4989608President Obama focuses on Pakistan and Afghanistan today when he holds separate White House meetings beginning at 2 p.m. ET with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari followed by a joint meeting with both leaders at 3:30 p.m. ET (the two will meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this morning).
"President Obama begins two days of talks at the White House today with the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan to overhaul a painstakingly developed security strategy that was unveiled only five weeks ago but already has become badly outdated," report the Los Angeles Times' Paul Richter and Christi Parsons.
"The three countries spent months developing their plan to combat an Islamic insurgency centered in eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border. But growing militant activity in Pakistan is forcing them to hastily switch focus. In what is emerging as Obama's first major foreign policy crisis, U.S. officials fear the militants could fracture Pakistan, the far more populous nation, further destabilizing the region and even posing a grave risk to the security of Islamabad's nuclear arsenal.
"Obama will urge the leaders of Pakistan and Afghanistan to put aside a history of mistrust and join Washington in an alliance against Islamic extremists at a White House meeting on Wednesday, senior administration officials said," adds Reuters' David Alexander.
"Offering billions of dollars in U.S. military and civilian aid, Obama will warn that al Qaeda and its Taliban allies pose an existential threat and press Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Afghan President Hamid Karzai to toughen their response, the officials said. 'He's going to make the obvious general points that have to be said and carry such enormous weight when they are said by the president of the United States -- that these two countries have to work together for their mutual benefit, despite their history, despite the suspicions,' said one official. The White House gathering, part of Obama's new strategy for the U.S. war against al Qaeda, could produce specific agreements for cooperation on policing and border issues, the officials said. Meetings between the three delegations begin on Wednesday morning at the State Department and continue in the afternoon with heads of government sessions at the White House. Obama will hold separate meetings with each of the leaders as well as a joint session.
"Meetings continue on Thursday, with many U.S. Cabinet officials -- including interior, intelligence and agriculture -- hosting their counterparts in what one official described as an 'exceedingly intensive' U.S. government involvement with Afghan and Pakistani leaders."
The New York Times' Mark Landler and Helene Cooper report, "Pakistan's leaders began an arduous campaign here on Tuesday to convince the United States that they will repel recent incursions by Taliban militant groups, secure their own nuclear arsenal and make good use of American military and economic assistance.
"The first audience for the pitch was Congress, as President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan met privately for 90 minutes with members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Several of its members are wary of the Obama administration's request for additional military and economic aid to Pakistan, at a time when its confidence in the government is ebbing. Mr. Zardari's presentation, however, left some members confused and disappointed, according to a person who attended the meeting. He said little about how the Pakistani government planned to regain momentum in the fight against the militants. And when he asked for financial assistance, he likened it to the government's bailout of the troubled insurance giant, American International Group."
Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran, "Skeptical Administration Keeping Karzai at Arm's Length"
REPLACING SOUTER: "Three years after Justice Sandra Day O'Connor left the Supreme Court, the impact of having only one woman on the nation's highest bench has become particularly clear to that woman — Ruth Bader Ginsburg," writes USA Today's Joan Biskupic.
"As Justice David Souter prepares to retire at the end of the term this summer, the significance of Ginsburg's position as the nine-member court's only woman has become a point of broad discussion. President Obama is under pressure from groups such as the National Women's Law Center to nominate another woman. In interviews with USA TODAY before Souter's retirement announcement Friday, Ginsburg said the court needs another woman. 'Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. I don't say (the split) should be 50-50,' Ginsburg said. 'It could be 60% men, 40% women, or the other way around. It shouldn't be that women are the exception.' ...
LA Times' David G. Savage, "Justice Souter reflects on service": "Days after news of his pending retirement from the Supreme Court is leaked, he speaks with emotion as he likens his work as a judge to craftsmanship."
The Washington Post's Scott Wilson and Robert Barnes report, "President Obama's first selection of a Supreme Court justice is being managed by a small group of senior advisers, and the process will last at least into next week before producing a candidate who the administration hopes will inject real-world experience into the nation's highest court.
"Vice President Biden will be a key part of the process. A former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden has long personal relationships with its leadership and an insider's sense of how the process works. Running the selection are White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, counsel Gregory B. Craig and deputy counsel Cassandra Q. Butts, a classmate of Obama's at Harvard Law. Obama has reached out to Republican and Democratic Senate leaders, seeking their recommendations. But the chance that he would veer from his own list, which began taking shape in December, is slim."
