Whatever the outcome of the clash between the Bush administration and the Democratic Congress over a bailout package for Detroit, know that President-elect Barack Obama placed himself at this table -- and promptly tossed some valuable chips into the pot.
He had an easy way out: the one-president-at-a-time line. He's just a senator until Jan. 20. He didn't have to turn his Oval Office session with President Bush into a lobbying powwow. And with just the two of them in the room, he certainly (as the Bush team reminded him with a high hard one tossed via Drudge) didn't have to turn private talks into a public spat.
With House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Harry Reid pushing a measure to help automakers during the lame-duck session, they have a partner in ownership: Obama.
It's a quiet kind of power play by a president-elect who's seeking a delicate balance: Obama, insisting that the economy needs more help now, is showing action, not just talking about it.
If it works, Obama would notch a legislative victory even before he's president -- in a quick payoff for his union backers, and (just maybe) for a troubled industry and the economy as a whole.
But if it fails to pass, or if it passes and then fails to work, or even if it works but fails to impress, the president-elect owns an issue that helped get him here a bit earlier -- and more completely -- than he did before.
"Democratic leaders in Congress said Tuesday they will push legislation next week to use the $700 billion Wall Street rescue fund to bail out Detroit auto makers, and President-elect Barack Obama ordered his transition team to look at ways to aid the car industry even before his inauguration," The Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman, Greg Hitt and John D. McKinnon report.
"For Mr. Obama, the crisis in Detroit is turning into an early test of his leadership. Organized labor, including the United Auto Workers, invested heavily in Mr. Obama's campaign," they continue. "It's a situation Mr. Obama's team had hoped to avoid, potentially giving the president-elect responsibility for an emergency before he has any real authority to deal with it. . . . For Mr. Obama, a public intervention on behalf of Detroit puts his political capital at stake on behalf of companies that have lost the confidence of investors and many consumers -- reflected in the reluctance of banks to lend to the companies and their continuing loss of market share."
"A senior Democratic official . . . said Ms. Pelosi had decided to challenge Mr. Bush to work with the Democrats or veto aid to the teetering auto companies -- and take the blame if one of them fails," David M. Herszenhorn and Carl Hulse write in The New York Times. "The White House has resisted calls by Congress to use the $700 billion to help the automakers, saying that money is better spent easing the credit crunch at the heart of the economic crisis."
Key detail: "Congressional aides said Democratic leaders were coordinating their activities with [Obama's] transition team," Herszenhorn and Hulse report.
What of his role? "Mr. Obama does not intend to play a leading role in the [lame-duck] session. Aides said he was focused on the economic packages he would offer as president, as well as working behind the scenes with Congressional Democratic leaders," Herszenhorn and Hulse report. "But aides have not definitively ruled out the prospect of Mr. Obama casting his vote if it was needed. His Senate replacement will not be named by then."
This qualifies as ruling it out: "When Congress convenes for a lame-duck session next week to confront an economic crisis and potentially provide new help for the ailing auto industry, Sen. Obama of Illinois will be noticeably absent," Mark Silva writes in the Chicago Tribune.
Says transition spokesman Dan Pfeiffer: "He's not going to be there."
Writes Silva: "While Obama is pressing for quick action from Congress on an economic stimulus plan, he may not necessarily want to be identified with any package that Bush supports. For all the urgency of action on the economy, or on the problems of the auto industry, severing ties with the Senate in the transition period could pave the way for the president-elect to chart a new course on economy recovery."
They still have to work with the old guy, until Jan. 20: "The White House is lukewarm to Pelosi's idea of using some of the $700 billion banking bailout money for the automobile industry. One senior White House official told me it's 'a slippery slope' and asked rhetorically, 'who's next?' " per ABC's Jonathan Karl. "Meanwhile, the auto industry likes Pelosi's approach, but sees it as a stopgap measure until the new Congress passes something more comprehensive in January. As one auto industry source working with Congressional leaders told me, 'We're talking about a bridge loan, a bridge to the stimulus.' "
And what if Obama's now-public lobbying isn't enough? "A federal bailout for Detroit faces an uphill battle in the Senate and an uncertain fate at the White House," Lori Montgomery and Michael Abramowitz report in The Washington Post. "The move would greatly expand the reach of the government into the private sector and could touch off a mad scramble in other industries to claim a piece of the Treasury's bailout money."
