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First thoughts: Another busy week

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Another busy week: Congress might be on recess, and many other Americans might be easing back to work after a long holiday weekend. But for the Obama White House, there is no rest for the weary -- even after the president's quick Chicago getaway. Today, beginning at 2:40 pm ET in Denver, President Obama signs the stimulus into law, around the same time as his administration receives restructuring plans from the auto industry. On Wednesday, he travels to Phoenix to unveil his plan to reduce home foreclosures (per the New York Times, it will "include a mix of government inducements and new pressure on lenders to reduce monthly payments for borrowers"). And on Thursday, Obama heads to Canada for his first international trip as president. This week's road trip isn't by accident; Obama and his team are trying their best to avoid Washington's echo chamber. They are clearly frustrated that, despite solid poll ratings for both the president and the stimulus plan, they are not winning the inside-the-Beltway message war. So what do you do? You leave the Beltway. Don't be surprised to start hearing the phrase "Washington Republicans" vs. "Florida Republicans" or "Colorado Republicans," etc. The White House likes to brag how it successfully ignored the Washington echo chamber during the presidential campaign. Well, that was easy working from Chicago; it's much harder when actually living in DC.

Video: President Obama heads to Denver to sign the $787 billion economic stimulus bill.  NBC's Savannah Guthrie reports.

*** 28 days later: With yet another fast and furious week, it's still a bit jarring that today begins just the fifth week in the fledgling Obama administration. That's right: In less than a month, we've seen their highs (the inauguration, the impressive East Room news conference, the stimulus' passage), their lows (the Daschle and Gregg withdrawals, zero House GOPers supporting the stimulus), and something in between (the tepid reaction to Geithner's financial stability plan). That the past month could seem more active than the Bush White House's last two years is a challenge for Obama, as well as the 24-7, live-blogging, always-Twittering media that covers him. For the administration, how do you convince the public that are no easy fixes to all the challenges -- the economy, Iraq, Afghanistan -- even as you're racing to take on so much at once? For the press, how do we find the time to evaluate, assess, and provide perspective given that we've never given a new administration such close scrutiny?

*** Stuck in the middle with you: In these first few weeks, we're noticing a pattern on decisions the administration wants to put off, but doesn't want to look like they are putting off. So they're trying to find some sort of middle ground. For instance, on the auto bailout, the president created a task force to begin looking at the situation. It looks responsive, but doesn't give away where the administration really is on the issue of, say, the idea of a GM or Chrysler bankruptcy. Then there's the Afghanistan decision; the troop approval that's coming is not a large number for now. So it puts off a policy announcement, but appeases folks for now. Ditto on GITMO.

*** Who's attending and who's not: Going back to the stimulus, notice how few (if any) actual members of Congress are traveling to Colorado to attend today's bill signing. Rather, the attendees will be Vice President Biden, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D). Of course, had the president wanted congressional presence, he would have asked for it. Read into THAT what you will… It seems like another opportunity to show Obama as non-Washington, no?

*** Mr. Bipartisan: Meanwhile, John McCain has conducted yet another interview in which he argues that Obama has failed to live up to his promise of bipartisanship. You've got to give McCain credit; the guy knows how to continue to grab headlines. During the Bush years, he was the go-to Republican for Democrats who were looking to prove they could work with a Republican and find middle ground. Now, he's serving as the one-man judge and jury on whether something's bipartisan or not, despite running a hyper-partisan presidential campaign (remember that fellow Bill Ayers?). It's going to make the Obama White House crazy, but McCain's got enough of a following to pull this off for a few months. He still will have to actually work with Obama on some legislation to keep his bipartisan mojo for the long term.

*** An Em-Burris-ing omission? If Sen. Roland Burris was thinking about running for his Senate seat next year, does the news over the weekend -- that he filed an affidavit to amend what now seems like incorrect testimony about his contacts with Blagojevich associates -- put an end to that idea? Maybe, maybe not. After all, this is the same person who ACCEPTED a Senate appointment from a governor who was damaged by corruption charges, who was about to be impeached, and who eventually became a political laughingstock. In the long run, this is a break for Democrats, who can now begin recruiting publicly for a primary challenger. Remember that in addition to being tainted by Blago, Burris has lost several past attempts for statewide office, including one for governor in 2002. Senate Democrats hardly gave the Illinois senator a vote of confidence regarding his omission. "Clearly, it would have been better if Sen. Burris had provided this information when he first testified," said the top spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Ouch.

*** Coleman suffers blow: Norm Coleman's tall hurdle to overturn Al Franken's 225-vote lead got even taller on Friday, when a three-judge panel threw out most of the categories of rejected absentee ballots that Coleman's folks were hoping to reopen for a second look. The ruling essentially reduces the pool of ballots from which Coleman needs to net at least 226 votes to beat Franken. Folks, the writing is on the wall here. But Republicans are more than content to see this trial go on and on and on because 1) it temporarily denies Democrats a 59th Senate vote, and 2) it creates the slim possibility that the legal wrangling could somehow force a do-over election.  
 
Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 105 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 112 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 259 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 623 days

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