while the economy is sputtering and the lending freeze is worsening makes it likely he will be confirmed for the cabinet post."

*Obama talked to Robin Roberts at one of last night's balls. "Government is going to work, we're going to make it work," Obama said. "But it's ultimately the American people coming together that is going to determine what we accomplish and how we get through some very difficult challenges." He said that today he'd be "making a series of announcements on both domestic and foreign policy that I think will be critical for us to act swiftly on. We¹re not going to be able to delay." As for the oath flubbing: "We were up there, we've got a lot of stuff on our minds. He actually, I think, helped me out on a couple of stanzas there. Overall, I think it went relatively smoothly and I'm very grateful to him."

*White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was one of the first to head to work yesterday, chatting with some of the reporters there.

*Check out these old photos of Obama from a college roommate. He says he wanted to share memories of Obama now that he's president. "When they lived together, Mr. Boerner said he thought Mr. Obama wanted to be a writer, not a politician."

*A great picture of the note waiting for President Obama from former President Bush ­ in a manilla envelope with a Post-it for "44."

**Former President Bush, after returning to Texas: "I'm coming home with my head held high and a sense of accomplishment. Even among the most difficult days of my presidency, I was always optimistic about the future."

**Blago Alert: As Obama was sworn in, Gov. Rod Blagojevich was fingerprinted again. Chicago Tribune also reports that he failed to respond to the impeachment charges against him by the 4 pm deadline, so he'll be considered to have entered a "not guilty" plea.

**Sports/Politics Alert:: President Bush did not pardon pitcher Roger Clemens, whom a federal grand jury may indict, the New York Daily News reports. "Despite Clemens' ties to the Bush family, Washington insiders said in recent weeks that a pardon was unlikely. One reason revolved around race."

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Inauguration Notebook

The crowd today was the largest in U.S. history, according to police estimates. Just under two million crowded the mall to watch Barack Obama sworn in, and while there were not any major incidents, it was not always smooth sailing. Here's some color from the day.

  • It was cold, and no matter how many layers, it was a tough few hours. On the long route into the ticketed areas, you could find hand warmers for sale every couple hundred feet, though.

  • As the program began, those within earshot of me cheered almost exclusively for the Democrats, especially Ted Kennedy, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and, of course, the Obamas. Oprah Winfrey and Colin Powell were lauded as well. Joe Lieberman was booed; John McCain got a mixed reaction but a surprising number of cheers.

  • Problems at security checkpoints left the holders of some prime tickets unable to take their seats. One of them: former Democratic vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro, who was escorted through a barricade in the silver section to get to her seat. Other non-VIPs were not so lucky.

  • For the outgoing president, though, it was a definitive Bronx cheer. From his appearance on the jumbo screens to his arrival on the platform, the crowd jeered the outgoing president and eventually broke into an extended "na-na, hey-hey, good bye" chant.

  • At how many inaugurals has the guest of honor had his name chanted the way President Obama's was today. For every lull in the program, like clockwork, the "O-BA-MA!" chorus began on the mall.

  • One quibble from a reader on Obama's inaugural address. He said "forty-four Americans have now taken the presidential oath." The nation observes that there have been 44 presidents, but Grover Cleveland accounts for two of them. So, Obama was actually the 43rd to take the oath.

  • And about that oath - it was not pretty. Steve Kornacki: "A conspiracy theorist might say that Chief Justice John Roberts, perhaps George W. Bush's most conservative and most lasting contribution to American life, was trying to psyche out Barack Obama by intentionally mangling the syntax of the oath of office as he administered it to the new president."

  • As the crowds dispersed, some who were near the Reflecting Pond walked on water. It was frozen solid, of course. As a few brave souls seemed to fare well, the numbers grew.

  • A new WhiteHouse.gov is up and running. The design bears a hint of the Obama campaign web page, but with more of an official government feel. The new administration's Web site has a blog, and also, we should note, includes more biographies and staff lists, as well as agenda specifics.

Voices In The Crowd:

"I gave Val Kilmer a ride home last night" - Chris Matthews (MSNBC).

"I wish I was Mrs. Crist. I'd be beautiful and rich" - Minnesota first lady Mary Pawlenty, after someone mistook her for the new first lady of Florida (St. Pete Times).

President Obama Calls For "Era Of Responsibility"

President Barack Obama today delivered a message that was very much in keeping with his signature promise, heralding real change in the course of the nation he now leads.

The Illinois Democrat, after taking the oath of office this afternoon before millions who braved the cold to fill the National Mall, was timely rather than timeless in his inaugural address as he spoke of America's current challenges: an economy in crisis, a political system that is dysfunctional, and a nation that has lost its status in the world.

"The challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time. But know this, America -- they will be met," he said.

The speech, clocking in at just under 2,400 words according to the draft as prepared for delivery, was also a call for Americans to, as he put it, pay the price of citizenship.

"What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility - a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world, duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task," he said.

Notably, the new president also included some sharp language, almost political, referring to "cynics" and those who would "question the scale of our ambitions." And criticizing the "stale political arguments," he even quoted scripture to say it was time "to set aside childish things." And he was tough on his now-predecessor, reaffirming his intent to shift course.

"We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals," he said.

And reaching out to the international community, from "the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born," Obama promised that the United States is "ready to lead once more."

He specifically spoke to the Muslim community, seeking "a new way forward." But he also offered a stern challenge to those he said would rather "sow conflict" and "blame their society's ills on the West." "Know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy," he said.

And pledging to succeed in the battle against extremism, he said: "We will not apologize for our way of life, nor will we waver in its defense, and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you."

It was a sober speech, but the 44th president closed in almost a prayerful manner.

"With hope and virtue, let us brave once more the icy currents, and endure what storms may come," he said. "Let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."

The Inauguration, From Our View

Here are a few shots we took from our seat on the west front of the Capitol.

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Our view of the stage, where Obama would soon take the oath of office and deliver his inaugural address.

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The view from behind our seat, where the crowd apparently went on...and on...and on.

Cong. Leaders React To Inauguration

Democratic and Republican congressional leaders released statements in reaction to President Barack Obama's inauguration today:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid:

"It may be cold today in Washington, our nation's heart is warm. From every corner of our country and the furthest crevices of the earth, people came together at the apex of our democracy to be a part of an American renewal.

"President Barack Obama's inaugural address appealed to our better angels and best intentions. He reminded us that no matter how daunting our challenges may seem, America always answers the call of history.

"The millions who came together, lining our National Mall for miles and miles, were not merely observers to this memorable day. They were participants, ready to work with our new President in service to a common cause.

"The United States Senate is ready join our new President to answer that call to service as well. That's why we are back in session, just a few short hours from the swearing-in. Faced with some of the great challenges of our lifetimes, there is no time to waste."

House Minority Leader John Boehner:

"The defining characteristic of our American democracy is the peaceful transfer of presidential power, and once again, our nation has proven to friends and foes alike that the world's most powerful nation is governed above all else by the wisdom and will of its citizens. The next four years will be marked by considerable challenges - but also considerable opportunities for all leaders in Washington, regardless of party, to work together on behalf of the American people. House Republicans look forward to finding common ground with the President on solutions to rebuild our economy, strengthen American families, and keep our country safe. Today is a day of celebration - a celebration of our thriving democracy and a celebration of our nation's first African-American President. I wish President Obama and his family all my best and look forward to traveling the next four years with him in our continuing American journey."

From Obama, We'll Hear Lincoln, Roosevelt

The United States economy is in crisis, and it's a certainty that much of Barack Obama's inaugural speech today will focus on that very topic. Presidents past have come into office facing daunting circumstances as well, and Obama and his speechwriters may lean on the likes of Franklin Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln as resources.

Obama is an outspoken admirer of both Lincoln and Roosevelt, and his recent speeches -- including at the Lincoln Memorial concert Sunday -- illustrate that. A number of Obama's lines are reminiscent of what the nation heard in inaugural speeches in 1861 and 1933, when the Union was literally breaking apart and the economy was in worse shape than today.

"In the course of our history, only a handful of generations have been asked to confront challenges as serious as the ones we face right now," Obama said Sunday from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, before laying out in Hemingway-like sentences exactly what the country is facing.

Compare that to what Lincoln said in March 1861, as he related his situation -- a country split in half over slavery -- to that of his predecessors.

"It is seventy-two years since the first inauguration of a President under our National Constitution," Lincoln said. "During that period fifteen different and greatly distinguished citizens have in succession administered the executive branch of the Government. They have conducted it through many perils, and generally with great success. Yet, with all this scope of precedent, I now enter upon the same task for the brief constitutional term of four years under great and peculiar difficulty. A disruption of the Federal Union, heretofore only menaced, is now formidably attempted."

Here is another snippet from Obama's relatively brief speech Sunday.

"I won't pretend that meeting any one of these challenges will be easy," Obama said. "It will take more than a month or a year, and it will likely take many. Along the way there will be setbacks and false starts and days that test our fundamental resolve as a nation. But despite all of this -- despite the enormity of the task that lies ahead -- I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure - that the dream of our founders will live on in our time."

Now compare those lines to the opening paragraph of Roosevelt's inaugural speech in March 1933. With the country deep in depression, Roosevelt decided to sugarcoat over nothing.

"I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our Nation impels," Roosevelt said. "This is pre-eminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper."

From start to finish, Lincoln's speech was aimed directly at the South, as he forcefully explained why secession was not a suitable resolution. Likewise, Roosevelt used the vast majority of his speech to explain his plans for solving the country's economic ailments. With the country at war, Obama won't be able to focus solely on the economy, but he'll otherwise look to follow in their footsteps.

As he takes his first steps in the sand as United States president and commander-in-chief, it would be hard to argue with that path.

Nothing But Lines

Take a stroll down Independence Avenue on the south side of the Capitol from 10 a.m. until this afternoon, and this is what you'll see: lines.

People are lined up outside the three House office buildings across the avenue from the Capitol as they wait to get their congressman-provided tickets to the big show tomorrow. Much of the same can be expected tomorrow, as the masses converge on the Mall tomorrow morning for the ceremony and 16-block Pennsylvania Avenue parade.

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People lined up outside the Cannon House Office Building, en route to their congressman's office to pick up Inauguration tickets.

Strategy Memo: Bush's Last Day

Good Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Washington is flooded with people right now with just 27 more hours until Barack Obama is sworn in as president. And for John McCain and the Arizona Cardinals, just 13 days until Super Bowl XLIII! The latest forecast has the temperature between 25 and 30 degrees tomorrow during the inaugural swearing-in ceremony. The Tampa, Fla., Super Bowl will be far warmer.

**Inauguration
*At yesterday's opening concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, "more than 400,000 people filled the western end of the Mall for the official start of a three-day jubilee of prayers, parades and parties," the Washington Post writes. Politics Nation spies spotted people climbing trees to get a better view of the stage -- a big no-no on the Mall, but with so many people police didn't do a thing about it.

*Obama, at the Lincoln: "But despite all of this - despite the enormity of the task that lies ahead - I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure - that the dream of our founders will live on in our time." Sounds like a line from an inaugural address. We'll see tomorrow how many lines he's been testing on us over the last few days.

