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Blog Home Page --> February 2009

Senate Dems Request Show Of Good Faith

Since the beginning of the 111th Congress, both parties have worked hard to appear as the one seeking bipartisanship. Because of their sizeable majorities in both chambers, Democrats don't need many Republicans to support their bills, but they've seemed to be ramping up their efforts to appear bipartisan since House Republicans unanimously opposed the economic stimulus package.

Today, Senate Democratic leadership sent a letter to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) asking Republicans to end political calculations in the name of helping rejuvenate the struggling economy. The letter also questions whether the lack of Republican support for the stimulus package was only a start of party-line opposition.

"We sincerely hope that Congressional Republicans' resistance to the economic recovery package is not a preview of things to come," wrote Sens. Harry Reid (Nev.), Richard Durbin (Ill.), Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Patty Murray (Wash.). "Turning this economy around will demand all hands on deck."

"The economic recovery package was an important first step, but there is much more to do. ... However, if Congressional Republicans plan to oppose efforts to help Americans weather this crisis simply because President Obama proposes them, you are not simply denying the President a victory -- you are denying our nation a path to economic recovery and are betting against our economic future."

Strategy Memo: 19 Months

Good morning, Washington. Today, President Obama will announce his way forward on Iraq. Multiple reports indicate he'll announce that most U.S. forces will be out of Iraq in 19 months, by August 2010. Some Democrats are concerned about the number of forces that will remain, as many as 50,000 perhaps. After his trip to North Carolina for the speech, the president returns to Washington, where he'll watch the Bulls play the Wizards tonight.

Today the Vice President holds his first public meeting of the Middle Class and Working Families Task force. He'll be joined by a number of Cabinet officials for the event, being held in Philadelphia.

Capitol Hill will be relatively quiet today, with no scheduled committee hearings or roll call votes in either chamber of Congress. Most of the action in Washington will instead be at CPAC, where today's speakers include Rep. John Boehner, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney and Mark Sanford.

Here's what's happening today:

**President Obama
*The president will announce the withdrawal of all U.S. combat forces by August 2010 during a speech at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. "The 19-month timetable marks a historic juncture in an unpopular war that has proven enormously costly to America and defined the presidency of George W. Bush, Reuters reports. A senior admin official: "The president will announce that the current combat mission in Iraq will end on August 31, 2010. At that point, the remaining forces in Iraq will undertake a new mission, a more limited mission."

*New York Times reports that he'll make the announcement with the blessing of John McCain. The former presidential candidate joined other Republicans at the White House last night, and left "reassured that the president's withdrawal plan is responsible and reasonable."

*On the heels of the budget rollout, the Treasury Department reached a deal late last night to take a 30-40 percent stake in Citigroup, the third bailout of that bank.

*The Obama administration today "will move to rescind a controversial rule that allows healthcare workers to deny abortion counseling or other family planning services if doing so would violate their moral beliefs." The move "seems certain to stoke ideological battles between supporters and opponents of abortion rights," the Tribune reports.

*Vice President Biden has an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer ahead of today's meeting, focusing on the potential for green jobs. Tonight he also speaks to Delaware educators. "We've always looked at the Bidens as part of the DSEA family," DSEA President Diane Donohue said.

*The Chicago Bulls presented President Obama a Bulls jersey with "Obama" and No. 44 on the back during their White House visit. From the Sun-Times: "The President chatted with the players and said he was converting the tennis court out back here into a basketball court and invited them to come and play pick up with him," said David Axelrod, the senior adviser to Obama.

*National Journal unveils the most liberal and conservative members of the House and Senate today. Liberal Senators: Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) Conservative Senators: A four way tie between John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), John Ensign (R-Nev.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). On the House side, there was a 12-way tie for most liberal. The most conservative: Paul Broun (R-Ga.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas).

NJ made big news last year when Barack Obama ranked as the most liberal senator, as well as in 2004 when John Kerry got the same rank. As two former NJ-ers, we know how much hard work goes into compiling these ratings.

*The Senate passed the D.C. voting rights bill yesterday with 61 affirmative votes. Check out Kyle's story on it here.

*Politico looks at the rifts between the Obama administration and Speaker Pelosi. "Pelosi's aides say the speaker was comfortable playing the role of Obama's shield during the stimulus fight ... and that she remains strongly supportive of the administration on health care, energy and education reform. But on Iraq and other high-profile issues that matter to her, aides say Pelosi has no intention of holding her tongue when she thinks Obama is wrong."

*CNN's Peter Hamby reports on RNC chair Michael Steele's CPAC speech, where he said the party is alive and well. "Tonight, we tell America that Republican values, conservative values, are right for America," he said. "Tonight, we tell America: we know the past, we know we did wrong. My bad. But we go forward in appreciation of the values that brought us to this point."

*Sarah Palin isn't at CPAC, but may be sending them a message from Alaska. She announced Thursday her support for "a controversial bill that would generally require parental consent before girls under age 17 could get an abortion."

*ABC spoke with former First Lady Laura Bush, who describes life after the White House. "The only thing we don't have are the newspapers. It has been slow to get The Dallas Morning News delivered," she said. "People bring the newspaper to us later in the day. It's just not being delivered yet." She said it has been a "slow adjustment," especially when it comes to not feeling stressed all of the time.

**Sports Alert
*According to the Washington Post, the Redskins have signed the biggest free agent on the market, former Tennessee Titans DT Albert Haynesworth. And once again, we've won the offseason SuperBowl!

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Senate Passes D.C. Voting Rights Act

The Senate passed a bill today that would increase the number of members in the House of Representatives to 437, including one permanent seat in Washington, D.C. and one seat in Utah. The legislation garnered 61 votes, just enough to avoid a potential filibuster attempt by opponents.

One Republican amendment was added to the bill just before passage that would legalize firearms in the District. The Supreme Court ruled D.C.'s restrictive gun laws unconstitutional last year.

The House is expected to pass its version of the bill by the end of next week. The House and Senate will then hash out any differences in conference before sending a bill to President Obama.

We'll have more on this bill in an article tomorrow.

Congress Weighs In On President's Budget

Congressional leaders made statements throughout the day in press conferences and press releases on their feelings regarding the budget outline presented today by President Obama. Here are some of their comments:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: "At long last, a budget that is a statement of our national values as the federal budget should be. The budget is consistent with the President's message of accountability, fiscal responsibility, transparency from the standpoint of how we approach it."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid: "It's a budget that takes into consideration the tremendous deficits that have built up over the years."

Sen. Charles Schumer: "On the tax side, this budget is aimed at the middle class, like a laser. The days are over -- again, when Republicans used to give 90 percent of the tax cuts to the very wealthy and say there are your tax cuts to everybody -- we do the opposite. We give almost all the tax cuts to the middle class."


Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: "I have serious concerns with this budget, which demands hardworking American families and job creators turn over more of their hard-earned money to the government to pay for unprecedented spending increases. We should be following the lead of American families during these tough economic times and cut unnecessary spending."

House Minority Leader John Boehner: "I think we just ought to admit it. We're broke, and we can't continue to pile debt on the backs of our kids and grandkids. The president campaigned against wasteful spending, and he ought to veto this bill."

From One OMB Director To Another

Today's release of a budget overview from the Obama administration puts Peter Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget, in the spotlight. He spoke with reporters for 45 minutes this morning, saying the plan "fulfills the President's campaign promises to be honest and responsible, to reorient the federal budget towards programs that work and away from those that don't, and to invest in education, promote clean energy, and reduce health care costs."

Last weekend, I spoke with Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, President Bush's first OMB director, and asked him if he had any advice for Orszag.

"He doesn't need any advice from me. I really wish him well," said Daniels, who served in the post from 2001-2003. "He's got a hard situation here. It's astonishing."

The budget proposal released today calls for halving the budget deficit by 2013, based on what some say are overly optimistic projections for economic recovery. Daniels said that people should focus on the immediate figures.

"These multi-year budget goals are never met. Never, never met, unless by total accident," he said. Even if the administration is successful, Daniels adds, the goal that they have set, $533 billion, is still "a deficit bigger than any in American history, including Bush's."

"[That] tells you that we're on a different planet than the one I inhabited," Daniels said. "I remember how hard we worked to save a half a billion here, or, oh my gosh, a billion! And now it's just lost in the rounding."

In previewing the budget, the administration had advertised that theirs would be an "honest" one, free of gimmicks used by the past administration.

"For too long, our budget has not told the whole truth about how precious tax dollars are spent," Obama said today. "Large sums have been left off the books, including the true cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. And that kind of dishonest accounting is not how you run your family budgets at home; it's not how your government should run its budgets, either."

Daniels on Sunday conceded that there were "sometimes" flaws in the budget system, but said that during his tenure they made "the same effort" that the current administration is.

"Congress is the great author of gimmicks, though," he added. "You want to see some gimmicks. I would say gimmickry is less an executive than a legislative art."

The Obama budget overview, which in print is 134 pages long, can be found online here [PDF].

Rush: Burris Should Stay

Today, members of the Congressional Black Caucus met with President Obama at the White House. Members spoke to the press after, and were asked about the absence of Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.). The members indicated that the CBC was invited as a group, not individually, and that as a member of the CBC Burris was entitled to attend. They did not respond to questions about whether his status in the Senate came up in discussions with the White House.

Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), one of Burris' most vocal supporters, said after that Burris should have been present as any others were. Asked by RCP about a new push for a special election that would result in Burris being removed, Rush insisted that it would be too expensive for the state, and was not necessary.

"I think Sen. Burris should not resign," Rush said. "He did not do anything inappropriate, he did not do anything arrestable, he did not do anything indictable."

That lofty standard aside, the Chicago Sun-Times reported today about more previously-undisclosed ties between Burris and former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The state had hired Roland Burris II as a senior counsel for the state housing authority on Sept. 10, "about six weeks after the Internal Revenue Service slapped a $34,163 tax lien on Burris II and three weeks after a mortgage company filed a foreclosure suit on his South Side house," the paper reported.

Obama's "Earmark" Explained

Following up on yesterday's post about the president's commitment to earmark reform, I asked press secretary Robert Gibbs at today's briefing about a CQ report that claimed to have found an earmark request from then-Senator Obama.

Gibbs had said yesterday that Obama's sincerity in opposing earmarks was shown in the fact that he had not requested any special projects in the bill. Today, he insisted that was still the case, and provided copies of a letter signed by Obama and 36 other senators asking the relevant subcommittee chairs to consider an increase in funding for the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Program.

"For some people [that] constitutes that earmark," Gibbs said. "There's no funding level in here. The president as a senator did not request an earmark for the final two years [of his Senate term]."

Aides point out that the Perkins program is an existing program through the Department of Education, and that when Obama signed the letter supporting increased funding, he was not doing so with an eye to helping any particular institutions in his home state. The funding increase aided institutions in North Dakota and New Mexico. A White House spokesperson also indicated that Obama's name would be removed from the legislation, which Rob Blumenthal, an Appropriations Committee spokesperson confirmed.

The Committee released this statement on the issue:

"When then-Senator Obama signed a letter (dated April 2, 2008) advocating for the Perkins Act, the Tribally Controlled program was not an earmark. The program did not identify particular institutions. It identified a set of criteria and awarded funding to any eligible entity. "On August 14th (after the reporting of the Senate LHHS bill), the Higher Education Opportunity Act became law, which changed the authorization of the Tribally Controlled program. The new authorization identifies particular schools, making the program an earmark. However, the new authorization also moves the program out of the Perkins Act and into the Higher Education Act. Since then-Senator Obama requested funding for the Perkins Act, he did not request the earmark. The record will be corrected to reflect these facts."

Gibbs was also asked about whether the president indicated any concern about the current omnibus bill with Democratic leaders when they met at the White House yesterday. Various reports indicated that the president had urged the leadership to address criticism from Republicans about earmarks and increases in rates of spending. But Gibbs said he would not address any private conversations the president had.

Strategy Memo: Budgeting Time

Today is all about the budget. The President will give a brief overview for the public at 9:30, with his administration getting more into details at a briefing later. The headlines so far revolve around another change in the tax code to affect the highest wage earners, and the creation of a $634 billion reserve fund for health care.

Also today, the president will have lunch with the Congressional Black Caucus at the White House, meet with Secretaries Geithner and Clinton, and greet his favorite team, the Chicago Bulls.

After a day of Republican amendments and Constitutional points of order that were swiftly voted down, the Senate could vote as early as today on the D.C. Voting Rights Act of 2009. The House passed a $410 billion omnibus spending bill yesterday, and today it will take up housing legislation that would give bankruptcy judges an increased ability to erase mortgage debt.

**The Budget
*AP: "President Barack Obama is sending Congress a budget Thursday that projects the government's deficit for this year will soar to $1.75 trillion, reflecting efforts to pull the nation out of a deep recession and a severe financial crisis. A senior administration official told The Associated Press that Obama's $3 trillion-plus spending blueprint also asks Congress to raise taxes on the wealthy in 2011 and cut Medicare costs to provide health care for the uninsured."

*"A little bird says the $3.7 trillion, 134-page budget is bound in Obama blue -- 'A New Era of Responsibility: Renewing America's Promise,'" reports Politico's Mike Allen.

*Included as well is a "vast expansion of the U.S. health-care system by creating a $634 billion reserve fund over the next decade, launching an overhaul that most experts project will ultimately cost at least $1 trillion," Washington Post reports. Obama aides call it a "very substantial down payment" toward universal coverage, paid for by trimming tax breaks for top earners "and squeezing payments to insurers, hospitals, doctors and drug manufacturers."

*LA Times: "Obama's plan does not lay out details for expanding access to health insurance, in deference to senior Democrats in Congress who are at work on legislation to do that. Nor will the president weigh in on proposals under discussion to require that every American obtain health insurance, and to create a new public insurance program to compete with private insurers. Rather, the president's proposal to raise revenue is intended to signal his seriousness about moving the talks forward on Capitol Hill, said an administration official."

*The New York Times notes that the previously announced plan to let the Bush tax cuts expire, combined with the new proposal on tax hikes to pay for the health care fund, "would be a pronounced move to redistribute wealth by reimposing a larger share of the tax burden on corporations and the most affluent taxpayers."

*Bloomberg reports that the budget contains $205.5 billion for combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which includes $75.5 billion through the end of '09. The total DoD budget is $534 billion, which is a 2 percent increase when adjusted for inflation.

*Despite the Obama administration's pledge to stop using gimmicks, "TBD" is listed several times for cost savings and benefit reductions, Washington Post reports. Still, "Congressional sources and others who have been briefed on the administration's plan say the president deserves some credit for making good on his pledge to 'restore honesty and accountability' to the budget process."

*Workload too big?: "Mired in partisan divisions, Congress has produced few bills of sweeping impact since the end of President George W. Bush's first term. Now Obama is asking lawmakers to deliver legislation on the scale of the No Child Left Behind education bill or the Medicare prescription drug benefit -- two of Bush's signature achievements -- roughly once a month," reports Washington Post.

*Omnibus: "The House on Wednesday passed a $410 billion omnibus spending bill packed with pet projects requested by Democrats and Republicans alike. The 245-to-178 vote came just a week after President Obama signed one of the largest spending bills in the nation's history, a $787 billion measure meant to rejuvenate a sluggish economy," the New York Times reports.

*"The Senate is set to vote on the 2009 spending bill next week and is also expected to approve it. That would clear the way for work on other large-scale Democratic priorities, such as addressing the mortgage crisis and creating new regulations for the financial-services industry," WSJ reports.

*GOP Unity?: "This time, though, 16 members broke from the party line on a vote Minority Whip Eric Cantor had urged his colleagues to reject. And the cracks in the facade appear to be the first public signal of Republican rank-and-file squeamishness with a remarkably high-risk strategy that promises an uncertain return," Politico's Mahtesian and O'Connor report.

*D.C. Voting Rights Act: "Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, tried unsuccessfully Wednesday afternoon to kill legislation to give the District full voting rights in Congress. Mr. McCain called for a constitutional point of order to question the legality of giving the District voting rights. The vote failed 36-62," Washington Times reports.

**Burris Watch
*Bad news for Burris in the Chicago Sun-Times: His son "is a federal tax deadbeat who landed a $75,000-a-year state job under former Gov. Rod Blagojevich five months ago."

*Meanwhile, the Sun-Times reports that Attorney General Lisa Madigan issued an opinion saying that the state legislature can pass a law allowing voters to elect a new senator to replace Burris.

**Campaign Stuff
*NY-20: "For Republicans beleaguered by losses in two election cycles, hope has come in the form of New York state Assemblyman Jim Tedisco (R). Tedisco, running to fill Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-N.Y.) old House seat, is becoming an obsession for national Republicans, who tout his chances for returning the district to the GOP. If he does, Republicans will call it the first sign their party is back on track after so many devastating losses," reports The Hill's Reid Wilson.

*NY-Gov: The Observer reports that NY Gov. David Paterson has shaken up his entire staff, hiring former Clinton advisers Peter Kauffmann and Tracy Sefl for communications, and Stan Greenberg for polling.

**Speech Leftovers
*Who Invented the Automobile?: "President Obama, who will decide the fate of struggling Detroit automakers, may need to brush up on his industry history. In promising support in his speech to Congress Tuesday, he said, "I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it." Actually, history -- and the U.S. Library of Congress -- credits Germany," writes USA Today.

*Greg Sergent interviewed former President Clinton, who said that Obama's speech was successful in telling the nation "that we're gonna get out of this and it's gonna be alright in the end." "I think he drew the right balance -- he didn't sugarcoat anything, he didn't say it's gonna get better tomorrow," he said. He also said that the public mood has shifted in favor of health care reform, and thinks Obama will be successful -- a beter than 50-50 chance. He even praised Gov. Bobby Jindal, saying his speech only flunked because the GOP line is weak. "They're on very weak ground with their blanket opposition to the stimulus. He did the best job he could with a hard hand to play."

**Sports Alert: We've got courtside seats to the Wizards-Bulls game in D.C. tomorrow night, and we'll be booing the president's hometown team in favor of ours -- even though the Wizards stink.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

White House Punts On Omnibus Earmarks

In his address to Congress last night, President Obama said he was "proud that we passed the recovery plan free of earmarks," adding that next year, he wants to pass a budget "that ensures that each dollar we spend reflects only our most important national priorities.

Left out was any mention of the pending omnibus legislation before Congress, which most would concede is not free of earmarks, and contains appropriations that could not be considered the most important national priorities. And at a time when the president is calling for tough choices in the face of a trillion dollar deficit, the bill would increase government spending at a rate of more than 8 percent, according to some estimates.

Today, press secretary Robert Gibbs said that Obama "remains concerned" about earmarks, and defended what he said were his strong anti-pork bona fides. But "without having looked specifically at a piece of legislation," Gibbs said he was "hesitant to throw out that four-letter word veto."

"We saw over a period of years the great expansion of the number of earmarks that were considered and improved by Congress. There has been in the past few years a downward trend that line," Gibbs said. "The president hopes to continue that downward trend."

Not addressing what is widely considered a pork-laden omnibus bill has left the White House open to charges of hypocrisy. Minority Leader John Boehner urged Obama to veto the bill today on the House floor.

"I think all of my colleagues know that American families and small businesses, they're struggling. They're tightening their belt. And what are we doing here?" he asked. "We're bringing nine appropriation bills to the floor all wrapped into one big bill eight percent over the amount spent last year, including some 9,000 earmarks. I just think this is out of control."

Spokesmen for the White House and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have not responded to questions about whether the subject came up during a meeting between the president and Democratic leaders today.

Murkowski To Introduce Constitutional Amendment

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), in detailing her opposition to the D.C. Voting Rights Act, said from the Senate floor today that she plans to introduce a constitutional amendment today that would grant the District of Columbia a full-voting member in the House of Representatives.

Murkowski voted yesterday for cloture on the voting rights bill, allowing it to move forward today for consideration, debate and eventually a vote. With Alaska celebrating its 50th year of statehood, Murkowski said she felt it was important for the people of the District to have their argument heard. However, she said, a constitutional amendment was ultimately the "proper route" for this.

"I belive that the District of Columbia deserves representation in the House of Representatives, but S.160 does not conclusively resolve the question of whether they'll get it," Murkowski said. "Where this is going to lead is litigation, first in the United States District Court and then in the United States Supreme Court."

Three's Commerce: Obama Taps Locke

President Obama this morning made his third -- and he hopes final -- choice for Commerce secretary, nominating former Washington Governor Gary Locke for the post.

"Now I'm sure it's not lost on anyone that we've tried this a couple of times," Obama acknowledged. "But I'm big believer in keeping at something until you get it right. And Gary is the right man for this job."

The president played up Locke's family's immigrant story, saying he's a man who understands the American dream.

"He's lived it. And that's why he shares my commitment to do whatever it takes to keep it alive in our time," he said.

Locke, saying he was "humbled and honored" to take the post, talked about flying across the country from one Washington to another yesterday and said he thought of all those who are suffering during these trying times.

"You eloquently outlined your strategies last night on how America will rebuild, recover and emerge stronger," he said to the president. "I'm committed to making the department an active and integral part of advancing your economic policies and restoring the American dream."

The announcement was made in the Indian Treaty Room on the fifth floor of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

McConnell Corrects The Record

In a session with reporters yesterday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer dug up an old quote from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and used it to prove that the appropriations omnibus package was a bipartisan, bicameral effort. In the quote from early January, McConnell had been arguing against moving forward with an economic stimulus plan and stated that the omnibus should be passed first.

Senate Republicans then held a press conference yesterday afternoon during which McConnell brought up his quote from January and explained that he in fact thinks the package is $20 billion larger than it should be.

"Back in January, I suggested to the Democratic leadership that we take up the omnibus appropriation bill first," McConnell said. "And I did that because I wanted to make sure that we were not engaged in duplicate spending when we finally went to the stimulus. Regretfully, we decided to do it in reverse order. We passed the stimulus bill first, and now we're going to go asking taxpayers to choke down an omnibus bill that's $20 billion above what it should be based on the budget."

McConnell continued: "It strikes us that we're on a spending spree of gargantuan proportions here and a good time to stop it would be getting this omnibus appropriation bill slipped down to a size that was consistent with the current budget."

Strategy Memo: Grading The Speech

Good morning, Washington. President Obama today will follow up on his address to Congress last night with a number of meetings with senior staff, the Democratic caucus and leaders of the respective banking committees today. He'll also formally announce his pick for Commerce secretary this morning, expected to be former Gov. Gary Locke of Washington. Tonight, the president will honor Stevie Wonder with an East Room concert.

Vice President Biden has a busy day as well, which started with round-robin interviews on the network morning shows. This morning, he'll hold the first Recovery Plan Implementation meeting in the Roosevelt room. He'll also meet with school superintendents from around the country, before being honored by the Adjutants General Association of the Untied States.

After agreeing yesterday to consider the legislation giving Washington, D.C. a full-voting member in the House of Representatives, the Senate will debate the bill today and tomorrow before a vote that could come by tomorrow night. The House Judiciary Committee will likely approve of the House version of the bill today, while the full House begins debate on the omnibus appropriations bill, which will fund the federal government through the end of September.

**The Speech
*Wall Street Journal: "President Barack Obama, in his first formal address to Congress, straddled the divide between fear and hope Tuesday night, declaring the 'day of reckoning has arrived' for an indulgent nation but vowing to lead a recovery from the deepest recession since World War II." It was 52 minutes long with 60 breaks for applause.

*New York Times: "The young new president projected a voice of generational confidence to a public that by one measure is less confident than at any other time since Mr. Obama was in grade school. He invested his popularity behind a plan that he said would not only 'restart the engine of our prosperity' but also transform the country with 'bold action and big ideas.' As he tried to navigate the divide between hope and realism, the vision he articulated was in some ways anything but unifying

*Washington Times reports that, "Obama gave voters plenty of specifics by which to judge him." But Politico counters that the speech "contained several caveats and deliberately avoided language that could box in Obama," particularly on health care. More: "President Barack Obama laid out an agenda Tuesday that would do just about everything but cure cancer. Actually, he promised to try that too," writes Politico's Budoff Brown.

*"Now he's added overhauling the nation's health care system to his to-do list -- a challenge that has vexed presidents from Harry Truman to Bill Clinton," writes USA Today's Wolf. "It's a high-risk strategy, doing everything at once. Obama is doing it for two reasons: The economy is in free fall, and the voters gave him a sizeable mandate in November."

*New York Daily News' DeFrank: "In a clear tonal shift from his first month, Obama seized the bully pulpit of his office to offer more hope than angst to a nation desperate for reassurance." He "stole a page from Ronald Reagan, who proved optimism is a formidable political weapon."

*Washington Post: "Not since Franklin Roosevelt delivered his first fireside chat, eight days into his presidency, have Americans been more hungry -- and more desperate -- for economic leadership. And not since FDR has there been an economic agenda as bold or ambitious, or as likely to reshape American capitalism."

*CNN's insta-poll found strong reviews, with 85 percent saying the speech made them more optimistic.

*Time's Michael Scherer spotted Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau standing "nervously with his back against the wall, alternately mouthing the words as Obama spoke them, applauding and checking his Blackberry for reactions from the ether."

*CNN's Peter Hamby tracked many members of Congress Twittering during the speech.

**The Response
*The New Orleans Times-Picayune says that Gov. Jindal's speech "represented the delayed star turn he was to have had at the Republican National Convention in Minnesota in early September. Because he was directing the state's emergency response to Hurricane Gustav, Jindal canceled plans for a featured speaking role at the convention."

*Politico finds that Jindal's speech was not well received, with most criticism focusing on the delivery. "While Jindal may have missed a prime opportunity to establish himself as a leading Republican presidential contender in 2012, he didn't exactly lay an egg. And it's widely understood among political professionals that the rebuttal to the president is a difficult endeavor, one that almost never matches the speech that precedes it."

*Glenn Thrush says that Jindal profiled a Louisiana police officer who has been accused of racial profiling.

*In our inbox within an hour of the speech: an invitation to join the "Bobby Jindal is Kenneth the Page" group on Facebook.

**President Obama
*Vice President Biden followed up on the speech with morning interviews today. AP: He said there's no "magic bullet" for curing the country's economic woes, urging patience and saying he hopes a recovery can be achieved in the next two years. "We'll come of this recession, and when we come out we'll have a stronger middle class, more competitive nation, and the 21st century will be ours," he said.

*Looking ahead: Obama is preparing to announce that U.S. forces will be removed in 19 months, more than the 16 month timeframe he had outlined on the campaign trail. NY Times: "Even with the withdrawal order, Mr. Obama plans to leave behind a "residual force" of tens of thousands of troops to continue training Iraqi security forces, hunt down foreign terrorist cells and guard American institutions, as he said he would during last year's campaign."

*Hilda Solis was finally confirmed as the secretary of Labor yesterday, just in time to watch the speech with the rest of the Cabinet.

*Appropriations Omnibus: "House Democrats are working to undercut accusations by Republicans that the omnibus spending bill represents a spending spree on earmarks -- and pointedly noting that the measure includes a healthy number of GOP-sponsored special projects," CQ reports.

*D.C. Voting Rights: "For the first time since the 1970s, the U.S. Senate decided yesterday to take up a D.C. voting rights bill, fueling hopes that the District is finally nearing its longtime goal of having a full member of the House of Representatives," reports the Washington Post.

*Weapons: "Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, and senior Republican panel member John McCain of Arizona introduced legislation that would make it easier to kill weapons programs that spawn runaway development costs, while taking steps to improve competition in the heavily consolidated industry," reports the Wall Street Journal.

**Burris Watch: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked fellow Illinois Senator Roland Burris yesterday to resign. Chicago Tribune: "I told him that under the circumstances, I would consider resigning if I were in his shoes," Durbin told reporters after an hour-long meeting with Burris, also an Illinois Democrat. "He said he would not resign, and that was his conclusion. ... I've made my recommendation to Senator Burris," Durbin added, later explaining, "I can't force him out."

**Minnesota Senate Watch: The setbacks keep mounting for Norm Coleman, the Star Tribune reports. "The three-judge panel refused to preserve identifying marks on counted absentee ballots that he claims have been rendered illegal by recent rulings of the court. The decision hampers the ability of Coleman, a Republican, to challenge ballots tallied in the final phase of the recount, when DFL Al Franken took a 225-vote lead."

**He's Still Around
*You can look back at our live blog of the address last night, including a Joe The Plumber sighting -- yes, he's still in our thoughts.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Obama To Announce Commerce Pick Tomorrow

The announcement will be made at 11 am tomorrow from the Indian Treaty Room in the White House. It's expected to be former Gov. Gary Locke of Washington.

Liveblogging The Speech

10:37: Now go enjoy Mardi Gras, Gov. Jindal.

10:35: Interesting, Jindal concedes that Republicans failed to live up to the promises that got them elected in 1994, and 2000. "Republicans lost your trust, and rightly so. ... Our party is determined to regain your trust."

10:33: Half of Louisiana under water, the other half indictment. Not anymore, Jindal says. A subtle dig at Democratic scandals right now?

10:32: Repeating again and again, America can do anything. "Yes we can"?

10:28: Given that Obama did not mention Katrina, noteworthy that it is a focus of the Republican response.

10:28: "The strength of America is not in our government."

10:27: "Where we disagree, Republicans have a responsibility to be candid."

10:25: Jindal starts with praise for Obama's personal story -- and relates it to his own.

10:14: Quick reax via Twitter from RNC spokesperson Alex Conant: "What didn't make Obama's speech: Iran, North Korea, trade, lobbyists, unions, Katrina, farmers... What else?"

10:09: As promised, just about 50 minutes. Now we wait for Gov. Jindal.

10:07: The big finish: "I know that we haven't agreed on every issue thus far, and there are surely times in the future when we will part ways. But I also know that every American who is sitting here tonight loves this country and wants it to succeed. That must be the starting point for every debate we have in the coming months, and where we return after those debates are done. That is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground."

10:05: More hope: a story he has referred to so often. "And I think about Ty'Sheoma Bethea, the young girl from that school I visited in Dillon, South Carolina - a place where the ceilings leak, the paint peels off the walls, and they have to stop teaching six times a day because the train barrels by their classroom. ... We are not quitters."

10:02: HOPE! "But in my life, I have also learned that hope is found in unlikely places; that inspiration often comes not from those with the most power or celebrity, but from the dreams and aspirations of Americans who are anything but ordinary."

10:00: Defending Gitmo decision, and strong message to the world: "There is no force in the world more powerful than the example of America. ... [We] will seek swift and certain justice for captured terrorists, because living our values doesn't make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger. And that is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture."

9:57: Foreign policy: "And with our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda and combat extremism. Because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens half a world away." Long standing ovation after statement of support for the troops.

9:56: Putting the war in the budget: "For seven years, we have been a nation at war. No longer will we hide its price."

9:55: Trying to soften the blow: "I know you'll hear the same old claims that rolling back these tax breaks means a massive tax increase on the American people: if your family earns less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime. I repeat: not one single dime."

9:52: So he won't veto this year's budget? "I'm proud that we passed the recovery plan free of earmarks, and I want to pass a budget next year that ensures that each dollar we spend reflects only our most important national priorities."

9:51: A good partisan back and forth. Republicans cheer as Obama says: "There is, of course, another responsibility we have to our children. And that is the responsibility to ensure that we do not pass on to them a debt they cannot pay." He laughs, and adds: "With the deficit we inherited ..."

9:49: Fulfilling a campaign promise, and a shoutout to the Lion of the Senate: "I know that the price of tuition is higher than ever, which is why if you are willing to volunteer in your neighborhood or give back to your community or serve your country, we will make sure that you can afford a higher education. And to encourage a renewed spirit of national service for this and future generations, I ask this Congress to send me the bipartisan legislation that bears the name of Senator Orrin Hatch as well as an American who has never stopped asking what he can do for his country - Senator Edward Kennedy." Don't believe he is present.

9:48: Obama's era of personal responsibility: "Every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It's not just quitting on yourself, it's quitting on your country - and this country needs and values the talents of every American."

9:45: "So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year."

9:44: Surely some don't see it this way. RE: Universal healthcare -- "It's a commitment that's paid for in part by efficiencies in our system that are long overdue. And it's a step we must take if we hope to bring down our deficit in the years to come."

9:44: That's quite a statement on his recovery plan. "It will launch a new effort to conquer a disease that has touched the life of nearly every American by seeking a cure for cancer in our time."

9:41: Here's to you, Mr. Dingell: "We are committed to the goal of a re-tooled, re-imagined auto industry that can compete and win. Millions of jobs depend on it. Scores of communities depend on it. And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it."

