Transition Today – Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2008

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

President-elect Obama holds a news conference at 11:45am ET today at the Dodge Renaissance Academy in Chicago to unveil his choice for Education Secretary. CBS News has confirmed that Mr. Obama will announce Chicago Public Schools Superintendent Arne Duncan as his choice.

***Chicago Tribune, "Duncan to join Obama cabinet": "Since Mayor Richard Daley plucked Duncan from obscurity to head the country's third-largest school district in 2001, Duncan has gained a reputation as a reformer who isn't afraid to rankle the teachers union or punish underperforming schools. His decisions to pay students for good grades, back an unrealized plan for a gay-friendly high school and consider boarding schools often polarized the community while bolstering his renegade image."

***NY Times, "Chicago Schools Chief Is Obama's Education Pick": "Mr. Duncan, a 44-year-old Harvard graduate, has raised achievement in the nation's third-largest school district and often faced the ticklish challenge of shuttering failing schools and replacing ineffective teachers, usually with improved results. He represents a compromise choice in the debate that has divided Democrats in recent months over the proper course for public-school policy after the Bush years. In June, rival nationwide groups of educators circulated competing educational manifestos, with one group espousing a get-tough policy based on pushing teachers and administrators harder to raise achievement, and another arguing that schools alone could not close the racial achievement gap and urging new investments in school-based health clinics and other social programs to help poor students learn. Mr. Duncan was the only big-city superintendent to sign both manifestos. He argued that the nation's schools needed to be held accountable for student progress, but also needed major new investments, new talent and new teacher-training efforts. In straddling the two camps, Mr. Duncan seemed to reflect Mr. Obama's own impatience with what he has called 'tired educational debates.'"

Later, Mr. Obama and Vice President-elect Biden will hold a closed meeting with their economic team. Expected attendees: Secretary of Treasury designee Timothy Geithner, National Economic Council Director designee Lawrence Summers, Office of Management and Budget designee Peter Orszag, Council of Economic Advisors Chair designee Christina Romer, Domestic Policy Council Director designee Melody Barnes, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Carol Browner, Chief Economist and Economic Policy Advisor to the Vice-President designee Jared Bernstein, President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board Chair Paul Volcker, Member designee of the Council of Economic Advisers and Staff Director designee of the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board Austan Goolsbee, and White House Chief of Staff designee Rahm Emanuel.


Other schedule items:

*Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., holds a news conference at 1pm ET in Tucson, Ariz.


OBAMA & BLAGOJEVICH

NY Times, "Obama Says Inquiry Shows Nothing Wrong": "President-elect Barack Obama said Monday that an internal review had found that his advisers were not involved in any 'inappropriate' talks with Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich or his aides over the vacant Senate seat in Illinois, but Mr. Obama agreed to a federal prosecutor's request to withhold releasing the results of the inquiry until next week."

NY Daily News, "Barack Obama admits aides spoke with Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich": "[A]t the request of federal investigators, details are being withheld until at least next Monday. That's Christmas week, when most Americans will be distracted and the President-elect plans to be celebrating the holiday in Hawaii -- not Chicago, the focal point of the federal investigation."

Wall Street Journal, "Obama Team Delays Releasing Findings": "By delaying the release, Mr. Obama has virtually guaranteed another week of speculation about who in the Obama team discussed what with Blagojevich aides."

MORE BLAGO

Chicago Sun-Times's Michel Sneed, "Rahm's calls on tape": "Sneed hears rumbles President-elect Barack Obama's chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is reportedly on 21 different taped conversations by the feds -- dealing with his boss' vacant Senate seat! A lot of chit-chat? Hot air? Or trouble?"

