A roundup of news, schedules, and key stories from CBS News Political Director Steve Chaggaris:
4707724Today, President-elect Barack Obama heads to Bedford Heights, Ohio – outside of Cleveland – where he'll discuss his economic stimulus plan and meet with workers at the Cardinal Fastener & Specialty Company.
"The president-elect on Friday was to tour a northern Ohio company that manufactures parts for wind turbines, a fitting backdrop to promote alternative energy dollars included in the mammoth stimulus package, "writes the AP's Liz Sidoti."Obama's campaign-style event is the first of a series he's expected to hold to generate support for his plan to pull the country from recession."
Thursday, House Democrats unveiled their $825 billion stimulus plan, but as The Hill's Mike Soraghan reports, some Democrats feel it might not be enough.
"House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) said the massive bill 'may undershoot the mark' and suggested Congress may have to spend more money to stimulate the economy.
Even as President-elect Obama praised the stimulus package, some rank-and-file Democrats criticized the bill for not doing enough.
Republicans, however, had a different point of view. 'Oh, my God,' House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said of the Democratic proposal. Boehner said he was 'shocked' by portions of the Democratic draft."
"[T]he bill was not warmly received by Republicans, who had been encouraged by Obama's commitment to designating a larger portion of the stimulus to tax cuts. A plan outlined by the president-elect last week would have provided $300 billion in tax cuts as part of a $775 package, with tax cuts representing about 40 percent of the overall total," report the Washington Post's Shaleigh Murray and Paul Kane.
"The aim of the legislation is to bolster the nation's sagging economy by providing incentives for companies to create jobs and money for individuals and state governments struggling to cope with the downturn.
"The bulk of the package -- about $550 billion -- would be used to build new schools and highways, invest in energy and health-care projects and provide unemployment and health benefits for out-of-work Americans. The rest would provide tax relief for businesses and individuals. If approved, most workers would get about a $500 tax cut in their paychecks. The House measure is far larger than lawmakers envisioned when the stimulus idea surfaced last fall and, as the recession shows signs of worsening, Democrats predict the price tag could grow to nearly $1 trillion before the bill reaches Obama's desk."
"Some of the biggest expenditures will go directly to the states, with $90 billion going to increase the federal share of Medicaid payments and an additional $79 billion to help states avoid cutbacks in education and other services. Separately, $43 billion will go for transportation improvements -- less than many expected, to the frustration of some Democrats. The plan also includes Mr. Obama's "Making Work Pay" tax credit of $500 per worker and $1,000 for couples," report the Wall Street Journal's Naftali Bendavid, Elizabeth Williamson and Sudeep Reddy.
"Economists say the stimulus may be more effective at supporting an ultimate recovery than arresting the current decline. That's because few elements of the package would hit the economy before the second half of the year, with the largest boost coming in late 2009 and into 2010."
Also yesterday, "The Senate cleared the way for President-elect Barack Obama to access the second half of the $700 billion financial rescue fund, alleviating some concern on Wall Street by setting the stage for another infusion into the weakening financial sector," report the Wall Street Journal's Deborah Solomon and Greg Hitt.
"To overcome political objections, the incoming Obama administration pledged to spend $50 billion to $100 billion on a 'sweeping' foreclosure-prevention effort. It also said it would impose tougher restrictions on banks that receive government aid, including requirements on banks to lend money, increased restrictions on executive compensation and curtailed dividend payments for some firms."
"The Senate action, by a vote of 52 to 42, spares Mr. Obama a messy legislative fight just as he takes office and gives him a $350 billion war chest to further stabilize the financial sector," writes the New York Times' David M. Herszenhorn.
"The vote came amid renewed distress in the banking industry, including further deterioration of Citigroup and a pitch for more government aid by the Bank of America. Mr. Obama had personally lobbied reluctant senators to release the money. His top economic adviser, Lawrence H. Summers, made three visits to the Capitol and sent two letters to reassure lawmakers that the program would be better managed."
Meantime, in an interview with the Washington Post, "President-elect Barack Obama pledged yesterday to shape a new Social Security and Medicare 'bargain' with the American people, saying that the nation's long-term economic recovery cannot be attained unless the government finally gets control over its most costly entitlement programs. That discussion will begin next month, Obama said, when he convenes a 'fiscal responsibility summit' before delivering his first budget to Congress. He said his administration will begin confronting the issues of entitlement reform and long-term budget deficits soon after it jump-starts job growth and the stock market. 'What we have done is kicked this can down the road. We are now at the end of the road and are not in a position to kick it any further,' he said. 'We have to signal seriousness in this by making sure some of the hard decisions are made under my watch, not someone else's.'"
