Questions worth pondering while you're thinking about the prospect of a Palin-free week:
3. Will the president-elect spend more political capital getting a playoff system for college football than he will pushing a bailout package to help save Detroit? (And will he spend this much time in the gym when he's in the White House?)
4. What does it say about the most open and transparent transition in history that Obama meets in super-secrecy with Democrats, while press releases are sent out for meetings with Republicans?
5. Who's the more powerful Republican this week -- John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, or John McCain?
The rival reclamation tour continues Monday in Chicago, with Obama set to meet at noon ET with that other individual who almost stopped him from becoming president: McCain.
McCain is at heart a dealmaker, and his return to the Senate as part of a diminished GOP caucus enhances his opportunities to cut them. Just like he'd have to if he'd won, McCain will be forced to work with Democrats -- and, of course, there's one Democrat in particular whose cooperation is vital if McCain wants to remain a potent force.
McCain, R-Ariz., has no more friends in the Senate (in either party) than he did before he ran. And the Senate remains the place where some of the bolder Obama ideas may go to die.
But McCain won't be speaking for leadership in the new Congress. Even more than after his 2000 run, he is one of a handful of senators whose celebrity brings power that can't be measured by chairmanships or seniority (Hillary Clinton is another). When an Obama measure -- any measure -- is sent to Congress, who do you think will be the first lawmaker reporters seek out for reaction?
"Both have much to gain from swift reconciliation after a bitter contest," The Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman and Laura Meckler write. "Mr. Obama's pledge to move beyond the partisan bickering requires Republican partners. Sen. McCain would be a potent symbol -- and one with a long history of working with Democrats on key issues on the president-elect's agenda: climate change, energy efficiency and national service. . . . Obama aides stress the opportunity the president-elect is offering Sen. McCain."
The Palin mania that's enveloped the past week has mostly enhanced McCain by not focusing on his missteps (other than, possibly, his selection of Sarah Palin).
So the Arizona senator returns to the Hill with the potential to be more of a power source than ever -- the one man whose reaction to an Obama proposal could immediately set the tone for debate.
"Sources close to McCain say their man wants to leave the campaign behind and return to the role he forged for himself on Capitol Hill as the leading reformer and bi-partisan legislator in the Senate," Time's James Carney writes. "By meeting with McCain so shortly after the election, Obama is demonstrating both magnanimity and self-confidence. But his move is also based on self-interest. Obama is keenly aware of the fact that, despite increased Democratic majorities in both the Senate and the House, he cannot enact the kind of sweeping legislative overhaul he envisions without the help of Republicans."
With two years left on his term -- why wouldn't he want to be a player? And the choice of wingmen for Monday's meeting -- new White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel for Obama, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. -- for McCain -- says that both men are serious about a potential partnership.
"Graham said that McCain and Obama are philosophically alike on budget reform, Social Security changes, earmark reform and immigration," per The Washington Post's Michael Shear. "One thing not expected to be on the agenda: a rehash of the sometimes not-so-nice things said on the campaign trail. Those close to both men say they have moved on and are focused on the future."
"There is no agenda for the meeting, Graham said. McCain wants to learn how Obama plans to proceed and 'where we can fit in,' Graham said, citing work on climate change as a potential area of common ground," USA Today's David Jackson reports.
From the Obama-Biden transition office: "It's well known that they share an important belief that Americans want and deserve a more effective and efficient government, and will discuss ways to work together to make that a reality." (No staffing announcements expected Monday.)
This week could see the first Obama Cabinet selections (though that's less likely than it appeared a week ago) -- but there's really only one job seeker that can be talked about, until or unless it's resolved.
"All my reporting tells me that Barack Obama wants Hillary Clinton to be his Secretary of State, and that Clinton wants the job too," ABC's George Stephanopoulos writes. "But there's one significant complication: how to make sure that former President Clinton's foreign speeches, business dealings and foundation work don't present conflicts of interest."
"One major sticking point -- the complex web of international business relationships of former president Bill Clinton and the top-secret funding of his charitable foundation," ABC's Jake Tapper reported on "Good Morning America" Monday. "A definite line of questioning in any confirmation hearing -- and a potential roadblock for any Obama-Hillary Clinton deal."
A hint? Steve Kroft asked about the Lincoln thing in his "60 Minutes" interview -- referencing Doris Kearns Goodwin's "Team of Rivals": "Well, I tell you what, I find him a very wise man," said Obama, who also said he'll include at least one Republican in his Cabinet.
(Newsweek etches Obama's onto the penny, and turns to the biographer herself for an assessment: "I think he's got a temperamental set of qualities that have some resemblance to Lincoln's emotional intelligence," says Goodwin.)
Also from "60 Minutes": "Obama refused to be pinned down about when he would make his first Cabinet appointments, responding 'soon.' He also said there would be Republicans in the Cabinet but declined to say whether he would appoint more than one," The Chicago Tribune's John McCormick writes.
