The Note: Not Just a Slogan

Call it change Washington can believe in.

The Cabinet that is emerging (still unofficially -- President-elect Barack Obama has yet to make a single formal announcement) looks so very . . . practical, maybe typical.

The faces are like the folks at a college reunion -- you knew these people once before, when there were a little younger, and sort of always had the feeling you'd see them again.

And -- surprise -- Obama picks top aides the same way previous presidents have: From the ranks of elected officials, old friends and allies, and people who have done it before -- yes, in Washington.

Your latest entries for the ledger of the likely: Tom Daschle, the former Senate Democratic leader, at Health and Human Services; Gov. Janet Napolitano, D-Ariz., at Homeland Security; and Penny Pritzker, an early campaign supporter and a big Obama fundraiser, at Commerce.

Made formal Wednesday: David Axelrod, to become senior advisor to the president; Greg Craig as White House counsel; Lisa Brown as White House staff secretary; and Chris Lu (not Patti Solis Doyle) as Cabinet secretary.

"President-elect Barack Obama promised the voters change but has started his Cabinet selection process by naming several Washington insiders to top posts," Kevin Freking writes for the AP.

"President-elect Barack Obama campaigned on the slogan of 'change.' But his early appointees, including two top choices that emerged Wednesday, show that experience is one of his main criteria," Laura Meckler and Jonathan Weisman write in The Wall Street Journal.

"The latest transition news highlighted the three personnel pools supplying Mr. Obama with his picks," they write. "Most prominent are Clinton administration veterans -- including, possibly, former first lady Hillary Clinton for secretary of state. Some high-profile appointments are also long-serving members and staff from Capitol Hill. Then there are the influential Chicagoans -- a group that seems smaller than the hometown crowd that usually accompanies a new president to Washington."

And why is it that all the Cabinet picks come with what Al Kamen is calling a "Best Buy" contingency -- a 30-day return policy?

"Reminds us of the Hamlet-like performance of former New York governor Mario Cuomo when Bill Clinton offered him a seat on the Supreme Court and he accepted, then he didn't, and back and forth," Kamen writes in his Washington Post column. "In the end, if it doesn't work out, there was no Obama announcement, no photo op. There are no pictures of him walking out with Clinton, smiling. He's reached out to his former foe, he's been magnanimous. And of course he will be saddened that it didn't work out."

A transition plays to a few audiences -- the insiders and members of Congress who want people they can work with, and the outsiders who constituted the overwhelming bulk of the people who actually voted for the president-elect.

It matters approximately not at all right now -- but which group is happier with what they've seen so far?

"Antiwar groups and other liberal activists are increasingly concerned at signs that Barack Obama's national security team will be dominated by appointees who favored the Iraq invasion and hold hawkish views on other important foreign policy issues," Paul Richter writes in the Los Angeles Times. "The activists are uneasy not only about signs that both Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates could be in the Obama Cabinet, but at reports suggesting that several other short-list candidates for top security posts backed the decision to go to war."

You can't keep everybody happy: "The unsolicited and sometimes conflicting advice represents an early leadership challenge to Obama, who is deep in the process of selecting his own team and settling on an initial legislative strategy at a time when the economy seems likely to subsume all other issues," per ABC News. "Obama also faces an additional challenge: He ran on a platform of independence from Washington interest groups and doesn't want to be seen as too beholden to any organizations."

More progress on the one potential Cabinet member who everybody knows, and most people have something of an opinion about.

"Former President Bill Clinton has agreed to all of the conditions sought by President-elect Barack Obama's transition team to eliminate potential conflicts of interest if Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton becomes secretary of state," Peter Baker and Helene Cooper report in The New York Times. "Mr. Clinton accepted several restrictions on his business and philanthropic activities to remove any obstacle to his wife's nomination if the cabinet job is formally offered and accepted."

"Bill Clinton has sent President-elect Barack Obama's transition team a list of more than 200,000 donors to his foundation," Bloomberg's Timothy J. Burger reports. "The Clinton and Obama teams could seek donors' permission to reveal their names -- a potentially lengthy process."

