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First thoughts: All tied up

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** All tied up: So where do we begin on this busy Wednesday? With President Obama in London? That NY-20 race? The fact that Sarah Palin will no longer be the featured speaker at that big GOP fundraiser in June? That Kathleen Sebelius had to pay about $7,000 in back taxes? That Ted Stevens' conviction has been dropped? Or what about the latest development in the never-ending recount in Minnesota? Whew... We'll start with last night's special election in upstate New York. After building this race as a battle over the economic stimulus, as a test case of the GOP's health in the post-Bush era, and as a measure of Obama's coattails, what we got was … a tie. That's right, with 100% of precincts reporting, Democrat Scott Murphy leads Republican Jim Tedisco by 59 votes (77,344 vs. 77,285), with thousands of absentee ballots remaining to be counted. So no one lost and everybody won -- at least for now. As for those absentee ballots, the AP reports that 10,000 were requested and about 6,000 have been returned. What's more, mailed ballots from overseas aren't due until April 13. A top White House official tells us that the model shows they'll win the absentees. The delay in results keeps both parties from losing. And more importantly for the eventual loser, the eventual victor won't be seen as some sort of canary in the coal mine.  

*** America's challenge: We're not going to pretend we've suddenly become global political experts, but it doesn't take a Ph.D. in international affairs to figure out that America's place in the world is being challenged on a number of fronts. There's the fact that every member of the G-20 (even Britain) is trying to blame America first for the economic crisis. There's Russia and China flirting with the idea of a new global currency. There's even Israel threatening that if the U.S. doesn't act on Iran, they will. The president dismissed this criticism early this morning, saying you can find examples 10 years ago, 20 years ago, and 30 years ago where similar predictions of America's decline were made. Still, the issue of American Exceptionalism is front and center, and it's one of those intangible challenges that this president won't know if he succeeded in dealing with until years or even decades after he leaves office.

Video: NBC's Brian Williams looks at Obama's first trip overseas and what it means for his image abroad.

*** Obama and Brown: Speaking of this morning, the most striking aspect of Obama's joint presser with British PM Brown was how quickly the British press put the president on the defensive. He had to answer the question of whether America's to blame -- a question he answered very carefully, to the point where he seemed to speak even more deliberately than normal. Then the president had to answer the question of America's place in the world, not exactly a chance to be pro-active. As for Brown, it's always easy to tell when a politician is worried about his poll ratings; it doesn't matter the country. Brown's enthusiasm for Obama was palpable, and in the end, he practically tried to claim he had a campaign endorsement from the more popular Obama. It was amusing for us politically sensitive journalists to watch… Also on Obama's agenda today: He has already met with Russia President Medvedev (a very carefully worded statement about a slew of issues the two countries will work on together; most interesting to us, the notable absence of the word "Taliban" in the Afghanistan paragraph of the joint statement), UK conservative leader David Cameron, and Chinese leaders; he and the first lady will meet the Queen of England at 12:35 pm ET; he'll host a reception for G-20 leaders at 12:50 ET; there's the G-20 "class photo" at 2:15 pm ET; and Obama participates in a G-20 working dinner at 3:30 pm ET.

Video: Obama and Brown say they and other G-20 leaders will announce an economic recovery plan today.

*** Palin replaced by Gingrich: So what was more embarrassing yesterday? The revelation that HHS nominee Kathleen Sebelius had to pay about $7,000 in back taxes, becoming the latest in a line of Obama nominees who have had tax problems? Or the news that Sarah Palin will no longer be the featured speaker at a big GOP fundraiser in June? Given its implications for the future, we're going to go with the Palin news. A little flashback: Two weeks ago, the NRSC and NRCC announced that Palin would be the featured speaker at their June 8 dinner. Then we learned that was news to Palin's governor's office. Later, we were assured that the governor's office hadn't been speaking to Palin's political team, and that the gig was still on. Now… Palin has been replaced by Newt Gingrich. What happened? "After initially confirming her attendance, Gov. Palin's team informed the committees that her gubernatorial responsibilities in Alaska prevented her from committing until the end of the legislative session," NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said in a statement. Added the NRCC's Ken Spain: "We decided to go in another direction. Speaker Gingrich is a leader and an influential voice within the Republican Party and we are thrilled to have him."