NY Times, "Legal Hurdle in Blagojevich Case – A Crime, or Just Talk?": "[S]ome lawyers are beginning to suggest that the juiciest part of the case against Mr. Blagojevich, the part involving the Senate seat, may be less than airtight. There is no evidence, at least none that has been disclosed, that the governor actually received anything of value — and the Senate appointment has yet to be made. Ever since the country's founding, prosecutors, defense lawyers and juries have been trying to define the difference between criminality and political deal-making. They have never established a clear-cut line between the offensive and the illegal, and the hours of wiretapped conversations involving Mr. Blagojevich, filled with crass, profane talk about benefiting from the Senate vacancy, may fall into a legal gray area. Robert S. Bennett, one of Washington's best-known white-collar criminal defense lawyers, said Mr. Blagojevich faced nearly insurmountable legal problems in a case that includes a raft of corruption accusations unrelated to Mr. Obama's Senate seat. But Mr. Bennett said the case raised some potentially thorny issues about political corruption. 'This town is full of people who call themselves ambassadors, and all they did was pay $200,000 or $300,000 to the Republican or Democratic Party,' said Mr. Bennett, referring to a passage in the criminal complaint filed against the governor suggesting that Mr. Blagojevich was interested in an ambassadorial appointment in return for the Senate seat. 'You have to wonder, How much of this guy's problem was his language, rather than what he really did?' In presenting his case, Mr. Fitzgerald said Mr. Blagojevich had crossed the line from deal-making to criminality, citing an example in the complaint in which the governor discussed with an aide obtaining a $300,000-a-year job from the Service Employees International Union in return for naming a candidate to the seat. 'We're not trying to criminalize people making political horse trades on policies or that sort of thing,' Mr. Fitzgerald said. 'But it is criminal when people are doing it for their personal enrichment. And they're doing it in a way that is, in this case, clearly criminal.' But politicians routinely receive political contributions in return for their decisions, whether they involve making appointments or taking a stand on legislation. Lawmakers vote in favor of bills and steer appropriations backed by their donors without fear that prosecutors will bug their offices and homes. And while prosecutors have brought increasing numbers of political corruption cases in recent years, they have done so using laws that make it a crime for an official to deprive the public of 'honest services.' The cases are based on statutes that never define exactly what conduct might be illegal and do not require proof of a bribe or a quid pro quo to establish criminal wrongdoing."

WLS-TV Chicago, "Jackson Jr. may have been working with feds to investigate gov.": "[S]ources tell ABC7 that Jackson has been in regular contact with the feds and has told the government that in 2003 Blagojevich denied the congressman's wife Sandi an appointment as Illinois lottery director because Jackson would not donate $25,000 to the governor's campaign fund. Hours before Blagojevich and his chief of staff John Harris were arrested, Jackson says prosecutors gave him a 'courtesy call' to let him know he was mentioned in the criminal complaint."

Chicago Tribune, "Impeachment inquiry launched"

Wall Street Journal, "Process to Oust Governor Starts"

CLINTON'S SENATE SEAT / CAROLINE KENNEDY

CBS News has learned that Caroline Kennedy spoke with Gov. David Paterson, D-N.Y., yesterday to "express interest in the Senate seat" being vacated by Secretary of State designee Hillary Clinton.

NY Post, "Caroline in Capitol 'Hill' Bid": "[S]he is going after the seat with tacit backing from Mayor Bloomberg, and with one of his top operatives steering her effort, sources told The Post. Kennedy signed up powerhouse consulting firm Knickerbocker SKD, which is run by consultant Josh Isay and has advised Bloomberg. Several sources said the mayor, who recently praised Kennedy but didn't back her, is giving her his undeclared support. One source said that it's unlikely he will come out publicly for her, but that he is boosting her as Clinton departs to become President-elect Barack Obama's secretary of state."

NY Times, "Kennedy Seeks to Prove Qualifications for Senate Bid": "[S]everal people who have counseled the governor on the pending vacancy said that Ms. Kennedy has emerged as a clear front-runner, if she proves able to withstand the intense scrutiny and criticism that her decision to seek the seat is likely to provoke. Still, some have questioned whether Ms. Kennedy is qualified for the job. Ms. Kennedy is now launching a public effort to demonstrate that she has both the ability and the stomach to perform the job, with plans to visit parts of the upstate region. The governor, who has expressed frustration with other elected officials for campaigning too openly, has done nothing to discourage her, said a person who has spoken with Ms. Kennedy. In addition, a person with direct knowledge of the conversations said that Ms. Kennedy and Mr. Paterson had spoken several times in recent days and that the governor had grown increasingly fond of her. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid antagonizing the governor, said that Mr. Paterson also had come to see Ms. Kennedy as a strong potential candidate whose appointment would keep a woman in the seat and whose personal connections would allow her to raise the roughly $70 million required to hold on to the seat in the coming years. Under state law, Ms. Kennedy would have to run and win in 2010, to finish out the last two years of Mrs. Clinton's term, and again in 2012, to win a term of her own."

Time Magazine, "Is Caroline Kennedy Ready for the Senate?": "Kennedy's decision mystifies some who know her. 'I can't imagine she's going to like this,' says one family friend. While Kennedy enjoyed giving speeches for Obama, as well as campaigning for her many relatives who have run for office, the friend said Kennedy may discover that she is not suited to the drudge work of campaigning for herself, which includes countless phone calls to donors, stumping through tiny hamlets and putting up with questions from the media. And because the Senate appointee would have to run in two elections, she would be in virtual campaign mode for her first four years in office."

