Morning Bulletin – Friday, May 1, 2009

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

If there wasn't enough news to come out of Washington this week, National Public Radio's Nina Totenberg reported another bombshell late last night.

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
"Supreme Court Justice David Souter is planning to retire at the end of the current court term. The vacancy will give President Obama his first chance to name a member of the high court and begin to shape its future direction," .

"At 69, Souter is nowhere near the oldest member of the court. In fact, he is in the younger half of the court's age range, with five justices older and just three younger. So far as anyone knows, he is in good health. But he has made clear to friends for some time that he wanted to leave Washington, a city he has never liked, and return to his native New Hampshire.

"Now, according to reliable sources, he has decided to take the plunge and has informed the White House of his decision. Factors in his decision no doubt include the election of President Obama, who would be more likely to appoint a successor attuned to the principles Souter has followed as a moderate-to-liberal member of the court's more liberal bloc over the past two decades.

"In addition, Souter was apparently satisfied that neither the court's oldest member, 89-year-old John Paul Stevens, nor its lone woman, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who had cancer surgery over the winter, wanted to retire at the end of this term. Not wanting to cause a second vacancy, Souter apparently had waited to learn his colleagues' plans before deciding his own."

"Friends said Thursday evening that he had often spoken of his intentions to be the court's first retirement if Mr. Obama won the election last fall. He told friends he looked forward to returning to New Hampshire while he was young enough to enjoy climbing mountains and other outdoor activities," add the NY Times' Peter Baker and Jeff Zeleny.

(AP Photo/Jim Cole)
"One senior administration official said Mr. Obama's aides had gotten a hint of Mr. Souter's plans, which were first reported by National Public Radio. 'He indicated he may a while ago,' the official said. But many senior officials contacted Thursday night said they had not yet been informed. Mr. Obama is getting his first court opening early in his tenure. President George W. Bush had no seats to fill until deep into his second term, when he appointed Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., bolstering the conservative side of the court."

"A battle over a Supreme Court nomination could add significant weight to an already heavy congressional agenda, which includes action on health care and possibly climate change later this year," write the Wall Street Journal's Jess Bravin and Evan Perez.

"To have a new justice in place by the beginning of the court's term in October would mean conducting a Senate confirmation process at the same time as Congress would debate the other big legislative issues and face deadlines for action on spending bills. Democrats -- along with two independents -- have 59 votes in the Senate and a 60th possibly on the way. They are in a good position to push through any nomination. But there is no guarantee the party, which has a broad philosophical spectrum, will vote in lockstep."

The Associated Press' Jesse J. Holland lays out what comes next: "President Barack Obama will have to nominate a successor after Souter makes his retirement announcement official. Souter is likely to stay on the court through the end of the term in June, and maybe longer if a replacement is not quickly confirmed.

"Obama will have chosen his successor long before June — if the president hasn't already made up his mind — but an announcement from the White House is unlikely before the Supreme Court finishes this year's session. ... The Constitution requires the president to submit his nomination to the Senate for its advice and consent; the House plays no role. The Senate's majority Democrats and minority Republicans will investigate the nominee's background thoroughly before hearings begin in the Senate Judiciary Committee. It normally takes between four and six weeks to begin hearings after the Senate receives a Supreme Court nomination. ...

"The Senate will try to hold hearings and a confirmation vote before the Supreme Court begins its new term in October. ... Hearings will be supervised by Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. The top Republican on the committee will likely be Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, following Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter's defection to the Democratic Party earlier this week. ... At the end of hearings, the committee will vote on the nominee and send a recommendation to the full Senate. ...

"It takes 60 votes to block a filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee. Democrats now hold 59 votes in the Senate with Specter's defection and two Democratic-voting independents. There is one open seat in the Senate with Norm Coleman and Al Franken fighting in court over the right to be the Minnesota senator."

"Vice President Biden has been charged with drawing up a list of possible nominees," reports the Washington Post's Robert Barnes.

