The Note: Politics of Nope

About that hope thing -- can it wait 'til January?

For all the excitement and expectations surrounding the elevation of President-elect Barack Obama, it's a particularly grim week in Washington.

Lawmakers are reassembling for the lamest of lame-duck session, doubtful that they'll get anything done. Automakers and top administration officials trudge up to Capitol Hill Tuesday for their ritualized grillings -- but no one is quite sure what to do next.

Republicans are looking for a new direction -- if not an entirely new reason to exist. It's revenge time Tuesday, too, with Sen. Joe Lieberman's chairmanships and Sen. Ted Stevens' whole job potentially on the line. On the House side, an upstart of a 69-year-old is trying to oust the longest-serving member of the House from his chairmanship.

The politicking and stalled policy amounts to a big reality check for a nation that voted for change two weeks ago. Yes, we can talk about working together (and if Obama and Sen. John McCain can sit together and smile for the cameras, what can't happen?), but when it comes to governance, the same stubborn splits persist -- between the parties, inside the parties, and everywhere in between.

(If you need a smile yourself, Sen. Ted Kennedy is back.)

Obama's transition, meanwhile, is snagged on a very big question involving -- who else? -- the Big Dog himself.

"Mr. Clinton's postpresidential life as a globe-trotting philanthropist, business consultant and speech-giver poses the highest hurdle for Mrs. Clinton to overcome if President-elect Barack Obama chooses to nominate her as secretary of state, according to aides of the Clintons and Mr. Obama," The New York Times' Don Van Natta Jr. and Jo Becker report.

"While aides to the president-elect declined Monday to discuss what sort of requirements would make it possible for Mrs. Clinton to serve as secretary of state, they said Mr. Obama would not formally offer her the job unless he was satisfied that there would be no conflicts posed by Mr. Clinton's activities abroad."

Said Abner J. Mikva, an Obama supporter and a White House counsel during the Clinton administration: "There would have to be full disclosure as to who all were contributors to his library and foundation. I think they'd have to be made public."

(Maybe not everything, Obama aides advise -- but it's all under review.)

Could things be moving along? "Serious progress is being made," ABC's Jake Tapper reported on "Good Morning America" Tuesday. "Sources say that both President-elect Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton are increasingly optimistic that it will happen, perhaps -- perhaps -- even as early as the next week. . . . There has been an agreement now between the Clinton team and the Obama team in terms of vetting some of those financial documents."

Still: "The issue is both simple and complex: How to make sure that Bill Clinton's international fundraising -- from heads of state and others -- would not conflict with his wife's very public duties as the nation's top diplomat," The New York Daily News' David Saltonstall writes.

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