The Note: Of Clintons and Clintonistas

Which of these items should surprise us:

- The fact that Vice-president-elect Joe Biden is still a member of the United States Senate? (Albeit one with no intentions of actually casting another vote.)

- The fact that Sen. Ted Stevens is still a member of the Republican caucus? (Albeit one with very few votes left to cast.)

- The fact that Sen. Joe Lieberman is still a member of the Democratic caucus? (Just with one fewer subcommittee chairmanship that no one knew he had.)

- The fact that it there might be more old Clinton hands in the incoming Obama administration that there would have been if Hillary Clinton had won?

- The fact that conventional wisdom on Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton at State has shifted from why-would-he-want-her to why-would-she-want-it? (Is this all part of a power-play dance?)

- The fact that President-elect Barack Obama hasn't had complete, leak-proof control of any of his major appointments so far in the transition process? (All this before he names a single member of his Cabinet . . . )

Forgiveness is in the air on the Hill, and maybe in Chicago, too.

Add Eric Holder, Obama's choice for attorney general, to two running lists: worst-kept appointment secrets, and former top Clinton administration officials filling out the Obama team.

If Holder gets the nod, this means we know there will be at least one (if not a dozen) confirmation fights that reopen the old battles of the Clinton years.

This while Sen. Clinton plays out her internal fight over whether she wants to be Secretary of State. (Sorry, did someone mention drama?)

"While Mr. Obama has yet to name any of his cabinet secretaries, his early choices for White House staff positions and the names currently at the top of the list for staff and cabinet jobs suggest that his administration could be heavily stocked with Democrats who served under Mr. Clinton," The New York Times' Eric Lichtblau and John M. Broder report.

This storyline, again: "President-elect Barack Obama repeatedly is turning to the Clinton administration for his Cabinet and staff, the latest example coming yesterday when Eric Holder emerged as the leading candidate for attorney general," Bloomberg's James Rowley and Julianna Goldman write. "To be sure, some of the problems that beset the Clinton administration could follow as well."

Obama "wants the best people for the job, and he's willing to overcome that chatter if he determines that anyone he appoints is the best person for the job, even if they did serve in the Clinton administration," ABC's George Stephanopoulos said on "Good Morning America" Wednesday.

Newsweek's Michael Isikoff broke the Holder news: "Holder, who served as deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration, still has to undergo a formal 'vetting' review by the Obama transition team before the selection is final and is publicly announced, said one of the sources, who asked not to be identified talking about the transition process. But in the discussions over the past few days, Obama offered Holder the job and he accepted, the source said. The announcement is not likely until after Obama announces his choices to lead the Treasury and State departments."

What does it mean for an offer to have been made, but for it not to be finalized?

"Holder, 57, was offered the job late last week and tentatively accepted it, sources said," Carrie Johnson reports in The Washington Post. "The Obama team intends to make the nomination official if he receives at least moderate support from Republican lawmakers and completes the vetting process, the sources said. Intermediaries began to reach out to Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, and the vetting pace accelerated yesterday."

"Michael J. Madigan, a Republican lawyer who has served in several high-profile positions on Capitol Hill but who supported Obama's bid for the presidency, said that 'the whole Marc Rich thing is a bad rap and it won't go anywhere' if GOP senators press it at confirmation hearings," Johnson writes.

The contours of the battle are taking shape even before the nomination is made formal: "The biggest issue in any confirmation hearing, Holder's supporters and critics said, would be that as deputy attorney general he had failed to oppose a presidential pardon for then-fugitive financier Marc Rich on the last day of the Clinton administration. Rich's former wife, Denise, was a contributor to former President Clinton's presidential library," Josh Meyer writes in the Los Angeles Times.

"Holder faced criticism for not speaking up before Clinton's pardon of financier Marc Rich, who fled the United States after his indictment for tax evasion and tax fraud," per ABC's Jake Tapper, Pierre Thomas, and Jason Ryan. "Additionally, Holder was serving as deputy attorney general during the Elian Gonzalez debacle. Federal agents raided the Miami home of the 6-year-old boy's family as part of an operation to take him into custody and return him to his father in Cuba."

