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First thoughts: SCOTUS shortlist?

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** The SCOTUS shortlist? According to a couple of sources in the know, there appears to be a working short list of about six names for President Obama's Supreme Court pick. The co-frontrunners (in no particular order): Diane Wood of the 7th Circuit, Solicitor General Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor of the 2nd Circuit, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Merrick Garland of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. Obviously, folks can slice this list all they want: Five are women; one's Hispanic; one's male; and all are in their late 40s or early 50s, except two (Wood, 58, and Garland, 56). Keep an eye on Napolitano. For this pick, it would be surprising if Obama named someone he didn't either know well or trust personally. Wood, Kagan, and Napolitano all fit this bill (Wood taught at the University of Chicago with Obama, and Kagan and Napolitano already have top slots in the administration). As for Napolitano, remember that she endorsed Obama early on (despite Emily's List pressure to do otherwise). And from people familiar with the president's thinking, he's been as impressed with Napolitano as anyone in his cabinet. They click. That matters....

*** Developing conventional wisdom: In the next few weeks, the battle lines for the remainder of the president's domestic agenda will become clearer. What are we going to see? The White House's biggest challenge will be bringing together Democrats -- from the party's left and right. The Republican Party, in fact, may end up largely irrelevant in the debates over health care, energy, and maybe event the Supreme Court. To put it another way, any political pain Obama will feel in the next few months will most likely come from Democrats. Shoot, even the interrogation issue is a problem on the left, not right. Single-payer health care is getting pushed hard on the left; cap and trade's potential shelving will upset committed Gore-ish enviros; and liberals want Obama to appoint a liberal equivalent of a Scalia to the Supreme Court, which probably won't happen.

*** Harry and Louise aboard the O-Train? As it turns out, today's White House focus is on health care and reducing health costs. At 11:30 am ET, Obama will meet at the White House with representatives from America's biggest industry groups (including those who helped block health-care reform in the 1990s), who will propose cutting up to $2 trillion in health-care costs over the next 10 years. And at 12:30 pm, Obama will deliver remarks about the meeting. "We cannot continue down the same dangerous road we've been traveling for so many years, with costs that are out of control, because reform is not a luxury that can be postponed, but a necessity that cannot wait," the president will say, according to excerpts from his speech that the White House released yesterday. "It is a recognition that the fictional television couple, Harry and Louise, who became the iconic faces of those who opposed health care reform in the '90s, desperately need health care reform in 2009. And so does America."

Video: After getting laughs at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, Obama turns to health care reform today.

*** A Trojan horse? Paul Krugman, normally not a big fan of the Obama administration, writes that this deal to squeeze $2 trillion in health savings "is some of the best policy news I've heard in a long time." But he also warns that the deal could be a Trojan horse. "What's presumably going on here is that key interest groups have realized that health care reform is going to happen no matter what they do… In particular, [the insurance industry] will surely try to use the good will created by its stance on cost control to kill an important part of health reform: giving Americans the choice of buying into a public insurance plan as an alternative to private insurers." The AP adds that "industry groups are trying to strike a deal now with Obama officials to help get coverage for all Americans in the hopes they can stave off legislation that would restrict their profitability in future years."

*** Breaking news: Lawyers for jailed U.S. journalist Roxana Saberi "say she will be freed Monday after an Iranian appeals court suspended her prison term and she can leave the country immediately." Saberi had been sentenced "to eight years in prison. An appeals court heard her case on Sunday."

*** Crist to announce bid on Tuesday: Senate Republicans missed out on getting Tom Ridge to run in Pennsylvania. But they appear to have gotten their man in Florida -- Gov. Charlie Crist. Politico reports that Crist will make his bid for the Senate official on Tuesday in Tallahassee, "giving Republicans their most high-profile recruit of the 2010 election cycle." But Crist will have to survive a primary challenge from the right from former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio. "Many Florida conservatives have begun to rally around Rubio over dissatisfaction with Crist's moderate positions, particularly his vigorous advocacy of President Barack Obama's stimulus package," Politico adds.

*** Rush -- love him or hate him: Rush Limbaugh is back in today's cable chatter, courtesy of Dick Cheney and comedian Wanda Sykes. "If I had to choose in terms of being a Republican, I'd choose Rush Limbaugh," Cheney said on CBS when asked about whose vision of the GOP he'd side with -- Limbaugh's or Colin Powell's. "My impression was that Colin was no longer a Republican." Meanwhile, at the White House Correspondents Dinner, Sykes said that Limbaugh's statement that he hopes Obama fails amounted to treason, adding: "Maybe Rush Limbaugh was the 20th hijacker but he was so strung out on Oxycontin he missed his flight… I hope his kidneys fail." The Washington Post's Chris Cillizza writes that Sykes' remarks angered some Republicans in attendance.

Video: NBC looks at controversial comments made at the Correspondents' Dinner and whether its speakers went too far.

*** Meet Diane Wood: Given our working SCOTUS shortlist, we're going to profile the top candidates this week and next. Today we start with Diane Wood. She currently serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit in Chicago, and was appointed to that position by Bill Clinton… Knows Obama well, having served with him on the faculty at the University of Chicago Law School… Has a clear liberal and pro-choice track record on the 7th Circuit… At 58, is one of the older Supreme Court possibilities for Obama. Other bio information: Was deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's anti-trust division during the Clinton administration… Clerked for Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun and 5th Circuit Judge Irving Goldberg… Received both her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Texas at Austin… Husband Robert Sufit donated $2,250 to Obama during the '07-'08 presidential campaign season… Her hobbies include playing the oboe and English horn, and has played in several Chicago-area orchestras.
Countdown to NJ GOP primary: 22 days
Countdown to VA Dem primary: 29 days
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 176 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 540 days

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