The Note

Clinton Game Continues, While Economy Looks For Leadership


Nov. 21, 2008—

Change doesn't have to wait until January.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, is gone. (A sign of a new day.)

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., is gone, partly, too. (A sign of a new order.)

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., isn't going anywhere. (But she's gone quite a distance to get there.)

Penny Pritzker leaves before she ever even arrives.

And the auto bailout came back to life after it was declared dead, only to die again. (It may yet rise again -- though not until next month.)

As for President-elect Barack Obama -- he is, for the most part, waiting for January.

Thus far through the transition, we're learning that Obama remains, at his core, a cautious and patient politician -- one who can be quite stingy with his political capital.

Meanwhile, the stock market is in freefall, Detroit is near collapse, and Congress is in a stalemate. Obama has had nearly half of his Cabinet filled for him, without a single formal announcement.

(If you're scoring at home, he's now had more haircuts than press conferences as president-elect.)

Other than a few comments, Obama has chosen not to play in the current crisis: "With the stock market plunging and the credit market entering a new freeze, cries are being heard for a new government intervention to prop up major financial institutions before President-elect Barack Obama takes office," Floyd Norris writes in The New York Times. "By resigning from the Senate before the current session began and allowing it to appear that a sense of drift could prevail until he is inaugurated, Mr. Obama may have missed an opportunity to exert leadership."

"How much can go wrong in the two months before Mr. Obama takes the oath of office? The answer, unfortunately, is: a lot," Paul Krugman writes in his column. "At minimum, the next two months will inflict serious pain on hundreds of thousands of Americans, who will lose their jobs, their homes, or both. What's really troubling, however, is the possibility that some of the damage being done right now will be irreversible."

"The problem is that nothing of significance can or will happen until the new President takes office in January, even though there is -- finally -- a great appetite for action in Washington. This is going to be a very frustrating few months," Time's Joe Klein writes.

Things get more dire by the day: "As the economic signs grow ever more grim, the opportunities for the Obama administration to drive through its agenda actually are getting better," The Wall Street Journal's Gerald F. Seib writes. "The thing about a crisis -- and crisis doesn't seem too strong a word for the economic mess right now -- is that it creates a sense of urgency. Actions that once appeared optional suddenly seem essential."

Not that the news is waiting for Obama. The word is out (this time, because the Obama folks want it out): Sen. Clinton is "on track" to be installed as secretary of state.

"Former President Bill Clinton's financial disclosure issues that once seemed an obstacle to Sen. Hillary Clinton's appointment as secretary of state have been worked out," ABC's Jake Tapper reports. "An aide to President-elect Obama says that everything is on track for Clinton's nomination to be the nation's top diplomat, though an announcement will not come until after Thanksgiving."

Who's pressuring whom now?

"One week after the former primary rivals met secretly to discuss the idea of Clinton becoming the nation's top diplomat, an Obama adviser said Thursday that the two sides were moving quickly toward making it a reality, barring any unforeseen problems," per the AP's Nedra Pickler. "The senior adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity because the president-elect is not prepared to officially announce the nomination, said Obama believes Clinton would bring instant stature and credibility to U.S. diplomatic relations."

And yet -- your drama: "One friend said Mrs. Clinton decided late Wednesday to say no, reasoning that she would have more freedom in the Senate. By midday Thursday, the friend said, she was 'back in the indecisive column again.' By the end of the day, another associate said she could accept by Friday," Peter Baker and Helene Cooper write in The New York Times.

"At the end of a confused day in which even Mr. Obama's advisers seemed unsure what was happening, a transition official reached out to reporters Thursday night to say that the president-elect's team believed things were on track with Mrs. Clinton and that her nomination could be announced after Thanksgiving," they write.

"Driving her consideration, friends said, is a sense of disenchantment with the Senate, where despite her stature she remains low in the ranks of seniority that governs the body," Baker and Cooper write.

"The harder truth is that Clinton's options as a Senator are limited, at least in the immediate future. In that chamber, she is just one of many presidential also-rans and a relatively junior member of an institution where power and advancement require seniority," Time's Karen Tumulty and Massimo Calabresi report. "And if there's anything a First Lady who became a Senator would understand, it's that opportunities don't always come to those who wait for them."