Just a hint more of tension: "President-elect Barack Obama's camp, well practiced in keeping secrets, is increasingly frustrated by a steady stream of leaks that insiders suspect come from confidants of Hillary Clinton," Ken Bazinet reports in the New York Daily News. "Just as ex-President Bill Clinton pledged Wednesday to prove there are no new skeletons in his closet that could derail his wife's chances of becoming secretary of state, top Obama sources suggested loose-lipped Clintonistas abide by their rules: If caught leaking, you will pay the price."

Another hint -- just below the surface: "Obama aides said yesterday that it would be difficult for Sen. Clinton to walk away from the secretary of state post. Obama's staff has thoroughly vetted both Clintons with the understanding that, if he should make an official job offer, she would accept," The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza, Alec MacGillis and Philip Rucker report.

Can it fall apart now? "The examination better find her acceptable. Any other selection now would embitter her supporters, even if she publicly declines the appointment," Karl Rove writes in his Wall Street Journal column.

"Obama will seem to be dissing Clinton and her supporters if she doesn't get the job. Here again, one sees a once-seamless team making little mistakes," David Ignatius writes in his Washington Post column.

Politico's Ben Smith asks: What is he thinking? "Insiders around Obama say the X factor at play is Obama's icy tolerance for risk, and his belief in the power of the grand gesture," Smith writes. The Clinton pick "marries an arguably practical choice with lofty symbolism: He's enlarging his own administration by bringing in one of the leading figures in American politics, and delivering on a promise of a new politics that doesn't play favorites or hold grudges."

"As he wrapped up his second week as President-elect, it was clear that Obama was taking the long view in both diplomacy and politics," Time's Karen Tumulty and Massimo Calabresi write. "How else to explain the fact that he had all but offered the most prestigious job in his Cabinet to a woman whose foreign policy experience he once dismissed as consisting of having tea with ambassadors?"

Daschle brings savvy and expertise to one of Obama's toughest campaign promises: healthcare reform.

The choice "puts a skilled navigator of Capitol Hill in charge of the president-elect's bid to establish universal health care, which he has made a top priority," The Wall Street Journal's Laura Meckler writes. "He goes in with good will from key interest groups that have been working behind the scenes to build momentum for health reform, an effort not seen since 1993-94 when President Bill Clinton tried and failed to pass a universal-coverage initiative."

"Daschle has seen, as few in Washington have, the particular toll that the broken system has taken on rural America," Time's Karen Tumulty reports. "It's hard to imagine a more useful ally for Obama to help lead his bid for health-care reform, both because of Daschle's understanding of the legislative process and for his belief in the new President-elect."

Daschle "also is set to take on the position of "health care czar" in the Obama White House, ensuring that he does not get bigfooted on matters relating to health care policy," reports Roll Call's David Drucker, who broke the Daschle news. "Daschle was a close adviser to Obama throughout the Illinois Democrat's presidential campaign, and has been outspoken about his desire to enact a government-funded health care insurance program to help cover the approximately 40 million Americans who do not have coverage."

He also brings a web of post-Senate relationships that need sorting out: "President-elect Barack Obama's selection of former Senator Tom Daschle for secretary of health and human services posed new questions on Wednesday about how broadly the new administration would apply Mr. Obama's campaign promises to limit potential conflicts of interest among his appointees," David D. Kirkpatrick writes in The New York Times. "Although Mr. Daschle's work might not preclude his appointment, it could raise the possibility that the administration could require him to recuse himself from any matter related to either the Mayo Clinic or some of the clients he advised at Alston & Bird -- a potentially broad swath of the health secretary's portfolio."

Says the RNC's Alex Conant: "Barack Obama is filling his administration with long-time Washington insiders."

Blogs Jennifer Rubin, at Pajamas Media: "If several months ago someone had said that the Obama administration would be chocked full of Clinton administration retreads and have a national security team featuring the woman who advocated bombing Iran to smithereens in the event it launched a nuclear attack on Israel, few would have believed it. But that's what seems to be in the offing."

Writes Tom Engelhardt, for The Nation: "You might be forgiven for concluding that Hillary had been elected president in 2008."

At Homeland Security: "Napolitano, 50, was an early supporter of Obama and was the only elected official tapped to serve on his transition team," Spencer Hsu writes in The Washington Post.

Politico's Mike Allen: "Napolitano is a border governor who will now be responsible for immigration policy and border security, which are part of Homeland Security's myriad functions. Napolitano brings law-and-order experience from her stint as the Grand Canyon State's first female attorney general. One of the nation's most prominent female elected officials, she made frequent appearances on behalf of Barack Obama during the campaign."