President George W. Bush delivered his farewell address last night at the White House, admitting that even though he had "experienced setbacks" during his two terms, "I have followed my conscience and done what I thought was right."
"Mr. Bush leaves behind two unfinished wars and an economy in turmoil, and he warned in his speech of tough times ahead. The president who came to office vowing to be a 'uniter not a divider' alluded to the deep partisan divisions that marked his eight years in office. But he said he hoped the American people would remember him as a man who stayed true to his principles," writes the NY Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg.
"'You may not agree with some tough decisions I have made,' Mr. Bush said. 'But I hope you can agree that I was willing to make tough decisions.'"
"Reflecting on tough times during his second term and his return to private life on Tuesday, Mr. Bush concluded with a touch of humility: 'It has been the privilege of a lifetime to serve as your president. There have been good days and tough days. But every day I have been inspired by the greatness of our country and uplifted by the goodness of our people,'" reports the Wall Street Journal's John D. McKinnon.
"'I have been blessed to represent this nation we love,' he continued. 'And I will always be honored to carry a title that means more to me than any other: citizen of the United States of America.'"
Mr. Obama may not have seen the President's farewell address; just as Mr. Bush was beginning his remarks, Mr. Obama hopped in his motorcade to head to dinner at Equinox, near the White House.
"CBS News' Maria Gavrilovic, who waited outside the restaurant, reports that there is no indication whether or not Mr. Obama was watching President Bush's farewell remarks... A host at the restaurant tells CBS News' that the president-elect stopped by the only television in the high end establishment, a small screen at the bar, and watched for 'a minute or two.'
The source said he did not notice what Mr. Obama was watching but that 'no' it was not for an extended period of time."
"Senators had expected Holder's hearing would be the rockiest of Obama's Cabinet appointees. But Republicans shied away from sustained or coordinated attacks against Holder. ... Several Republicans on the panel — showing little appetite for a partisan fight at a time when many Americans are facing job losses, foreclosures and shrinking retirement accounts — said that Holder did a good job answering their questions. ...
"Some of the toughest questions came from Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), chairman of the Senate Republican political campaign committee. Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), the ranking Republican on Judiciary, and Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), a senior Republican on the panel, also questioned Holder pointedly on his role in recommending controversial pardons while deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration.
"Cornyn said Holder's recommendation for a presidential pardon of members of FALN, a militant Puerto Rican nationalist group, when he was deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration is 'very troubling.' Nevertheless, Cornyn acknowledged Holder did a good job parrying Republican questions and would likely receive confirmation."
Washington Post, "Waterboarding Is Torture, Holder Tells Senators":" Holder declared that the interrogation practice known as waterboarding amounts to torture, departing from the interpretation of his Bush administration predecessors. He promised to perform a "damage assessment" to evaluate how politically motivated hiring during the Bush era continues to affect the department. And he pledged to work closely with Congress and serve as "the people's lawyer," rather than devote his loyalty solely to the incoming president, Barack Obama."
NY Times' Eric Lichtblau, "Holder Wants Some Detainees Tried in the U.S.": "Eric H. Holder Jr. said Thursday that if confirmed as attorney general under President-elect Barack Obama he would seek to prosecute in American criminal courts some prisoners now held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and would re-examine Bush administration policies he considered legally troubling.
"At the same time, Mr. Holder was forced to defend his record as deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration as Republicans pressed him during a daylong confirmation hearing about his role in controversial pardons issued by President Bill Clinton and on other issues.
"Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, led the attack, pointedly suggesting that Mr. Holder had given political cover to then-Vice President Al Gore by refusing to seek an independent counsel to investigate accusations that Mr. Gore had violated campaign finance laws in a 1996 fund-raiser.
"For the only time in more than seven hours of testimony, Mr. Holder abandoned his calm, stoic demeanor. 'You're getting close to questioning my integrity, and that's not appropriate,' he responded. 'That's not fair, and I will not accept that.'
