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First thoughts: Taking it to the Street

Obama gives speech on financial reform in New York at 11:55 am ET… According to excerpts, he will say that "a free market was never meant to be a free license to take whatever you can get, however you can get it"… Obama categorically denies that the White House had anything to do with the SEC's action against Goldman Sachs… It's looking like financial reform is a done deal… It also looks like OMB's Orszag might be first cabinet member to depart… Immigration before energy/climate change?... First Read profiles Leah Ward Sears… But there's smoke that the SCOTUS front-runners are Kagan and Garland… And Joe Sestak appears on "Daily Rundown."

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Taking it to the Street: President Obama today returns to Cooper Union in New York City -- where he spoke during the presidential campaign and also where Abraham Lincoln gave a famous speech on slavery -- to push for passage of the Senate financial reform legislation. The White House has released excerpts of Obama speech, which he'll deliver at 11:55 am ET. "One of the most significant contributors to this recession was a financial crisis as dire as any we've known in generations. And that crisis was born of a failure of responsibility -- from Wall Street to Washington," he is expected to say. "It was that failure of responsibility that I spoke about when I came to New York more than two years ago, before the worst of the crisis had unfolded. I take no satisfaction in noting that my comments have largely been borne out by the events that followed. But I repeat what I said then because it is essential that we learn the lessons of this crisis, so we don't doom ourselves to repeat it."

*** "The free market isn't free license": Obama also is expected to deliver these words: "As I said two years ago on this stage, I believe in the power of the free market. I believe in a strong financial sector that helps people to raise capital and get loans and invest their savings. But a free market was never meant to be a free license to take whatever you can get, however you can get it. That is what happened too often in the years leading up to the crisis. Some on Wall Street forgot that behind every dollar traded or leveraged, there is family looking to buy a house, pay for an education, open a business, or save for retirement. What happens here has real consequences across our country."

*** Obama on Goldman Sachs: In an interview yesterday with CNBC's John Harwood, Obama categorically denied that the White House had anything to do with the SEC's fraud case against Goldman Sachs. "The SEC is an entirely independent agency that we have no day-to-day control over," Obama said. "And they never discussed with us anything, with respect to the charge that will be brought. So this notion that somehow there would be any attempt to interfere in an independent agency is completely false." The president also dismissed the conservative complaints that his presidential campaign raised nearly $1 million from Goldman and its employees. "Anybody who gave me money during the course of my campaign knew that I was on record … pushing very strongly that we needed to reform how Wall Street did business." These two GOP/conservative attacks are inconsistent: You can't both allege that Obama is in Goldman's pocket, and that he orchestrated the SEC charges against the firm, right? You have to believe in one or the other, but you can't believe in both.

*** A done deal? Meanwhile, as Obama speaks in New York today, financial reform's passage in the Senate looks to be all but a done deal. The Washington Post: "Key members of both parties said Wednesday that they are close to agreeing on the main elements of a bill to overhaul the nation's financial regulations, raising the prospect that the Senate could begin formal discussion of the landmark legislation early next week… If no last-minute hurdles arise, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) plans to hold a test vote Monday, aides said. If he gets 60 or more votes, he could move ahead with formal debate on the bill." What a switcheroo: On Monday, the talk was, "Uh-oh, another partisan fight will drag on for weeks." Looks like McConnell made one effort, saw that he didn't really have the votes to sustain a filibuster, and raised the white flag. Fascinating week.

*** Orszag the first to leave? Bloomberg News reports: "White House Budget Director Peter Orszag was poised to become the first member of Barack Obama's Cabinet to leave, as early as this summer. Then came an appeal from the president insisting that he reconsider. Orszag will make his decision soon, according to a person familiar with the matter, Bloomberg BusinessWeek will report in its April 26 issue. The 41-year-old budget director had been signaling to White House officials that he didn't plan to remain for the next budget cycle, the person said." An OMB spokesman tells First Read that Orszag is "focused on his job and idle speculation is just that." Still, is there a more thankless job over the next three years than budget director? Look at the grief he got with attempting to cut a tad from NASA; is it any wonder why someone might want to leave before the real deficit-reduction fights begin?