As for Pritzker: "If she is Obama's choice to run the Commerce Department, Pritzker is likely to undergo some questioning during Senate confirmation hearings about her role as onetime chairwoman of Chicago's Superior Bank, which went under due to a significant number of the kind of subprime loans that Obama so often denounced on the campaign trail this year," Andrew Malcolm writes for the Los Angeles Times.

Happy birthday, Mr. Vice-president-elect. ABC's Jake Tapper reports on the cupcakes Obama presented to his running mate: "Mr. Obama led the staff in singing him 'Happy Birthday,' and then gifted his loquacious running mate with a Chicago White Sox Hat, a Chicago Bears Hat and a bucket of Garrett's popcorn as gifts."

(Quick -- somebody check the transition team's gift policies -- or do they count as family or close friends?)

From the Obama-Biden transition office:

"Today is Vice President-elect Joe Biden's 66th birthday. President-elect Barack Obama surprised him yesterday with cupcakes after their weekly lunch. Then, the President-elect led the staff in singing him happy birthday and gave him a Chicago White Sox hat, a Chicago Bears hat and a bucket of Garrett's popcorn as gifts."

"Vice President-elect Biden will spend his birthday in Delaware and has no public events scheduled. President-elect Obama will hold private meetings in Chicago, no public events are scheduled."

"Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel will hold meetings on the Hill with House and Senate Republican leaders to discuss how to best work together and ensure they know that the White House will be open at all times for them."

Don't expect movement on an auto bailout -- or even, at this point, a vote: "President-elect Barack Obama is staying out of the congressional fight over bailing out the U.S. auto industry, despite fading prospects on Capitol Hill for a major new federal rescue effort for Detroit's struggling Big Three, a leading Senate Democrat said Wednesday," David R. Sands reports in the Washington Times.

"I can tell you flat out there will be no endorsement [by Mr. Obama] prior to January 20," said Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., the banking committee chairman.

Blame game? "A Democratic Congress, unwilling or unable to approve a $25 billion bailout for Detroit's Big Three, appears ready to punt the automakers' fate to a lame-duck Republican president," the AP's Julie Hirschfeld Davis reports. "Caught in the middle of a who-blinks-first standoff are legions of manufacturing firms and auto dealers -- and millions of Americans' jobs -- after Senate Democrats canceled a showdown vote that had been expected Thursday. President George W. Bush has 'no appetite' to act on his own."

For John Kerry, not a bad backup plan: "More than three decades after he first appeared before the panel as a 27-year-old Vietnam veteran-turned-antiwar protester, Senator John F. Kerry will be named chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, giving him enormous influence over President-elect Barack Obama's foreign policy," The Boston Globe's Bryan Bender reports. "Aides to Kerry said he is already laying out a broad agenda for the committee, beginning with new legislation to strengthen the United States' hand against terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan; provide oversight of efforts to end the war in Iraq; and seize what he sees as a new opportunity to curtail the spread of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons."

He knows something about what this guy is going through: "He quietly enters the office a few minutes after 8 a.m. on this Wednesday, tightly smiles at a receptionist and, without a word to anyone, makes a hard left through a suite of his aides' offices that leads to his own. He is alone," The Washington Post's Michael Leahy writes in a page-one piece on Sen. John McCain. "He walks now without so much as a single bodyguard, the Secret Service having disappeared when his dream of winning the presidency did, 15 days ago. It is a jarring reminder of just how much a defeated candidate's station changes in about two weeks."

Says Steve Schmidt: "I think past is prologue for McCain. . . . He is determined to advance the national interest in the ways he sees regardless of party and partisanship. It's still McCain, and he will continue to be a leader for the party for that reason. . . . He is going nowhere."

Another bellwether cracks: "Barack Obama is touring his new home on Pennsylvania Avenue. John McCain is preparing his return to the Senate. And Missouri -- after the nation has long since moved on -- finally has a presidential vote tally. The state's winner: McCain," Jake Wagman writes in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

"The result, of course, is academic. But it does carry this postscript: Missouri has been stripped of its bellwether crown," Wagman writes. "It's the first time since 1956 -- when Show-Me voters backed Adlai Stevenson over Dwight Eisenhower -- and only the second time in 100 years that Missouri's electoral votes were in the loser's column."

