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Morning Bulletin – Monday, Jan. 5, 2009

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

Fifteen days before Inauguration Day and President-elect Obama heads to Capitol Hill today for meetings with Congressional leadership to lay out details of his economic stimulus plan while his visit is bracketed by a couple of distractions – namely Bill Richardson's withdrawal as the next Commerce Secretary and the chaos surrounding Mr. Obama's Senate replacement.

After arriving at his temporary home at the Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington, D.C., and sending his daughters Sasha and Malia off to their first day at their new school this morning, Mr. Obama will head to the Hill to first meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Following that meeting, the three will be joined by Vice President-elect Joe Biden, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader John Boehner, among others. Mr. Obama will also meet separately with his economic team at his D.C. transition headquarters.

Mr. Obama is putting together a $300 billion tax cut plan as part of this stimulus, hoping to garner the support of congressional Republicans.

"The size of the proposed tax cuts -- which would account for about 40% of a stimulus package that could reach $775 billion over two years -- is greater than many on both sides of the aisle in Congress had anticipated. It may make it easier to win over Republicans who have stressed that any initiative should rely more heavily on tax cuts rather than spending," report Jonathan Weisman and Naftali Bendavid in the Wall Street Journal.

"The Obama tax-cut proposals, if enacted, could pack more punch in two years than either of President George W. Bush's tax cuts did in their first two years. ... The largest piece of tax relief in the new plan would involve cuts for people who pay income taxes or who claim the earned-income credit, a refund designed to lessen the impact of payroll taxes on low- and moderate-income workers. This component would serve as a down payment on the 'Making Work Pay' proposal Mr. Obama outlined during his election campaign, giving a credit of $500 per individual or $1,000 per family."

Politico's Manu Raju writes, "Barack Obama will lay out his vision for a massive economic stimulus plan in meetings with congressional leaders Monday. Perhaps more important, he'll be taking a major step toward rebuilding the broken relationship between the executive branch and the legislative branch. Doing so will be critical to the success of his agenda. If Obama seems unwilling to take lawmakers' ideas into account, he could risk whatever goodwill he's getting from the GOP and irk Democrats expecting to play a big role in a new Washington. But if Obama bends to the demands of Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, the public could perceive him as a weak president even before he takes the oath of office."

Meantime, Mr. Obama is looking for a new Commerce Secretary as Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., withdrew his nomination, citing an ongoing federal investigation of him regarding a "pay-to-play" situation with a political contributor. Politco's Martin reports that Mr. Obama's team "pressed" Richardson "about the probe "[b]ut a Democratic source said Obama's questioners came away empty handed. 'Those guys were pressed for information and they gave nothing,' the source said."

There's no question that this is a "high-profile stumble for an Obama transition that generally has run smoothly so far" as Jonathan Martin described it in the Politico, a distraction, a bump in the road. But just imagine if this investigation blew up into something larger during the confirmation process or after Richardson had been confirmed as Commerce Secretary. Take the hit now and move on seems to be the theory here and the bump in the road will be far in the rearview mirror soon.

The LA Times' Mike Dorning reminds us: "Each of the last three presidents has withdrawn at least one Cabinet nominee amid controversy. George H.W. Bush's nomination of John Tower as Defense secretary in 1989 ran into trouble amid accusations of Tower's excessive drinking and womanizing. Bill Clinton's nomination of Zoe Baird as attorney general in 1993 was derailed by revelations that she had hired illegal immigrants for household help, as was George W. Bush's nomination of Linda Chavez as Labor secretary." For a timeline on the Richardson investigation: Click here

The 111th Congress convenes on Tuesday and new members will be sworn in that day in both the House and Senate. The fate of Roland Burris, who was appointed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, D-Ill., earlier this week to succeed Mr. Obama, is still unclear.

"I am now the junior senator from the state of Illinois," the Chicago Sun-Times reports he said in Chicago Sunday.

The Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet thinks that Senate Democrats are inching towards a compromise with Burris. "'There's always room to negotiate,' Reid told David Gregory on NBC's 'Meet the Press.' From the soundings I took Sunday, I have a well-informed hunch that if Burris wants to get a deal done quickly, he needs to say he won't run for the seat in 2010," writes Sweet. "The Burris situation has swollen to be a monumental distraction to the Senate. Even though Reid, Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate leader, and all the other Senate Democrats said they would not accept an appointee sent to them by the tainted Gov. Blagojevich -- they may be willing to move on. Reid told Gregory that he and Durbin will confer with Burris on Wednesday."