Politico, "Kennedy fixes 'delinquent' legal registration": "Caroline Kennedy's attorney registration was listed as "delinquent" as late as last week, when she renewed her license to practice law as part of her apparent preparations for a Senate bid. The biennial registration involves a $350 fee, and the New York State court system can suspend practicing lawyers for failing to register. Delinquency is viewed in legal circles as a mild embarassment, not a major transgression, but New York politicians have intermittently been dinged for lapsed registrations -- which can also indicate that a lawyer intends never to practice. It's unclear if Kennedy has practiced law since graduating from Columbia and being admitted to the New York Bar in 1990. Lawyers are required to keep their registration current, even if not currently practicing, if they ever intend to practice again. However, her status as an attorney is often cited as one of her qualifications for the Senate, and the last-minute fix of her lapsed registration marks an attempt to bolster her record and solidify her image as she steps for the first time fully onto the public stage."

TRANSITION

LA Times, "Obama picks Salazar as Interior Secretary": "President-elect Barack Obama plans to name Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.) to lead the Interior Department -- an appointment that could put the brakes on several controversial energy development projects across the West. Two senior Democrats said Monday that Obama would name Salazar, a Latino, to the post, rounding out an energy and environmental policy team announced at a Chicago news conference. If confirmed, Salazar would head a department with a broad portfolio, including managing the troubled Bureau of Indian Affairs. Salazar, 53, would also oversee the nation's national parks and other large swaths of public lands, making him the country's foremost landlord. And he would be responsible for the Bureau of Land Management, which sets policy for oil and gas drilling, mining and other resource extraction on public land."

Denver Post, "Sources: Salazar accepts Interior post": "If Salazar is confirmed for the post, Gov. Bill Ritter, a fellow Democrat, would name his replacement. Ritter spokesman Evan Dreyer said the governor 'will move as quickly as possible' to make that move once Salazar's appointment is formally announced. That prospect has set off a scramble among Democrats eager to fill out the remainder of Salazar's term, which runs through 2010. Names floated as possible successors include Hickenlooper, U.S. Rep. John Salazar of Manassa, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter of Golden, U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette of Denver, former U.S. Attorney Tom Strickland, outgoing state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff and Bennet."

Associated Press, "VP lauds Obama's choice of national security team": "[On ABC's 'Good Morning America'] Cheney said that while he is not close to Obama politically, 'I must say, I think it's a pretty good team.' He said that while he would not have selected Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton to be secretary of state, 'I think she's tough. She's smart, she works very hard and she may turn out to be just what President Obama needs.'"

Washington Post, "The Cabinet: Who's Next?": "Obama has tapped three African Americans, two Asian Americans and one Latino, and look for the president-elect to pick a Latino for at least one of the remaining posts. His transition team has assured the politically powerful community that he will have at least two Latinos in the Cabinet, but thus far he has named just one: New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, for commerce secretary. Men outnumber women in the Cabinet by more than 2 to 1, so count on Obama to tap more women to accompany the four already nominated: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for secretary of state, Susan E. Rice for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano for secretary of homeland security and New Jersey official Lisa P. Jackson for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Obama's Cabinet is heavily weighted with East Coasters, with half of his nominees hailing from Washington, New York or New Jersey. He has two nominees from the Midwest and four from the West Coast, but no nominee from the South. Sure, there aren't many Democrats left down South, but Obama probably wouldn't want to become the first president in generations to snub Southerners... During the campaign, Obama waxed poetic about bringing Republicans into his administration. But Gates -- the lone holdover from the Bush administration -- is the only representative of the GOP in the new Cabinet. It wouldn't surprise us to see Obama fill one more post with a Republican. Unless business as usual has trumped change we can use."

Washington Post, "Grand Jury Investigates Richardson Contributor": "A federal grand jury is investigating whether a financial firm improperly won more than $1.4 million in work for the state of New Mexico shortly after making contributions to political action committees of Gov. Bill Richardson (D). The probe focuses on whether the governor's office urged a state agency to hire CDR Financial Products. The probe is in a highly active stage at a time when President-elect Barack Obama has chosen Richardson as his nominee for secretary of commerce, according to two sources familiar with the investigation."

Politico, "Time's Jay Carney will be Biden aide": "Carney, a Yale graduate, is known as a middle-of-the-road, well-connected journalist with establishment instincts. But back in 2000, he closely covered the guerilla presidential odyssey of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)... This is the second member of the media elite who has signed on with Obama's administration. ABC News correspondent Linda Douglass joined the campaign as traveling spokeswoman, and now is working for Obama's Presidential Inaugural Committee.