9:39: She's not president, but at least Hillary Clinton scored an upgrade in her seat from last year.

9:37: Not health care. "The budget I submit will invest in the three areas that are absolutely critical to our economic future: energy, health care, and education. It begins with energy."

9:35: Budget=vision. "So often, we have come to view these documents as simply numbers on a page or laundry lists of programs. I see this document differently. I see it as a vision for America - as a blueprint for our future."

9:34: First new policy prescription: "To ensure that a crisis of this magnitude never happens again, I ask Congress to move quickly on legislation that will finally reform our outdated regulatory system."

9:31: Measuring the drapes? "This time, CEOs won't be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet. Those days are over."

9:25: "Nobody messes with Joe!" A hearty laugh from the VP.

9:24: A former colleague from the campaign trail, Alex Marquardt, tells me that he ran into Joe The Plumber watching the start of the speech at Tesoro restaurant in the Van Ness neighborhood of Washington (Joe left as it really got underway). He's in town for CPAC.

9:23: No Republicans voted for it in the House. And few, if any stand when the president says: "I am grateful that this Congress delivered, and pleased to say that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is now law."

9:21: Applause from Democratic side as Obama says, "A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future."

9:18: First applause line: "We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before."

9:16: It's not often the First Lady gets a special mention in the intro, after the VP and Speaker. A standing ovation for Michelle Obama.

9:16: First time glitch -- After taking the rostrum, President Obama forgets that Speaker Pelosi has to formally introduce him. "Madame Speaker," he begins, before getting interrupted.

"We Are Not Quitters"

Read along with the president tonight, remarks as prepared for delivery:

Madame Speaker, Mr. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the First Lady of the United States:

I've come here tonight not only to address the distinguished men and women in this great chamber, but to speak frankly and directly to the men and women who sent us here.

I know that for many Americans watching right now, the state of our economy is a concern that rises above all others. And rightly so. If you haven't been personally affected by this recession, you probably know someone who has - a friend; a neighbor; a member of your family. You don't need to hear another list of statistics to know that our economy is in crisis, because you live it every day. It's the worry you wake up with and the source of sleepless nights. It's the job you thought you'd retire from but now have lost; the business you built your dreams upon that's now hanging by a thread; the college acceptance letter your child had to put back in the envelope. The impact of this recession is real, and it is everywhere.

But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken; though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this:

We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.

The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation. The answers to our problems don't lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth. Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in ample measure. What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more.

Now, if we're honest with ourselves, we'll admit that for too long, we have not always met these responsibilities - as a government or as a people. I say this not to lay blame or look backwards, but because it is only by understanding how we arrived at this moment that we'll be able to lift ourselves out of this predicament.

The fact is, our economy did not fall into decline overnight. Nor did all of our problems begin when the housing market collapsed or the stock market sank. We have known for decades that our survival depends on finding new sources of energy. Yet we import more oil today than ever before. The cost of health care eats up more and more of our savings each year, yet we keep delaying reform. Our children will compete for jobs in a global economy that too many of our schools do not prepare them for. And though all these challenges went unsolved, we still managed to spend more money and pile up more debt, both as individuals and through our government, than ever before.

In other words, we have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn't afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.

Well that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here.

Now is the time to act boldly and wisely - to not only revive this economy, but to build a new foundation for lasting prosperity. Now is the time to jumpstart job creation, re-start lending, and invest in areas like energy, health care, and education that will grow our economy, even as we make hard choices to bring our deficit down. That is what my economic agenda is designed to do, and that's what I'd like to talk to you about tonight.

It's an agenda that begins with jobs.

As soon as I took office, I asked this Congress to send me a recovery plan by President's Day that would put people back to work and put money in their pockets. Not because I believe in bigger government - I don't. Not because I'm not mindful of the massive debt we've inherited - I am. I called for action because the failure to do so would have cost more jobs and caused more hardships. In fact, a failure to act would have worsened our long-term deficit by assuring weak economic growth for years. That's why I pushed for quick action. And tonight, I am grateful that this Congress delivered, and pleased to say that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is now law.

Over the next two years, this plan will save or create 3.5 million jobs. More than 90% of these jobs will be in the private sector - jobs rebuilding our roads and bridges; constructing wind turbines and solar panels; laying broadband and expanding mass transit.

Because of this plan, there are teachers who can now keep their jobs and educate our kids. Health care professionals can continue caring for our sick. There are 57 police officers who are still on the streets of Minneapolis tonight because this plan prevented the layoffs their department was about to make.

Because of this plan, 95% of the working households in America will receive a tax cut - a tax cut that you will see in your paychecks beginning on April 1st.

Because of this plan, families who are struggling to pay tuition costs will receive a $2,500 tax credit for all four years of college. And Americans who have lost their jobs in this recession will be able to receive extended unemployment benefits and continued health care coverage to help them weather this storm.

I know there are some in this chamber and watching at home who are skeptical of whether this plan will work. I understand that skepticism. Here in Washington, we've all seen how quickly good intentions can turn into broken promises and wasteful spending. And with a plan of this scale comes enormous responsibility to get it right.

That is why I have asked Vice President Biden to lead a tough, unprecedented oversight effort - because nobody messes with Joe. I have told each member of my Cabinet as well as mayors and governors across the country that they will be held accountable by me and the American people for every dollar they spend. I have appointed a proven and aggressive Inspector General to ferret out any and all cases of waste and fraud. And we have created a new website called so that every American can find out how and where their money is being spent.

So the recovery plan we passed is the first step in getting our economy back on track. But it is just the first step. Because even if we manage this plan flawlessly, there will be no real recovery unless we clean up the credit crisis that has severely weakened our financial system.

I want to speak plainly and candidly about this issue tonight, because every American should know that it directly affects you and your family's well-being. You should also know that the money you've deposited in banks across the country is safe; your insurance is secure; and you can rely on the continued operation of our financial system. That is not the source of concern.

The concern is that if we do not re-start lending in this country, our recovery will be choked off before it even begins.

You see, the flow of credit is the lifeblood of our economy. The ability to get a loan is how you finance the purchase of everything from a home to a car to a college education; how stores stock their shelves, farms buy equipment, and businesses make payroll.

But credit has stopped flowing the way it should. Too many bad loans from the housing crisis have made their way onto the books of too many banks. With so much debt and so little confidence, these banks are now fearful of lending out any more money to households, to businesses, or to each other. When there is no lending, families can't afford to buy homes or cars. So businesses are forced to make layoffs. Our economy suffers even more, and credit dries up even further.

That is why this administration is moving swiftly and aggressively to break this destructive cycle, restore confidence, and re-start lending.

We will do so in several ways. First, we are creating a new lending fund that represents the largest effort ever to help provide auto loans, college loans, and small business loans to the consumers and entrepreneurs who keep this economy running.

Second, we have launched a housing plan that will help responsible families facing the threat of foreclosure lower their monthly payments and re-finance their mortgages. It's a plan that won't help speculators or that neighbor down the street who bought a house he could never hope to afford, but it will help millions of Americans who are struggling with declining home values - Americans who will now be able to take advantage of the lower interest rates that this plan has already helped bring about. In fact, the average family who re-finances today can save nearly $2000 per year on their mortgage.

Third, we will act with the full force of the federal government to ensure that the major banks that Americans depend on have enough confidence and enough money to lend even in more difficult times. And when we learn that a major bank has serious problems, we will hold accountable those responsible, force the necessary adjustments, provide the support to clean up their balance sheets, and assure the continuity of a strong, viable institution that can serve our people and our economy.

I understand that on any given day, Wall Street may be more comforted by an approach that gives banks bailouts with no strings attached, and that holds nobody accountable for their reckless decisions. But such an approach won't solve the problem. And our goal is to quicken the day when we re-start lending to the American people and American business and end this crisis once and for all.

I intend to hold these banks fully accountable for the assistance they receive, and this time, they will have to clearly demonstrate how taxpayer dollars result in more lending for the American taxpayer. This time, CEOs won't be able to use taxpayer money to pad their paychecks or buy fancy drapes or disappear on a private jet. Those days are over.

Still, this plan will require significant resources from the federal government - and yes, probably more than we've already set aside. But while the cost of action will be great, I can assure you that the cost of inaction will be far greater, for it could result in an economy that sputters along for not months or years, but perhaps a decade. That would be worse for our deficit, worse for business, worse for you, and worse for the next generation. And I refuse to let that happen.

I understand that when the last administration asked this Congress to provide assistance for struggling banks, Democrats and Republicans alike were infuriated by the mismanagement and results that followed. So were the American taxpayers. So was I.

So I know how unpopular it is to be seen as helping banks right now, especially when everyone is suffering in part from their bad decisions. I promise you - I get it.

But I also know that in a time of crisis, we cannot afford to govern out of anger, or yield to the politics of the moment. My job - our job - is to solve the problem. Our job is to govern with a sense of responsibility. I will not spend a single penny for the purpose of rewarding a single Wall Street executive, but I will do whatever it takes to help the small business that can't pay its workers or the family that has saved and still can't get a mortgage.

That's what this is about. It's not about helping banks - it's about helping people. Because when credit is available again, that young family can finally buy a new home. And then some company will hire workers to build it. And then those workers will have money to spend, and if they can get a loan too, maybe they'll finally buy that car, or open their own business. Investors will return to the market, and American families will see their retirement secured once more. Slowly, but surely, confidence will return, and our economy will recover.

So I ask this Congress to join me in doing whatever proves necessary. Because we cannot consign our nation to an open-ended recession. And to ensure that a crisis of this magnitude never happens again, I ask Congress to move quickly on legislation that will finally reform our outdated regulatory system. It is time to put in place tough, new common-sense rules of the road so that our financial market rewards drive and innovation, and punishes short-cuts and abuse.

The recovery plan and the financial stability plan are the immediate steps we're taking to revive our economy in the short-term. But the only way to fully restore America's economic strength is to make the long-term investments that will lead to new jobs, new industries, and a renewed ability to compete with the rest of the world. The only way this century will be another American century is if we confront at last the price of our dependence on oil and the high cost of health care; the schools that aren't preparing our children and the mountain of debt they stand to inherit. That is our responsibility.

In the next few days, I will submit a budget to Congress. So often, we have come to view these documents as simply numbers on a page or laundry lists of programs. I see this document differently. I see it as a vision for America - as a blueprint for our future.

My budget does not attempt to solve every problem or address every issue. It reflects the stark reality of what we've inherited - a trillion dollar deficit, a financial crisis, and a costly recession.

Given these realities, everyone in this chamber - Democrats and Republicans - will have to sacrifice some worthy priorities for which there are no dollars. And that includes me.

But that does not mean we can afford to ignore our long-term challenges. I reject the view that says our problems will simply take care of themselves; that says government has no role in laying the foundation for our common prosperity.

For history tells a different story. History reminds us that at every moment of economic upheaval and transformation, this nation has responded with bold action and big ideas. In the midst of civil war, we laid railroad tracks from one coast to another that spurred commerce and industry. From the turmoil of the Industrial Revolution came a system of public high schools that prepared our citizens for a new age. In the wake of war and depression, the GI Bill sent a generation to college and created the largest middle-class in history. And a twilight struggle for freedom led to a nation of highways, an American on the moon, and an explosion of technology that still shapes our world.

In each case, government didn't supplant private enterprise; it catalyzed private enterprise. It created the conditions for thousands of entrepreneurs and new businesses to adapt and to thrive.

We are a nation that has seen promise amid peril, and claimed opportunity from ordeal. Now we must be that nation again. That is why, even as it cuts back on the programs we don't need, the budget I submit will invest in the three areas that are absolutely critical to our economic future: energy, health care, and education.

It begins with energy.

We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century. And yet, it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient. We invented solar technology, but we've fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in producing it. New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea.

Well I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders - and I know you don't either. It is time for America to lead again.

Thanks to our recovery plan, we will double this nation's supply of renewable energy in the next three years. We have also made the largest investment in basic research funding in American history - an investment that will spur not only new discoveries in energy, but breakthroughs in medicine, science, and technology.

We will soon lay down thousands of miles of power lines that can carry new energy to cities and towns across this country. And we will put Americans to work making our homes and buildings more efficient so that we can save billions of dollars on our energy bills.

But to truly transform our economy, protect our security, and save our planet from the ravages of climate change, we need to ultimately make clean, renewable energy the profitable kind of energy. So I ask this Congress to send me legislation that places a market-based cap on carbon pollution and drives the production of more renewable energy in America. And to support that innovation, we will invest fifteen billion dollars a year to develop technologies like wind power and solar power; advanced biofuels, clean coal, and more fuel-efficient cars and trucks built right here in America.

As for our auto industry, everyone recognizes that years of bad decision-making and a global recession have pushed our automakers to the brink. We should not, and will not, protect them from their own bad practices. But we are committed to the goal of a re-tooled, re-imagined auto industry that can compete and win. Millions of jobs depend on it. Scores of communities depend on it. And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it.

None of this will come without cost, nor will it be easy. But this is America. We don't do what's easy. We do what is necessary to move this country forward.

For that same reason, we must also address the crushing cost of health care.

This is a cost that now causes a bankruptcy in America every thirty seconds. By the end of the year, it could cause 1.5 million Americans to lose their homes. In the last eight years, premiums have grown four times faster than wages. And in each of these years, one million more Americans have lost their health insurance. It is one of the major reasons why small businesses close their doors and corporations ship jobs overseas. And it's one of the largest and fastest-growing parts of our budget.

Given these facts, we can no longer afford to put health care reform on hold.

Already, we have done more to advance the cause of health care reform in the last thirty days than we have in the last decade. When it was days old, this Congress passed a law to provide and protect health insurance for eleven million American children whose parents work full-time. Our recovery plan will invest in electronic health records and new technology that will reduce errors, bring down costs, ensure privacy, and save lives. It will launch a new effort to conquer a disease that has touched the life of nearly every American by seeking a cure for cancer in our time. And it makes the largest investment ever in preventive care, because that is one of the best ways to keep our people healthy and our costs under control.

This budget builds on these reforms. It includes an historic commitment to comprehensive health care reform - a down-payment on the principle that we must have quality, affordable health care for every American. It's a commitment that's paid for in part by efficiencies in our system that are long overdue. And it's a step we must take if we hope to bring down our deficit in the years to come.

Now, there will be many different opinions and ideas about how to achieve reform, and that is why I'm bringing together businesses and workers, doctors and health care providers, Democrats and Republicans to begin work on this issue next week.

I suffer no illusions that this will be an easy process. It will be hard. But I also know that nearly a century after Teddy Roosevelt first called for reform, the cost of our health care has weighed down our economy and the conscience of our nation long enough. So let there be no doubt: health care reform cannot wait, it must not wait, and it will not wait another year.

The third challenge we must address is the urgent need to expand the promise of education in America.

In a global economy where the most valuable skill you can sell is your knowledge, a good education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity - it is a pre-requisite.

Right now, three-quarters of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma. And yet, just over half of our citizens have that level of education. We have one of the highest high school dropout rates of any industrialized nation. And half of the students who begin college never finish.

This is a prescription for economic decline, because we know the countries that out-teach us today will out-compete us tomorrow. That is why it will be the goal of this administration to ensure that every child has access to a complete and competitive education - from the day they are born to the day they begin a career.

Already, we have made an historic investment in education through the economic recovery plan. We have dramatically expanded early childhood education and will continue to improve its quality, because we know that the most formative learning comes in those first years of life. We have made college affordable for nearly seven million more students. And we have provided the resources necessary to prevent painful cuts and teacher layoffs that would set back our children's progress.

But we know that our schools don't just need more resources. They need more reform. That is why this budget creates new incentives for teacher performance; pathways for advancement, and rewards for success. We'll invest in innovative programs that are already helping schools meet high standards and close achievement gaps. And we will expand our commitment to charter schools.

It is our responsibility as lawmakers and educators to make this system work. But it is the responsibility of every citizen to participate in it. And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It's not just quitting on yourself, it's quitting on your country - and this country needs and values the talents of every American. That is why we will provide the support necessary for you to complete college and meet a new goal: by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world.

I know that the price of tuition is higher than ever, which is why if you are willing to volunteer in your neighborhood or give back to your community or serve your country, we will make sure that you can afford a higher education. And to encourage a renewed spirit of national service for this and future generations, I ask this Congress to send me the bipartisan legislation that bears the name of Senator Orrin Hatch as well as an American who has never stopped asking what he can do for his country - Senator Edward Kennedy.

These education policies will open the doors of opportunity for our children. But it is up to us to ensure they walk through them. In the end, there is no program or policy that can substitute for a mother or father who will attend those parent/teacher conferences, or help with homework after dinner, or turn off the TV, put away the video games, and read to their child. I speak to you not just as a President, but as a father when I say that responsibility for our children's education must begin at home.

There is, of course, another responsibility we have to our children. And that is the responsibility to ensure that we do not pass on to them a debt they cannot pay. With the deficit we inherited, the cost of the crisis we face, and the long-term challenges we must meet, it has never been more important to ensure that as our economy recovers, we do what it takes to bring this deficit down.

I'm proud that we passed the recovery plan free of earmarks, and I want to pass a budget next year that ensures that each dollar we spend reflects only our most important national priorities.

Yesterday, I held a fiscal summit where I pledged to cut the deficit in half by the end of my first term in office. My administration has also begun to go line by line through the federal budget in order to eliminate wasteful and ineffective programs. As you can imagine, this is a process that will take some time. But we're starting with the biggest lines. We have already identified two trillion dollars in savings over the next decade.

In this budget, we will end education programs that don't work and end direct payments to large agribusinesses that don't need them. We'll eliminate the no-bid contracts that have wasted billions in Iraq, and reform our defense budget so that we're not paying for Cold War-era weapons systems we don't use. We will root out the waste, fraud, and abuse in our Medicare program that doesn't make our seniors any healthier, and we will restore a sense of fairness and balance to our tax code by finally ending the tax breaks for corporations that ship our jobs overseas.

In order to save our children from a future of debt, we will also end the tax breaks for the wealthiest 2% of Americans. But let me perfectly clear, because I know you'll hear the same old claims that rolling back these tax breaks means a massive tax increase on the American people: if your family earns less than $250,000 a year, you will not see your taxes increased a single dime. I repeat: not one single dime. In fact, the recovery plan provides a tax cut - that's right, a tax cut - for 95% of working families. And these checks are on the way.

To preserve our long-term fiscal health, we must also address the growing costs in Medicare and Social Security. Comprehensive health care reform is the best way to strengthen Medicare for years to come. And we must also begin a conversation on how to do the same for Social Security, while creating tax-free universal savings accounts for all Americans.

Finally, because we're also suffering from a deficit of trust, I am committed to restoring a sense of honesty and accountability to our budget. That is why this budget looks ahead ten years and accounts for spending that was left out under the old rules - and for the first time, that includes the full cost of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. For seven years, we have been a nation at war. No longer will we hide its price.

We are now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars, and I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war.

And with our friends and allies, we will forge a new and comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat al Qaeda and combat extremism. Because I will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens half a world away.

As we meet here tonight, our men and women in uniform stand watch abroad and more are readying to deploy. To each and every one of them, and to the families who bear the quiet burden of their absence, Americans are united in sending one message: we honor your service, we are inspired by your sacrifice, and you have our unyielding support. To relieve the strain on our forces, my budget increases the number of our soldiers and Marines. And to keep our sacred trust with those who serve, we will raise their pay, and give our veterans the expanded health care and benefits that they have earned.

To overcome extremism, we must also be vigilant in upholding the values our troops defend - because there is no force in the world more powerful than the example of America. That is why I have ordered the closing of the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, and will seek swift and certain justice for captured terrorists - because living our values doesn't make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger. And that is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture.

In words and deeds, we are showing the world that a new era of engagement has begun. For we know that America cannot meet the threats of this century alone, but the world cannot meet them without America. We cannot shun the negotiating table, nor ignore the foes or forces that could do us harm. We are instead called to move forward with the sense of confidence and candor that serious times demand.

To seek progress toward a secure and lasting peace between Israel and her neighbors, we have appointed an envoy to sustain our effort. To meet the challenges of the 21st century - from terrorism to nuclear proliferation; from pandemic disease to cyber threats to crushing poverty - we will strengthen old alliances, forge new ones, and use all elements of our national power.

And to respond to an economic crisis that is global in scope, we are working with the nations of the G-20 to restore confidence in our financial system, avoid the possibility of escalating protectionism, and spur demand for American goods in markets across the globe. For the world depends on us to have a strong economy, just as our economy depends on the strength of the world's.

As we stand at this crossroads of history, the eyes of all people in all nations are once again upon us - watching to see what we do with this moment; waiting for us to lead.

Those of us gathered here tonight have been called to govern in extraordinary times. It is a tremendous burden, but also a great privilege - one that has been entrusted to few generations of Americans. For in our hands lies the ability to shape our world for good or for ill.

I know that it is easy to lose sight of this truth - to become cynical and doubtful; consumed with the petty and the trivial.

But in my life, I have also learned that hope is found in unlikely places; that inspiration often comes not from those with the most power or celebrity, but from the dreams and aspirations of Americans who are anything but ordinary.

I think about Leonard Abess, the bank president from Miami who reportedly cashed out of his company, took a $60 million bonus, and gave it out to all 399 people who worked for him, plus another 72 who used to work for him. He didn't tell anyone, but when the local newspaper found out, he simply said, ''I knew some of these people since I was 7 years old. I didn't feel right getting the money myself."

I think about Greensburg, Kansas, a town that was completely destroyed by a tornado, but is being rebuilt by its residents as a global example of how clean energy can power an entire community - how it can bring jobs and businesses to a place where piles of bricks and rubble once lay. "The tragedy was terrible," said one of the men who helped them rebuild. "But the folks here know that it also provided an incredible opportunity."

And I think about Ty'Sheoma Bethea, the young girl from that school I visited in Dillon, South Carolina - a place where the ceilings leak, the paint peels off the walls, and they have to stop teaching six times a day because the train barrels by their classroom. She has been told that her school is hopeless, but the other day after class she went to the public library and typed up a letter to the people sitting in this room. She even asked her principal for the money to buy a stamp. The letter asks us for help, and says, "We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina but also the world. We are not quitters."

We are not quitters.

These words and these stories tell us something about the spirit of the people who sent us here. They tell us that even in the most trying times, amid the most difficult circumstances, there is a generosity, a resilience, a decency, and a determination that perseveres; a willingness to take responsibility for our future and for posterity.

Their resolve must be our inspiration. Their concerns must be our cause. And we must show them and all our people that we are equal to the task before us.

I know that we haven't agreed on every issue thus far, and there are surely times in the future when we will part ways. But I also know that every American who is sitting here tonight loves this country and wants it to succeed. That must be the starting point for every debate we have in the coming months, and where we return after those debates are done. That is the foundation on which the American people expect us to build common ground.

And if we do - if we come together and lift this nation from the depths of this crisis; if we put our people back to work and restart the engine of our prosperity; if we confront without fear the challenges of our time and summon that enduring spirit of an America that does not quit, then someday years from now our children can tell their children that this was the time when we performed, in the words that are carved into this very chamber, "something worthy to be remembered." Thank you, God Bless you, and may God Bless the United States of America.

Optimistic Enough?

Tonight's presidential address to Congress is expected to be "sober" and acknowledge the great difficulties facing the nation. But the White House has strategically released a more optimistic, forward-looking excerpt for public consumption in the hours before.

Here's what the president will say:

"But while our economy may be weakened and our confidence shaken; though we are living through difficult and uncertain times, tonight I want every American to know this: We will rebuild, we will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before.

The weight of this crisis will not determine the destiny of this nation. The answers to our problems don't lie beyond our reach. They exist in our laboratories and universities; in our fields and our factories; in the imaginations of our entrepreneurs and the pride of the hardest-working people on Earth. Those qualities that have made America the greatest force of progress and prosperity in human history we still possess in ample measure. What is required now is for this country to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more."

The White House also released the full list of guests who will watch President Obama's speech from the first lady's box. It includes Govs. Ted Strickland (D-Ohio) and Jim Douglas (R-Vt.),

Mrs. Michelle Obama
Dr. Jill Biden
Earl Devaney, Chair, Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board
Mayor Bob Dixson (Greensburg, KS)
Governor Jim Douglas (Montpelier, VT)
Valerie B. Jarrett, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Liaison
Phil Schiliro, Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs
Governor Ted Strickland (Columbus, OH)<

Blake Jones, Co-Founder and President, Namaste Solar (Boulder, CO)
Jones has over ten years of engineering and project management experience in the energy and telecom industries and has worked extensively throughout the USA, Asia and the Middle East. In early 2005, Jones co-founded Namaste Solar, a Boulder, CO based, and employee owned solar electric company. Namaste Solar has installed over 500 solar PV systems in Colorado since 2006, more than any other company. Since its inception the company has grown from four to 55 employees in three years. On February 17, 2009 the President and Vice President toured the Namaste solar installation atop the Science Museum and the Convention Center in Denver, CO prior to the signing of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Without the stimulus provisions, Namaste expected to lay off as many as half their staff in 2009, however, with the signing of the Act Namaste expects to expand and hire some 20 new employees in 2009.

Shannon Kendall (Georgetown, TX)
Shannon is originally from Albuquerque, NM, and graduated in 1999 from New Mexico State University with a degree in Business Marketing. Since then, she has served in several different marketing executive positions in Massachusetts, California, Colorado, and Texas based upon the moves associated with her husband's different military assignments. She is currently serving as the Family Readiness Group leader for her husband's Troop. MAJ Ryan Kendall is originally from Nashua, NH, and graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1999 with a Mechanical Engineering Degree. For the past ten years, Ryan has served with units in Korea, Colorado, Texas, and Alabama as an Apache Helicopter Pilot. He has served twice in Iraq, once as a Platoon Leader, and most recently for 15 months as a Troop Commander. Ryan is currently serving in the Army on Active Duty at Fort Hood, TX, with the 4th Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment as a Troop Commander. Shannon and Ryan were married in Albuquerque, NM, in September 2004 and have been together since November 2000 when Ryan was assigned to Korea. Shannon and Ryan welcomed their son Aidan Scott to the family in July 2007. Shannon and Aidan spent the past 15 months in Albuquerque, NM, to be close to family while Ryan was deployed.

Victoria Kirby, Student (Washington, DC)
Kirby is a senior at Howard University's John H. Johnson School of Communications who will be graduating this year with a B.A. in communications and culture. Kirby is an undergraduate student member of the Howard University Board of Trustees, works as a program assistant for the Walter H. Annenberg Honors Program, and is a recipient of one of the Educational Testing Service's Presidential Scholars awards.

Geneva Lawson, Safe-Deposit Custodian, City National Bank of Florida (Miami, FL)
Lawson has worked at City National for 51 years. She is currently the safe-deposit custodian at the Miami Beach branch. She has previously held the following positions at City National: collection teller, payroll teller, savings teller, print shop clerk, and proof/bookkeeping clerk. Lawson is a recipient of the personal funds National Bank CEO Leonard Abess Jr. distributed last November - she plans to save and buy a new car with the bonus.

Lilly Ledbetter (Jacksonville, AL)
Ledbetter was the plaintiff in the American employment discrimination case Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. Ledbetter worked at the Goodyear plant in Gadsden, AL for nearly 20 years before she learned her male co-workers were paid more for the same work. She filed suit, and a federal court jury awarded her nearly $4 million. However, in 2007, the US Supreme Court said the 180-day window to file her case had closed years before, after the first unfair paycheck, even though she had no knowledge of the pay disparity between her and her male co-workers. On January 29, 2009 the President signed his first bill in office; the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which makes each unfair paycheck an act of discrimination, and thus reopens the 180-day window for filing a court case. In signing this bill the President upheld one of this nation's founding principles: that we are all created equal, and each deserve a chance to pursue our own version of happiness.

General Alfonso E. Lenhardt, US Army (Washington, DC)
The Honorable Al Lenhardt has been the CEO of the non-profit National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) since May 2004. On September 4, 2001, he was appointed the 36th Sergeant at Arms of the United States Senate and became the first African American to serve as an officer of the Congress. He also served as the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Council on Foundations. Lenhardt retired from the U.S. Army in August 1997 as a Major General with more than 30 years of service in leadership and management positions. His last position with the Army was Commanding General, U.S. Army Recruiting Command, at Fort Knox, KY, where he managed and directed an organization of more than 13,000 people in over 1,800 locations. He also served as the senior military police officer for all police operations and security matters throughout the Army's worldwide sphere of influence. Lenhardt was born in New York City and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Nebraska, a Master of Arts in Public Administration from Central Michigan University, and a Master of Science in the Administration of Justice from Wichita State University.

Roxanna Garcia Marcus, Development Manager, Year Up (Washington, DC)
Marcus joined the Year Up team in July 2008 as the Development Manager. A Florida native, she first came to the DC area when she served as an AmeriCorps member with City Year. A first-generation American, Roxanna said she was drawn to the opportunity to give back to her community and country in a meaningful and lasting way. After graduating with a BA in Public Relations from the University of Florida, Roxanna served as the Development Director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mid-Florida. There she worked on all aspects of the agency's fundraising and strengthened the organization's brand. At Year Up, she works with other members of the development team to support the site through grant writing, individual solicitations and other fundraising opportunities.

Abbey Meacham, Firefighter (Forest, VA)
Meacham has been a firefighter and paramedic in the Lynchburg Fire Department since 2004. Her Department boasts over 170 uniformed personnel and provides fire, rescue, and emergency medical services to the citizens of Lynchburg. Her Station 6 is the busiest in Lynchburg. Meacham is also a certified instructor, teaching both fire and EMS courses.

Akrem Muzemil, Student (Washington, DC)
Muzemil is a sophomore at Benjamin Banneker High School in Washington, D.C. He plans to attend college and is currently interested in studying engineering.

Sergeant John E. Rice, USMC (Bethesda, MD)
Sgt Rice was born in Bethesda, MD and graduated from East Chapel Hill High School in Chapel Hill, NC. He attended the University of Maryland from 2003 to 2005. Sgt Rice arrived at recruit training on the February 14, 2006 at MCRD Parris Island. Upon completion of recruit training, he reported to Jacksonville, NC for infantry training. Upon completion of infantry training, Rice reported to Recon Training Platoon, 2nd Recon Bn, Camp Lejeune, NC. On January 9, 2006 Rice reported to Amphibious Reconnaissance School (ARS) in Virginia Beach, VA. Following ARS, he attended Army Airborne School in Ft Benning, GA and Navy SERE School in San Diego, CA and reported to 3rd Recon Bn, 3 MARDIV in Okinawa, Japan on July 1, 2007. Rice's Company deployed to Iraq in April 2008. He was injured when a landmine exploded while on a foot patrol on July 10, 2008. While receiving treatment at NNMC, Bethesda Cpl Rice was promoted to Sgt. His personal decorations consist of Letter of Appreciation, National Defense, Global War on Terror, Sea Service Deployment, Iraq Campaign, Navy Achievement and Purple Heart.

Juan Francisco Rodriguez, Student, Bell Multicultural High School (Washington, DC)
Rodriguez is a sophomore at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, D.C. He plans to attend college and is currently interested in studying mechanics and engineering.

Alvaro Simmons, Chief Operating Officer, Mary's Center (Washington, DC)
Simmons began serving as the Chief Operating Officer of Mary's Center for Maternal and Child Care in early 2006. Alvaro has 18 years experience in the health care field, in addition to nearly 20 years as an educator in New York public schools and colleges. In his professional roles at various medical centers and hospitals, Alvaro has led multiple units working toward the best health care of patients in obstetrics, drug use treatment, mental health, and adolescent health units. On February 10, 2009 the Center hosted First Lady Michelle Obama for her first official visit to a nonprofit organization in the District.

Leonard Abess Jr., CEO, City National Bank of Florida (Miami, FL)
Abess Jr. is Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of City National Bank of Florida, now a subsidiary of Caja Madrid. Abess Jr. started his career in the bank's print shop, which made forms and documents. Working his way up the ladder gave him an appreciation for the role that employees play in the success of an enterprise. He is currently serving a three-year term as Miami Branch Director of the Federal Reserve. On February 4, 2009 the President announced new restrictions on executive compensation. In the midst of our current financial crisis, limitations on executive pay are designed to ensure fiscal responsibility as we work to strengthen our economy by stabilizing our financial system. Abess Jr. demonstrated this sort of responsibility last November when he decided to quietly share some $60 million of the proceeds he received from the sale of City National shares to Caja Madrid with current and former front-line bank employees.

