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Morning Bulletin – Thursday, Jan. 15, 2009

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

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
As the Cabinet Turns: It's Attorney General nominee Eric Holder's turn in the spotlight today as Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee (especially Ranking Member Arlen Specter) promise to grill Holder during his confirmation hearing this morning at 9:30am ET.

"The 'payback for the payback,' as one analyst called it, will take the form of Republicans attacking flaws in Holder's resume during the two-day hearing, specifically his role in several politically tinged presidential pardons Clinton issued," reports the Boston Globe's Joseph Williams.

"Besides testing Holder's credibility, however, the GOP assault will also avenge Democrats' rough treatment of former attorney general Alberto Gonzales, who won unanimous Republican support in his 2005 confirmation but resigned under fire two years later.

"In a floor speech in the Senate last week, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the committee's ranking Republican, threw down the gauntlet, questioning whether Holder would be an independent law officer or simply 'a yes-man' for the incoming administration."

The LA Times' Josh Meyer writes that some committee Republicans "say they will question him aggressively about whether his ties to Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich are more extensive than Holder has acknowledged. GOP staffers investigating Holder's background say that although he has downplayed his connections to Blagojevich, new information suggests Holder did legal work for Blagojevich on an investigation into the controversial award of a state casino gambling license by the Illinois Gaming Board.

"The Republicans said they have obtained a letter Holder wrote to the board requesting records on the casino license. Holder did not bill the state for any work. Even so, the GOP senators want to know the details of that arrangement, and why Holder initially left out any mention of it -- and of his relationship to the now-disgraced Illinois governor -- in the disclosure form that he was required to file with the committee for his confirmation."

The Associated Press' Larry Margasak obtained Holder's opening statement and reports that he plans "to acknowledge past mistakes as he braced for a Republican grilling in his confirmation hearing, his path to becoming the nation's first African-American attorney general rockier than President-elect Barack Obama's other Cabinet choices. ...

"Holder's prepared opening statement, obtained by The Associated Press, does not address the specific issues of character and independence that Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have raised. But it does set a conciliatory tone, with Holder asserting he made more good decisions than bad ones. 'My decisions were not always perfect' while serving as the top deputy to Clinton administration Attorney General Janet Reno, Holder said. 'I made mistakes. I hope that enough of my decisions were correct.' He continued, 'But with the benefit of hindsight, I can see my errors clearly and I can tell you how I have learned from them.'"

Holder won't just be on the defensive today, however. The Wall Street Journal's Evan Perez writes, "In an apparent swipe at the Bush administration over allegations that it politicized the Justice Department, Mr. Holder says [in his prepared remarks]: 'I can also assure you that I will bring to office the principle that has guided my career -- that the Department of Justice first and foremost represents the people of the United States. Not any one president, not any political party, but the people.'"

And, according to the New York Times' Eric Lichtblau, "Democrats plan to give Mr. Holder a platform to express his strong opposition to several legal policies of the Bush administration, including its broad reading of executive authority, approval of harsh interrogation tactics, and eavesdropping on Americans without court warrants."

In other rocky cabinet choice news, the Senate Finance Committee rescheduled Treasury Secretary nominee Tim Geithner's confirmation hearing for next Wednesday after it was reported he had failed to pay taxes in the past.

"Current and former IMF officials said the fund provided numerous warnings to U.S. employees about payroll taxes. According to IMF documents released by the Senate Finance panel, Mr. Geithner regularly received information about his tax obligations," report the Wall Street Journal's John D. McKinnon and Bob Davis.

"Mr. Geithner didn't make any Social Security or Medicare tax payments on his income during the years he worked for the IMF, though he did pay income taxes. After the Internal Revenue Service audited him in 2006 and discovered the payroll-tax errors, Mr. Geithner corrected them for 2003 and 2004. Only after Mr. Obama picked him for Treasury secretary last fall did Mr. Geithner pay the Social Security and Medicare tax he owed for 2001 and 2002."

But the New York Times' Jackie Calmes writes that because of current events, Geithner's resume trumps this transgression.

"In better economic times, Mr. Geithner's confirmation to be President-elect Barack Obama's Treasury secretary might be in danger after the disclosure this week that he had paid more than $48,000 in delinquent taxes and interest. But with the economy so fragile, many senators are loath to rattle financial markets by rejecting someone with Mr. Geithner's qualifications and international respect. By late Wednesday, Republicans as well as Democrats were predicting he would survive the controversy and be confirmed next week."

Other cabinet confirmation hearings today: Interior Secretary nominee Ken Salazar; U.N. Secretary nominee Susan Rice; Homeland Security Secretary nominee Janet Napolitano.

Meantime, work on Mr. Obama's stimulus plan and the release of the remaining $350 billion of the financial bailout package continues on Capitol Hill. The Wall Street Journal's Naftali Bendavid and Greg Hitt report that the stimulus package price tag keeps growing – now pegged at $850 billion.

