From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Fired up: The Senate is still working on the stimulus bill. The unemployment rate is now 7.6% (with nearly 600,000 jobs lost in January, the most in more than 30 years). And President Barack Obama is definitely fired up.
Video: Obama speaks at the retreat for House Democrats.
Often straying from his prepared remarks at last night's House Democratic retreat, Obama called out Republicans for not reciprocating his bipartisan overtures, and he reminded the country who's to blame for the current state of the economy, Politico writes. "'When you start hearing arguments, on the cable chatter, just understand a couple of things,' he said. 'No. 1, when they say, "Well, why are we spending $800 billion [when] we've got this huge deficit?" -- first of all, I found this deficit when I showed up, No. 1. 'I found this national debt, doubled, wrapped in a big bow waiting for me as I stepped into the Oval Office.'" Politico adds, "After his remarks, Obama, clearly caught up in the moment, made the party get-together feel even more like a campaign rally with his signature call-and-response chant. 'Fired up?' he asked the Democratic lawmakers. 'Ready to go!' a group of them shouted back."
*** But ready to go? The question, of course, is whether the Senate -- and more importantly that working group of centrist lawmakers -- reaches an agreement on the stimulus legislation. Everything we're hearing and everything we know about Capitol Hill suggest that a bill will get out, either today or this weekend. NBC's Ken Strickland notes that if the stars of cooperation and compromise align, the vote could happen today, probably in the evening. The worst-case scenario: Majority Leader Reid uses procedural tools to force a final vote on Sunday. Reid & Co. maintain they have the 60 votes needed to pass the bill, with a handful of Republicans joining in support. GOP leadership aides privately concur, saying the vote total would be in the low to mid-60s. Yet they say the notion of passing this bill with "strong bipartisan support" has vanished. To get to the finish line, Reid and Minority Leader McConnell still have to figure out how many of the dozens of amendments floating out there will actually get votes. The more resistance they get from their members insisting that their amendment get a vote, the longer it takes, Strick adds. By the way, one reason why the Senate might get this done today: A few senators want to go to the Munich conference, where Vice President Biden heads today.
*** To filibuster or not to filibuster?
Another question here: Do McConnell and Senate Republicans try to filibuster the legislation? There is actually a good reason for McConnell not to force the Democrats to come up with 60 votes, but rather allow for a simple up-or-down vote. The talking point of little or no GOP support could be more effective in long term, and McConnell might keep more GOPers in line if he allows an up-down vote. Yet while most of the attention has focused on Obama and Democrats during this stimulus fight, Republicans are making a BIG gamble here by opposing the legislation. If the stimulus passes, if the economy starts to turn around in the next couple of years, and if the public blames Bush and the Republican Party for the nation's economic woes (including the 7.6% unemployment rate), this could be the '30s and '40s all over again for the GOP. Then again, as the opposition hoping to once again be the majority, this is probably their only card to play.
*** Labor strikes back: Obama isn't the only one fired up today. Organized labor is planning a major offensive to get Hilda Solis confirmed as Obama's Labor secretary. This comes after the news that Solis' husband "paid about $6,400 this week to settle numerous tax liens against his business dating to 1993." "Enough is enough, the gloves are coming off on Friday," an AFL-CIO official tells the Huffington Post. "Labor, women's groups, Hispanic groups are opening fire. We worked with Republicans in good faith. Hilda Solis has answered all their questions but they continue to oppose her for partisan ideological reasons." More from the AFL official: "Our full efforts are being mobilized to fight back. Earned media and field campaign to generate calls, letters, and emails coming tomorrow. Depending on how things move paid media will be added on top of these efforts." One thing about the Solis nomination: Remember that it was hurried a tad because the Obama transition folks needed to find more Hispanics to serve in the cabinet. And that's why her nomination will get defended to the end by the White House, barring something really bad popping up. After all, as things stand now, there are more Republicans in the Obama Cabinet than Hispanics.
*** GITMO politics: Obama today joins with Paul Volcker to unveil the members of the president's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, and we'll probably hear Obama discuss the bad jobs report and the stimulus bill. Then later today, Obama meets (closed to the press) with families and victims of 9/11 and the USS Cole bombing. This meeting comes after a report yesterday that Obama will likely order the Department of Defense's Military Commission to withdraw charges against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the mastermind of the Cole attack. But as NBC's Pete Williams points out, if the military decides to drop charges against al-Nashiri, that WOULD NOT MEAN that he's going anywhere. He would continue to be held at Guantanamo Bay as an enemy combatant, and the military could re-file charges against him at a later date. The reason for today's meeting with families and victimes, per the Washington Post: The White House "said in a statement that Obama 'wants to talk with these families about resolving the issues involved with closing Guantanamo Bay -- while keeping the safety and security of the American people as his top priority.'"
*** SCOTUS reminder: The news of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's pancreatic cancer is a reminder that Obama might have the opportunity to appoint two or three Supreme Court members in his first couple years in office. Some early names, per NBC's Pete Williams: Johnnie Rawlinson (9th Circuit Court of Appeals, African American woman), Leah Ward Sears, (chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, African American woman), Sonia Sotomayor (2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, Hispanic woman), Kim McLane Wardlaw, 9th Circuit, Hispanic woman), Diane Wood, (7th Circuit, woman, knows Obama from her time teaching at the University of Chicago), Jennifer Granholm (Michigan governor, woman), Merrick Garland, U.S. Court of Appeals, DC Circuit), Deval Patrick (Massachusetts governor, Obama friend), Cass Sunstein (University of Chicago law professor, Obama friend).
Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 116 days
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Countdown to Election Day 2009: 270 days
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