RNC chief of staff resigns in the wake of the sex-themed club story… Steele's top outside consultants bolt, too… But the RNC chairman doesn't appear to be going anywhere -- for now… Obama unveils new U.S. nuclear policy… He also makes a statement about the mining tragedy in West Virginia… The U.S.'s big Karzai problem… Harry Reid kicks off re-election campaign… And Karl Rove cuts TV ad promoting the Census.
From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Ch-ch-changes: The controversy over the RNC's $2,000 expenditure at a sex/bondage-themed-club has now entered its second week. Last night's development: The RNC's chief of staff, Ken McKay, resigned (or was he fired?) and was replaced by Deputy Chief of Staff Mike Leavitt, who was Michael Steele's campaign manager in his '06 Senate race. And McKay's departure means that Steele's top consultants who were close to McKay -- Curt Anderson, Wes Anderson, and Brad Todd -- are now out, too. "Given our firm's commitments to campaigns all over the country we have concluded it is best for us to step away from our advisory role at the RNC," the trio said in a statement. "We have high personal regard for the chairman and always have; we wish him well." The separation can, at best, be described as mutual.
*** Steele isn't going anywhere -- for now: The big question everyone is asking: Will Steele be able to hold on to his job? All signs are still pointing to yes. First, we hear that the RNC is set to announce to a big fundraising haul from March (fueled in large part due to health care's passage). It could be the committee's best fundraising month under Steele and PERHAPS the best single fundraising month in the history of the committee (for a midterm year). Second, the new consulting team Steele will bring in also will buy him some time (and perhaps some love from the establishment community that was upset it didn't get a piece of the consultant pie when the Andersons stepped in). And third, we're just too far into this cycle -- it's just seven months until Election Day -- to make this kind of change. To be forced out, a large group of state party chairs would have to get together. And at this point, those folks have their own issues to deal with (including their own state conventions and campaigns). But one thing is crystal clear (and it was crystal clear before the sex-themed club story broke last week): Steele is not coming back to lead the RNC during the 2012 cycle. For all intents and purposes, he appears to be a lame duck chairman.
*** War games: Kicking off the start of a nine-day focus on nuclear weapons, President Obama today unveils his policy on nuclear weapons, which is a departure from past administrations in a couple of ways. First, it declares that the U.S. will not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries. But there's one caveat, the Washington Post says, that appears tailored to apply to Iran: Those non-nuclear countries like must be in compliance with nonproliferation treaties. Second, the policy states that the U.S. would use nuclear weapons only for deterrence, and that the nation will not produce any more nukes. The new policy is classic Obama, as it strikes a middle ground and is unlikely to please hawkish conservatives or dovish liberals. The New York Times writes, "Mr. Obama's new strategy is bound to be controversial, both among conservatives who have warned against diluting the United States' most potent deterrent and among liberals who were hoping for a blanket statement that the country would never be the first to use nuclear weapons." On Thursday, in Prague, Obama will sign a non-proliferation treaty with Russia. And then beginning next week, Obama will host a nuclear summit in DC.
*** Obama to make statement on West Virginia tragedy: President Obama will make remarks about the mining tragedy in West Virginia at 9:40 am ET.
*** The Karzai problem: Here's maybe the biggest story few are talking about: the Obama White House's problem with Afghanistan President Karzai. "Karzai's startling threat to join the Taliban if foreigners don't stop meddling in Afghanistan and his strident criticism of the West's role have worsened relations with Washington at a time when the U.S. military wants closer cooperation ahead of a potentially decisive offensive this summer," the AP wrote yesterday. "Karzai has been fuming for months about what he considers Washington's heavy hand. He's gambling that blaming outsiders for the troubles in a society with a long tradition of resisting occupation will bolster his stature at home - while carrying little risk because the U.S. has no choice but to deal with him." What's driving this latest shift in rhetoric? How could Karzai be saying this just DAYS after meeting personally with the president. What's he up to? Today's "Daily Rundown" has an interview with one of the U.N. officials Karzai called out by name: Peter Galbraith.
*** Reid Kicks Things Off: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the Senate's most vulnerable incumbent, officially kicked off his re-election bid yesterday. "I know what close elections are and this is going to be a close election," Reid said at a Las Vegas rally, per the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "Every vote counts." Reid also appeared on FOX yesterday, where he downplayed his low poll numbers. "We're doing fine," he said. "The polls are fine. I'm not going to get into a poll battle, because the only poll that matters is the one in November."
*** Rove cuts Census ad: How concerned are some Republicans that the anti-Census sentiments among some conservatives -- like Michele Bachmann, who appears tomorrow with Sarah Palin -- could hurt the party? Concerned enough that Karl Rove has cut a TV ad for the Census.
Countdown to IN, NC, and OH primaries: 28 days
Countdown to NE and WV primaries: 35 days
Countdown to AR, KY, OR and PA primaries: 42 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 210 days