"Lawmakers and Obama officials have cobbled together key planks of the plan in a series of closed-door negotiations on Capitol Hill. At a late-afternoon session Wednesday, top Democrats in the House, which is moving ahead of the Senate, made a series of final decisions that will clear the way for formal action to begin in the House next week, individuals familiar with the discussions said. After it is unveiled, the plan is likely to see vigorous debate, and could come under intensified criticism by some Republicans.

"The higher price tag is the result of negotiators' decision to put a greater emphasis on investments designed to spur job creation and to soften the impact of the economic downturn on families and local governments, people familiar with negotiations said. Initial estimates put the cost of the package at $775 billion."

"Democrats vowed to support the broad outlines of Obama's initial ideas, but they continued to alter the details of the plan," reports the Washington Post's Paul Kane. "Support continued to slip for his tax-relief proposals for businesses -- which were initially intended to appeal to Republicans -- and preliminary spending plans showed that more than half of the new domestic spending would go to the states to provide budget relief for health, labor and education services.

"House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters that she hoped to announce the plan today and have her committee chairmen take up the tax and spending packages late next week, with the goal of sending the new president a final bill for his signature by mid-February. Obama plans to tout the stimulus proposal tomorrow at a wind-turbine manufacturer in Bedford Heights, Ohio. The destination is steeped in symbolism both politically (Ohio provided critical support to the Democrat in the general election) and for its policy significance, because Obama and Pelosi have deemed renewable energy funding a hallmark of the stimulus plan."

As for the remaining $350 billion of the financial bailout package, "The Senate could vote on a disapproval motion as early as Thursday. Obama transition officials and senior Congressional aides have expressed confidence that there will be enough votes to defeat the disapproval motion," David M. Herszenhorn of the New York Times reports.

"The House on Thursday is expected to vote to approve new legislation, drafted by Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, that would impose tough new restrictions on how the $350 billion would be spent, including a requirement that at least $40 billion be used to prevent home foreclosures. The Obama team has indicated that it opposes any new legislation, and the Senate has shown little interest in a new bill. But even as angry debate over Mr. Frank's bill began on the House floor, some lawmakers said that they expected the Senate would not follow the House but would soon act to release the $350 billion."

Vice President-elect Joe Biden will deliver a farewell address to the Senate today at 10am ET. He officially resigns his seat today and will be replaced by longtime aide Ted Kaufman.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., will deliver her farewell address to the Senate at 11am ET. She has yet to officially resign her seat. She'll most likely do so when she's confirmed as Secretary of State next week.

(CBS)
Roland Burris is set to be sworn in as Senator today at 2pm ET after weeks of resistance from Senate Democratic leaders. He'll be sworn in by Vice President Dick Cheney before attending a reception hosted by his fellow Illinois Senator, Dick Durbin.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., the new head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told reporters yesterday that he thinks the Burris affair has created an opening for Republicans to win that Senate seat when it's up in 2010.

"As a result of the national embarrassment that has occurred here in Washington with regard to the Roland Burris affair, and the cloud that will invariably follow Mr. Burris as United States Senator, having been appointed by a soon to be indicted governor for corruption. That's an opportunity, I think, for us," said Cornyn. "I don't see how Mr. Burris can separate himself from the situation in which he was appointed."

Moving day: The Obamas move out of their temporary digs at the Hay-Adams Hotel across Lafayette Park to another temporary home – Blair House – where they will stay until Tuesday.

CONFIRMATION HEARINGS

Wall Street Journal's Jonathan Weisman reports that Health and Human Services Secretary-designate Tom Daschle's confirmation "has slowed as the Republican staff on the Senate Finance Committee staff examines his tax records and his association with an education-loan provider that is separately under committee scrutiny.

"Republican committee aides stressed they haven't determined there is a problem in any of their examinations. They said it was the complexity of the issues that is slowing the process, not a suggestion of impropriety. GOP aides said they won't schedule a confirmation hearing until they have answered their questions, which means his nomination likely won't be considered by the Finance Committee before President-elect Barack Obama is sworn into office. ...

"Mr. Daschle separately sailed through the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee confirmation process. In addition to its other duties, the Finance Committee oversees health policy."

The Hill's Alexander Bolton, "Obama irks panel heads with silence": "Ten committee chairmen in the Senate and House said that Obama's advisers did not alert them ahead of time about the incoming president's Cabinet selections. Nine of them learned of the picks from the media, even though the Senate committee chairmen have confirmation authority over them. The failure to inform has created some turbulence. ...

"Disclosing behind-the-scenes decisions can be a tricky course for any president. On one hand, lawmakers want to be kept abreast of developments. But the more people you tell, the less control you have. Obama's team has realized that sharing information with Congress is not the best way to minimize leaks."

