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First thoughts: The ways of Washington

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** The ways of Washington: When Barack Obama launched his presidential bid in Springfield, IL, here's what he said: "I know I haven't spent a lot of time learning the ways of Washington. But I've been there long enough to know that the ways of Washington must change." The irony? The folks that have caused him the most trouble in the last two years have old Washington hands like Jim Johnson, Bill Richardson, and Tom Daschle. If President Obama listened to his own rhetoric, he would have avoided all three embarrassments. He's been making the case of changing the ways Washington did business, and NOT relying on old Washington hands is one of the ways to avoid old mistakes. There is a moment for Obama to turn lemons into lemonade here -- by sending the message to Washington and to Congress (in particular) that he's willing to allow a close ally like Daschle go, then he isn't going to be easily pressured on the political front, maybe. At least that's the message the administration needs to sell.

*** Future of health-care reform: So who will own the big portfolio that is health care? There is a vacuum now. On the Hill, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus wants to be at the forefront of the debate, but there are a lot of angry Senate Dems at Baucus this morning (lots of finger-pointing at him today over the Daschle issue). Ted Kennedy's own health may prevent him from taking the role he wants to play, but he could pick a partner and go forward. And then there's Obama. Will he use the same model he had created with Daschle -- give his health-care person both a cabinet post and a West Wing office? If Obama wants a big-name person to take this issue on, he'll have to offer the same structure. An early front-runner is Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. The idea of a governor, who isn't afraid of the legislative process but isn't a creature of it, may be exactly what the president is looking for. Other names on the list include ex-Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (who may truly campaign for it); Howard Dean (who will NEVER get tapped but has plenty of supporters who will force his name on potential candidate lists); and John Podesta (who doesn't have a gig in the Obama administration, but did help put together the transition). Then again, is Podesta going to take heat for any of these early hiccups?

Video: Sen. Olympia Snow discusses whether Daschle's withdrawal is a loss to health care overhaul under the Obama administration.

*** Obama's salary cap: One reason why Daschle had to go -- he would have potentially contradicted Obama's message today on executive pay and perks. As the president told NBC's Brian Williams yesterday, "It's important for this administration to send a message that there aren't two sets of rules." Per sources, the president and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner will announce at 11:00 am ET that they will limit the annual salaries of senior executives for companies receiving large amounts of bailout money to $500,000 per year. Moreover, any additional compensation will be in restricted stock that will not vest until taxpayers have been paid back. And all banks will face tougher restrictions, including restrictions on golden parachutes and "say on pay" shareholder policies to give a voice to average investors about salary structures for top executives. Banks also will face tougher transparency rules, including on expenses such as aviation services, office renovations, entertainment and holiday parties, conferences and events, and golden parachutes. The intended purpose of this rollout: to make it politically easier for Congress to support another financial bailout.

Video: How will Obama's new $500,000 salary cap will affect executives?

*** Here's bipartisan support for you: Lost in yesterday's Daschle news, of course, was Obama officially naming New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg (R) to serve as Commerce secretary. The Gregg pick is truly astounding when one looks at his ideological place in the GOP. He isn't Jim Jeffords, Lincoln Chafee, or Ray LaHood. Does Gregg's nomination help blunt the talk about a lack of Republican support for Obama's stimulus plan? It might more than Washington folks think… Will the average voter who is following the Obama administration on issues -- but not keeping partisan score -- notice how many Republicans support Obama's stimulus plan as long as it passes? Won't the picture of Republicans in his cabinet send the longer-term bipartisan message? Probably so. Meanwhile, the Washington Post is reporting that "Senate Democratic leaders conceded yesterday that they do not have the votes to pass the stimulus bill as currently written and said that to gain bipartisan support, they will seek to cut provisions that would not provide an immediate boost to the economy." Time for the White House and Senate Dems to get to work...

Video: Rachel Maddow explains her thoughts on why Gregg might not be the best choice to head Commerce.

*** Also on Obama's agenda: In addition to announcing his cap on executive pay, President Obama today will meet with Secretary of State Clinton and George Mitchell in the Oval Office (which is closed to the press); he'll sign the SCHIP legislation into law (open press); and he'll meet with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in the Oval Office (closed press). Tomorrow, per CBN's Brody, Obama will announce "the creation of a new President's Advisory Council on Faith during this Thursday's National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC."

*** Wanna bet this makes news today? In an interview with Politico, Dick Cheney -- sounding just like he finished watching the latest "24" episode -- "warned that there is a 'high probability' that terrorists will attempt a catastrophic nuclear or biological attack in coming years, and said he fears the Obama administration's policies will make it more likely the attempt will succeed."

*** Show Me a race: Yesterday, Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan -- the daughter of the state's late governor (Mel) and former U.S. senator (Jean) -- announced that she's running for the Senate seat being vacated next year by Republican Sen. Kit Bond. Carnahan is a BIG recruit for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. With a possible GOP primary between Rep. Roy Blunt and ex-Sen. Jim Talent, the Missouri Senate contest will have it all next year: big-name candidates, lots of money, and all in presidential battleground state. Political reporters, start booking your 2010 travel to Missouri ASAP…

*** An end of an (Iowa) era: Speaking of political reporters, the dean of Iowa politics -- the Des Moines Register's David Yepsen -- is expected to leave the paper to become the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. Who will fill Yepsen's shoes in 2012? (Hat tip: our former colleague Carrie Dann, who now works at CongressDaily.)

*** The never-ending recount: And in case you forgot, that Coleman-Franken recount in Minnesota still isn't over. (Sigh.) Yesterday, a three-judge panel ruled that Coleman could bring evidence to trial that as many as 4,800 absentee ballots were improperly rejected. As the Minneapolis Star Tribune writes, the ruling keeps alive Coleman's hopes of erasing Franken's 225-vote lead by potentially putting more ballots into play. But the decision doesn't mean that these ballots were wrongly rejected or, if they were, whether they'd actually benefit Coleman.

Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 118 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 125 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 272 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 636 days

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