Morning Bulletin – Friday, Jan. 30, 2009

A roundup of news, schedules, and key stories from CBS News Political Director Steve Chaggaris:

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Barack Obama will again spend most of his day focused on the economy by re-announcing his "Middle Class Working Families Task Force", to be led by Vice President Joe Biden, and signing several labor-related executive orders this morning.

"Among the George W. Bush-era executive orders that Obama was to reverse was one that allowed unionized companies to post signs informing workers that they are allowed to decertify their union. Critics claimed it was unfair because nonunion businesses are not required to post signs letting workers know they are legally allowed to vote for a union," reports the AP's Philip Elliot.

"Two Democratic sources also said Obama would prevent federal contractors from being reimbursed for expenses that were intended to influence workers' decisions to form unions or engage in collective bargaining.

"A third Obama order would require federal vendors with more than $100,000 in contracts to post workers' rights under the National Labor Relations Act.

"The final order would require service contractors at federal buildings to offer jobs to qualified current employees when contracts changed. For instance, rank-and-file workers could continue working on the same federal project even if the administrative contract expired. The officials disclosed the plans on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to pre-empt the White House's announcements."

President Obama this morning said he's "pleased" that the Senate passed a bill yesterday that will "provide health insurance to children whose families have been hurt most by this downturn."

"Providing health care to more than ten million children through the Children's Health Insurance Program will serve as a down payment on my commitment to ensure that every American has access to quality, affordable health care," Mr. Obama said in a statement. The bill overwhelmingly passed the Senate yesterday; the House is expected to take it up next week. CBS News' Mark Knoller points out "this reflects a dramatic change from the previous administration" as President Bush "twice vetoed bills to expand" this health care program in October and December of 2007.

(AP)
GREGG TO COMMERCE?: Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., is reportedly being considered by President Obama to be his Commerce Secretary. "Gregg, who faces reelection in 2010, is one of several people under consideration for the remaining Cabinet post for which Obama has no nominee," writes the Los Angeles Times' Peter Nicolas.

"New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson had been picked for the Commerce job, but he pulled out this month amid a grand jury probe into a state contract award."

"It's unclear how seriously Gregg is being considered for the job. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he'd 'heard' that Gregg was being considered seriously, but another Senate source suggested that perhaps the White House was floating Gregg's name as 'a weather balloon,'" reports Politico's Manu Raju.

"Still, even the hint of the possibility sparked concerns from Republican leaders, who assume that New Hampshire's Democratic governor, John Lynch, would appoint a Democrat to replace Gregg. Assuming Al Franken defeats Norm Coleman in Minnesota, a new Democratic senator from New Hampshire would give Democrats a 60-seat majority –enough to overcome Republican filibusters."

Speaking of Gregg, he's one of five Republican senators targeted by TV ads urging him to support the president's economic stimulus plan.

"It's up to the Granite State's Judd Gregg and Maine's Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, according to the narrator in the 30-second 'Factory' spot that began airing Thursday, to support the president's 'plan for jobs — not the failed policies of the past,'" writes Adam D. Krauss of the Foster's Daily Democrat.

"The ads, which also go after senators from Alaska [Murkowski] and Iowa [Grassley], show a closed factory morphing into a bustling workplace while Obama talks about creating millions of jobs and getting 'our economy moving again.'

"Collins was one of four Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee to support sending the proposal to the full Senate for consideration and Snowe was the only Republican on the Finance Committee to vote in favor of the package this week. Still, in pursuit of a filibusterproof majority, the campaign 'chose to target Collins and Snowe because they are moderates, and as such, we feel we have the best chance to convince them to do the right thing for struggling, out-of-work families,' said Jeremy Funk, communications director for Americans United for Change."

"Those groups don't impress me," Gregg told the NY Times. "I'm trying to participate constructively, help the new president where I can be helpful and be part of the loyal opposition where I disagree with him."

Meantime, the group behind those TV ads, Americans United for Change, is also airing radio ads beginning today "in three states Obama won — Ohio, Pennsylvania and Nevada — with a tough question aimed at the GOP senators there: Will you side with Obama or Rush Limbaugh?" reports the Politico's Jonathan Martin.

"'Every Republican member of the House chose to take Rush Limbaugh's advice,' says the narrator after playing the conservative talk radio giant's declaration that he hopes Obama 'fails.' 'Every Republican voted with Limbaugh — and against creating 4 million new American jobs. We can understand why a extreme partisan like Rush Limbaugh wants President Obama's Jobs program to fail — but the members of Congress elected to represent the citizens in their districts? That's another matter.

"Now the Obama plan goes to the Senate, and the question is: Will our Senator'—here the ad is tailored by state to name George Voinovich in Ohio, Arlen Specter in Pennsylvania, and John Ensign in Nevada—'side with Rush Limbaugh too?'"

