From Elizabeth Wilner, Mark Murray, Huma Zaidi, and Jennifer Colby.
The White House and top Democratic lawmakers head into the post-election Sunday shows and this new era of divided government warily circling each other, trying to gauge each other's sincerity about bipartisanship. President Bush meets with the Senate Democratic leadership at the White House today.
Within the two chambers of Congress, bipartisanship, or at least collegiality, may be easier to achieve and maintain in the Senate than in the House, where First Read counts at least 126 Republican members (depending on the outcome of the still-undecided races) who will soon serve in the minority for the first time ever. Democratic aides in both chambers, looking forward to a turn in the majority, suggest that the toughest adjustment for Republicans may be not controlling the hearing process -- particularly as hearings about the Administration's Iraq policy kick into gear.
Iraq and other security-related issues are the first big sticking point to emerge amid all the making nice. Bush has heeded Democrats' call to replace Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and said after his Cabinet meeting yesterday that he's "open to any idea or suggestion that will help us achieve our goals of defeating the terrorists and ensuring that Iraq's democratic government succeeds." But those goals at least today don't include the start of an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, which is being demanded by several top Democratic lawmakers, including some key incoming committee chairs.
Also yesterday, Bush re-submitted John Bolton's nomination to be UN Ambassador; Bolton's recess appointment expires in January. But incoming Senate Foreign Relations chair Joe Biden made it clear that Democrats won't permit the nomination to proceed, NBC's Ken Strickland reports. He was backed up by outgoing GOP Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, who will serve on Foreign Relations until the end of the lame duck session. Chafee said in a statement yesterday, "To confirm Mr. Bolton to the position of UN Ambassador would fly in the face of the clear consensus of the country that a new direction is called for."
And Bush and Republicans appeared to dare Democrats on other security-related matters. Bush said he hopes to see the NSA wiretapping bill passed during the lame duck, which Strickland advises is unlikely. Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's communications director fired off in a statement, "Now that Democrats will have control of Congress for the next two years, they have a new responsibility for one of the most important issues of our time. Quite simply, how shall we win the war on terror?"
The Democratic leadership, for their part, could be hard-pressed to tamp down the impulses of the party's liberal base. Incoming House Judiciary Committee chair John Conyers yesterday reiterated that he agrees with incoming Speaker Nancy Pelosi that impeachment hearings are "off the table," NBC's Mike Viqueira reports. But a new liberal coalition will hold an event in Philadelphia tomorrow to call for a national movement in support of impeachment.
Meanwhile, Republicans continue to digest lessons from their defeat on Tuesday and re-order the troops for the next two years. Reports that the White House has tapped a Senate candidate who famously distanced himself from President Bush and the party to chair the party's national committee are overblown. A Republican source familiar with the deliberations tells First Read that while Michael Steele's name has been mentioned as a possible replacement for Ken Mehlman as RNC chair, he does not believe that Steele is actually in the running at this point, and that Steele ultimately won't be named chair. NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports that a White House source says the same.
The GOP source confirms that the White House is in the process of trying to figure out who would be the ideal chair, and puts the floating of Steele's name down to the fact that "there's a vacuum at this point." Mehlman's current two-year term expires in January and he has made it known that he won't seek another one.
Even without Steele, African-Americans are expected to achieve unprecedented prominence in Washington as five ascend to top jobs in Congress, Viq notes: Rep. Jim Clyburn is likely to get elected House Majority Whip, and Reps. John Conyers, Charlie Rangel, Bennie Thompson, and Juanita Millender-McDonald are about to chair the Judiciary, Ways and Means, Homeland Security, and Administration committees. Rep. Alcee Hastings is also in line to chair the House Intelligence Committee, though he may seek another post instead.