The White House today is laying out how it will deal with the automaker crisis, with a senior administration official telling CBS News that a single "car czar" is not part of the plan. Instead, Mr. Obama is setting up a "Presidential Task Force on Autos" headed by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and chief economic adviser Larry Summers, according to the senior administration official.
"[T]he Presidential Task Force on Autos and other Obama administration officials will act together instead of a single car czar in deciding whether GM and Chrysler are making sufficient progress to keep the $17.4 billion in loans they already have received and field any requests for additional aid, including Chrysler's urgent bid for an additional $3 billion," reports the Detroit Free Press' Justin Hyde.
"The team will find itself facing a six-week deadline to make several critical choices by March 31, including deciding whether bankruptcy could be used by one of the automakers to revamp business. ... The team ... will include staffers from several agencies, including the departments of Transportation, Energy, Labor, Commerce and Treasury, and the Environmental Protection Agency. The only outside expert hired by the administration so far is Ron Bloom, an adviser to the U.S. Steelworkers who had worked with unions in several industries on corporate restructuring and employee ownership plans."
On Wednesday, Mr. Obama will be in Phoenix where he'll talk about his plans for the home foreclosure crisis in one of the areas hit hardest by foreclosures.
"President Obama focuses on home foreclosures this week as part of a broad White House effort to shore up the economy with massive government spending to put people back to work, bail out troubled banks and help homeowners pay their mortgages. Details of the new plan, due Wednesday, come just days after Congress passed a $787 billion stimulus bill aimed at saving or creating up to 3.5 million jobs," reports USA Today's Mimi Hall.
"The White House says the housing plan includes spending more than $50 billion to reduce mortgage payments and stall further home foreclosures."
Meantime, the Washington Post's Ceci Connolly writes that Tom Daschle's withdrawal for consideration as Health and Human Services Secretary has put Mr. Obama's priority of health care reform way behind schedule.
"Not only does the department lack a secretary, but Obama has yet to nominate anyone to run critical agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"'The department is really starting behind,' said Tommy Thompson, who began his tenure as President Bush's HHS secretary on Feb. 2, 2001. 'There's a learning curve which is difficult because of the complexities and overall magnitude of the department.'
"At the moment, career employees named as acting directors are overseeing the department's 65,000-plus employees and $707 billion budget. Two Daschle allies -- William V. Corr and Mark Childress -- had begun work as deputy secretary and chief of staff respectively. But their futures are in doubt; no confirmation hearing has been scheduled for Corr and most Cabinet secretaries prefer to choose their own chiefs of staff."
"In an affidavit made public on Saturday, Burris for the first time said that he had been solicited for campaign contributions by the brother of Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who named him to the seat," writes Politico's Manu Raju.
"The governor, who'd already been arrested on charges he'd sought to sell the appointment before selecting Burris, was subsequently removed from office by the state Legislature. Illinois state House Republicans are calling on Burris to resign; he's facing a possible perjury investigation in his home state; and his Senate colleagues may face new pressure to launch an ethics committee probe to determine whether he should be expelled from the body. So far, Democratic leaders in Illinois and Washington have offered little public support, and the new state governor, Pat Quinn, has called on Burris to more fully explain himself."
Burris "tried Sunday to quell new questions about his controversial appointment, insisting he shouldn't be blamed for only recently detailing his conversations about the job with five close associates of disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich," write Rick Pearson and Janet Hook of the Chicago Tribune.
"The Chicago Democrat said he didn't provide a full explanation because nobody pressed the point during his sworn testimony last month to House lawmakers who impeached Blagojevich. He accused Republicans of playing politics by calling for an investigation into whether he committed perjury and even asking for his resignation. But Burris' evolving explanation of what happened took another twist when he said federal investigators want to talk about his appointment to the Senate seat that Blagojevich was charged with trying to sell. ...