*The line from Obama's speech that seems to jump out of most headlines: "I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure, that the dream of our founders will live on in our time... For in these monuments are chiseled those unlikely stories that affirm our unyielding faith ‹ a faith that anything is possible in America."

David Axelrod hinted yesterday that Obama's inaugural address will be centered around the concept of personal responsibility. "One thing about Barack Obama, his themes have been consistent not just through this campaign, but through his public life," he told George Stephanopoulos. "From his convention speech in 2004 through today. So I don't think you're going to be surprised by what you hear."

*People are coming to Washington to witness this historic moment in the country's history. And according to Gallup, "78% of Americans see Barack Obama's presidential election as at least one of the most historic the nation has had, including 33% who consider it the most historic ever."

*Party Alert: Places to read about the parties: WaPo's Celebritology, Politico's Shenanigans, and Fishbowl DC.

**President Bush has no public events scheduled for his last full day in the White House. President-elect Obama will have lunch with community service volunteers, then attend the kids inaugural at the Verizon Center. Tonight the new president will fete his vice president, as well as John McCain and Colin Powell at three "bipartisan" dinners.

**The Transition
*The Obamas attended services at the Nineteenth Street Baptist Church, one of the city's oldest historically black churches. The Obama inaugural committee said he will continue visiting local houses of worship as he searches for a new parish. From one of the readings: "Rosa Parks sat so that Martin Luther King Jr. could walk. Martin Luther King walked so that Barack Obama could run. Barack Obama ran so that all children can fly."

*Mike Allen says that some Obama White House staffers expect to be on site within hours of the inauguration. "Day One," on Wednesday, could see a host of executive orders and meetings with top economic and military advisers.

*Before his train tour on Saturday, Obama announced that his 13-million strong "Obama for America" e-mail network will be put to work for the DNC as "Organizing for America."

*Those who show up in the White House will just have to live without IM.

*But Bush staffers promise their keyboards will have the letter "o."

*Nancy Pelosi tried to force Obama's hand on raising taxes on the wealthy and other issues he has been "reluctant" to address. She also told Fox News Sunday she thought there ought to be some investigations into Bush administration practices. "I think that we have to learn from the past, and we cannot let the politicizing of the -- for example, the Justice Department -- to go unreviewed," she said.

**An Obama official seems to lean on Gov. David Paterson to choose Caroline Kennedy this morning. "We can't follow the logic in his process. We want Caroline. We won't indicate disappointment with where he ends up."

**The AP reports that Virginia's gubernatorial candidates are finding it difficult to raise campaign funds in this economic climate.

**On a serious note, the military is seeing increased recruitment as many are unable to find work elewhere, the New York Times reports.

**Sports Alert: Congrats to the Steelers and Cardinals, who won their respective conference championships yesterday and will meet at the Super Bowl in Tampa two weeks from yesterday. Redskins fans certainly noticed something during the Cardinals-Eagles NFC Championship game that shouldn't have felt good: the Skins beat those two teams a total of three times this year. Sure, the Steelers stomped them on national television, but still.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Traveling to DC, Obama Invokes America's Unfinished Revolution

President-elect Barack Obama has arrived in Washington with a bit of a whimper -- no fanfare after an 8-hour train ride that marked the official kick-off of his inaugural festivities.

An estimated 50,000 people greeted him along the way, at events in Philadelphia, Wilmington and Baltimore, as well as a couple "slow-rolls" along the Amtrak route. Joined by his wife (who celebrated her birthday today) and some so-called "ordinary Americans," the day was a throwback to Abraham Lincoln's arrival in Washington a century and a half ago.

But it was the spirit of the American Revolution that Obama referred to in remarks at each stop today, saying in Philadelphia that the war that founded the nation "was -- and remains -- an ongoing struggle in the minds and hearts of the people."

In Delaware, Obama picked up Vice President-elect Joe Biden -- someone he said has already "changed Washington" -- and noted that the state was the first to ratify the Constitution. And then he came to Baltimore, where he said the nation "faced its first true test" in 1812.

"We recognize that such enormous challenges as the ones we face now will not be solved quickly," he said to a crowd of over 30,000 there, the largest of the day. "There will be false starts and setbacks, frustrations and disappointments. I will make some mistakes. But we will be called to show patience even as we act with fierce urgency."

Today's events may have been an opportunity for the president-elect to test some themes for his inaugural address in three days, though he'd likely use new language. According to a pool report from the trip, Michelle Obama told some of the "ordinary Americans" during the ride that her husband would give a good speech. "That's not what you're supposed to say in front of the press!" Obama said to her. "You're supposed to say it'll be alright!"

Obama hits Ohio to boost renewable energy, economic plan

President-elect Barack Obama made a campaign-style stop in Ohio today, touting the promise of renewable energy as a job-creating engine that could help the American economy bounce back.

After a tour of Cardinal Fastener in Bedford Heights, Obama pointed out that the company had hired new employees just this week for its growing business supplying parts for wind turbines, which he said shows that renewable energy "isn't something pie in the sky."

"It can create millions of additional jobs and entire new industries if we act right now," he said. "It's not too late to change course - but only if we take dramatic action as soon as possible. The way I see it, the first job of my administration is to put people back to work and get our economy working again."

He said he was pleased that Congress has been "moving quickly" to consider his economic recovery plan. But even as he touted his plans potential benefits, he warned again that the economy could get worse before it gets better.

"I want everyone to be realistic about this," he said. "But if anyone doubts that we can dig ourselves out of this hole, I invite them here to Ohio and look what you've done here at Cardinal Fastener. ... I know that if we can summon that determination and that great American spirit once again, we will meet the challenges of our time and build a better future for our children."

After his speech, Obama greeted the crowd and at one point could be seen via the video feed doing some bicep curls with what was presumably a dumbbell created at the plant. One last bit of motivation from the soon-to-be commander-in-chief.

Strategy Memo: Not Since Brad Pitt

Good Friday, Washington. Today is really the calm before the inaugural storm.

President Bush flies to Camp David; the final press briefing by Dana Perino is today. President-elect Obama flies to Ohio for an event to push his stimulus plan. Vice President-elect Biden will watch his former aide Ted Kaufman take his Senate seat.

The inaugural festivities begin in earnest tomorrow with Obama's whistle-stop train tour from Philadelphia to Washington.

** Obama Interviews
*The Washington Post headlines its interview with the President-elect with his pledge to reform Social Security. "That discussion will begin next month, Obama said, when he convenes a 'fiscal responsibility summit.'" "What we have done is kicked this can down the road. We are now at the end of the road and are not in a position to kick it any further," he said. "We have to signal seriousness in this by making sure some of the hard decisions are made under my watch, not someone else's."

* Washington Post's Howard Kurtz: "There hasn't been this much excitement in the Washington Post newsroom since Brad Pitt dropped by."
Washington Post editorial: "Pragmatist in chief."

* USA Today leads with foreign policy after its interview, with Obama pledging to appoint a team to address the Gaza crisis immediately after his inauguration. On his inaugural speech: He said he had finished "a good, solid draft" last weekend although he might still do some "tinkering" on it.

* He explains his trip to Ohio today as saying he needs to continue rallying the American people behind his agenda. "I wouldn't have won without our ability to organize ordinary people. We want that to continue. That's important not just for winning elections, but it's important for governing. In some ways, it may be more important for governing. It's also important for holding me accountable."

** Transition News
* The New York Times rounds up some of the challenges Obama has faced as his transition winds down, which the team naturally discounts. "We're sitting at 71 percent job approval in the midst of the worst economic crisis," said Rahm Emanuel. "That's one measure of performance, not Washington talk."

* Obama is getting some credit for sealing the TARP vote yesterday. But conservatives, including Dick Armey, are planning to raise constitutional questions over the plan in court.

** Inaugural News
* Philadelphians are disappointed that Obama's train tour doesn't include an open event in the City of Brotherly Love.

* Beau Biden is using personal leave time and has returned from Iraq to witness his father's inauguration. "I'm excited about it," Joe Biden told the Wilmington News Journal. "I wish he were home, and not at the Pentagon all day. But he's here."

* Not going? Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D-IL).

** Congress
* The Democrats unveiled an $825 billion stimulus plan. But Appropriations Committee chair David Obey (D-WI) warns it may not be enough.

* The Minneapolis Star Tribune (which filed for bankruptcy yesterday) reports that the Senate is letting Norm Coleman keep his office open.

* Congress is upping its allowance members can spend "representing their constituents," Roll Call reports.

** Campaign News
* Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) proposed business tax cuts to close a budget deficit. And this is his 2012 primary-themed rationale: "In Washington, they're sending billions of dollars to Wall Street,'' Pawlenty said. "Here in Minnesota, I want us committed to helping Main Street.''

* Michael Bloomberg's re-election campaign is officially open for business.

* In Virginia, Republican Bob McDonnell has raised more than $2 million for his gubernatorial bid. Terry McAuliffe has raised under a million, with the other Democrats trailing behind.

* In Maryland, Gov. Martin O'Malley is launching a push to eliminate the death penalty. "I'm going to lobby people on the merits of the issue," said O'Malley, Catholic. "I just feel personally compelled to try."

Bush: I Never Forgot 9/11

The White House has just released some excerpts of President Bush's farewell address to the nation, scheduled to be delivered from the East Room at 8 pm.

It's being described as an "optimistic and future-oriented" speech, and it will begin with the president paying tribute to the "vitality of American democracy." Barack Obama's story "reflects the enduring promise of our land," and his inauguration "is a moment of hope and pride for our whole nation," the president will say. Bush will also thank the country for its trust, the "prayers that have lifted my spirits," and for "countless acts of courage, generosity and grace."

It appears that Bush intends to continue focusing on the aftermath of 9/11, which he said earlier this week is what defined his presidency.

"As the years passed, most Americans were able to return to life much as it had been before 9/11. But I never did," he will say. Subsequent decisions have sparked what he said is "legitimate debate." "But there can be little debate about the results. America has gone more than seven years without another terrorist attack on our soil."

On domestic policy, he will cite higher education standards, a Medicare prescription drug benefit and lower taxes, among other things. And despite controversies, he will say he always acted out of conviction.

"Like all who have held this office before me, I have experienced setbacks," he will say. "There are things I would do differently if given the chance. Yet I have always acted with the best interests of our country in mind. I have followed my conscience and done what I thought was right." You may not agree with some tough decisions I have made. But I hope you can agree that I was willing to make the tough decisions.

He will conclude by citing the "promise of America," saying that the nation "will never tire, never falter and never fail."

Biden Yields The Floor

Joe Biden bid farewell to the Senate this morning with a speech that was as much a tribute to the "august body" as it was a thoughtful recollection of his 36 years there.

Or was it more than that?

During his 40-minute speech, the vice president-elect shared a story about his first trip to the Senate chamber - not as one of the 100 members, but as 20-year-old interloper who wandered in during a visit to Washington.

"I was awestruck. Literally, awestruck," he said.

Not only did he walk into the empty chamber, but he climbed up the rostrum and sat in the presiding officer's chair.

"I was mesmerized," he said. "And the next thing I know, I feel this hand on my shoulder, and a Capitol police officer picks me up and says, 'What are you doing?' After a few moments he realized I was just a dumbstruck kid and didn't arrest me or anything."

Ten years later he returned as a duly-elected senator, the second-youngest ever to take a seat. And in his seventh term, he said he's still awestruck.

