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First thoughts: Obama gets to work

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Obama gets to work: In his first full day as president, Barack Obama participates in a prayer service this morning at Washington's National Cathedral. He also will sign a few executive orders, including one that bans any White House staffer from lobbying the Obama White House if he/she leaves. The big meetings of the day takes place later in the afternoon, when the president sits down (1) with his economic team and then (2) with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Gen. David Petraeus and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen. This second meeting fulfills a promise that Obama made during the summer, as the AP reminds us. "My first day in office, I will bring the Joint Chiefs of Staff in, and I will give them a new mission, and that is to end this war responsibly and deliberately but decisively," he said then. Sources tell us that Obama will indeed ask for a plan to begin the process of troop redeployment in Iraq in the next 16 months. As for Gitmo news, it appears the military lawyers quoted in the various news stories circulating got a bit ahead of themselves; still, it's the intent of the new administration to begin closing it. And new White House press secretary Robert Gibbs plans to hold his first briefing at noon ET, though this could get pushed back a day. By the way, yesterday's immediate change at whitehouse.gov was pretty striking, and what stood out to us were all the issue pledges the Obama team included. Many are not detailed, but the pledges are there for all to see. The Web site has more of the feel of a campaign Web site than the official White House site. It also appears a bit more interactive than Bush's or Clinton's sites.

*** Looking back at the inaugural address: As for yesterday's speech, the rhetoric might not have been as soaring as we're used to, but Obama pivoted from being candidate Obama (the inspirer), to President Obama (the guy elected to get things done). "For everywhere we look, there is work to be done," he said. "The state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act -- not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth." As others have noted -- including Maureen Dowd, who compared it to Stephen Colbert's brutal roast of Bush at the '06 White House Correspondents' dinner -- Obama's speech also was a not-so-subtle rebuke of the past eight years. The market's "power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control, and that a nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous." More: "[We] reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals." And: "[W]e will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist." And don't let it go unnoticed that Obama laid down a marker when it comes to dealing with the Muslim world. Obama goes down in history as the first president to say the word "Muslim" in an inaugural address. Historians will use that anecdote some day. Of course, yesterday was a memorable day for Obama and the country on a whole other level. But, even as the new president reminded us, it will last the test of time not for what happened yesterday, but what happens afterwards. "In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given," he said. "It must be earned."

*** Another busy day on the Hill: By unanimous consent, the Senate yesterday confirmed seven of Obama's cabinet picks -- Chu (Energy), Duncan (Education), Napolitano (Homeland Security), Orszag (OMB), Salazar (Interior), Shineski (Veterans Affairs), and Vilsack (Agriculture). The notable absence from this group, of course, is Hillary Clinton, whose confirmation was held up by GOP Sen. John Cornyn. NBC's Ken Strickland reports that Clinton's final confirmation vote will occur sometime this afternoon after three hours of debate (the hope in the White House is that she'll be confirmed in time to participate in the national security meeting). In addition, we'll see two confirmation hearings today -- Geithner's for Treasury at the Senate Finance Committee at 10:00 am ET, and Ray LaHood's for Transportation at the Senate Commerce Committee at 2:00 pm. Also today, the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on Holder's confirmation at 10:00 am.

*** The GOP's demographic challenge: With Obama now in the White House, it's as good of a time as any -- especially with the RNC chair contest coming up next week -- to break down some of the challenges the Republican Party faces heading into 2010 and 2012. We'll begin today looking at the party's demographic hurdle. In short, the GOP has increasingly become a party that's appealing only to white voters, hardly good news when you consider that the United States will become a majority-minority country in three decades. In the presidential election, McCain grabbed just 4% of the black vote, 31% of the Latino vote, and 35% of the Asian-American vote -- all down from George W. Bush's haul in 2004. Put another way, some 90% of McCain's voters were white; that's compared with some 60% of Obama's voters. In a country that's now just 74% white (at least via its voting electorate), no national candidate can expect to win the presidency based on just white voters.

*** Latinos and younger voters: The struggle that McCain -- a senator from the border state of Arizona -- had with Latinos could be particularly troublesome for Republicans. Matthew Dowd, who served as Bush's chief strategist in the '04 election (and who later parted ways with Bush and the GOP), says that future Republican presidential nominees will need to get more than 40% of the Latino vote to be able to win. What's more, McCain lost voters ages 18-29 by more than 30 points (66% to 32%). That represents an entire generation of first- or second-time voters who pulled the lever for the Democratic Party. "Losing young voters by 30-plus points is a major fire alarm," Dowd said.

*** Filling Dean's shoes: Meanwhile, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine will be formally elected as the new DNC chairman when the Democratic National Committee meets today at 1:00 pm ET in DC.

*** Mr. Franken comes to Washington: And Al Franken ended up attending Obama's swearing-in yesterday. "It was a great honor to join so many hopeful, excited Americans in Washington today to witness the inauguration of our new president," he said in a statement. "The next few years will call for bold action and courage on the part of our leaders and our citizens. And I know that, with all of us working together, we will meet that call." Sounds a lot like he's prepping for another return to DC. By the way, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid secured Franken's swearing-in tickets, according to informed sources.
 
Countdown to RNC winter meeting: 7 days
Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 132 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 139 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 286 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 650 days

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