Your final electoral count: 365-173.

Meanwhile, on the Hill . . . which party won last week -- the one that's close to toppling a chairman, or the one that just reelected a leader?

In the great battle of Henry Waxman vs. John Dingell, Waxman took Round One Wednesday.

"House Democratic leaders have voted to strip Representative John Dingell of his chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce committee, replacing him with Henry Waxman," ABC's Jonathan Karl reports. "In a stinging rebuke, the House Steering committee voted 25-22 by secret ballot during a closed-door Democratic leadership meeting. The move was a dramatic one for House Democrats -- considered a victory for House liberals and environmentalists, a big defeat for Michigan and the auto industry."

But the full caucus votes Thursday. Give Dingell the votes of all the chairmen, plus the blue dogs, and really anyone who has a stake in the seniority system -- and what are you going to get?

"Dingell's supporters took that vote [in Steering and Policy] as a positive, suggesting the committee was packed with allies of Waxman's and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who has, at times, split with Dingell, although she has officially remained neutral in Waxman's challenge for the chairmanship," Todd Spangler reports for the Detroit Free Press.

"We're in a much stronger position with the rank and file," said Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., who is helping to line up support for Dingell.

The Washington Post's Paul Kane: "Much of President-elect Barack Obama's agenda will go through that panel, raising the stakes for the Waxman-Dingell race. And the chairman's contest comes as Detroit's Big Three automakers are pleading with Congress to approve a $25 billion rescue package, with Dingell's wife, Debbie, serving as an executive at cash-strapped General Motors."

Where the big money is placing its bets: "Of the two, Mr. Dingell is regarded as closer to businesses such as automakers, utilities and oil and gas producers. He's worked closely with Rep. Joe Barton, R-Arlington, who is a frequent opponent of new environmental regulations," Dave Michaels writes in The Dallas Morning News.

As for House Republicans -- Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, cruises: "Boehner won a second two-year term as minority leader despite the GOP's loss of more than 20 House seats. He told colleagues that he would serve as a check on liberal policies pushed by President-elect Barack Obama and his allies in Congress, and vowed to seek out new ways to wage 'the battle of ideas' against Democrats," per ABC News.

Next for Boehner, and the GOP caucus: "I think that we've got to show the American people that we're the party of reform. And, the party of new ideas. I believe that our party believes in a smaller, more accountable government. And I think that we've got to earn that principle back, with the American people," Boehner tells Time's Jay Newton-Small.

Newton-Small: "So do you a have prediction about gaining back seats, taking back the House?

Boehner: "Oh, no no no. Let's just take this one-day at a time."

As for the rest of the team: "Republicans in the House of Representatives on Wednesday gave their bloc a decidedly more conservative -- and outspoken -- tone, as they voted in new leaders who have reputations as sharp-edged partisans," McClatchy's David Lightman reports.

"Ohio's John Boehner fought off a last-minute challenge by California's Dan Lungren for the minority leader post, but his new deputy will be Eric Cantor, a tough-talking Virginian who led this fall's fight to stall a financial rescue plan crafted by the White House, Democrats and Boehner loyalists," Lightman writes. "The party's third-ranking House slot, conference chairman, went to Indiana's Mike Pence, a former radio talk-show host who had challenged Boehner for the leadership job two years ago and is a favorite of hard-line conservatives."

The Minnesota recount is underway -- and look for nightly vote reports that mean just about nothing.

That said -- a narrowed lead already: "The Great Minnesota Recount kicked off Wednesday with masses of volunteers for Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman and Democratic challenger Al Franken moving into a fresh phase of the struggle: eyeballing the first of 2.9 million ballots, ready to pounce on anything that looked questionable," Patricia Lopez and Curt Brown report in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

"By day's end, with about 18 percent of the vote recounted, Coleman continued to lead Franken -- but by only 174 votes, notably narrower than the unofficial gap of 215 votes at which the recount had begun. Franken's gain owed much to a swing of 23 votes in the Democratic stronghold of St. Louis County -- the result of faintly marked ballots and older optical scanners that failed to read the marks."