"A stumbling block may be the Senate, where Republicans control 49 seats until the new Congress is seated in January. Many Republican senators were attacked on the campaign trail by Democratic opponents for supporting the original Treasury bailout legislation last month and probably won't be in the mood to expand the program to the car companies," they write.
Nothing major expected out of the transition folks on Wednesday: Obama and Vice-President-elect Joe Biden are in "private meetings" in Chicago all day.
As for those Oval Office negotiations: "Obama's camp was mum today, but White House spokeswoman Dana Perino told reporters before the ceremony aboard the USS Intrepid that the president did not try to cut a deal with Obama on his stimulus request," ABC's Jennifer Duck and Mark Mooney report. Perino: "In no way did the president suggest a quid pro quo when it comes to the Colombian Free Trade agreement or other free trade agreements."
"Is the White House really angry? Or just frustrated?" asks The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder. "Feigning anger might have the consequence of sending a warning to the Obama campaign about negotiations: either they happen in private, where Bush can save face and protect his legacy, or we play hardball too."
More to come, in the next Congress? "President-elect Barack Obama is hearing from private sector economists, and some members of his economic advisory team that Congress should consider -- and he should sign into law in January -- a far broader stimulus package than anyone has publicly discussed to date," ABC's George Stephanopoulos reports. "Instead of $300 billion dollars, which has been the upper limit, they are now talking about $500 billion, which is 3 to 4 percent of GDP."
Are more clashes possible? "Time to open the books, George," the New York Daily News' Michael McAuliff writes. "President-elect Barack Obama's transition team is moving full speed ahead - and starting Monday, will demand access and details from what many regard as the most secretive White House ever."
Are the leaks that big a deal? "Any grumbling assumes there were real 'leaks' from Obama insiders. But beyond that, is there such a tradition of presidential omerta?" Jim Rutenberg writes in The New York Times. "A check of newspaper clippings finds that if it ever existed, it has been broken frequently before."
Headline in the New York Post: "SOMEONE CALL JOE THE PLUMBER! BUSH IS MAD AT O LEAKS."
Still, there are limits to how much of this presidency thing he's jumping into: "The world is waiting for President-elect Barack Obama, and some of its most prominent leaders are flying into the United States this weekend clamoring to meet with him. But they will have to keep on waiting," Peter Baker writes in The New York Times.
Baker: "Several Obama advisers, in separate interviews, all used the word 'awkward' to describe the situation. But Robert Gibbs, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama, said: 'While some may say it's awkward that he's not there, it would be far more problematic to be there. We firmly believe there is only one president at a time.' "
Says John Podesta: "We are arranging to have . . . appropriate people meet with those leaders, people they know and that they trust."
Why breathe Washington air any earlier than you have to? "Obama plans to announce decisions about his Cabinet secretaries from Chicago rather than inside the Beltway, Podesta indicated, and will remain there this weekend as leaders from around the world arrive in Washington for an economic summit hosted by President Bush," Michael D. Shear writes in The Washington Post.
One president, 10 million supporters: "President-elect Barack Obama will take office in January with a weapon no president has ever had at his disposal: An online army of more than 10 million supporters who can now be put to use to help carry out a sweeping agenda," per ABC News. "The supporters -- including more than 3 million people who gave money to Obama's campaign -- provide Obama the opportunity to communicate directly with supporters in new ways, in real time, and at little cost. He'll be able to solicit input from a wide range of voters -- and, potentially, pressure members of Congress to follow Obama's lead on key legislation."
As for the most open, honest, and transparent transition in American history -- we'll let you know when we have more to say on that.