The family is talking, still and already: "He's going to do great in this job because Eric is fair, he's smart, he's just an outstanding gentleman. We love him," sister-in-law Deborah Holder tells the New York Daily News. Says mom Miriam: "I'm a proud mother."

Holder himself -- not so much: "Asked on Monday whether he expected to be nominated, Holder responded in an e-mail: 'Who knows?' " Matt Apuzzo and Lara Jakes Jordan report in the Chicago Sun-Times.

This just in from Hillary madness -- doubts, and new opportunities, all out a little too widely for them not to be aired intentionally.

"Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York has reservations about accepting an appointment as secretary of state in the Obama administration, an adviser to Mrs. Clinton who is familiar with her thinking said on Tuesday," The New York Times' Raymond Hernandez and Michael Luo report. "It was unclear if Mrs. Clinton's stated hesitation was part of a bargaining tactic as the Obama team weighs whether to appoint her secretary of state, a genuine moment of indecision or, perhaps, a signal that she was preparing to withdraw from consideration."

Said the unnamed adviser: "If you are secretary of state you work for the president. . . . If you are a senator, you work for yourself and the people that elected you."

And a sentence that says so much about the politics of all of this: "She thinks Obama has been great to ask, and she has been well-treated during the process."

ABC's George Stephanopoulos, on "GMA" Wednesday: "I still think it's likely -- but no final decision has been made, in part because Sen. Clinton herself hasn't firmly decided that this is the job she wants." He added that an "agreement is emerging" regarding President Clinton's business dealings and finances.

Politico's Glenn Thrush gets a similar read from an unnamed adviser: Clinton "remains deeply 'torn' between the possibility of serving in Obama's cabinet and remaining in the Senate to 'help pass health care and work on a broad range of domestic issues,' " Thrush reports. "That comment jibes with what others close to Clinton have been saying since the Secretary of State chatter began last week: that Clinton is conflicted and the deal far from done, despite screaming headlines in outlets including the U.K.'s Guardian newspaper claiming the offer was made and accepted."

(A classic: "We've gotten rid of all the other idiots," joked one Clinton confidant, a reference to the Clinton campaign's propensity for leaks.)

What of these efforts in the Senate? "Clinton's allies have maneuvered to secure the New York lawmaker a role more prominent than her seniority entitles her to, in recognition of her historic run for the White House," the AP's David Espo reports.

She got a new health insurance taskforce Tuesday -- convenient timing, if nothing else, for it to be known that she has options.

And there's this hint, from Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.: If Clinton does not go into the administration, she told Espo: "We expect her to have a significant role. I don't think we've agreed to announce that yet."

Back on that other track: "Former President Bill Clinton has offered to submit future charitable and business activities to strict ethics reviews if his wife, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, were nominated as secretary of state, according to Democrats familiar with the deliberations. He has also agreed for the first time to disclose many of the previous donors to his efforts," Monica Langley and John R. Emshwiller report in The Wall Street Journal.

"Bill Clinton has also indicated, according to sources, that he would be willing to step down as the functional leader of his foundation for the duration of his wife's tenure in the Obama administration," The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder reports.

Another wrinkle, per ABC's Jake Tapper: "The view from Camp Clinton is that the Obama Team would too severely restrict what Bill Clinton is able to do to simply make a living. One source says the Obama Team seems to think it can demand that the former president abide by the restrictions put on a general government official, which just isn't tenable."

"There has even been talk of the Obama White House wanting to approve every speech the former President . . . gives, or any new source of income," Tapper writes. "And while the former President's team says he's willing to disclose that information ahead of time, they aren't willing to submit each speech opportunity for approval."

Don't we know enough about Bill's business dealings, asks Howard Wolfson. (Dusting off good defensive research for the right occasion.)

David Broder thinks it would all be a mistake: "Clinton is the wrong person for that job in this administration. It's not the best use of her talents and it's certainly not the best fit for this new president," Broder writes. "What Obama wants and needs in the person running the State Department is a diplomat who will carry out his foreign policy. He does not need someone who will tell him how to approach the world or be his mentor in international relations."