(CBS)
GIBBS: "FRENETIC PACE" SO FAR": White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs admitted to CBS Radio News White House Correspondent Peter Maer yesterday that the president and his staff have "had a pretty frenetic pace." He downplays any prospect of burnout saying, "I know he [Obama] will pace himself and we'll pace ourselves."

In an interview that will air this weekend on CBS Radio's "Weekend Roundup" (check local listings or listen here), Gibbs tells Maer that he believes his boss has finally quit smoking. He says he has not seen Barack Obama light up "in some time." Gibbs added, "He understands the powerful example he has to be for teenagers and adults around the world."

Gibbs also reflected on his own job, saying, "I haven't felt quite like the human piñata yet. I have a feeling those days are coming."

When asked if he would ever lie from the podium, the press secretary responded with a flat "no."

"I think that whenever somebody in my capacity does that, it puts you in a position where reporters are now having to guess whether what you're saying is true or not. I think at that point, you're incapable of doing your job."

Like other press secretaries, he admitted there would be times when he would not be as open about what he may or not know, especially on national security issues. But he emphasized, "I'm not going to lie from that podium and I think the president would expect me to tell the truth."

4762464RACE FOR RNC CHAIRMAN: "GOP insiders say Friday's contest to elect the next chairman of the Republican National Committee will be a long and drawn-out affair, with multiple ballots necessary to determine the winner," reports the Politico's Alexander Burns.

"In part, it's a reflection of a party that, even after a nearly three month-long chairman's race, remains deeply uncertain of which candidate can best lead the GOP back to power."

"Those challenging [RNC Chairman Mike] Duncan are former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, South Carolina GOP Chairman Katon Dawson and Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis," writes the AP's Liz Sidoti.

"A fifth — former Tennessee GOP Chairman Chip Saltsman — dropped out of the race on Thursday with little explanation, saying only in a letter to RNC members: 'I have decided to withdraw my candidacy.' Saltsman, who ran former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's failed presidential campaign last year, was considered a long-shot candidate who several Republican officials said likely wouldn't have had enough support even to be formally nominated had he continued his bid.

"It faltered in December after he drew controversy for mailing a 41-track CD to committee members that included a song titled 'Barack the Magic Negro' by conservative comedian Paul Shanklin and sung to the music of 'Puff, the Magic Dragon.'

"Despite criticism, Saltsman didn't apologize and defended the tune as one of several "lighthearted political parodies" that have aired on Rush Limbaugh's radio show."

BYE, BYE BLAGO: The Illinois Senate voted 59-0 late yesterday to impeach Gov. Rod Blagojevich, D-Ill. – the first time an Illinois governor had been convicted in an impeachment trial.

They also voted to bar him from ever running for political office again in Illinois. Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn was sworn in after Blago's ouster.

President Obama released a brief statement last night: "Today ends a painful episode for Illinois. For months, the state had been crippled by a crisis of leadership. Now that cloud has lifted. I wish Governor Quinn the best and pledge my full cooperation as he undertakes his new responsibilities."

(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
And the state isn't wasting any time deleting references to "Governor Blagojevich." Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet reports, "New Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn ordered all state of Illinois website home pages stripped of most references to impeached former Gov. Rod Blagojevich by noon on Friday ...

"'Remove the name and likeness (i.e., images) of Rod Blagojevich from all home page headers and templates by noon tomorrow,' said the memo sent to all state agency chiefs by Sean Vinck, Legislative Counsel to Governor Pat Quinn."

Also the Chicago Tribune's Richard Wronski reports, "The controversial signs at Illinois tollway plazas announcing 'Open Road Tolling—Rod R. Blagojevich, Governor' will soon be changed, a tollway spokeswoman said Thursday. New signs, keeping the open-road-tolling message but covering Blagojevich's name, will be placed over the old ones, said Joelle McGinnis, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority..."

Following his closing argument to the Senate yesterday, "he played cat and mouse with reporters in his escape route from the Capitol, taking a rarely used steam tunnel to a nearby building, where a black Suburban was outside waiting," report Dave McKinney, Chris Fusco and Carol Marin of the Sun-Times.

"As Blagojevich emerged from that building, the Sun-Times asked him why he didn't tell Illinoisans he was sorry for subjecting the state's 13 million residents to his choking legal and political problems, which have virtually shut down state government. Blagojevich -- in his final moments as governor -- answered in three words: 'Sorry for what?'"

SARAH PALIN AND OBAMA TOGETHER: Saturday night, at the closed-door, off-the-record, black-tie Alfalfa Club dinner in Washington. Gov. Palin's office says she is not planning any other public events in D.C. over the weekend.

SUPER BOWL XLIII: President Obama has invited members of Congress from both sides of the aisle as well as friends from Chicago to watch the Arizona Cardinals-Pittsburgh Steelers matchup at the White House Sunday night.

