From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carrie Dann
*** So who's corrupt now? Since his election last month, Obama and his team have masterfully choreographed every cabinet announcement, press conference, and meeting for maximum effect -- until yesterday, that is. On a day when the agenda was a meeting with Al Gore on energy and climate change, all hell broke lose after Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) was arrested for allegedly offering Obama's Senate seat for some kind of payment in return. It didn't tell us anything new about Blagojevich (he had been straddling the ethical line for some time), or Illinois politics (Blago could become the state's fourth governor in 40 years to go to prison), or even Obama (who is in no way implicated in the government's report). But it does begin to advance a GOP argument that the Democrats -- who campaigned against a Republican "culture of corruption" -- are no longer so innocent themselves. Are the ethical and legal issues that have recently dogged some Democrats (William Jefferson, Tim Mahoney, Charlie Rangel) beginning to approach what we saw in the last few years from Republicans (Larry Craig, Duke Cunningham, Mark Foley, Bob Ney, Don Sherwood, Ted Stevens, etc.)? And while the term "culture of corruption" gets thrown around a lot, the fact is that a state possibly having four governors go to prison in 40 years is most definitely a culture of corruption.
*** The impact on Obama: As for the scandal's impact on Obama, no doubt that it will be embarrassing for him and his incoming administration, even though the president-elect isn't implicated here (in fact, the affidavit makes it crystal clear that Obama and his team weren't willing to play ball). We're probably going to see a top Obama aide -- Rahm Emanuel, Valerie Jarrett? -- on tape with Blagojevich. And that shouldn't be too surprising (after all, why wouldn't you return your governor's phone calls in this post-election period?) But Obama also didn't help himself with his initial comment yesterday on the matter. Unlike other Illinois Democrats, he didn't condemn Blagojevich's actions, if true. Instead, he said he was "saddened and sobered" by the news, adding that it wasn't appropriate to comment on the issue. But then he later did comment, saying, "I had no contact with the governor or his office and so we were not, I was not aware of what was happening." Yet that contradicted an interview last month by Obama adviser David Axelrod, who said that Obama had spoken with Blagojevich about the vacancy. Axelrod issued a statement last night saying that he was "mistaken" in that interview. Team Obama's initial response yesterday to the scandal seemed par for the course: During his two years on the campaign trail, Obama often swung and missed on his initial statement regarding a controversy -- Bitter-gate and Jeremiah Wright come immediately to mind -- before finding a better response 24 to 48 hours later.
*** Why didn't Dems do something earlier? Republicans have themselves a talking point they will constantly throw in Obama's face (and Rahm's and Axe's), simply because they are all Chicago pols. This means Obama will always have to look more transparent than usual and, well, less Chicago-y. The one criticism, by the way, that really could stick to the entire Illinois Democratic political establishment: passivity. It was a running joke for years that Blago had a corrupt side, so why didn't more Democrats step up. Sure, politics is politics, and sometimes you have stand by folks who you THINK are corrupt but you can't prove it since no one wants to sound like Joe McCarthy. Still, the passivity here is something that will likely tug at many Illinois Democrats. Could they have done something sooner?
*** Our other questions: Just how long will Blagojevich remain in office? Our understanding is that impeachment proceedings could take three months. What's more, if the state legislature passes a bill calling for a special election to bypass Blagojevich's appointment, the governor could possibly hold that up temporarily because he has 60 days to consider whether he'll veto it or not. Also, what happens if Blagojevich makes an appointment? It's important to point out that the US Senate doesn't have to seat that person; the chamber has the power to seat a member. In addition, we understand that Illinois' secretary of state has to certify the selection, and that person could decide not to certify Blago's pick. Indeed, there appear to be plenty of ways to prevent Blagojevich's selection from ever serving in the Senate. But there also appear to be plenty of ways for Blago to hold up this process. Remember, the governor's only bargaining chip is his office right now, and he's likely going to stay in it as long as he can if it means cutting himself a better deal with the feds. After all, if there's one thing we learned about Blago, he's always looking for leverage.
*** Collateral damage: Where to begin? First, there's the case of Charlie Rangel. Could he and his Ways and Means chairmanship become the first real casualty of the Blagojevich scandal? Speaker Nancy Pelosi told NBC's Meredith Vieira earlier this week that Rangel shouldn't have to step down as chairman for allegedly preserving a tax loophole that benefited a company whose executive had pledged $1 million to a center named after the New York Democrat. "Mr. Rangel, he loves our country," Pelosi said. "He loves this Congress. He wants to do nothing but bring credit to it. And he'll be the first one to know what his course of action should be." But does the Blagojevich mess make it more difficult for Democrats to continue to defend Rangel, even if he hasn't been charged of anything yet? And Rangel's chairmanship isn't the only possible collateral damage here. All gubernatorial appointments to fill Senate seats -- including Ruth Ann Minner's surprising pick of Biden friend Ted Kaufman in Delaware, as well as David Paterson's upcoming selection of Hillary's replacement in New York -- are going to receive extra scrutiny. And then there's the damage to all Chicago politicians. Does this make it more difficult for someone like Bill Daley to run for governor?
*** How long will the honeymoon last? While the Blagojevich scandal is embarrassing to the incoming Obama administration, polls are showing that the president-elect is enjoying quite a honeymoon right now. A new Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll shows that 74% of respondents have positive feelings about Obama's presidential victory, 79% approve of the way he's handling his transition, and 59% say they have a good idea of where Obama wants to lead the country. Are these numbers consistent with a new NBC/WSJ poll that comes out today? Tune into NBC Nightly News or log on to MSNBC.com at 6:30 pm ET for the answer.
*** So much for the doom and gloom: The election took place more than a month ago -- and feels longer than that -- but it's still worth noting that things went pretty smoothly at the polling places. Per a new Pew survey, more than nine in 10 (91%) said it was very easy to find their polling place; more than eight in 10 (83%) said their polling place was very well run; and 75% said they were "very confident" their vote was counted as cast. Two conclusions to draw from this: One, when an election isn't that close, polling problems don't percolate. And two, the rush to vote early helped create a relief valve on our election day voting systems. It's more likely the latter is what helped the situation the most.
Countdown to Electoral Vote Count: 29 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 41 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 181 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 328 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 692 days
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