NY Times, "One More Round of Voting as Electors Do Their Duty":" In a quadrennial ritual that has been criticized by some as an outdated part of the American political system, 538 electors, chosen for their party loyalty, cast their votes on Monday. Mr. Obama was expected to receive 365 votes to 173 for Senator John McCain, his Republican challenger, although the tally will not be made official by Congress until January. This year's vote included an Electoral College oddity: Nebraska split its votes for the first time as Mr. Obama became the first Democrat since 1964 to pick up one of its electoral votes, having won the Second Congressional District, which includes Omaha. While most states apportion their votes in a winner-take-all system, Nebraska and Maine award them on different formulas. In terms of voter turnout, with all 50 states and the District of Columbia now reporting official or certified ballots, 61.6 percent of Americans eligible to vote went to the polls this year, the highest since Richard M. Nixon beat Hubert H. Humphrey in the close 1968 race."

OBAMA ADMINISTRATION
NY Times, "A World of Issues Waiting, Obama and His Foreign Policy Squad Brush Up": "As Barack Obama gets ready to assume the presidency on Jan. 20, he has been boning up on the many national security issues that await his first day in the Oval Office. The list spans the globe, from the obscure — whether he should break with the Bush administration's pro-Morocco policy in its dispute over independence for the region known as Western Sahara — to the familiar, as in whether his planned increase of troops to Afghanistan is feasible... He has had several long sessions, on the telephone and in person, with Gen. James Jones, whom he has named as national security adviser, in what the general has described as a "walk around the world." On Monday, Mr. Obama went a step further, meeting for five and a half hours with his national security team. In addition to General Jones and Mr. McConnell, the assembly included Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.; Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, who is just back from a trip to Iraq; Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, the choice for secretary of state; Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Eric H. Holder Jr., the attorney general-designate; and Susan Rice, Mr. Obama's pick for ambassador to the United Nations. Perhaps surprisingly, Mr. Obama has also been seeking foreign policy guidance from some Republicans and conservatives. Besides reaching out to Mr. Scowcroft, Mr. Obama has also called former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, a Reagan administration official who is known in some foreign policy circles as the father of the Bush doctrine because of his advocacy of preventive war. It is unclear what the two men talked about. Mr. Obama has sought advice from Richard L. Armitage (Colin L. Powell's deputy at the State Department, who advised Senator John McCain in the presidential campaign), Gen. Tommy Franks (commander of the Iraq invasion), and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, the onetime Democrat and now independent who supported Mr. McCain in the election and is known for breaking with Democratic criticism of the Iraq war."

Politico, "Pelosi lays down the law with Rahm": "In talks with Emanuel and others, sources say, Pelosi has "set parameters" for what she wants from Barack Obama and his White House staff — no surprises, and no backdoor efforts to go around her and other Democratic leaders by cutting deals with moderate New Democrats or conservative Blue Dogs. Specifically, Pelosi has told Emanuel that she wants to know when representatives of the incoming administration have any contact with her rank-and-file Democrats — and why, sources say."

NY Times, "Hard Task for New Team on Energy and Climate": "The most pressing environmental issue for the incoming team will almost certainly be settling on an effective and politically tenable approach to the intertwined issues of energy security and global warming."

NY Times, "Challenges and Perhaps More Influence for Chairman of Joint Chiefs": "Admiral Mullen, who was selected by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates for a two-year term, has been on the job for a year. Come January, he will face perhaps the biggest challenge of his career: pivoting from one commander in chief to another, in the middle of two wars. Friends describe him as an even-tempered, intellectually curious and politically astute presence who sees the world beyond the immediate battles of the Pentagon and the White House, all skills that they say will serve him well in the new administration... In the last year, Admiral Mullen has sought advice from the retired generals who revolted against former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, reached out to the former Army chief who had been vilified for saying more troops were needed in Iraq and invited to dinner prominent Democrats like Gregory B. Craig, Mr. Obama's choice for White House counsel. His efforts may have been an effort to soothe the military after the cataclysmic Mr. Rumsfeld, or an anticipation of a change of administration — or both. Admiral Mullen, the son of a former Hollywood press agent whose clients included Anthony Quinn and Julie Andrews, has a world view that friends say is closer to that of Mr. Obama than to President Bush. He was initially opposed to the Bush administration's troop escalation, or 'surge,' in Iraq, has long been in favor of diplomacy with Iran and considers Pakistan — where he traveled in early December to press military leaders to crack down on the terrorist group behind the Mumbai attacks — one of the most dangerous countries in the world. The desire of Admiral Mullen, the man in charge of training and equipping the military, to ease the strain on forces fighting on two fronts may well dovetail with Mr. Obama's desire to draw down American troops in Iraq. In short, Admiral Mullen, 62, could be more influential in an Obama administration than he has been in the Bush administration, where he has been overshadowed by the success and showmanship of Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of United States forces in the Middle East and the former top commander in Iraq. Friends say Admiral Mullen sees an opportunity to assert himself in the traditional role of chairman, as the president's top military adviser, particularly if General Petraeus, who linked his fortunes with President Bush to sell and oversee the surge, no longer has a direct line to the Oval Office."