Mary Henley (Richmond, VA)
Henley is a 78-year-old working woman. She had been married to her husband for 46 years when he died last April. Although her husband worked primarily as a truck driver, he also worked with Henley part-time cleaning office buildings in Richmond. While Henley is currently receiving Social Security benefits, she has continued to work part-time cleaning office buildings in order to help pay her basic living expenses.

Ty'Sheoma Bethea, Student (Dillon, SC)
Bethea is an eighth grader at JV Martin Junior High School in Dillon, SC. Upon hearing the President mention her school's crumbling facility built in the 1800's during the first presidential news conference on February 9, 2009, she wanted to do something to help her school. After school hours, she walked to the public library to gain access to a computer and composed a poignant letter to Congress asking for help. Her principal, Amanda Burnette, promised to pass along the letter to Congress and the President in hopes that the students of JV Martin Junior High School can realize their dreams of becoming doctors, lawyers, and lawmakers. Bethea will be accompanied by her mother, Dina Leach.

Elizabeth Carballo, Student (Washington, DC)
Carballo is a junior at Roosevelt Senior High School in Washington, D.C. She plans to go to college and is currently interested in studying business.

SPC Jonathon N. James, US Army (Mountain View, AR)
SPC James is a native of Batesville, AR and enlisted in the Army in May 2006 as a Field Support Specialist. He deployed to Afghanistan in May 2007 and was assigned to Company A, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Camp Ederle, Italy as a Forward Observer. He was injured on September 28, 2007 when his platoon was conducting a dismounted patrol and they received enemy small arms fire. He sustained two penetrating shrapnel wounds on his left hand, but still continued fighting on OBJ Reno in the Watapor Valley, Afghanistan. He assumed the role of Team Leader, directing fires while under intense fire. After being wounded, he stayed in the fight delivering lethal effects, moving other wounded under fire, and inspiring others. He is currently recovering at Walter Reed and considers Mountain View, AR home.

Richard G. DeCoatsworth, Police Officer (Philadelphia, PA)
Officer DeCoatsworth of the Philadelphia Police Department has demonstrated courage above and beyond the call of duty. On September 27, 2007, DeCoatsworth was following three suspicious-looking men who had parked and exited their vehicle. He began to pursue them, when a fourth male exited and fired a shotgun blast directly into the officer's face. DeCoatsworth was temporarily blinded after being struck at almost point blank range, but when his vision returned, he was still standing. Bleeding from the face, DeCoatsworth chased the perpetrator on foot for nearly two blocks. The officer returned fire and put out flash information on the subject during the pursuit, before he finally collapsed. Due to DeCoatsworth's relentless efforts and the information he dispatched, police were able to apprehend the dangerous suspect a short time later. Following his recovery, he returned to the police force on June 26, 2008 and was promoted to the elite highway patrol for his heroic actions. For his courage and determination, DeCoatsworth was honored by the National Association of Police Organizations with its 2008 TOP COPS Award.

Hoyer Defends Omnibus

During a pen-and-pad session with reporters an hour after the Republican press conference, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer quoted Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), the Republican leader, who said in January that the omnibus could be passed easily because it had already been looked over by Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate.

House Republicans had complained that they had not seen the bill, though Hoyer indicated it had been fully marked up in committees.

"These were nine bills that were not passed by October when they should have been passed," McConnell said at the time. "They're ready to go, they've already been vetted by both sides, and we've passed them on an overwhelming bipartisan basis."

McConnell had been arguing against moving forward with an economic stimulus bill, but his comments are now ammunition for House Democrats to knock down Republican arguments against the bill.

When told by a reporter of Republican arguments against the 9,000+ earmarks in the bill, Hoyer asked if anyone had asked Republicans why lowering earmarks had not been on the GOP agenda the last eight years. A press release from the leader's office states that 40 percent of the earmarks in the omnibus bill are GOP earmarks; that earmarks total less than 1 percent of the budget; and that the bill actually reduces earmarks.

"Saying things is easy," Hoyer said. "Doing them is tough for Republicans."

Discuss The President's Speech Today

I'll be joining NPR's Ken Rudin and Scott Horsley for a web chat this afternoon covering President Obama's address to Congress tonight. Please join us at noon eastern.

House GOP Leaders Denounce Omnibus

House Republican leaders continue to call for Democrats to freeze government spending, rather than pass a $410 billion omnibus bill that includes more than 9,000 Democrat- and GOP-requested earmarks. While funding the federal government through September, the bill would also increase discretionary spending by the highest percentage in 30 years (with the exception of 9/11).

Following their conference meeting this morning, Minority Leader John Boehner said there is "a whole lot of wasteful spending in there that's not necessary" and said Democrats should "freeze it at last year's levels."

Conference Chairman Mike Pence said unlike the American people -- who "get it" -- "if this bill comes to proves that Democrats don't get it."

Strategy Memo: Fat Budget Tuesday

Good Tuesday morning, Washington, and Happy Fat Tuesday.

President Obama will meet at the White House today with the prime minister of Japan but hold no other public events as he prepares to deliver his first address to Congress tonight at 9:01 pm. Americans will see a new trio at the rostrum tonight -- all Democrats, with Vice President Biden and Speaker Pelosi seated behind Obama.

House Democrats released yesterday a $410 billion omnibus spending package that will fund the federal government through the end of September, and a vote on the bill will take place later this week.

The Senate will vote today on moving forward with the D.C. Voting Rights bill, which would add two congressional districts in the House -- one in Washington, D.C., and one in Utah -- increasing the number of House seats to 437.

**President Obama
*Address to Congress: "Obama aides say he'll use the prime-time setting -- his most high-profile platform since being sworn in last month -- to delve into a broader range of issues that he has not yet devoted significant attention to because of the focus on the stimulus package." Education, health care, energy and the budget deficit will be tied together "into a larger discussion about his vision for the economic growth of the country," Politico's Martin reports.

*Ahead of that speech, new polls find that the president "is benefiting from remarkably high levels of optimism and confidence among Americans about his leadership, providing him with substantial political clout as he confronts the nation's economic challenges and opposition from nearly all Republicans in Congress," the New York Times reports.

*Obama-McCain Interaction: The highlight of yesterday's fiscal responsibility summit was the back and forth between Obama and John McCain over Pentagon procurement. McCain said the Marine One contract was a "graphic demonstration of how good ideas have cost the taxpayers an enormous amount of money." And Obama said it was an example of procurement "gone amok" and that he thinks the existing White House helicopter fleet "seems perfectly adequate."

*The L.A. Times: "After eight years of budget practices that often camouflaged federal spending, President Obama is planning a new strategy of putting on the books as many costs as possible to demonstrate the extent of the nation's economic troubles, senior White House officials say."

*Bank Takeover?: "The Obama administration yesterday revamped the terms of its emergency aid to troubled financial firms, setting a course that could culminate with the government nationalizing some of the country's largest banks by taking a controlling ownership stake," writes the Washington Post. "Administration officials said the change, which allows banks to repay the government with common stock rather than cash, is intended to give banks more capital to withstand a continued deterioration of the economy, and not to nationalize the banking system."

*Commerce Secretary?: "The White House could soon announce that former Washington Gov. Gary Locke has been tapped as the Commerce secretary -- the third choice, and they hope the last. "Locke spent two terms governing Washington during a period of economic expansion, though his popularity waned during his final years in office. The first Chinese-American governor, Locke gave the Democratic response to President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address."

*Rahm's Living Quarters: "White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel's Washington lodging arrangements, a rent-free basement room in a Capitol Hill home owned by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and her pollster husband, have inspired debate among tax experts and in Republican-leaning parts of the blogosphere," reports the Hartford Courant.

*WashPost-ABC Poll: Approval Ratings -- Obama 68%, Dems in Congress 50%, GOP in Congress 38%.

*CBS News-NYTimes Poll: 63% Obama approval rating.

*Gallup: 74% of Americans want Obama to mention some aspect of the economy in his speech tonight -- 18% jobs, 15% banking situation, 14% stimulus package, 11% housing crisis, 10% healthcare.

*For all of Obama's approval ratings polls, go to the RCP Polls page.

*$410 billion omnibus spending bill: "The 'omnibus' spending package unveiled today by House Democrats would combine nine annual appropriations bills left over from last year that are needed to fund programs such as NASA and the national parks through September, the end of the fiscal year. Total spending on the programs would grow by $32 billion, or about 8.5 percent, from last year. The House plans to vote on the measure later this week, and the Senate will consider it later," reports Bloomberg.

*D.C. Voting Rights Bill: "District of Columbia voting rights advocates say they are poised to win a crucial vote Tuesday in the Senate, following a day of last-minute lobbying for a bill that would provide the federal city with its first full seat in the House."

*Hoyer-Cantor Feud: "In a town where dogs are offered as the best substitute for friends, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer and House Minority Whip Roy Blunt always appeared to be the rare exception. No one is saying the same about Hoyer and Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, Blunt's successor," writes Politico's O'Connor.

*The Hill: "House Democrats unveiled a wide-ranging bill on Monday evening to prop up the housing market and most contentiously, empower bankruptcy judges to modify mortgages."

**Campaign Stuff
*WashPost's Philip Rucker writes that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is "the anointed boy wonder of a Republican Party left battered by the 2008 election and hungry for new leadership. Jindal's audition on the national stage is tonight, when he delivers his party's response to President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress."

*NY-20: "The biggest political matchup in the country right now pits a seasoned Republican lawmaker against an unknown Democrat in one of New York's most traditionally conservative Congressional districts," writes the NYTimes.

**Pop Culture Alert: Mos Def, two and a half hours late to his show at the 9:30 Club in Northwest D.C. last night, in a quick freestyle explaining his tardiness: "May not be on schedule/But I'm right on time/It's not my fault/It's Continental Airlines."

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Stimulus Finished, White House Turns Focus To Deficit

After spending the first month in office trying to pass a massive spending bill, the White House today launched a new public push on fiscal responsibility, with President Obama promising a new budget plan that will cut the deficit in half by 2012.

"This will not be easy. It will require us to make difficult decisions and face challenges we've long neglected. But I refuse to leave our children with a debt that they cannot repay," Obama said in launching a summit on fiscal responsibility this afternoon.

That starts, he added, by ending the "gimmicks" often employed by other administrations (read: President Bush) to understate the true gap between income and expenditure, what he called an "exercise in deception."

"We do ourselves no favors by hiding the truth about what we spend," he said. "In order to address our fiscal crisis, we're going to have to be candid about its scope. And that's why the budget I will introduce later this week will look ahead 10 years, and will include a full and honest accounting of the money we plan to spend and the deficits we will likely incur."

He said his administration has already begun inspecting its own budget "line by line to root out waste and inefficiency," and urged the rest of Washington to join him in this "new era of responsibility."

"If we want to rebuild our economy and restore discipline and honesty to our budget, we will need to change the way we do business here in Washington," he said. "We're not going to be able to fall back into the same old habits, and make the same inexcusable mistakes."

Today's generic remarks set the table for tomorrow's more detailed address to Congress, press secretary Robert Gibbs said later. He said to expect the president to begin outlining some of the "hard choices" and "specific cuts" he's proposing. Asked about an omnibus spending bill on the docket in Congress right now that includes thousands of earmarks, Gibbs said there "is concern."

"Everybody has to be involved in the sharing of pain in this," he said. "When you're at $1.2 or $1.3 trillion deficit, an economy where we are, I think it's everybody's responsibility to act accordingly."

Gibbs would not promise a veto, however, saying he has not spoken with the president or seen a final draft from Congress.

Obama Warns Governors About Politicization Of Stimulus

The nation's governors wrapped up a visit to Washington with meetings at the White House this morning, which included some strong words from President Obama about the decision by some to publicly reject some of the stimulus funds directed at the states.

A group of Republican governors has raised specific concerns about allocations for unemployment insurance that they believe would place long-term burdens on the states in return for some short-term assistance for their citizens. Their views ended up dominating the conversation around this weekend's winter meeting of the National Governors Association, with some Democrats also reacting by tagging those opposed as on the "fringe."

Obama told the group this morning that there are "some very legitimate concerns" about the unemployment insurance provisions, but noted that they were only a small part, less than 10 percent, of the overall package.

"I just want to make sure that we're having an honest debate and presenting to the American people a fulsome accounting of what is going on in this program," he said. "If we agree on 90 percent of the stuff, and we're spending all our time on television arguing about 1, 2, 3 percent of the spending in this thing and somehow it's being characterized in broad brush as wasteful spending, that starts sounding more like politics -- and that's what right now we don't have time to do."

Asked about the president's comments, Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.) criticized the media for "shoddy" coverage, saying it focused too intently on what are fairly typical actions on the part of governors as it relates to federal funding.

"What he didn't like, and I agree with him, is the portrayal that states weren't going to take any of the stimulus money. There's nobody that said that," Barbour told RCP this morning. "His concern, which is a good concern, has been portrayed by the news media as if Republican governors were saying have a stimulus package is bad. ... We're for a stimulus package. We would have done it differently, but now we're down to how should it be implemented, and there are some provisions that as a practical matter may be against the states interests."

Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-La.) also struck a more conciliatory tone even as he reiterated his concerns with the stimulus bill. He thanked Obama for acknowledging those concerns, and praised his commitment to providing transparency to the process.

"We absolutely -- Republican and Democratic governors -- want our president to succeed," Jindal told reporters after today's meetings. "When we disagree with him we will certainly offer alternative ideas and solutions. But we face serious challenges as a country. ... We're going to look for every opportunity to reach across the party line and work with him. We absolutely want him to succeed."

House Republicans Call For Spending Freeze

With the Fiscal Responsibility Summit under way at the White House this afternoon, House Republicans are calling on Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer to freeze federal government spending levels. The House is taking up this week the omnibus spending bill that will fund the federal government through the end of September, and Republicans are requesting that funding not increase from its 2008 level.

Pelosi has also called for fiscal responsibility in government spending, requesting last week that House committee chairmen conduct hearings to examine the budgets of federal agencies. However, Republicans are reacting to media reports that place the price tag of the bill at $410 billion, with thousands of earmarks -- from both Democrats and Republicans -- included in that total.

"After a spending spree that included the rest of the banking bailout, a massive stimulus bill, a call for a housing and mortgage bailout -- now the federal government is poised for the largest increase in discretionary spending since the Carter administration, with the exception of 9/11," Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) said this morning during a pen-and-pad session with reporters. "We think that is inconsistent with the times in which we live and the expectation of the American people."

Republicans also want the bill to be released as soon as possible so members have sufficent time to read it prior to a vote. House members had little time to review the final version of the stimulus bill before it came to a vote prior to the President's Day recess.

"Democratic congressional leaders are reportedly rushing this bill to a vote this week, just days after passing a trillion-dollar 'stimulus' spending bill that no Member of Congress had even read," House Minority Leader John Boehner stated in a press release. "This is not fiscal responsibility; it is fiscal negligence, paid for by our children and grandchildren."

Pence said he understood that the bill has been completed for "several weeks," though Democrats have not released it.

"Since it's nearly a half-trillion dollars, we'd like a little more than the 12 hours that we had to review the so-called stimulus bill," Pence said. "You probably hear some frustration in my voice. We don't know what's in the omnibus spending bill because it has not been released to the public or to members of Congress, to my knowledge."

Bunning Apologizes For Ginsburg Remark

Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) apologized today for a remark he made over the weekend regarding Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's health.

At a Lincoln Day Dinner in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, Bunning predicted that Ginsburg, who has pancreatic cancer, had only nine months left to live, despite recent surgery to remove a tumor. Ginsburg returned to the Supreme Court today for the start of the new session.

"I apologize if my comments offended Justice Ginsberg," Bunning stated today in a press release, which misspelled her name. "That certainly was not my intent. It is great to see her back at the Supreme Court today and I hope she recovers quickly. My thoughts and prayers are with her and her family."

Bunning is facing a tough re-election battle in 2010, and a recent report indicates one potential challenge could come from within his own party -- and with the help of his own party. PolitickerKY reported over the weekend Kentucky State Senate President David Williams met with the NRSC while in Washington for the National Governors Association meeting.

Strategy Memo: Barack The Knife

Good morning, Washington. After a black-tie dinner last night, the nation's governors return to the White House this morning for a working session with President Obama, where the focus will be on implementing the stimulus plan in the states. The governors had a full weekend of politics and policy at the NGA's Winter Meeting, where much of the focus was on the different approaches the Republican governors (and some potential 2012 candidates) have taken on the massive spending plan.

Today also begins a full week dedicated to the first Obama budget plan. After the meeting with governors, the president will hold a "Fiscal Responsibility Summit" with lawmakers, business leaders and labor groups, a session meant to highlight the administration goal of halving the budget deficit by 2012. Vice President Biden joins the president at these events, and will also squeeze in a meeting with George Clooney on Darfur.

Congress returns today from a week-long recess, with both the House and Senate considering new legislation. The Senate begins debate today on the D.C. Voting Rights Bill, which would give the District a full-voting member in the House of Representatives, as well as add a House district in Utah. A vote could come as early as tomorrow.

Here's what else we're watching:

**NGA Meeting
*Reuters: "Republican governors were split on Sunday over whether to accept all of the money their states stand to receive from a $787 billion economic stimulus plan which President Barack Obama signed last week. Three governors of southern states have come out against taking part of the money designated to extend unemployment benefits and perhaps for other programs. A handful of others are considering follow suit."

*The Hill: Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, who appeared with Obama in the Oval Office to promote the stimulus, "said the split was overblown but he stressed that the stimulus is much needed help. He noted that most governors will likely face tough decisions to cut spending and tax raises." Douglas: "We're not just getting a handout. We're doing the heavy lifting."

*"Despite the partisan potshots, the governors appeared united in their worries over their states' economic and fiscal situations," Wall Street Journal found.

*Jindal, Sanford and Pawlenty all denied, to the extent they could, 2012 interest in their Sunday show appearances. Check out all the Sunday talk shows on RCP Videos, including Republican Govs. Bobby Jindal, Charlie Crist and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

*Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, meanwhile, denied having any conversations yet with Obama about the HHS appointment. Sebelius tells AP: "There really isn't anything to tell." Asked about the 2010 Senate race as well, she jokes: "You know, everybody has lots of plans for me."

*Barbour criticized Obama's "perpetual campaign," noting his itinerary in selling the stimulus plan. "David Axelrod, who's his campaign consultant/manager/guru really is one of the brightest, most capable people in American politics. And so this is what we've become accustomed to, the perpetual campaign," he told CNN.

*Politico looks at Jindal's "big moment" coming out of this weekend into the spotlight as the Republicans designee to respond to Obama's budget address. "It's a prime opportunity for the 37-year-old state executive to introduce himself to the public and define himself as a leader of his party--and a potential contender for national office." Eric Cantor, a rising star himself: "He's somebody I think we're all looking to, to demonstrate that Republicans do have a positive solution to the challenges facing this country."

*Keep checking RCP for our coverage of the NGA, including a talk with Gov. Sanford.

**President Obama
*The New York Times has details on Obama's first budget, which aims to halve the budget deficit by the end of his first term through reductions in military spending and letting Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy expire. The projected deficit will be higher as the White House is "forsaking several gimmicks that President Bush used to make deficits look smaller. He will include war costs in the budget; Mr. Bush did not, and instead sought supplemental money from Congress each year. Mr. Obama also will not count savings from laws that establish lower Medicare payments for doctors and expand the alternative minimum tax to hit more taxpayers -- both of which Mr. Bush and Congress routinely took credit for, while knowing they would later waive the laws to raise doctors' payments and limit the reach of the tax."

*Wall Street Journal notes that the forecast for narrowing the deficit will "rest on the assumption that the economy recovers from the current slump." A White House official declined to say how any further steps to address the crisis would affect the "upbeat deficit projection."

*The New York Daily News calls Obama "Barack The Knife," as he plans to announce cuts "across a wide range of the budget, sparing neither the Pentagon nor entitlement programs. Even longstanding Democratic sacred cows like Medicare will not be immune from Obama's scalpel, sources said."

*Washington Post has details on today's summit, "which will feature five topic-specific breakout sessions, will include lawmakers, economists and a range of special interest leaders. Invitations were still going out yesterday, but the list includes representatives from the Business Roundtable, AARP and the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan group that promotes balanced budgets." "It's a media event," said former senator John C. Danforth (R-Mo.), who co-chaired a similar commission under President Bill Clinton.

*As part of the fiscal responsibility theme, Obama plans to announce the appointment of Earl Devaney, a former Interior Department inspecter general, to chair the Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board. ABC: "Devaney has built a solid reputation for ferretting out corruption in the beleaguered Interior Department, which was part of the Abramoff scandal." Biden will also be part of the panel.

*The Washington Post: "The stimulus package is not only a political crucible for Obama and the congressional Democrats who pushed it through; it is also the ultimate test of government's ability to deliver, from a vast array of federal agencies and departments down to state and local offices across the country. It will be up to thousands of Cabinet undersecretaries, regional agency directors and local contracting officers to get the stimulus money out fast enough to boost the economy and to meet Obama's broader policy goals."

*Spending Omnibus: "After a week off taking a victory lap for passing an economic stimulus, Congress' Democratic leaders return to Washington on Monday for a second race against the clock to pass another massive spending package. This time it is a roughly $410 billion omnibus appropriations bill that would fund most of the federal government for the rest of the fiscal year, replacing stopgap funding that expires March 6."

*In their quest to return to power, Republicans are digging up an old strategy, writes Politico's Cummings. "Its themes: Unite against Democrats' economic policy, block and counter health care reform and tar them with spending scandals. Those represent the political trifecta that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich bet on in 1994 to produce a historic Republican takeover of Congress."

*D.C. Examiner, on the Senate's consideration of the D.C. Voting Rights Bill: "Today's floor debate leads into Tuesday's cloture vote, which will determine whether proponents have the wherewithal to quash a filibuster. Supporters need 60 votes to end debate and raise the bill for final consideration, which could happen Wednesday. Opponents say the bill flagrantly violates the U.S. Constitution, which allots House seats only for the people of the "several states." But proponents contend the Constitution's District clause provides Congress with unlimited power over D.C., including the right to enfranchise its citizens."

*Nancy Pelosi visited Afghanistan, days after President Karzai spoke to President Obama for the first time. AP: "Karzai and Pelosi talked about the U.S. strategy review of the situation in Afghanistan, and Pelosi reiterated America's long-term commitment to Afghanistan's security situation and economic development, Karzai's office said."

*Sen. Mitch McConnell doesn't quite call on Roland Burris to resign. "I think the Ethics Committee can work," he told CNN. "I think in this particular instance, it ought to work quickly, and resolve these differences and make a recommendation to the full Senate."

*Mark Leibovich interviews Sen. Ted Kennedy on his 77th birthday. "I don't really plan to go away soon," he says.

*Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), speaking to a local Republican dinner, predicts that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will pass away this year. "Even though she was operated on, usually nine months is the longest that anybody would live after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer," Bunning said, according to the Courier Journal.

*Speaking of judges, a group of prominent legal experts will propose limiting the terms of Supreme Court justices. "The group proposes a form of term limits, moving justices to senior status after 18 years on the court. The proposal says that justices now linger so long that it diminishes the likelihood that the court's decisions 'will reflect the moral and political values of the contemporary citizens they govern.'"

**Campaign Stuff
*The New York Times spoke with Meg Whitman, a likely Republican candidate for governor of California. The former eBay exec predicted she may have to spend $150 million on the race; she'll face another wealth self-funder in the GOP primary, Steve Poizner, and the victor will face a well-known Democrat in the deep blue state. "I don't think you get into this game unless you have a very thick skin and can take it," she said. "It's just the nature of the industry, if you will, and I'm as prepared as anyone can be."

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

An HHS Appointment, With A Sebelius Connection

The White House this afternoon announced the appointment of Mary Wakefield to the post of Administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). Wakefield is currently the director of the Center for Rural Health at the University of North Dakota.

The HRSA, which is charged with "improving access to health care services for people who are uninsured, isolated or medically vulnerable," is a division of the Department of Health and Human Services, a Cabinet agency that still has no leader.

Though the White House has not named a new HHS secretary, it's worth noting that Wakefield does have a passing connection with Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D-Kan.), who is rumored to be the administration's leading candidate for the job.

In 1997, President Clinton appointed both Wakefield and Sebelius to the Advisory Commission on Consumer Protection and Quality in the Health Care Industry. There were 25 other members of the panel, though, and a White House spokesperson downplayed the significance of the link. At the time, Sebelius was the Kansas Insurance Commissioner.

Sebelius is expected to be in Washington this weekend for the National Governors Association conference.

An Oscar-Worthy Press Briefing

In the spirit of this weekend's Academy Awards, today Robert Gibbs tossed his hat in the ring for Best Choreographed Response To A Cable News Personality.

At his afternoon briefing, the White House press secretary was asked about the viral "rant" by CNBC's Rick Santelli on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, criticizing the president's home foreclosure plan and calling for another "tea party." Gibbs was clearly prepared for the question, and responded with heavy sarcasm - at one point charging that Santelli didn't know what he was talking about.

"Every day when I come out here, I spend a little time reading, studying on the issues, asking people who are smarter than I am questions about those issues. I would encourage him to read the president's plan," Gibbs said. "I'd be more than happy to have him come here and read it. I'd be happy to buy him a cup of coffee - decaf."

After then moving on to another question, Gibbs seemed to soon realize he left out an important part of his planned response -- the prop. He interrupted the questioner, and held up for the cameras a printed copy of Obama's foreclosure plan.

"This is a copy of the president's home affordability plan. It's available on the White House web site, and I would encourage him: download it, hit print, and begin to read it," Gibbs said sternly.

It didn't stop there, either. He would pick up the line of attack several more times in the briefing.

"[I] think it's tremendously important that, for people who rant on cable television, to be responsible and understand what it is they're talking about," he said in response to a question from NBC's Chuck Todd. "I feel assured that Mr. Santelli doesn't know what he's talking about."

Today wasn't the first time that Gibbs has criticized the tone of cable chatter at odds with the president's views. But today was perhaps the most aggressive he's been in responding to specific criticism.

"An open debate is something that's obviously important," he said, repeating the quote that people are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. "I don't think anybody could sit in front of the TV and listen for an hour and not hear somebody that's making a case that ... they know just isn't true."

Gibbs did also include a subtle dig at lawmakers who voted against the stimulus bill, but have since publicly praised individual projects that the plan will fund, calling it "amusing" to see their press releases "and Twitter comments." "I think that the American people readily understand when this town gets dominated by games-playing rather than problem-solving," he said.

Gibbs Suggests Burris "Think Of What Lays In His Future"

It was not explicitly a call for his resignation, but perhaps just short of one. At his briefing today, Robert Gibbs suggested that Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) should "take some time this weekend" to correct testimony he gave before the Blagojevich impeachment committee, and also "think of what lays in his future."

"The appointment of Senator Burris was -- and his taking the Senate seat -- was based largely on the representations that he made, factual representations that he made to the people of Illinois through interviews and through his testimony to the impeachment committee," Gibbs said. "We know that, and it has been reported extensively that ... some of those stories seem to be at variance with what's happened."

Gibbs shrugged when reporters suggested that his comments sounded like a call for resignation, and only repeated that various outlets have documented the discrepancies between Burris' testimony before the impeachment committee and subsequent affidavits and public comments.

Today, Gov. Pat Quinn said that Burris should resign, and that his seat should be filled through a special election. Gibbs has denied speaking with President Obama about the issue. But given the close relationship between the two, one wonders whether Gibbs intentionally does not discuss it with the president to allow for plausible deniability, or whether they have their own "off the record" sessions.

Franken Gives First Nat'l Interview

Al Franken, locked in a court battle over the results of the Minnesota Senate race, sat down for his first national interview since the election with his former employer, Air America.

Here are some excerpts of the interview conducted by Mark Green, which is set to air for the first time tomorrow at 6 p.m. ET.

Franken, on how the process will turn out for him:

GREEN: What's the hold-up? Haven't you been certified the winner by the secretary of state of Minnesota?
FRANKEN: Well, I've been certified as the winner of the recount. So I just want to be fair to everybody. When I was certified by the state canvassing board as the winner of the recount, Coleman, as is his right, filed a legal contest contesting the outcome of the recount. And that was January 6th, the day that I could've been seated as the winner of the recount. Then we went to trial January 26th, and this is the fourth week. At the end of this past week, the judges issued a ruling, which we think is a great ruling, which narrowed the standards and scope of the absentee ballots that have been previously rejected...then the Coleman people kind of did a 180. They had not wanted these ballots included at all, but now that they're behind, they wanted them all included. The narrowing of the universe of these absentee ballots that could be counted is such that we really believe we're going to win, and we're going to win soon.

Franken, on Rush Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly:

GREEN: Given your famous spats with Limbaugh and O'Reilly, what have they been saying about your success, or do you now tune them out?
FRANKEN: Well, you know what? I've already been doing that. I don't know what they've been saying. I really don't. I haven't been paying any attention. That is the great thing about doing this. You really stop paying attention to that. On Air America, part of the three hours a day is debunking the right and that kind of thing. But, when you're faced with actually trying to help folks, you know, the past couple of days I've been going around talking to mayors in Duluth and Two Harbors, Minnesota, the mayor of Champlain, the mayor of St. Paul, the mayor of Rochester, county commissioners, etc., trying to figure out how they can get access to the stimulus package, and what they need. That's seems much more productive than trying to listen to Rush Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly and hear what they think about me. Actually, that was one of the nicest things that happened to me once I left the radio show -- I stopped paying attention to them.

Mayors Promise Accountability With Stimulus Funds

President Obama welcomed a group of mayors to the White House today, praising them as non-ideological problem solvers who deserve a federal partner, but warning that any assistance will be closely monitored.

"If a federal agency proposes a project that will waste that money, I will not hesitate to call them out on it and put a stop to it. And I want everybody here to be on notice that if a local government does the same, I will call them out on it," Obama said.

With the recovery plan now law, the White House wants to prove wrong those who have criticized it as a "spending" plan and not a "stimulus" plan, and who will be looking to magnify the misuse of any funds. Today's message is also one that will also be related to governors when they come to the White House in a few days.

It's also a message that the city leaders say comes with the territory.

"We get called out every day at the local level," said Miami Mayor Manny Diaz, head of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "We have plenty of constituents who will be doing that before the president does."

Speaking as a group to reporters after their White House visit, some mayors were asked about situations where governors are considering rejecting federal stimulus money. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin praised Rep. James Clyburn for inserting a provision that would allow state legislatures to vote whether to accept the funds if governors, like Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, refuse them.

"He's been tapped as the up and coming Republican to potentially run for president the next time it goes around, so he has a certain vernacular and a certain way he needs to talk right now," Nagin said. 'I told the governor personally, any dollars he does not want we will take them gladly."

Pat McCrory, the Republican mayor of Charlotte who lost a tight race for North Carolina governor last fall, said that he like others in his party opposed provisions of the stimulus but looks forward to using the funds.

"Now that the bill has passed I want it to work the best way it can," he said. "I was very pleased with President Obama's comment regarding accountability, that he'll be watching the governors, which is very important to all of these mayors, and that he'll be watching the mayors to make sure that the money is not seen as pork or not spent wisely."

Strategy Memo: Earth Wind and Fire

Good Friday morning, Washington and beyond.

About 80 mayors from around the country will meet with Obama and members of his Cabinet at the White House today to discuss the economic stimulus plan. After a week on the road, it looks like the President will spend most of his weekend in Washington.

Sec. of State Hillary Clinton continues her dipolomatic tour of Asia. After sitting down with the president of Indonesia and appearing on a popular youth TV show there yesterday, Clinton visits South Korea today.

Most of the country's governors, sans Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, will descend upon Washington this weekend for the National Governors Association winter meeting. After meetings, panel discussions and luncheons over the weekend, the governors will head over to the White House Sunday night for dinner and performances by the Marine Corps band and Earth Wind and Fire.

**President Obama
*The Fix: "President Obama will use this weekend's meeting of the National Governors Association to urge the chief executives to move quickly to utilize the federal money being doled out to the states as part of the $787 billion economic stimulus package that passed Congress last week."

*WaPo: "Hillary Rodham Clinton has a new campaign and message: The United States wants to listen."

*Next week is going to be dominated by Obama's budget speech, and the New York Times reports that the administration will publish an "honest" budget, banning some "gimmicks" that President Bush used to make the deficit seem smaller. OMB director Peter Orzag: "The president prefers to tell the truth, rather than make the numbers look better by pretending."