"I think it brings my career full cycle to know that while I was once detained for sitting in the presiding officer's chair, I will now occasionally be detained in the presiding officer's chair as vice president of the United States of America," he said.

He closed by noting his stated intention for coming to the Senate years ago: civil rights.

"And I leave here today to begin my service to our nation's first African-American president," he said. "The arc of the universe is long, but it does indeed bend toward justice. And the United States Senate has been an incredible instrument in ensuring that justice."

Biden officially will resign his seat at 5 pm today. Former chief-of-staff Ted Kaufman will be sworn in tomorrow and serve for two years, until a special election can be held.

Strategy Memo: The Most Experienced VP

Good morning, Washington, where the streets downtown are lined with port-o-potties.

Today in Washington
* President-elect Obama will be at his transition office holding private meetings, as his family moves from the Hay-Adams to Blair House.

*President Bush will stop by the State Department for a farewell visit, and then deliver his final address to the nation tonight.

* Vice President-elect Biden will give his farewell speech to the Senate, followed an hour later by Hillary Clinton. No word on whether Biden plans to fill the entire hour, but it's certainly possible.

** Transition News
* The Judiciary Committee will start Eric Holder's confirmation hearings. It's likely to be a rocky road, but Holder is prepared to address his role in controversial pardons, ABC reports. "He will admit the mistake and reiterate that if he had to do it over, he would proceed differently -- but insist that it was not a mistake of integrity."

* Obama tells Katie Couric that it's not necessarily a "dead or alive" situation, saying he'd be fine just to isolate bin Laden. "My preference obviously would be to capture or kill him. But if we have so tightened the noose that he's in a cave somewhere and can't even communicate with his operatives, then we will meet our goal of protecting America."

** Stimulus News
* The Senate will vote on the request to release the remaining $350 billion in TARP funds. It's likely to succeed because it's Obama's team, not Bush's, making the pitch. AP adds that his stimulus plan will now cost $850 billion.

* The LA Times reports that the stimulus plan will likely pass, but without the bipartisan vote Obama was hoping for. "To attract Republicans, they lose Democrats. It is a very difficult needle to thread," said Sen. John Thune (R-SD). They are discovering that the goal [of an 80-vote majority] is unrealistic. He got so much push-back from his own people."

* And yet the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll finds "broad support" from the American people for his plan. By a 2-to-1 margin, Americans prefer government spending to tax cuts.

** Biden News
* The New York Times interviews Joe Biden, who humbly says: "I know as much or more than Cheney. I'm the most experienced vice president since anybody."

But seriously folks. "I never thought a lot about the vice presidency until I was asked to go on the ticket." He also made a "sharp assessment" of his predecessor as he tried to reconcile his desire to scale back the power of his future office but stay relevant. "The only value of power is the effect, the efficacy of its use. And all the power Cheney had did not result in effective outcomes."

** Blago Alert
* Two can play this Lincoln game; Rod Blagojevich quoted the 16th president as he swore in his state Senate/jury. Meanwhile, his top aides were summoned to appear at the trial.

* In other corruption news, Baltimore's recently-indicted mayor still plans to appear Obama as the whistle-stop train tour hits Charm City.

** 2010
* Harry Reid has hired Brandon Hall, who ran Mark Begich's successful campaign in Alaska last year, to be his campaign manager in 2010.

* Politico also sizes up the candidates to succeed Rahm Emanuel, with each claiming to be the reformer.

** Last But Not Least:
* If you missed it, check out the sweet letter Obama writes to his daughters in "Parade."

Obama Stands By Geithner

President-elect Barack Obama is standing by his nominee for Treasury secretary, saying this afternoon that his tax problems were unintentional and had been corrected.

And notably, Sen. Lindsay Graham, who joined Obama to brief him on his overseas trip with VP-elect Joe Biden, said that the matter was not damning.

"Now's not the time to think in small political terms," Graham said. "I think he's the right guy."

Indeed, Obama said that Geithner's nomination was initially heralded across the spectrum because he was "somebody who was uniquely qualified" to handle the economy.

"Is this an embarrassment for him, yes. He said so himself," Obama said.

In discussing his trip, Biden expressed concern about Afghanistan, saying the situation there has not improved.

"Things are going to get tougher in Afghanistan before they get better," he said. But he praised the "amazing" competence of U.S. commanders there.

Graham, a John McCain stalwart during the presidential campaign, said he was still disappointed by the result of the election but spoke of how important the bipartisan trip was.

"The campaign's over but the war is not," Graham said.

Obama and Biden were due to visit the Supreme Court after the photo op.

House Passes S-CHIP Reauthorization

The House of Representatives just passed by an overwhelming majority the reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), which aims to extend government-provided health insurance to 11 million children. The bill is expected to be approved by the Senate and signed by soon-to-be-President Barack Obama.

Obama issued a statement shortly after the passage of the bill, stating: "This coverage is critical, it is fully paid for, and I hope that the Senate acts with the same sense of urgency so that it can be one of the first measures I sign into law when I am President."

The bill moved quickly to a vote, much to the chagrin of Republicans, who argued over Democrats' unwillingness to allow amendments to the legislation. One issue GOP members had with the reauthorization was that raising the tobacco tax by 61 cents -- as the bill calls for -- would not offset the costs.

Minority Leader John Boehner opposed the bill and the changes it would make to the existing program, which Congress first approved in 1997. "I believe the bill before us would undermine the original intent of the SCHIP program by expanding the program to adults, illegal immigrants, and upper-income families who already have access to private health insurance," Boehner said from the House floor.

The bill passed 289-139, with six members not voting. Forty of the 289 ayes were Republicans, including Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), who said the new bill's inclusion of coverage for legal immigrant children was the deciding factor for the South Florida representative.

Just two Democrats crossed party lines to vote against the bill, Reps. Bobby Bright (D-Ala.) and Jim Marshall (D-Ga.).

"In this moment of crisis, ensuring that every child in America has access to affordable health care is not just good economic policy, but a moral obligation we hold as parents and citizens," Obama said in the statement. "That is why I'm so pleased that Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives came together to provide health insurance to over ten million children whose families have been hurt most by this downturn."

Obama takes his plan on the road

As we noted this morning, President-elect Obama will take his economic recovery plan on the road to Ohio this Friday. The Transition Office just announced more specifics, saying he will meet with workers and tour the Cardinal Fastener & Specialty Company, "a growing company with innovative production practices that manufactures parts used to construct wind turbines."

Last week, Obama delivered a major speech outlining his proposals in Virginia. Ohio's economy has been hard hit to be sure, but it's also notable that he would choose to continue pressing his case in another battleground state.

Strategy Memo: Hearing Problems

Good Wednesday morning. You know your presidency is coming to a close when Gallup ends its approval rating polling of you. And by the way, it feels like Obama brought more than we thought with him when he moved to D.C. We're getting a dose of Chicago weather in the run-up to Inauguration Day.

**Outgoing President
*President Bush ends his presidency with a slight uptick in his Gallup approval rating (not that he cares about polls), shooting above the 30% mark for only the third-worst final rating of any president since World War II. Despite the relatively positive bump to 34% approval, his 61% disapproval rating is surpassed by only Richard Nixon.

*Today Pres. Bush has no public events. President-elect Obama will be briefed by VP-elect Biden on his Asia tour; the two will then meet with the Supreme Court.

*None other than Bob Woodward reports that a Bush administration official overseeing Guantanamo Bay detainees has concluded that at least one was tortured.

**Congress News
*Speaker Nancy Pelosi said yesterday that Congress is "making great progress and that we fully intend to meet our deadline of having a package passed and signed into law" before the President's Day recess. She noted, as she has previously, that "if we are not finished, we are not leaving" for the scheduled recess.

*Up for consideration today is the SCHIP reauthorization bill that aims to pay for health insurance for 11 million American children. Bush vetoed a similar bill in October 2007, and two weeks later the House failed to override his veto by coming 13 votes short of a two-thirds majority. According to the Speaker's office, the bill is completely paid for by a 61-cent raise in the tobacco tax, as well as by restricting self-referral to physician-owned hospitals.

*Tom Vilsack (Agriculture), Eric Shinseki (Veterans Affairs) and Lisa Jackson (EPA) face the Senate today for their confirmation hearings.

**Obama Transition News
*The late buzz was the reported dinner party last night that Obama attended at the home of conservative columnist George Will. Charles Krauthammer, Bill Kristol and David Brooks were also on the guest list, according to a pool report. The transition won't confirm anything but to say it was off the record.

The pool reporter suggested bloggers would not like it, but liberal blogger-in-chief Kos writes: "Let him try to work his charm with that crowd. There's little downside."

*Two senior Republicans are endorsing Treasury Secretary nominee Timothy Geithner despite problems with taxes and the immigration status of a temporary housekeeper. The Obama vetting team apparently found the tax problems in November, and emphasized that they were common mistakes.

*Amazing how little came out of the Hillary Clinton confirmation hearings. Headlines this morning focus on "smart power," Iran and some of the back-and-forth over Clinton Foundation donations. Rather than "advise and consent," Dana Milbank thinks the senators took an "admire and congratulate" approach.

Meanwhile, "Arne Duncan's Senate confirmation hearing to be education secretary was as much of a kumbaya moment as any appointee to Barack Obama's Cabinet is likely to see."

*The outgoing and incoming White house chiefs of staff met again yesterday, with Rahm Emanuel gushing about the "unprecedented" cooperation from the Bush team. "I'm going [to] miss you," he said to counterpart Bolten.

*The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports, and the transition office confirms, that Obama will stop in Bedford Heights, Ohio, on Friday, leading up to his train tour.

*Federal agents tell the NY Daily News that they're on heightened alert because of racist chatter, though there are no credible threats.

*Steve Rattner will be Obama's "Car Czar," according to the New York Times.

**Blago Alert: "I think it's going to be eerie." That's how IL state Sen. Susan Garrett describes today's peculiarity that Gov. Rod Blagojevich will swear in a state Senate that will soon try his impeachment.

**Campaign-ish News
*Via Drudge, WCBS in New York reports that Caroline Kennedy hopes to bring Obama to New York next year, when she and Gov. David Paterson --­ who would appoint Kennedy ­-- are on the ballot.

*Former Rep. and U.S. Trade Rep. Rob Portman will travel the state next week to discuss his interest in the open U.S. Senate seat.

*The nephew of MS Gov. and former RNC chair Haley Barbour has endorsed SC GOP chair Katon Dawson.

*Mike Huckabee, who's been oh so active, takes some shots at Palin in an interview with Esquire. "I must say I did not think that either the Charlie Gibson interview or the Katie Couric interviews were unfair," says Huckabee.
"In fact, if anything, Katie Couric was extraordinarily gentle, even helpful. [Palin] just...I don't know what happened. I can't explain it. It was not a good interview. I'm being charitable."

**Sports Alert: Kentucky shooting guard Jodie Meeks stroked 54 points last night in Kentucky's mauling of rival Tennessee, setting a school record and accounting for 60% of his team's total points. This comes one month after he dropped 46 points on a team and with him averaging 26 on the season. Washington Wizards brass, are you paying attention?

