From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carrie Dann
*** Senate brain drain: At 11:45 am ET, Obama will hold yet another press conference -- this one at Dodge Renaissance Academy in Chicago, where he will nominate Arne Duncan, the head of Chicago's public schools, to be his Education secretary. (Reformers should be fairly happy with this pick, meaning expect a decent review from David Brooks; Margaret Spellings even had praise for Duncan during a stop last week.) But the other big cabinet news we learned yesterday is that Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar will be Obama's pick for Interior. The Salazar news is significant on a few levels. One, his seat would become the fourth vacancy that Democrats would have to fill (in addition to Obama's, Biden's, and Clinton's), and that could make things a bit more difficult for the Dems' Senate map in 2010. Two, with Mel Martinez (R) deciding not to seek re-election, Salazar's move to Interior would leave just one Hispanic left in the Senate (Bob Menendez). And last, but certainly not least, Salazar heading to the Obama cabinet would be the latest evidence that the Senate is losing many of its key players. Salazar is someone who is well liked on the Hill, and he's played an important role in key Senate compromises (Gang of 14, the immigration debate, etc.). Just think about the next Senate: The Dems would be losing Hillary, Biden, Obama, and Salazar, while the Republicans are losing Ted Stevens, Pete Domenici, John Sununu, Elizabeth Dole, John Warner, Gordon Smith, etc. That's a loss of a lot of institutional knowledge and/or brainpower.
*** Watch for what Hillary has to say: As for Caroline Kennedy's decision to seek appointment to Hillary Clinton's Senate seat, we've learned that Kennedy is working it hard; she has already made several dozen phone calls yesterday alone (including Al Sharpton and probably Clinton herself). Her biggest obstacle has become those Hillary "grass-tops" supporters, who either are still angry about the Hillary-vs.-Obama outcome and Caroline Kennedy's endorsement of Obama, or who have another horse in the race (Andrew Cuomo, Kirsten Gillenbrand, Carolyn Maloney, etc.). The debate in New York over Kennedy has, in some ways, has turned into a fight between the Upper East Side (diehard Clinton supporters) and Upper West Side (Obama supporters or Clinton backers who have moved on). We've also learned that Gov. David Paterson -- who has been working on the state budget -- isn't as far along in the appointment process as you might think. And this all means that Hillary Clinton is going to have A LOT of say regarding her successor. Will we see Clinton speak soon? And just what will she say? While Clinton supporters still might be miffed at Kennedy for going against the state's favorite daughter, will the Clintons themselves like the fact that a Kennedy wants to follow a Clinton in the Senate? Answers to those questions would give us our best clues as to whether we're really going to see a Camelot return to DC.
Video: NBC's Chuck Todd offers his first read on the news that Caroline Kennedy is actively pursuing Hillary Clinton's senate seat and the reaction of those involved in Clinton's presidential campaign.
*** Caroline's pitch: Finally, a few things about Kennedy's pitch for the seat. On the policy front, the pitch is this: No one else Paterson could appoint will have as much bully pulpit access as Caroline. She may be 100th in seniority when she arrives, but no one will be able to get more reporters to show up to a press conference. On the political front, the pitch is simple: There are two races in two years for this seat, and isn't it better to appoint someone who can raise the big money necessary to scare off the GOP?
*** Dynasty watch: Could the four Democrats seeking Senate seats in the four Obama-presidential related vacancies all be relatives of famous politicos in their home states: John Salazar in Colorado, brother of Ken? Beau Biden in Delaware (in 2010, once he gets back from Iraq), son of Joe? Lisa Madigan in Illinois, daughter of Assembly Speaker Michael? And Caroline Kennedy in New York, well, you know who she is, right? One other note about Salazar: He isn't even finishing his term. His story, in fact, is similar to a lot of first-term senators who are very frustrated by the lack of power that comes with being a senator, particularly for those who used to be executives like Salazar, a one-time state attorney general. Many new senators who were once executives aren't interested in waiting 15-18 years to become committee chairman so they can finally accomplish something.
*** The OTHER Senate seat debate: Here's what we think we know today in Illinois: Blagojevich is nowhere near resigning… The state legislature is not open to having a special election (to the relief of many Democrats, who worry about the political atmosphere in the state in 2009 vs. 2010)… Obama's team might feign disappointment that Patrick Fitzgerald's office doesn't want them releasing details of their internal probe on transition contacts with Blago's team, but it's pretty convenient that Fitzgerald gave them the green light to release this information during the week of Christmas … Is the case against Blagojevich not as cut and dried as it looked last week, and is that why Blago is not going anywhere? … Finally, if there is no special election, then who will be the unimpeachable pick to fill the seat? Abner Mikva? Ernie Banks? Some Paul Simon relative?
*** The beginning of the end? Even though six weeks have now passed since Election Day, we still don't have a winner in Minnesota's Senate race between Norm Coleman (R) and Al Franken (D). But today -- when the state canvassing board begins ruling on about 1,500 disputed ballots -- finally marks the beginning of the end of this long recount process. The canvassing board will begin ruling on these challenged ballots at 1:00 pm ET in St. Paul, and the process is supposed to last through Friday. The momentum seems to be on Franken's side. Analyses by the AP and the Star Tribune have projected that Franken will pick up more votes from these disputed ballots than Coleman will, perhaps enough to overtake Coleman's miniscule lead. Also, if Coleman wins, all will not be easy for him as this investigation into a Coleman donor may be hitting a little too close to home.
*** Did Obama's vetters know this? Is Bill Richardson headed for a tougher-than-expected confirmation hearing? Consider Bloomberg's scoop from yesterday, which the Washington Post follows up on today, noting that a federal grand jury is investigating whether a financial firm won more than $1.4 million in work for New Mexico after making contributions to Richardson PACs. In fact, the Post reports that the grand jury in Albuquerque will today hear from several key witnesses, including folks who worked for Richardson PACs. Does the Blagojevich pay-to-play scandal give this news more scrutiny? The it's-just-politics defense was probably enough to keep Senate vetters from digging too deep on this BB (Before Blagojevich). But what about now? Also, a retired Chinese-American businessman from San Francisco has started a group that resurrects the entire Wen Ho Lee controversy (by alleging that Richardson denied his due process rights after terminating his employment). The group claims more than 9,000 signatures against Richardson's appointment. Bottom line for those looking for the one Obama cabinet pick who will face confirmation trouble: You may want to move your chips off of Holder and on to Richardson.
*** McCain watch: Obama isn't the only one holding a press conference today. The man he defeated last month, John McCain, speaks to reporters at 1:00 pm ET in Tucson, AZ. It's his second news conference since the election.
Countdown to Electoral Vote Count In Congress: 23 days
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 35 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 175 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 322 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 686 days
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