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First thoughts: Busy week on tap

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carrie Dann
*** A busy week on tap: Two weeks removed from the presidential election, the political activity remains almost as busy -- we, of course, stress the word "almost." For starters, President-elect Obama meets in Chicago at noon ET with the man he defeated in the general election, John McCain, and they will be joined by incoming chief of staff Rahm Emanuel and GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham. This meeting comes as Obama has officially named several new staffers to his White House team and as speculation continues that he might select Hillary Clinton to head the State Department. Meanwhile, the Senate returns to action today with the agenda including freshman orientation, an economic stimulus package (extending unemployment insurance and relief for the automotive industry), and the fate of Joe Lieberman as chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee (which will be done by secret ballot; is that good news for Lieberman since it isn't cool to be publicly pro-Lieberman, or is it bad news so his detractors can stay anonymous?). In addition, the House will return to work on Wednesday, when Minority Leader John Boehner receives a long-shot leadership challenge from Rep. Dan Lundgren. And finally, there are those three unresolved Senate races in Alaska, Georgia, and Minnesota (more on them below), let alone a vacant seat in Illinois.

Video: President-elect Barack Obama meets with his former rival for the White House, Sen. John McCain, to discuss how they might work together.

*** More on today's Obama-McCain meeting: It's important to point out that McCain hasn't been given enough credit for making today's meeting happen -- convening a meeting like this is easy for the victor, but much more difficult for the loser. Just compare today with the amount of time it took for McCain to hold a face-to-face with George W. Bush after the 2000 GOP primaries. McCain didn't have to do this so quickly, and he's giving Obama an easy political point or two by showing up. There are a number of things the two could do together, including climate change, stem cells, ethics and spending reform, even Afghanistan. The two are meeting for 90 minutes, we're told, so there will be time to talk about, well, everything under the sun. By the way, here's another way in which Obama appears to be mimicking Lincoln: USA Today notes that Lincoln met with the man he defeated, Stephen Douglas, early on in his tenure as president.

*** Great expectations: How high are expectations for Obama? There are dueling Obama-as-FDR vs. Obama-as-Lincoln covers on the two major news magazines (Time and Newsweek, respectively). We guess it's better than being compared to Hoover or Carter, right?

*** Bill Clinton's vetting day: With fresh sound of Bill Clinton, combined with the New York Times and Washington Post coverage of the vetting process, it looks like there's plenty of fodder to keep the Hillary-for-secretary-of-state story alive for another day. The New York Times gets into some of the international issues Bill Clinton has delved into, which could cause conflict with his wife should she get the job. Just askin,' but how galling is it for the 42nd president that the idea he can't vet could somehow torpedo his wife's appointment? It's probably making him a little nuts that all of these questions about his post-presidency lifestyle are going to be brought up into the public arena yet again. Also just askin,' but how big of a story would Bill's conflicts of interest have been if Hillary had won the Democratic nomination -- and what kind of problem would that have presented the Democrats? Has the momentum for a Hillary appointment gotten to the point where the only way this doesn't happen is if Clinton says no? Obama can't pull the offer (even if he hasn't officially made it) at this point, right? 

*** That auto bailout: Take a look at the coverage of the debate on whether the government should do a full-fledged bailout of the American auto industry. The tone has clearly been shaped by the auto makers; they are winning the PR battle. This is all very reminiscent of the pro-$700 billion bailout press back in September-October. Lots of clips today about the number of jobs at stake if GM is allowed to fall into bankruptcy protection. Meanwhile, the congressional Republicans who are suspect of a bailout are being shown the political map and how blue the industrial Midwest (including Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, and Indiana) went -- which happen to house a number of jobs. Just curious: What does the battle to bailout GM do for the battle between John Dingell and Henry Waxman for the chairmanship of the House Commerce Committee? Could some quid pro quos be popping up in that campaign having to do with the bailout? Speaking of bailouts, various state and city governments are now looking for handouts or bailouts. How soon will some states begin raising the idea of suspending budget balancing laws that most state governments are forced to live under?

*** The remaining races: In Alaska, after additional counting of early and absentee ballots on Friday, Mark Begich (D) now has a 1,022-vote lead over incumbent Sen. Ted Stevens (R). On Tuesday, a remaining 24,000 votes from Anchorage (Begich's home base), Southeast Alaska, and the Kenai Peninsula will be counted. The situation looks particularly grim for Stevens, because Friday's count included all the early and absentee ballots from his base of support in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough… In Georgia, Jim Martin (D) has a new TV ad blasting Saxby Chambliss (R) on the economy. Meanwhile, Huckabee campaigned for Chambliss over the weekend, and now we've learned that Bill Clinton will stump for Martin on Wednesday… And in Minnesota, the original vote count in the Coleman-Franken race gets certified on Tuesday, and the four-week recount begins right after that. By the way, Franken will be coming to DC on Tuesday. 

*** A few other stray Senate thoughts: By the way, has anyone else noticed that the GOP seems more interested in saving Coleman in his recount than pushing Chambliss or Stevens to victory in Georgia and Alaska? This isn't to say the party isn't doing whatever it takes to help Chambliss, but the emotion that Republicans are showing in their collective comments about the Minnesota recount send the signal that losing the Senate seat to Franken would be a lot more demoralizing than losing the run-off in Georgia or the count in Alaska (By the way, don't miss Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty's comments Sunday, when he admitted that he knows of no shenanigans at all in the re-canvass process yet. That's not the talking point he was speaking off of last week)… With Bill Clinton now heading to Georgia, what will Obama do? Will he at least cut radio ads or do recorded phone calls?… There are officially 99 senators, instead of 100, thanks to Obama's resignation on Sunday. What will Illinois Dem Gov. Rod Blagojevich do? As one person who knows him well put it, he's trying to figure out how to monetize this appointment (no, not SELL it, but gather some political chit), but he can't figure out how to do it yet. Does he appoint a potential gubernatorial primary rival (though most think the unpopular governor isn't running)? Does he try to cut a deal with House Speaker Michael Madigan (and appoint his daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan)? What about the pressure to appoint a non-white male (like Tammy Duckworth, Jesse Jackson Jr., Jan Schakowsky, or Melissa Bean)?
Countdown to Georgia Senate run-off: 15 days
Countdown to Electoral Vote Count: 52 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 64 days

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