Making her wait? "Advisers to Bill and Hillary Clinton believe they've given the Obama transition team much if not all of the all the information on Bill's post-presidency the Obama team will be asking for, and see the Clinton camp as now being in a holding pattern, waiting on a formal offer of the State Department gig to Hillary from Obama," Greg Sargent reports at Talking Points Memo.

Ah -- the dance: "Clinton in the last few days began aggressively pursuing the secretary of state slot and mounted an all-out sales campaign amid fears the job might be slipping away, sources said," Ken Bazinet writes in the New York Daily News. "Former Clinton campaign aides and some of her inner-circle advisers -- aka Hillaryland -- were part of a coordinated effort to win her the top State Department post, the Clinton source confirmed."

How does this factor in? "Hillary Clinton continues to carry $7.5 million of debt owed to vendors from her failed presidential bid," ABC's Tahman Bradley reports. "If Clinton accepts the position of Secretary of State, or some other post in the Obama administration, she would be barred by The Hatch Act of 1939 from soliciting and receiving political contributions."

"Of the $7.5 million owed to vendors, nearly $5.4 million was to her former adviser and pollster, Mark Penn. Clinton owed vendors a high of $12 million at the end of June," per the AP write-up.

The rest of Obama's national-security team is taking place: "Democratic sources tell ABC News that President-elect Obama appears to be turning to two retired four-stars for his National Security Adviser and his Director of National Intelligence," ABC's Jake Tapper and Martha Raddatz report.

"Marine Gen. James L. Jones (Ret.), the former head of NATO and U.S. forces in Europe, has emerged as the leading candidate to serve as the National Security Adviser for President-elect Obama," they report. "Admiral Dennis C. Blair (Ret.), former Commander-in-Chief of U.S. Pacific Command and a 6th-generation naval officer, has emerged as the top candidate to be President-elect Obama's Director of National Intelligence. He recently met in Chicago with the president-elect."

At Public Strategies, Inc., Dick Keil rounds up some names: Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack for Agriculture, former Mississippi Gov. Ray Mabus for Education, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., very much in the mix at EPA. "If Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., is selected to head the Environmental Protection Agency, as informed Democrats say is likely, corporations will have more work to do complying with new environmental laws and executive orders promulgated by the Obama administration," he writes.

Pritzker is out, after (briefly) being in at Commerce: "The same business holdings and connections that made Ms. Pritzker so vital to Mr. Obama's ability to raise campaign money also came under sharp scrutiny. On Thursday, she released a statement declaring that she would not be a candidate for the job," Charlie Savage writes in The New York Times. (And the rest of the story explains why vetting wasn't necessary to take her out of consideration.)

"Nomination for a Cabinet post would impose significant scrutiny and financial disclosure requirements upon a powerful businesswoman who oversees a portion of her family's giant financial empire, which includes the Hyatt Hotel chain but also ranges from construction equipment to a credit data company," The Chicago Tribune's Mike Dorning reports. "Although the Pritzkers are prominent philanthropists in Chicago, the family is famously publicity-shy about its business dealings."

At this point, it's worth remembering that not a single one of the people mentioned thus far has been formally confirmed to have been offered anything by the president-elect himself.

On cue, from the Obama-Biden transition team: "Today, President-elect Barack Obama will hold private meetings in Chicago. Vice President-elect Joe Biden will be in Delaware. There are no public events scheduled."

The illusion of control, or actual control? "Top aides to the president-elect had hoped to take a methodical approach to selecting and unveiling their new team, starting with the announcements of top national security and economic players shortly after Thanksgiving," Shailagh Murray and Chris Cillizza write in The Washington Post. "But leaks and rumors have disrupted that plan, suggesting that the 'no-drama Obama' mantra famously repeated by his staff may not be as operational in Washington as it was at campaign headquarters in Chicago."

His army is, just maybe, getting restless: "Now what? That's the question for millions of volunteers who worked to elect Barack Obama -- and for the organization that mobilized them," USA Today's Martha T. Moore reports. "Keeping Obama supporters engaged and active through the Obama transition website is 'our first priority,' transition spokesperson Jen Psaki says."