"For nearly three-quarters of an hour, Podesta regaled his adoring fans with endless variations of his theme song: 'When we have something to say about it, we'll let you know,' " Dana Milbank writes in his Washington Post column. "Please tell us, o great Podesta, whether President Obama will have an auto-industry czar. 'When we have an announcement about that, we'll raise it.' And what about Obama's Cabinet announcements, great Podesta? 'We'll make announcements when we're ready to make them.' The White House staff, pray tell? 'Those will come out as they're ready to be announced.' "
Speaking of promises: "President-elect Barack Obama, who vowed during his campaign that lobbyists 'won't find a job in my White House,' said through a spokesman yesterday that he would allow lobbyists on his transition team as long as they work on issues unrelated to their earlier jobs," Michael Kranish reports in The Boston Globe. "Independent analysts said yesterday that the move is less than the wholesale removal of lobbyists that he suggested during the campaign -- and shows how difficult it will be to lessen the pervasive influence of more than 40,000 registered lobbyists."
ABC's Jake Tapper tracks the shifting rhetoric: "They Won't Work in My White House . . . They Won't Run My White House . . . They Won't Work on My Transition On Matters Related to their Field of Expertise for the Past 12 Months."
"Further, the rules apply to lobbyists who must register with the federal government; many people who work for lobbying firms or in other areas of the influence business in Washington do not have to register, because they do not personally lobby federal officials on specific issues," Helene Cooper and Jeff Zeleny report in The New York Times.
"He will still leave room on his team for the rich and powerful," Bloomberg's Jonathan Salant reports. "Top fundraisers and other well-connected supporters will serve in an advisory capacity before the Democrat takes office on Jan. 20."
Lynn Sweet is skeptical: "Meanwhile, let's see if the Obama team provides more than the legal minimum when it comes to details on how private money is being raised to help bankroll the transition operation," Sweet writes for the Chicago Sun-Times. "And if by chance you thought that Obama's anti-federal lobbyist drive -- a centerpiece of his campaign -- would mean that federal lobbyists would not work in his transition or White House, then you have not been listening to Obama's carefully worded campaign promises on the subject."
Meet the realists: "It's starting to look as though Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's family empire is living on, even though she lost the Democratic primary," Janet Hook and Peter Nicholas write in the Los Angeles Times. "The high visibility of old hands and familiar faces underscores a tension that is already running through Team Obama: The president-elect has promised to overthrow Washington's habits of partisanship and cronyism. But it's tempting to turn to seasoned veterans to help him avoid the kinds of rookie mistakes that hobbled Clinton and President Carter."
Press-secretary-to-be Robert Gibbs gets the Howard Kurtz treatment, in The Washington Post. "While he can be combative in private, Gibbs is affable and smooth-talking on camera, often deflecting uncomfortable questions with a quip. Colleagues say Gibbs channels the president-elect in a way that goes beyond their shared passion for college football. Obama had an initial tendency to overanswer questions, but Gibbs has taught him how to pivot back to his scripted point," Kurtz writes.
Says Newsweek's Richard Wolffe: "He could deliver a harsh message, but do it with a little sense of humor, so you'd feel punched in the stomach but not in the face."
Says Linda Douglass: "We call him the Barack Whisperer. He completely understands his thinking and knows how Barack wants to come across."
Says Dean Reynolds: "He became less and less helpful as Obama got more and more successful."
Don't worry about Hillary: She knows how to get through to the Obama White House. "Rahm Emanuel? He's gonna be accessible to me," Clinton told reporters in a conference call Tuesday, per the New York Daily News' James Gordon Meek.
Quick movement on Guantanamo? "The Obama administration will launch a review of the classified files of the approximately 250 detainees at Guantanamo Bay immediately after taking office, as part of an intensive effort to close the U.S. prison in Cuba, according to people who advised the campaign on detainee issues," The Washington Post's Peter Finn writes. "Announcing the closure of the controversial detention facility would be among the most potent signals the incoming administration could send of its sharp break with the Bush era."
More Gitmo pressure. Coming Wednesday, a report that calls on Obama to close Guantanamo Bay, and to initiate sweeping investigations into prisoner treatment there: "A new report by human rights experts at the University of California, Berkeley, details the experience of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba and Afghanistan, from the time of their capture through their return home. The report authors will hold a press conference call at noon this Wednesday to discuss their findings and the implications for the Obama Administration; prior to the press call, they will hold an in-person briefing in Washington, DC, on the report."