*** Rule No. 35 -- don't make your own party angry: And here's the quote from Palin PAC spokeswoman Meg Stapleton, per the AP: "Enthusiasm during a scheduling meeting among SarahPAC members to discuss events that we thought the governor should consider attending was misinterpreted as a confirmation of attendance." But then why wasn't it until yesterday that Palin's PAC corrected the assumption that she was attending the fundraiser? We can tell you this: Republicans in DC aren't too pleased right now with Palin, who remains one of the party's biggest star attractions. And if you really want to run for president in 2012, don't you want to be collecting as much good will as possible? Meanwhile, speaking of fundraisers and good will, Mitt Romney keynotes an NRSC fundraiser in DC tonight, which begins at 8:00 pm ET. The NRSC says it hopes to raise about $2 million from the event. 

*** The never-ending recount: Yesterday in the Minnesota recount, the three-judge panel in ruled to open up 400 rejected absentee ballots on April 7 -- far fewer than Norm Coleman's camp had been hoping for. "The math becomes increasingly difficult as that universe of [uncounted] ballots becomes smaller," said Franken attorney Marc Elias. Indeed, per our math, Coleman is going to need to win nearly 57% of these 400 ballots to overturn Franken's 225-vote lead. (CORRECTION: As our readers have pointed out, our math was a bit wrong; he'll need 78.25%.) Coleman lawyer Ben Ginsberg disagreed with the ruling. "It will give us no choice but to go before the Minnesota Supreme Court," he said. No doubt that Coleman's camp might even take this all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, and no doubt that Republicans will support that move every step of the way. But as we learned in 2000, it helps to be ahead in the actual count. And until Coleman is able to show an actual path to victory, then Republicans will take some P.R. hits for dragging out an election that has already lasted five months since Election Day 2008. Question: What does Harry Reid do now? His spokesman released this statement last night: "Sen. Reid is looking forward to the final resolution of this case by the Minnesota courts so that Al Franken can finally be seated as the new senator from Minnesota."

*** Ted Stevens a free man? And what about this news? Whoa. NBC's Pete Williams reports that the Justice Department will seek today to abandon its prosecution of former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, according to a legal source close to the case. Attorney General Eric Holder has concluded that, "given the totality of the circumstances, it's in the interest of justice not to proceed," the legal source says. Government prosecutors will ask a federal judge today to drop the case. The news was first reported by NPR. The irony to all this: It was George Bush's Justice Department that was handling this case, which ended up putting a Democrat from Alaska in the Senate to replace Stevens.

Video: The Justice Department is asking the Supreme Court to drop all charges against Ted Stevens.

*** GOP budget rollout, take 2: A week after House Republicans held a press conference to unveil a budget alternative that had no hard numbers in it, they take another crack at it when Rep. Paul Ryan, the ranking Republican on the House Budget Committee, formally unveils the alternative at 10:30 am ET. But that is just on part of the GOP's budget activities today, NBC's Mike Viqueira reports. Already this morning, House and Senate Republicans joined in a grand show of budget unity when they met in a rate joint confab in the House chamber -- before the House was open for business. So the chamber was dark, Viq says, but the idea was for Republican members from both bodies to muster in historic Statuary Hall, where reporters could watch them march en masse into the House chamber. Afterward, they plan to hold a rally on the east front steps of the House. Meanwhile, the folks at Obama's Organizing for America say they'll be delivering more than 600,000 signed petitions in support of the president's budget. But this news from CongressDaily, courtesy of our former colleague Carrie Dann, might not be music to some Democrats' ears. "With President Obama's $3.6 trillion budget hitting the House and Senate floors this week, groups for and against the spending plan have issued strong appeals for citizens to pick up their phones and let their voices be heard on Capitol Hill. But, even in the offices of targeted Democrats whose budget votes may be up for grabs, the phones are not ringing off the hook."

Video: A look at the key points of the GOP's alternative budget.

Countdown to Obama's 100th day: 28 days 
Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 62 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 69 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 216 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 580 days

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