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First thoughts: Hold the speculation?

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carrie Dann
*** Tamping down the speculation -- or not? HillaryLand seems to be making a concerted effort to start tamping down speculation about the secretary of state job. Reports from the New York Times and Politico are sparking the debate about whether she's 100% ready to make the leap from the Senate and 100% ready to give up politics for a while (at least while at State). As the New York Observer notes, the secretary of state job hasn't been the presidential stepping-stone it was when the country was founded. In fact, the last former secretary of state to even RUN for president was Al Haig in '88, and there's been just one in the last 180 years to go from that position to the presidency: Buchanan. (Then again, the Senate hasn't been a great stepping-stone either, right?) The New York Times' Tom Friedman also makes a great point about Clinton at State: If she's going to get the job, there has to be absolute trust between Obama and Clinton -- which is something we're still not too sure exists. "When it comes to appointing a secretary of state, you do not want a team of rivals," Friedman writes. That said, today's Wall Street Journal and the AP confirm that the Obama folks are letting it be known that Bill Clinton is fully cooperating with the vet. So while the Hillary folks use the Times/Politico to signal reluctance, others are using the WSJ/AP to suggest that the momentum is still building for the Clinton appointment to happen. 

VIDEO: NBC's Chuck Todd gives his first read on Bill Clinton's willingness to disclose past donors in order for the Obama team to go forward in vetting his wife for a cabinet position. 

*** The old bulls are gone: With Ted Stevens' defeat now official, it's worth repeating this point we made a few weeks ago: The old bulls of the Republican Senate caucus are mostly gone. With Stevens' loss -- combined with the retirements of Pete Domenici, Trent Lott, Larry Craig, and John Warner -- the Republican Party lost quite a bit of seniority in 2008 (and this doesn't count the reflected seniority Elizabeth Dole had in the Senate, thanks to her husband). In fact, just nine of the GOP's 42 senators (or 41 or 40 depending on what happens in Georgia and Minnesota), were elected before 1990. Dick Lugar and Orrin Hatch were elected in '76 and now share the distinction of being the GOP's senior-most senators now. Thad Cochran (elected in '78) is next in line, followed by Chuck Grassley ('80) and Arlen Specter ('80), then Mitch McConnell ('84), Kit Bond ('86), Richard Shelby ('86 -- elected then as a Dem) and John McCain ('86). One other point about the result from Alaska: Democrats have now netted at least 13 Senate seats in the past two cycles. Those are a lot of skins on the wall for Chuck Schumer. To regain control of the Senate, Republicans are going to have to pick up nine Senate seats in 2010 (a cycle that once again has Republicans defending more seats than the Democrats). And that's not considering potential losses in Georgia and Minnesota.

*** Don't (re)-count your chickens before they hatch: That, of course, brings us to Minnesota, where the recount in the Coleman-Franken race begins today. Coleman declared victory Tuesday with the certification of the initial results. But law mandates a recount, so nothing is in stone. The reason why Coleman is trying to look the part of the winner is to call into question any lead taken by Franken in the recount. Of course, that PR strategy didn't work for Dino Rossi during the controversial recount in Washington State in 2004. Also consider this: We're going to know the outcome in Georgia (December 2) before the one in Minnesota (mid-December). Go figure. By the way, Bill Clinton stumps in Georgia today for Jim Martin.

Video: President-elect Barack Obama reportedly has chosen veteran Washington lawyer Eric Holder as his attorney general. If confirmed, Holder would be the first African-American to head the Justice Department.