Here comes the dicey part: "President-elect Barack Obama's advisers have begun reviewing former President Bill Clinton's finances and activities to see whether they would preclude the appointment of his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, as secretary of state," The New York Times' Peter Baker and Helene Cooper report. "A team of lawyers trying to facilitate the potential nomination spent the weekend looking into Mr. Clinton's philanthropic organization, interactions with foreign governments and ties to pharmaceutical companies, a Democrat close to both camps said."
They've taken this dance pretty far: "More than a dozen advisers to both sides said Sunday that although they did not have firm information, they considered it improbable that Mr. Obama would have opened the door to Mrs. Clinton's appointment without having decided, at least in principle, that he would like to make it happen. Rejecting her after letting the possibility become so public would risk a new rupture in a party that spent much of the year divided between Mr. Obama and the Clintons," Baker and Cooper write.
Another hint: "No one has called to say, 'Don't get too far on this,' " said James Carville, a longtime Clinton friend and adviser. "A silent phone's sometimes as much of an indication as a ringing phone."
Yet another hint: Installing Greg Craig at the White House, and not in the national-security post he'd been in the mix for. A signal to Clinton, who would rather not have a political enemy in her midst at State?
As always, you can't just get one Clinton: "[Obama] would be investing his fortunes not only with his former rival for the presidency but also in an outsize figure on the global scene who has been conducting a kind of privately financed foreign policy all his own since leaving office," Michael D. Shear and Philip Rucker report in The Washington Post. "Obama and the former president have also continued to share a somewhat strained relationship since the end of the Democratic nominating contest."
The former president himself gives some space to the president-elect -- but emphasizes the "team" part: "If Obama did decide and they do decide to do it together, I think she'd be really great at being secretary of state," the former president said after speaking at a symposium in Kuwait. "Whatever happens or doesn't happen is between Obama and her."
Piecing together the puzzle: "Defense Secretary Robert Gates may be closer to being tapped for extended duty by Barack Obama because of the near certainty a Democrat -- possibly Hillary Clinton -- will be named secretary of state and Gates's willingness to accept a new team around him, according to Democratic and Republican experts," per Bloomberg's Ken Fireman and Hans Nichols.
Making that appointment a bit easier: "Iraq's cabinet on Sunday overwhelmingly approved a proposed security agreement that calls for a full withdrawal of American forces from the country by the end of 2011. The cabinet's decision brings a final date for the departure of American troops a significant step closer after more than five and a half years of war," per the write-up by The New York Times' Campbell Robertson and Stephen Farrell.
As for the message a Clinton appointment would send . . . Maureen Dowd, in her Sunday New York Times column: "If Barry chooses Hillary as secretary of state, a woman who clearly intimidated him and taught him to be a better pol in the primaries, it doesn't signal the return of the Clinton era. It says the opposite: If you have a president who's willing to open up his universe to other smart, strong people, if you have a big dog who shares his food dish, the Bill Clinton era is truly over. Appointing a Clinton in the cabinet would be so un-Clintonian."
Too much Clinton? Bloomberg's Al Hunt sees Obama going for a balance: "He wants to assemble a group that has gravitas and is fresh, one that reflects the diversity of his political appeal and the depth and knowledge he promised to bring to government. Insiders and outsiders."
That might mean Tim Geithner at Treasury: Geithner, "whose acumen is as striking as his youthful appearance, is a more attractive alternative [than Larry Summers] to some Obama advisers. A possible middle ground that has been advanced to the president-elect is the towering presence of 81-year-old former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, with Geithner as his deputy and heir apparent."
The new boss introduced himself early: "In wooing federal employee votes on the eve of the election, Barack Obama wrote a series of letters to workers that offer detailed descriptions of how he intends to add muscle to specific government programs, give new power to bureaucrats and roll back some Bush administration policies," Carol D. Leonnig reports in The Washington Post.
"The letters, sent to employees at seven agencies, describe Obama's intention to scale back on contracts to private firms doing government work, to remove censorship from scientific research, and to champion tougher industry regulation to protect workers and the environment. He made it clear that the Department of Housing and Urban Development would have an enhanced role in restoring public confidence in the housing market, shaken because of the ongoing mortgage crisis."
Noam Scheiber wonders whether Obama can keep his team in line as it grows: "Already, there are signs of strain. Overshadowed by Emanuel's Hamlet routine was the unintentional rollout of [Robert] Gibbs as White House press secretary, which transition officials first pushed back against, then grudgingly acknowledged. This week, Obama honchos beat back rumors that former secretary of state Warren Christopher, a man many Democrats associate with concave-chested wimpiness, would help guide the State Department transition. An e-mail asking foreign policy aides to stiff the press quickly found its way to Politico; internal discussions about Guantanamo leaked to the Associated Press. Other personnel news keeps gushing forth prematurely: Reports have former Clintonista Patti Solis Doyle in a senior White House job."
