From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
*** Financial regulations: In an effort to prevent another collapse of the financial industry, President Obama -- joined by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, consumer and industry groups, and members of Congress -- will be unveiling a series of new regulations at 12:50 pm ET. A few things to mention: Nothing the administration announces today will be law; it will need to get through Congress. Also, there isn't the streamlining some would like to see, but administration officials tell us it's hard enough to add agencies and tinker with existing ones. Eliminating one or more may be impossible in this Senate (think of the turf battles). Finally, the collective powers of the Fed chair, Treasury secretary, and FDIC chair are greatly enhanced. And, politically, this is a big victory for the FDIC's Sheila Baer, who wanted to see her agency's power expanded -- not a rival agency created. By the way, here's a question for those following the administration's policies regarding the economic crisis: Will the toxic-asset program ever be used?
Video: As Obama looks to strengthen the government's authority over financial institutions, Dr. Christina Romer, chairwoman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, joins the Morning Joe gang to shed some light on the proposal.
*** Will a memo quiet his critics? Also today, at 5:45 pm ET, Obama signs a presidential memo granting same-sex benefits to federal workers. This move, however, seems mostly about placating gay-rights advocates who have been angered by 1) the administration's hesitance in overturning "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"; 2) its brief defending the Defense of Marriage Act, which Obama has promised to repeal; and 3) Obama's invitation of Rev. Rick Warren to deliver the prayer at the inauguration. In fact, some wealthy gay supporters of Obama have become so mad that they're taking their names off an upcoming Biden fundraiser. Of course, the Obama White House has been very reluctant to get involved in cultural issues, and it seems intent on avoiding all the early mistakes Bill Clinton made (like "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"). Yet today's presidential memo is a reactive attempt to quell the anger coming from the gay community. But even the memo doesn't seem to go far enough for gay-rights advocates. For one thing, as the New York Times notes, the benefits for same-sex couples won't be extended to health care.
*** Obama's additional comments on Iran: In his interview with CNBC's John Harwood yesterday, Obama clarified his administration's response to the protests and violence in Iran. First, he made an effort to note that there is not THAT big of a difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi. "Either way, we were going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States, that has caused some problems in the neighborhood and is pursuing nuclear weapons… And that would be true whoever came out on top in this election." Obama also argued that it was important for the U.S. to not been seen as "meddling" in Iran's election. "The easiest way for reactionary forces inside Iran to crush reformers is to say it's the U.S. that is encouraging those reformers. So what I've said is, 'Look, it's up to the Iranian people to make a decision. We are not meddling.' And, you know, ultimately the question that the leadership in Iran has to answer is their own credibility in the eyes of the Iranian people. And when you've got 100,000 people who are out on the streets peacefully protesting, and they're having to be scattered through violence and gunshots, what that tells me is the Iranian people are not convinced of the legitimacy of the election."
Video: As protests continue in Iran over the presidential election, President Obama is keeping his comments measured, and subtle. Is Obama making the right response in this situation? Rachel Maddow is joined by Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council.
*** Latest in health care: Turning to the debate over health care, the AP reports that a cost estimate for the Senate Finance Committee's health-care plan came out yesterday: $1.6 trillion. The committee was supposed to unveil its legislation today. "But Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., said that wouldn't happen and the bill would come out 'when it's ready' -- later this week or next. The Finance Committee was supposed to start voting next week. Meanwhile, the Bipartisan Policy Center is holding a discussion at noon in DC on the subject of health-care with Tom Daschle, Bob Dole, and Howard Baker. They will introduce a $1.2 trillion health-care plan that will be paid for through tax increases and spending cuts.
*** Our new NBC/WSJ poll: So how are Americans viewing health-care reform? What are their thoughts about Obama, Congress, Sotomayor, and the auto industry? And how concerned are they by the growing deficit and the federal government's intervention in GM and Chrysler? Be sure to tune into Nightly News, or click onto MSNBC.com, beginning at 6:30 pm ET for the answers to these questions in our new NBC/WSJ poll.
*** What happens in Vegas doesn't always stay in Vegas: Washington hadn't had a sex scandal in a while. But that changed yesterday when Nevada Sen. John Ensign (R) -- who had participated in Promise Keepers and defended the sanctity of marriage on the Senate floor -- admitted to having an affair with a former campaign aide whose husband also worked in Ensign's Senate office. In his statement last night, Ensign said he was committed to remaining in office and apologized to wife and family. "I am truly blessed to have a wife who has forgiven me," he said. "We sought counseling last year and have built a stronger marriage -- stronger than ever." The news that Ensign announced the affair because the other couple was allegedly extorting him makes the story catnip for cable...
*** The political ramifications: Politically, Ensign is probably OK in Nevada (he's up for re-election in 2012), but his national ambitions are toast (he recently gave a speech in Iowa). What about his leadership post in the Senate? Will he step down from there? Our guess is yes. The Ensign affair is a distraction for the GOP, but don't assume it's some long-term stain on the party. There are enough of these stories to go around for both parties, although Republicans usually pay a higher price because of their emphasis on "family values" (see above). The only immediate political impact may be in Nevada, as Republicans may find it harder to recruit a candidate to run against Harry Reid next year, since Ensign won't be an asset for that candidate. Also, Ensign and Gov. Jim Gibbons as a pair make things difficult for the Nevada GOP in general. And just askin', but what does it say about the states of Nevada and Louisiana that they sport senators who have acknowledged affairs?
Countdown to Election Day 2009: 139 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 503 days
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