Does this help anyone's case for the job? "The battle for America's top diplomatic post spilled into view Tuesday, as some Hispanic leaders made a public push to have President-elect Barack Obama name Bill Richardson, the governor of New Mexico, as his secretary of state," Cam Simpson writes in The Wall Street Journal. "Sen. John Kerry, an early backer of Mr. Obama who failed in his own bid for the presidency four years ago, sought to deflect reports that he is lobbying for the job."
Pressure against Defense Secretary Robert Gates: "Arms control advocates and anti-war activists are ratcheting up pressure on President-elect Barack Obama to dump Defense Secretary Robert Gates and replace him with a more strident anti-war voice," Politico's Jen DiMascio writes. (Anyone think Obama will be taking cues from Code Pink?) It won't be Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., at OMB. "U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad said he has turned down an opportunity to serve in a powerful position with President Barack Obama's administration," per the Grand Forks Herald. Sen. John McCain did Leno last night -- his first interview since losing the presidential race. "I salute, as you know, and admire and respect the winner: Senator-President-Elect Barack Obama," said McCain, R-Ariz., per ABC's Bret Hovell.
"I'm sleeping like a baby," McCain said. Leno: "Oh?" McCain: "Yes. I sleep two hours, I wake up crying. Sleep two hours, wake up crying."
On Sarah Palin's impact on the race: "Did you expect mavericks to stay on message?" he asked Leno with a nervous chuckle. When Leno didn't immediately jump in, McCain then fumbled around a little for what would be the next part of his answer.
"Oh, I'm sure that from time to -- well, but she was, look, I -- we did a lot of things together a lot of these rallies, and the people were very excited and inspired by her, and that's what really mattered, I think," McCain said.
Said McCain: "The one thing I think Americans don't want is a sore loser."
On running again: "I wouldn't think so, my friend. It's been a great experience and we're going to have another generation of leaders come along."
The Palin Reclamation Tour continues: She says she's not interested in running for a potentially open Senate seat. "I'm not planning on it because I think the people of Alaska will best be served with me as their governor. . . . I think the people of Alaska appreciate me where I am today as their governor," Palin said Wednesday on "Today." "The attraction is to best serve the people I will be accountable to, and right now I am accountable to the people of Alaska. They hired me as their governor and I am blessed to have the opportunity that I have to serve them as governor -- it's a great job. I love it."
"Life is pretty unpredictable and that's the excitement of life," she added. "You never know what's around the next corner, I don't know what's around the next corner, but I do know that today and tomorrow I will be in the governor's office in Anchorage and Juneau and I will be serving the people of Alaska."
On that front: "Look for the needle to move on Alaska's landmark U.S. Senate race and other tight contests this week, with the Division of Elections planning to tally more than half of the uncounted ballots Wednesday," Kyle Hopkins reports in the Anchorage Daily News.
Next for Palin: Miami, at the Republican Governors Association meeting. She's not the only star on display: "Just as more centrist Democrats like Bill Clinton emerged in the wake of Ronald Reagan's triumphs, more pragmatic Republicans like [Florida Gov. Charlie] Crist, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, Indiana governor Mitch Daniels and even more conservative Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal will likely be the phoenixes that rise from the GOP ashes of 2008," Time's Tim Padgett writes.
As for Palin: "Her demeanor is as positive and peppy as ever, but the criticism evidently took a toll," Alessandra Stanley writes in The New York Times. "Even in her kitchen in Wasilla, Alaska, preparing dinner for the family and visiting reporters (moose chili for Greta Van Susteren, a haddock and salmon casserole for [Matt] Lauer), Ms. Palin seemed frozen in the bubble of campaign past, fighting to make her case above the whispers of aides, handlers and media consultants."