Democratic strategist Phil Singer points out "Specter's decision to switch parties could complicate any GOP plans to use the filibuster to block Obama's [Supreme Court] nominee. Despite their earlier condemnations against the tactic during the Bush era, the GOP has said they'd consider using the tactic. ...
"In theory, a Republican filibuster should be a non-issue — the GOP lacks the membership to mount one. ... With Specter's switch, the only way they can mount one (assuming Dems maintain unity) is by continuing their efforts to keep Al Franken from getting seated. ... Specter will be under enormous pressure to be the 60th vote for Souter's replacement. Unless the nominee is a real stinker along the lines of Harriet Miers (which it won't be), it's difficult to envision a scenario where he doesn't vote for Obama's pick. Specter will inevitably be asked about this when he goes on the Sunday shows - his answer will likely be the main headline coming out of his appearances..."

CBS News Legal Analyst Andrew Cohen also points out "It's been 15 years since a Democratic president got to appoint a justice. Back then, in 1994, President Bill Clinton selected a moderate liberal from the lower federal courts, Stephen Breyer, to replace the moderate conservative (and Republican appointee) Harry A Blackmun.

"Now, in the coming weeks, President Obama will have to decide who he wants to replace David H. Souter, another practical, left-moderate jurist... Fifteen years of frustrated Democratic nominees has caused quite a back-up of candidates. But the Obama Administration already has offered some serious clues about the sort of person they'd like to try to put onto the court. Six weeks ago, when asked about a potential Supreme Court nomination, a senior Administration official told reporters that the White House is looking for people with experience in law and in life, people with character and commitments to a community, people who can make hard decisions but still have empathy for the litigants before them. ...

"How about Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm? Like the president, she is a graduate of Harvard Law School. She was a federal prosecutor and a county attorney before she went (successfully, it seems) into politics. Could we not use another O'Connor on the court mixing brains with consensus building? Of course we could.

"A longshot in this category would be Deval Patrick, the Governor of Massachusetts and also the product of Harvard Law School. His friendship with the president might take him out of the running, at least for this vacancy. ... How about Kathleen Sullivan? ... Solicitor General Elena Kagan (and former HLS alum) also will get some support ... How about Diane Wood? ... Or Cass Sunstein? ... What about Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears? ... Kimberly McLane Wardlaw ... Sonia Sotomayor ... In fact, if my hunch is right, and the president selects a moderate-centrist-liberal to replace Justice Souter, the Court may in fact look more differently than it will act."

4762464GOP'S FUTURE: "Looking to rebut Democratic criticisms that the GOP represents little more than the 'Party of No,' some leading Republicans announced yesterday that they will hold a series of campaign-style events around the country to tout their policy ideas and develop new ones," reports the Washington Post's Perry Bacon Jr.

"With polls showing that many Americans view GOP opposition to President Obama's agenda as Republicans simply playing politics, key party figures, including Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, will hold forums to discuss issues such as education and health care and to tout Republican proposals.

"The project is dubbed the National Council for a New America, and its first event is tomorrow in Arlington [Va.]. House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney will speak and take questions from about 70 people at an Italian restaurant.

"GOP officials have complained that their alternative proposals to bills pushed through by the Democratic Congress have not received enough attention from the media and thus have been ignored by most Americans. They hope that using high-profile figures such as Bush will ensure that voters learn more about Republicans' ideas.

"Cantor, who spearheaded the creation of the group, emphasized that this is not an effort at 'rebranding' the GOP and that the group's leaders do not include any of the figures aggressively calling for the party to move to the center, such as Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. Cantor said the group wanted to start a 'conversation' on five key issues: education, health care, energy, the economy and national security. ...

"The group's list of issues excluded same-sex marriage, immigration and abortion, which some party strategists say help pull swing voters away from the GOP. McCain said group leaders invited Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, his running mate in 2008, and think she will participate."

Meantime, Politco's Alexander Burns and Kenneth P. Vogel write about one prominent Republican not invited to participate in the aforementioned GOP forums: RNC Chairman Michael Steele.

"The Republican National Committee is riven by a dispute between Chairman Michael Steele and a faction of RNC establishment veterans that threatens to undermine Steele's ability to put his stamp on the national party. The latest flashpoint is an acrimonious, increasingly public fight over control of the GOP's finances that pits Steele's team of consultants and younger RNC members against a contingent of longtime committee members who opposed his election and remain distrustful of his leadership.