*Obama issued an executive order Thursday creating the office of urban policy, which will be headed by Bronx Borough President Adolfo Caron.

*In National Journal's Political Insiders Poll, 27% of the Democratic political operatives polled gave Obama an A for his job performance so far this year; 63% gave him a B. Of Republican political operatives, 45% gave Obama a C, 35% a B, and 12% a D.

**Campaign Stuff
*The Diploma Belt: National Journal's Brownstein and Wasserman find that "Democrats have dramatically gained strength in what might be called the Diploma Belt, the nation's best-educated large counties -- those with at least 20,000 people." Obama won 78 of the 100 best-educated large counties.

"This process started decades ago but accelerated tremendously as voters went to the polls to choose between Obama and Republican John McCain for president. The Democratic candidate carried 78 of the 100 counties with the highest percentage of college graduates, according to an analysis by National Journal and The Cook Political Report. As recently as 1988, a Republican -- George H.W. Bush -- carried 64 of the same 100 counties."

*Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) will not resign; he'll "return to Washington to vote in the Senate next week, sources close to Burris told Politico."

*Illinois State Controller Dan Hynes is the latest Democrat to call for Sen. Burris to resign.

*NYT: "Despite railing against the bill as wasteful, a handful of Republican members of the House and Senate have found some provisions to cheer."

*Former Missouri Treasurer Sarah Steelman, who's considering challenging Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) in the 2010 Senate Republican primary, called Blunt "another white guy in a suit" in an interview with Politico.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Obama Treads Carefully In First Foreign Visit

President Obama chose his words carefully at a joint press conference with his Canadian counterpart this afternoon, saying on the sensitive issue of trade that the United States has to "be very careful about any signals of protectionism."

"As one of the largest economies in the world, its important for us to show leadership in the belief that trade ultimately is beneficial to all countries," Obama said. But he then diplomatically reiterated his desire to see environmental and labor provisions incorporated into NAFTA rather than just as side agreements, saying if they are to be legitimate, "they might as well be incorporated in the main body of the agreement so they can effectively be enforced."

Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister, said he is "perfectly willing to look at ways we can address some of these concerns," but cautioned reopening the entire trade agreement and "what is a very complex agreement."

The comments came after a "working lunch" between the two leaders on President Obama's first trip outside of the United States - though at one point he said he was happy to be in "Iowa" rather than Ottawa (campaign still on the mind?). Obama and Harper exchanged pleasentries, with the president saying that the nations' proximity to one another sometimes leads to them taking "each other for granted."

On the other main topic of discussion, Afghanistan, Obama again said he did not want to comment at length before his administration completed a complete review of its policy. He said that new troop deployments were announced to "stabilize the situation there in advance of the elections that are coming up.

"I certainly did not press the prime minister on any additional commitments beyond the ones that have already been made," Obama said. Canada had announced a gradual drawdown of its forces there. And Harper today indicated what Obama would not, that he believes any commitment should have a definite end-date.

"I'm strongly of the view ... that we are not in the long term, through our own efforts, going to establish peace and security in Afghanistan," Harper said. "That job ultimately can be done only by the Afghans themselves. So I would hope that all strategies that come forward have the idea of an end date, of a transition to Afghan responsibility for security, and to greater western partnership for economic development."

Obama was also to meet with the leader of the opposition party before returning to Washington tonight. Tomorrow the president will meet with the U.S. Conference of Mayors at the White House.

Paterson's Bumpy Road

Check out our story on New York Gov. David Paterson's troubled path to re-election, currently posted on RCP's front page.

Almost one year since taking over as the Chief Executive of New York State, Governor David Paterson has seen his standing among voters decline dramatically. Paterson has recently been taking heat for a range of issues, including his widely panned handling of choosing a replacement for Senator Hillary Clinton and the Empire State's current budget trouble.

According to a new poll from Quinnipiac University, Paterson's favorability rating has dipped below 50 percent for the first time since just after taking office -- when almost half of voters didn't know enough to form an opinion of him. Now that most people know Paterson, less than half have a favorable opinion of him or approve of the job he's doing as governor.

You can read the rest here.

Blunt Makes Senate Bid Official

Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) announced this morning that he will run for the U.S. Senate in Missouri. A former teacher and university president, Blunt made the announcement at Harris-Stowe University in St. Louis. You can watch his announcement here.

"So why now? Why me?" Blunt said. "It's an important time. The fight is in the Senate."

After representing southwestern Missouri in the House since 1996, the St. Louis setting was deliberate, as Blunt aims to boost Republican support in and around the city.

"I'm gonna be in St. Louis a lot," Blunt said. "St. Louis is a priority in our campaign. The whole state is a priority. But frankly, St. Louis is where Republican candidates have seen the most slippage in the last few elections. And I don't intend for that to happen in 2010."

The former House Republican whip has also served as Missouri's secretary of state, winning statewide in 1984 and 1988. He lost the GOP primary for governor in 1992. He now seeks to replace retiring Sen. Kit Bond (R), who has held the seat since 1986.

Prior to the announcement, Blunt told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he's not worried about a potential Republican primary challenge from former State Treasurer Sarah Steelman.

"Sarah can't win the primary," Blunt said. "If there's a primary, I'll win it."

Blunt said if he and Steelman face off, he doesn't expect it will be as "destructive" as the primary for governor last year between Steelman and Kenny Hulshof. In that race, Blunt, and the entire Republican establishment, backed Hulshof. But Steelman narrowly lost. And she beat Hulshof in Blunt's back yard, winning both Greene County and the 7th District.

"If we have a primary, I don't think it will be destructive," Blunt said. "I think this will not be the same kind of primary we saw in the last election."

Strategy Memo: Meeting The Neighbors

Good morning, Washington, Ottawa, and capital cities everywhere.

President Obama makes his first visit outside the nation's borders, a short trip to Ottawa to meet with Canada's leaders. The main focus of discussions with Prime Minister Stephen Harper are expected to be about trade and the war in Afghanistan.

Vice President Biden will head to McLean to swear in CIA director Leon Panetta, and speak about the agency's vital role. He'll also host dinner at the Naval Observatory with Richard Holbrooke and some other foreign policy minds. Michelle Obama continues her agency tour, visiting the Department of Agriculture.

With Congress in recess, 2010 Senate races are ramping up this week. In Missouri, Rep. Roy Blunt (R) is announcing today that he's running for the Senate seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Kit Bond. In Ohio, Sec. of State Jennifer Brunner and Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, both Democrats, announced earlier this week that they're running for the seat of Republican Sen. George Voinovich, who's retiring next year.

Here's what else is on tap:

**President Obama
*Obama's trip to Canada comes almost a year to the day after Hillary Clinton began pouncing on the Obama campaign when CTV reported that an aide indicated plans to "renegotiate" NAFTA.

*Many are focusing on trade issues, but Afghanistan is likely to be an important topic in the meeting between Obama and Harper, USA Today reports. Canada has the fourth-most troops in the country, and are deployed "to oft-violent Kandahar province, where they've seen heavy fighting."

*The New York Times' Zeleny sees no coincidence in Obama's itinerary in past weeks, traveling to red states that turned blue last fall, or in the case of Arizona, one that could in 2012. "It is a coincidence," counters deputy communication director Dan Pfeiffer. "We'll certainly visit states of all shapes and sizes, regardless of who won."

*Atty. Gen. Eric Holder is generating some discussion after saying this in a speech about Black History Month: "Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards."

*The New York Times reports that Gov. Kathleen Sebelius "is emerging as the president's top choice for secretary of health and human services." She'll be in Washington this weekend as part of the National Governors Association meetings. Sebelius "would bring eight years of experience as her state's insurance commissioner as well as six years as a governor running a state Medicaid program," though "her strongest asset in the view of the White House may be her record of navigating partisan politics as a Democrat in one of the country's most Republican states."

*The New York Daily News delights in Robert Gibbs' comment on the controversial "Page 6" cartoon: "I have not seen the cartoon, but I don't think it's altogether newsworthy that I don't spend a lot of time reading the New York Post."

*And how awesome is this: Hillary Clinton went on an Indonesian TV show called "Awesome." "I heard I was going to be on an awesome show," she said. She said she likes to listen to the Beatles and Rolling Stones, but declined to sing herself.

**Roland Burris
*Washington Post, on Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.): "The junior U.S. senator who thought he was crowning his pioneering career with a position at the political pinnacle finds himself fighting to save both his job and his reputation."

*Sen. Dick Durbin says the future of his junior senator is "in question." "I'm troubled by the fact that his testimony was not complete and it was unsatisfactory," Durbin said Wednesday from Turkey, according to the Chicago Tribune. "It wasn't the full disclosure under oath that we were asking for." Harry Reid, meanwhile, said Burris' "story seems to be changing day by day." But he'll withhold judgment until a state and Congressional review.

*More dissension, from Politico: "Even some of Burris' most vocal supporters have been mum. Rep. Bobby Rush, who famously accused Democrats of being racist for refusing to seat Burris right away, has merely said he's monitoring the situation and is still friends with the senator."

*Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D) called for Gov. Pat Quinn (D) to end Burris's temporary term and call for a special election.

**In the States
*What do you know, the stimulus plan may be getting cheaper! AP notes how some Republican governors plan to turn down the funds, including a few 2012 potential candidates: Govs. Jindal, Palin, and Sanford. Gov. Rick Perry, who will likely have a tough primary in his bid for a third term: "My concern is there's going to be commitments attached to it that are a mile long. We need the freedom to pick and choose. And we need the freedom to say 'No thanks.'"

*Sanford and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist at the two ends of the spectrum, writes Politico's Charles Mahtesian.

*Norm Coleman's attorneys used strong language yesterday as the trial seems to be getting away from them, saying after some negative rulings that the case is at a "legal quagmire that makes ascertaining a final legitimate result to this election even more difficult." Franken attorneys see them as just laying the groundwork for an appeal, the Star Tribune reports.

*Washington Post: Sarah Palin will have to pay back taxes on the per diems she took as governor for travel home to Wasilla from a state office in Anchorage, a state official has ruled.

**Campaign Stuff
*To no great surprise, Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the former Republican whip, will announce today he's running for the Senate in 2010, CongressDaily's McPike reported last night.

*Former State Treasurer and Gov candidate Sarah Steelman is still undecided about whether she will take on Blunt in the Republican primary, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

*Christopher Daggett, who served in the administrations of Republican Gov. Tom Kean and President Ronald Reagan, announced he'll run as an independent candidate for governor in New Jersey. "If you look across the state and ask people, I think most are disillusioned by both parties and the entrenched interests," he said. "I think the middle is not comfortable with either." He also told that Chris Christie, the likely Republican nominee, is "untested."

*Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani endorsed Christie yesterday.

**Goodnight, Canada!
*With Obama's visit to Canada today, Gallup issues a timely report that Canada has the most favorable rating of Americans out of 19 countries. Nine in 10 Americans view Canada favorably, while only 6% view it unfavorably. Our favorite Canadians include: Mike Myers, Rachel McAdams, Michael J. Fox and Wayne Gretzky.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Obama Calls For Responsibility In Housing Plan

Calling on lenders and homeowners alike to "step back and take responsibility," President Obama announced some specific steps to address the nation's foreclosure crisis, a $75 billion plan that he said is "a price well worth paying."

"All of us are paying a price for this home mortgage crisis, and all of us will pay an even steeper price if we allow this crisis to continue to deepen," he said at a Phoenix-area high school this morning. "If we act boldly and swiftly to arrest this downward spiral, every American will benefit."

A core part of the plan is rebuilding confidence in Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Obama said that, at a minimal cost to taxpayers, his plan would start by removing a restriction on the two giants to allow them to refinance mortgages they already own or guarantee.

Using money already approved through the TARP program, Obama also said the Treasury would infuse $200 billion in capital to allow Fannie and Freddie to "continue to stabilize markets and hold mortgage rates down." Other provisions would give bankruptcy judges more leeway to modify mortgages in court, as well as giving new incentives to lenders to modify the terms of sub-prime loans at risk of default.

The president, speaking in a city where housing prices have dropped 43 percent, said his plan would help up to nine million families avoid foreclosure. But he was sure to also explain its limits, saying he did not seek to rescue "unscrupulous or irresponsible" lenders, speculators "who took risky bets," or those who borrowed more than they could afford.

"Solving this crisis will require more than resources - it will require all of us to step back and take responsibility," he said. "Government must take responsibility for setting rules of the road that are fair and fairly enforced. Banks and lenders must be held accountable for ending the practices that got us into this crisis in the first place. And each of us as individuals must take responsibility for their own actions. That means all of us must learn to live within our means again."

Obama was under pressure to offer more details than were made public by his Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, last week. When Geithner's remarks were released, the stock market dropped several hundred points. Today, by contrast, the Dow Jones Industrial Average remained largely steady.

NRCC Continues Stimulus Argument

The National Republican Congressional Committee is apparently not letting up its attacks against Democratic House members that voted for the economic stimulus bill President Obama signed into law yesterday. The GOP committee went on the air yesterday in Virginia with a TV ad hitting freshman Rep. Tom Perriello (D-Va.) for his vote, and claiming he misled his constituents in his explanation of the bill.

"It's hard to figure out what's more insulting: that Tom Perriello voted to spend over a trillion dollars of taxpayers' hard-earned money on wasteful spending, or that he went back to his district and stretched the truth about what Pelosi's pork-laden package really does," NRCC Communications Director Ken Spain said in a press release.

Perriello knocked off six-term Rep. Virgil Goode (R) -- a one-time Democrat who switched to the Republican Party in 2002 -- by less than 1,000 votes in November. The Charlottesville- and South Side-based 5th Congressional District gave George W. Bush double-digit margins in the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, however John McCain carried the district by just 2 points.

The NRCC ad tells voters to call Perriello's congressional office and "tell him to quit stretching the truth and wasting our money." Here is the ad:

Pelosi Meets The Pope

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her husband, Paul, met the Pope today at the Vatican. Here is a statement from Pelosi following their meeting:

"It is with great joy that my husband, Paul, and I met with his Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI today.

"In our conversation, I had the opportunity to praise the Church's leadership in fighting poverty, hunger, and global warming, as well as the Holy Father's dedication to religious freedom and his upcoming trip and message to Israel.

"I was proud to show his Holiness a photograph of my family's Papal visit in the 1950s, as well as a recent picture of our children and grandchildren."

Strategy Memo: Tough Week For Burris

Good Wednesday morning, Washington and beyond.

Barack Obama delivers a speech on the foreclosure crisis today in Mesa, Arizona -- a state that, without John McCain on the ballot, could be an electoral battleground in 2012. The president will offer his $50 billion plan to slow the number of home foreclosures, including lowering homeowners' monthly mortgage payments.

After a two-day trip to Japan, Hillary Clinton has departed for Indonesia, where Obama lived for a time as a young boy. Vice President Biden meets today with outgoing Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker. Michelle Obama, meanwhile, opens the White House to local students for a music performance.

An Illinois prosecutor has been given transcripts of the statements Senator Roland Burris made to the House impeachment panel. Burris's statements about his contact with aides to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich have seemed to change over time, and many are questioning whether he committed perjury. The Chicago Tribune has called on Burris to resign from the U.S. Senate.

**Roland Burris
*The Chicago Tribune has called on Sen. Burris (D-Ill.) to resign, following revelations of conflicting statements he made to the state House impeachment panel. "The benefit of the doubt had already been stretched thin and taut by the time Roland Burris offered his third version of the events leading to his appointment to the U.S. Senate. It finally snapped like a rubber band, popping him on that long Pinocchio nose of his, when he came out with version four."

*"An Illinois prosecutor is reviewing U.S. Senator Roland Burris's statements to state lawmakers about whether he solicited political donations for former Governor Rod Blagojevich before being named to the Senate," Bloomberg reports.

*The U.S. Senate Ethics Committee has now opened a "preliminary probe" into Burris's "seeming misleading statements," Lynn Sweet reports.

*ABC's Stephanopoulos: "However, the real problem now for Burris is political. He is now guaranteed to have a serious primary rival when he runs for the Senate seat in 2010. He may even face so much pressure that he won't be able to build enough support to run. One Democratic source put it this way: 'He's in deep sh*t.'"

*Not much from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on the subject, except for a statement from his spokesman Jim Manley: "Senator Reid supports Senator Burris' decision to cooperate with all appropriate officials who may review this matter, including state agencies and the Senate Ethics Committee."

**President Obama
WSJ: The foreclosure plan announced today "will include efforts to cut monthly mortgage payments, allow more borrowers to refinance their loans and give bankruptcy judges greater power to modify mortgages." It would "represent one of the most ambitious efforts yet to tackle the housing-market problems that helped trigger the financial crisis."

The New York Times finds this problem with the stimulus plan now that it's in place: "virtually no one is in place at his cabinet departments to actually spend a lot of the money. ... Three cabinet jobs remain unfilled, only 2 of the 15 cabinet departments have deputy secretaries confirmed, and the vast majority of lower-level political jobs remain vacant."

Chris Cillizza sees Obama turning his focus to foreign affairs, with a trip to Canada on Thursday and his announcement about Afghanistan yesterday. Obama told the CBC yesterday: "I am absolutely convinced that you cannot solve the problem of Afghanistan, the Taliban, the spread of extremism in that region solely by military means," said Obama. "We're going to gave to use diplomacy [and] we're going to have to use development."

Brookings' Michael O'Hanlon, on the Afghanistan announcement: "He has raised the stakes pretty high for himself. Right now, while we're optimistic about the new president and the new strategy in Afghanistan, it's easy to forget that there could come a day when we won't view this in quite the same terms, and we'll be asking ourselves, 'Why is it we have to win this war? Why is it so vital to our interests?'"

Obama's relationship with Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) makes it likely he'll have Republican backing on foreign policy matters, Bloomberg reports. "The young Democratic president and the 76-year-old Republican wise man are quietly working to restore the notion that politics must end at the water's edge."

CNN: Hillary Clinton is in Indonesia now on the second stop of her first foreign trip.

**Campaign Stuff:
*Washington Post finds that Alaskans have grown a bit wary of Gov. Sarah Palin since she returned from the campaign trail in the lower 48. "A number of factors seem to have contributed to the bumpy homecoming: a residual anger among Democrats for the attack-dog role Palin assumed in the McCain campaign, lingering resentment from Republicans for the part she may have played in McCain's defeat, and a suspicion crossing party lines that the concerns of Alaska, at a time of economic crisis, will now be secondary to her future in national politics." Her approval rating is still above 60 percent, though.

*FL SEN: A new Quinnipiac Poll shows Gov. Charlie Crist could take the GOP nomination easily, should he choose to enter, leading in a crowded primary with 53 percent (he'd likely clear the field, tho). If Crist doesn't run, Rep. Connie Mack leads the GOP field with 34 percent; 41 percent of voters want Crist to run for governor again. "The surprise in this poll" is Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, who is tied for the lead among Democrats with Rep. Kendrick Meek at 16 percent. Rep. Ron Klein polls at 14 percent.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Democratic House Candidate Calls For Burris To Resign

Rod Blagojevich once represented Illinois 5th Congressional District, before being elected governor six years ago. In a sign of just how much the disgraced former governor has been an issue in the race to replace Rahm Emanuel, there's this new statement from Democratic candidate Mike Quigley, a Cook County Commissioner, calling for Sen. Roland Burris to resign immediately.

From his statement:

"Roland Burris' failure to be honest and upfront with the people of Illinois should disqualify him from service in the United States Senate.

"He should resign, immediately.

"The Illinois legislature should work with Governor Quinn to pass legislation immediately setting up a special election empowering the people of Illinois to have a voice in this matter and allowing us all to finally turn the page on this sad chapter in Illinois' politics."

Tonight, the Senate Ethics Committee opened a preliminary hearing to look at Burris' ever-evolving statements about his interaction with Blagojevich advisers before the Senate appointment. Illinois Republicans have been calling for his resignation all week, but Quigley is one of the first Democrats to do so. His fellow candidates in the crowded field will likely follow suit now, though.

Quigley also today picked up the Chicago Tribune endorsement. Quigley, State Rep. Sara Feigenholtz and John Fritchey have split the top endorsements and raised the most money. The primary is March 3.

New Jersey, Virginia Dems Staring History In The Face

New polling suggests that New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine faces a difficult challenge for re-election this year. A Monmouth University poll released last week shows that just 34% of Garden State voters approve of the job Corzine is doing, compared to 51% who disapprove. Another recent survey shows that Republican Chris Christie, who as the state's hard-charging U.S. attorney has pursued a number of high-profile corruption cases, is leading the Democrat 44% to 38%.

In Virginia, the only other state holding a gubernatorial election this year, Democrats face an uphill battle against former state Attorney General Bob McDonnell. A Rasmussen survey conducted on Feb. 4 had McDonnell leading each of his three potential rivals, state Sen. Creigh Deeds, former state Delegate Brian Moran and former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe. None is as well known statewide as McDonnell, who will watch from the sidelines until the Democratic primary on June 9.

Circumstances in both states could certainly change by November. But more than the strength of Republican candidates, there's a unique historical pattern that should have Democrats concerned. Since 1989, the party that has controlled the White House has lost gubernatorial elections in each state (the trend goes back further in Virginia, to 1977).

In 1989, George H.W. Bush's first year as president, New Jersey's Jim Florio and Virginia's Doug Wilder won their respective races. Republicans took back the offices in the two following elections, as Democrat Bill Clinton served in the White House. But the pendulum swung again in 2001 and 2005, when George W. Bush served as president.

Strategists in both national parties typically pay additional attention to these contests every four years. With only a handful of elections scheduled in the "off-year," these two key gubernatorial contests are often spun as a measure of the parties' strength heading into midterm election years.

Control of the state offices is considered an even greater priority in the coming years because of the role governors will play in shaping redistricting decisions after the 2010 census.

White House Announces Afghanistan Reinforcements

The White House is now announcing that President Obama has ordered two additional brigades to be deployed Afghanistan, with the increase in forces taking effect by summer. In a statement, Obama says the additional troops are "necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation."

At the same time, Obama says the administration is still conducting a review of Afghanistan policy, and will eventually put forth a "comprehensive strategy" in consultation with "friends and allies." "This troop increase does not pre-determine the outcome of that strategic review," he says in the statement.

Full statement after the jump:

"There is no more solemn duty as President than the decision to deploy our armed forces into harm's way. I do it today mindful that the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan demands urgent attention and swift action. The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and al Qaeda supports the insurgency and threatens America from its safe-haven along the Pakistani border.

"To meet urgent security needs, I approved a request from Secretary Gates to deploy a Marine Expeditionary Brigade later this spring and an Army Stryker Brigade and the enabling forces necessary to support them later this summer. This increase has been requested by General McKiernan and supported by Secretary Gates, the Joint Chiefs and the Commander of Central Command. General McKiernan's request for these troops is months old, and the fact that we are going to responsibly drawdown our forces in Iraq allows us the flexibility to increase our presence in Afghanistan.

"This reinforcement will contribute to the security of the Afghan people and to stability in Afghanistan. I recognize the extraordinary strain that this deployment places on our troops and military families. I honor their service, and will give them the support they need.

"This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires. That is why I ordered a review of our policy upon taking office, so we have a comprehensive strategy and the necessary resources to meet clear and achievable objectives in Afghanistan and the region. This troop increase does not pre-determine the outcome of that strategic review. Instead, it will further enable our team to put together a comprehensive strategy that will employ all elements of our national power to fulfill achievable goals in Afghanistan. As we develop our new strategic goals, we will do so in concert with our friends and allies as together we seek the resources necessary to succeed."

Obama Signs Stimulus Plan, Marks "Beginning Of The End"

President Obama signed the stimulus bill today, playing up what he said were historic investments in the nation's critical needs while promising that today marked the "beginning of the first steps to set our economy on a firmer foundation."

"We have begun the essential work of keeping the American dream alive in our time," Obama said at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

The president, joined by Vice President Biden, members of Colorado's Congressional delegation and other local officials, said the plan will create three and half million jobs by "putting Americans to work doing the work that America needs done in critical areas that have been neglected for too long," which he said will "bring real and lasting change for generations to come."

He then ran through specific areas of these "investments," or spending measures, using a number of historical superlatives and invoking some of his predecessors in the process:

  • "The largest new investment in our nation's infrastructure since Eisenhower built an interstate highway system in the 1950s."
  • "The largest investment in education in our nation's history."
  • "The most meaningful steps in years towards modernizing our health care system."
  • "We have done more in 30 days to advance the cause of health reform than this country has done in an entire decade."
  • "Create a newer, smarter electric grid that will allow for the broader use of alternative energy," instead of lines that date back to Thomas Edison.
  • "The biggest increase in basic research funding in the long history of America's noble endeavor to better understand our world," akin to Kennedy's call to reach the moon.
  • "The most progressive [tax cuts] in our history."
  • "Help[ing] poor and working Americans pull themselves into the middle class in a way we haven't seen in nearly fifty years.

He also emphasized the lack of earmarks in the bill, and what he said were unprecedented steps to provide transparency, including the launch today of

"With a recovery package of this size comes a responsibility to assure every taxpayer that we are being careful with the money they work so hard to earn," he said.

But still, Obama said it will take more than the recovery bill, which he said "represents only the first part of the broad strategy we need to address our economic crisis." Tomorrow, he will announce a more detailed plan to deal with foreclosures. Press secretary Robert Gibbs also talked with reporters en route to Colorado about the possibility of future stimulus measures in the future - saying it was unlikely, but not ruling it out.

"The President is going to do whatever he thinks is necessary to get our economy moving again," Gibbs said.

Ohio Senate Race Takes Shape

Ohio Sec. of State Jennifer Brunner formally entered the 2010 Senate race today by announcing her candidacy in a video released this afternoon.

"I'm running for the United States Senate to be a part of the solution, to meet our challenges and to help Ohio emerge stronger than ever," Brunner says in her announcement video.

Joining Brunner in the Democratic primary contest will be Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher, who is set to announce his candidacy at a news conference this evening in Columbus. Gov. Ted Strickland (D) said publicly two weeks ago that Fisher was the "best qualified" candidate among the Democrats considering a bid.

The winner of the Brunner-Fisher primary will likely face former Congressman and U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman (R) in the general election. Portman announced his candidacy a month ago.

All three candidates are vying for the seat that Sen. George Voinovich (R) is vacating at the end of his term. Voinovich was first elected to the Senate in 1998, and also served two terms as Ohio governor from 1990-1998.

Democrats view this race as an excellent opportunity to pick up a Republican Senate seat. The party is coming off two impressive election seasons, with Obama taking Ohio by a 4-point margin in November, and Strickland and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) both taking over for a Republican in 2006.

Here is Brunner's announcement video:

Schumer Stumps For Murphy

With Congress on a week-long recess and the economic stimulus bill all but signed by the president, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is utilizing his brief free time by stepping out for a House special election candidate.

Venture capitalist Scott Murphy, running for the vacant seat in New York's 20th Congressional District, won the endorsement of fellow New York Democrats Schumer and Rep. Paul Tonko at a Clifton Park press conference yesterday. Murphy is facing Jim Tedisco, the State Assembly Republican leader, in a March 31 special election to replace Kirsten Gillibrand, who was appointed to the Senate.

The two candidates are basing their battle on who can create jobs, with Murphy touting his business experience and Tedisco his legislative experience.

The Saratogian reporting:

Schumer cited New York's alarming loss of jobs as a chief concern -- New York lost 103,000 jobs in January -- and identified Murphy's record of creating jobs and growing businesses as a key qualification in his congressional bid. He also said that developing small businesses is an important way to bolster the economy.

"Everywhere you go, you hear about this. It's putting a dagger in the heart of the middle class, and small businesses are the lynch pin," Schumer said.

"Scott Murphy knows this district because he knows small business, and he knows agriculture," Schumer said, pointing out that Murphy had created about 1,000 jobs during his work as a venture capitalist and has ties to agriculture through his wife's family, which owned a Washington County dairy farm.

Schumer isn't the only Democrat to show his face in the district on behalf of Murphy. Gillibrand stumped for Murphy on Saturday, and tonight House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer is scheduled to join Murphy for a roundtable discussion in Poughkeepsie.

Strategy Memo: Rocky Mountain Signing

Good morning, Washington. This morning, President Obama will depart shortly for Denver, where he will sign the stimulus bill into law. He'll also tour a solar panel manufacturing plant to highlight the bill's green energy provisions.

Details should begin leaking out about the president's plan to deal with the foreclosure crisis, which will be rolled out tomorrow in Phoenix. Press secretary Robert Gibbs also promised yesterday that more details on the administration's plans in Afghanistan will come soon.

Congress remains on recess, which means those members who aren't at home in their districts are touring the world. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for instance, is in Italy -- and reportedly will meet with the pope. Here's what else we're watching.

**Stimulus Signing
*Bloomberg calls the bill Obama will sign today the "most ambitious since Roosevelt." Analysts say that "the size of the new law and its speed moving through Congress ... place it among the most significant legislative accomplishments since President Franklin Roosevelt overhauled the U.S. government in his first 100 days."

*Washington Times: The package meets Obama's goal of spending 75 percent of the funds in 18 months, and the CBO says it could create 3.6 million jobs, hitting Obama's target range. "If you go back to what we discussed on December 12 in Chicago, this is close to about 90 percent - the final bill that we're voting on - about 90 percent of what we were thinking about," White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said.

*Washington Post reports that some liberals are concerned the package will not go far enough, and plan to push additional measures. "Some say Obama must aim higher next time, so that compromises produce a more satisfactory result. Some say he needs to take greater control of drafting legislation, instead of leaving it to Democratic congressional leaders, and needs to adopt a harder line with Republican legislators. And some say liberals and pro-Democratic interest groups such as labor unions must do a better job of pressuring moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats to back the president."

*Wall Street Journal looks at the Congressional lobbying effort by the Obama administration, including Vice President Biden's role in swaying Republican senators. Emanuel asked him to target six: Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Arlen Specter, George Voinovich, Mel Martinez and Richard Lugar. He got half. He would tell his former colleagues: "Don't give me that 'Mr. Vice President. If you want to call me that in public, fine, but when we're on the phone, it's 'Joe.' " Obama aides also recognized that bipartisan outreach "may only have gotten in the way," as Republicans "made headway ... when the White House allowed the message of interparty cooperation to cloud the central economic message." Emanuel summed up the final approach: "He has an open hand but he has a very firm handshake."

*Jake Tapper catches a sly caption in the White House slideshow of the economic stimulus bill. "House Republicans surround the President after the meeting. Many of them were seeking his autograph. Every House Republican eventually voted against the bill."

**President Obama
*Politico's Jonathan Martin writes that Obama is returning to the "time-honored Beltway tradition" of framing debates as Washington against "real people." This tactic "is often a refuge for presidents who have suffered missteps or drawn critical coverage, particularly in their early weeks in office."

*Automakers GM and Chrysler are due to submit restructuring plans to the government as part of their agreement to receive federal loans. Wall Street Journal reports that the Obama administration "appeared to be turning up the pressure on GM and Chrysler to carry out tough restructuring measures, possibly through the use of the bankruptcy court."

*Japan Prime Minister Taro Aso will be the first foreign leader to come to the White House, Hillary Clinton announced on her foreign trip.

*The AP: "Seeking political traction, Republicans are using the economic stimulus package to try to restore an image of fiscal discipline tarnished by a free-spending GOP Congress under former President George W. Bush."

*But the New York Times observes a split in and out of the Beltway. While Congressional Republicans "flaunted its anti-spending ideology in opposing the stimulus package ... many Republican governors are practicing a pragmatic -- their Congressional counterparts would say less-principled -- conservatism." Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Charlie Crist, Jim Douglas and M. Jodi Rell "showed in the stimulus debate that they could be allies with Mr. Obama even as Congressional Republicans spurned him." Crist: "It really is a matter of perspective. As a governor, the pragmatism that you have to exercise because of the constitutional obligation to balance your budget is a very compelling pull."

*The New York Daily News reports on friction between former Pres. Bush and former VP Cheney over the Scooter Libby pardon, describing the latter as "furious." "In multiple conversations, both in person and over the telephone, Cheney tried to get Bush to change his mind. Libby was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the federal probe of who leaked covert CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity to the press. Several sources confirmed Cheney refused to take no for an answer."

*On "Today" this morning, Karl Rove downplayed the "tabloid" report but said Cheney did feel very strongly about it.