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Gibbs: 'Honest Mistakes' Shouldn't Stop Geithner

The focus was to be on Hillary Clinton's confirmation hearing today, but it's Timothy Geithner's nomination for Treasury secretary that suddenly is under scrutiny. The Obama transition office just issued a statement saying that the president-elect stands by Geithner, despite "honest mistakes" involving taxes and the immigration status of a housekeeper.

"He's dedicated his career to our country and served with honor, intelligence and distinction. That service should not be tarnished by honest mistakes, which, upon learning of them, he quickly addressed," incoming press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the immigration paperwork of a housekeeper expired during her brief time working for Geithner. She went on to get a green card, and charges were not filed.

Also at issue is what team Obama called a "common mistake" with Geithner's taxes, where he failed to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes while working at the IMF. He later paid the IRS back with interest.

Gibbs' statement signaled that Obama would stand by his nominee. "We hope that the Senate will confirm him with strong bipartisan support so that he can begin the important work of the country," Gibbs said.

Immigration issues have doomed some past Cabinet nominees, including Bill Clinton's first choice for Attorney General, Zoe Baird. Former New York police commissioner Bernie Kerik cited similar problems when he withdrew his nomination for Homeland Security secretary; he was later indicted for conspiracy and tax fraud.

The Senate Finance Committee is reportedly holding an emergency meeting to discuss the matter. Republicans had reacted favorably to his selection, but this news could potentially raise new questions about the choice.

Bush's Final Week

Kicking off his final week as president, President Bush thanked his Cabinet this morning for answering "the call to service" at their final meeting, while saying his administration had a "good, solid record."

"Most of all, we protected this country from harm," he said. "And we did so by providing tools for our professionals, as well as asking our military to do hard work, which they have done time and time again."

This afternoon, Bush will present the Presidential Medal of Freedom to three of his strongest allies in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and John Howard, and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.

The only other major event on the president's public schedule is his farewell address to the nation, scheduled for Thursday at 8 pm. Deputy press secretary Tony Fratto offered today few specifics on the speech but said it would be "forward looking."

"Presidents have the unique viewpoint on the nation and the world, and can offer their counsel and advice as they go on to do after they leave the presidency from time to time. So that will be the President's opportunity to do that," he said.

Bush has also held private receptions recently, including one last night for former members of his campaign teams. One attendee called the East Wing gathering "very moving."

He will spend Friday and Saturday at Camp David, returning to the White House on Sunday in the lead-up to President-elect Obama's inauguration.

Below are the farewell addresses of Presidents Clinton and Reagan. Bush's father chose not to deliver one.

Strategy Memo: Inauguration Countdown

Good Tuesday morning. One week from today, the United States will swear in its 44th president. RCP will be there, bundled up with everyone else. According to Weather.com's 10-day forecast, it should be sunny and cold on the west front of the Capitol, though above freezing.

***Today Pres. Bush will hold his final Cabinet meeting, and then award the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Pres.-elect Obama will meet with Senate Democrats over lunch on Capitol Hill.

**Roland Burris is now the senator-designate from Illinois, as Senate Democratic leaders Harry Reid and Dick Durbin announced in a statement yesterday. The former attorney general's credentials were approved yesterday by the Secretary of the Senate.

"We have spoken to Mr. Burris to let him know that he is now the Senator-designate from Illinois and as such, will be accorded all the rights and privileges of a Senator-elect," said Reid and Durbin. "Accordingly, barring objections from Senate Republicans, we expect Senator-designee Burris to be sworn in and formally seated later this week. We are working with him and the office of the Vice President to determine the date and time of the swearing-in."

**Hillary Clinton back on the Hill
*The big show is Sen. Hillary Clinton's confirmation hearing at the Foreign Relations Committee. It's one of four confirmation hearings today.

*CNN lists some of the talking points for Sen. Clinton. She'll stress "a renewal of American leadership" and a "revitalization of diplomacy to promote our security interests and advance our values."

*Just in time, the AP reports that Clinton "intervened at least six times in government issues directly affecting companies and others that later contributed to her husband's foundation."

**Obama and Transition News
*Obama plans to issue an executive order closing Guantanamo on his first full day in office. But experts say it could take as much as a year to actually shut it down.

*He plans to drop a $3,000-per-job-created tax credit, with fellow Democrats warning it was ripe for abuse.

*This morning, Fed Chair Ben Bernanke said Obama's stimulus plan could give a "significant boost" to the economy, but that other steps are needed.

*ABC News reports that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright will be in DC speaking at Howard Univ.

*The Chicago Tribune has a nice piece on David Axelrod, who spoke at a Chicago venue where his disabled daughter, Lauren, lives. He gave some insights into campaign moments, like after tough defeats in Texas and Ohio last March. "As he was leaving, he turned around and said, 'I want you to know that I'm not yelling at you guys.' He took a few more steps and turned around and said, 'After blowing $20 million in two weeks, I could yell at you, but I'm not yelling at you.' You know what, had he yelled at us it would not have been nearly as effective." On reading Obama's draft of the race speech: "I read this beautiful, moving speech and I messaged him back and said, 'This is why you should be president.'" On the general: "After the first debate we had with John McCain, this race in many ways was over as far as we were concerned from a polling standpoint," he said. "We really gained steadily after that."

*Speaking of Texas, David Plouffe tells the Washington Post that he mishandled the March 4 primaries. "I think if we focused more on Texas, we might've been able to win the primary. And the price of that was that the primary went on for another three months."

*Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) predicts that Obama will get 65-70 votes for his health care reform

**Blago Alert: New York Times has some of the bizarre theater at state government offices in Chicago, where everyone laments Blago's persistence.

**Campaign News
*Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) announced yesterday that he will not seek re-election in 2010, adding yet another GOP seat to the vulnerable category. The two-term senator is the fourth Republican so far this cycle to announce his retirement -- Sens. Mel Martinez of Florida, Kit Bond of Missouri and Sam Brownback of Kansas preceded him.

Brownback's seat should be safe for Republicans, but Florida, Missouri and Ohio are all competitive states for Democrats. In 2006, Ohio elected Democrats by double-digit margins for governor and senator; in 2008, Obama won the state by 4 points, and Democrats picked up three House seats, giving them control of 10 of the state's 18 House seats.

Former Rep. Rob Portman (R) is already moving toward a bid, The Fix reports, while the Democratic field is still unclear.

*Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-FL) is throwing his hat in the ring for the state's open-seat race for Senate. Meek was an active HRC backer in the Democratic primaries. His entry comes as many in the state wait to see what CFO Alex Sink decides. Sink is the only Democrat in statewide office.

*Hardly high praise from Gov. Paterson on Caroline Kennedy, whom he met with this weekend. "She didn't eliminate herself in the meeting," he said.

*An interesting nugget in Ohio, where the state GOP chairman endorses incumbent Mike Duncan, and not his party's last gubernatorial nominee, Ken Blackwell. It should be pointed out, though, that the two clashed often, with Bennett saying during the 2006 election that Blackwell was "burning down the house" to win the primary.

**Sports Alert: Gov. Ed Rendell, we all know, will be rooting for the Eagles even in a potential Super Bowl versus the Steelers. And he warns about Pennsylvanians flooding Florida. "Governor Crist is a friend of mine, so I will offer to send the Pennsylvania National Guard down to help."

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Biden dines with son in Iraq

Vice President-elect Joe Biden ended his last overseas trip as a U.S. senator with a visit to Iraq today, a visit that ended with a meal with his oldest son.

Delaware Atty. Gen. Beau Biden, a captain in the state National Guard, arrived in Iraq on Nov. 20, for a one year deployment with the 261st Signal Brigade. Because of his scheduled deployment, Biden was not able to join his family in Chicago on Election Night, though the elder Biden said his son would have been allowed to leave his unit had he chosen to do so.

"This kid is a different brand," he told reporters that day, relating his son's wishes not to be treated differently than other members of his unit. The Bidens did spend time together after the election, shortly before Beau's deployment.

According to Biden's Senate office, he and Sen. Lindsay Graham started the day in Basra, meeting with the commander of the Iraqi Army there. They then flew to Baghdad and were briefed by U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and General Ray Odierno, commander of the Multi-National Force in Iraq. The two also met with Iraqi Pres. Jalal Talabani and other Iraqi leaders.

Biden was expected to return to the United States after the Iraq stop. He will formally resign his Senate seat this Thursday.

Bush: "Not My Nature" to Avoid Tough Decisions

President Bush defended his legacy as a leader who was not afraid to make difficult, potentially unpopular decisions, but also admitted some missteps as he held what is likely to be his final press conference in office this morning.

Lightly sparring with reporters who he said sometimes "misunderestimated" him, Bush also predicted that the Republican Party will rebound, and that his successor will soon feel the responsibilities of the presidency "land squarely on his shoulders."

But Bush made only limited remarks on current events, devoting more time to sometimes somber, but also some passionate defenses of his time in the Oval Office.

"Presidents can try to avoid hard decisions and therefore avoid controversy. That's just not my nature," he said when asked about criticism he has faced. "I'm the kind of person that is willing to take on hard tasks. ... [I] never really spent that much time frankly worrying about the loud voices. I of course hear [them]. But they didn't affect my policy. Nor did they affect how I make decisions. President-elect Obama will find this too."

He emphasized that there is "no such thing as short-term history," repeating his belief that the passage of time will bring a more positive outlook on his tenure.

"I don't think you can possibly get the full breadth of an administration until time has passed," he said.

He did concede that his rhetoric has often "been a mistake," singling out the "Mission Accomplished" banner that was displayed when he declared major combat operations in Iraq had ended in 2003. He also said that pursuing reform of Social Security right after his re-election was a mistake, and that he should have argued for immigration reform first.

But he became most animated as he discussed the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, considered by many to be the major turning point in his fortunes. First, the president said he has thought "long and hard" about his actions in the immediate days, and whether he should have landed Air Force One in Louisiana sooner. Later, however, he bristled at the suggestion of inaction.

"Don't tell me the federal response was slow, when there were 30,000 people pulled up off roofs," Bush said. "That's a pretty quick response."

Bush, as he did in a televised interview this weekend, warned his party to change its tone on immigration, even as he predicted the GOP would rebound if it is "compassionate and broad-minded."

"This party will come back. But the party's message has to be that different points of view are welcomed in the party," he said. "The problem with the outcome of the initial round of the [immigration] debate was that some people said, 'Well Republicans don't like immigrants.' Now that may be fair or unfair, but that's the image that came out. And, you know, if the image is we don't like immigrants then there's probably somebody else out there saying, 'Well if they don't like immigrants, they probably don't like me as well.'"

The president said he hoped that the tone in Washington for Obama is different than it was for him. And he assured him that he would not be carping from the sidelines, but would get off the stage on Jan. 20. Still, he won't be an idle former president.

"I just can't envision myself, you know, the big straw hat and a Hawaiian shirt sitting on some beach. Particularly since I quit drinking," he joked.

Strategy Memo: Skin in the game

Good morning, Washington. Obama really seemed to be making this town his home this weekend, touring the Lincoln Memorial with his family and stopping by Ben's Chili Bowl. He also told ABC's Stephanopoulos that he hopes to bridge the two Washingtons, the "company town" tied to the levers of government and those who he said struggled each day to get by.

Meanwhile, an Obama stand-in was sworn in as president yesterday.

