From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carrie Dann
*** Bailout crashes and burns: The $14 billion auto bailout collapsed in the Senate last night after supporters were unable to get the 60 votes needed to clear a filibuster; the cloture vote was 52-35. In some ways, the failure said less about party politics and more about geography. Ten Republicans voted to invoke cloture and move the legislation forward (Bond, Brownback, Collins, Dole, Domenici, Lugar, Snowe, Specter, Voinovich, Warner). Four Democrats voted against it (Baucus, Lincoln, Tester, and Reid, who opposed it so he could procedurally bring up the bill again). But get this -- more than the a third of the votes against (14 out of 35) came from Democrats and Republicans hailing from southern states (Bunning, Burr, Chambliss, Cochran, Corker, DeMint, Hutchinson, Isakson, Lincoln, McConnell, Sessions, Shelby, Vitter, Wicker). Much of this southern opposition can be explained by labor politics. The South is mostly anti-union, and southern GOPers last night blamed the United Auto Workers for the collapse. Also, don't forget that foreign automakers have plants in the South: BMW is in South Carolina; Mercedes is in Alabama; and Toyota, among other places, is in Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Texas.
*** More North vs. South: In the end, the auto bailout was one of those debates in Congress that eventually makes everyone look bad, because it appears everyone is voting on self-interest -- from the industrial-state senators who supported the measure; to those in the South who didn't; Dems who are pro-labor; and Republicans who would like to bust up the unions. Indeed, it's worth reminding everyone that tensions between northern and southern US senators have existed throughout this country's history (regarding slavery, secession, and civil rights). And given that Democrats will either hold a 57-42 or 58-42 or 59-41 majority in the next Senate -- depending on what happens in Minnesota and Illinois -- and given that much of the GOP caucus will hail from the South, we can only expect these tensions to increase during the first two years of the Obama administration. By the way, it's amazing how McConnell was able to run circles around Reid. Sure, the numbers are closer now than they will be in a month. And, sure, it's always easier to be minority leader than majority leader. But McConnell is proving to be a pretty smart minority leader, while Reid continues to get frustrated again. And the lesson the Senate GOP caucus is going to learn from this fight is that by sticking together, they can hold up Obama's agenda.
*** How the bailout failed: For most of the day, NBC's Ken Strickland says, it looked like freshman GOP Sen. Bob Corker was going to save the automakers from immediate bankruptcy. But after hours of negotiations, the talks collapsed on one issue: the automakers union agreeing to new contracts to put labor cost on par with foreign automakers like Honda, Nissan, and Toyota. Strick notes that the UAW agreed to the parity, but refused to accept the timing for when the new rules would take place. The negotiators were pushing for the spring of 2009, when the economy is expected to still be floundering. Republicans and Democrats agreed that issue was the fatal flaw. "They have not been willing to give a date specific by which parity can be achieved," GOP Leader Mitch McConnell said, "and it is upon that issue that we've reached an impasse." Democratic Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd agreed, saying: "There was no debate from the United Auto Workers or anyone else that we ought to achieve parity in the wages and benefits. The question was the timing of it."
*** Where we go from here: NBC's Strickland adds that the White House and the Federal Reserve still have to authority to rescue the industry with some short term fixes. Option No.1: Treasury Secretary Paulson can use money from the $700 billion October rescue package, the so-called TARP money, to aid the automakers. Bush has been adamantly opposed to using that money for that purpose, saying it was designed for financial entities. Option No. 2: The Fed could give the automakers short-term loans. But does Bush allow an auto company to go under on his watch? That's not a legacy mark he wants on his resume. The "Hoover" ghost bothers many a Republican still occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Imagine this irony: The legacy of Herbert Hoover saves the US auto makers. Indeed, here's the breaking news at publication time -- the White House says it would be willing to use TARP money…
*** The Blago scandal: It's now Day Four in the Blagojevich scandal, and two people the press is longing to hear from soon: Blagojevich and Rahm Emanuel. We heard from Obama yesterday and, as predicted, his response was MUCH stronger than his initial one on Tuesday. Of course, we've seen this movie before: Obama is hit with or surrounded by controversy; his initial response is tepid, mild, lame; and then the next day (or two or three later), he gets it exactly right. So far, Obama has benefited by getting mulligans after an initial response. But what happens when the do-overs stop? At some point, doesn't Obama have to start getting things right the first time? As for Blago, how long can he go without saying, well, anything? It seems everyone is claiming they don't talk to Blago; it's apparently the new badge of honor. Jesse Jackson Jr. claimed it had been four years; Obama wouldn't invite Blago to the Dem convo, Lt. Gov. Quinn says it's been 18 months since he's spoken to him; Blago's one-time political sugar-daddy, father-in-law Dick Mell, they don't speak, either. His lawyers won't take his calls because of unpaid bills. Will any of us in the media get a shot at him?
*** Shiny metal object overload: By the way, the Andrew Cuomo-Caroline Kennedy drama -- Cuomo yesterday refused to say whether Caroline is fit to succeed Hillary -- would normally be the media's shiny metal object distraction of the day. But wow, so many other stories out there today… Speaking of Caroline, let's not forget this response from Obama, himself in his interview with NBC's Tom Brokaw on Meet the Press last Sunday. "[T]he last thing I want to do is get involved in New York politics. I've got enough trouble in terms of Illinois politics." What did Obama mean?
*** That never-ending recount: In the latest movement in Minnesota's Coleman-Franken recount, the state canvassing board meets at 10:30 am ET in St. Paul to consider the fate of hundreds of mistakenly rejected absentee ballots, as well as the 133 missing ballots from a Minneapolis precinct. Given that the difference separating Coleman and Franken is so small (192 votes per the Star Tribune, or four votes according to the Franken folks), this decision could play a key role in deciding the eventual outcome of the race.
*** Meeting the press: And on Sunday, in his initial show since taking over the reins of NBC's Meet the Press, David Gregory will have the latest in the Blagojevich scandal, plus a discussion on the economy with Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Mitt Romney, Carly Fiorina, Wal-Mart President, CEO Lee Scott, and Google CEO Eric Schmidt. After that, there'll be a roundtable with NBC's Chuck Todd and the Chicago Sun-Times' Mary Mitchell.
Countdown to Electoral Vote Count: 27 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 39 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 179 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 326 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 690 days
Click here to sign up for First Read emails.
Text FIRST to 622639, to sign up for First Read alerts to your mobile phone.