INAUGURATION

Washington Post, "Like Lincoln, Obama Will Ride the Rails to D.C.": "'He's replicating the last leg of Lincoln's inaugural journey to Washington,' said historian Harold Holzer, author of 'Lincoln President Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter 1860-1861.' 'This guy's reverence for Lincoln has no bounds.'"

Baltimore Sun, "Obama's train to stop here on way to inaugural": "Details have not been released, but Obama is scheduled to ride a train through each city, picking up Vice President-elect Joe Biden in Delaware, the Presidential Inauguration Committee said yesterday. A Baltimore event is scheduled Jan. 17, and city police said they are preparing for a crowd of 150,000 for a speech at a site to be announced."


MINNESOTA SENATE RACE

St. Paul Pioneer Press, "D-day for thousands of ballot challenges": "The battle of Minnesota's U.S. Senate recount will see fire on several fronts this week. Today, the state canvassing board will begin judging the more than 1,500 ballot challenges that could decide the race. On Wednesday, the Minnesota Supreme Court will hear oral arguments over Republican Sen. Norm Coleman's lawsuit to stop counties from counting improperly rejected absentee ballots until the counties can be given more specific and uniform instructions. Meanwhile, several counties are moving forward on plans to include those ballots, which may number more than 1,500, in their recount totals. In the scheduling order released Monday, the court said such counting is fine, for now, as long as the counties carefully track the ballots and the envelopes. Although the canvassing board's judgment on the ballot challenges is supposed to be the final stage of the recount — with court challenges and some counting left undone — that's looking less possible."

Associated Press, "Minnesota board to review disputed Senate ballots": "With the winner of Minnesota's U.S. Senate race still a mystery, a five-member board now steps in to see if a winner can be decided between rivals Norm Coleman and Al Franken. The state canvassing board — made up of Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, two state Supreme Court justices and two Ramsey County judges — were to begin inspecting as many as 1,500 ballots one by one on Tuesday. Coleman, the Republican incumbent, leads Democrat Franken by 188 votes from more than 2.9 million ballots cast on Nov. 4. A final winner is pending the canvassing board's decisions on the disputed ballots... Even if the board meets Ritchie's goal of finishing by Friday, it seems unlikely to amount to a final resolution. A major issue of dispute is the handling of absentee ballots that were improperly rejected on Election Day, a number currently estimated at around 1,600. The canvassing board earlier told counties to sort and count such ballots, but the Coleman campaign on Monday asked the state Supreme Court to block that. The high court scheduled a hearing on the matter Wednesday."

FUTURE RACES

Washington Post, "CO Senate: Salazar Departure Creates GOP Opportunity"

Politico, "Sebelius sparks Senate speculation"

ALSO:

Politico, "Obama's seat sparks turf battle": "The cloud hovering over Barack Obama's vacant Senate seat has sparked a turf battle within the Senate chamber over just how big an edge Democrats will hold on critical committees. A large Democratic edge on key committees will make it much easier for the party in charge to force Obama's agenda to the floor, but the GOP holds the power to filibuster a resolution that sets key committees since the outcome has enormous implications... Not only will the number of Democratic seats have profound implications on Obama's ability to move his agenda on the Senate floor, but bills are drafted, shaped and sometimes defeated in committees. The number of seats each party holds on committees are intended to reflect the overall partisan breakdown of the upper chamber. The Senate's final partisan breakdown may not be known for months, but Democrats will hold as few as 57 seats and as many as 59 seats in the 111th Congress. According to historical precedent, which negotiators rely on to set ratios, that can mean the difference between a two-seat majority on some panels and a six-seat majority on others."
  • Steve Chaggaris

    Steve Chaggaris is CBSNews.com's Executive Editor, Washington.

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