Today, Obama meets with Mexico President Felipe Calderon. Pres. Bush will hold a press conference at 9:15 am, likely his final one in office. Both 43 and 44 will "tag team" Congress to request the final $350 billion in TARP funds. Team Obama plans to would "sell the plan by laying out a series of changes in how the program is run," AP reports.

On "This Week," Obama said that for a long-term economic fix, all Americans will have to sacrifice. "Everybody is going to have to give. Everybody is going to have to have some skin in the game," Obama said.

He also said he won't close Gitmo in the first 100 days, and wouldn't likely seek to prosecute abuses in the Bush administration. "My instinct is for us to focus on how do we make sure that moving forward we are doing the right thing. That doesn't mean that if somebody has blatantly broken the law, that they are above the law. But my orientation's going to be to move forward."

Chuck Todd noted on NBC this morning that today was supposed to be the day a stimulus bill landed on Capitol Hill. Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, has news that the death tax will live on, with lawmakers seeking to freeze it at current levels rather than letting it expire.

David Broder had harsh words for the president-elect this weekend, focusing on his reversal on the Burris matter and some of the brushback pitches fellow Democrats have thrown. The venerable reporter writes: "Obama justifiably figured that Burris was not worth a knockdown fight when he has so many bigger battles ahead of him. But the lesson that other politicians have drawn is that Obama may not always be able to count on his congressional allies and they may not be able to count on him. That is not the way he wanted to begin."

Chicago Tribune: "Some clashes could be the inevitable stumbles of a new relationship. Others may reflect contending visions of how to do business, involving basic differences between the Obama viewpoint and what the president-elect refers to as the Washington 'way.'"

Yes, Lincoln seems to be a focus for the president-elect, but the New York Times reports today that it's FDR who Obama is modeling his first 100 days over. Obama "in particular had seized on the notion of Roosevelt having a "conversation with the American public" to try to prepare it for a difficult time. He has, aides said, even looked at the words Roosevelt used and the tone he struck."

Jake Tapper posts a rough translation of the interview Barack and Michelle Obama did in 1996, before he was even a state senator. It was a conversation about their marriage, but he also discusses his potential interest in politics. "My priority is to return social values to public debate, because we are all one big family, transcending racial or class differences. We have obligations and responsibilities towards one another." He says, "perhaps that's where the private and public spheres meet, when it comes to couples, relationships, families or tribes. What's important is empathy, an understanding of shared responsibilities, the ability to put yourself in other people's shoes.

John McCain will be honored at a pre-inaugural dinner, as will Biden and Colin Powell.

Fox had some interesting nuggets from an interview from both Presidents Bush. The current president talked abut pressure from his own party to soften on Iraq. "I didn't -- I didn't compromise that principle for the sake of trying to, you know, bail out my political party, for example."

No coverage of the Golden Globes here, but the New York Times looks at how Hollywood is clamoring to be part of the inauguration. Jamie Foxx, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Steven Spielberg and Sharon Stone are among the celebs who coughed up $50,000 to the inaugural committee, earning them four tickets.

VP-elect Joe Biden's overseas trip continued this weekend with a "surprise visit" to Afghanistan, specifically a Taliban stronghold. According to a statement from NATO, Biden will end his trip with a visit to Iraq. His son, Beau, is currently deployed there.

Politico has some insight on Hillary Clinton's preparations for her confirmation hearing tomorrow. She's "intent on downplaying old disagreements with Barack Obama and parrying questions about her husband's overseas entanglements, aides say." An aide: This is the re-emergence of the non-political Hillary. The most discomfort is where she and Obama disagree -- the 'you're naive' stuff. She can't show up the president, she can't appear like she's trying to formulate her own foreign policy."

Sen. Dick Durbin said Sunday that Roland Burris could finally be seated this week. Senate Democrats spent a half hour considering the matter on Sunday, leaving Obama economic adviser Larry Summers "cooling his heels" in the halls.

Howard Kurtz writes that the White House press corps lacks diversity. On Saturday, Adam Nagourney wrote about the RNC chairmanship race and the potential choice by party members of a black leader. "There certainly is an advantage of a credible message of inclusion if you have a minority as chairman," said Florida GOP chair Jim Greer, who endorsed Michael Steele last week.

Cleveland Plain Dealer reports on the retirement of Sen. George Voinovich, and lists some potential candidates for the 2010 open-seat race. Democratic speculation includes Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher and Rep. Tim Ryan. On the Republican side, former Reps. Rob Portman and John Kasich, as well as Auditor Mary Taylor. Taylor is currently the only Republican statewide officeholder; Democrats won both the governor's office and the other U.S. Senate seat in 2006. This fall, Democrats also took control of the state House of Representatives.

In case there was any doubt, Joe Scarborough does not want to be Florida's next Senator. "I'll let Chris Matthews be the only MSNBC person focused on the Senate," he said.

Meanwhile, Caroline Kennedy finally had her interview with Gov. David Paterson for the Senate appointment. "Insiders expected Paterson would likely ask why she thinks she's right for the job, about her poorly-received rollout and whether she is prepared to run statewide in 2010 and then again in 2012."

Interesting tidbit: the National Conference on State Legislatures can't find many state officials who've been impeached.

Obama to Congress: 'Show Me Your Ideas'

With his recovery plan already facing complaints on the Hill, President-elect Barack Obama made a blanket pledge to consider any idea lawmakers have to fix the economy, offering his own twist on "Show me the money."

"I want this to work," he told reporters this morning during a press conference at his transition office. "This is not an intellectual exercise, and there is no pride of authorship. If members of Congress have good ideas, if they can identify a project for me that will create jobs in an efficient way that does not hamper our ability to over the long term get control of our deficit, that is good for the economy, than I'm going to accept it."

Obama would not answer questions about whether he was willing to allow his plan to grow even more expensive. He instead continued promising to keep an open mind to both Democratic and Republican views.

"Just show me. If you can show me that something is going to work, I will welcome it. If it works better than something I have proposed, I will welcome it. What is not an option is for us to sit and engage in posturing or the standard partisan fights while the American people are out there struggling," he said.

At a press conference called to announce his top picks for intelligence posts, Obama faced multiple questions on the economy instead. He prefaced remarks with a statement about new and higher unemployment numbers, calling it a "stark reminder about how urgently action is needed."

"There is a devastating economic crisis that will become more and more difficult to contain with time. For the sake of our economy and our people, this is the moment to act, and to act without delay," he said.

There were no surprises in Obama's choices for directors of National Intelligence and the CIA: Dennis Blair and Leon Panetta, respectively. He said his entire intelligence team is reflective of his "practical, pragmatic approach to foreign policy." He did not specifically address concerns that have been raised about Panetta's lack of direct experience with the CIA, but tried to make clear that in him the Agency has "a director who has my complete trust and substantial clout."

The president-elect was asked if his choices reflected a reassessment of his views on interrogation techniques or a softening of U.S. policy toward Iran. On the former, he reiterated his opposition to torture and promised that the country would abide by Geneva Convention standards, which he said will "make us safer and will help us in chainging hearts and minds." On Iran, he stated only that he'd speak more after taking office, but did say that "we should be willing to initiate diplomacy as a mechanism to achieve our national security goals."

The press conference ended on a lighter note, with Obama asked for his view of the BCS results. He congratulated Florida for their victory, but said: "If I'm Utah, if I'm USC, or if I'm Texas, I may still have some quibbles."

Taxation Plus Representation For D.C.?

Senators Joe Lieberman and Orrin Hatch have once again introduced legislation that would provide the District of Columbia a full voting member in the House of Representatives. Their bill would also give Utah a fourth congressional district, increasing the number of House members by two to 437.

A similar bill passed the House easily in April 2007 but failed to garner the necessary 60 votes in the Senate.

"This is the fifth session in which I have introduced legislation to try to correct what I believe is a fundamental wrong," Mr. Lieberman said from the Senate floor on Tuesday. "With a new Congress and a new President -- who was a cosponsor of this bill himself last year -- I am hopeful that we can pass this legislation vital to the rights of the nearly 600,000 Americans living in the District of Columbia."

Utah, based on its population increase, is next in line to gain a congressional district after the upcoming decennial Census, which would normally mean reducing representation in a state that has lost relative population. The Lieberman-Hatch alternative would instead create an additional seat for the heavily Republican state, balancing the partisan weight of the District of Columbia, which has never voted for a Republican for president. Mr. Lieberman hopes the quid pro quo will bring along enough wary Republicans for the provision finally to be enacted in the new Congress. President-elect Barack Obama's past support for the bill is a good sign for its passage as well.

Pelosi, Boehner React To Job Numbers

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader John Boehner responded to the dismal "Employment Situation" news released by the Labor Department today. According to the department, unemployment rose in December from 6.8 to 7.2 percent, with 524,000 jobs lost during the month and 1.9 million lost over the last four months.

"Today's dismal jobs numbers show once again what Democrats in Congress have been saying for more than a year: our nation needs a bold economic recovery and reinvestment plan that will create American jobs and put our nation back on track to prosperity," Pelosi said. "Congress and President-elect Obama are currently working together on an American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, ensuring the plan has worthy, needy, fully screened investments. We are committed to passing this legislation by Presidents' Day so that our new President can sign it into law and start to grow our economy."

"It is essential that both parties work together on a responsible economic plan that lets working families keep more of what they earn and gives employers real incentives to create good-paying jobs," Boehner said. "I am pleased that President-elect Obama agrees with Republicans that substantial tax relief must be an important component of the final bill Congress sends to his desk, and I am hopeful that he and his Democratic colleagues will join us in our commitment to a plan that does not burden future generations with massive debt that will make long-term economic growth and job creation impossible."

Strategy Memo: President-Elect, Officially

Good (TGI) Friday morning. Barack Obama and Joe Biden officially became prez- and vice prez-elect yesterday, as VP Dick Cheney announced the official Electoral College vote tallies during a joint session of Congress.

**Economic Recovery News
*Wonder if President-elect Obama expected to be facing so much trouble from his own party this week. The latest clash comes over Obama's economic recovery plan, with several key Senate Dems going on record with their concerns. Per the New York Times, "Senate Democrats complained that major components of his plan were not bold enough and urged more focus on creating jobs and rebuilding the nation's energy infrastructure rather than cutting taxes." David Axelrod downplays it, however, saying: "These folks are not potted plants. They're elected officials, and they're doing their jobs."

*In National Journal's Congressional Insiders Poll, Democratic members rate infrastructure spending as the most effective way to stimulate the economy, while Republican members say tax cuts for businesses is the best way.

*Treasury Secretary-designee Timothy Geithner and other members of Obama's economic team "are urgently overhauling the embattled" $700 billion Wall Street bailout. "Much of the work by Obama's team has focused on establishing principles that would clearly define the program's course and the conditions of government aid to financial firms," the Washington Post reports.

**Transition News
*This morning Obama is expected to officially announce Leon Panetta as his choice for CIA director and other key intelligence posts. He¹s also expected to take questions at the press conference in his transition offices (several reporters bristled when he did not do so yesterday at the announcement of Tim Kaine as DNC chair).

*CIA veteran John Brennan will be tapped as Obama's top adviser on counterterrorism, according to the Washington Post.