How many future Cabinet members will we see this week in Washington, with a lame lame-duck session on tap?
"Congressional Democrats had high hopes for their lame-duck session this week, but they now acknowledge that passage of an economic stimulus plan or automaker bailout will likely have to wait until next year," Roll Call's Emily Pierce and Steven T. Dennis report. "If there is a GOP objection to adding the automaker rescue package to the unemployment measure, [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid will likely use procedural tools to set up a vote on Wednesday, the aide said. Because the vote will likely be on a motion to limit debate, or invoke cloture, 60 votes will be needed to move forward on the bill."
Ex-senator Obama won't be playing, and neither will still-current Sen. Joe Biden: "The [resignation] action means Obama will not be part of the congressional debate this week over a stimulus package to jump-start the nation's struggling economy. He has said the package should include an extension of unemployment benefits and aid for the foundering auto industry, but prospects for passage of that type of plan appear slim," Michael A. Fletcher reports in The Washington Post.
Look for a bill to be unveiled Monday -- but movement may wait until January.
"Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is scheduled to introduce legislation today that would provide $25 billion from the $700 billion Wall Street bailout package for the struggling automakers," David Shepardson and Christine Tierney report for The Detroit News. "But the assistance will be accompanied by many conditions, including limits on executive compensation and bonuses, a ban on using the money for dividend payments, and the creation of an oversight board. Democrats may have to add more and tougher terms to secure passage of the bill, including possible management changes. Many Republican lawmakers are balking at extending any aid on the grounds that the auto industry bears some responsibility for its troubles."
That's a whole bunch of Republicans they'll need to bring on board: "The impasse, a fitting end for the 110th Congress given the stalemates that marked the past two years, makes it quite likely that any separate bailout for the auto industry will have to wait until after President-elect Barack Obama is sworn in on Jan. 20," The New York Times' Carl Hulse reports. "The odds are also against a broader measure sought by Democrats in an effort to help the economy. The legislation with the best chance of clearing Congress this week is a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits for those who have exhausted their aid in states with high unemployment."
Said Obama, on "60 Minutes": "My hope is that over the course of the next week, between the White House and Congress, the discussions are shaped around providing assistance, but making sure that that assistance is conditioned on labor, management, suppliers, lenders -- all the stakeholders coming together with a plan."
The White House position, from press secretary Dana Perino Monday morning: "We believe this assistance should come from the program created by Congress that was specifically designed to assist the automakers -- from the $25 billion Department of Energy loan program. We believe this is the appropriate funding to use for automakers rather than seeking an ADDITIONAL $25 billion from the TARP program. We should not seek ADDITIONAL funding while $25 billion sits available in a program that was designed for automakers."
McClatchy's David Lightman: "The easier step for Democrats would be to wait two months until Barack Obama is inaugurated and the 111th Congress convenes with much larger party majorities. But economic indicators are growing more dismal by the day, concerns about last month's $700 billion financial rescue plan keep surfacing and automakers warn they're in desperate need of cash."
Behind the politics: "Senators from Southern states with factories owned by Asian and European car manufacturers oppose a bailout of U.S. automakers, saying the industry can thrive without General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC," Bloomberg's Alison Fitzgerald and Jonathan D. Salant report.
A boost from Arnold: "I think that there's a way of reducing all of that, make them more fiscally responsible. And then, if they have to act together and have renegotiated those deals, then yes, you can go in there and help them out financially," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, R-Calif., told ABC's George Stephanopoulos Sunday on "This Week."
And he wants a bailout of sorts for states: "I propose that we should get help from the federal government, if we can -- again, also, like the car manufacturers -- can prove that we have a fiscal housing order, and that we can solve our problems ourselves. But give us in this emergency kind of a situation or in this crisis, some additional money," Schwarzenegger said.
Might this help move it? (Probably not.) "Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said lawmakers will attach several conditions for Detroit automakers in return for $25 billion in federal aid," per The Hill's Alexander Bolton. "Frank said Sunday that automakers will be required to submit to Congress their plans for future economic viability and environmental efficiency."
What else does Obama get to inherit? "With coordination between leading economies effectively on hold during the American presidential transition, little was accomplished at the much-hyped summit of world leaders over the weekend besides passing the buck to incoming president Barack Obama," Politico's Victoria McGrane reports. "The Group of 20 will reconvene on April 30, Obama's 101st day in office. With the economic landscape giving way underfoot, the new president will have little time to fashion the policies that may well determine the success of his presidency."