*** Immigration before energy? Today's the 40th Earth Day, and the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman energy/climate change legislation is supposed to be introduced on Monday. But it's starting to look like immigration could be the Senate's next legislative priority, not energy. One, you have Harry Reid, who sees galvanizing Latino voters as a way to help his struggling re-election campaign. Two, The Hill is reporting that Speaker Nancy Pelosi is fine with the Senate taking up immigration reform before energy. And three, it appears that this anti-immigration bill in Arizona is going to force the White House to move to immigration, if it becomes law. As the Arizona Republic writes, Gov. Jan Brewer (R) "has until the end of the day Saturday to decide if she'll sign Senate Bill 1070, veto it or do nothing and allow it to become law. The bill, among other things, would make it a state crime to be in the country illegally and requires local law enforcement to determine an individual's legal status if there is reasonable suspicion that he or she is in the U.S. illegally." The Hispanic constituency is too important to the Democratic Party these days to ignore the calls for reform in the wake of this growing Arizona controversy.

*** Step One for GM (and the White House): One big story from yesterday was the news that GM has already repaid a $6.7 billion loan, although that's a fraction of the $50 billion the U.S. government gave the automaker last year. Still, that's a big step for GM and the Obama White House. But it's just Step One; Step Two is for GM to actually start succeeding, and that next big moment for GM is to become a publicly traded company again. If that does happen by the end of this year or early next, and the stock price isn't simply a few bucks but is a growing stock and the cars begin to move off the lot, then it could become a good government-can-work story for this White House.

*** Meet Leah Ward Sears: In the next of our brief profiles of Obama's potential SCOTUS picks, we take a look today at Leah Ward Sears (who we also profiled on May 22 of last year). Sears, 54, is the former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court -- the country's first African-American chief justice of a state supreme court. She retired from the court last summer and is now in private practice. Sears is viewed as a liberal, but she's also friendly with Clarence Thomas. In the widely reported case of 17-year-old Genarlow Wilson -- who was convicted of aggravated child molestation for having consensual oral sex with a 15 year-old girl -- Sears wrote the majority opinion, calling the punishment "grossly disproportionate" to the crime and not rising "to the level of culpability of adults who prey on children." Aside from the racial and gender diversity she would bring to the court, she also brings intellectual diversity with degrees from Emory University and Cornell.
*** Ward Sears' pros and cons: Although her ties with Thomas could allay some conservative criticism, they could possibly hurt her among some liberals. She also has a unique personal story, being born in Germany to a U.S. Army colonel and elementary school teacher. (She remarked as a 4-year-old while touring New York City, "Why do the brown people here live so poorly?" Sears later said, "That was the moment I came to realize there was such a problem with race in this world.") Because of her father's job, she also lived in Northern California, Washington, D.C., and Savannah, GA. She eventually won a full scholarship to Cornell, where she wrote poetry and became involved in the black and women's studies movements. She joined an all-black sorority and didn't join her mother's, because she felt it "was not black enough," according to a profile of her in Notable Black American Women. But one University of North Carolina professor, who analyzed Ward Sears' cases said she "is definitely not a judicial extremist, the kind usually found always dissenting on a court. To label her a liberal or an activist judge is clearly incorrect." Her positions on hot-button issues tend to be nuanced."

*** And the front-runners are… : By the way, there's a lot of smoke that the two SCOTUS front-runners are U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan and Merrick Garland of the D.C. Circuit; that they've essentially separated themselves from the rest of the so-called pack. Of course, the interviews do matter a GREAT deal, and Sotomayor blew away the president during that process. So anything is still possible. 

*** Super Senate Tuesday: In Pennsylvania, Vice President Biden is set to appear at a rally for Arlen Specter on Friday (Biden today is in New York to appear on "The View")… Meanwhile, Joe Sestak appears this morning on MSNBC's "Daily Rundown."

Countdown to IN, NC, and OH primaries: 12 days
Countdown to NE and WV primaries: 19 days
Countdown to AR, KY, OR and PA primaries, and PA-12 special: 26 days
Countdown to HI special election: 30 days
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 194 days

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