"Burris has been forced to gradually—and sometimes grudgingly—acknowledge deeper connections to Blagojevich and a growing list of contacts with former aides, lobbyists and campaign supporters for Blagojevich. On Sunday Burris argued that he was always forthright about his contacts, while seeking to brush aside the fact that the details spilled out over the course of weeks—with the most complete accounting coming weeks after he was sworn into the Senate. ... 'Clearly it would have been better if Sen. Burris had provided this information when he first testified,' said Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid."
ON TODAY'S SCHEDULE: After a quiet weekend in Chicago, President Obama and his family return to the White House this afternoon.
Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska, is interviewed by Fox News' Greta van Susteren. Airs at 10pm ET.
4793419Washington Post's Michael D. Shear and Paul Kane, "Politically, Stimulus Battle Has Just Begun": "Thanks to the party-line nature of Congress's votes on the economic stimulus package, the plan to turn around the worst financial crisis facing the country in more than 50 years now carries not only enormous fiscal stakes but also political stakes that are nearly as large.
"President Obama's advisers are betting that the historic legislation he will sign tomorrow will bear fruit quickly, and they plan to do everything they can to highlight evidence of it creating the jobs he has promised. That public relations effort kicks off tomorrow as a two-day swing through the West begins.
"But the Republican Party has made its own bet: that the stimulus package that Democrats rushed through Congress will have been deemed a failure by the time the 2010 elections arrive, leading voters to rebuke Obama and reward the GOP with much-needed victories. Whichever side proves to be right, the sharp, partisan lines over the stimulus bill make it plain that both parties intend to exact a political cost over last week's votes. And their leaders are looking to history for inspiration as they consider how to maneuver in the weeks and months ahead."
NY Times' Monica Davey, "States and Cities in Scramble for Stimulus Cash": "When Mr. Obama signs the stimulus bill in Denver on Tuesday, it will release the biggest influx of federal dollars since the days of President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society program.
"But it also is expected to set off a multitude of political battles across the map: between governors and legislatures, state capitols and city halls, and even between neighboring municipalities. Because the effectiveness of any stimulus plan depends on the money being quickly spent, whether state and local governments can work through the rules and resolve any disputes will have a large impact on the success Mr. Obama's plan has in lifting the economy.
"Along with the money, there are complex rules to the sprawling, $787 billion federal plan that local politicians from governors to small-town mayors say they are only now beginning to grasp. And while states will have direct say on the use of much of the money — especially on infrastructure projects like roads and bridges — many spending decisions will still rest with officials hundreds of miles away in Washington."
Associated Press' Beth Fouhy, "States face competing priorities for stimulus cash"
Washington Post's Michael A. Fletcher, "For Social Programs, Long-Awaited Boost"
4804423Associated Press' Matthew Lee, "Clinton warns North Korea during Tokyo visit"
Wall Street Journal's Jay Solomon, "In Asia, Clinton to Seek Alliance on Financial Crisis"
Washington Post's Glenn Kessler, "Clinton Criticizes Bush on N. Korea"
MINNESOTA SENATE RECOUNT
Politico's Manu Raju, "GOP dead set against 59th Dem": "Having just seen what President Barack Obama can do with 58 Democrats in the Senate, Republicans are more determined than ever to keep him from getting a 59th.
"Especially if the 59th is Al Franken. Franken, the former comedian, leads Republican Norm Coleman by 225 votes in a 'Groundhog Day' of an election that dawned more than three months ago and shows no signs of ending soon. Which is exactly how Senate Republicans want it.
"The National Republican Senatorial Committee held a ritzy fundraiser for Coleman in Washington this week, helping him raise the money he needs to keep his legal challenges alive through a trial and then a lengthy legal process if he loses. How long should Coleman hold out? 'However long it takes,' says Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who chairs the NRSC."
"The new president's methodical decision-making offers an early insight into how the new commander in chief will approach the war in Afghanistan and has surprised some Pentagon officials, who had predicted repeatedly in the past two weeks that Obama would decide within days on additional forces, only to find the White House taking more time. Rather than sign off quickly on all or part of a long-standing Pentagon request for three Army combat brigades and Marine units, totaling over 10,000 troops, Obama and his aides are questioning the timetable, the mission and even the composition of the new forces, officials familiar with the deliberations said."