"The tense exchange capped a series of volleys on a nomination that is shaping up as the most contentious of Mr. Obama's cabinet choices. Republicans tried to focus the debate on Mr. Holder's actions in the Clinton administration, and Democrats sought just as firmly to emphasize what they called unconstitutional abuses by the Bush administration in the fight against terrorism."
NY Times' Michael Falcone, "Interior Department Nominee Pledges Reform"
Washington Post's Spencer S. Hsu, "Napolitano Pledges Shift in Immigration Focus"
NY Times' David Johnston, "Homeland Security Nominee Vows to Safeguard Country, but Offers Few Specifics"
NY Times' Neil MacFarquhar, "Gentle Questioning for U.N. Nominee"
NY Times' Stephen Labaton, "S.E.C. Nominee Offers Plan for Tighter Regulation"
The Hill's Jordy Yager, "Congress unprepared for Jan. 20 emergency": "Many lawmakers do not know how to use a critical communications system in the event of an emergency during President-elect Obama's Inauguration.
"Despite months of security planning for the Inauguration by various government agencies, a White House-directed phone service that is supposed to be given to every lawmaker for emergency use remains a mystery to many members of Congress.
"The chairman of the House Administration Committee, which oversees the security of all House members and staff, has never seen or heard of the tool. 'I don't know anything about it,' said Rep. Robert Brady (D-Pa.).
"'I'm definitely going to find out, though.' Brady is far from alone. Eight lawmakers The Hill spoke to on Wednesday said they either were not sure of or did not have the Government Emergency Telecommunications Service (GETS) card, which gives users priority telephone access during emergencies, when traditional phone lines may be disconnected or flooded with calls.
"'I don't know anything about that,' said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), a committee chairman who has served in the House for nearly 30 years. Five other members said they had and were familiar with the card, but some of them were unsure how to use it."
Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown, "A peek at Obama's Inaugural plan": "Just hours after admitting he was intimidated by Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address, Barack Obama went to stare it down. He had set the weekend aside to work on his own inaugural speech at the Hay-Adams Hotel. By Saturday night, he was headed to the Lincoln Memorial, where the 703-word speech delivered at the end of the Civil War is etched on massive stone walls.
"'I'm not sure whether that has been wise because every time you read that second inaugural you start getting intimidated, especially because it is really short,' he said that day. 'There is a genius to Lincoln that is not going to be matched.' With at least three drafts behind him, Obama is nearly done with his own speech, an aide said Thursday – striving for a tone that's soaring but accessible, simple but inspiring, urgent and confident all at once."
NY Times' David D. Kirkpatrick, "To Those Who Gave Much, Much Will Be Given": "It was the promise of an inauguration more open to ordinary people than any in recent memory that inspired Chris Sacca to start raising money for President-elect Barack Obama's inaugural committee.
"But for bringing in a total of $350,000, Mr. Sacca, a 33-year-old San Francisco investor and former Google executive, has nonetheless bought himself entree to perhaps the most elite party within a party in inaugural history.
"Its itinerary is jam-packed, including not just reserved seats up close to all the public events but also a string of private events open only to big fund-raisers. There are Saturday and Sunday night parties with surprise celebrity entertainment; a 'Gospel brunch' Sunday with Yolanda Adams, Carole King and BeBe Winans; a breakfast policy briefing Monday with a cabinet nominee; black-tie dinners serenaded by singers including Faith Hill and Patti LaBelle; even a chance to watch the inaugural parade from the comfort of a Pennsylvania Avenue restaurant. ...
"The inaugural committee's events are hardly the only way, of course, for high rollers to have fun while in town. Some fund-raisers say they plan to slip out for The Huffington Post's celebrity-packed preinaugural ball Monday, with performances by Sting, Sheryl Crow and Will.i.am, for example, or for the Creative Coalition's $5,000-a-seat party Tuesday, with entertainment by Elvis Costello, Sam Moore and Sting (who is having a busy week)."
Reuters' Randall Mikkelsen, "War, crowds complicate Obama inaugural security":" With about 1.5 million people expected to take part in three days of festivities -- including the swearing-in, parade and inaugural balls -- tens of thousands of police and troops will guard the land, skies and waters around Washington. The Homeland Security Department and other authorities see no credible or specific threat of an attack. But they say they are prepared for a wide range of potential catastrophes, including a chemical weapons attack and bitterly cold weather."
