Now the White House has to sell financial reform… And if health care taught us anything, it's that selling legislation to the public isn't easy… Dennis Blair steps down as DNI… James Clapper is leading candidate to replace him… Comparing Blumenthal and Paul… NRCC and NRSC outraise their Democratic counterparts in April… Republicans are expected to pick up Hawaii's congressional seat on Saturday… And First Read's Top 10 Senate takeovers.
From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Selling financial reform: In yet another significant legislative achievement for congressional Democrats and the Obama White House, the Senate last night passed its financial reform legislation by a 59-39 vote. Four Republicans (Brown, Collins, Grassley, and Snowe) voted for the legislation, while two Democrats (Cantwell and Feingold) voted against it because they thought it didn't go far enough. As the Washington Post writes, Democrats are hoping to use the passage -- Democrats are saying that Obama could sign the legislation into law before July 4, after the House-Senate conference -- as a successful campaign issue. But haven't we heard this before? We've already seen the White House's challenge in selling health care (a new Kaiser poll out THIS WEEK shows that just 41% hold favorable views of the law, and it passed two months ago). Here's our theory about the lack of resonance: Nobody, left or right, believes Washington is good at doing things. Just look at the oil spill and the reports of lax regulation.
*** Blair steps down: Late yesterday afternoon, we learned that Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair was resigning from his post, and the resignation is supposed to become official today. One senior U.S. official told NBC's Savannah Guthrie that President Obama asked for Blair's resignation this week. Blair then went back to the chief of staff's office to ask for an opportunity for a "rebuttal." That offer went nowhere. Guthrie adds that while the intelligence failings surrounding the Christmas Day bomb attempt and Ft. Hood, as well as turf wars between the CIA and the ODNI were well-known, some officials say those weren't the immediate reasons for Blair's dismissal. Rather, the president and his advisers had grown increasingly dissatisfied with the quality of Blair's briefings and his ability to present information in a "coherent way... during stressful times." There was a feeling he was not briefing the most relevant issues. Here's one other scoop that one of us got: Blair was almost let go right after the Xmas bomber incident; there had been tensions before it, and his relationship with the president chilled more after the event.
*** An impossible job? Per NBC's Jim Miklaszewski, U.S. intelligence officials at several levels in several agencies say that Blair's forced resignation highlights what they consider a "serious flaw" in the overall structure of the massive US intelligence apparatus created after 9/11. Whatever issues the White House had with Blair, all the sources agreed the "fundamental flaw" in the organization is that "the DNI has all the responsibility without the power or authority." Indeed, as the New York Times points out, Blair's eventual replacement will be the fourth DNI in five years. Wow. As for that replacement, NBC has learned that Lt. General James Clapper is the leading candidate for the post. Clapper is currently Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence. He's former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency. NBC's Andrea Mitchell also learned that CIA Director Leon Panetta told the White House that he does not want to be considered for the job.
*** Blumenthal and Paul: Richard Blumenthal's struggles in Connecticut (over questions about his military service) and Rand Paul's (over his views of the 1964 Civil Rights Act) are significant tests. Both men have survived to live another day; both still face some serious questions about their chances in the fall; and both haven't seen their colleagues rushing to defend them. In Blumenthal's case, we have yet to see the likes of John Kerry or Jim Webb stick their neck out for the candidate for Connecticut Senate. And then there was this VERY tepid statement from Mitch McConnell's office on Paul's troubles: "Among Sen. McConnell's most vivid memories and most formative events in his career was watching his boss Sen. John Sherman Cooper help pull together the votes to break the filibuster and pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He has always considered the law a monumental achievement for the country and is glad to hear Dr. Paul supports it as well." And here's Jon Kyl's: "I hope he can separate the theoretical and the interesting and the hypothetical questions that college students debate until 2 a.m. from the actual votes we have to cast based on real legislation here." Ouch. Clearly, both parties are waiting to see if these two can show signs they can dig out of their respective holes and if they can, then they'll assist. So far, the jury's out on both.
*** The money chase: As we discovered yesterday, both the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee outraised their Democratic counterparts in the month of April. That reflects two things: 1) Republicans' political momentum last month, and 2) possibly the first sign of money that would ordinarily go to the RNC ending up at other GOP committees. The DNC raised $10.3 in April. But how much will we see from the RNC after all the bad news the committee witnessed last month?
*** Will the NRCC end its losing streak? Speaking of political momentum, the NRCC on Saturday is expected to snap its streak of consecutive House special election losses -- seven by our count, dating back to the 2008 cycle -- in the Hawaii contest to succeed ex-Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D), who's running for governor. The good news for Republicans is that Charles Djou (R) will likely win this contest. The bad news is that the victory will occur not necessarily because of the political environment -- but rather because two Democrats (Ed Case and Colleen Hanabusa) splitting the overwhelming Democratic vote. If Djou wins, Democrats fully expect to re-capture the seat come November. Also, because of the time difference, we likely won't have a winner until very late Saturday night/early Sunday morning. For Republicans, it would be helpful if Djou could get in the mid-to-high-40s; then there is a more plausible argument for them to make that they can hold the seat in the fall.
*** First Read's Top 10 Senate Takeovers: If it's Friday, it's time for another First Read Top 10 list. After those hotly contested Senate primaries in Arkansas, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania, today, we take our monthly look at what we consider to be the Top 10 Senate takeovers. The number in parentheses represents our ranking from April. What's amazing is the number of competitive races NOT in our Top 10.
1. North Dakota (1): Been No. 1, stays No. 1.
2. Delaware (2): Castle is still heavily favored.
3. Arkansas (4): While Lincoln and Halter battle it out, Boozman sits pretty until June 9…
4. Nevada (3): This race keeps moving down our list. Who will Reid face -- Lowden, Tarkanian, Angle? We'll find out in three weeks. Angle's rise is the best news Reid's received in months.
5. Indiana (5): Dan Coats is up in the polls, but the race has the potential to be much, much closer.
6. Illinois (6): This contest has remained stagnant, and we're not sure whether that's good news or bad news for the Dems.
7. Pennsylvania (7): The field is now set: Sestak vs. Toomey. Like Ohio, this race will likely determine whether the Senate Dems or the Senate GOPers have a good night in November.
8. Ohio (unranked): This is the first potential Democratic pick-up. Lee Fisher's money remains an issue after his Democratic primary, but he's narrowly leading in the polls. Has something simply changed in Ohio?
9. Connecticut (unranked): We'll see if Blumenthal can survive after admitting that he has falsely said on occasion that he served in Vietnam.
10. Kentucky (unranked): The field here is set, too: Conway vs. Paul. If anyone wondered about why this race might be a Toss up, look no further than Paul's views on the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
And get this: Our list DOESN'T include Colorado, Florida, Missouri, or New Hampshire. That's fascinating, considering that after the 2008 election New Hampshire would have been at the top of the list. And there are about 15 races we're watching this year, as opposed to the seven or so in 2006.
*** More midterm news: In Nevada's GOP Senate race, the Lowden campaign is going after Sharron Angle…Bob Bennett (R) announced that he wouldn't run as a write-in candidate for Utah Senate… And in Washington state, Sarah Palin has apparently endorsed Senate candidate Clint Didier (R), which could complicate Dino Rossi's (R) campaign if he decides to make a run.
Countdown to HI special election: 1 day
Countdown to ID primary: 5 days
Countdown to CA, IA, ME, NJ, ND, SC, SD, and VA primaries, and AR run-off: 19 days:
Countdown to Election Day 2010: 166 days