*Gallup: Congress's latest job approval rating (Feb. 9-12) jumped to 31%, its highest rating in some two years. "This month's sharp increase largely reflects a more positive Democratic review of Congress. Since the previous measure from early January, Barack Obama has been inaugurated as president, and now Democrats have party control of both the legislative and the executive branches of the federal government," writes Gallup's Jeffrey M. Jones.

*Politico: "House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) is pushing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to take a harder line with the Senate after a trio of Republican senators forced Congress to trim billions from the $787 billion economic stimulus package."

*On an official trip to Italy, Pelosi has been granted an audience with Pope Benedict XVI, "a move likely to stoke more controversy about whether Catholic politicians who support abortion rights are in line with the church."

**In The States
*California's budget crisis continues. LA Times: "With lawmakers still unable to deliver a budget after three days of intense negotiations," Gov. Schwarzenegger is ready to layoff 10,000 state workers and halt 275 state-funded projects.

*California's requirement that budgets pass with a two-thirds vote is holding up the process, the AP notes. "With every Democrat and three Republicans needing to vote yes, lawmakers on the bubble find themselves in a position to deal. Want my vote? Pony up."

**Campaign Stuff
*Lynn Sweet reports that Sen. Roland Burris informed Harry Reid and Dick Durbin of his new affadavit when the Senate leaders were "whipping the roll call for the stimulus bill." Now, Durbin is traveling to Greece, Cyprus and Turkey, joined by Alexi Giannoulias - who is likely to challenge Burris.

*"Convinced that Burris would be a weak candidate if he runs for election in 2010, some Washington Democrats -- and some back home in Illinois -- hope that an investigation in Illinois will either force Burris to resign or inflict such damage that he can't mount a serious run when the time comes," Politco reports.

*In New York, Newsday looks at the fate of another surprise officeholder, Gov. David Paterson. "His unexpected year of living dangerously threatens to make him a half-term governor. Allies of the former state senator - thrust into power after the implosion of Eliot Spitzer - worry."

*NY Gov: A new Quinnipiac poll finds Paterson trailing Atty. Gen. Andrew Cuomo by a 2-to-1 margin in a hypothetical Democratic primary matchup.

*Newsday: "Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has moved the two rifles that she kept under the bed to protect her upstate New York home, her spokesman said yesterday."

*MN Senate recount updates from the Star Tribune: Lawyers for former Sen. Norm Coleman "want judges in the U.S. Senate election trial to reverse their recent ruling and consider counting rejected absentee ballots similar to others that previously were tallied." Franken, meanwhile, is acting like a senator and being called "senator-elect."

**Sports Alert: Happy 46th Birthday today to Michael Jordan.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Strategy Memo: Presidents Day Recess

Good Presidents Day morning, Washington and beyond.

The Obama family returns from Chicago this afternoon, and the president has no public events scheduled. Tomorrow, Obama will head to Denver where he'll sign the economic stimulus bill that Congress passed last week. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, is making her debut on the world stage, having arrived in Tokyo this morning.

Obama has decided against appointing a "car czar," a new administration position that would have overseen the restructuring of the three Detroit automakers. Instead, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and other administration officials will oversee the process.

The House and Senate are both in recess this week, though Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.) has still managed to make news. Illinois Republicans are calling for him to resign after discovering potentially contradicting statements he made regarding his contacts with close associates of Rod Blagojevich, including his brother.

Here are the stories we're watching today...

**Sunday Talk Shows: McCain, Gibbs, Graham and all of their appearances from yesterday on RealClearPolitics Videos.

*Sen. John McCain led the charge accusing Obama of breaking his promises this weekend. "This bill was not bipartisan. It is incredibly expensive. It has hundreds of billions of dollars in projects which will not yield jobs," he said. "Candidate Obama said that these conferences would be open to the public.
Said that the American people would have five days to view [legislation] on the Internet. There [were] commitments made that certainly aren't being kept now."

*Sen. Lindsey Graham was more blunt: "If I may say, if this is going to be bipartisanship, the country's screwed."

*Robert Gibbs and David Axelrod defended the president on separate Sunday show appearances. Gibbs, on CBS: "We'll continue to reach out to them. It's an outreach plan that includes, as you said, more than just Wednesday-night cocktails. We're going to listen for their ideas. This president is willing to listen to anybody who has got an idea that will help get this economy moving and get people back to work."

**President Obama
*Obama is "savoring his first big victory" with the passage late Friday of the stimulus plan. He plans to sign it on Tuesday in Denver, where he accepted the Democratic nomination for president last August.

*CNN was first to report yesterday that Obama would sign the stimulus bill in Denver.

*AP: "White House officials previously said that Obama would be stopping in Denver Tuesday to speak on behalf of the stimulus package, which Congress approved on Friday. "Colorado, because of the work that we've done in creating new energy economy and being able to create sustainable job growth, provided this template for the administration to say, 'This is what the package is about,' " Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter said Sunday of the president's planned visit, the Associated Press reported."

*Politico: "President Barack Obama is refusing to be rushed into his first decision to send troops into combat, an early sign he may be more independent-minded than U.S. military leaders expected."

*AP: "Expect an executive order soon from President Barack Obama on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. That's the word from White House adviser David Axelrod."

*The Obama's enjoyed a long weekend in Chicago, including a Valentine's Day date Saturday night for the first couple. It included a trip from O'Hare to a park near his house in a Marine helicopter to avoid the city's rush-hour traffic, Politico reports.

*National Journal's Ron Brownstein was one of the reporters who spoke with the president on the flight to Chicago on Friday. The bottom line on bipartisanship: "I am an eternal optimist [but] that doesn't mean I'm a sap," he said. "So my goal is to assume the best but prepare for a whole range of different possibilities in terms of how Congress reacts."

*Obama will not choose a "car czar," but rather have administration officials lead a panel to oversee the reorganization of the auto industry.

*Secretary of State Clinton has arrived in Japan for her first trip abroad.
She told reporters on the flight there that her trip "will demonstrate a new U.S. commitment to work with Asian leaders on "problems that no one nation, including ours, can deal with alone."

*Gov. Kathleen Sebelius "caused a stir Friday by canceling a planned meeting with legislative leaders while the Statehouse buzzed about her chances of joining" the Obama Cabinet, AP reports. Sebelius spokeswoman Beth Martino: "We're going to let the speculators speculate. There is a lot of important state business going on, and she's focused on that."

**Campaign Stuff
*CA Gov: L.A. Times' Hiltzik: "I may be projecting a bit here, but I wonder if a certain desperation among the electorate won't be Meg Whitman's biggest advantage in the forthcoming race for governor of California."

*MN Sen: We may have a winner in Minnesota! No, not Al Franken or Norm Coleman. Early voting.

*The Columbia State profiles Gov. Mark Sanford and Sen. Jim DeMint as new "knights of the right." Comments from Sanford, in particular, that are critical of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist are generating attention. "I don't think that a lot of people down here would call him a fiscal conservative," said Sanford, who might find himself battling Crist for the presidential nomination if both men decide to run in 2012. "He may be a good guy, and I've pleasantly enjoyed knowing him through the governorship. But that he¹s some stalwart fiscal conservative is, I think, at odds with the record."

*Sen. Roland Burris held a press conference Sunday trying to defuse questions raised in a new affidavit about the Blagojevich mess, in which he reveals more contacts with the former governor¹s aides than he had under oath before the state impeachment committee. "At no time did I ever make any inconsistent statement," Burris said. "As I have said previously in my testimony before the Illinois House impeachment committee, as I stated in my voluntary affidavit to the head of the same committee, and as I said to you again now‹Yes, I had contact with representatives and friends of the former governor about the Senate seat‹none of it inappropriate."

*IL-5: The Chicago Sun-Times endorsed Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley in the race to succeed Rahm Emanuel in Congress. The election is March 3.

*NY-20: And not surprisingly, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has endorsed the Democrat running for her old seat -- Scott Murphy.

*The House and Senate are in recess this week. Upon returning, the Senate will take up the D.C. voting rights bill, which would add two members to the House of Representatives -- one from D.C. and one from Utah. A similar bill passed the House in the 110th Congress but failed in the Senate. Last week, a Senate committee -- chaired by Sen. Joe Lieberman, who's pushing the bill -- passed it, and Harry Reid scheduled the full body to take it up next week.

Washington Post: "Similar legislation failed in 2007, when Democrats could not secure the 60 votes needed to push the bill through the Senate. But Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said yesterday that she thinks there is a bipartisan group of 63 or 64 senators who will support it this year."

** Surveying The Presidents: And on this President's Day, an in case you missed it: C-SPAN surveyed historians to compile its ranking of the presidents.
At the top: Lincoln and Washington. At the bottom: Andrew Johnson and James Buchanan. Reagain is at 10, Clinton at 15, and George W. Bush is at 36. The newest former president scored highest on crisis leadership and pursuing equal justice for all, but got poor marks on the economy.

**Sports Alert: Spotted: John and Cindy McCain sitting courtside last night at the NBA All-Star Game in Phoenix.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

With A Thumbs Up For Congress, Obama Departs For Chicago

President Obama offered a quick thumbs up, but had no other comment about the House stimulus vote as he walked toward Marine One with his family before leaving for a weekend in Chicago.

White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs, meanwhile, shrugged at his afternoon briefing when a reporter told him of the final vote total: 246-183 in favor, but again without any Republican "yea" votes.

"That's 3.5 million jobs that we look forward to saving or creating," he said.

President Obama is due to return to Washington Monday afternoon, meaning the bill, if passed by the Senate as well, would be signed no sooner. Gibbs explained that the paperwork likely won't travel down Pennsylvania Avenue until then, anyway.

After signing the stimulus bill, Obama will again hit the road, starting Tuesday with a trip to Denver for an event focused on the plan. Wednesday, he'll roll out a plan to address the foreclosure crisis. And Thursday, he'll make his first trip abroad -- just north to Canada, which ended up being the butt of more than a few jokes at the briefing.

Earlier today Obama spoke to members of the Business Council, an organization of business leaders that was formed, he said without hesitation, when President Roosevelt's Commerce Secretary invited executives from the top corporations to help craft New Deal policies. Obama made no reference to his own search for a Commerce Secretary, after joking last night about during a speech about President Lincoln.

"One of the reasons we've come so far is because so many of you have recognized the urgency and necessity of taking action," the president said, referring to the stimulus bill.

There were relatively few questions asked of Gibbs about yesterday's abrupt withdrawal by Judd Gregg. The press secretary said Obama was "quite comfortable" with the selection when he made it, and believed he would be a good addition to the Cabinet.

"[Obama and Gregg] had a discussion about the agenda moving forward, and obviously the agenda that's going to move forward is the president's agenda," he said. "Whether or not, what role that played in Senator Gregg's ultimate decision making in the last few days, I'll let him address. But it won't preclude him from looking at other Republicans or other people who may disagree with certain aspects of his agenda."

House Passes Stimulus Conference Report

The House passed the $787 billion economic stimulus plan on a 246-183 vote. The margin is just a bit larger than the House-adopted version, which was passed on Jan. 28. After debating the conference report most of the day, the Senate will now aim to vote on the package sometime tonight.

Many House Democrats were perturbed by some of the spending cuts that were made in conference, though only one voted against the conference report after supporting the House version: Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).

"I supported the original objective to have a bill that was timely, targeted and temporary," DeFazio said. "Instead, we ended up with a huge grab bag, some of which is good like the $80 billion to fix our crumbling infrastructure or the money to educate our children, but there are hundreds of billions of dollars in excessive tax cuts that will do little to stimulate our economy or put our nation on the road to recovery."

Seven Democrats voted against the bill -- four less than the previous vote -- and once again no Republicans supported it. Those Democrats who have now voted against the bill twice include: Bobby Bright (Ala.), Parker Griffith (Ala.), Walt Minnick (Idaho), Collin Peterson (Minn.), Heath Shuler (N.C.), and Gene Taylor (Miss.). Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) voted present.

Democratic Reps. Allen Boyd (Fla.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Brad Ellsworth (Ind.), Paul Kanjorski (Pa.), and Frank Kratovil (Md.) supported the bill this time.

"I opposed the original House version of the bill because it contained far too many provisions that would have provided little to no economic stimulus," Ellsworth said following the vote. "In this compromise, the Senate and Conference Committee made great strides to direct funds toward putting Americans back to work and strengthening our long-term capacity for economic growth. Their work has resulted in a vastly improved bill. And while it's not perfect, it's time for action."

"I agree with President Obama," Kanjorski said from the House floor. "Time is of the essence, and we must act quickly to pass a recovery package. Though no bill is perfect, I have reconciled my problems with the initial bill for the sake of helping Americans and the economy."

Stimulus Bill Online

The House Appropriations Committee has published the economic stimulus bill that both chambers of Congress will be voting on today. It can be found here.

Republicans are currently arguing on the House floor that they and the American public have not had enough time to look at the text. Both parties had agreed to allow 48 hours to review the conference report before voting, though the bill was placed online just after midnight last night and a vote will take place today.

"This measure is, as has been reported, a thousand pages," said Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.), holding a large stack of papers. "And no one knows what it's going to do, including our friend, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee." Dreier was referring to Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.).

UPDATE: Acting Speaker John Tierney (D-Mass.) said the agreement was advisory, not binding.

Strategy Memo: Friday the 13th

Good morning, Washington and beyond on a grim Friday the 13th.

After spending most of the week on the road, President Obama will speak from the East Room of the White House today about his stimulus plan to members of the Business Council. He'll also have lunch with Vice President Joe Biden before the first family makes its first return trip to Chicago since moving to the 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. The first couple will enjoy Valentine's Day at an as-yet undisclosed location in their hometown.

Press secretary Robert Gibbs will hold his briefing at 1 pm, where he can expect another grilling about troubled Cabinet appointments as well as conflicting information yesterday about Judd Gregg's selection and withdrawal.

Before heading out of town for a week-long Presidents Day recess, the House is expected this morning to vote for a final time on the economic stimulus bill. The Senate will likely vote tonight following a day of debate, and the bill will be awaiting Obama's return.

And giving us all hope, pitchers and catchers for all 30 Major League Baseball teams will have reported to spring training camps by Sunday. Here's what we're watching today:

** Judd Gregg Withdraws
*AP: "Republican Sen. Judd Gregg says he pulled out for the job of commerce secretary because he felt uncomfortable being unable to support President Barack Obama 100 percent of the time. Gregg says that in his words, 'I'm just going to be a little too conservative' on fiscal spending issues."

*The Wall Street Journal outlines the timeline as follows: Gregg called Rahm Emanuel Monday to request a meeting and hinted at "second thoughts." Wednesday night, he expressed his growing concerns, but Obama did not learn of the decision until Thursday.

*George Stephanopoulos says it's an embarrassment for both men, and stunning because "the courtship between the president and Gregg went on for several weeks." But White House sources tell him a new Commerce Secretary could be chosen within days.

*White House chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel: "Some may call it amateur hour. Having been in two separate White Houses, I'd more than - and within our third week given this set of accomplishments - measure them up." More: "I think the president has always indicated there will be days where there are setbacks, days where there will be disappointments, but as long as we're moving forward those will be bright days not just for us but in fact the American people. Let's be honest: will the economic recovery or Judd Gregg be a bigger discussion point a week from now?"

*Washington Post: "The episode underscored how burdensome Cabinet selection has become for the new administration, which has watched nearly half a dozen of its top appointees withdraw or face embarrassing scrutiny over the past several weeks. The slip-ups have caused the White House to revamp its vetting process and have slowed down confirmations for nominees already in the pipeline. And now Obama is left with two key openings -- at the departments of Commerce and Health and Human Services -- and more questions about his personnel choices."

*President Obama joked about the whole situation during an interesting speech in Springfield last night honoring Abe Lincoln. "In 1854, Lincoln was simply a Springfield Lawyer. He'd served just a single term in Congress. Possibly in his law office, his feet on a cluttered desk, his sons playing around him, his clothes a bit to small to fit his uncommon frame. ... Maybe wondering if someone might call him up and offer to be Commerce Secretary."

*Karl Rove, Larry Sabato, Doug Schoen and others respond in the Washington Post to Gregg's withdrawal of consideration for Secretary of Commerce. Sabato: "The Gregg withdrawal can be a watershed. It's been a grand and noble experiment, but now the Obama administration should abandon aggressive bipartisanship."

*Obama did an interview with the Springfield State Journal-Register, talking about Blago fallout, some stimulus politics, and of course Gregg. "You know, Mr. Gregg approached us with interest and seemed enthusiastic," the president said. "But ultimately, I think, we're going to just keep on making efforts to build the kind of bipartisan consensus around important issues that I think the American people are looking for."

*In New Hampshire, Senate candidate Paul Hodes: "I am surprised and disappointed at this sudden withdrawal. Senator Gregg would take us back to the years of George W. Bush rather than moving forward with the change agenda that the American people clearly want. I will continue to work with President Obama to create jobs and rebuild our economy for the middle class." The Union Leader also notes that Gregg's birthday is Saturday.

*Does Gregg's withdrawal improve the chances of Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius becoming HHS Secretary? That's what the Kansas City Star writes.

**President Obama
* At the Caterpillar plant yesterday, Obama again said that the company would scale back plans for layoffs if the stimulus plan passed, the New York Times reports. But Jim Owens, Caterpillar's CEO, did not repeat the pledge, and told reporters later "that he thought the company might even have to lay off more employees before the economy began to turn around later this year or next."

*Reagan biographer Lou Cannon, in the NYT's 100 Days blog: "Being comfortable in one's own skin does not guarantee a successful presidency. If it did, George W. Bush would be accorded higher marks than he receives from most historians and the American people. But optimism, a sense of normalcy, and a determination to keep in touch with the people you have inspired are useful attributes for any president."

*A shred of good news, however: Leon Panetta was confirmed as the CIA director.

*AP looks at the "highlights" of the bicameral-compromised stimulus bill.

*CNN: "The House, which had originally planned to vote on the package Thursday, was forced to delay until Friday after many rank-and-file Democrats who were unhappy with some spending cuts demanded time to read the compromise measure."

*It's not a partisan issue, it's House vs. Senate now. The Hill reports that members of the lower chamber "are furious with the Senate on its handling of the economic stimulus bill." A House leadership aide promises a different strategy in the future: "We will tell the Senate Democratic leadership to let the GOP filibuster. The House is not going to move on what the Senate passes and give in during conference like we have been doing."

*USA Today looks at how the stimulus package will affect you. "The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says the bill could increase employment in a range of 800,000 to 2.3 million jobs by the fourth quarter of 2009 and 1.2 million to 3.6 million by the fourth quarter of 2010."

*The St. Pete Times reports that Charlie Crist is taking some heat from fellow Republicans for his public support of Obama's stimulus plan. "I don't think he's helped any national Republican ambitions he may have by stepping up to the plate and batting for the other team," said Republican consultant Alex Castellanos. "There's a difference between working in a bipartisan way for the common good and switching sides and putting on the other team's jersey. At the one moment when we've finally found our voice and remember who we are as Republicans, Charlie Crist forgets. It's stunning."

** Campaign Stuff: DSCC chair Bob Menendez said he thinks Democrats can build on their Senate majority in 2010. Obama won three of the five states with retiring GOP senators, and Menendez said a combination of local and national factors make four other Republican-held seats vulnerable -- Louisiana, North Carolina, Kentucky and Pennsylvania. "They just don't get it," Menendez said of his Republican colleagues, "How many more people need to lose their jobs?"

-- Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Gregg: "Probably" Won't Run In 2010

Sen. Judd Gregg just told reporters that he withdrew his nomination after coming to the realization that he could not be a true team player in the Obama Cabinet, while downplaying somewhat his policy differences with the administration.

"You can't have a blocking back who only pulls it out for every second or third play," the New Hampshire Republican said.

Gregg said Obama has been "incredibly gracious" to him, and conceded that it was "really unfair" for him to withdraw at this time.

"But to go forward and take this position and then find myself sitting there and not be able to do the job the way it should be done on behalf of the president, it would have been an even bigger mistake," he said.

He did contradict a statement from the White House, however, saying that "the president asked me" to consider the appointment. Press secretary Robert Gibbs said that Gregg had approached the president with interest in the position.

"It was my mistake obviously, to say yes because it wasn't my personality," he said. "After 30 years of being myself, it would have been hard to assume another role where I couldn't have been 100 percent all the time the team player that he needed."

He said that the issue of the Census "only a slight catalyzing issue," and he offered some praise for the "extraordinary job" the administration has undertaken to address the financial crisis.

Asked if he'd run for re-election in 2010, he first said, "Probably not." Later, he gave a more emphatic "no." Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) has already declared his intention to run for the seat.

Updated: Gregg Withdraws Commerce Sec Nomination

** UPDATE II: A White House spokesperson is dismissing the quickly-developing notion that the administration was caught off guard by Gregg's announcement, saying, "We knew in advance." The official did not dispute that it was a "tight hold."

** UPDATE: Here's the White House's statement, from press secretary Robert Gibbs:

"Senator Gregg reached out to the President and offered his name for Secretary of Commerce. He was very clear throughout the interviewing process that despite past disagreements about policies, he would support, embrace, and move forward with the President's agenda. Once it became clear after his nomination that Senator Gregg was not going to be supporting some of President Obama's key economic priorities, it became necessary for Senator Gregg and the Obama administration to part ways. We regret that he has had a change of heart."

** EARLIER: The White House has no comment yet, as their second nominee for Secretary of Commerce has withdrawn. The New Hampshire Republican cites "irresolvable conflicts" over the stimulus plan and the Census. The White House had moved to take more direct control over the process, which in recent years has become a more political endeavor.

Here's the statement from Judd Gregg, who will now remain the senior senator from New Hampshire:

"I want to thank the President for nominating me to serve in his Cabinet as Secretary of Commerce. This was a great honor, and I had felt that I could bring some views and ideas that would assist him in governing during this difficult time. I especially admire his willingness to reach across the aisle.

"However, it has become apparent during this process that this will not work for me as I have found that on issues such as the stimulus package and the Census there are irresolvable conflicts for me. Prior to accepting this post, we had discussed these and other potential differences, but unfortunately we did not adequately focus on these concerns. We are functioning from a different set of views on many critical items of policy.

"Obviously the President requires a team that is fully supportive of all his initiatives.

"I greatly admire President Obama and know our country will benefit from his leadership, but at this time I must withdraw my name from consideration for this position.

"As we move forward, I expect there will be many issues and initiatives where I can and will work to assure the success of the President's proposals. This will certainly be a goal of mine.

"Kathy and I also want to specifically thank Governor Lynch and Bonnie Newman for their friendship and assistance during this period. In addition we wish to thank all the people, especially in New Hampshire, who have been so kind and generous in their supportive comments.

"As a further matter of clarification, nothing about the vetting process played any role in this decision. I will continue to represent the people of New Hampshire in the United States Senate."

UPDATE: Here is Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's statement on Gregg returning to the Senate:

"Sen. Gregg made a principled decision to return and we're glad to have him. He is among the smartest, most effective legislators to serve in the Senate -- Democrat or Republican -- and a key advisor to me and to the Republican Conference. It's great to have him back."

UPDATE: Here is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's statement:

"I applaud President Obama for asking Sen. Judd Gregg to guide our nation's commerce at a critical time for our economy and for reaching across the aisle to include another Republican in his Cabinet. Senator Gregg has been a personal friend of mine for a long time, and I respect his decision. I look forward to continuing to work with him in the U.S. Senate to develop bipartisan solutions to the serious economic problems facing our nation."

Obama Suggests Stimulus Impact May Surpass Jobs Goal

Obama held a roundtable discussion with regional reporters at the White House yesterday, aiming to spread the White House's message about the stimulus plan through local media. The Q&A garnered big headlines in most of the target cities, as Obama talked not just about his recovery plan but a host of local issues.

Interestingly, he told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he thinks he may actually selling the impact of his proposal short, saying the ripple effect of some job-creating measures may lead to an undercounting of the final result. "You're probably not counting the fact that that teacher is still going to the dry cleaner down the street," Obama said. "I think the ripple effects of this package won't be entirely documentable, but I think it will be significant."

With the Columbus Dispatch and Dayton Daily News, Obama "sympathized" with the decisions being made by governors at the state level. Obama said the final legislation would save Ohio from draconian budget cuts. Obama: "Given what Gov. (Ted) Strickland is going through in Ohio ... we need to provide ample relief to the states.

Obama praised the role Maine's senators played in the Portland Press Herald, and said he's confident in getting more Republican support. Obama: "I think Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe are outstanding legislators who care about their state but who also care about this country. There are going to be times when Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe disagree with me, but they've been consistently thoughtful and I very much appreciate the efforts that they've put in."

He did the same with the Omaha World-Herald, saying that Ben Nelson has "been a very constructive partner in this process." Obama: "Without Ben, I'm not sure we get other votes." He also said some of the "scrubbing" done in the Senate made sense. "My bottom line has always been: Is it creating jobs? And this bill creates jobs. Is it providing relief to states? It's providing relief to states. Is it laying the foundation for long-term economic growth? It is."

Obama told Detroit's Free Press that he's waiting for commitments from auto industry executives before offering "serious help." "My message is, get me a plan," he said. "You know, if a plan is presented to us on 20 million [in] sales when we just know that's not going to happen, then we're going to have to ask them to go back to the drawing board," he said."

Obama told the Anchorage Daily News he would discuss the state's natural gas pipeline with Canada at his Feb. 19 meeting. "It's a project of great potential and something I'm very interested in," Obama said.

On drilling, Obama "said it would be short-sighted to rely on offshore oil and gas development to solve the nation's energy problems or stimulate the flagging U.S. economy." Offshore resources are "not going to come online quickly enough," he said, according to the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot.

Obama "promised unprecedented oversight and transparency" of the plan, as the Indianapolis Star asked about funding for local projects. "I don't want to offer an opinion on various projects that I have not seen, haven't heard about. I suspect if you look on the lists of whatever mayors have put out, you can always find something that sounds like it might not make sense. But overall, what I've seen from mayors and governors is a great deal of seriousness about the kinds of projects that are going to be funded."

He joked with the Raleigh News & Observer about the Duke-North Carolina game, refusing to take sides on account of his personal aide, Duke alum Reggie Love. But on military matters, he thanked Marines at Camp Lejeune. "They've been carrying a big load and doing extraordinary work on behalf of the country. ... I'm going to have to make some decisions fairly soon about Afghanistan deployments."

And then there was this nugget that the Detroit News led with. "What, exactly, was the brick-size wooden box with the red button on top, on the table in front of President Barack Obama?" Obama: "If any of you really got me mad, I would press it," he joked. The box is actually an alarm to call Secret Service agents to his defense.

NRSC Targets Hodes

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has put out a 45-second web ad targeting Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.), who recently announced he was running for Senate in 2010. The NRSC video hits Hodes for voting for "the largest tax hike in history twice" and the economic stimulus.

Strategy Memo: Abe's Bicentennial

Good Thursday morning, Washington and beyond. And Happy 200th Birthday to Abraham Lincoln.

The House and Senate conference brokered a deal yesterday on a $790 billion stimulus deal that both chambers are expected to pass over the next few days and be on President Obama's desk by Monday. The bill will go to the House first, which could begin consideration as early as today.

Obama will join Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others at the Capitol today to celebrate the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln. Both also spoke last night at the grand reopening of Ford's Theatre, where Lincoln was fatally shot 144 years ago. "As commemorations take place across this country on the bicentennial of our 16th President's birth, there will be reflections on all he was and all he did for this nation that he saved," Obama said last night.

Later in the day, Obama will jet to Peoria, Ill., with Sen. Dick Durbin and Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood (both fellow Illinoisans) to speak at a Caterpillar plant, where thousands of people have recently lost their jobs. However, Caterpillar has said that the stimulus package will allow it to begin hiring again. Tonight, Obama will give remarks at the 102nd Abraham Lincoln Association Annual Banquet in Springfield, Ill.

We'll be watching "The Daily Show" tonight to see what it was exactly John Oliver was up to in the White House yesterday. This is what else we're watching today...

*Washington Post: "After a tentative agreement was struck between Democratic leaders of the two chambers yesterday afternoon, some House Democrats appeared eager to scuttle the deal, as lawmakers vented about deep reductions in education and other social programs."

*New York Times: "But it is unclear if Mr. Obama will be able to claim credit for bringing change to Washington by winning bipartisan support for his first major piece of legislation. Not a single House Republican voted for the bill when it came to the floor two weeks ago, and despite many compromises in the Senate, only three Republicans came on board."

*The Fix: "President Obama's economic stimulus plan may now be on the glide path to passage in Congress but the fight over what the legislation means for average Americans and how it will impact the political landscape for both parties is only just beginning."

*Karl Rove writes in the Wall Street Journal that the legislative victory for Obama comes at a high cost, and thinks Republicans did themselves proud. "What is becoming clear is that the House GOP is becoming energized by empowering its 'Young Guns.' Leader John Boehner has been good. But he wouldn't be as effective if he didn't have the help of Reps. Eric Cantor, the No. 2 House Republican, and Mike Pence, the House GOP conference chairman."

**President Obama
**Politico's Mahtesian and Rogers: "While no one expected Obama's pledge to fix our 'broken politics' would be met quickly or easily, the first month of the new administration has been marked by extreme polarization, with hints of more to come."

*New York Times lead: "It is a quick, sweet victory for the new president, and potentially a historic one. The question now is whether the $789 billion economic stimulus plan agreed to by Congressional leaders on Wednesday is the opening act for a more ambitious domestic agenda from President Obama or a harbinger of reduced expectations."

*How much did the traveling salesman act help? It at least shaped opinion of the press corps, it seems. From Newsweek: "For a White House press corps grown used to the at best muted receptions of the last few years of the Bush administration, travel with the new president is a bracing change. This was evident Tuesday, when ecstatically cheering supporters of varied ages and ethnicities lined several miles of the motorcade route in Ft. Myers, Fla."

*USA Today looks at Obama's fascination with Lincoln. He has cited Lincoln's "humble beginnings," as well as his "rise from poverty, his ultimate mastery of language and law, his capacity to overcome personal loss and remain determined in the face of repeated defeat."

*Hilda Solis is on track to become Labor secretary after signing an affidavit declaring that she "did not have check writing or signing authority when she was treasurer of American Rights at Work." Republicans thought it was a conflict of interest, The Hill reports.

*After a rocky start, the White House hopes Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner "will get a second chance." "The primary culprit, say Wall Street analysts and political strategists, were the overblown expectations set by the administration, which billed the speech as a major policy address. The White House, distracted by the complicated economic stimulus package being assembled by Congress, was then stretched too thin to fully support Geithner in his public debut."

**Campaign Stuff
*MO Sen: Former Sen. Jim Talent has opted out of the Senate race in Missouri. Bond cited the fact that other qualified Republicans were gearing up to run and his other obligations, including family. The seat became open when Sen. Kit Bond announced he would not seek re-election.

*NY-20: Gov. David Paterson has set the special election to fill Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's former House seat for March 31. Democrat Scott Murphy and Republican Jim Tedisco are running. There is also a special election pending for White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel's former House seat in Illinois; the primary is set for March 3, and the general is April 7.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Obama On Stimulus Deal: Undoing Layoffs At Caterpillar

The White House's statement on the apparent stimulus deal in Congress:

"I want to thank the Democrats and Republicans in Congress who came together around a hard-fought compromise that will save or create more than 3.5 million jobs and get our economy back on track. Just today, the CEO of Caterpillar said that if this American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan is passed, his company would be able to rehire some of the employees they've been forced to lay off. It's also a plan that will provide immediate tax relief to families and businesses, while investing in priorities like health care, education, energy, and infrastructure that will grow our economy once more. I'm grateful to the House Democrats for starting this process, and for members in the House and Senate for moving it along with the urgency that this moment demands," said President Obama.

Obama will visit the Caterpillar plant in Peoria, Ill., tomorrow during a visit to his former home state, where he'll also attend ceremonies honoring the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth.

Amending the Constitution

A bipartisan group of members in the House and Senate have had enough with gubernatorial appointments to fill vacant Senate seats. With two senators elected to the White House and three nominated to the president's cabinet, there will soon be five Senate appointments in the last month.

House Rules Committee Ranking Member David Dreier (R-Calif.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) are leading the push in the House for a constitutional amendment that would force all Senate vacancies to be filled by special election. Leading the effort in the Senate is Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.).

Dreier and Feingold introduced identical bills in their respective chambers calling for a 28th Amendment to the Constitution. If agreed to, it would read:

No person shall be a Senator from a State unless such person has been elected by the people thereof. When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies.