*Later, Colin Powell will speak at a press conference hosted by the Presidential Inaugural Committee "about President-elect Obama's call to national service."

*Politico reports that Howard Dean's absence from yesterday's DNC announcement was no accident, and the story quotes several unhappy Dean allies who think he's not being paid his due by the incoming Obama team.

*Today, Rep. Hilda Solis will have her confirmation hearing for Labor Secretary.

**Blago Watch: The Illinois House Investigations Committee unanimously recommended impeaching Gov. Rod Blagojevich yesterday, ³paving the way² for an impeachment vote by the full house today, according to the Chicago Tribune.

**Biden News: Vice President-elect Joe Biden concluded a visit to Kuwait, according to his Senate office. The CoDel lost several members and now just includes Biden and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), who was one of John McCain¹s most loyal surrogates in 2008, and coined the phrase ³Joe the Biden² during the campaign.

*Meanwhile, check out this quote from Karl Rove on Biden's trip: "This is a time when he ought to be preparing to become vice president of the United States. It's almost as if he wanted to get a jump, or a leg up, if you will, on Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton."

**Campaign News
*Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.) announced yesterday from the floor of the Missouri House of Representatives that he will not seek re-election to a fifth term in 2010. Before coming to the Senate in 1986 -- the same year as John McCain and Harry Reid -- Bond served two non-consecutive terms as governor.

Marc Ambinder reports on who may run for the seat: For the GOP, Rep. Roy Blunt, former Sen. Jim Talent and former Rep. Kenny Hulshof (who lost the 2008 governor race); for the Dems, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan and Attorney General Chris Koster.

Missouri Trivia: If history is any indicator (and it probably isn't), Hulshof will be the next senator of Missouri. The last two losers in the race for governor have gone on to serve in the Senate: Talent lost the 2000 race and two years later won a special election to the Senate; Sen. Claire McCaskill lost the 2004 race and knocked Talent out of his seat in 2006. The problem for Hulshof is that he lost the race for governor by 19 points, which may give Republican primary voters pause when deciding their nominee.

*In the "race" to be appointed to the NY Senate, ABC News catches Gov.
David Paterson admitting that Caroline Kennedy "has pluses and minuses." He plans to speak with 10 candidates, but hasn't met in person with Kennedy yet.

*Catching up on some of the key races in 2009: Terry McAuliffe is off and running for Virginia governor, with his kick-off tour hitting southern Virginia yesterday. In Bristol, he said: "I promise you, I'll create more jobs than 49 other governors or I'll consider myself a failure," he said. Meanwhile, Brian Moran finished up his "Virginia Values Tour" this week, ending with a big drop of Arlington County elected officials' endorsements.

*Big news in New Jersey, where former U.S. Attorney Chris Christie ended "years of speculation" and answered "the prayers of more than a few Republicans" by telling supporters he'd enter the race.

*A new Fairleigh Dickinson poll shows Gov. Jon Corzine with a 7-point lead over Christie as the race just gets going; the Democrat leads 40-33, and has just a 45 percent approval rating.

*The New York Post reports that Mike Bloomberg is looking to get the Republican ballot line for his bid for a third term. He famously became an independent in 2007, before term limits were ditched. Republicans have some gripes, but the Post says he¹ll likely get it anyway. One source: "Let's be real. He's got $20 billion."

*And last but not least, Kennedy is but one of the topics in the online video interview with Sarah Palin. She also fights back against the SNL crew, Katie Couric, and even her handlers on the McCain camp. "I knew it didn't go well the first day, and then we gave her a couple of other segments after that," she said of the CBS interview. "And my question to the campaign was, after it didn't go well the first day, why were we going to go back for more; going back for more was not a wise decision either."

**Sports Alert: And once again, Florida is at the center of a disputed championship.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Obama Highlights Kaine's Bipartisan Record In DNC Nod

Putting his stamp on the Democratic Party, President-elect Barack Obama handed his party chairmanship to Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, a friend and ally who was the first governor outside Illinois to endorse him.

The two appeared together at a brief press conference at the DNC headquarters near Capitol Hill. Absent was the outgoing party chair, Howard Dean, who both men praised for laying the groundwork for the party's successes.

"Howard deserves enormous credit for helping usher in a new era in Washington," Obama said. "Now's the time not only to build on Howard's record of achievement, but to remake the Democratic Party to meet the challenges of the 21st century."

Even in choosing Kaine to be the partisan-in-chief, the president-elect highlighted his bipartisan record. Obama said that as the governor of a state "that reflects America," Kaine had been successful "not by appealing to our divisions, but by appealing to our common hopes. "

"Tim knows that breaking free of the old orthodoxies and reaching across party lines isn't just a way build a Democratic Party that's more open and inclusive. It's a way to achieve progress for all Americans," he said. "He understands that while politics is tough, and we need to fight hard for our ideals and our values, we also need to work together to solve our common problems."

Kaine thanked Obama for the selection, calling him a "very persuasive individual." As chairman, he said he would focus on three goals: promoting Obama's agenda, carrying "the proud banner of a proud party," and working to "engage citizens to be active in civic life."

"We have made the party in Virginia working every day a party of problem solvers," he said. "We're not the ideologues, the obstructionists, the gridlock folks. ... And we're not the dividers. We've rejected the politics of negativity, the politics that often energizes the 51 percent by beating up on the 49 percent."

Kaine, who is prohibited by Virginia law from serving a second consecutive term, has one year remaining in office. He'll serve as a part-time chairman until he leaves office. Since becoming governor in 2005, Virginia Democrats have won two U.S. Senate elections, a majority of the U.S. House seats and taken control of the state Senate.

The smooth transition in the Democratic Party stands in contrast to a tough fight for the top political post in the GOP. Republicans will choose from a crowded field during their winter meeting at the end of January.

Congress Counts Electoral Votes

Congress held a joint session in the House chambers today for the ceremonial counting of electoral votes. No spoiler alert needed here, as Barack Obama and Joe Biden received 365 electoral votes to 173 votes for John McCain and Sarah Palin.

Just about all Democratic Senate and House members were present, while a number of seats remained empty on the Republican side of the aisle. From this reporter's vantage point in the press gallery, McCain did not attend.

Each state's official electoral count arrived in similar-sized manilla envelopes (except for Ohio, which had an oversized and hard blue cover), before being read aloud in alphabetical order. All was quiet among the members and viewing galleries until California's 55 electoral votes were announced for Obama, drawing loud and enthusiastic cheers from the Democratic side of the aisle.

Besides Ohio's oversized package, one other moment drew chuckles from the members: Republican Sen. Robert Bennett of Utah, reading his state's electoral vote count, called his home the "rapidly growing state of Utah." Fellow Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch is co-sponsoring a bill that would give Utah a fourth congressional district, based on its increasing population, as well as give Washington, D.C., a full voting member in the House.

A show of nonpartisan unity erupted when Vice President Dick Cheney, likely making his last official appearance as head of the Senate, announced that Obama had won the necessary electoral votes to become president. A standing ovation came from members on both sides of the aisle, who gave a similar response for McCain as well.

Obama launches public campaign for his economic plan

Warning that further inaction could send the economy into deeper trouble, President-elect Barack Obama began making the public case for his economic plan, saying that while government was in part responsible for the current crisis, that government alone could "break the cycles that are crippling our economy."

"It is true that we cannot depend on government alone to create jobs or long-term growth, but at this particular moment, only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe," he said.

Obama, no longer a candidate but president-elect, took to the stump nonetheless as he stepped up efforts to sell the nation on what he calls the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan." In his speech, delivered in Northern Virginia and also carried by most of the broadcast networks, he offered few new specifics of his plan, but rather broad principles and a preemptive defense of the expensive plan.

"I understand that some might be skeptical of this plan. Our government has already spent a good deal of money, but we haven't yet seen that translate into more jobs or higher incomes or renewed confidence in our economy," he said. "That's why the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan won't just throw money at our problems - we'll invest in what works."

The package would combine spending on public works projects and investments in education and healthcare reform with tax cuts for 95 percent of American workers. He also reiterated promises to keep the plan free of earmarks, and promised great transparency in how the funds are spent.

"[We] won't just throw money at our problems - we'll invest in what works," he said. "Our goal is not to create a slew of new government programs, but a foundation for long-term economic growth."

He notably cautioned that any further inaction could cause the recession to "linger for years," and send the unemployment rate into "double digits." Later, he also conceded that the economic crisis would likely grow worse before it gets better.

To that end, he urged Congress "to act without delay."

"I know the scale of this plan is unprecedented, but so is the severity of our situation," he said. "We have already tried the wait-and-see approach to our problems, and it is the same approach that helped lead us to this day of reckoning."

The president-elect closed with allusions to two revered Democratic presidents of the past, urging Americans to rise above narrow partisanship "and insist that the first question each of us asks isn't 'What's good for me?' but 'What's good for the country my children will inherit?'

"More than any program or policy, it is this spirit that will enable us to confront this challenge with the same spirit that has led previous generations to face down war, depression, and fear itself," he said.

Republicans on the Hill reacted to the speech with continued optimism for bipartisan cooperation, but reiterated concern over the long-term financial repercussions. Calling the $1.2 trillion deficit in 2009 an "eye-popping number," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, "Let's not use the obvious need for a stimulus package as a way to make it worse."

-- Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

House Passes First Bills Of The Session

The House passed its first two bills of the 111th session yesterday, with both carrying ramifications for the outgoing president. Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), the newly-minted chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform committee, introduced both the Presidential Records Act Amendments and the Presidential Library Donation Reform Act, which were agreed to separately by more-than 300-vote majorities.

The amendments to the Presidential Records Act of 1978 would overturn Executive Order 13233, which President Bush issued in November 2001 to allow for an extended delay of the release of presidential records, perhaps even beyond a president's death. Uproar over the move began immediately from both sides of the aisle, as it benefited both Bush and Bill Clinton.

"President Bush's executive order created an imbalanced and restrictive process," Towns said. "The Presidential Records Act preserves the important intent of the original post-Watergate law, which was to assure timely accessibility and preservation of official White House records for historical and, if necessary, legal purposes."

The second bill requires the disclosure of donors and donations to Presidential libraries to be made public. With Clinton and Bush's libraries soaring in cost to the hundreds of millions, this legislation aims for more transparency to the fundraising operations taking place, particularly while presidents are still in office.

"With the Presidential Library Donation Act, we will do away with anonymous donations by foreign countries and nationals, and make certain that the process is transparent to the public," Towns said.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the former Oversight committee chairman, introduced similar bills in 2007 that passed through the House easily before stalling in the Senate. A veto threat hung over the bill as well, but President-elect Obama is expected to support the measure.

The next action on the legislation will likely take place in the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, where it has a friend in Chairman Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.). A Lieberman aide said the senator strongly supports the bill and worked tirelessly to get it passed during the last session.

Lieberman penned an op-ed in the Dallas Morning News last year calling on Bush's records and library donors to be available to the public. Bush's presidential library will be housed at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

A Towns aide told Real Clear Politics that the Oversight chairman is very optimistic the bill will pass this time, as it holds some advantages it lacked during the last session: an increased majority in the Senate and Bush leaving office.

"President-elect Obama and House Democrats agree on the need to increase transparency in the federal government, and these reforms will provide a new level of openness for the incoming Administration," Towns said.

