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First thoughts: Groundhog Day?

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Groundhog Day? Pardon the ubiquitous movie reference, but with the Senate today beginning debate on the economic stimulus, with Obama meeting with congressional leaders this afternoon to discuss the legislation, and with Obama trying to grab as many Republican supporters as he can -- even though we all know it's going to pass anyway -- it seems like Groundhog Day, doesn't it? (Speaking of, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, which means we can expect six more weeks of winter.) In an interview before yesterday's Super Bowl, Obama told NBC's Matt Lauer that he's confident Republicans will vote for the eventual stimulus legislation. "I am confident that by the time we actually have the final package on the floor that we are gonna see substantial support," he said. "And people are gonna say this is a serious effort. It has no earmarks. We're gonna be trimming up -- things that are not relevant to putting people back to work right now." More Groundhog Day: This could be the week we hear more about what the administration is going to ask for regarding the bank rescue.

Video: Obama discusses his views on Republican support (or lack thereof) for his stimulus plan.

*** Driving Mr. Daschle: Here's even more Groundhog Day: We have yet another Obama cabinet member facing tax problems. Today, Tom Daschle, who is Obama's pick to lead HHS and serve as the administration's health-care czar, heads to Capitol Hill to meet with senators to discuss his failure to pay taxes, including $128,000 for a car and driver that he was given. Daschle has sent a letter to the Senate Finance Committee apologizing for his tax issues, NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports. "I am deeply embarrassed and disappointed by the errors that required me to amend my tax returns. I apologize for the errors and profoundly regret that you have had to devote time to them." A few other things worth pointing out here:
-- Daschle played a key role for Obama in the Democratic primary, especially in helping Obama secure crucial superdelegate endorsements, so expect the Obama administration to give Daschle plenty of running room. Obama will never force Daschle to withdraw his nomination, but is Obama putting loyalty above his stated principles?
-- Because he's a former senator, Daschle probably gets confirmed by his ex-colleagues. If he weren't an ex-senator, his nomination would probably be dead right now.
-- This will bring more attention -- see today's New York Times -- to the ridiculous amounts of money that ex-members of Congress make, even if they don't TECHNICALLY register to lobby. We're curious: Why else was a law firm paying Daschle $2 million if it wasn't to influence Congress or at least advise folks on HOW to influence Congress?
-- The Rule of Three will now kick in: No other Obama appointee who has a tax problem will survive, period.

Video: Chuck Todd discusses the potential hit that reports of Tom Daschle's unpaid taxes may have on the Obama administration's image.

*** Say goodbye to 60? Within the next couple of days (though we hear it probably WON'T be today), Obama is expected to name New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg (R) to be his Commerce secretary.

 Not only would Gregg become the third Republican to serve in Obama's cabinet, it more importantly could also put Democrats one step closer to achieving a filibuster-proof 60 Senate seats, given that Democratic Gov. John Lynch gets to appoint Gregg's replacement. Well, not so fast on that 60 number... Two sources in the know tell First Read that J. Bonnie Newman, a centrist Republican with ties to Gregg, is the leading candidate to replace the GOP senator. Our understanding is that she'd serve as a placeholder until Gregg's term expires next year. This news has to infuriate Democrats, who might have seen Obama's courtship of Gregg as the ultimate way to get even with recalcitrant Republicans -- pluck one of their own to get to 60. By picking Newman, Lynch will certainly receive plenty of pressure from the left. But this is probably about him not having to take sides early in a Dem primary; it's actually (secretly) what many a governor wants in these situations.

*** The most exclusive club in the world -- that fewer want to belong to: If Gregg becomes Obama's Commerce secretary, he would become the ninth U.S. senator in the last couple of months to leave the Senate. Barack Obama and Joe Biden are now president and vice president; Hillary Clinton and Ken Salazar have joined Obama's cabinet; and Kit Bond, Sam Brownback, Mel Martinez, and George Voinovich have announced they won't be seeking another term in 2010. And that list doesn't count other potential retirees like Jim Bunning, Chuck Grassley, and Kay Bailey Hutchison. What's going on here? Well, some of the exodus has to do with a brand-new administration, plus the fact that some Republicans simply don't want to run for re-election in what might be a challenging environment for them. But it also reflects that some of its members with past executive experience -- Martinez and Salazar are two names that come to mind -- don't find working in legislative body as fulfilling as they thought it would be. That's probably the reason why former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush decided not to run for the Senate. 

*** The carrot and the stick: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee says it will be running radio ads in 28 GOP districts to hit Republicans for not supporting the stimulus last week. One of the ads: "Did you know Congressman Christopher Lee voted against economic recovery to immediately create and save over 390,000 New York jobs? Times are tough, tell Christopher Lee to put families before politics." But what took the DCCC so long to begin ramping up pressure on House Republicans who voted against the economic stimulus? Did the White House ask them not to, or did the White House (whose chief of staff is you-know-who) wonder himself why it was taking the House Dems so long to use everything in their arsenal?

*** Hold(er) on now: It's a busy day in the Senate. In addition to the work on the stimulus and the meeting with Daschle, the Senate today will vote on Eric Holder's nomination to be attorney general. Besides Holder, the remaining Obama cabinet picks yet to be confirmed: Daschle (HHS), Solis (Labor), Kirk (USTR).

*** Super Bowl tidbits: Per NBC's Savannah Guthrie, Obama called Steelers owner Dan Rooney, coach Mike Tomlin, and QB Ben Roethlisberger after the Steelers' victory last night. Obama invited the team to the White House at some future undetermined date. Also at his Super Bowl party hot dogs and pizza were served, and Obama had friends over (Marty Nesbitt, for example), in addition to the members of Congress who were in attendance.

Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 120 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 127 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 274 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 638 days

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