The Associated Press' Sharon Theimer reports, "Stocks could pose conflicts for court prospects": "Some Supreme Court prospects have extensive corporate holdings, including shares in Fortune 500 companies such as General Electric and Microsoft and stock in a manufacturer that recalled lead-paint-coated 'Flush & Sounds Potty' toilet seats. Since businesses often land in court, a case involving a company in which a justice has financial ties could be trouble. If chosen for the high court, some potential nominees might have to step aside from certain cases or unload stocks to avoid ethical conflicts between their official duties and personal financial interests."
Meantime, on Capitol Hill, "By elevating Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to their top spot on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republicans have selected their chief inquisitor for President Barack Obama's first Supreme Court nominee: a Southern, white conservative man who has drawn fire for racially insensitive comments in the past. Democrats like how this is looking," write Politico's John Bresnahan and Manu Raju.
However, The Hill's Alexander Bolton and J. Taylor Rushing report, "President Obama's judicial nominees are less likely to face a Republican filibuster under Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) than they would have been under Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). That is because the two men disagree on the 'Schumer Rule,' a tactic used by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) when he opposed judicial nominees because of legal or political ideology."
SPECTER'S SWITCH: "The Senate last night stripped Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.) of his seniority on committees, a week after the 29-year veteran of the chamber quit the Republican Party to join the Democrats," reports the Washington Post's Paul Kane.
"Reid himself read the resolution on the Senate floor, underscoring the reversal. Democrats have suggested that they will consider revisiting Specter's seniority claim at the committee level only after next year's midterm elections. ... The loss of seniority could prove costly to Specter in his campaign to win reelection in 2010, denying him the ability to distinguish himself from a newcomer in his ability to claim key positions."
"[A]fter voicing support for Republican Norm Coleman in his contested Minnesota Senate race, Specter said he misspoke in a New York Times magazine interview and is supporting Democrats," reports CQ Politics' Bart Jansen.
"Specter was interviewed for a one-page Times magazine feature scheduled to run May 10. Several responses appeared tongue-in-cheek — when asked to keep his answers short and 'try not to filibuster' he simply said 'sure.' Asked whether he cared about a shortage of Jewish Republicans in the Senate, Specter replied: 'I sure do. There's still time for the Minnesota courts to do justice and declare Norm Coleman the winner.' But questioned outside the Senate chamber Tuesday, Specter said the comment was a mistake. 'In the swirl of moving from one caucus to another, I have to get used to my new teammates,' he said. 'I'm ordinarily pretty correct in what I say. I've made a career of being precise. I conclusively misspoke.' Asked who he's backing now in elections, Specter said, 'I'm looking for more Democratic members. Nothing personal.'"
US News and World Report's Katherine Skiba, "Specter's Party Switch Leaves GOP in Crisis Mode"
"Mr. Edwards told her then, she said, that it had lasted just a single night. It was only later that she learned he had been more involved with Ms. Hunter. According to a partial transcript of the interview with Ms. Winfrey, which will be broadcast on Thursday, Mrs. Edwards said that she had 'no idea' whether her husband was the father of Ms. Hunter's daughter. 'The other woman has a baby,' Ms. Winfrey said. 'And there is great speculation that your husband, John Edwards, is the father of that baby.' 'That's what I understand,' Mrs. Edwards replied, according to the partial transcript, which was provided by Harpo Productions, Ms. Winfrey's production company. 'I've seen a picture of the baby. I have no idea. It doesn't look like my children, but I don't have any idea.'
"The uncertain paternity of the baby girl is one more chapter in the continuing drama of the Edwardses' marriage as Mrs. Edwards prepares for the publication on Thursday of her new book, 'Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life's Adversities,' published by Broadway Books."
Well, talk show host Maury Povich is stepping up to the plate, offering to find out if John Edwards really is the father of Rielle Hunter's baby, reports Politico's Patrick Gavin. "If you're familiar with Maury Povich's talk show, you've no doubt been exposed to his infamous 'Who's Your Daddy?' segment, in which multiple men are given DNA tests — and told the results — in order to determine the identity of a single mother's child. ... The identity of the child's father may forever remain a mystery, but not if Povich has his way and applies a bit of his 'Who's Your Daddy?' magic: He told the POLITICO podcast that he's inviting Edwards and Hunter to come on in order to determine the baby's father. 'We'd even do the testing for free,' said Povich."