Maureen Dowd catches up with David Geffen (again), for an alternate view: "She's smart and tough, a lot better than any of the old hacks like Holbrooke, Albright, etc.," says Geffen. "Barack Obama is going to run policy, and Hillary will be an effective communicator. It also takes Bill out of the game. It completely turns him into an ally -- and probably a help to both of them."

Dee Dee Myers is also a fan of the partnership: "That's right, 'when,' not 'if.' Because it's going to happen. And not just because things have gotten so far -- and so publicly --along that any other outcome would be a major embarrassment to everyone involved. Rather, it's going to happen because Obama understands that it's in his interest."

How does this factor in? "Hillary Clinton will face a financial decision if she is nominated as secretary of state: what to do about the more than $7 million in debts left over from her presidential campaign," Bloomberg's Jonathan D. Salant reports. "She could pay off the bulk of her debt by liquidating her Senate campaign committee account. She also could legally continue to raise money, though that may present ethical concerns if she is serving in the Cabinet."

Unless: "As the nation's top diplomat, she would be barred by tradition and ethics rules from partisan political activity, including raising cash to pay off debt from her unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination," Politico's Kenneth T. Vogel reports. "And that could give her a powerful case to make to the Federal Election Commission about why it should forgive her campaign debt through a settlement process not unlike filing for bankruptcy."

Hear this drumbeat? "This is not change we can believe in. Not if Robert Rubin or his protegé, Lawrence Summers, get to call the shots on the economy in President-elect Barack Obama's incoming administration," Robert Scheer writes at The Nation.

Another barnburner of a day from the most open and transparent transition in American history: "Today, President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden will hold private meetings in Chicago. There are no public events scheduled," per the release from the transition team.

In the meantime, a Rahm sighting, at The Wall Street Journal conference. "President-elect Barack Obama's incoming White House chief of staff challenged chief executives and other business leaders Tuesday night to join the new administration in a push for universal health care, saying incremental increases in coverage won't be acceptable," per the Journal's Jonathan Weisman.

Said Emanuel: "When it gets rough out there, a lot of business leaders get out of the car and say, 'We're OK with minor reform.' I'm challenging you today, we're going to have to do big, serious things."

Weisman continues: "He was asked his views on the push by labor unions to allow workplaces to be organized with the signing of cards attesting to union support rather than a secret ballot. Mr. Emanuel declined to say whether the White House would support the legislation, but he said the unions are addressing the concerns of a middle class that has seen U.S. median income slide over the past eight years, while health care, energy and education costs have soared."

Elsewhere in appointment-land: "Congressional Budget Office chief Peter Orszag is the front-runner to be President-elect Barack Obama's budget director, Capitol Hill Democrats say," the AP's Andrew Taylor reports.

And: "A source familiar with transition planning said [Max] Cleland, a Vietnam veteran and triple amputee, is under consideration for either secretary of Veterans Affairs or secretary of the Army in an Obama administration, and liberal grass-roots support is building for his selection," Christina Bellantoni writes in the Washington Times.

Hill round-up:

It's official in Alaska, and it happened on the man's 85th birthday: "Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens lost his job to Mark Begich on Tuesday, putting an end to the era of 'Uncle Ted' as the dominant force in Alaska politics," Sean Cockerham writes in the Anchorage Daily News. "Begich, the Democratic mayor of Anchorage, widened his lead to 3,724 votes in Tuesday's count of absentee and questioned ballots. The lead is insurmountable, as the only votes left to count are approximately 2,500 ballots from overseas."

Even the Incredible Hulk won't help now: "The Alaska victory means that Democrats will begin the next Congress with at least 58 members who caucus, just two votes shy of a filibuster-proof majority. They could still reach that important margin with the results of one race in Minnesota still not clear and a runoff election in Georgia," per ABC News.

Is there any plausible explanation for why Joe Biden is still a United States senator, when Barack Obama found it appropriate to resign? An explanation, that is, that isn't tied up with nepotism and political maneuvering and other things the Obama ticket was supposed to be about putting an end to?