Strategy Memo: Electoral Tally Day

Good Thursday morning. One year ago on this date, the Democratic nominating fight was extended by five months with an upset win by Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire. Today, the Congress will officially tally electoral votes to formally declare that Barack Obama is president-elect.

**Obama is set to deliver the first major policy speech since the campaign this morning, warning again that "this recession could linger for years" and unemployment could hit double-digits if nothing is done. Selling his economic plan, he will say: "I understand that some might be skeptical of this plan. Our government has already spent a good deal of money, but we haven't yet seen that translate into more jobs or higher incomes or renewed confidence in our economy. That's why the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan won't just throw money at our problems ­ we'll invest in what works. The true test of the policies we'll pursue won't be whether they're Democratic or Republican ideas, but whether they create jobs, grow our economy, and put the American Dream within reach of the American people."

According to excerpts released by the transition office this morning, Obama also previews other actions he will take on the economic front, on foreclosures, on supporting financial institutions, and reforming regulatory systems.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Obama's plan may not pass until mid-February, and "is bogging down in a welter of competing ideas, ideologies and agendas, and may be further slowed by Obama's desire to win over as many Republicans as possible."

**Obama told CNBC's John Harwood that his transition "has been as smooth as any we've seen in history partly because President Bush and Josh Bolten and his team have worked very closely with ours." Asked if he's overconfident, Obama said: "No, I am enormously humbled by the challenges ahead of us. What I do have confidence about is that I'm a good listener, I'm good at synthesizing advice from a range of different perspectives, and that we will make the best possible decisions from the perspective of what's good for ordinary Americans."

**The Washington Post reports on Obama's White House staff, or "Super
Cabinet": "Not since Richard M. Nixon tried to abolish the majority of his Cabinet has a president gone so far in attempting to build a West Wing-based clutch of advisers with a mandate to cut through -- or leapfrog -- the traditional bureaucracy." But a former Nixon White House adviser, Bruce Herschensohn, warns: "Everyone will be fighting with everybody. You'll have conflict with every Cabinet officer who will now have a superior in the West Wing." And then there's this interesting nugget: HHS Secretary Tom Daschle will have a West Wing office.

And speaking of Daschle, The Politico reports that he is employing an "ABC"
or "Anything But Clinton" strategy as he maps out health care reform strategy. And he also wrote about the failed '94 reform plan in his book, saying: "The health-care debate might have played out differently if President Clinton had launched it in the spring of 1993, when he still had some momentum from his election victory."

**ABC's The Note reports that the Presidential Inaugural Committee may have helped pay down some of Hillary Clinton's campaign debt by buying her e-mail list for a fundraising solicitation. It was sent in the name of President Bill Clinton, an honorary co-chair of the Inaugural Committee.

**On January 20, President Bush will fly to Midland, Texas, where a rally will be held in the then-ex-president's honor.

**It seems that Sen. Dianne Feinstein is "warming" to Leon Panetta after all. "We laughed together," she said after chatting with Obama's CIA pick.

**Amazing. A real live Viking could decide the Minnesota Senate contest. Well, a former Minnesota Viking, at least. "Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page, former No. 88 for the Vikings and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, will decide how to pick the three-judge panel that will rule on Republican Norm Coleman's election lawsuit," the St. Paul Pioneer-Press reports.

**Roland Burris thought he had been through everything after spending two days on the Hill, with reporters following his every move in swarm. Today, Burris must testify in front of the Illinois impeachment panel, as Republicans have promised tough questions as to why he would accept a Senate appointment from disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the AP writes.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Hill Leaders React To Deficit

With the news today of an unprecedented $1.2 trillion budget deficit in 2009, leaders on Capitol Hill pointed -- for differing reasons -- to the economic recovery package that President-elect Obama will soon introduce. Republican leaders used the news as an example of why Congress must act responsibly with the sizable stimulus plan, while Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the package will help Obama right the Bush administration's wrongs.

"As Congress and President-elect Obama work together to help middle-class families and get our economy back on track, the deficit estimate makes it clearer than ever that we cannot borrow and spend our way back to prosperity when we're already running an annual deficit of more than one trillion dollars," said House Minority Leader John Boehner. "I was pleased to hear the President-elect say yesterday that we need to stop just talking about our national debt and actively confront it."

"Today's bleak Congressional Budget Office deficit projections reflect the devastating economic policies of the Bush Administration that rewarded a wealthy few while undermining economic opportunity for the majority of Americans," Pelosi said, getting a shot in at the outgoing president. "While we cannot reverse the economic and fiscal mismanagement of the Bush Administration overnight, Congress is already working with the incoming Obama Administration to create good paying jobs and put America back on a path to fiscal discipline and long-term economic prosperity."

"Though we agree that Congress must carefully pursue ways to strengthen our economy," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said, "this report should cause us to make certain that any dollar spent to stimulate the economy will in fact achieve that outcome and produce jobs and opportunity."

The full CBO report can be found here (.pdf).

Obama Introduces 'Chief Performance Officer'

President-elect Barack Obama tried to stay clear of the flap over Roland Burris' fight to be seated, calling it a "Senate matter."

"I think he's a fine public servant," Obama said. "If he gets seated, then I'm going to work with Roland Burris just like I work with all the other senators to make sure that the people of Illinois and people of the country are served."

Obama's comments came at the end of a press conference at his transition offices where he announced the appointment of Nancy Killefer as "chief performance officer," a new post with the charge of "streamlining processes and wringing out inefficiencies so that taxpayers and consumers get more for their money."

Obama pointed to a Congressional Budget Office report estimating that the deficit he'll inherit will reach $1.2 trillion, and acknowledged that his economic recovery plan would likely add to that figure. One of the roles Killefer will play is ensuring that the stimulus bill makes a "big change that lasts beyond the economic recovery plan, and saves taxpayers money over the long term."

Plans to address challenges like entitlement spending are being discussed with Congress now, he said, and will likely be spelled out when he unveils his budget in the coming weeks. Typically, the incoming president delivers a "Budget Address" in lieu of a "State of the Union" after taking office.

The violence in the Middle East was again a topic, as the president-elect was asked whether his reluctance to comment under the guise of "one president at a time" could be interpreted negatively as silence to the Arab world.

"I can't control how people interpret what I'm saying," he said. "The silence is not as a consequence of a lack of concern. In fact, it's not silence. I've explained very clearly exactly what institutional constraints I'm under when it comes to this issue."

Today's press conference was the first formal forum where Obama faced reporters since arriving in Washington, though he spoke briefly to pool reporters at events Monday and Tuesday. When ABC's Jake Tapper said, "Welcome to Washington," the president-elect responded somewhat saracastically, "It's great to be here."

Rep. Roskam Talks Obama, Burris

Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) holds the distinction of being one of just two current congressmen who served with President-elect Barack Obama in the Illinois State Senate. In an interview with RealClearPolitics yesterday, Roskam talked about the outlook for Obama's presidency, the appointment of Roland Burris to Obama's former Senate seat and the forthcoming economic recovery bill.

"His rise is surprising," Roskam said of Obama going from the state Senate to the presidency in four years, "not only for me and all the state senators that served with him, but for the American public as well."

The two overlapped in the state Senate from 2000-2004, until Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate. Roskam would follow Obama to Washington two years later, keeping the open 6th congressional district seat in Republican hands in a year Democrats picked up 30 Republican seats.

Roskam said Obama could struggle to live up to some of the unrealistic expectations many Americans have of his presidency. "That's a pretty tough standard to live up to," Roskam said of the sky-high expectations for Obama. "His challenge is going to be managing and getting expectations under control. I look forward to working with him, and I know I speak for most House Republicans, too."

Obama's former Senate seat was at the center of the biggest story of the new Congress's commencement yesterday. Burris, Roskam's fellow Illinois native, arrived at the Capitol seeking to take the Senate seat that scandal-plagued Gov. Rod Blagojevich appointed him to, but he was turned away.

"It's obviously not about Roland Burris, it's about the process," Roskam said. "He's accepted the appointment from a governor with an incredible scandal hanging over his head. What the United States Senate doesn't need is the influence of Rod Blagojevich."

Roskam didn't want to comment too much on the economic stimulus bill that will make its way through Congress over the next six weeks. However, his optimism for the bill's outcome seemed to match that of Republican leadership, who said Monday they felt good about the bipartisan formation of the bill and Obama's promise of tax relief inclusion.

"I am very pleased to hear talk of substantive tax cuts, and want to obviously reserve judgment because no one's seen the package," Roskam said. "The incoming administration is acknowledging the power of cutting taxes, which has been a Republican argument for a long, long time."

Strategy Memo: Two Senators Short

Good Wednesday morning. The 111th Congress is now in session. The highlight of the day yesterday -- besides the Burris show -- may have been Vice President-elect Biden being sworn in for his seventh Senate term (which will last only several days) by outgoing VP Dick Cheney.

**Former Illinois Atty. Gen. Roland Burris, recently appointed to the Senate by scandal-plagued Gov. Rod Blagojevich, showed up to the Capitol yesterday to take his seat. As expected, Burris was turned away by the secretary of the Senate because the Illinois secretary of state has not signed his certificate of election, which is required under Senate rules.

However, Burris now "heads into a pivotal meeting" with Reid and Majority Whip Richard Durbin "with an unmistakable sense of momentum" on his side, Politico reports. "The key question now for Reid and Durbin: How do they find cover in a political story that has run amok? One idea being considered is to have Burris win an endorsement from the sitting lieutenant governor, Pat Quinn, one Democratic insider said."

**In other Blagojevich-related news, the Chicago Tribune reports that a state House panel is hitting a "crucial step" in the Blagojevich investigation that "may culminate in his impeachment by week's end."

**The battle over whether or not Al Franken has won the Minnesota Senate race continued on the Senate floor yesterday, with Harry Reid calling on incumbent Republican Norm Coleman to concede the race. "This is a difficult time for former Senator Coleman and his family, and he is entitled to the opportunity to concede this election graciously," Reid said. "But we cannot let this drag on forever."

**Of course, Coleman did just the opposite yesterday, announcing at a press conference in St. Paul that he intends to file a lawsuit contesting the results. Despite finishing the recount trailing Franken by 225 votes, Coleman is challenging whether or not the recount was conducted accurately, saying not every vote was counted and some were counted twice.

**In Biden news, the hometown Wilmington News Journal calls Vice President-elect Biden's swearing in yesterday a "bittersweet moment." He became the youngest person ever to be seated for a seventh term. Ted Kaufman, who will take his seat in a few weeks: "We all encouraged him to do it. It's historical."

And as a "Senate man" still, Biden called the failure to consult with Sen.
Dianne Feinstein a "mistake."

Marc Ambinder explains one rationale for Biden's Southwest Asia trip now, saying that if he went as Vice President, it would take months for the Secret Service, State Department and military to plan.

**Presidential Transition News

One day after warning of trillion dollar deficits, the New York Times reports, President-elect Barack Obama plans to announce this morning the selection of a chief performance officer: Nancy Killefer. The former assistant Treasury secretary under President Clinton will have "the task of finding government efficiencies."

Politico looks at the "game plan" for Obama's economic package, which starts with Chairman Max Baucus using an executive session of the Senate Finance Committee to test key health care and tax cut proposals.