"Electoral campaigns, like circus tents, quickly disappear after the show is over. But Obama is our first community-organizer president, and he sees the way he got elected as being almost as crucial as the fact that he won," E.J. Dionne Jr. writes in his column. "Because of the emphasis he put on organizing, might fairly be seen as the most successful high-tech startup of the past two years."

Learning lessons from the Clinton years: "President-elect Barack Obama will not move for months, and perhaps not until 2010, to ask Congress to end the military's decades-old ban on open homosexuals in the ranks, two people who have advised the Obama transition team on this issue say," Rowan Scarborough reports in the Washington Times.

We can't say where this ranks -- but when it comes to the auto bailout, good luck following the action:

"With a whirlwind set of press conferences, supposed deals, nixed deals and frustration over whether to bail out the auto industry with $25 billion in low-interest loans or take the chance of letting it go bust, the Congress's lame duck session keeps getting longer and longer," per ABC's Z. Byron Wolf.

Congress will be back Dec. 8 to deal with it -- but only if the automakers present a plan worth dealing with.

"Faced with the choice of bailing out the ailing auto industry or letting it fail, Congress picked a brave third option: procrastination," Time's Jay Newton-Small writes.

"The Big Three are on their own for now," The Wall Street Journal's Greg Hitt, John D. Stoll and Alex P. Kellogg report. "Congressional efforts to rescue Detroit's auto makers collapsed Thursday, with lawmakers saying the industry lacked credible plans to return to profitability."

"Until they show us the plan, we cannot show them the money," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

What was going on behind closed doors?

"For 90 minutes, it looked as if a last-minute deal had been struck to quickly pass $25 billion in aid to automakers. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., may have put the brakes on efforts by a group of auto-state senators to hold a vote Thursday on a compromise $25 billion auto bailout," Gordon Trowbridge and David Shepardson report in the Detroit News. "Instead, congressional leaders demanded a plan from Detroit's automakers by Dec. 2 on how they would use the money, and said they could return to session the week of Dec. 8 if they were satisfied with the plan."

Welcome to Nancy Pelosi's House: "Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-Calif.) defeat of Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) for the Energy and Commerce Committee gavel represents a huge shift in the way the Democratic Caucus runs itself, and in the broader culture that has developed over decades around a few hard and fast rules governing the distribution of power on Capitol Hill," The Washington Post's Ben Pershing reports.

"The next time a chairman decides to use his committee to advance the interests of his district while ignoring the interests of most of his colleagues, he might think twice," Pershing writes. "Lest anyone doubted who was in charge of House Democrats, today's vote provided a helpful reminder."

Dingell lost his gavel on the same day that Sen. Ted Stevens gave his last Senate speech: "Age and seniority gave way in Congress on Thursday, a transformational shift for an institution where tremendous power has traditionally been built on sheer longevity, accumulated and savored with the passage of years," Carl Hulse writes in The New York Times.

"It was not only Mr. Stevens, an Alaska Republican, and Mr. Dingell, a Michigan Democrat, who found themselves treated like old bulls put out to pasture. Senator Robert C. Byrd, a West Virginia Democrat who turned 91 on Thursday and has amassed 56 years in Congress, had already voluntarily relinquished the chairmanship of his beloved Appropriations Committee before his colleagues could ease him out," Hulse writes. "The abrupt change in status for the three lawmakers sent this fact swirling around Capitol Hill: their combined age of 258 exceeds the age of the United States itself."

"My motto has been here: To hell with politics, just do what is right for Alaska," Stevens said in his final floor speech.

As for policy: "Mr. Waxman's victory ensures that the committee will move in a more liberal direction, especially on energy and climate change," The Wall Street Journal's Naftali Bendavid and Stephen Power report. "The California Democrat's ascent caused immediate consternation in the already-reeling automobile and coal industries."

Waxman's win "will put him at the center of efforts to advance President-elect Barack Obama's proposals to curb global warming, develop alternative fuels and expand health insurance coverage," Janet Hook and Richard Simon write for the Los Angeles Times. "Dingell's loss is a blow to the U.S. auto industry at a time when it says it needs additional federal help to avoid collapse. Some business interests worry that Waxman will steer the committee sharply to the left."

"Well, this was clearly a change year," Dingell said after his defeat.