"ABC News has learned that Delaware's newly elected Democratic governor is planning to take the oath of office at 12:01 a.m. ET on Jan. 20, 2009, making it possible for him to name Vice President-elect Joe Biden's replacement to the United States Senate," per ABC's Teddy Davis and Arnab Datta. "Whether Governor-elect Jack Markell (D) gets to name Biden's Senate replacement will ultimately turn on whether the Vice President-elect makes good on his stated intention to wait until the moment he becomes Vice President to resign from the U.S. Senate."

Beau Biden won't take a temporary appointment (but that doesn't mean he wouldn't be happy with a seat-warmer who would mean a clear field in 2010): "I will be fulfilling my military orders," Biden said in an e-mail note sent late Monday, as he prepared to deploy overseas, per the Wilmington News Journal's Jeff Montgomery and Nicole Gaudiano. "I have not sought and will not accept an appointment to the United States Senate; and look forward to returning to my work as attorney general of the state of Delaware."

They continue: "Some Democrats and political scientists have cautioned that Joe Biden could still press for a 'placeholder' commitment from any potential appointee -- including [Lt. Gov. John] Carney -- obliging them to step aside in 2010. Voters must pick a candidate to finish Biden's original term in that year."

Said Carney: "I would take it if offered under any circumstances," including a two-year stint, "if that's what was contemplated by those who made the decision."

That didn't take long: McCain '10. McCain "is setting up a political action committee as a first step in running for a fifth term in the Senate," the AP's Laurie Kellman reports. "A McCain spokesperson says the 72-year-old senator decided with his senior advisers Tuesday night to set up the fundraising PAC. The spokesperson spoke anonymously because the decision had not yet been made public."

Joe Lieberman, still a Democrat (sort of). "In a 42-13 secret ballot vote, Democratic senators approved a resolution stripping Lieberman of a subcommittee chairmanship, but allowing him to remain chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee," per ABC's Jonathan Karl and Z. Byron Wolf.

He almost apologized: "Some of the things that people have said I said about Sen. Obama are simply not true," Lieberman said. "There are other statements that I made that I wish I had made more clearly and there are some that I made that I wish I had not made at all. And, obviously, in the heat of campaigns, that happens to all of us, but I regret that. And now it's time to move on."

Moving on, toward a magic number: "The move ensured that Sen. Lieberman, an Independent from Connecticut, would remain within the Democratic fold, and it kept alive the Democrats' quest to reach a filibuster-proof 60 senators," Naftali Bendavid reports in The Wall Street Journal.

Just like that: "Sen. Joe Lieberman and the Democratic Party have made up. The ugliness is over, and the senator would clearly like to move on from his near-brush with becoming a Senate nonentity," Jesse A. Hamilton writes in the Hartford Courant.

Some Obama blowback: "Since Barack Obama apparently made clear that he didn't want any purges in the Senate, and had his faithful Senate lieutenants Durbin and Kerry deliver that message to the Democratic caucus, can we assume that the same applies for the executive branch -- you know, the branch of government that Obama will actually lead?" Markos Moulitsas blogs.

Bill Clinton campaigns in Georgia Wednesday for Senate candidate Jim Martin, set for his run-off against Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.

In Minnesota: "Two weeks after the closest U.S. Senate election in Minnesota history, a massive hand recount of all 2.9 million votes gets underway today, with local officials working under the scrutiny of top lawyers brought in by both candidates," Patricia Lopez and Mike Kazsuba write for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

Back to business, briefly: The lame-duck session still looks likely to produce precious little.

Bloomberg's John Hughes and Nicholas Johnston: "U.S. auto company executives today will make their plea for government aid for the second straight day, as prospects for a Democratic-backed assistance plan waned. . . . A plan by congressional Democrats to make the money available to automakers from a $700 billion fund created to stabilize financial institutions isn't likely to pass amid opposition from President George W. Bush and Senate Republicans."

"Warning of a doomsday economic scenario, the top executives of the Big Three US automakers made a historic appeal yesterday for $25 billion in loans, telling Congress the money is desperately needed to stave off the collapse of the companies and the direct and indirect loss of millions of jobs," Michael Kranish writes in The Boston Globe. "A Senate vote could be held as soon as today, but prospects for passage were unclear."