"'One thing led to another and it spiraled out of control,' said one Republican national committeeman. 'These are the Jews and the Palestinians here.' The clash comes at an especially inopportune time for both Steele and the GOP. Steele got off to a rough start as chairman by delivering a series of public gaffes, an inauspicious debut that was followed by a disappointing loss in a special election in New York's 20th congressional district. Tuesday's party switch by Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter dealt the GOP another painful blow and spurred renewed criticism of Steele, who earlier suggested he might support a primary challenger to the embattled five-term incumbent."

"[President Obama] is subtle and likes to kill softly. As such, he is something new on the political scene, which means he will require something new from his opponents, including, first, patience. I am wondering once again if Republicans in Washington fully understand what they are up against," writes former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal.

"They have had a hard week. Someday years hence, when books are written about the Republican comeback, they may well begin with this low moment, and the bolting of Arlen Specter to the Democrats. It is fine to dismiss Mr. Specter as an opportunist, but opportunists tell you something: which side is winning. That's the side they want to be on. And so the latest round of What Should the Republican Party Do?

"If it is alive, and it is, it will evolve, as living things do. Beyond that, a thought. A great party needs give. It must be expansive and summoning. It needs to say, 'Join me.' ... In the party now there is too much ferocity, and bloody-mindedness. The other day Sen. Jim DeMint said he's rather have 30 good and reliable conservative senators than 60 unreliable Republicans. Really? Good luck stopping an agenda you call socialist with 30 hardy votes. 'Shrink to win': I've never heard of that as a political slogan."

(AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
TODAY'S WHITE HOUSE SCHEDULE: President Obama will hold a cabinet meeting this morning at 11:15 a.m. – his first cabinet meeting with his full 15-member cabinet intact (his last cabinet secretary to be confirmed, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, was confirmed on Tuesday).

Also today, per a White House press release, "the President and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will attend a naturalization ceremony for active duty service members in the East Room. Secretary Napolitano will deliver the oath of allegiance. The President will also present the Outstanding American by Choice Award. Later in the afternoon, the President will meet with senior advisors in the Oval Office. [At 4:30pm ET] The President and Vice President will attend the ceremonial swearing-in of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in the East Room. The Vice President will deliver the oath of office."


Associated Press' Marcy Gordon, "Credit card legislation faces Senate test"


Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman, "Biden Remarks Derail President's Temperate Message"

LA Times' Mark Silva and Christi Parsons, "White House adjusts Biden's swine flu advice"

Washington Post's Scott Wilson and Spencer S. Hsu, "Bush Team Strategy Now Obama's Swine Flu Playbook"


Wall Street Journal's Deborah Solomon, Jonathan Weisman and Laura Meckler, "At Treasury, Big White House Role"

NY Times' Jackie Calmes, "Justifying His Fiscal Policies, Obama Borrows From the G.O.P."

Chicago Tribune's Mark Silva, "Obama, Notre Dame: Catholics Approve"

Washington Times' Edward Felker, "EPA rapidly reversing Bush policies"

NY Times' Peter Baker, "Obama Brings a Hands-On Style to Details, Big and Small"


Minneapolis Star Tribune's Kevin Duchschere and Pat Doyle, "Coleman's appeal asks for more counting"'s Brian Montopoli, "New Ad Presses Pawlenty To Seat Franken"


2010 IL Senate: Lake County News-Sun, "Kirk eyes Senate run in 2010"

2010 KY Senate: Politico's Josh Kraushaar and Manu Raju, "Bunning poised to retire"

2010 KY Senate: Associated Press' Mary Clare Jalonick, "KY GOP official prepares to run for Bunning's seat"

2010 PA Senate: The Hill's Alexander Bolton, "Sestak may challenge Specter in primary"

2010 PA Senate: Philadelphia Bulletin's Joe Murray, "Republicans Demand Specter Hand Over GOP Cash"

2010 PA Senate: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Debra Erdley, "Congressman might take on Toomey in GOP primary"

2010 PA Senate: Wall Street Journal's Kris Maher, "Specter Connects With Sea Change"


Washington Times' Eli Lake and Bill Gertz, "Congress to oversee CIA more closely"

NY Times' Raymond Hernandez, "Ex-Congressman Says Campaign Manager Embezzled Funds"

Portland Press Herald's Matt Wickenheiser, "Vote signals [Maine] Lgislature likely to OK gay marriage"

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    Steve Chaggaris is CBS News' senior political editor.