From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Carrie Dann
*** Yet another distraction: Despite having one of the smoothest and fastest transitions in recent American history, the news that Treasury Secretary nominee Tim Geithner failed to pay tens of thousands of dollars in taxes (which were later repaid) and had a housekeeper problem has become the latest in a series of distractions for Obama and his team. First came the Blagojevich mess. That later spawned the Burris headache. Then came Bill Richardson's withdrawal as Commerce secretary. And now we have the Geithner distraction. Of course, given the nature of American politics (the opposition ready to pounce on any controversy) and political reporting (our penchant to cover these things breathlessly), distractions are going to be inevitable. The task for the incoming Obama administration is to be able to steer through them. It's also worth pointing out that there is just no political will out there -- from either Democrats or Republicans -- to kill Geithner's nomination in this current economic climate. As Sen. John Kerry said on TODAY, "The economy is the No. 1 issue, and we need to move on it." But the margin of error for Obama is starting to get smaller. He can't expect to have Congress continue to roll over this often. Also, make no mistake: It's embarrassing that the guy being put in charge of the IRS can't follow the tax code. Maybe this will lead to tax code reform! Don't laugh, expect some tax simplification advocates to use this incident to do just that.
Video: Treasury secretary nominee Tim Geithner admits he failed to pay $34,000 in taxes. Meanwhile, secretary of state nominee Hillary Clinton is questioned about donations to her husband's foundation. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.
*** Poll alert: Have these distractions marred Obama's honeymoon so far? How are Americans viewing his transition? What are their views on his stimulus plan? Where do they think he might overreach? And what are their opinions about the current state of the economy? A brand-new NBC/WSJ poll with answers to these questions comes out tonight at 6:30 pm ET. So be sure to tune into NBC Nightly News or to click on to MSNBC.com for the results to our latest poll.
*** Confirmation hearing updates: Despite some tough questions she received yesterday afternoon about possible conflicts of interest regarding her husband's foundation, Hillary Clinton -- as expected -- aced her confirmation hearing yesterday. (The polite back-and-forth did make us wonder how politically charged those conflicts of interest could have been if Hillary had been the Democratic nominee.) There are four confirmation hearings today: VA pick Eric Shinseki (before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee at 10:00 am ET), Ag pick Tom Vilsack (Senate Agriculture Committee at 10:00 am), EPA pick Lisa Jackson (Senate Environment and Public Works Committee at 10:00 am), and OMB pick Peter Orszag, who also testified yesterday before a different committee (Homeland Security Committee at 2:00 pm).
*** Obama-Biden today: According to the transition office, Biden today returns from his CODEL to Southwest Asia, and he and GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham (who joined him on the overseas trip) will brief Obama about their findings. Also today, at Chief Justice John Roberts' invitation, Obama and Biden will visit the Supreme Court. The transition office says this will be the third time in recent history that a president-elect and vice president-elect have visited the Court. "William Clinton and Al Gore visited on December 8, 1992. Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush called on the Court on November 19, 1980," it says.
*** Keeping your friends close and enemies closer: Per NBC's Athena Jones, Obama spent part of last night at the house of conservative columnist George Will. The president-elect arrived at the large yellow house with a white picket fence just after 6:30 pm ET, accompanied by aides Marvin Nicholson and Tommy Vietor. He spent about two and a half hours there. Also spotted at the dinner were New York Times op-ed columnists Bill Kristol and David Brooks. As the pool report observed last night, the Will-Kristol-Brooks dinner is bound to be a topic on left-leaning blogs (and it already has been, although we didn't spot any real anger about it). Food for thought: What if Bush had invited folks like Paul Krugman, Katrina vanden Heuvel, or Kos to dinner? Once again, as Andrew Sullivan points out, Obama appears to be living by this maxim: It's better to keep your enemies close.
Countdown to Inauguration Day 2009: 6 days
Countdown to RNC winter meeting: 14 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 146 days
Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 139 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 293 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 657 days
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