Even Mitt Romney, son of Detroit, says let the companies fail: "If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won't go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed," Romney writes in a New York Times op-ed. "Without that bailout, Detroit will need to drastically restructure itself. With it, the automakers will stay the course -- the suicidal course of declining market shares, insurmountable labor and retiree burdens, technology atrophy, product inferiority and never-ending job losses. Detroit needs a turnaround, not a check."

Not helping their cases: "The CEOs of the big three automakers flew to the nation's capital yesterday in private luxurious jets to make their case to Washington that the auto industry is running out of cash and needs $25 billion in taxpayer money to avoid bankruptcy," ABC's Brian Ross and Joseph Rhee report.

Presidential leadership, anyone? "Amid rising foreclosures, President-elect Barack Obama faces pressure to jump in before January and ask Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson to release unexpended financial rescue funds to help homeowners modify the terms of their mortgages," Politico's David Rogers reports. "Obama has already spoken up for the auto industry -- an issue for his former colleagues in the Senate this week. But amid the transfer of power in Washington, going to Paulson would be a more unusual move: an incoming president tipping the scales in what's become a dispute in the outgoing administration between Treasury and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp."

What he is doing: "At an international conference on climate change convened Nov. 18 by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Obama told the audience in taped remarks that he intended to stick to the aggressive carbon-reduction targets he promised before the election, beginning with a federal cap-and-trade system that would put the U.S. on course to reduce emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020, then cut them by another 80% by 2050," Time's Bryan Walsh writes. "The move reassured doubtful greens."

Advice for the president-elect: "What should be his very first act? Keeping his Blackberry," Newsweek's Jonathan Alter writes. "Before Obama gets to 'Yes, We Can,' he has to start with 'Yes, I Can.' And the only way he can be successful in the presidency is if he can stay connected to the world beyond the 'splendid isolation' of the presidency. To succeed, he must be constantly exposed to a wide variety of opinions -- not just from advisers, experts, pundits and polls, but from his friends."

To be resolved Thursday: John Dingell vs. Henry Waxman.

The real reason why Dingell, D-Mich., is likely to retain the chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee: "Several top Democrats backing Dingell argue that the contest, dividing House Democrats this week even as they celebrate their expanded majority, represents an assault on a long-sacred tradition in the Caucus: the seniority system," Roll Call's Tory Newmyer reports. "Jitters about upending that tradition appear to be benefiting Dingell down the stretch with some of the most prominent members of the Caucus: his fellow chairmen, who are so far breaking for the Michigan lawmaker 6-2."

"Long-serving House Democrats, particularly black lawmakers, fear that the gavel fight between Reps. John Dingell and Henry Waxman will 'open a can of worms' and wreck the seniority system that keeps power in their hands," The Hill's Alexander Bolton reports. "A successful coup against Dingell (D-Mich.), head of the Energy and Commerce panel, could encourage Young Turks to attack the seniority system, which rewards years of service, and send a signal that all top jobs are now fair game."

Did Michael Steele grab a big endorsement in the race for RNC chairman? "Newt's decided not to run for the job, and he's, in fact, supporting me in my efforts," Steele told NPR Tuesday.

Except: "Newt is not endorsing anybody . . . and is not planning to endorse anyone," Gingrich spokesman Joe DeSantis tells ABC News.

Steele makes the case: "Republican National Committee Chairman candidate Michael S. Steele castigated Republican Party leadership Tuesday for having a 'country club' mentality and being out of touch, and said if he is chosen to represent the party, he will help transform it into an inspiring choice for young and minority voters," Ralph Z. Hallow writes in the Washington Times.

Ummm . . . is this legal? "Vice President Dick Cheney and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales have been indicted on state charges involving federal prisons in a South Texas county that has been a source of bizarre legal and political battles under the outgoing prosecutor," per the AP's Christopher Sherman.

The Kicker:

"John, wait up." -- John Kerry, to John McCain, coming off a Senate subway -- and welcoming him to the least exclusive club inside the most exclusive club.

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