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First thoughts: This Judd's (not) for you

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** This Judd's (not) for you: Just when you thought the news was getting a bit stale -- after the deal on the stimulus -- came the latest twist and turn on the Obama White House's four-week-old rollercoaster ride. Despite his gracious words at his press conference yesterday, Republican Judd Gregg's decision to withdraw his nomination to be Commerce secretary was a blow to the administration. One, it became the latest nomination problem for Obama (Daschle, Killefer, and Richardson), and the second one at Commerce. Two, it undermined the president's bipartisan outreach (Gregg would have been the third Republican to serve in the cabinet, and the one with the most conservative credentials). And three, it enabled Republicans to immediately politicize the withdrawal. House Minority Leader John Boehner issued a statement pointing to Gregg's concerns "about the congressional Democrats' trillion-dollar spending bill," even though Gregg had praised the stimulus after being tapped for the job. And RNC chair Michael Steele explained Gregg's withdrawal to FOX, saying that the White House was "basically high-jacking the Census process."

Video: Gregg withdraws as commerce secretary nominee, citing differences over the stimulus package passing through Congress. NBC's Savannah Guthrie reports.

*** It's not you; it's me: Perhaps the biggest fallout from yesterday's Gregg news is the realization that outside Collins, Snowe, and Specter, Obama isn't going to receive much support from Republicans, no matter how many of them he tries to appoint to his cabinet, how many times he has them over for drinks at the White House, and how many times he meets with their conference. Of course, Gregg is an ideological conservative and was always an odd fit in the president's cabinet. And he said in his statement yesterday that he was uncomfortable with the size and shape of the stimulus package, as well as the fact the White House had taken responsibility for managing the Census from the Commerce Department. We also know this: Gregg blindsided Team Obama with his final decision. The White House knew Gregg was getting cold feet, but figured they'd know before he issued his press release, which came out just as Obama was campaigning in Peoria, IL for his stimulus. That's what clearly annoyed them, and why White House press secretary Robert Gibbs fired off a pretty hot statement reacting to Gregg's decision. A lot of the inside-the-Beltway finger-pointing is being aimed at Gregg (after all, he's the one who withdrew, right?). But, given the other cabinet snafus, just how is this going to be perceived outside of Washington?

*** Can it be all that bad when everyone's happy? The irony of Gregg's departure is that it has pleased virtually everyone on the right and left. (How many times does that happen?) Here are some of the reactions from the left…Kos: "I've got an idea about what Obama should do with that post…Nominate a f%$%& Democrat." Firedoglake: "Darn. We'll have one less Republican in Obama's cabinet." And here are reactions from the right… Larry Kudlow blogging on National Review Online: "Three hats off to Judd Gregg for withdrawing his nomination for commerce secretary." Added Shannen Coffin on NRO: "It is good that he saw the light, and his withdrawal further undermines Obama's empty claims of bipartisanship." There was a big grassroots campaign on the right over the Census, and it does seem as if congressional Republicans are relieved. Gregg was no moderate, and Obama getting him to serve in the cabinet would have been a huge bipartisan coup -- which is why GOPers were so crabby about census and so relieved after he pulled out.

Video: Speaking at the Caterpillar factory in Peoria, Ill, President Obama says that his stimulus plan will bring jobs back.

*** Gregg wasn't the only disappointing news for Obama yesterday: By the way, Obama's Peoria visit wasn't just spoiled by the news about Gregg, but also by the CEO of Caterpillar. Obama had been talking up the CEO's pledge to hire more workers back. Then 30 minutes after the president's speech, the CEO backs off of that pledge -- and even hints at more layoffs... Team Obama ought to be oddly happy that Gregg news stepped on the disappointing Caterpillar visit. The good news for the White House is that Congress will pass Obama's stimulus today, giving the president a huge victory as we noted yesterday. As the White House is undoubtedly learning, every day is a new day… Per NBC's Mike Viquiera and Ken Strickland, the House vote will come first thing this morning, while the Senate will take up the measure in the afternoon or evening.

*** So which party has the corruption problem? Meanwhile, at what point do Democrats -- who once pledged to end an era of GOP corruption -- begin laying down the law to their own members? Per Bloomberg's Tim Burger, "During a decade in Congress, California Representative Grace Napolitano has pocketed more than $200,000 of political contributions by charging as much as 18 percent interest on money she loaned to her own campaign. The … Democrat made the $150,000 loan in 1998, when she was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Through Dec. 31, her campaign committee has used donations to pay Napolitano $221,780 of interest while reducing the principal by just $64,727, a review of her Federal Election Commission filings shows." Allegations of ethical misconduct by Democrats is starting to add up: Blago, Richardson, Rangel, etc. Indeed, this Bloomberg story is a reminder of just how easy it is for ethically-challenged pols to get into Congress, and in some cases survive unpunished. There are examples on both sides of the aisle, sadly enough.

*** Off the record: In other news, former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe stepped into it yesterday by speaking at the National Press Club -- but declaring his remarks be off the record. What important information did he want to keep away from the press? Nothing that many of us didn't already know. The Washington Post's Milbank, who got attendees to reveal what was said, has the skinny on Plouffe's remarks. "On Sarah Palin: 'She was our best fundraiser and organizer in the fall.' On the primary victory over Hillary Clinton: 'Really by February 17, mathematically, the night of the Wisconsin primary, it's over.' On the New Hampshire primary: 'Our sense was if we won Iowa that would be enough to shoot us past her. . . . We should have found a way to remove the pressure to win.'" 
Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 109 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 116 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 263 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 627 days

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