Bush 43 and Clinton to team up to help relief efforts in Haiti… Marathon sessions (yesterday and today) at the White House to wrap up health care… Does the bank tax put Republicans in a box?... Newt makes a 2012 list… Vicki Kennedy cuts a TV ad for Coakley... Harold Ford's tough rollout so far… Blumenthal crushing the GOP opposition in Connecticut… And Perry and Hutchison debate tonight in Texas.
From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Enter the ex-presidents: At 10:05 am ET, President Obama is scheduled to make more remarks on the recovery efforts in Haiti. According to multiple sources, Obama last night called George W. Bush and formally asked him to participate, along with Bill Clinton, in humanitarian relief efforts for Haiti -- in the same vein that Bush's father and Clinton did following the tsunami disaster in Southeast Asia. Bush 43 said he was ready to do whatever was necessary. A formal rollout of the Clinton/Bush 43-led relief effort will take place as early as tomorrow afternoon, but possibly not until the weekend, as the administration doesn't want to take any attention away in the next 24 hours from search and rescue efforts. For Bush 43, this is his first real public effort since he left office; it's an opportunity to begin establishing his post-presidential legacy, especially on an issue like disaster relief, which remains a scar on his presidency. Meanwhile, Clinton has written a Washington Post op-ed and Time magazine essay on Haiti.
*** The push to wrap up health care: After a marathon work session yesterday, congressional Democratic leaders will again meet at the White House today in hopes of nailing down an agreement on the health-care bill, NBC's Ken Strickland reports. If a deal could be struck, it could dramatically alter the tone on Capitol Hill in the afternoon, when President Obama is scheduled (around 5:00 pm ET) to address House Democrats at their issues conference. "We're working toward an agreement," said Sen. Dick Durbin after Wednesday's talks, which President Obama attended at times. House and Senate leaders spent almost the entire day with White House officials negotiating the differences between the two bills. Durbin said Thursday's meeting will include members and staff.
*** Seizing all Blackberries and cell phones: Strick adds that Democratic leadership aides were surprised by how long the meeting went. House Democratic leaders came back for votes in the afternoon, but retuned later for more negotiations. "I didn't know what to expect," Durbin said. "When you're invited by the president and he serves lunch, you stay as long as you're needed." One source briefed on the work session said negotiators were stripped of cell phones and blackberries to prevent leaks. Congressional members worked in one room, while staff worked in another, the source added. The duration of the meeting, in conjunction with the timing of the president's speech today to House Democrats, suggests that there's a big push wrap of negotiations quickly and present a bill for final passage. If an agreement is reached today, it would still need to be presented to rank-and-file Democrats to ensure the votes are there to pass it. Our take: It's remarkable that not a single major leak occurred yesterday (for instance, we have NO idea where things stand on the excise tax vs. surtax issue, which is exactly what Team Obama wants). The White House is going to notice this and want to hold all congressional negotiations in the cocoon of the White House.
*** Putting Republicans in a box? The New York Times reports, "President Obama plans to call on Thursday for taxing about 50 big banks and major financial institutions for at least the next decade to recoup all taxpayer losses from the bailout of Wall Street. The tax on banks, insurance companies and brokerages with more than $50 billion in assets would start after June 30 and seek to collect $90 billion over 10 years, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters late Wednesday." While Republicans are mocking the name of this tax ("financial crisis responsibility fee") -- and it is linguistic gymnastics -- it does put Republicans in a box. It forces them to make a choice of siding with the banks or not. And who is going to want to argue that banks shouldn't pay for their own bailout?
*** Angelides vs. Blankfein: Beginning at 9:00 am ET, the bipartisan Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission holds is second day of hearings. Those expected to testify include Attorney General Eric Holder, FDIC chief Sheila Bair, SEC head Mary Schapiro, and state Attorneys General Lisa Madigan (Illinois) and John Suthers (Colorado). Yesterday's hearing with the big bank executives produced some noteworthy exchanges. Per the Washington Post: "When Lloyd C. Blankfein, chief executive of the storied Wall Street firm Goldman Sachs, likened the financial crisis to the fluke of four hurricanes hitting the East Coast in a single year, Angelides shot back that the crisis was not caused by 'acts of God.' 'These were acts of men and women,' Angelides said. 'These were controllable.'"