Colorful quote, via, from Minneapolis lawyer Bill Starr, who is volunteering for the Franken campaign, positing an interesting theory for why his guy is going to win: "People who voted for Coleman are more likely to have taken the SAT in their lifetime," he said. "They've filled in circles. Franken voters are probably not college-educated. They're new voters and immigrants. They've been brought in by groups like ACORN, from the inner cities. They're more likely to make mistakes. I've bounced this off of minority people, and they agree with me."

In Georgia: "Former President Bill Clinton urged Georgia voters on Wednesday to send the man who will sit in his former office one more deputy -- Jim Martin," Aaron Gould Sheinin writes for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"Clinton told a chilly crowd at Clark Atlanta University to return to the polls on Dec. 2 to elect Martin to the U.S. Senate and reject incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss. Martin, Clinton said, is 'the kind of guy we ought to have in public life. His opponent was elected on a false premise six years ago and is running on a false premise today.' "

(It's looking unlikely that Obama will show -- but his team is working it.)

In Alaska, Sen. Ted Stevens concedes (but what of final plaudits on the Senate floor): "Given the number of ballots that remain to be counted," Stevens' statement said, "it is apparent the election has been decided and Mayor Begich has been elected."

Beau Biden won't be the next senator from Delaware, but could still be the one after that: "Beau Biden, son of Vice President-elect Joe Biden, departed the United States Wednesday morning en route to Iraq, Delaware National Guard spokesman Nathan Bright told ABC News," per ABC's Matthew Jaffe. "Biden and his unit -- the 261st Signal Brigade - left Ft. Bliss, Texas, at 11am local time, Bright said, stopping first in New England and then Europe before moving on to a staging area outside of Iraq for a 'few weeks of training and environmental acclimation.' "

Now this really would be change: "Advocates for Washington voting rights are lobbying President-elect Barack Obama to put 'Taxation Without Representation' license plates on the presidential limousine," The Hill's Jordy Yager reports. "President Clinton had the plates on his limo, but President Bush, who opposes giving D.C.'s representative in Congress a vote, replaced them, in one of his first acts as president, with D.C. plates that do not include the taxation slogan."

Fire it up for 2012: "I'm not ruling anything out for the future, but I'm not making any specific plans," Huckabee told reporters at a briefing to promote his new book, "Do the Right Thing," per the AP's Stephen Ohlemacher.

On Gov. Sarah Palin's ability to "leapfrog over the process" that other Republicans have to endure to become national political figures: "I'm not frustrated by it," Huckabee said. "It's not a resentment on her part. It's an envy."

Speaking of envy: "She walks into the hot spotlight and she's a blank slate nobody knows so Republicans are fired up," Huckabee added. "She didn't have to go through any the debates, she didn't have to go through the primaries, she didn't have to have people pick her or pick someone else against her. State parties did not have to divide from one to 12 ways over her. So it was a remarkable ability for her to come in at a level that is an extraordinary benefit to her."

The latest on the gay marriage initiative in California: "The California Supreme Court voted 6 to 1 on Wednesday to review legal challenges to Proposition 8, the voter initiative that restored a ban on same-sex marriage, but refused to permit gay weddings to resume pending a final decision," the Los Angeles Times' Maura Dolan and Jessica Garrison report.

What happened? "Perhaps the most notable change in the gay marriage vote was among blacks: While most other groups moved away from a ban on gay marriage, African-Americans moved toward it, voting 70-30 percent in favor this year, compared with 59-41 percent eight years ago," per ABC's Nik Bonovich. "Strikingly, blacks broadly favored the gay marriage ban despite their almost unanimous support for Barack Obama, who'd opposed the initiative, Proposition 8. Indeed, among non-black Obama voters in California, 74 percent opposed Prop. 8. Blacks were more aligned with John McCain's voters, who favored it overwhelmingly, 84-16 percent."

The Kicker:

"You're 12 years old!" Barack Obama, referring to the dozen cupcakes set up for his running mate's birthday.

"Maybe in dog years!" Joe Biden, laughing.

"That's an optimist's way of saying, 'We're screwed.' I've instructed my wife that if a doctor ever tells her that he's 'cautiously optimistic' about my test results, she is to pull the plug immediately." -- Al Franken, defining "cautiously optimistic" in his 2005 book, per (Franken used the term Wednesday to describe his attitude toward his chances in the Minnesota Senate recount.)

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