You think? "The wave of bad economic news that helped carry Barack Obama to an election victory this month now threatens to swamp his presidency even before he takes the oath of office Jan. 20," Peter G. Gosselin writes in the Los Angeles Times. "As the Democratic president-elect scrambles to assemble an economic team, the crisis that at first seemed confined to Wall Street and the nation's financial markets has been raging through Main Street and the regular economy of labor, goods and services."
Over on the GOP side, Mike Huckabee's book is out Tuesday -- and he names names. Time's Michael Scherer: "Mitt Romney, Huckabee's principle rival in Iowa, comes in for the roughest treatment. Huckabee writes that the former Massachusetts Governor's record was 'anything but conservative until he changed the light bulbs in his chandelier in time to run for president.' . . . He mocks Romney for suggesting, during one debate, more investment in high-yield stocks as a solution to economic woes. 'Let them eat stocks!' Huckabee jokes."
Also: "Fred Thompson never did grasp the dynamics of the race or the country, and his amazingly lackluster campaign reflected just how disconnected he was with the people, despite the anticipation and expectation that greeted his candidacy," Huckabee writes.
Scherer continues: "Huckabee writes of Gary Bauer, the conservative Christian leader and former presidential candidate, as having an 'ever-changing reason to deny me his support.' . . . He calls out Pat Robertson, the Virginia-based televangelist, and Dr. Bob Jones III, chancellor of Bob Jones University in South Carolina, for endorsing Rudy Giuliani and Romney, respectively. He also has words for the Texas-based Rev. John Hagee, who endorsed the more moderate John McCain in the primaries, as someone who was drawn to the eventual Republican nominee because of the lure of power."
As for Huckabee's former campaign manager . . . Chip Saltsman is making the battle for RNC chairman into an air war. "Saltsman will travel the country next week to meet with high-ranking Republicans as he considers a bid to be the next chairman of the Republican National Committee," per CNN's Mark Preston. "But don't look for him running through any major airports. Instead, Saltsman will pilot his own plane -- a Piper Arrow -- which will allow him to touch down in small airports and avoid the inconveniences of commercial flying."
Who wants the job? "GOP aspirants face the possibility of a nightmare scenario: taking the helm of a party so weighed down by doctrinaire hard-liners and hectoring moralists that no one, especially an RNC chair, will be able to change course and avoid a tsunami of culturally disinhibited, secularizing 'creatives,' Hispanics, African Americans, and a young netroot-savvy demographic cohort larger than the Baby Boom," Tom Edsall writes for Huffington Post.
Whither the GOP? It helps to agree on a diagnosis, before the treatment regimen can begin: "[Republicans] differ, though, on whether the heavy losses Republicans suffered in the past two election cycles were a result of unique circumstances and the ever-swinging political pendulum or structural problems that could keep them shut out of power for years to come," Politico's Jonathan Martin writes. "GOP officials and strategists at party conferences last week offered sharply contrasting assessments of what went wrong, and of how difficult it will be to rebuild. Perhaps not surprisingly, the split tended to fall along generational lines."
Harsh words, from a rising star: "Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, poised to ascend to House Republicans' No. 2 leader this week, said the Republican Party in Washington is no longer 'relevant' to voters and must stop simply espousing principles," per the Washington Times' Stephen Dinan.
Says Cantor: "Where we have really fallen down is, we have lacked the ability to be relevant to people's lives. Let's set aside the last eight years, and our falling down in living up to expectations of what we said we were going to do. . . . It's the relevancy question."
Arnold doesn't want to hear about "values": "This dialogue about 'we have to go back to our core values.' What is that?" Schwarzenegger said during an interview on "This Week." "How far does 'core' go back in history in America?" Thirty years? Fifty years? Because we know that Teddy Roosevelt talks about universal healthcare. . . . I think it's all nonsense talk."
Bill Kristol is worried: "If Republicans and conservatives don't come to grips with what's happened, and can't develop an economic agenda moving forward that seems to incorporate lessons learned from what's happened -- then they could be back, politically, in 1933," Kristol writes in his New York Times column. "If conservatives do some difficult re-thinking in the field of political economy, they can come back. If they don't -- well, there were a lot of admirable conservative thinkers and writers, professors and novelists, from 1933 to 1980. But conservatives didn't govern."
Two weeks in, and they're just about done counting in Alaska, with Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, trailing: "The state will count the final absentee and questioned ballots Tuesday -- about 24,000 of them. Even if a third of the questioned ballots are disqualified, that will put the turnout above 320,000, the most Alaskans who have ever voted," per Sean Cockerham of the Anchorage Daily News.
"How about that?" -- Barack Obama, in an e-mail to a friend the night of his election victory, per The New York Times' Jeff Zeleny.
"And then she said 'Are you gonna take the girls to school in the morning?' " -- Barack Obama, on "60 Minutes," recalling what his wife said shortly after congratulating him on being elected the 44th president of the United States.
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