At a press conference today, Dreier said he believed Senate vacancies were "merely an afterthought" when the 17th Amendment was written and adopted in 1913. Feingold added: "Enough is enough. It's time to place the the hands of the people."

LaHood Confident More Republicans Will Vote For Stimulus

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said this afternoon that he's confident the final stimulus bill will see more support from House Republicans than it did in the initial round of voting.

"They know the importance of this," said LaHood, a former Republican congressman and one of three Republicans in Obama's Cabinet. "They're concerned about the process, the way the bill was put together. But I've not heard one criticism from my friends on the Republican side that this piece of it - they all like it."

He was referring to funding for infrastructure projects, which he said both Democrats and Republicans see as guaranteed job-creators. The secretary was joined by several state directors of transportation who are very eager to see an influx of cash to help jumpstart various projects, many of which have been shelved in tough economic times.

"We are very anxious and very thankful for those kinds of dollars," said Allen Biehler, Pennsylvania's transportation secretary. He expects a billion dollars in federal funds, which he said represents a 75 percent increase in the department's yearly budget.

LaHood and the state officials said they were confident the funds would be spent wisely; a national association of state transportation officials will work with the White House to ensure transparency, they said.

As for the final vote, LaHood doesn't see himself lobbying his former colleagues.

"If I was selected by the president to help them get votes, my job will probably not last very long. I haven't been too successful so far," he said.

Gov. Jindal Will Give GOP Rebuttal

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) will give the Republican address to the nation following President Obama's speech to a joint session of Congress on February 24. Republican congressional leaders Mitch McConnell and John Boehner announced the decision today.

"Gov. Jindal's leadership during a time of recovery in Louisiana, his commitment to real government reform, and his protection of hardworking American families make him an excellent choice to offer Republican solutions for the challenges which lay ahead," McConnell said in a press release.

Jindal is a former member of Congress who was elected governor in 2007. There was speculation that John McCain considered him as a running mate last year, and many believe Jindal could run for president in 2012.

Obama Shifts Focus From Passage To Implementation Of Stimulus

With Congress nearing final approval of the stimulus bill, President Obama began looking ahead to its implementation, promising unprecedented oversight and transparency of the "enormous" plan, while also taking personal responsibility for the results.

"There are those who express the opinion that we won't be able to do it, who say that this plan's too big to be implemented effectively and efficiently," Obama said in Springfield this morning. "I understand these concerns, but I'm confident that we can do things differently and better. As president I expect to be judged, and should be judged by the results of this program."

The president left Washington again in his public sales job, today heading to a construction sight in nearby Springfield Virginia. After focusing on unemployment and home foreclosures in Indiana and Florida, respectively, Obama joined Gov. Tim Kaine, his new DNC chairman, to promote the importance of infrastructure in his plan. Infrastructure funding would provide not just short-term construction jobs, but make it easier for a growing population to expand business development.

"We're surrounded by unmet needs and unfinished business in our schools, in our roads, in the systems we employ to treat the sick, and the energy we use to power our homes. And that's the core of my plan, putting people to work doing the work that America needs done," he said.

He also talked about the consequences of not acting - recalling the Minneapolis bridge collapse and flooding of New Orleans, but also talking about the daily struggles of longer commutes, stunted growth, and even "money wasted on fuel that's burned in worsening traffic."

Gone, though, was talk of inheriting the current crisis and warnings about potential catastrophe. Instead he promised that "every tax dollar is spent wisely and on its intended purpose."

"We're going to hold the federal government to new standards of accountability," he said.

Rangel Investigation Continues

The Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, otherwise known as the House ethics committee, announced yesterday that an investigative subcommittee has been reauthorized in the 111th Congress to look into potential impropriety by Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.).

More than a month into the new session, the reorganized committee -- with new leadership -- will begin again to look at Rangel's ethical issues, which we recently reported on here. Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in November that the report would be completed by the close of the 110th Congress, which was January 3.

The investigation remains incomplete, and Rangel still chairs the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, much to the chagrin of House Republicans. Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) introduced a privileged resolution that would have forced Rangel to step down from Ways and Means until the ethics committee completed its report. The House voted last night to table it, however -- thereby killing it.

Carter, the Republican Conference Secretary, said yesterday that he was not out on a witch hunt for corrupt politicians, but rather he was attempting to save the good name of Congress.

"It worries me that the public perceives a body made up of hard-working men and women on both sides of the aisle in such a negative light," Carter said. "Mr. Rangel has many issues hanging out there and still is in charge of writing the tax laws in this country as chair of the House committee."

When asked at a press conference before the vote, Carter said no Democrats had told him privately that they support his efforts. None supported him publicly either, as almost all Democrats voted to table the bill, and those that didn't voted "present." Almost all Republicans voted to consider Carter's resolution.

Strategy Memo: Done Deal?

Good morning, Washington. The Senate passed an $838 billion stimulus bill yesterday and immediately entered into negotiations with the House on a compromise package to send to President Obama. The progress of late night negotiations has reportedly caused lawmakers and White House officials to be "cautiously optimistic" that a deal could be passed as early as today.

Obama makes a much shorter trip today to pitch the stimulus plan, joining Gov. Tim Kaine at a construction site in Springfield, Va., to demonstrate how the legislation will create jobs. He'll then return to the White House, where he'll meet with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

Vice President Joe Biden heads a bit north to Pennsylvania, where he'll be joined by Gov. Ed Rendell to discuss the need to invest in infrastructure. Rendell is chair of the National Governors Association, and had chosen infrastructure as his yearly theme. Michelle Obama will be part of a panel discussion on African American History Month at Howard University.

Here's what else we're looking at today...

*Senate and House negotiators may be closing in on an $800 billion stimulus plan, CNN reports. "Details are starting to emerge on the blending of House and Senate versions of the stimulus package. Two senior Democratic sources said negotiators had agreed on a top line number of $800 billion, but later one of those sources said the number could be even less."

*Politico: "Scaling the package back to $790 billion to $800 billion with the goal of still generating 3.5 million jobs is part of the discussions. One option would be to reduce Obama's signature 'Making Work Pay' tax break to $400 for individuals and $800 for couples--down from $500 and $1000 respectively."

*David Broder interviewed Vice President Biden as the bill passed. He said he understands why many Republicans might want to "wait and see what is in the final version" rather than be "the first to jump in the pool." But he said he thinks that "there are a couple dozen [Republicans] who would not have voted no if their votes had decided" the fate of the legislation.

*WSJ: The stock market reacted negatively to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner's rollout of a new TARP program. "The lack of detail in his much-anticipated speech helped drive stocks down nearly 5%, the worst selloff since President Barack Obama assumed office." Geithner told CNBC: "As you know, this is enormously complicated. We're being exceptionally careful that the taxpayer is being protected, that we're taking risks we understand, and that we're using these resources in a way that's going to give the maximum benefit in getting these markets going again."

**President Obama
*Chris Cillizza says a new name is in the mix for HHS, and it's a Dean - Lloyd Dean. He heads Catholic Healthcare West, a non-profit health provider based in northern California.

*Five presidents were tested by Gallup for the best ever, and here is how they finished: Reagan (24%), Kennedy (22%), Lincoln (22%), FDR (18%), Washington (9%).

*Politico publishes the results of its survey of all 99 sitting senators' tax records. Offices were asked who prepares taxes, whether the IRS ever discovered errors, and if they've had to pay back taxes. 56 responded.

**Campaign Stuff
*John McCain e-mailed supporters last night to say: "I want you to know that I do intend to seek re-election. The magnitude of the financial crisis that many American families are facing makes it clear to me that I want to continue to serve our country in the Senate." He said he anticipates "a tough re-election challenge."

*His former running mate, Sarah Palin, has turned down an invitation to be the Monday headliner for the CPAC conference, with a spokesperson saying she had to focus on Alaska's legislative session. Meanwhile, Alaska Atty. Gen. Talis Colberg resigned Tuesday "as bad blood boils" between Palin and state legislators over Troopergate. "Colberg was under intense pressure from state legislators of both parties. They were furious at his attempt to quash legislative subpoenas in last fall's investigation of whether Palin abused her power and pressed for the firing of an Alaska State Trooper who was her former brother-in-law." Palin says: "It is a harsh political environment right now."

*Illinois Treas. Alexi Giannoulias looks like he'll challenge Sen. Roland Burris in the Democratic primary in March 2010, The Hill reports.

*VA Gov: On Saturday, Washington Post looked at Terry McAuliffe, and that he "has to determine how to unleash such a powerful political weapon" in Bill Clinton. Today, WaPo looks at Brian Moran, whose congressman brother, Jim Moran, could either be a "boon or bane" in Virginia.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

An Overlooked Anniversary

It was two years ago today that Barack Obama stood in front of the Old Statehouse in Springfield, Ill., to announce his candidacy for president of the United States. Yet you wouldn't know it at the White House, where aides say the anniversary is going without any significant recognition.

"The celebration was in Fort Myers, where the president was fighting for a stimulus package," said deputy press secretary Bill Burton.

Several of the Obama staffers who were part of the small team freezing outside on that February day now find themselves in the White House - a tribute to the rare continuity that the campaign enjoyed.

"Two years ago the Internet didn't work. Not much has changed," joked Jen Psaki, part of the initial campaign communication staff and now also a deputy White House press secretary today (the White House e-mail system has had the occasional glitch).

Considering how the economy is dominating his administration in the early going, it's notable that he used the word "economy" just three times in that announcement speech. Of course, the Dow was at above 12,500 at the time. But the first reference to it came during a portion of the speech about personal responsibility, which was a major theme of his inaugural address.

"Each of us, in our own lives, will have to accept responsibility - for instilling an ethic of achievement in our children, for adapting to a more competitive economy, for strengthening our communities, and sharing some measure of sacrifice," he said then.

Obama will return to Springfield on Thursday to mark a more significant milestone - the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln.

Obama's announcement speech is after the jump.

Obama's Praise For Crist

President Obama offered strong praise for Florida's ambitious Republican governor today, as he thanked Charlie Crist for supporting his recovery plan.

"The thing about governors is, they understand our economic crisis in a way that maybe sometimes folks a little more removed don't understand," Obama said. "Governor Crist shares my conviction that creating jobs and turning this economy around is a mission that transcends party. And when the town is burning, you don't check party labels. Everyone needs to grab a hose."

Crist, introducing the president, said the debate over the stimulus was "not about partisan politics" but "rising above that, helping America, and reigniting our economy." His support is noteworthy at a time when most Republicans in Washington and beyond have roundly criticized the plan, including John McCain, who Crist strongly supported in the 2008 primary and general election.

Crist, who is apparently taking a second look at the U.S. Senate race (at the urging of Washington Republicans) but at the very least will seek a second term, could use Obama's words to help him in two years. But a Democratic operative in the state isn't concerned.

"If Crist wants to give political cover to every Democrat across the country on this, who am I to stand in the way?"

Obama Subtly Reverses His Reversal

At his town hall meeting in Fort Myers today, President Obama tweaked a line in his opening remarks that had raised some eyebrows yesterday, in which he said that without action the economy could reach a crisis point that we "may be unable to reverse."

"Economists from across the spectrum have warned that if we don't act immediately, that millions more jobs will disappear," he said today. "National unemployment rates will approach double digits. More people will lose their homes and their health care. And our nation will sink into a crisis that, at some point, is going to be that much tougher to reverse."

The initial statement, from the town hall in Elkhart, Ind., suggested that the economy could reach a tipping point from which it could not overcome. It was the subject of the very first question he faced at last night's press conference, when the president was asked if he risked "losing some credibility or even talking down the economy by using dire language like that."

Obama's new language today was not quite as severe, and suggested only that the crisis would be prolonged, not permanent. But otherwise Obama's message was just as urgent to Congress, which will now work to bridge the divide between House and Senate versions of the stimulus bill.

"We've got a little more work to do," Obama said after announcing during the event that the Senate had approved the bill. And reinforcing his new tack to bring public pressure to bear, he joked that it only passed "because they knew I was coming down to Fort Myers, they didn't want to mess with the people of Fort Myers."

Even as Obama has been trying to raise the stakes for lawmakers to act, he also acknowledged his own political fortunes would depend on the success or failure of the plan.

"If it turns out that a few years from now people don't feel like the ecomomy's turned around ... then you guys won't applaud me next time I come down here," Obama said. "I'm not going to make any excuses. If stuff hasn't worked, if people don't feel like I've led the country in the right direction, then you'll have a new president."

The crowd, though, seemed largely supportive. And Obama made a very personal connection at one point, reaching in to embrace a woman who appealed to the president for help.

"We're going to do everything we can to help you," he said to the woman, who identified herself as Henrietta Hughes. "There are a lot of people like you."

Stimulus Bill Heads To Conference

The Senate agreed today to the $838 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, with three Republicans crossing over to help Democrats pass the bill. The measure passed on a 61-37 roll call vote after agreeing to the compromise amendment, sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), by an identical vote tally.

Collins was joined in supporting the bill by fellow Republicans Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Arlen Specter (Pa.). Every other Republican voted against the bill and every Democrat voted for it.

The Senate and House must now meet in conference to hash out the differences between their two bills. A delicate balance in the negotiations exists: The Senate compromise got rid of certain spending measures that House Democrats were adamant about including; had they been included, it was unlikely the three Republicans would have supported the bill, thereby killing it.

If included in the final bill, there is a risk that the three Republican senators will withdraw their support. Will House Democrats support a bill that doesn't include these spending measures?

"It's a very tight calculus that Senator Reid has to confront," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said this morning. "Are we worried about that? Yes. Is the White House worried about that? Yes. Will we all be working toward ensuring we have a bill that has 60 votes in the Senate? Yes."

The Senate conferees were announced just after the final vote. They will be: Democrats Daniel Inouye (Hawaii), Max Baucus (Mont.), Harry Reid (Nev.); and Republicans Thad Cochran (Miss.) and Chuck Grassley (Iowa).

Hoyer said that the House conferees will be announced this afternoon, and that he expects the conference to begin immediately. He also noted that the timeline for finishing the bill is whenever they finish, not this Friday, as had been the goal so members could go home for the week-long Presidents Day recess.

UPDATE: The House conferees were announced on the House floor this afternoon. They are: Democrats David Obey (Wisc.), Charles Rangel (N.Y.), Henry Waxman (Calif.); and Republicans Dave Camp (Mich.) and Jerry Lewis (Calif.).

Strategy Memo: Stimulus Vote, Take 2

Good Tuesday morning, Washington and beyond.

The Senate is expected to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 today, with three Republicans likely to cross over and support the economic stimulus bill. On a 61-36 roll call vote late yesterday afternoon, the chamber voted to end debate and bring the $838 billion bill up for a final vote, which is expected at noon.

The final tally today will likely be close to yesterday's vote, which was just enough to avoid a potential legislative maneuver by Republicans to block the bill's progression. Following the vote, the Senate and House, which passed its bill two weeks ago with no Republican support, will then send their separate versions of the bill to a conference, where one package will eventually emerge for President Obama to sign.

For leverage, both parties have been angling their positions -- for or against the bill -- as the will of the people, and Obama's news conference on primetime national television was his biggest stage yet in selling it. And really, he's only just started to make the case to the American people, after working earlier to sell it just to lawmakers in Washington.

"He's by far and away our best weapon explaining directly to the American people the Recovery and Reinvestment Plan that he wants to see get through Congress," press secretary Robert Gibbs said this morning.

Monday's town hall in Indiana and East Room press conference appeared to go well, and today Obama gets to further burnish his case in Florida with another public event that will also feature Gov. Charlie Crist, one of the most popular Republicans in the country. With new polling that shows Obama remains popular despite early hiccups, the administration is more confident that Republicans will feel pressure to provide more votes for final passage than their initial public display.

Click through to check out what news articles are driving the day...

**Economic Stimulus
*With 58 Democrat or Independent members, Democrats needed needed its entire caucus to vote yesterday and today. "The bill cleared the 60-vote requirement to proceed with one to spare, and one of those "aye" votes came from ailing Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). Kennedy, who has been undergoing treatment for brain cancer since being diagnosed with the disease nine months ago, was last seen in the Capitol on Inauguration Day," per the Washington Post.

*WaPo's Kurtz looks at Obama's first press conference and notes that he "made a bit of history by calling on the first blogger at such a session, Sam Stein of the liberal Huffington Post."

**Financial Bailout
*Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner "is expected at 11 a.m. to announce sweeping changes to the government's much-criticized $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as TARP. The government has already given out $387.4 billion of those funds, largely under the direction of Geithner's predecessor, Henry Paulson," ABC News reports.

*The plan was hashed out in the White House following "spirited internal debate," the New York Times reports. "In the end, Mr. Geithner largely prevailed in opposing tougher conditions on financial institutions that were sought by presidential aides, including David Axelrod, a senior adviser to the president, according to administration and Congressional officials."

**Obama Press Conference
*According to Towson University presidential historian Martha Kumar, Obama held a prime time press conference arlier than any president in history, beating Richard Nixon by almost a month. Now, he needs to hold 31 more to
pass Ronald Reagan for total number of East Room get togethers with the White House press corps.

*NBC's Brokaw: "Barack Obama still knows how to campaign."

*New York Times' Herbert says Obama is "like a championship chess player, always several moves ahead of friend and foe alike." More: "There is always a tendency to underestimate Barack Obama. We are inclined in the news media to hyperventilate over every political or policy setback, no matter how silly or insignificant, while Mr. Obama has shown again and again that he takes a longer view."

*Politico: Obama painted "an extraordinarily bleak picture of America's future if Congress fails to move quickly to pass stimulus legislation."

**Campaign Alerts
*PA Senate: Joseph Torsella, "the politically wired founding chief executive of the National Constitution Center," became the first candidate to announce his candidacy in the Pennsylvania Senate race yesterday. In 2004, he lost a primary to now-Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who also is considering a Senate bid in 2010.

*Ohio Senate: Ohio Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher formed an exploratory committee to run for U.S. Senate in 2010. He may face a primary for the Democratic nomination; Republican Rob Portman is already running.

*CA Gov: And in what will be a high-profile race to succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger, ex-Ebay CEO Meg Whitman made it official. She'll face Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner in the GOP primary; both have "vast personal wealth" and can spend "tens of millions apiece on the race." A long list of Democrats are also interested in the race, including, perhaps, Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

*NY-20: NPR's Ken Rudin looks at the special election for the vacant seat, the date of which has not yet been announced. The Republican district was represented by Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand from her election in 2006 until last month, when she was appointed to the Senate.

*Interesting dynamic in the Tennessee Legislature, where Republicans won the majority (50-49) in the House for the first time in 140 years. However, GOP Speaker Kent Williams was thrown out of the Republican Party yesterday after teaming up with Democrats to vote against the GOP's nominee for speaker and electing himself speaker instead. Williams also voted for the Democrats' speaker pro tem nominee.

Williams said that state GOP Chairman Robin Smith told him this shortly after his vote: "Congratulations, Speaker; it's hard to kill the devil, but in two years you're a dead man."

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Obama Meets the Press

Much has been made about President Obama's initial displays of bipartisanship, and his subsequent return to the rhetoric of the campaign trail. In his first press conference last night, it seemed clearer that in his view, the two approaches are not contradictory - that two different philosophies of government should not preclude the nation's leaders from quick action.

Obama's own philosophy was made clear in his opening statement, as he declared that "it is only government that can break the vicious cycle" the nation finds itself in, and furthermore that "tax cuts alone can't solve all of our economic problems." His recovery plan is not perfect, he said, but it's "of sufficient size and scope" to have the kind of impact he desires.

"That wasn't just some random number that I plucked out of a hat," he said of the $800 billion price tag.

He reminded Americans of the "series of overtures" that he made to the Republican parties, including his "unprecedented" appointment of three Cabinet members. These moves "were not designed simply to get some short-term votes," but "to build up some trust," the president said.

"And I think that as I continue to make these overtures, over time hopefully that will be reciprocated," he added.

He said his tone in the negotiations has been "consistently civil and respectful," acknowledging that there would be disagreements. Some would be natural and acceptable, but he indicated frustration at what he saw as simply untenable entrenchment of some in the GOP.

"We can differ on some of the particulars, but again, the question I think the American people are asking is, do you just want government to do nothing, or do you want it to do something? If you want it to do something, then we can have a conversation. But doing nothing, that's not an option from my perspective," he said.

Obama's delivery was confident. And so is his team, which had trumpeted earlier in the day new findings from a Gallup poll that found that most Americans support Obama's handling of the recovery plan (even if they don't support the plan itself), and still view Republicans unfavorably.

Even more troubling than what he portrayed as an extreme view on the role of government was the "language" that has been used in the debate, with some suggesting the recovery plan is loaded with pork and government spending.

"When I hear that from folks who presided over a doubling of the national debt, then I just want them to not engage in some revisionist history. I inherited the deficit that we have right now, and the economic crisis that we have right now," he said.

These kinds of statements are symptomatic of the Washington Obama said he's hopeful he can still change, not just for the sake of his administration but for people like those he spoke to earlier Monday in Indiana.

"We're coming off an election and I think people want to sort of test the limits of what they can get," he said. "There's a lot of jockeying in this town and a lot of who's up and who's down and positioning for the next election. And what I've tried to suggest is that this is one of those times where we've got to put that kind of behavior aside, because the American people can't afford it. The people in Elkhart can't afford it."

Obama has described himself as a pragmatic progressive, a theme he also voiced tonight.

"My whole goal over the next four years is to make sure that whatever arguments are persuasive and backed up by evidence and facts and proof that they can work, that we are pulling people together around that kind of pragmatic agenda," he said. "I think that there was an opportunity to do this with this recovery package because as I said, although there are some politicians who are arguing that we don't need a stimulus, there are very few economists who are making that argument."

He then said he was "the eternal optimist," that the "ideological blockage' could be cleared up.

"I think that over time people respond to civility and rational argument. I think that's what the people of Elkhart and people around America are looking for. And that's what I'm -- that's the kind of leadership I'm going to try to provide," he said.

Obama Press Conference -- First Thoughts

Some quick thoughts after leaving the East Room tonight after President Obama's first prime-time news conference:

  • The president took questions for more than 50 minutes after his opening statement. It's probably the longest extended Q&A he's had. During the transition he would take only three or four questions at press conferences, and during the campaign few more.
  • He called on the following news orgs: AP, Reuters, CBS, NBC, Bloomberg, ABC, CNN, the New York Times, Fox, the Washington Post, Helen Thomas, Huffington Post, and NPR - 13 questions.
  • The questions were aimed mostly at the stimulus or TARP (5 questions), foreign policy (3), bipartisanship and lessons learned (2), Joe Biden (1), Alex Rodriguez (1), investigating the Bush administration (1).
  • His early answers tended to be quite long, speeding things up as the press conference went on.
  • Theme: After spending the first two weeks of his presidency in Washington, DC, Obama clearly is seeking new momentum in the stimulus fight by returning to his Washington outsider roots. He mentioned the town of Elkhart at least a half dozen times to reinforce the idea that while Washington and the media focus on the Congressional sausage-making, ordinary Americans just want quick action.
  • Notable Quotes: Called this no "run of the mill recession." Says he did not come into office just to be able to spend a trillion dollars. Criticized Republicans who have even argued - as Mitch McConnell did on the Senate floor - that the New Deal policies did not work, saying they seem to be fighting battles "I thought were resolved a long time ago."
  • Balanced some of his attacks on Republicans by noting the "unprecedented" number of Republicans in his Cabinet, and said he hopes his overtures toward the GOP "will be reciprocated." Joked that perhaps he should have called for no tax cuts just to let Republicans take credit for them. Even hits fellow Democrats who have been "resistant to reform."
  • Obama said his benchmark for judging whether the stimulus plan was working would be whether it has created or saved 4 million jobs. That would seem an easy one for Republicans to use as ammunition if he fails to reach that target in two or four years, but it's also difficult to determine whether you have "saved" a job.
  • Is it just me or did he really throw his vice president under the bus? He claimed not to remember Biden saying there was a 30 percent chance the plan could fail, and couldn't say he knew what he meant. Even laughed as he answered the question.

In short, no major mistakes. He was able to stick largely on message, and wasn't thrown off his game.

On Houses And Hannity

Returning to a city that he had visited during the campaign, President Obama made reference, seemingly unintentionally, to what was once a hot topic in the 2008 race - his opponent's multiple homes.

Asked a question about mortgage foreclosures, Obama promised that his administration would unveil "a series of plans" to help homeowners. "We're going to be doing a lot on this," he said.

One potential provision he supports, he said, would end a plan that helps people who go into bankruptcy, even if they have "a second home or a third home or a fourth home or a fifth home." The crowd laughed at the notion. Someone with one house who goes into bankruptcy could not see their mortgage terms modified, however. "Now that makes no sense," Obama said, saying he includes himself in the latter category.

"Keep in mind, the house I'm in in DC, I'm just borrowing that - that's the people's house," he said. "I'm a guest in Washington in the people's house. My house is on the South Side of Chicago, that I own."

The issue of John McCain's multiple homes became a popular talking point in late August when the Arizona senator could not immediately identify just how many he owned. "If you're like me, and you got one house, or you are like the millions of people who are struggling right now to keep up with their mortgage so they don't lose their home, then you might have a different perspective," Obama said at one event in Virginia after the story broke.

Another light moment came when President Obama was asked about having a beer with conservative talk show host Sean Hannity. The president said he was unaware of the offer, but would "take it under advisement.

"Generally his opinion of me does not seem to be very high," he said. "But I'm always good for a beer."

Obama: Without Action Soon, America May Not Reverse Crisis

Admitting that the stimulus bill is not perfect, President Obama made an urgent appeal for the passage of the plan at a town hall meeting in Indiana this afternoon and said that if not addressed soon, the economic crisis may be irreversible.

Obama took to the stage in Elkhart six months after visiting the town during the presidential campaign, returning, he said, to show that he intended to keep his promises. And he argued that through the election, Americans had sided with him in supporting the kinds of ideas the recovery plan would put to action.

"We can't posture and bicker and resort to the same failed ideas that got us into this mess in the first place - that was what this election was all about," he said. "The American people rejected those ideas because they hadn't worked. You didn't send us to Washington because you were hoping for more of the same. You sent us there to change things. The expectation that we would act quickly and boldly to carry out change - and that is exactly what I intend to do as President of the United States of America."

In his opening remarks, Obama tried to change what he said were some misconceptions about the plan by listing specific provisions of the bill. He flatly denied a claim that the legislation would boost government and not private-sector employment, and also repeated his contention that there were no earmarks. And he offered another stark warning about what would happen if lawmakers failed to act, saying that the nation could "sink into a crisis that, at some point, we may be unable to reverse."

"Now let me be clear: I'm not going to tell you that this bill is perfect," he said. After all, it is "coming out of Washington." But he said it is the "right size" and "scope" and would set the stage for future growth.

"I can't tell you with a hundred percent certainty that every single item in this plan will work exactly as we hope. But what I can tell you is, I can tell you with complete confidence that endless delay or paralysis in Washington in the face of this crisis will only bring deepening disaster."

During the Q&A session, Obama was put on the defensive when asked about the tax problems of some administration appointees. Some in the crowd booed the questioner, but the president defended it as a legitimate criticism. He did say that he thought the problems were "honest mistakes," and sought credit for admitting his own mistake, something he said you "sometimes don't hear from politicians."

"One of the things I've discovered is, if you're not going to appoint anybody who's ever made a mistake in you life, then you're not going to have anybody taking their jobs," he said. He also pointed to the "very high bar" he has set in terms of ethics rules for his administration.

Obama returns now to the White House, where he'll hold his first prime-time press conference. Tomorrow he'll hold a similar event in Fort Myers, Fla., and then another in Peoria, Ill., on Thursday.

Crist Joining Obama In Florida Tomorrow

An interesting announcement from the White House: Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, a Republican who was considered a top candidate to be John McCain's running mate last year, will join President Obama for a town hall meeting in Fort Myers tomorrow. Crist remains very popular in the Sunshine State despite the poor economy, with a recent survey pegging his approval rating at 73 percent.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, also a Republican, is not with the president today in Elkhart, and Republican Sen. Lugar declined in invitation to fly on Air Force One to the event. Crist is reportedly considering a bid for the U.S. Senate in 2010, though it's considered more likely he'll seek a second term instead (and perhaps keep his options open for 2012). Here's Crist's statement from the White House release:

Florida has taken prudent steps to cut taxes for our people and balance our budget in these increasingly difficult times. Any attempts at federal stimulus must prioritize job creation and targeted tax relief for small business owners. I am eager to welcome President Obama to the Sunshine State as he continues to work hard to reignite the US economy.

Obama Advisers Claim Strong Support For Stimulus

Some insight from Air Force One as President Obama is set to take his economic stimulus plan on the road in Indiana. Press secretary Robert Gibbs did not indicate any preference on the part of the White House for the Senate or House version of the stimulus bill, saying he'd leave it to members of Congress to hash out final details.

Meanwhile, senior adviser David Axelrod told reporters on the flight that the administration was confident that there's still "strong support" for the plans, citing a new Gallup poll.

"One thing that we learned over two years is that there's a whole different conversation in Washington than there is out here," Axelrod said. "If I had listened to the conversation in Washington during the campaign for president, I would have jumped off a building about a year and a half ago."

Gibbs also pointed to a disconnect between Main Street and the "myopic view in Washington" and the chatter on cable news. "There's a conventional wisdom to what's going on in America via Washington, and there's the reality of what's happening in America," he said.

Obama also briefly stopped in the press cabin, but did not take any policy questions, according to a pool report. He did say that the Obama family had a "great time" at Camp David this weekend, and that he "hit a few golf balls" and played basketball at the presidential retreat.

Dems Targeting Stimulus Opposers

While the Senate moves toward a vote tomorrow on the economic stimulus bill, House members are being assailed for the votes they placed almost two weeks ago. The Democrats' House campaign fundraising arm this week is moving against specific Republicans who opposed the measure by running automated phone calls in seven freshman members' districts.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also ran radio ads in 28 GOP districts, including the seven freshman districts, last week. Republicans have simultaneously targeted Democrats who voted for the bill, as both parties attempt to gain the upperhand on the controversial legislation.

"Hardworking Americans can't afford to wait for Republicans to get off the sidelines and start getting serious about working with us on the economic recovery package," said DCCC executive director Brian Wolff. "We will continue to go district by district to hold Republicans who continue to vote in lockstep with party leaders and against the folks in their districts accountable."

Those receiving phone calls in the seven districts will hear this:

Hello, I'm calling on behalf of the DCCC with an important message about the economy.

Did you know [insert Congressman name] voted against economic recovery that would immediately create and save nearly 330,000 Florida jobs?

Times are tough, tell [Congressman name] to put families before politics.

Check out to learn more.

Paid for by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, 202-741-1350, not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee.

All but one of the seven members -- Reps. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), John Fleming (R-La.), Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.), Leonard Lance (R-N.J.), Christopher Lee (R-N.Y.), Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-Mo.), Tom Rooney (R-Fla.) -- won in November with 55 percent of the vote or less. Only Rooney, who won back a GOP district after one term of Democratic control, defeated his opponent with a higher percentage of the vote (60 percent).

Strategy Memo: Traveling Salesmen

Good morning, Washington. A spring-like weekend gives way to another very busy week. It starts with President Obama trekking again away from the White House with a visit to Elkhart, Ind., to sell his stimulus bill. Tonight he holds his first press conference in prime time. The "Jobs Squad," the centrist senators who forged the compromise, have taken to selling it in the press. Here's what we're watching.

**Economic Stimululs
*The Senate's vote on the slimmed down $827 billion stimulus bill is expected to take place Tuesday, with the necessary votes. "After cutting deals Friday with three moderate Republicans to pare the cost of the package, Senate Democrats, who control the chamber with a 58-41 majority, are confident of attracting the 60 votes needed to close off debate Monday," the WSJ reports.

*Washington Post, on the GOP's newfound optimism: "Three months after their Election Day drubbing, Republican leaders see glimmers of rebirth in the party's liberation from an unpopular president, its selection of its first African American chairman and, most of all, its stand against a stimulus package that they are increasingly confident will provide little economic jolt but will pay off politically for those who oppose it."

*Although Republicans have touted poll numbers in their arguments against the stimulus and Democrats, the latest Gallup poll finds that the people may not be as behind them as they've said. Obama received a 67%-25% approval-disapproval rating for his handling of the economic stimulus bill. Democrats in Congress were 48%-42%, while Republicans were a dismal 31%-58%.