It's already cliche:­ "Paging Doctor Gupta." In choosing the CNN medical correspondent for Surgeon General, Obama signals he is "looking to a popular television personality to help provide a public face for his healthcare agenda," the Los Angeles Times reports.

Bloomberg highlights the fact that DNC chair-designee Tim Kaine currently chairs the Southern Governors Association, "a group that raises money from tobacco, oil, energy and pharmaceutical companies in exchange for access to governors and other state officials." CREW's Melanie Sloan: "If Tim Kaine is going to be the head of the DNC, given Obama's rhetoric in the past, Mr. Kaine will have to either change the rules of the SGA or step down as chairman."

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Table for Five

For a brief time tomorrow, it'll be five presidents at once.

After a morning press conference Barack Obama will head to the White House for the second time as president-elect, to join four of his predecessors for lunch in the Oval Office hosted by the current chief executive, George W. Bush. It's the first such gathering to be held at the White House since 1981.

At her daily briefing today, White House press secretary Dana Perino said that Bush and Obama have been speaking occasionally since their post-election meeting, most recently on New Year's Day. She expects tomorrow's gathering to include some discussion of issues, but predicted they'd focus more on sharing their experiences at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

"All of us would love to be flies on the wall and listening to that conversation," she said. "These are leaders who only understand what it's like to be in each others' shoes. And none of us can put ourselves in their shoes. And so I'm sure their conversation will range from everything from personal experiences here."

She expected the challenges of raising children in the White House to come up as well, adding that the Obamas "are doing a great job on that" already. Malia and Sasha, his young daughters, famously began attending classes at the Sidwell School on Monday.

Perino predicted that the scene with five past, present and future presidents and a hungry press corps would be "a little bit of a zoo."

Obama says no earmarks, defends Panetta

President-elect Barack Obama warned that he will inherit a $1 trillion budget deficit upon taking office, and pledged to ban all earmarks as an attempt to address both the "deficit of dollars and the deficit of trust."

"We're going to have to stop talking about budget reform. We're going to have to fully embrace it," he said after a meeting with his economic team this morning. "It's an absolute necessity."

He said his stimulus plan will "set a new, higher standard of accountability, transparency and oversight," and include an economic recovery oversight board, as well as an online platform so that citizens could monitor spending. He's expected to speak in greater detail about his plan later this week.

Obama, responding to a question from a reporter about his as-yet unannounced choice of Leon Panetta to head the CIA, said the former Clinton chief-of-staff "brings extraordinary management skills, great political savvy, a impeccable record of integrity" to the table.

"As a chief of staff ... to the president, he is somebody who obviously was fully versed in international affairs, crisis management, and had to evaluate intelligence consistently on a day to day basis."

He emphasized that his intelligence team has not been named, but that it would be a "top-notch" group that will "be delivering the information that the president needs," not what he wants to hear. He also said that his administration would be committed to "breaking with some of the past practice and concerns" that he said has tarnished U.S. foreign policy, referring to torture and detainment policies employed under President Bush.

Obama declined to specifically address the ongoing conflict in Gaza, saying again that the world should hear only one voice from American leadership.

"Obviously I am deeply concerned," he said. "After January 20 I will have plenty to say."

A Bipartisan Atmosphere On Capitol Hill?

It wasn't too surprising to hear Democrats, with a majority in Congress and an incoming president, touting bipartisanship after a meeting with Republican leadership. However, Republicans sounded just as optimistic during a press conference yesterday that there would be joint participation on the forthcoming economic recovery package.

"I thought the atmosphere for bipartisan cooperation was sincere on all sides," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said yesterday, following a meeting with President-elect Obama and Democratic leadership. "We welcome the opportunity to be included in the discussion. I'm convinced as a result of listening to the president-elect that he is interested in what Republican ideas might be offered to the stimulus package that we anticipate him unveiling in the next few days."

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) sounded a similar theme in his remarks as well. "I'm looking forward to working with President-elect Obama and our Democrat colleagues to help get our economy moving again and help our constituents," Boehner said. "I thought the tone of the meeting went well and I look forward to working with the new president and his team."

This glimmer of cooperation stands in stark contrast to the partisanship that has rankled Congress in recent years. Whether it was just a show or a sincere push for compromise is still unclear, though things should crystalize over the next six weeks as Obama's stimulus plan moves through Congress.

"It is a new day here on the Capitol," said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "The President-elect came and called together a meeting of the bipartisan leadership, Democrats and Republicans of the House and Senate. He talked about extending a hand of friendship, to work with civility, with fiscal responsibility, and with a sense of urgency, because the American people are hurting."

The Republican whips of the Senate and House were equally encouraged.

"Very good," said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), on Republicans' reception at the meeting. "The president-elect was very open and everyone had an opportunity to speak. It was a good, constructive meeting."

"There's no question that all in the room -- on both sides of the aisle, both sides of the Capitol -- are intent on trying to do all we can to preserve, protect and create jobs," said Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

Strategy Memo: Say Hello To 111

Good Tuesday Morning. The 111th Congress opens today with formal swearing-in ceremonies. Al Franken will not be sworn in; will Roland Burris?

**Yesterday had that first-day-at-school feel for more than just the Obama girls. Just over two months after election day, and now two weeks before his inauguration, Barack Obama seemed more presidential than ever on his first full day in Washington. He dominated the headlines yesterday with his meetings on the Hill and high-profile announcements, testing the limits of his 'one president at a time' mantra.

Today, as Congress opens for the 111th time, Obama will meet with his economic team at his transition offices, as the details of a stimulus plan continue to seep out.

**Obama may face one of his first big intra-party tests yet over his pick for CIA director, former Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta. Incoming Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein reacted to the pick of the fellow Californian with uncharacteristic brusqueness, questioning the choice of someone without operational experience at the agency. "My position has consistently been that I believe the agency is best served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time," Feinstein said in a statement, adding that she "was not informed."

**Team Obama didn't say much publicly, but one official tells the New York Daily News that Panetta's experience and strong opposition to the Bush administration's torture policy make him "an easy choice."

The New York Times reports that Obama's picks for other key Justice Department posts, also announced yesterday, "signal a sharp break from the legal policies of the last eight years."

**Roland Burris likely will not be one of the senators sworn in to office today. The Illinois secretary of state refused to sign the documentation Burris needs to enter the Senate, and the secretary of the Senate rejected the paperwork handed in yesterday because both the governor and secretary of state must sign, the New York Times reports. What it boils down to for Senate Democrats is the fear that Burris would be defeated for re-election in 2010, and a Republican would win a seat the Dems feel should and could be easy to hold on to.

**Al Franken is in a similar pickle. Senate leaders Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) disagreed yesterday on whether or not Franken had actually won his Minnesota Senate race against incumbent Republican Norm Coleman. The state Canvassing Board certified the results of the recount, which concluded with Franken in the lead. But Coleman is not giving up, and a winner can not be certified until all litigation regarding the election has concluded. "This process isn't at the end," said Coleman counsel Tony Trimble. "It is now just at the beginning."

**One of those storylines in Congress today surrounds Vice President-elect Joe Biden's swearing in for a seventh term as Delaware's senator. Look for a great photo up of the incoming and outgoing VPs today on C-SPAN2. He'll resign his seat just before inauguration, giving way to longtime friend Ted Kauffman.

Meanwhile, Biden's Senate office announced yesterday that he, in his capacity as outgoing chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, will visit Southwest Asia later this week. "The fact-finding delegation will make it clear to foreign leaders that they are not there to speak on behalf of the U.S. government, or convey policy positions for the incoming administration," a Biden office release stated.

The exact itinerary is being withheld for security reasons, but a number of overseas outlets have reported that the CoDel will visit Pakistan. Biden has focused on the vital interests at stake in the region, and during the campaign he reffered several times to the fact that a plane carrying him and several other senators was forced to make an emergency landing in the hills of nearby Afghanistan.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Strategy Memo: A New Year

Good Monday morning. The PEOTUS and fam are now in Washington, as are most members of Congress, which will officially open its 111th session tomorrow.

**While Republicans are set to choose their new leader at the end of the month, President-elect Obama will name Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine as the DNC chair-in-waiting, the Washington Post's Michael D. Shear reports.. Kaine's gubernatorial term ends in January 2010, when Kaine will take over full-time duties.

**Aboard his first official Air Force plane (as President-elect) last night from Chicago to Washington, Obama told reporters that he "choked up a little bit" upon leaving his house. "Malia's friend had dropped off an album of the two of them together," Obama said. "They had been friends since pre-school and I just looked through the pages and the house was empty and it was a little tough, it got me." On staying in a hotel with his family for the next 10 days, Obama said: "Living in a hotel for two weeks, we kind of did that for two years."

**Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden will be on Capitol Hill Monday with an economic recovery package the topic of discussion. Incoming White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters during the flight to Washington that it's "very, very unlikely" a stimulus bill could pass through both houses of Congress by Jan. 20, the first day Obama could sign it. "We don't anticipate that Congress will have passed both Houses an Economic Recovery and Reinvestment plan by the time the inauguration takes place," Gibbs said. "Tomorrow begins anew that work but I think the added urgency that we've seen, statistics, we've seen Christmas sales, consumer confidence and obviously upcoming job numbers which underscore that a very serious situation has only gotten worse and isn't likely to get better any time soon."

**The Obama transition team is dealing with another "pay-to-play" controversy, with the news that New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is withdrawing his nomination as Commerce Secretary "under pressure of a federal investigation into how his political donors landed a lucrative transportation contract." In a statement sent to reporters yesterday, Richardson said that he and his administration "have acted properly in all matters and that this investigation will bear out that fact." But he says the investigation "would have forced an untenable delay in the confirmation process." ABC News and Politico both quote Obama insiders who say that Richardson was less than forthcoming with information about the investigation.

**The Minnesota Canvassing Board is set to declare a winner in that state's bitterly-fought Senate race today, the AP reports. Democrat Al Franken holds a 225-vote lead over incumbent Norm Coleman, whose term actually expired this weekend. Democrats are pushing to make today's declaration stand, with outgoing DSCC chair Chuck Schumer saying "there is no longer any doubt who will be the next Senator from Minnesota." But according to state law, there will be a seven-day waiting period until the certification of election is complete, and as soon as a lawsuit is filed, that certification becomes conditional.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Moran Offers Joint Fundraising Pledge

Former Virginia Delegate Brian Moran, running for the Democratic nomination in this year's race for governor of Virginia, called on his two opponents to join his pledge to raise money from only in-state donors.

"This election should be about who has a proven record of fighting for Virginia families and a vision for where to take the state," Moran said on a Washington-area radio station this morning. "It should not be an election about who can raise more money from national donors. Virginia Democrats should choose our nominee."

Moran's pledge comes for obvious reasons. Former Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe, who's raised money for both Bill and Hillary Clinton, has a national donor network that the Washington Post reported could help him take in some $80 million to run for governor.

The McAuliffe camp has denied the accuracy of this number, telling Virginia Commonwealth University professor Robert Holsworth that they expect to raise far less than that. Still, Moran and State Sen. Creigh Deeds, who's also running, will likely struggle to keep pace with McAuliffe's stellar fundraising abilities should he not agree to the pledge.