Politico's Ben Smith, "Disgraced John Edwards back in the spotlight"
TODAY'S WHITE HOUSE SCHEDULE: In addition to his meetings with Presidents Karzai and Zardari, Mr. Obama meets with the Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Ranking Member Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. He will also hold a separate meeting with conservative Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
ALSO TODAY: Vice President Biden holds a cabinet meeting to talk about implementation of the president's economic stimulus plan. Tonight, Biden hosts a dinner for President's Karzai and Zardari at the Vice President's residence.
On Capitol Hill, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifies about health care reform before the House Ways and Means Committee; Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano testifies at a Senate Judiciary Committee oversight hearing and FDIC chair Shelia Bair is at a Senate Banking Committee hearing on bank regulation.
Also, a Senate Commerce Subcommittee, chaired by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., holds a hearing on the future of journalism.
ECONOMY / STIMULUS / BAILOUTS
Washington Post's Binyamin Applebaum, "Bank Tests Yield Early Progress"
Wall Street Journal's Deborah Solomon and Damian Paletta, "Condition Is Set for Banks' TARP Exit"
Associated Press' Jim Kuhnhenn, "Banks returning bailouts will face conditions"
Washington Post's Neil Irwin, "Bernanke's Outlook a Bit Brighter"
Politico's Eamon Javers, "AIG bonuses four times higher than reported"
USA Today's Matt Kelley, "Details thin on stimulus contracts"
NY Times' David Johnston and Scott Shane, "Torture Memos – Inquiry Suggests No Prosecutions"
Washington Post's Carrie Johnson, "Bush Officials Try to Alter Ethics Report"
LA Times' Anna Gorman and Peter Nicholas, "Obama budget puts security first at the border"
Politico's Jeanne Cummings, "Obama bits rich hands that feed him"
The Hill's Kevin Bogardus, "Lobbying restrictions defended"
Washington Times' Ralph Z. Hallow, "Steele yields powers to foes in RNC"
2009 NJ Governor: NY Times' David M. Halbfinger, "Corzine Allies Plan Attack in G.O.P. Primary"
2009 NJ Governor: Philadelphia Inquirer's Cynthia Burton, "Conservatives fire volley at Christie"
2009 VA Governor: Richmond Times-Dispatch's Jeff E. Schapiro and Olympia Meola, "Poll: McAuliffe leads Democratic rivals by 10 percentage points"
2010 DE Senate: Politico's Josh Kraushaar, "Castle leads Biden's son in matchup"
2010 FL Senate: St. Petersburg Times, "The buzz: Crist may announce next week"
2010 FL Senate: Miami Herald's Beth Reinhard, "Marco Rubio makes it official, announces Senate run"
2010 KY Senate: McClatchy Newspapers' Halimah Abdullah, "Bunning slams McConnell's leadership, Specter's switch"
2010 NY Senate: Albany Times Union's Jennifer A. Dlouhy, "At 100 days, who is Gillibrand?"
2010 OH Sen, Gov: Quinnipiac Poll: "[Gov. Ted] Strickland [D-Ohio] remains a big favorite for re-election in 2010 and the race for the U.S. Senate seat held by retiring Sen. George Voinovich [R-Ohio] leans Democratic at this point, regardless of which of the two leading candidates - Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher or Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner - wins the party nomination."
2010 PA Senate: Politico's Michael Falcone, "Poll to test Sestak Netroots support"
Washington Post's Philip Rucker, "Say Cheese: Obama Lunch Turns Juicy Eat-and-Greet"
CBS News' Jamie Farnsworth, "Michelle Obama Announces $50M Fund For Nonprofits"
Tribune's Mark Silva, "Michelle Obama: 'Anything is possible'"
Washington Post's Lori Montgomery, "Lawmakers Seeking Consensus On Social Security Overhaul"
Detroit News, "Mayor Bing: Detroit businessman unseats Cockrel"
Wall Street Journal's Brody Mullins and Brad Haynes, "Some PACs Run After Politicians Drop Out"
Boston Globe's Robert Gavin and Keith O'Brien, "Globe, guild reach deal"
LA Times' Dennis McClellan, "Dom DeLuise dead at 75"