*** Newt's 2012 list: In an interview with the Raleigh News & Observer, Newt Gingrich handicapped the emerging GOP presidential field for 2012. "The three obvious candidates from the last cycle, Gov. [Sarah] Palin, Gov. [Mitt] Romney and Gov. [Mike] Huckabee, all three of them become viable. There are a couple of governors I really like - Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, Mitch Daniels of Indiana. I don't think he will run this time, but I think [Louisiana Gov.] Bobby Jindal is a brilliant leader for the future. Certainly Gov. Haley Barbour, if he decides he wants to run, has a big enough base nationally as a former national committee chairman. I wouldn't be at all surprised if [South Dakota] Sen John Thune ran. He has risen very rapidly in the Senate. He is a very attractive person. I think if [Texas] Gov. Rick Perry survives the primary he is in the middle of with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, he may very well run." Gingrich also included himself on that list, but almost as an afterthought. Two of the most fascinating names on Gingrich's list: Daniels and Perry, since both aren't always talked about by the GOP chattering class.
*** The latest in Massachusetts: Here are some of the latest developments in the Coakley-Brown race in Massachusetts: Per Democrats, Vicki Kennedy's "Let's do it for Ted" moneybomb raised more than $520,000 as of last night for Coakley (although that amount is lower than the million-plus moneybomb conservatives recently raised for Brown)… Also, we've learned that Vicki Kennedy has cut a TV ad for Coakley, which should begin airing either tonight or tomorrow… Rudy Giuliani will stump for Scott Brown on Friday (the same day that Bill Clinton and John Kerry are campaigning for Martha Coakley)… The Boston Globe endorsed Coakley yesterday… And Democrats are seizing on the news that the RNC and other national GOP committees aren't pouring money into the race. Then again, as we pointed out yesterday, Republicans are more than happy to see Democrats spend the money they have in the blue state of Massachusetts.
*** Harold Ford's tough rollout: If you remember, Caroline Kennedy had a very unpleasant welcome to electoral politics and the New York media when she was actively pursuing a Senate appointment a year ago. And it looks like Harold Ford is having an equally tough rollout. His interview with the New York Times -- talking about his helicopter ride with Sir Harold Evans, the breakfasts at the Regency, the lunch with Woody Johnson, the friendship with the Tisches -- was a P.R. nightmare. No doubt that New York has a history with wealthy and connected politicians (Mike Bloomberg, Hillary Clinton, even Kirsten Gillibrand). But if you're asked whether you're a Giants or Jets fan, you probably don't answer by invoking the Tisches or Woody Johnson.
*** Time to move Connecticut away from toss-up? In Connecticut's reshuffled Senate race, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Richard Blumenthal with significant leads over his GOP challengers -- 35 points over Rob Simmons (62%-27%), 41 points over Linda McMahon (62%-23%), and 47 points over Peter Schiff (66%-19%). In the GOP primary, Simmons has a 10-point lead over McMahon (37%-27%). Meanwhile, Joe Lieberman's numbers have plummeted in the state. According to the poll, 54% disapprove of his job.
*** A programming note: MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports," which airs at 1:00 pm ET, will have an exclusive interview with Colin Powell.
*** Lone Star showdown: Finally… "The first contested Republican primary debate for Texas governor in 20 years is scheduled to occur on statewide television tonight as Gov. Rick Perry tries to fend off challenges from U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and activist Debra Medina," the Houston Chronicle reports.
Countdown to MA Special Election: 5 days
Countdown to IL primary: 19 days
Countdown to TX primary: 47 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 292 days