*Of course, there are political risks for both parties. "The risks for Obama are considerable. He and the Democrats will have no one else to blame if the package fails to boost the economy," Politico's Martin and Raju write. "Still seeking a way forward from their Election Day thumping, [Republicans] risk appearing out of touch as the unemployment rate jumps to 7.6 percent and a popular new president is appearing to seek their support to address the crisis.

*Arlen Specter, one of the moderates who forged a compromise, lays out his support in the Washington Post, arguing as Obama has that the country couldn't afford any delay. "The unemployment figures announced Friday, the latest earnings reports and the continuing crisis in banking make it clear that failure to act will leave the United States facing a far deeper crisis in three or six months. By then the cost of action will be much greater -- or it may be too late."

**President Obama
*Obama is taking his case for the stimulus on the road, traveling to Indiana today -- where he'll hold a town hall before tonight's primetime news conference at the White House -- and Florida tomorrow. "In both states, he will be working to counter Republican criticism of his $800 billion recovery package and take greater control of the debate," reports the New York Times.

*The Indianapolis Star looks at Elkhart's plight; it leads the nation in unemployment largely because the recreational vehicle industry, long the backbone of Elkhart's economy, "is in a deep funk." Democratic Mayor Dick Moore "is chomping at the bit to move on Obama's stimulus package."

*Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who had taken herself out of consideration for a Cabinet selection, now seems to be a top choice to be the HHS secretary. Polling sponsored by the Daily Kos had shown her with early leads in a potential 2010 Senate race, though she had not reached 50 percent against two potential rivals for the open seat.

*Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner will announce a new approach to addressing the financial industry crisis Tuesday, one that may not require that much new money. Bloomberg: "They include a new round of injections of taxpayer funds into banks, targeted at firms identified by regulators as most in need of new capital, people briefed on the matter said. A Federal Reserve program designed to spur consumer and small-business loans will be expanded, possibly to include real-estate assets, they said."

*Vice President Joe Biden made a major speech this weekend, signaling to the world that the Obama administration is "determined to set a new tone in Washington, and in America's relations around the world." He said that the U.S. is open to talks with Iran, and wants to press the "reset button" in ties with Russia.

**Republicans: New RNC chair Michael Steele appeared on "This Week," and was hit with questions raised in the Washington Post about payments made to his sister's company when he ran for the Senate in 2006. "It's all false," Steele said. "I want to clear my good name. ... This is not the way I intend to run the RNC with this over my head. We're going to dispense with it immediately."

**Technology Alert: A warning to those techno-savvy lawmakers showing off on Twitter. Rep. Peter Hoekstra, the ranking member on Intelligence, broke an embargo by announcing his arrival in Iraq through the web site. "Nobody expected ... that a lawmaker with such an extensive national security background would be the first to break the silence. And in such a big way. Not only did Hoekstra reveal the existence of the lawmakers' trip, but included details about their itinerary in updates posted every few hours."

-- Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Using The Press Room To Send A Message

Robert Gibbs used his podium today to indirectly target some lawmakers who could provide crucial votes on the president's stimulus plan.

At his afternoon briefing, the press secretary rattled off a list of facts and figures to highlight the severity of the economic crisis, saying that the numbers signal "quite clearly that our economy is getting more sick, that the job market is getting worse, and it is accelerating quickly."

He then might as well have singled out the senators by name, as he explained the "numbers behind those numbers."

To Senators Olympia Snow and Susan Collins: "Last month the economy lost 598,000 jobs. That is the equivalent of losing every job in the state of Maine."

To Senators Arlen Specter and George Voinovich: "In the past two months, the economy lost 1.2 million jobs. That's basically losing every job in Pittsburgh or Cleveland."

To Senators Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham: "In the past three months, the economy has lost 1.8 million jobs, as I said. That's the equivalent of losing every job in Connecticut or South Carolina."

And to Senators David Vitter and Mary Landrieu: "In the past four months the economy has lost 2.2 million jobs, which is basically losing every job in the state of Louisiana."

Gibbs also announced that the president tends to use his own bully pulpit to take his message "directly to the American people about what he thinks is at stake." He'll stop in Elkart, Ind., and Fort Myers, Fla. But these locations were likely chosen more because of their economic straits than to sway any specific lawmaker.

"I think going directly to where the problems seem even more acute are important to the president and important in his effort to convince Congress to move swiftly," Gibbs said.

It's just the latest example of how the White House has taken even more to a campaign-style posture in an effort to regain momentum in the stimulus battle.

"Sounds like the good old days, doesn't it?" Gibbs joked.

More on the president's stepped up travel plans later.

Gallup: Obama Weathering Appointment Issues

President Obama appears to be weathering several early setbacks in his administration, with a majority of Americans saying they actually have more confidence in his ability to manage the economy and government today than they did upon taking office, a new Gallup survey shows.

Americans also seem to be cutting the new president some slack despite high-profile problems with administration appointments this week, most notably Tom Daschle withdrawing his nomination as HHS Secretary. By a nearly two-to-one margin, Americans say that the issues were just a normal part of a new administration's transition, as compared to those who say there have been more problems than are typical with this president.

The survey was conducted on Wednesday, the day after the Daschle news broke. The survey included 1,012 adults with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 points.

Thinking back to the way you felt before Barack Obama took office, would you say how you now have more confidence, has there been no change, or do you know have less confidence in the Obama administration's ...

(More confidence/No Change/Less Confidence/No Opinion)
Ability to improve economy       55 / 25 / 17 / 2
Ability to manage fed govt       51 / 27 / 18 / 3
Ethical standards                50 / 29 / 19 / 3

As you may know, in addition to Tom Daschle, some of Obama's other nominees have generated controversy. Which comes closer to your view: these controversies are just a normal part of the process of filling high level government positions in any new administration, or the Obama administration appears to be having more problems filling high government positions than is typical for new administrations?

(Normal Part / More Than Typical / No Opinion)
58 / 29 / 12

Obama: New Job Numbers Demand Action On Recovery Plan

President Obama said today that new unemployment figures "demand action" by Congress on his economic recovery plan, and he called it "inexcusable and irresponsible for any of us to get bogged down in distraction, delay and politics" while Americans lose their jobs.

"We have to remember that we're here to work for the American people," he said, repeating a message he brought to fellow Democrats last night at the House retreat in Virginia. "If we drag our feet and fail to act, this crisis could turn into a catastrophe. We'll continue to get devastating job reports like today's - month after month, year after year."

Referring again to last fall's election, he said Americans "did not send us to Washington to get stuck in partisan posturing, to try to score political points." Instead, he said, they "sent us here to make change, with the expectation we would act."

Interestingly, the president's prepared remarks called for him to say that he was sent "with a mandate for change." Though it could have been unintended - he ad libbed occasionally during the speech - the deviation was noteworthy since he has never used the word mandate since his election.

Obama spoke from the East Room as he rolled out members of his Economic Recovery Advisory Board, which he said was called to bring together "voices that come from beyond the Washington echo chamber to ensure that no stone is unturned" in trying to turn around the economy. To avoid "groupthink," he emphasized the diverse nature of the group, which includes labor leaders and corporate executives, Democrats and a Bush SEC commissioner.

"We're also going to count on these men and women to serve as additional eyes and ears for me as we work to reverse this downturn. Many of them have ground-level views of the changes that are taking place, as they work across different sectors of the economy and different regions of the country," Obama said.

That notion is consistent with the president's desire to not be insulated from outside opinion, a reason he stated for keeping a Blackberry.

Poll Finds Tedisco Leading NY-20 Race

In New York's open 20th Congressional District, Republican special election candidate Jim Tedisco holds a wide lead over Democratic candidate Scott Murphy, according to a poll conducted for Tedisco's campaign.

The Public Opinion Strategies poll, which surveyed 400 likely voters from Feb. 3-4 with a 4.9% margin of error, finds Tedisco leading 50%-29% against Murphy in a special election matchup. Although the poll was funded by Tedisco and therefore must be taken with a grain of salt, the tally is a drastic turn for the district that elected a Democrat in November by a 23-point margin.

"Special elections are always difficult, and we can expect this race to tighten as the Democrats leverage their financial advantage," said Paul Lanne, who conducted the poll. "While Scott Murphy is unknown to district voters, his personal wealth and fundraising ability -- he has already raised over $600,000 -- provide him with the financial resources to make this race competitive."

The survey also found Tedisco with far more name recognition; 51% hold a favorable opinion of Tedisco and 13% unfavorable, while Murphy has just a 12%-5% favorable/unfavorable rating. "While Jim Tedisco is well-known and well-liked in the district, newcomer Scott Murphy carries very little name identification into this short campaign," said Lanne.

Tedisco is the Republican minority leader in the State Assembly, while Murphy, a venture capitalist, has no elective office experience.

"These early numbers are a result of Jim Tedisco's proven record as an advocate for middle class families. Meanwhile, it's clear that Scott Murphy has been damaged during his recent introduction to upstate New Yorkers as a Wall Street financier who is being dishonest about his failure to pay taxes," said NRCC Spokesman Paul Lindsay.

The DCCC would likely disagree with that assessment of the poll, and recently the committee has begun to call out Tedisco for allegedly billing more than $21,000 in gas receipts to the state for a state-funded vehicle from 2001-2008.

"It's no surprise that people know a career Albany politician's name, the more voters learn about how much Jim Tedisco enjoys his tax payer funded perks like two cars and gasoline for him and his staff, the less they like," DCCC communications director Jennifer Crider told RealClearPolitics. "Times are tough, folks are looking for leaders with deep roots in the community like Scott Murphy who don't just talk about jobs, he saves and creates them."

The 20th District is the second largest district in the state and is located directly upstate from New York City, ecompassing counties to the North, East and South of Albany. The seat became open when Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand was appointed to the Senate. For more on this seat, read our previous write-up. A date has not yet been set for the special election.

Pelosi, Boehner React To Job Numbers

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader John Boehner released statements regarding the unemployment numbers released today. After 598,000 job losses last month, the unemployment rate rose to 7.6 percent.


"This morning's startling job loss numbers show why it is imperative that the Congress act immediately to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to stem the rising tide of unemployment and get Americans back to work. The economic recovery package will create and save more than 3 million jobs and put America back on more solid economic footing.

"With a record 3.6 million American jobs lost in just the last 13 months, we cannot afford to delay legislation that will create new jobs and invest in a stronger economy for years to come. We must complete the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act next week so that the President can sign this critical legislation into law."


"Our nation is in the throes of a painful recession. American families are hurting. The new job figures underscore the need for a responsible economic recovery bill focused on immediate job creation. To date, the Democratic-controlled Congress has failed to produce such a bill, instead churning out a wasteful, pork-barrel monstrosity that symbolizes the worst of Washington. The American people want and deserve better. In response to President Obama's request for input, House Republicans have put forth an alternative plan that would create twice as many jobs at half the cost. We urge the President and our Democratic counterparts to scrap the current legislation and work with us for enactment of a responsible bill that will protect and create American jobs."

Strategy Memo: Counting The Votes

Good morning, Washington and beyond. After last night, here's betting Obama is having Wheaties again today. Here's what we're watching.

**President Obama
*Today, President Obama will announce the members of his Economic Recovery Advisory Board in the East Room. Later, he'll meet with the families of victims of the 9/11 and USS Cole attacks. Vice President Biden gets ready to fly to Germany.

*Conservative economist Martin Feldstein, who criticized Obama's stimulus plan, will be one of the economic board members. Prominent CEOs and labor leaders will fill out the board, led by Paul Volcker, which is meant to provide "independent advice" to the president.

*CNN reports that the administration is vetting some candidates for HHS, though more names may still end up on there.

*The Washington Post profiles White House Counsel Gregory Craig, and reports he will take over the vetting of Cabinet nominees. "But his most important role, White House officials say, is as a trusted voice who has lived through the extremes of Washington controversies and has a keen eye for a potential conflict of interest or a decision that might trigger public outcry."

*This story may be getting downplayed amidst all the tax controversies: General Anthony Zinni says he was offered the post of ambassador to Iraq, but then saw the appointment withdrawn. "With General Zinni fuming in undiplomatic fashion about the way he was treated, the question of who should be the next ambassador to Iraq has turned into an embarrassing mess for the Obama administration as it struggles to recover from other stumbles over high-profile nominations. There has still been no formal announcement about the Iraq job."

*Despite issues with several Cabinet nominees, more than 50% of Americans say they are more confident in Obama's "ethical standards" and "ability to manage the federal government," Gallup reports. Less than 20% say they are less confident in Obama in both categories. His current 65% approval rating is about even with where its been since he took office.

*National Journal's latest Political Insiders Poll: 39% of Democratic insiders think Obama's image has been hurt "some" by his cabinet nominee controversies and 42% think his image has been hurt "only a little"; similar numbers for Republican insiders, as 45% say his image has been hurt "some" and 35% say "only a little." Less than 10% of insiders from both parties think his image has been hurt "a great deal."

*With the cost of the Senate stimulus bill now more than $900 billion, a group of about 20 moderate senators was unable to cut a deal last night on how to trim the cost of the plan, the Washington Post reports. "Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said that he would allow the centrist, bipartisan group to continue working and that, if it reaches consensus, he will schedule a vote for today on final legislation. If that fails, he will call for a rare Sunday session for a key procedural vote that would require 60 votes for passage."

*NY Times: "Members of the bipartisan group, led by Senators Ben Nelson, Democrat of Nebraska, and Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, said they wanted to trim provisions that would not quickly create jobs or encourage spending by consumers and businesses. They spent much of the day scrutinizing the 736-page bill and wrangling over what to cut."

*"A fired-up Barack Obama ditched his TelePrompter to rally House Democrats and rip Republican opponents of his recovery package Thursday night - at one point openly mocking the GOP for failing to follow through on promises of bipartisanship," Politico reports, on Obama's speech at the House Democratic conference in Williamsburg, Va. Our write-up here.

*AP looks at potential criticism of lawmakers for holding retreats at luxury resorts. "It's serious and it's from morning till night. We've been dwelling, rightfully, on the economy," said House Democratic Caucus chair John Larson.

**Supreme Court Watch: Nothing would disrupt the current political environment more than a Supreme Court vacancy. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is resting after surgery. "Pancreatic cancer is often deadly, although the court said doctors apparently found Ginsburg's growth at an early stage," AP reports.

**Minnesota Senate Watch: The recount goes on, with the Republican seeking to count more ballots from GOP-leaning areas, and the Democrat doing the same for liberal areas.

**2012 Today: Time interviews Mitt Romney, and asks him about the HHS job. "I think my first choice would be to keep Gov. Mike Leavitt in the spot. I think he's been one of the best HHS secretaries this country has ever seen." On Obama, he says he's off to a "rocky start." "The theme 'Yes, we can' seems to have been replaced with 'Well, maybe we can't.'"

**Redistricting Alert: There will be some reallocations of House seats, but the Wall Street Journal reports that "Suddenly, Americans are less willing and able to move," and that may result in fewer changes to the map.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad

Obama Preaches To The Choir

"Fired up and ready to go."

President Obama appropriately uttered one of his campaign catch phrases just after finishing a speech that sounded more like the ones he delivered on the campaign trail than ones he's given at the White House.

Deviating often from his prepared remarks, the Democrat-in-chief mocked Republican critiques of his plan, at times sounding frustrated by the nitpicking and "cable chatter" from opponents of the economic recovery plan.

"Aren't you all tired of that stuff?" he asked at the House Democratic retreat in Williamsburg, Va.

Obama alluded to the fact that Republicans once praised the balance of tax cuts and spending when the plan was first proposed, and responded to complaints about both the size of the plan and the pace of its approval.

"We're not moving quickly because we're trying to jam something down people's throats," he said. "We're moving quickly because we're told that if we don't move quickly, that the economy is going to keep on getting worse."

He maintained that there were no earmarks in the plan, saying that upon closer inspection even some of Republicans' favorite targets can be shown to create jobs.

"This package is not going to be absolutely perfect. And you get nit and you can pick," he said. "What I'm saying is, now we can't afford to play that game. We've got to pull together. There are going to be some things that don't get included that each of us would like see included. All of us are going to have to make some sacrifices. And we have to accommodate the interests of a range of people."

Just like the campaign, the president criticized his predecessor's administration, saying again that he inherited a deficit and a growing debt. He targeted his former rival John McCain, and his claim that the bill is not a stimulus plan, but a spending plan. "What do you think a stimulus is? That's the whole point!" he said.

He even made a passing reference to Sarah Palin, joking that he's campaigned in every state but Alaska.

"We're going to get there," he said to laughter.

But as he reached the conclusion, Obama took a more lofty tone, speaking idealistically about the looks he saw in the eyes of voters across the country.

"I know that people are hurting," he said. "I've looked in their eyes. I've heard their stories, and I've sensed their deep frustration. They're just hoping that we're working for them."

To the lawmakers in the room, he said, "We hold within our hands the capacity to do great things on their behalf." But he urged his fellow Democrats not to think about themselves.

"We're going to have to just think about how are we delivering for them," he said. "We won't approach these challenges just as Democrats because we remember the look in the eyes of our constituents. We know - even though they've been cynical, that they're thinking maybe this time is going to be different. They know we must overcome them as Americans."

Obama will continue to focus on the economy tomorrow as he introduces members of his Economic Recovery Advisory Board.

And He's Off ...


Marine One takes off from the South Lawn of the White House for the first time with President Obama on board. Among those joining him for the short flight were chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and press secretary Robert Gibbs.

Obama Leaving The District For The First Time

Within the hour, President Obama will take off from the South Lawn of the White House in Marine One for the first time, making the short trip to Andrews Air Force Base to take Air Force One to Williamsburg, Va. It's the trip outside of Washington, D.C., of his presidency. But it's not to sell his stimulus package. Instead, he'll speak to fellow Democrats at the Kingsmill Resort for the House retreat.

Yesterday, a reporter pointed out during Robert Gibbs' press briefing that the two previous presidents used their first trip to "say something" -- Clinton at a town hall meeting in Detroit, and Bush to visit a military base. What should people read from the purpose of Obama's four-and-a-half hour excursion from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave?

"I think what he is saying to, whether it's this trip to Williamsburg, or whether it's a trip to Capitol Hill to meet with Democrats or Republicans, that he's willing to go anywhere and talk to anybody in order to get a financial -- to get a recovery and reinvestment plan that moves this economy forward," Gibbs said.

Today, Gibbs was asked why he hasn't taken his stimulus plan on the road yet as president, choosing instead to publish an op-ed and speak with network anchors.

"A lot of this stuff is going on in Washington," Gibbs said. "He does events, obviously, that are covered all over the country. And we're confident that the message of this stimulus package is getting through, and that it's important. ... You know, I mean, obviously there's a million ways you can do this. But I think the President feels comfortable -- very comfortable with the process."

WH: Won't Penalize Solis For Husband's Tax Problem

USA Today broke the story a few hours ago, that Rep. Hilda Solis' husband only now settled a 16-year tax lien. Asked about it at this afternoon's briefing, press secretary Robert Gibbs indicated that the administration's Labor Department nominee has done nothing wrong.

"We reviewed her tax returns, and her tax returns are in order," Gibbs said. "The story denotes that her husband has some issues with paying a business tax. Now obviously back taxes should be paid. She's not a partner in that business. So we're not going to penalize her for her husband's business mistakes."

In interviews this week with network anchors, President Obama acknowledged a "mistake" with other Cabinet nominees' tax issues. "We're going to make sure we fix it, so it doesn't happen again," he told CNN.

Huckabee Bashes Stimulus, Hopes To Stimulate PAC

Gov. Sarah Palin came to DC last week ostensibly to lobby for some stimulus funds (and also to attend the Alfalfa Club Dinner). Mitt Romney last week agreed in principle with the need for stimulus, but criticized the Democratic proposal on the table. Now Mike Huckabee is telling his supporters that the recovery plan is "garbage."

From a HuckPAC e-mail:

"This stimulus bill is full of pork and does little to add real jobs and spend real money on infrastructure projects that would create jobs.

In other words, a real stink bomb."

Notably, Huckabee asks for donations to help fight the plan. He says it'll help elect "some strong conservatives" to bring some "common sense back into the room."

The full e-mail is after the jump.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Governor Mike Huckabee
Date: Thu, Feb 5, 2009 at 12:32 PM
Subject: Change The Math

I am going to let you in on a little legislative secret I learned during my time as Lt. Governor and Governor of Arkansas: a lot of legislation that gets submitted is like garbage. If it sits there long enough, it really starts smelling.

Now, Congress knows that the so-called stimulus bill is garbage, that's why they are trying to ram it through. The quicker it gets through, the less chance we have to realize that this legislation really stinks. Remember the bank bailout bill? It turns out that smelled worse than a landfill but we never got a chance to put our nose to the wind so to speak.

Well Congress must think we're really stupid, because they are at it again. This stimulus bill is full of pork and does little to add real jobs and spend real money on infrastructure projects that would create jobs.

In other words, a real stink bomb.

The sad truth is, we can expect more of the same out of the Democrats and President Obama. There aren't enough conservative Republicans to hold their feet to the fire and let some commonsense back into the room. And so we need to change the math up in Washington and elect some strong conservatives.

Here are three ways to help:

1. Make an immediate contribution of $5, $10, $25 or even $100 to help fund the National Volunteer Team. Our goal is to raise $25,000 by the end of this month to help our state teams pay for a booth at their GOP Convention and promote our volunteer team.
2. Sign up for the National Volunteer Team. We are over 3,000 volunteers and have set a goal of 4,000 volunteers by the end of February.
3. After you sign up or if you already have, find three friends who are willing to join you. Ask them to help you change the math up in Washington! Tell them to sign up at and after they do, ask them to find three friends as well.

We do have the power to change the math on Election Day. It is just going to take a lot of hard work. I am up for it and I hope you are as well. Help me make certain we have the financial and grassroots resources we need to make a difference in local elections in 2009 and 2010.

Make a contribution of $5, $10, $25 or even $100 today. Each dollar we raise during the month of February will pay for the outreach efforts of our Volunteer team at their local GOP conventions.

Fighting to change the math,

Mike Huckabee

P.S. If you would prefer to contribute by mail towards this goal please click here.

Rangel's Ethics Woes Continue

Already under investigation by the House ethics committee for various tax-related issues, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) could face increased scrutiny from the panel after new reports of discrepancies in his financial disclosure forms.

The committee had already needed to expand its investigation in December after more ethics issues surfaced -- specifically, that he allegedly helped obtain a tax loophole for a donor to the Charles B. Rangel Center at the City College of New York.

The new report comes from Sunlight Foundation, which released its finding yesterday that Rangel had "failed to report purchases, sales or his ownership of assets at least 28 times since 1978 on his personal financial disclosure forms."

"Assets worth between $239,026 and $831,000 appeared and disappeared with no disclosure of when they were acquired, how long they were held, or when they were sold, as House Rules require," the group reported. Sunlight is a private, nonpartisan watchdog group.

The New York Times reported yesterday that "Mr. Rangel's spokesman, Emil Milne, said the congressman had already acknowledged the errors and was seeking to correct them."

Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) has introduced a resolution that would remove Rangel from his post as chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, pending completion of the ethics committee investigation.

"If Mr. Rangel is cleared of wrongdoing, I will be the first to congratulate him back to the Chairmanship," Carter said in a press release. "But we must show we are serious about enforcing the ethics rules of this House, instead of using stall tactics to thwart the process."

Obama's Energetic Push

President Obama continued his more aggressive tone on the stimulus plan during a speech at the Energy Department this afternoon, saying that "inaction is not an option."

As the Senate appears ready to vote, Obama said that such legislation "deserves the scrutiny it has received." But seeming to acknowledge how Republicans have set the terms of the debate, he again reminded them that it was the Democrats who were victorious.

"Those ideas have been tested, and they have failed. They've taken us from surpluses to an annual deficit of over a trillion dollars, and they've brought our economy to a halt. And that's precisely what the election we just had was all about," he said. "The American people have rendered their judgment. And now is the time to move forward, not back. Now is the time for action."

Obama specifically pushed for the clean energy aspects of the plan, and joked that despite advancements in technology -- even blackberries -- the American power grid has stayed the same. These efforts can create jobs, he stressed.

"These jobs and these investments will double our capacity to generate renewable energy over the next few years," he said.

Obama also announced a new presidential memorandum to set new efficiency standards for household appliances, which he said will save consumers money and conserve energy.

Also today, Vice President Biden held an event with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in Maryland to push for improving America's infrastructure, specifically rail.

"Over 400,000 jobs nationally will be created by the infrastructure investments that the Congress, God willing, is going to pass and the President is going to sign into law very shortly," the frequent Amtrak passenger said at a train station in Laurel. He also showed some stronger rhetoric.

"The economic policies of the past eight years are proven failures. The nation's economy is hurting. It needs action now. And we can't think small," Biden said.

Reid: Dems Have Enough Votes

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said minutes ago that Democrats already have enough votes to pass the economic stimulus bill.

"Do we have the votes? We believe we do," Reid said in an off-camera briefing with reporters. "We have the votes necessary to pass it. My number one goal is to pass this bill."

That could happen as early as today, according to Reid. "We hope to have a vote today," he said. "This is a piece of legislation that needs to move forward as quickly as possible."

Remarks at the briefing, which also included Democratic Senate leaders Dick Durbin (Ill.), Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Patty Murray (Wash.), focused on the fact that Democrats had sought Republican input for the bill, and even included a number of GOP amendments.

"Despite the efforts of [President Obama and Harry Reid] to reach out, we've been rebuffed," Schumer said. "This bill is 36 percent tax cuts, and many of us don't think the tax cuts work."

Congressmen, Reporters Schmooze

What does Miss America think of Rod Blagojevich's hair? Does House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer think a grown man should wear red glasses (as Tom Daschle does)? These and other thought-stirring questions were answered last night at the Washington Press Club Foundation's annual dinner.

Politico's Patrick Gavin captured some of the highlights on video, including one former Politcs Nation-er on the dance floor.

Republicans Pounce On Poll's Opportunity

As Senate Democrats held a retreat down Pennsylvania Avenue and House Democrats focused their attention on passing an expansion to the SCHIP legislation, House and Senate Republicans set out yesterday to build momentum against the Democrats' economic stimulus plans.

Rasmussen's release of a poll showing more Americans oppose the Democratic proposal than support it set off what seemed like a renewed sense of confidence among GOP members. The new poll numbers offered Republicans some political capital they previously haven't had, after substantial losses the last two elections.

"Clearly, the American people are watching what we're doing in Congress and waiting to see whether we're actually going to deliver a stimulus bill that preserves, protects and creates jobs," said House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) at a morning press conference for House GOP leadership. "They want action, but they want a stimulus bill that actually produces results."

Cantor cited the Rasmussen poll a few times during his brief remarks, as did some of his fellow leaders. "The only thing the Democratic stimulus bill stimulates is more government and more debt," said House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.). "And the American people are catching on."

At an afternoon press conference, Republicans from the House and Senate held a rare joint press conference. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) and about a dozen of their colleagues stood together in opposition to the Democratic plan currently in the Senate, as well as the bills' quick procession through a normally slow legislative process.

"Whether you agree with the substance of the bill or not, the process is really not befitting of the Congress," said Sen. Lindsey Grahm (R-S.C.). "Now we're in the Senate, the great deliberative body -- it takes longer to name a post office than it does to get this bill through."

Along with calling Senate Democrats' stimulus plan "probably the worst bill that has ever been introduced in the United States Congress," DeMint said the Republicans' principled stance against the Democrats' legislation has rubbed off on the American public.

"Their courage has been contagious -- all across America and here in the United States Senate," DeMint said of House Republicans' unanimous opposition to the bill during last week's vote. "It has galvanized opposition to this massive spending bill, and every day the support for it is declining."

Although Senate Democrats were noticeably absent from the public debate yesterday, President Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi continued to push their side of the argument as well. Pelosi discussed the stimulus plans during her weekly press conference yesterday.

"I reject and House Democrats have rejected the same warmed over stew of bad failed economic policies of the Bush Administration that got us where we are today," Pelosi said.

President Obama sounded the same theme during morning remarks yesterday, though with noticeable disgust for the public bashing his proposal has received of late. "In the past few days I've heard criticisms of this plan that echo the very same failed theories that helped lead us into this crisis -- the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems," he said. "I reject that theory, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change."

Obama also met with moderate senators at the White House yesterday as he seeks a compromise in the Senate, where passage of the bill in its current state is unlikely. He continued his sales job this morning with an op-ed in the Washington Post.

Senate Democrats have scheduled at least two press briefings today, as they too seek to swing public approval back in Democrats' favor.

Strategy Memo: Stimulating The Senate

Good Thursday morning, Washington and beyond. Super Tuesday was one year ago today, if you can believe it. Today, President Obama continues to sell the stimulus, while the Senate continues to search for a compromise.

**Economic Stimulus
*Obama took his stimulus sales job directly to the people this morning, with an op-ed in the Washington Post: "This plan is more than a prescription for short-term spending -- it's a strategy for America's long-term growth and opportunity in areas such as renewable energy, health care and education. And it's a strategy that will be implemented with unprecedented transparency and accountability, so Americans know where their tax dollars are going and how they are being spent."

*Obama also unleashed some harsh words for stimulus critics yesterday. "President Obama abruptly changed tactics Wednesday in his bid to revive the economy, setting aside his bipartisan stance and pointedly blaming Republicans for demanding what he cast as discredited "piecemeal measures," the L.A. Times writes.

*However, Politico writes that Obama is "losing the message war. Despite Obama's sky high personal approval ratings, polls show support has declined for his stimulus bill since Republicans and their conservative talk-radio allies began railing against what they labeled as pork barrel spending within it."

*"The majority leader, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, suggested that a final vote on the stimulus plan could come on Thursday," writes the New York Times.

**The White House
*Obama has now twice broken a campaign pledge to wait five days before signing any bill to allow for public input. The White House had no comment.

*Chris Cillizza reports that Obama will continue to ratchet up his rhetoric next week, with a primetime news conference planned for Monday, and potentially an Oval Office address as well.

*Hilda Solis will finally see a vote on her nomination for Labor Secretary.

*Former chief of staff Andy Card wants Obama to put his jacket on when he's in the Oval Office.

*The White House says Judd Gregg is not a target of an investigation of his former aide in the Abramoff affair.

*As Obama speaks at the National Prayer Breakfast today, he's rolling out an expansion in President Bush's office of faith based initiatives.

**Minnesota Senate Watch: The Minnesota Supreme Court today will hear Al Franken's request for a provisional certification of election.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Obama Signs SCHIP, Boosts Recovery Plan

President Obama continued to show a more aggressive tone as he sold his economic recovery plan during a bill-signing ceremony this afternoon. He repeated his claim that Americans rejected failed economic notions when they "voted resoundingly for change" last fall, while tying the new SCHIP law to the stimulus.

"The way I see it, providing coverage to 11 million children through CHIP is a down payment on my commitment to cover every single American," he said. "If Congress passes this recovery plan, in just one month, we'll have done more to modernize our health care system than we've done in the past decade."

His speaking style was noticeably more passionate, reminiscent of the campaign even. It was a mostly partisan crowd as well, though Republican Sens. Olympia Snowe and Richard Lugar, Rep. Mike Castle and Gov. Jim Douglas were on hand.

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, rumored already as a possible HHS pick, was also present. She chatted briefly with Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett before the event started. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, also being mentioned for HHS, joined her Senate colleagues in the East Room.

Republicans Getting Out The Message

Republicans are in an all out get-out-the-message mode today, as House and Senate members hold multiple press conferences to denounce the Democrat-written stimulus bills and promote their own alternatives.

This morning, House leaders, including John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Mike Pence, spoke following their weekly conference. This afternoon Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) hosted a bicameral press conference with a dozen of their colleagues. And later this afternoon, Sen. John Ensign and others will gather for yet another presser on the stimulus bill.

Often cited at these pressers is the Rasmussen poll released today showing a downward trend in Americans' support for the Democratic bill. We'll have more on exactly what was said a little later.

Snowe: Obama Agrees To "Scrub" Economic Plan

Sen. Olympia Snowe said that President Obama has agreed to re-evaluate spending measures in the economic recovery plan, to "scrub" from it items that may not have an immediate stimulative impact.

The moderate Republican said that of $366 billion in discretionary spending contained in the bill, only 12 percent would be spent within a year - and that 12 percent is giving the president "100 percent heartburn." Snowe, one of the "Gang of 14" who is now part of a group of centrist lawmakers who met with Obama at the White House this afternoon, told reporters afterward that he agreed to a process in which a bipartisan group would more closely vet the overall bill.