Washington Times' Deborah Simmons, "District braces for road chaos"
NY Times' Peter Baker and Helene Cooper, "Signs of Trouble Emerge in Transition's Last Days": "The smooth ride to the inauguration has turned bumpier in its final days for President-elect Barack Obama as he struggles to complete his cabinet, push problematic nominations through the Senate and balance competing demands in his economic package.
"Mr. Obama has increasingly taken command in Washington even before being sworn in and won an important legislative victory on Thursday, releasing more bailout money. But a transition that has moved forward with precision and decisiveness has also begun encountering signs of trouble that could foreshadow the challenges awaiting him once he moves into the White House next week.
"The failure of Mr. Obama's pick for Treasury secretary to pay all of his taxes has pushed off his confirmation so that a stand-in will temporarily lead the department after Mr. Obama's swearing-in, even as renewed turmoil buffets the financial sector.
"Aides said Mr. Obama would likewise take office without settling on a commerce secretary to replace his first choice, who dropped out. And the man Mr. Obama once declared should not fill his Senate seat was nonetheless sworn in on Thursday.
"Most of Mr. Obama's cabinet choices are heading toward easy confirmation, including Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose nomination for secretary of state was endorsed 16 to 1 by a Senate committee on Thursday. But his designated attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., was grilled over his record by another Senate panel.
"Over all, it appeared that Mr. Obama might not have as many cabinet secretaries in place by Inauguration Day as President Bush did.
"On policy, the broad consensus Mr. Obama has forged in favor of a huge stimulus program to revive the economy could be tested as Democrats push for more spending and less tax cuts while Republicans push for the opposite. Hoping to rally public support behind his approach, Mr. Obama plans to fly to Ohio on Friday to hold a town-hall-style meeting on the economy.
"'The tension that we're starting to see with them trying to get the stimulus through is part of the natural push-pull of the process,' said Candida P. Wolff, a former White House legislative affairs director for Mr. Bush. 'A new administration is having to learn to deal with it.'"
Bloomberg's Edwin Chen, "Obama's Actions May Pose Biggest Risk to Presidential Honeymoon":" There are emerging hairline cracks that foreshadow turbulence. These include questions about back taxes owed by Treasury Secretary-designee Timothy Geithner and a rift between Obama and congressional Democrats over his economic stimulus package.
"The new president has already been forced to flip-flop over the status of Roland Burris, his Senate successor, whose appointment he initially opposed. In addition, Obama, 47, inherits two wars and what is billed as the worst economic climate since the Great Depression.
"Still, he is poised to enjoy a sweeter honeymoon than most of his predecessors. 'Obama has the chance to have the biggest honeymoon we've seen in decades,' said David Gergen, a professor of government at Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Harvard University who worked for Presidents Nixon, Ford, Ronald Reagan and Clinton."
SENATE SEAT SHUFFLE
Washington Post's Perry Bacon Jr., "As Biden Leaves Senate, Burris Is Sworn In": "Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Hillary Rodham Clinton, two of the most influential members of the Senate, said goodbye to their colleagues yesterday, while the chamber welcomed Illinois's Roland W. Burris, a man it had tried to keep out.
"Nine days after the Senate blocked Burris from even entering its chamber, leaving him to hold a news conference in the rain with only a handful of supporters, the former Illinois attorney general walked onto the Senate floor with Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.). Several members of the Congressional Black Caucus and House members from Illinois came to the Senate to cheer on Burris and greeted the pair as they entered."
CBSNews.com, "Biden Says Goodbye to the Senate"
Associated Press' Randall Chase, "Kaufman ready to take Biden's Senate seat"
MINNESOTA SENATE RACE
Minneapolis Star-Tribune, "Coleman can keep office until Feb. 4": "Democratic and Republican leaders agreed Thursday to reopen Norm Coleman's U.S. Senate offices until Feb. 4 to archive and transfer case files on constituent services. The agreement, approved unanimously by the Senate, falls short of the Minnesota Republican's request to keep his office open another 60 days in order to finish up about 400 constituent requests for service. Under the four-page Senate resolution, Coleman's caseload must be transferred to other Minnesota representatives instead.
For Coleman staffers who have been barred from their offices, it was still a partial victory."
Associated Press' Patrick Condon, "Franken wants simple format for Senate challenge"