Also, as the Senate convenes tomorrow, keep an eye on what happens with the Minnesota Senate seat being fought over by Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and Democrat Al Franken. The state's canvassing board is expected to certify their recount today, which resulted in a 225 vote lead for Franken.

However, the election results aren't official until they're certified by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, R-Minn., and Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who have to wait 7 days before certifying. If Coleman decides to file any lawsuits this week, any certification is only "conditional" until the lawsuits are settled. National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, threatened to filibuster any attempt by Senate Democrats to seat Franken tomorrow, and Cornyn claimed Friday that all 41 Republicans are on board with him. The Minneapolis Star Tribune has more: Click here

One other interesting note about tomorrow's Senate kickoff: Vice President-elect Biden will be sworn-in for his seventh term in the Senate, after winning re-election in November. At some point between tomorrow and Jan. 20, he will resign that seat and Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, D-Delaware, indicated weeks ago that she will appoint longtime Biden aide Ted Kaufman to fill the vacancy.

On Wednesday, Mr. Obama will also attend a lunch with President Bush and former Presidents Carter, Bush and Clinton at the White House.

Upcoming Obama cabinet confirmation hearings this week: Health and Human Services Secretary nominee Tom Daschle, Thursday, Jan. 8, 10am, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee; Labor Secretary nominee Hilda Solis, Friday, Jan. 9, 9:30am, Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension Committee. Future hearings: Education Secretary nominee Arne Duncan, Jan. 13; Energy Secretary nominee Steven Chu, Jan. 13; Veterans Affairs Secretary nominee Eric Shinseki, Jan. 14; Attorney General nominee Eric Holder, Jan 15; Interior Secretary nominee Ken Salazar, Jan. 15. TBA: Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton, Secretary nominee Shaun Donovan, Treasury Secretary nominee Tim Geithner, HUD Transportation Secretary nominee Ray LaHood, Homeland Security Secretary nominee Janet Napolitano, Agriculture Secretary nominee Tom Vilsack. Defense Secretary Robert Gates does not need to be reconfirmed.

ALSO:

DNC/RNC FUTURE

Washington Post's Michael D. Shear, "Kaine Poised to Chair the DNC": "Kaine, 50, who emerged as a finalist for the job of Obama's running mate last summer, will operate from Richmond in a part-time capacity until January 2010, when he will become the full-time DNC chairman. Kaine is constitutionally barred from running for reelection. Kaine, a friend of the president-elect's, is a gregarious chief executive who is known to relish political combat and helped put Virginia in the Democratic presidential election column for the first time in almost 50 years."

USA Today's Jill Lawrence, "Six-way race for GOP chairman heats up": Half of the candidates to lead the Republican National Committee (RNC) are Southerners: current Chairman Robert "Mike" Duncan of Kentucky, South Carolina Chairman Katon Dawson and former Tennessee chairman Chip Saltsman. Former Ohio secretary of State Ken Blackwell and former Maryland lieutenant governor Michael Steele are black. Saul Anuzis, the Michigan GOP chairman, is a Harley-Davidson rider, an ex-union member and the son of an autoworker. The RNC's 168 members pick a new chairman Jan. 28. The race spills into public view today with a debate sponsored by Americans for Tax Reform. The contest has been roiled by Saltsman's holiday gift to members — a CD that includes a song called Barack the Magic Negro, sung to the tune of Puff, the Magic Dragon— and suspicions among some RNC members that Duncan is maneuvering unfairly to get re-elected."

Politico's Alexander Burns, "RNC chair race: 'Everyone is ... p-ssed'": "As Republicans struggle to determine the future of their party after a tough election, intraparty tensions have flared over three forums next week that may prove crucial to determining the winner of the six-way race for the chair of the Republican National Committee — a post that will hold considerable sway over the direction of the GOP. 'Some people are p-ssed off at [Americans for Tax Reform President] Grover [Norquist]. Some people are p-ssed off at the Conservative Steering Committee. Some people are p-ssed off at [current RNC chair] Mike Duncan. Some people are p-ssed off at social conservatives. The social conservatives are p-ssed at leaders in Congress,' said a Republican consultant who has worked with the RNC. 'Everyone is basically p-ssed.'"

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