Obama is pushing for a bit more change: "The elections aren't over," Obama says in a radio ad cut for the Georgia Senate run-off. "I want to urge you to turn out one more time and help elect Jim Martin to the United States Senate."

But not so much change: Can anyone explain why Joe Biden is still a United States senator from Delaware? (We're only accepting explanations that are not related to efforts to wire things so that Biden can choose his own long-term successor.)

"The Obama-Biden transition office refuses to explain or elaborate on why Biden feels it is appropriate to continue to serve in the Senate," per ABC News. "The lack of resolution has stoked speculation in Delaware and beyond that the only reason Joe Biden is still in office has everything to do with Beau Biden."

The latest on Attorney General Michael Mukasey: "Attorney General Michael Mukasey is 'conscious, conversant and alert' after collapsing during a speech in Washington Thursday evening, according to a Justice Department spokesman," per ABC's Pierre Thomas, Jan Crawford Greenburg, and Jason Ryan.

"But there is still no word on exactly why Mukasey fell ill," they write. "Mukasey, 67, had been delivering remarks on combating international terrorism to the Federalist Society's annual meeting at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. A lawyer in the room said Mukasey 'started struggling with [his] speech, slurring' just before he collapsed."

ABC's John Hendren: "Just before 7 am, President Bush spoke to Attorney General Mukasey. The AG sounded well and is getting excellent care."

One last trip for the current president: "President Bush departs Friday for his final scheduled foreign trip as commander in chief -- a three-day jaunt to an economic summit in Peru -- where he will continue to defend free-market capitalism and meet with an increasingly antagonistic Russian President Dmitry Medvedev," Jon Ward writes in the Washington Times.

Whither the GOP? National Journal's Ron Brownstein: "As George W. Bush's presidency winds down, the Republican Party's greatest problem is that it doesn't appear to be reaching much of anybody who isn't already watching Fox News. Bush leaves behind a party that looks less like a coalition than a clubhouse."

Must-see video: Sarah Palin and the turkey. (Turkey is pictured at right.)

In Minnesota -- narrowing by the day: "With about 46 percent of the 2.9 million ballots counted by Thursday evening, the gap between Republican incumbent Norm Coleman and DFL challenger Al Franken continued to close. Coleman was leading by only 136 votes, a drop from his unofficial lead of 215 that was confirmed Tuesday by the state Canvassing Board," Kevin Duchschere writes in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.

He's popular in many, many places: "Iranians appear to be putting as much stock in President-elect Barack Obama's slogan of 'change' as Americans voters, seeing his victory as an opening for possible renewed relations between the two countries, which have been cut off for nearly thirty years," Farah Stockman writes from Tehran, in The Boston Globe.

And its impact can be felt everywhere: "While Barack Obama transitions from Chicago to Washington, his presence will be felt thousands of miles away, where finalists for the 2016 Olympics will put on their best show Friday for Europe's Olympic voting delegates," Philip Hersh writes in the Chicago Tribune. "That means Chicago's representatives will have their first chance since the election to tout the lakefront, the facilities and Chicago's summer weather, all leavened with the bid's connections to the president elect."

Anyone think early voting hasn't changed everything? "More Floridians voted for John McCain than Barack Obama on Election Day, but the Democrat sealed his victory in the state by winning more early and absentee votes," the AP's Jennifer Kay reports.

Friday night on ABC's "20/20": Ashley Dupre sits down with Diane Sawyer. "If it wasn't me, it would have been someone else," Dupre says. "I was doing my job. I don't feel that I brought him down."

The Kicker:

"I saw Frank Luntz, who is a moron -- I want to make sure this is clearly on the record -- he was talking to Republican governors, making fun of John for not being able to use a BlackBerry. The man can't do it because he is much more disabled than people can imagine. . . . I would like to take a hammer and start breaking bones in Frank's arms." -- McCain pollster Bill McInturff, threatening pollster-on-pollster violence.

"As we round the curb and pull up to exit the cab, I look up, and there is your name. And I said, 'Oh, my, Ted's got an airport.' " -- Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, in tribute to Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska. (Craig has a more humble claim to airport fame.)

A Note break:

The Note will not publish next week, with some down time coming over Thanksgiving. We'll be back on Monday, Dec. 1.

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