NY Times' Peter Baker, "Obama Confronts a Choice on Copters": "President Obama has slammed high-flying executives traveling in cushy jets at a time of economic turmoil. But soon he will have to decide whether to proceed with some of the priciest aircraft in the world — a new fleet of 28 Marine One helicopters that will each cost more than the last Air Force One.
"A six-year-old project to build state-of-the-art presidential helicopters has bogged down in a contracting quagmire that will challenge Mr. Obama's desire to rein in military contracting expenses. The price tag has nearly doubled, production has fallen years behind schedule and much of the program has been frozen until the new administration figures out what to do about it.
"The choice confronting Mr. Obama encapsulates the tension between two imperatives of his nascent presidency, the need to meet the continuing threats of an age of terrorism and the demand for austerity in a period of economic hardship."
Chicago Tribune's Phil Rosenthal, "Chicago Tribune's Jill Zuckman to join Obama administration, working for Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood": "'I'm so excited about this. I think this is going to be really fun,' Zuckman said by phone Sunday. 'I'm excited about going to a department in the administration that's going to play a huge role in hopefully putting people back to work. There is so much money for transportation projects around the country, and I hope that that helps to stimulate the economy to get the country moving again.' Zuckman is the second Tribune Co. reporter in the nation's capital to accept a position with the new administration this month.
"Cissy Baker, vice president in charge of Tribune Co.'s recently unified Washington News Bureau, on Feb. 7 informed staff that Peter Gosselin, who previously had reported for the Los Angeles Times, accepted a job as chief speech writer for Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner."
LA Times' Peter Wallsten, "Liberals not pleased with go-slow approach by Obama": "Slowly over the last few weeks, some of Barack Obama's most fervent supporters have come to an unhappy realization: The candidate who they thought was squarely on their side in policy fights is now a president who needs cajoling and persuading.
"Advocates for stem cell research thought Obama would quickly sign an order to reverse former President Bush's restrictions on the science. Now they are fretting over Obama's statement that he wants to act in tandem with Congress, possibly causing a delay.
"Critics of Bush's faith-based initiative thought Obama had promised to end religious discrimination among social service groups taking federal money. But Obama, in announcing his own faith-based program this month, said only that the discrimination issue might be reviewed.
"And Obama's recent moves regarding a lawsuit by detainees have left some liberal groups and Bush critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union, feeling betrayed, given that Obama was a harsh critic of Bush's detainee policies when running for office last year.
"The anxiety is also being felt in the labor movement, one of Obama's most important support bases. Some union officials and their allies are frustrated that at a crucial point in negotiations over his massive stimulus package, Obama seemed to call for limits on 'Buy American' provisions in the bill aimed at making sure stimulus money would be spent on U.S.-made materials.
"Obama has been president for less than a month, and his liberal critics concede that the economic crisis has understandably taken the focus off their issues. But some of the issues in play were crucial to building excitement on the left and mobilizing grass-roots support for Obama's candidacy."
NY Times' William Yardley, "Some Find Hope for a Shift in Drug Policy": "Washington State law prohibits the possession of marijuana except for certain medical purposes. Hempfest is not one of them. Yet each summer when the event draws thousands to the Seattle waterfront to call for decriminalizing marijuana, participants light up in clear view of police officers. And they rarely get arrested.
"'Police officers patrolling are courteous and respectful,' said Alison Holcomb, drug policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington. One reason for the officers' approach, said Ms. Holcomb and others who follow law enforcement in Seattle, is the leadership of R. Gil Kerlikowske, the chief of the Seattle Police Department and, officials in the Obama administration say, the president's choice to become the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, known as the drug czar.
"The anticipated selection of Chief Kerlikowske has given hope to those who want national drug policy to shift from an emphasis on arrest and prosecution to methods more like those employed in Seattle: intervention, treatment and a reduction of problems drug use can cause, a tactic known as harm reduction. Chief Kerlikowske is not necessarily regarded as having forcefully led those efforts, but he has not gotten in the way of them."