CBS News has learned that confirmed attendees include: Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz. (Cardinals fan), Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa. (rooting for the Steelers), Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.

KPHO-TV Phoenix, "Countdown to Kickoff":

KDKA-TV Pittsburgh's Steelers page

ECONOMIC STIMULUS

Wall Street Journal's Greg Hitt, "Senate Begins Its Horse-Trading Over Stimulus Bill": "The Senate began jockeying Thursday over details of its nearly $900 billion economic-stimulus plan, amid bipartisan calls to ensure that jobs created by the measure go to American workers, not foreign companies or illegal immigrants.

Sens. Ben Nelson (D., Neb.) and Jeff Sessions (R., Ala.) want to mandate that businesses benefiting from the stimulus verify the citizenship of workers, under a government program that is currently voluntary.

"Already in the legislation are 'Buy America' provisions intended to ensure U.S.-made goods are used in projects spurred by the package. These proposals have stirred concerns in the business community that other nations could retaliate against U.S.-made goods with new trade restrictions.

"There is also pressure in the Senate to sharpen the focus of the stimulus package to address more directly the nation's housing woes. Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D., N.D.) is pushing a proposal to broaden the existing home-buyer tax credit, which now benefits only first-time buyers, to cover purchases of all primary residences.

"Senate Banking Chairman Chris Dodd (D., Conn.) is suggesting a moratorium on foreclosures be added to the package. ...

"Amid the maneuvering, top Senate Republicans are raising doubts about the package, especially the spending. But Senate Republicans aren't marching in lock step against the measure."

FINANCIAL BAILOUT

Wall Street Journal's Damian Paletta, Jonathan Weisman and Deborah Solomon, "U.S. Eyes Two-Part Bailout for Banks": "The nation's top economic officials are discussing a new way to stabilize the financial system by buying a portion of banks' bad assets and offering guarantees against future losses on some of the remainder, in an effort to help banks while trying to mitigate the cost to taxpayers.

"This approach, which merges two competing ideas, was discussed this week at a meeting that included Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair, according to people briefed on the meeting.

"The emerging plan comes as the administration seeks to jolt the economy with an $819 billion stimulus plan and a series of additional moves designed to stem foreclosures, overhaul financial regulation and get credit flowing again.

"Amid that flurry of activity, President Barack Obama stepped up his rhetorical attacks Thursday on the same banks his officials are planning to aid. Summoning reporters after a closed meeting with Mr. Geithner, Mr. Obama blasted earlier news that Wall Street had paid out $18.4 billion in bonuses, calling it 'the height of irresponsibility' and 'shameful.'"

MINNESOTA SENATE RACE
Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Mike Kaszuba, "Coleman went to court, Franken went to Florida; How do you get to D.C.? -- As Minnesota's U.S. Senate drama unfolds in a St. Paul courtroom, Norm Coleman has been a prominent presence while Al Franken has stayed off stage."

ALSO:

Politico's Kenneth P. Vogel, "Obama team's finances hard to access": "Even as President Barack Obama issued new rules to make government more open and transparent, his administration is relying on an antiquated and opaque disclosure system. Anyone seeking copies of the financial disclosure reports recently filed by members of his Cabinet and his top aides has to navigate an arcane and intrusive bureaucracy reliant on faxes, dense government forms, snail mail, or proximity to Washington, plus an insider's knowledge of an unpredictable schedule dictated by a host of government officials.

Simply put, it's a system that seems to run counter to Obama's talk and his new rules about using technology to open the halls of the federal government to the public."

Washington Post's Dan Eggen, "Obama Stocks White House With Prominent Lawyers": "Washington lawyer Norman L. Eisen made his name in politics as a regular Democratic contributor and co-founder of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, a liberal-leaning watchdog group that, among other things, sued then-President George W. Bush over missing White House e-mails. Now Eisen is part of the White House, named by President Obama this week as his special counsel for ethics and government reform.

"Eisen is one of several dozen prominent lawyers who will help formulate and interpret legal policy in the new administration, signaling a dramatic departure from the legal approach and policies of Bush and his aides.

"The list includes heavy-hitters educated at some of the nation's most prestigious law schools, and many who were sharply critical of Bush administration policies on detention, prisoner treatment, surveillance and other issues. Democrats have praised the appointments as necessary to roll back the legal policies of Bush and his vice president, Richard B. Cheney, who largely relied on a relatively small group of conservative lawyers to formulate an expansive view of executive branch and presidential powers. ...

"On the other hand, some Republicans argue that the list shows that Obama is more partisan than advertised. Several top new lawyers at the White House, for example, served as senior advisers during Obama's presidential campaign, while another, Susan Davies, served as general counsel under the Democratic Senate Judiciary chairman, Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.)."
  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' senior political editor.