*** Hold(er) on loosely: The Eric-Holder-for-AG chatter hit a fever pitch last night and this morning. Of course, the big question is: How messy will his confirmation be given the Marc Rich pardon? The good news for Holder, House Republican Dan Burton, who became the chief GOP critic of the Rich pardon back in 2001, is not in the Senate. It's hard to imagine folks like Orrin Hatch, Jon Kyl, Lindsey Graham, and Arlen Specter (all GOPers on the Judiciary committee) getting so partisan on this one, especially if Hillary Clinton is also up for a confirmation battle. Could the Senate GOP really bloody up Holder over a Clinton-era issue and not someone with the last name of Clinton? If Rich isn't an issue for Clinton, it probably won't be for Holder. Many Holder defenders believe he was a fall guy on the Marc Rich issue when the ultimate responsibility belonged to Bill Clinton and the White House's relationship with Jack Quinn. It's also worth pointing out that if the GOP had a problem with Holder during the VP selection process -- when Holder headed that up for Obama -- it didn't really show it (Republicans instead directed their fire at Jim Johnson, who stepped down as a VP vetter). The thing that's not being talked about as much regarding Holder is that it would bring a career Justice guy with experience as a US attorney into the top job. Given all the issues Justice has had with its relationship to the US attorneys, Holder may be a welcome nomination by some Justice careerists. By the way, in other transition news, don't get too worked up over the reports about Bob Gates staying on as Defense secretary. First, this has been in the works for some time (as NBC's Jim Miklaszewski reported last week). But more importantly, if you don't see reporting on the idea of there being some end date for Gates' transition, assume something's missing.

*** Obama's chit and The Left's displeasure: Obama has collected a Lieberman chit, but the left is not happy. Here's Kos: "In the spirit of post-partisanship, and in spite of the American people's overwhelming votes for change in 2006 and 2008, let's appoint fierce global warming critic James Inhoffe to the Environment and Public Works committee." And Jane Hamsher, citing a Senate Democratic aide criticizing the left, wrote: "No matter what Joe Lieberman does, the people who are protecting him hate you much more than they hate him." The liberal blogosphere is not happy with this decision, and they believe Dems will pay for this at some point. But it does appear the blogosphere is simply sitting back for the "told you so" moment rather than getting too worked up now. 

*** The two Mitt Romneys: Romney today has a provocative New York Times op-ed in which he argues against a bailout for the auto industry. "Without that bailout, Detroit will need to drastically restructure itself. With it, the automakers will stay the course -- the suicidal course of declining market shares, insurmountable labor and retiree burdens, technology atrophy, product inferiority and never-ending job losses. Detroit needs a turnaround, not a check." But how does he reconcile opposing the bailout when he said, after McCain declared jobs were leaving Michigan and were never coming, that "I'm going to fight for every single job"? In fact, these two seemingly contradictory statements demonstrate the two different Mitt Romneys. In the op-ed, you see the pragmatic businessman offering sensible solutions (the auto industry has to bring down its legacy costs, the current management must go, you need more cooperation between labor and management). But on the campaign trail in Michigan in January 2008, we also saw someone who was willing to almost say anything to get elected. And don't forget: Romney does have extra credibility on the auto industry, as his father ran the last American carmaker to go out of business. George Romney was head of the American Motor Corp. (though, he was not the head of AMC when it essentially went under, via mergers with Renault and then eventually Chrysler).  

*** Just askin': What is taking Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) so long in appointing a successor to Obama in the Senate? It's not like Obama's victory two weeks ago was a surprise, right? Isn't the clock ticking on Blagojevich's own term, as he bites his nails wondering if there's a grand jury indictment in his future? So if he doesn't appoint someone soon, could he end up missing the opportunity?

*** On the Hill today: In the Senate, the nominee for special inspector general of the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), Neil Barofsky, testifies before the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee; the Finance Committee holds a hearing on health-care reform; and Judiciary discusses "Helping Families Save Their Homes: The Role of Bankruptcy Law."… In the House, Armed Services discusses the fate of the F-22 fighter jet program; Financial Services holds a full committee hearing on the auto industry: "Stabilizing the Financial Condition of the American Automobile Industry"; Foreign Affairs discusses Iraq; and Veterans Affairs discusses an investigation into document shredding at VA offices.
 
Countdown to Georgia Senate run-off: 13 days
Countdown to Electoral Vote Count: 50 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 62 days

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