Who's happy with Palin mania? How about John McCain: "The Palin obsession -- which she has fed by going on a media tour and returning to the Lower 48 for the RGA meeting -- obscures the mistakes McCain made in his own campaign (though some would say one of those was in picking the Alaska governor)," Politico's Jonathan Martin writes. "The central debate in the GOP is not now what typically takes place after a party loses -- what the candidate did wrong or whether he ran too far to the left, right or middle."
You know the election is really over when . . . John Edwards and Mark Foley make public appearances on the very same day.
Edwards, D-N.C., managed not to talk about the one thing everyone wants him to talk about: "In prepared remarks he spoke about the 2008 presidential race, but made no mention of his headline-grabbing admission that sent him into seclusion for past three months," per ABC's Raelyn Johnson. "Following his remarks, Edwards answered presubmitted questions from students. He was reportedly paid $35,000 for his speech."
Foley, R-Fla., chats with the AP's Brian Skoloff, in his first interview since resigning his House seat in 2006. "There was never anywhere in those conversations where someone said, 'Stop,' or 'I'm not enjoying this,' or 'This is inappropriate' . . . but again, I'm the adult here, I'm the congressman," Foley said. "The fact is I allowed it to happen. That's where my responsibility lies."
Skoloff: "Still, he said, there was no hypocrisy. 'The work I was doing was involving young children ... You know, you hear the term "pedophile." That is prepubescent,' Foley said, noting a 'huge difference' from lurid chats with teens on the brink of adulthood. 'At the end of the day, they were instant messages that were extraordinarily inappropriate,' " he added, breathing a heavy sigh, his eyes wandering toward the ceiling."
Does he take blame for GOP losses in Congress? "They had the Republicans on a number of ethical scandals and, you know, I served up for them the moral dilemma," Foley said.
President Bush starts looking back: "I regret saying some things I shouldn't have said," Bush told CNN's Heidi Collins when asked to reflect on his regrets over his two terms as president. "Like 'dead or alive' and 'bring 'em on.' My wife reminded me that, hey, as president of the United States, be careful what you say."
On the book he's planning: "I want people to know what its like to make some of the decisions I had to make -- what was the moment like? I've had one of these presidencies where I had to make some tough calls. I want people to know the truth about what it was like sitting in the Oval Office, but it's going take a lot of thought and a lot of work to get it out, and it will be an interesting project."
On Obama: "Clearly this guy is going to bring a great sense of family to the White House."
What's next for Sen. Joe Lieberman? "One alternative would be to give Lieberman the chairmanship of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, which has one of the lowest profiles on Capitol Hill. Its current chairman, Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), is set to move into a more prestigious chairmanship," per The Washington Post's Paul Kane. "But a Lieberman aide said yesterday that the senator rejected Reid's overtures to chair the small-business committee and that he demanded to retain his current chairmanship."
Not everyone in Congress waits for presidential leadership: "The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday will release a sweeping proposal to overhaul the health-care system that largely reflects President-elect Barack Obama's vision, increasing the chances for action next year," Laura Meckler writes in The Wall Street Journal. "There is one important difference between the initiative coming from Montana Democratic Sen. Max Baucus and the plan Mr. Obama laid out during his presidential campaign: Mr. Baucus would require all Americans to have health insurance, while Mr. Obama has rejected the idea of a mandate."
An optics problem? "President-elect Obama has stressed the need for energy independence - but he'll be chauffeured around in a gas-guzzling Cadillac SUV limo that could pose a symbolism problem similar to the car controversy that dogged his friend and ally, Gov. Deval Patrick," Dave Wedge writes for the Boston Herald. "Obama's presidential ride, dubbed 'Cadillac One,' will reportedly be a mammoth, custom-made Cadillac limo built like a GMC truck that sits on 19-inch wheels. The vehicle will also have 5-inch-thick bulletproof windows, cell phone-jamming gear and blast-proof armor."
"They probably will. The invitation is there. . . . You know the 'Hannah Montana' film comes out in April. Maybe something might happen around then." -- Billy Ray Cyrus, inviting Sasha and Malia Obama to appear on "Hannah Montana."
"If I had a post office named after me today, they'd probably return to sender." -- Mark Foley.
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