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First thoughts: Joe the Chairman?

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carrie Dann
*** Joe the Chairman? If the news is correct, then the liberal blogosphere isn't going to be happy. NBC's Ken Strickland reported yesterday that, according to sources familiar with the negotiations, Democrats today are expected to vote in favor of letting Joe Lieberman keep his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security Committee -- but give up the gavel on a subcommittee he chairs. (The vote happens this morning by secret ballot, and Lieberman is expected to address Senate Democrats before they vote. Per Strickland, we should know the final outcome by late morning.) So what happened? First, Strick says, Obama told Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that he wanted Lieberman to stay in the Democratic caucus. Later, Lieberman told Reid it would be "unacceptable" for him to give up his gavel, which was considered by some as a veiled threat that Lieberman would jump to caucus with Republicans if he was forced to give up the gavel. In short, Obama tipped the scales in Lieberman's favor, one source said, explaining it this way: If the wrath was directed at Obama, and he got over it, shouldn't the Democratic caucus do the same? 

*** Obama's first test with the left: The news that Obama is the one mainly responsible for the wrist slap that Lieberman is expected to receive -- as well as the continued speculation that the president-elect is inching closer towards selecting Hillary Clinton as his secretary of state -- is really going to test Obama's base. Many of the true believers aren't going to be happy campers. Then again, with some pundits suggesting that Obama's initial moves (picking Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, courting the Clintons) don't really signal the change he promised to bring to Washington, isn't it precisely change that Lieberman is about to go unpunished? After all, one of Obama's messages was to put the bitter partisanship of the last 16 years behind us. Does anyone think that a Clinton or a Bush Administration would be as forgiving?

Video: President elect Barack Obama's credo 'no drama Obama' is being tested early as he eyes Sen. Hillary Clinton for Sec. of State and Senate Democrats decide Joe Lieberman's fate. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

Also, as Maureen Dowd wrote on Sunday, Obama bringing in Hillary as his secretary of state doesn't represent the return of the Clintons; it says the opposite. "If you have a president who's willing to open up his universe to other smart, strong people, if you have a big dog who shares his food dish, the Bill Clinton era is truly over." One more point about Lieberman going unpunished: Could Obama truly meet with McCain yesterday in a sign of bipartisanship as Obama and Senate Democrats plotted to take away Lieberman's gavel at the Homeland Security committee? By the way, imagine what this week would be like in the press corps had a more severe Lieberman punishment been on the docket. Talk about your drama.

*** When rivals meet: Speaking of yesterday's Obama-McCain meeting, does the fact that nothing concrete leaked out mean nothing concrete was worked out? Also, it was supposed to be a 90-minute meeting, so why did it end up only 40 minutes. Not a good sign?

*** "V" is for Vetting: For the second day in a row, the vetting of Bill Clinton dominates the chatter about Hillary's chances of becoming secretary of state. Today's New York Times doesn't feature just any byline -- but one that has given the Clintons particular heartburn: Don Van Natta Jr. How much stomach will Team Obama have for a Van Natta (or potentially a Michael Isikoff) sniffing around the Clintons?

*** Bailing out the bailout: In addition to today's vote on Lieberman, the other big news on Capitol Hill is today's testimony by the Big Three US automakers and the United Auto Workers in favor of a bailout. There is still a split between the two political parties on this issue. As the New York Times writes, "A showdown vote over the auto deal is set for Wednesday, and at the moment Democrats appear short of the 60 votes they need to move ahead, meaning the session is likely to be abbreviated." The New York Times also has a very good separate piece about how the political power for the entire auto industry -- from the corporate heads to the labor unions -- is waning. By the way, how much does the perceived failure (to date) of the $700 billion financial bailout hurt the auto industry's chances of their own bailout? Why should any member of Congress feel comfortable about voting for an auto bailout if the one of the financial services industry hasn't worked out as planned? 

*** Playing defense: As for the $700 billion bailout, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson has an op-ed today defending his actions. "I am very proud of the decisive actions by the Treasury Department, the Federal Reserve and the F.D.I.C. to stabilize our financial system," he writes. "We have done what was necessary as facts and conditions in the market and economy have changed, adjusting our strategy to most effectively address the crisis. We have preserved the flexibility of President-elect Barack Obama and the new secretary of the Treasury to address the challenges in the economy and capital markets they will face. As policymakers face the difficult challenges ahead, they will begin with two considerable advantages: a significantly more stable banking system, one where the failure of a major bank is no longer a pressing concern; and the resources, authority and potential programs available to deal with the future capital and liquidity needs of credit providers."

*** The remaining races: In Alaska, election workers will count approximately 24,000 ballots today, which could give us a clearer picture in a race where challenger Mark Begich (D) currently leads incumbent Sen. Ted Stevens by 1,022 votes. After today, overseas ballots will remain to be counted, and the process, according to the Anchorage Daily News, will last through the week of December 1… In Georgia, early voting began yesterday for the Chambliss-Martin Senate run-off, and there were reports of some lines (the turnout of the youth and black vote in this runoff, by the way, will be the ultimate test of Obama's base; have they become permanently engaged in the overall political process or only engaged in Obama individually?)… And in Minnesota, the five-member state canvassing board meets today to officially certify the original results in the Coleman-Franken race, with the manual recount beginning tomorrow. 
 
Countdown to Georgia Senate run-off: 14 days
Countdown to Electoral Vote Count: 51 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 63 days

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