NY Times' Randal C. Archibold, "For Homeland Security Nominee, Good Leadership Is in the Details"

Washington Post's Ann Scott Tyson, "Shinseki Says He Would Modernize VA"

Wall Street Journal's Siobhan Hughes, "EPA Nominee Pledges to Put Science Before Politics"

NY Times' Andrew Martin, "Agriculture Pick's Hearing Is Smooth"

INAUGURATION

NY Times' David Johnston, "Security Net Wraps Capital for Inaugural": "Though intelligence agencies have detected no credible threat to any inaugural event or to Mr. Obama, law enforcement agencies, operating from a network of centers, will command ground, air and waterborne forces numbering in excess of 20,000 police officers, National Guard troops and plainclothes agents from more than 50 agencies, according to security planners.

"The security measures, enhanced by a White House announcement of emergency financing for public safety, are by far the most extensive and stringent for the swearing-in of a president — a task vastly complicated by a crowd that is expected to reach two million to four million people who will face successive rings of security, each more restrictive than the last before they get near inaugural events. The security is especially tight in part because the event is the inauguration of the first African-American president."

USA Today's Kevin Johnson, "Security braces for inaugural throngs": "The FBI — worried that crowds will slow responses to potential emergencies — for the first time is outfitting at least 100 teams of specialists in hazardous materials, weapons of mass destruction and hostage rescue with global positioning devices, said Christopher Combs, an FBI supervisory agent involved in the inaugural security operation. Supervisors at a local command center will track the teams on large screens so they can be quickly dispatched to possible crises.

"A separate cellular telephone network is being tested for use by emergency officials in case existing systems are overloaded, as occurred in the hours after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks."

Politico's Kenneth P. Vogel, "Big donors foot inaugural bill": "Barack Obama has boasted that his inauguration will be funded by the same small donors who propelled his presidential campaign to victory, but a new analysis shows the inaugural bill is being footed primarily by big-dollar contributors, including many from Wall Street. In fact, nearly 80 percent of the $35.3 million raised by Obama's inaugural committee can be traced to just 211 individual bundlers, according to an analysis by the non-partisan watchdog group Public Citizen."

Politico's Anne Schroeder Mullins and Amie Parnes, "Politico party guide: Scene and be seen"

JOE BIDEN

NY Times' Peter Baker interviews Vice President-elect Biden, "Biden Outlines Plans to Do More With Less Power": "While most incoming vice presidents arrive eager to expand the influence of the office, Mr. Biden faces the unusual conundrum of figuring out how to scale it back. He wants to 'restore the balance,' as he put it, after the unprecedented assertion of authority by Vice President Dick Cheney. Yet at the same time, Mr. Biden hardly wants to return to the days when the vice president was neither seen nor heard."

Politico's Carol E. Lee, "Bidens to be part-time residents": "'They expect to return home frequently on weekends, taking Amtrak whenever they can,' said Biden spokeswoman, Elizabeth Alexander. The Bidens' relationship with Washington is shaping up to be of the one-foot-in, one-foot-out sort. Joe and Jill Biden seem intent on shaping their new roles to fit their lifestyle however they can, rather than having the traditions of the vice presidency mold them."

MINNESOTA SENATE RACE

Associated Press' Brian Bakst, "Coleman proposes conducting Minn. trial in stages": "Minnesota's disputed Senate election would extend well into February and probably beyond if a three-judge panel hearing a lawsuit by Republican Norm Coleman adopts his proposed trial schedule."

ALSO:

NY Times' Elisabeth Bumiller and Thom Shanker, "Military Planners, in Nod to Obama, Are Preparing for a Faster Iraq Withdrawal": "The new plans would provide alternatives to a timetable drawn up by the top American commanders for Iraq to bring troops home more slowly than Mr. Obama promised during his presidential campaign.

"Those plans were described to Mr. Obama last month. The officials said that Mr. Obama had not requested the new plans, but that they were being prepared in response to public statements from the president-elect and on the basis of conversations between military officials and members of Mr. Obama's transition team."

Politico's Carrie Budoff Brown, "Obama returns night-owl presidency": "With the metabolism of a White House set by its occupant, Obama's team is preparing for a return to long nights, heavy weekend shifts – and a boss who will venture into Washington far more than the place's current resident.

"It's a throwback to Bill Clinton's cramming-for-an-exam style, a shift from George W. Bush's early-bird routine. Aides expect the workload to be so intense, at least for the early months, that they're trying to formalize ways to help staffers stay in touch with spouses and kids – with ideas under consideration that include inviting family members into the White House for casual after-hours meals.

"Another possibility: urging aides to go home for dinner, as long as they come back to finish the night. Obama aides say there are no specifics so far, but hinted that staffers' children may be seeing the inside of the White House like never before – as way to stay in touch with Mom or Dad."

NY Daily News' Tracy Miller, "In Barack Obama's official presidential portrait, the eyes have it"

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