"He said he understands that it needs to be scrubbed," she said. "He's prepared to be receptive to the ideas and to reevaluating some of the spending measures that were included that are raising questions about whether they are stimulative."

Snowe also said Obama emphasized the need to move on the plan quickly said it's also important to get it right. "Those aren't mutually exclusive goals," she said. "I think it's going to require some bipartisan cooperation."

Obama Recalls Electoral Win To Sell Stimulus

President Obama has rarely invoked his strong electoral victory last November in public. But with his stimulus plan at a critical juncture and his administration reeling from the Daschle withdrawal, Obama did just that this morning at an event called to announce new limits on executive pay.

Obama defended his proposal as more than just "a prescription for short-term spending," calling it a "strategy for long-term economic growth in areas like renewable energy, health care and education." And he said criticisms of the plan "echo the very same failed economic theories that lead us into this crisis in the first place," like "the notion that tax cuts alone will solve all our problems."

"I reject those theories, and so did the American people when they went to the polls in November and voted resoundingly for change," he said.

The rare attempt to assert a mandate comes as he works to "strengthen" the plan now being deliberated in the Senate. Warning that a failure to act could turn crisis into "catastrophe," he urged lawmakers not to "make the perfect the enemy of the essential."

"Let's show people all over our country who are looking for leadership in this difficult time that we are equal to the task," he said.

Proposed limitations on executive compensation would cap salaries of executives whose firms receive government funds at $500,000. Obama also said companies would have to disclose "the perks and luxuries bestowed on senior executives," and take the "air out of golden parachutes" by limiting "massive severance packages."

"This is America. We don't disparage wealth," he said. "We don't begrudge anybody for achieving success. And we believe that success should be rewarded. But what gets people upset - and rightfully so - are executives being rewarded for failure."

Strategy Memo: Making The Rounds

Good Wednesday morning, Washington and beyond. The stimulus bill is still in the Senate, Obama's hitting the airwaves to defend it, and Dick Cheney is worried about the country's safety.

*President Obama made the network anchor rounds yesterday, sitting down for brief interviews with ABC's Charlie Gibson, NBC's Brian Williams, CBS's Katie Couric, CNN's Anderson Cooper and FOX's Chris Wallace. On Tom Daschle, Obama told Cooper he "screwed up" and Couric he "messed up." Watch the interviews here.

CNN: "I think I screwed up." NBC: "It made me angry and disappointed and it's something I have to take responsibility for." CBS: "When you make these self-inflicted wounds, you end up being distracted really from the people's business." ABC: "I think I've been very clear of the fact that this was a bad mistake. I don't think it was purposeful, but I think it was a mistake." FOX: "I think it's fair to say that I don't always get my most favorable coverage on Fox."

*The latest USA Today/Gallup poll finds that as many people think the tone in Washington between Republicans and Democrats has gotten worse as think its gotten better (21% vs. 23%). "In the category of small favors, Obama can feel gratified that a slight majority of Americans believe the political tone in Washington hasn't grown any worse under his presidency. But given his efforts at bipartisanship...he could well be disappointed in the finding that as many Americans say the political climate has gotten worse since his election as say it has improved," Gallup's Lydia Saad writes.

*CBN's David Brody reports that Obama "will announce the creation of a new President's Advisory Council on Faith during this Thursday's National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC."

*So it looks like Claire McCaskill was floating a trial balloon. Last week, she proposed that no executives at banks receiving TARP funds should be paid more than the president, $400,000. Well, now new rules on executive compensation that the Obama administration will put forth today will cap salaries at $500,000. NY Times: "Executives at companies that have already received money from the Treasury Department would not have to make any changes. But analysts and administration officials are bracing for a huge wave of new losses, largely because of the deepening recession, and many companies that have already received federal money may well be coming back."

**Tom Daschle
*Must-See-TV: Read Mark McKinnon's piece on Daschle, including a YouTube video of an old Daschle campaign ad. "But I'll tell you what probably sealed it for most folks: the commercial of Daschle when he ran for the Senate bragging about driving his own car around Washington, D.C. Ouch. Hypocrisy is the scarlet letter in politics."

*Washington Post puts the Daschle withdrawal in perspective: "Now Obama must forge ahead without his close friend and Washington mentor, a setback that health experts across the political spectrum described yesterday as serious but not insurmountable."

*Among the many names being floated for HHS: Debbie Stabenow. Also Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, Howard Dean, former Oregon Gov. David Kitzhaber.

**Economic Stimulus
*Washington Post: "Senate Democratic leaders conceded yesterday that they do not have the votes to pass the stimulus bill as currently written and said that to gain bipartisan support, they will seek to cut provisions that would not provide an immediate boost to the economy. ... Moderate Republicans are trying to trim the bill by as much as $200 billion, although Democrats working with those GOP senators have not agreed to a specific figure."

*Larry Summers says that Obama is willing to shed some spending items, but doesn't want to weaken the overall stimulus bill. "We're focused on the pie, not the crumbs," Summers told USA Today. "The president's prepared to compromise but our focus is on the fact that the American economy badly needs help."

**Back In The News: Dick Cheney sat down with Politico yesterday and "warned that there is a 'high probability' that terrorists will attempt a catastrophic nuclear or biological attack in coming years, and said he fears the Obama administration's policies will make it more likely the attempt will succeed."

**Political Journalism Alert
*Huge news in Iowa : Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen leaving the paper to head the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Obama Okay With Gregg Deal?

The White House denied today that President Obama had any discussions with New Hampshire leaders regarding a deal that Sen. Judd Gregg sought before accepting an appointment to be his Commerce secretary. But left unanswered is why Obama would be willing to appoint Gregg in light of such a deal, given the uproar over other Senate appointments in recent months.

At his daily briefing today, press secretary Robert Gibbs said that Gov. John Lynch (D-N.H.) did call the White House to voice his support for Gregg's nomination. But the White House did not "have anything to do" with talk of his replacement, he added.

"I don't know of any more calls," Gibbs said. "I want to be clear that the person - the sole responsibility and the sole person for selecting the next U.S. senator from the state of New Hampshire is the governor. There may have been conversations between senators and governors from the state of New Hampshire, and I would direct those questions to them."

Standing beside the president today, Gregg thanked Lynch "for his courtesy and courage in being willing to make this [appointment] possible through the agreement that we have relative to my successor in the Senate." And yesterday, before his selection was announced, Gregg issued a statement saying he had "made it clear" to Senate leaders "that I would not leave the Senate if I felt my departure would cause a change in the makeup of the Senate."

One could argue, therefore, that by going ahead with the Gregg appointment, Obama was tacitly supporting the deal. Asked if the president was comfortable with the idea that his choice to lead the Commerce Department was only willing to accept the nomination conditionally, Gibbs has yet to comment.

Senate Considers Stimulus, House Leaders Discuss It

The Senate today is continuing consideration of an economic stimulus bill that Democratic leaders hope to have passed by the end of the week. This would leave the House and Senate one week to compromise on the legislation it sends to President Obama before its regularly scheduled President's Day recess.

A Democratic-sponsored amendment that would have increased the amount of infrastructure spending in the bill -- likely one of many to be considered this week -- failed to garner the necessary 60 votes today. The final tally may be a sign for Democrats that they'll need to find things in the bill to cut out before adding any new spending.

House Republicans are promising to stay in the debate over the stimulus bill, despite the fact that the House passed its version last week. Earlier in the day, House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence told reporters that GOP House leadership is "urging our Senate colleagues to join every House Republican in opposing this bill" and that they'll be heard from "on the [House] floor and on the airwaves."

While calling Obama, who met with House Republicans prior to the vote, "refreshingly respectful," Pence said the Democrat-written bill that passed the House "included wasteful spending that had nothing to do with creating jobs." He said Republicans' unanimous opposition "was about princples, not politics."

"House Republicans don't believe we can borrow and spend our way to a healthy economy," Pence said. "There is a conflict of visions here about how we truly stimulate the economy."

With Republicans still complaining about Democrats not including them in the bill-writing process, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer listed major bills passed by the House this year that every member of the House GOP leadership voted against. "I don't think that that group to be saying we ought to be bipartisan is very credible," Hoyer said. "Bipartisanship, like dancing, requires two parties."

Not done with dancing metaphors for bipartisanship, Hoyer said later: "If I ask you to dance, and nine times out of 10 you say no, I may stop asking."

Gibbs Defends Vetting Process, Denies Setbacks

In the wake of two ill-fated appointments, press secretary Robert Gibbs struggled to answer questions about the Obama administration's ethical standards and vetting process, while saying that President Obama remains confident in his White House team.

"I'm not going to spend a lot of time up here today looking through the rear view mirror, or playing Monday morning quarterback on all of this," Gibbs said at one point, after multiple questions on the failed nomination of Tom Daschle for HHS. "The president understands that each of these individuals has served this country with distinction, appreciates that service. Each asked to withdraw their nomination, and the president on each occasion accepted their withdrawals."

Asked repeatedly if there was a breakdown in the administration's vetting of appointees, Gibbs said that Obama "has confidence in the process." Gibbs said there was no contradiction in the president's call for high ethical standards with problems like Daschle's, while at the same time disputing that anyone in the administration pushed for him to withdraw.

"Each ... decided they couldn't distract from the agenda that the president was pursuing, that the agenda that he was pursuing was bigger than them, it's bigger than me," Gibbs said. He also emphasized that Obama "didn't believe we were going to change the way Washington has worked the last three decades in the first two weeks of his administration. Thankfully we've got more years to try."

When asked why Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner should be allowed to remain in office given that he was guilty of similar offenses to Daschle and Nancy Killefer, Gibbs could only say that Geithner had "gone through a process" in the Senate and was approved with bipartisan support.

Daschle was initially touted as someone with the clout needed to pass something as daunting as a healthcare plan, but Gibbs said his withdrawal will not set the administration back.

"The issue of affordable health care for every American is bigger than any one person; and the job of ensuring health care reform will outlast any person nominated for the secretary of HHS and likely anybody that serves in this administration," he said.

Gibbs also said the controversies have not distracted the administration, adding that they are "not losing sight of what's important." But in a sign of just how much this matter is distracting the White House, Gibbs faced only a couple questions on the economic recovery plan, and the president himself will likely be on defense during round-robin network interviews this afternoon.

Newman Will Take Gregg's Senate Seat

New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch is set to announce this afternoon that Republican Bonnie Newman will fill the Senate seat being vacated by Judd Gregg, whom President Obama nominated today for Commerce Secretary. The news was first reported by Politico.

Newman served as Gregg's chief-of-staff during his House days in the 1980s, and also held roles in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. She recently served as interim president at the University of New Hampshire, and now appears likely to serve as just the interim senator. Newman is not expected to run for the seat in 2010, leaving the already-vulnerable seat open.

After electoral gains in the state in recent years, Democrats had placed a bull's eye on Gregg's seat. Democrats won the state in the last two presidential contests, they took over the two House seats in 2006, and Jeanne Shaheen won the other Senate seat in 2008. Not having to run against an incumbent makes it all the more desirable, and one Democrat appears to have already stepped forward.

Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) will likely announce his candidacy this week, the Manchester Union Leader reports.

Daschle Withdraws Nomination, Obama Accepts "With Sadness"

Tom Daschle is withdrawing his name from consideration to head HHS, saying he does not want to be a distraction.

"If 30 years of exposure to the challenges inherent in our system has taught me anything, it has taught me that this work will require a leader who can operate with the full faith of Congress and the American people, and without distraction. Right now, I am not that leader," Daschle says in a statement just issued by the White House.

President Obama says in the statement that Daschle "made a mistake, which he has openly acknowledged. He has not excused it, nor do I. But that mistake, and this decision, cannot diminish the many contributions Tom has made to this country."

UPDATE: Full statements after the jump.

From Obama:

This morning, Tom Daschle asked me to withdraw his nomination for Secretary of Health and Human Services. I accept his decision with sadness and regret.

Tom Daschle has devoted his life to public service and health care reform, so that every American has access to health care they can afford. I had hoped that he could bring this passion and expertise to bear to finally achieve that goal, which is so essential to the progress of our economy and the well-being of businesses and families across the nation.

Tom made a mistake, which he has openly acknowledged. He has not excused it, nor do I. But that mistake, and this decision, cannot diminish the many contributions Tom has made to this country, from his years in the military to his decades of public service.

Now we must move forward, with our plan to lift this economy and put people back to work."

From Daschle:

I have just informed the President that I am withdrawing my name from consideration for Secretary of Health and Human Services.

To be chosen by President Obama to run the Department of Health and Human Services and to lead the reform of America's health care system is one of the signal honors of an improbable career.

But if 30 years of exposure to the challenges inherent in our system has taught me anything, it has taught me that this work will require a leader who can operate with the full faith of Congress and the American people, and without distraction.

Right now, I am not that leader, and will not be a distraction. The focus of Congress should be on the urgent business of moving the President's economic agenda forward, including affordable health care for every American.

We need the best care in America to be available to all Americans. We need this effort to succeed. Lives and livelihoods are at stake.

I will not be the architect of America's health system reform, but I remain one of its most fervent supporters. Thank you."

McCain Rallies Online Backers Against Stimulus

Sen. John McCain is urging his supporters to sign a petition opposing the economic stimulus bill, saying in an e-mail from his "Country First" PAC that the plan "is big on giveaways for the special interests and corporate high rollers, yet short on help for ordinary working Americans."

"I cannot and do not support the package on the table from the Democrats and the Obama Administration," McCain writes. "Our country does not need just another spending bill, particularly not one that will load future generations with the burden of massive debt."

He says that every spending proposal in the bill should be evaluated to determine whether it would actually create jobs. "If the answer is no, it does not belong in a so-called stimulus package." The Arizona Republican says he appreciates Obama's outreach to the GOP, but that "the time for talking has come to an end and we must now begin some serious negotiation."

You can see his online petition here. The full text of McCain's e-mail is after the jump.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: John McCain
Date: Tue, Feb 3, 2009 at 11:58 AM
Subject: Fwd: Economic Stimulus Package

Dear McCain Supporter,

Yesterday, the Senate began debate on an economic stimulus package that is intended to get our economy back on track and help Americans who are suffering through these difficult times. Unfortunately, the proposal on the table is big on the giveaways for the special interests and corporate high rollers, yet short on help for ordinary working Americans. I cannot and do not support the package on the table from the Democrats and the Obama Administration. Our country does not need just another spending bill, particularly not one that will load future generations with the burden of massive debt. We need a short term stimulus bill that will directly help people, create jobs, and provide a jolt to our economy.

I believe we need to evaluate every bit of spending in this stimulus proposal with one important criteria - does it really stimulate the economy and help create jobs - if the answer is no, it does not belong in a so-called stimulus package. Furthermore, the stimulus must include significant direct relief to American workers in the form of payroll tax cuts and programs to help homeowners keep their homes. Finally, we need an end game to this stimulus so that when our economy recovers, these spending programs do not remain permanent and saddle our children with a skyrocketing national debt.

I appreciate the discussions President Obama is having with my Republican colleagues, but the time for talking has come to an end and we must now begin some serious negotiation. But as of yet, Republicans have not been given the opportunity to be involved. The House of Representatives passed a stimulus bill without a single Republican supporting it. In the Senate, the Democrat leadership is trying to jam the existing proposal through regardless of reservations from a number of members. With so much at stake, the last thing we need is partisanship driving our attempts to turn the economy around.

I have long been a fighter against wasteful spending in Washington and long an advocate for a balanced budget -- that will never change. I realize we face extraordinary challenges with our economy today, but that is not an excuse for more irresponsibly from Washington. I hope you will join me in saying no to this stimulus package as it currently exists by signing this petition.


John McCain
Chair, Country First PAC

Sign the Petition

Please visit this page if you want to remove yourself from the email list.

Paid for by Country First PAC
Not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee

Gregg's 'Strict Fiscal Discipline' Praised By Obama

President Barack Obama formally unveiled Judd Gregg as his choice to lead the Commerce Department, playing up his decision to reach across the aisle to someone with "strict fiscal discipline."

"Clearly, Judd and I don't agree on every issue -- most notably who should have won the election," Obama said in the Grand Foyer of the White House this morning. "But we agree on the urgent need to get American businesses and families back on their feet. We see eye to eye on conducting the nation's business in a responsible, transparent and accountable manner. And we know the only way to solve the great challenges of our time is to put aside stale ideology and petty partisanship, and embrace what works."

Obama tipped his hat to Gregg's father, even making a subtle link with him. Gov. Hugh Gregg, the president noted, was the youngest chief executive in New Hampshire's history, and took office as mills were closing and "folks were laid off."

"[Gregg] watched his dad work tirelessly to attract new industry, the kind that created jobs that carried with them a sense of dignity and self worth," Obama said.

Gregg, himself a former governor, said that now "is a time to govern and govern well."

"This is not a time when we should stand in our ideological corners and shout at each other," he said. "When the President asked me to join his administration and participate in trying to address the issues of this time, I believed it was my obligation to say yes, and I look forward to it with enthusiasm."

Gregg, who if confirmed would resign from the Senate with two years left in his third term, curiously thanked Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, "for his courtesy and courage in being willing to make this possible through the agreement that we have relative to my successor in the Senate." Lynch is expected to name a moderate Republican placeholder to the seat.

At the end of the brief ceremony, CNN's Ed Henry tried to ask the president about why members of his administration have trouble paying taxes. Obama stopped ever so briefly, but did not answer the question.

Three Strikes, Killefer's Out

Nancy Killefer, President Obama's selection for the new post of "Chief Performance Officer," has asked that her name be withdrawn, citing -- you guessed it -- tax issues.

"I recognize that your agenda and the duties facing your Chief Performance Officer are urgent. I have also come to realize in the current environment that my personal tax issue of D.C. Unemployment tax could be used to create exactly the kind of distraction and delay those duties must avoid," Killefer said in a letter to Obama, which was made public this hour.

Notably, when he announced Killefer's nomination in early January, Obama called the appointment "among the most important I will make." But shortly thereafter, the Associated Press had reported last month that Killefer failed to pay unemployment compensation taxes on "household help" in 2005, resulting in a $900 tax lien from the DC government.

Obama had praised her as "an expert in streamlining processes and wringing out inefficiencies so that taxpayers and consumers get more for their money." And perhaps most significantly, the then-president-elect singled out her work "modernizing the IRS."

Unlike Cabinet nominees Timothy Geithner and Tom Daschle, Killefer's issue was resolved within months of the problem arising, and not during the vetting process. It's unclear if there were other issues that may have prompted Killefer's decision. If not, her role with the IRS may have the prospect of the administration fighting for this appointment more untenable. Some may well suggest a gender double-standard.

Strategy Memo: Another Senate Deal

Good Tuesday morning, Washington and beyond. Democrats won't get a fillibuster-proof majority in the Senate. But at least they still have one in the Cabinet.

**Cabinet News
*President Obama will announce Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) as his new Commerce secretary this morning at the White House.

*"The deal appears to be done" in New Hampshire, reports the Union Leader's DiStaso. Judd Gregg takes the Commerce post, and Gov. John Lynch will name a Republican to replace him.

*But not all Democrats are happy with the deal. "I'm still hoping Barack Obama comes to his senses," said state Rep. Jim Splaine. "It's a lose-lose for Democrats." Radio host Arnie Arnesen: "I keep hearing about this deal. After Blagojevich, I don't want to hear about deals any more."

*Gregg apparently hasn't always supported the department he's about to lead, however, once voting to abolish it in 1996.

*Tom Daschle's tax issues remain in the news. Politico reports that before the tax flap came up, Daschle had lobbied Obama to select Leo Hindery to his Cabinet. Hindery "hasn't been accused of any wrongdoing in Daschle's failure to declare the value of the limo service on his taxes."

*Obama pledged a "new era of responsibility," but "what he did not talk much about were the asterisks," the New York Times reports. Now, "the Obama team finds itself being criticized by bloggers on the left and the right, mocked by television comics and questioned by reporters about whether Mr. Obama is really changing the way Washington works or just changing which political party works it."

*On the op-ed page, the Times says Daschle's nomination should be pulled. "In both the Geithner and Daschle cases, the failure to pay taxes is attributed to unintentional oversights. But Mr. Daschle is one oversight case too many. The American tax system depends heavily on voluntary compliance. It would send a terrible message to the public if we ignore the failure of yet another high-level nominee to comply with the tax laws." The paper also notes his ties to "major players" in health care community as potentially "more troublesome."

*Smoother sailing at the Justice Department. The Senate confirmed Eric Holder as U.S. Attorney General on a 75-21 roll call vote. No Democrats opposed his confirmation. Holder becomes the nation's first black Attorney General.

*Washington Post: "The Senate vote occurred four days after Holder overcame concerns by a small but vocal group of GOP lawmakers about his position on national security and gun rights, as well as his recommendations in two controversial clemency decisions by President Bill Clinton."

**Economic Stimulus
*Yesterday, Obama downplayed "modest difference" between Democrats and Republicans on the stimulus. But in a meeting with Democratic leadership, Obama "took a blunt tone" and urged them "to drop whatever needs to be cut from the bill to gain bipartisan support and to pass Congress soon."

*The Senate began debate on their version of the bill yesterday, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Republicans' goal is to "reformulate" it, "not kill it."

**L.A. Times: "Senate Republicans will propose a panoply of amendments to make the bill more palatable -- including moves to strip out spending they consider inappropriate in an economic stimulus bill. One target: $75 million to help people quit smoking. Such changes, if accepted, could win support for the plan from conservative Democrats such as Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, as well as Republicans."

*The AP has a breakdown of the "highlights" of the Democrat-written Senate stimulus plan.

*Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), on MSNBC's "Morning Joe": "To sustain a filibuster, we need just 41 Republicans to stay together. If we stay together in the Senate like they did in the House, we can shelve this bill; we can hold it up. ... But I'm willing to put the 41 together if we can and hold together."

*The Democrats increased their majorities, but now Blue Dog Democrats are pushing the party leadership to resume regular order, The Hill reports. "Since last year, many senior House Democrats -- many of them subcommittee chairmen -- have grown overly frustrated with how only small and select bands of legislators have been responsible for writing bills. ... Democratic leaders have acknowledged that the 'regular order' process of methodically developing and writing bills in subcommittees and committees has been abandoned recently. But they have defended the handling of such sensitive and important legislation by only an exclusive group of leadership and senior lawmakers as a necessary tactic during exceptional times."

*Gallup: 75% of Americans want Congress to pass some version of a stimulus bill -- 38% want the bill passed as Obama proposed it, while 37% want major changes to the bill. 47% think the plan will make the economy a little better, and just 17% think the bill could make things a lot better.

**Palin Alert
*Sarah Palin already has picked sides in a potential intra-party battle in Texas, picking incumbent Gov. Rick Perry over Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in 2010.

*Newt Gingrich thinks Palin has "a substantial base" in Iowa in 2012, if she runs. He also called her "very formidable," and "suggested the Alaska governor spend time developing 'fairly sophisticated positions' on a range of issues."

**Blago Watch: The now ex-gov is doing a second media tour, including stops today on NBC's Today and tonight on David Letterman, the Chicago Tribune reports.

**Sports Alert: The Lakers' Kobe Bryant dropped 61 points on the Knicks at Madison Square Garden last night, setting an arena record. He surpassed Michael Jordan's opponent record of 55 points and Bernard King's home record of 60 points -- not bad company. We didn't see the game or King's record-setting day in 1984, but we'll never forget watching Jordan (wearing No. 45 after just coming back from playing baseball) torching the Knicks on national TV and delivering the game-winning assist to Bill Wennington.

--Kyle Trygstad and Mike Memoli

Holder Confirmation Vote Tonight

The Senate is set to vote tonight on the confirmation of Eric Holder as U.S. Attorney General. This afternoon, senators from both sides of the aisle have spoken in support of and against Holder. Here are a few notable Senate floor statements:

"With historic challenges facing the Department of Justice, I urge all of my colleagues in supporting the nomination of Eric Holder," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said. "A difficult job awaits our next Attorney General. He must strengthen the fight against terrorism. He must do more to keep our streets and our boardrooms safe from crime. And he must rebuild the Justice Department to be once again a guardian of the common good. Eric Holder has proven that he has the courage and wisdom to do justice to this critical job."

Stating he wished "to be helpful to President Obama in his new administration," Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said from the Senate floor that he planned on voting in favor of Holder's confirmation. Prior to Holder's nomination hearings in the Judiciary Committee, Specter had been one of the most outspoken Republicans on concerns with Obama's selection of Holder.

Rising in opposition this afternoon was Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who said that despite his view of Holder as a good man, Holder's lack of good judgment precluded him from supporting his confirmation. "I have high praise for Eric Holder as an individual and as a lawyer," he said. "I believe certain aspects, however, of his record disqualify him from serving as attorney general." Coburn noted that he didn't believe Holder would adequately defend the First and Second Amendments.

NH Gov. Lynch Confirms GOP Appointment For Gregg Seat

A statement out this hour from NH Gov. John Lynch's office indicates that the Democrat will indeed appoint a Republican to replace Sen. Judd Gregg, if he is appointed to President Obama's Cabinet. Lynch, a risk-averse politician but a popular one in the Granite State, will also get the benefit of avoiding a potentially tough choice from among Democrats interested in running for the seat in 2010.

From Lynch:

"We are in the midst of a national economic crisis, and it calls for cooperation on all of our parts. We all need to work together to do what is in the best interest of our country and our state.

"I have had conversations with Senator Gregg, the White House and U.S. Senate leadership. Senator Gregg has said he would not resign his seat in the U.S. Senate if it changed the balance in the Senate. Based on my discussions, it is clear the White House and Senate leadership understand this as well.

"It is important that President Obama be able to select the advisors he feels are necessary to help him address the challenges facing our nation.

"If President Obama does nominate Senator Gregg to serve as Commerce Secretary, I will name a replacement who will put the people of New Hampshire first and represent New Hampshire effectively in the U.S. Senate."

GOP Senators Want Changes To Stimulus Bill

With congressional Democrat leaders scheduled to meet at the White House later today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he hopes President Obama is "going to be able to put the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate in line."

"The way to build this package is to do it on a bipartisan basis, which doesn't mean just talking to us, but including ideas that we think will work," McConnell said.

McConnell's comments came at a morning press conference as the Senate begins consideration of the economic stimulus package. No House Republicans supported the bill when it came to a vote last week, and it's unclear how much GOP support the Senate's version of the bill will receive.

"We're not trying to keep the package from passing," he said. "We're trying to reformulate it."

In the days following last week's House vote, both parties' House campaign committees have begun targeting members -- Democrats against Republicans who voted against the bill and Republicans against Dems who voted for it.

Obama said in an interview with NBC yesterday that he expects "substantial" GOP support for the final package, and he's now doing his part to sell it to the American public. In an e-mail distributed to his multi-million address list, Obama is urging supporters to hold issue-specific house parties. "You can help restore confidence in our economy by making sure your friends, family, and neighbors understand how the recovery plan will impact your community," he wrote.

McConnell indicated his displeasure with certain aspects of the bill as it stands today, especially noting those parts he doesn't consider to actually be stimulative. The Senate GOP leader wants the first two priorities of the bill to focus on mortgages and tax cuts.

"A stimulus bill must fix the main problem first, and that's housing. That's how all of this began," McConnell said. "We also think the second part of a package that would do the job...would put money back in people's hands directly." Specifically, McConnell said the Republican plan would focus on those making $65,000 per year or less.

"Our goal is to produce a bill that makes a difference," he said. "Not to kill it."

Strategy Memo: Super Bowl Monday

Good Monday morninig, Washington and beyond. Congrats to the Pittsburgh Steelers, as well as the Arizona Cardinals, who put on a show last night. Now to the post-Super Bowl world: The Senate begins today its shot at the economic stimulus, for which no one can figure out yet whom will be hurt politically -- if not everyone.

**Daschle's Tax Problems
*In a classic late-Friday end-of-the-week news dump, HHS nominee Tom Daschle admitted that he had not paid taxes on the use of a private car while working for an investment firm.

*He "released a letter early today apologizing to the top lawmakers on the Senate Finance Committee for mistakes on his personal income tax returns that resulted in $146,000 in back payments," the Washington Post reports. Daschle: "I am deeply embarrassed and disappointed by the errors that required me to amend my tax returns."

*The AP also notes that Daschle was paid $5.2 million as a lobbyist, and a quarter-million for paid speeches by insurers and hospitals. "He welcomed every opportunity to make his case to the American public at large and the health industry in particular that America can't afford to ignore the health care crisis any longer," spokesperson Jenny Backus said.

*John Podesta, on "Morning Joe": "I think he will survive. He will have a discussion with the members of the committee tonight...He's eminently qualified for it."

*Bloomberg: "Lawmakers remain divided over whether President Barack Obama's fiscal stimulus would do enough to pull the economy out of recession as an $819 billion package passed by the House with no Republican votes heads to the Senate."

*Politico's Thrush and Bresnahan write that because of the GOP's "Rush-and-Drudge media campaign" and lack of a single vote last week for the stimulus, "the speaker's public commitment to bipartisanship may quickly yield to a depressingly familiar pattern of partisan combat that comes along with her new role as Obama's human shield."

*Joe Biden is putting his skills working the Senate to use this week as the stimulus plan heads to his former stomping grounds. And Biden also discusses his views on his new gig: "All the years you covered me, I never, quite frankly, thought about the vice presidency. And when President Obama asked me to join him, I wasn't at all sure whether there was a right place for me. But it's working out."

**Senate Appointment Watch
*Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) is poised to be the next Secretary of Commerce. But in an only-in-New Hampshire move, the state's Democratic governor may appoint a Republican placeholder, Bonnie Newman, to his seat. Newman "was Gregg's top aide when he was in the U.S. House, served as a Harvard dean and was one of Lynch's first Republican supporters."

*Mitch McConnell, on "Face the Nation" yesterday, stating that Democrats would not pick up a 60th seat in the Senate should Gregg be tapped for Commerce: "Senator Gregg has assured me that if this were to happen - if it were to happen - he would not change the makeup of the Senate. In other words, whoever is appointed to replace him would caucus with Senate Republicans." The Boston Globe writes that McConnell's statement has raised questions about whether a deal has been struck.

*Similar -- but not the same -- situation: Republican Senator Craig Thomas, of Wyoming, died in 2007. Although Wyoming's governor is a Democrat, Wyoming state law required the Republican Central Committee to choose three candidates for the governor to choose from -- ensuring Thomas's successor would be a Republican.

**RNC Chairman Michael Steele: Baltimore Sun profiled Steele, saying his "upbeat image may be his most potent weapon in motivating a beleaguered party organization...Steele said he doesn't want to be judged on just the number of elections won or millions of dollars raised during the next two years. He wants to make progress with small donors as well as fat cats. He's seeking gains among voters, including minorities, who have shunned Republican candidates in growing numbers at the national level."

**Campaign Alert
*IL-05: State Rep. John Fritchey, one of the candidates in the IL-05 special election, said that Rahm Emanuel told him he may want to run for his old seat again some day. Fritchey: "I told him that should I be fortunate enough to run, and should I be fortunate enough to win the seat, I would look forward to campaigning against him."

*FL-12: Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.), who as recently as a year ago was in the Republican leadership, will give up his seat to run for Agriculture Commissioner next year.

*NY-20: Venture capitalist Scott Murphy will run in the special election to replace Kirsten Gillibrand.

**Super Bowl Party Mix
*Obama's live interview during NBC's Super Bowl pregame show was a mix of fluff and substance. Watch it here. Obama, on family life in the White House: "It's the best deal of, of this whole thing is it turns out I've got this nice home office. And at the end of the day, yeah, I can come home, even if I've got more work to do, I can have dinner with them. I can help them with their homework. I can tuck them in. If I've gotta go back to the office, I can. But I'm seeing them now more than anytime in the last two years. And, and that's been great for the whole family."

Obama, on the stimulus package: "I've done extraordinary outreach I think to Republicans because they had some good ideas. And I wanna make sure that those ideas are incorporated. I am confident that by the time we actually have the final package on the floor that we are gonna see substantial support. And people are gonna say this is a serious effort. It has no earmarks. We¹re gonna be trimming up ‹ things that are not relevant to putting people back to work right now."

*Our take: This game marked yet another great one this decade, with last year's Giants-Patriots matchup and the February 2002 Patriots-Rams battle the other standouts.

--Mike Memoli and Kyle Trygstad