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First thoughts: Obama takes the wheel

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Obama takes the wheel: Before he turns his attention to international affairs and the global economy later this week, President Obama today addresses the subject that has dominated his first 70 days in office: domestic affairs. At 11:00 am ET this morning, he delivers a speech from the White House on the U.S. auto industry. This speech, in which he'll announce additional aid for the industry, comes just after the White House ousted Rick Wagoner as CEO of GM. The reason: It was not happy with the restructing plans that GM and Chrysler submitted last month. In his remarks today, Obama will attach a number of strings to this new bailout money. GM and its new management team (led by GM veteran Fritz Henderson) get two more months to come up with a new restructuring plan, which Treasury officials believe needs to include the elimination of more GM brands. Chrysler, meanwhile, gets one more month to seal a deal that it's already been working on with Fiat. If it succeeds, the new company will get $6 billion from the government; if it fails, the government is likely to walk away.

Video: The Obama administration said neither GM nor Chrysler submitted acceptable plans to receive more bailout money.

*** The Executioner-in-Chief? It turns out that Wagoner is the fourth CEO the Obama administration has replaced. The others have been the heads of AIG, Fannie, Freddie, and (some claim) Citi. But Wagoner's dismissal -- which came as a surprise to industry insiders -- has left some liberal critics wondering why the Obama administration is demanding the head of GM's CEO, but not Bank of America's or Goldman's, etc. After the president's remarks on the auto industry this morning, he meets with Defense Secretary Gates (closed press), signs the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act into law (open press), and then heads over to Capitol Hill to meet with the House Democratic caucus (closed press).

*** Euro trip 2: With President Obama tomorrow embarking on a trip to Europe and beyond -- which will take him to England, France, Germany the Czech Republic, and Turkey -- forgive us if we're experiencing a case of déjà vu. After all, more than eight months ago, during the summer of the general election, Obama took off on a similar and equally publicized trip. While the McCain campaign and GOP critics seized on a few of that trip's controversies (Landstuhl, the Berlin speech), it was an overall success. Why? Because the Obama campaign was able to sell the trip -- and the greeting it would receive -- as 1) an example of the type of change Obama would bring and 2) as evidence that the one-term senator could be seen by a majority of American voters as up to the task of president. Now, with European countries resisting calls for their own kind of economic stimulus and with them unwilling to provide additional troops to Afghanistan, the task for Obama is now take his popularity in Europe and turn that into actual results. There are concrete ways to measure the president's global influence, and they are coming very early in his term.

Video: Obama received a warm welcome in Europe as presidential candidate, but the global economic crisis may have an effect on his reception this time.

*** Obama's European itinerary: On Tuesday, the president travels to London for the G-20 conference. He'll remain there Wednesday and Thursday, holding bilaterals with the leaders of Britain, China, and Russia. (By the way, is there a more important meeting he's having than with China's Hu?) On Friday and Saturday, he'll be in France and Germany (where he will meet with Sarkozy and Merkel, give a speech, and attend a NATO conference). On Saturday and Sunday, he'll be in the Czech Republic (where he will hold a summit with the European Union and give a major speech on proliferation). And on Monday, he'll be in Turkey. Some additional questions: Will the worldwide positive reaction to him help his poll numbers here in the U.S.? Will he see a slight bump? Also, don't be surprised if Michelle Obama gets a Jackie O-like reception, and gets coverage equivalent of that.

Video: Obama prepares for his first trip overseas as president.

*** Geithner meets the press: The Treasury secretary, after a rough P.R. start to his tenure, did very well yesterday on the Sunday shows. He's clearly bought himself a lot of time -- he never had a "deer in the headlights." But we do have one question for him and the administration. A standard line of spin from the entire economic team has been this: History has shown that government's mistake in previous economic downturns was not doing enough. Fair enough, but what's an example of government doing enough? Has there ever been an example? Right now, the administration's straw-man argument is Japan in the '90s and the Great Depression -- instances of when government didn't do enough. Could it be that there isn't an example to point to? Then again, Republicans don't exactly have their own examples to point to when government doing too little -- or cutting spending -- actually worked during an severe economic downturn...

Video: Geithner discusses the administration's plan to aid the ailing economy.

*** Turning to Afghanistan: In Obama's remarks about Afghanistan in his Sunday interview on CBS, we noticed a lack of a singular focus on Osama bin Laden the individual (something that wasn't lacking by Dems during the '04 and '08 campaigns). But the president certainly upped the ante on his rhetoric against al Qaeda in general. By the way, it's striking to us how well received Obama's policy was on the right, while the anti-war left has been VERY silent. Moreover, NBC News sources indicate that when the president briefed senior congressional leaders, he was very mindful that the most skeptical person in the room was Speaker Pelosi. She's publicly on board and she's also kept the elected anti-war members of the Dem caucus from criticizing publicly -- an impressive feat.

Video: MSNBC panelists debate whether Obama's plan in Afghanistan will make America safer. 

*** That NY-20 race: We'll have a lot more tomorrow on Tuesday's special congressional election in New York, but here are a few quick thoughts: The race will be one of those over-read Washington-political stories -- no matter who wins... Obama cut a TV ad... Michael Steele has staked his early reputation on it as well... A Dem loss and there will be lots of Republicans crowing about them on the comeback…  A Dem win and there will be a lot of second-guessing among Republicans about their ability to win; if they can't win this one, how are they going to start being a competitive national party again?

*** Joe Biden as Shane Battier or Danny Green? After we discovered the influential role Vice President Biden played in the administration's Afghanistan/Pakistan, the New York Times yesterday front-paged a look at Biden's role in the administration. "Mr. Biden has settled into a role of what Mr. Obama compares to a basketball player 'who does a bunch of things that don't show up in the stat sheet,' the president said in an interview Friday. 'He gets that extra rebound, takes the charge, makes that extra pass." Speaking of basketball, President Obama wasn't the only one who seems to have fared poorly with his Final Four picks. Your NBC Political Unit wasn't so hot, either. (Who would have thought Villanova and Michigan State would make it?)  

Countdown to NY-20 special: 1 day
Countdown to Obama's 100th day: 30 days 
Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 64 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 71 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 218 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 582 days

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