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First Thoughts: Is this what change looks like?

When politicians overstay their welcome. … How can people believe the GOP, Democrats, and the White House will negotiate in good faith when they can barely agree on when to meet. … Boehner, Pelosi poised to win top party leadership roles. Is the Pelosi over-under 60 votes against? … Is it START or stop on that nuclear treaty? … Are Americans willing to make tough choices? New NBC/WSJ poll out tonight. … Are Michael Steele’s days numbered? … RGA convention kicks off in San Diego with lots of potential 2012 (and 2016) candidates.

From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, Ali Weinberg

*** Is this what change looks like? There's a common theme to what has happened this week as two politicians (Charlie Rangel and Michael Steele) have remained in their jobs long after being rebuked publicly. The theme could also apply to a third politician (Pelosi). It’s remarkable, as the L.A. Times points out today, that after a change election, the same four people (Boehner, Pelosi, McConnell, and Reid) who were running Congress are still running Congress. Republicans are aware that if they don’t look responsive to the election, and they’re not on the same page, that could get exploited quickly – or at least make them look like they’re not negotiating in good faith. http://lat.ms/chNy6x

*** Gotta have faith (and trust): Speaking of questions of negotiating in good faith, the first post-election meeting between the president and the bipartisan Congressional leadership that the White House wanted to take place tomorrow has been postponed. Why? Republicans blame scheduling conflicts. Plus, they say, Nov. 18th was never set in stone and that they NEVER agreed to it but the White House announced it anyway. It's clearly a busy week for congressional leadership -- and congressional Democrats were also not thrilled with the date the president chose. But Pelosi and Reid were both going to go, it's Boehner and McConnell who asked for a different date, which is now Nov. 30th, by the way. There's plenty of finger-pointing and some sources tell us McConnell and Boehner were not yet ready with their negotiating positions on some of the key issues of the lame-duck Congress, in particular. The bottom line, Democrats and the White House are pinning this on McConnell and Boehner, the two Republicans are not taking the blame too kindly, not an auspicious start for the atmosphere of this new divided government. The bottom line: for the general public, this looks like a classic Washington story that makes folks scratch their heads and wonder: these guys can't even come together for a simple meeting at the White House? It's a fine line Republicans are walking here between looking tough against the president (what the GOP base wants) and looking obstructionist (what independent voters do NOT want).

*** Take me to your leaders: NBC's Shawna Thomas details how today's House Democratic leadership elections, which begin at 10:00 am ET, will unfold. The first thing the Democratic caucus will vote on is the organizational resolution governing how the elections will proceed. (This may take much longer than usual as a few House Democrats want to postpone these elections). Then the elections will take place in the following order: caucus chair (who will most likely be John Larson), leader (most likely Nancy Pelosi), whip (Steny Hoyer), assistant leader (Jim Clyburn), caucus vice chair (Xavier Becerra), and ranking Budget committee member (Chris Van Hollen). If a member is running unopposed, Thomas adds, the position can be elected by acclamation. If it is a contested position, the election must proceed to -- drum roll, please -- secret ballot.

*** The Pelosi Over-Under: As of now, observers believe the only contested position will be Democratic leader, with Pelosi facing off against Blue Dog Heath Shuler (in what is likely to be an anticlimactic election). Still, it's a secret ballot. So what’s the Pelosi over-under for how many people vote against her --it's probably 35-40, but don't be surprised if the anti-Pelosi vote climbs to, say, 60. Why? The popular Melissa Bean’s (D-IL-8) concession last night could send a shudder through some more Dems, particularly among new members. Pelosi folks feel better about things as yesterday's caucus meeting was not nearly as painful as they thought it would be with only a handful of losing Democrats popping off about her personally. Here’s how the voting works, per Thomas: Each member of the caucus is given a secret ballot. Once the leadership positions are decided, House Dems will bring the caucus rules to a vote. In the past, they have re-adopted the rules from the last session of Congress, but members can offer amendments. It's here that the possibility of stripping the Democratic leader of some of his or her power could happen (example: stripping Pelosi of her power to appoint the Co-Chairmen to the Democratic Steering Committee). Dems plan to hold a press conference some time after 1:00 pm ET announcing the results of their elections. Meanwhile, at the same time of the Democratic newser, House Republicans will hold their leadership elections and have scheduled a 3:00 pm ET news conference.

*** START me up -- or not: NBC’s Ken Strickland reported yesterday that Republican Sen. Jon Kyl (AZ), the GOP's point man on dealing with the ratification on START, the nuclear treaty with Russia, and a White House lame-duck priority, said he doesn't see how the Senate can pass it this year. And with that potential opposition, supporters of the treaty are beginning to roll out their PR offensive. Today, at 9:00 am ET, Secretary of State Clinton, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA), and Ranking Member Dick Lugar (R-IN) will hold a press avail on Capitol Hill to discuss the need for the Senate to approve START, which needs to be ratified by a two-thirds majority -- 67 senators. Politically, punting this to after the New Year doesn’t make a lot of sense for the White House, since, as we’ve written in this space before, there are 58 Democratic senators currently and will be 53 in January. And don't forget the three key lame-duck Republicans in the Senate, who will be open to supporting the treaty (Gregg, Voinovich and Bennett). The two big bones of contention for some on this treaty has to do with missile defense and the lack of money for nuclear-weapon modernization. But there's an element of politics on this, too. The relationship between President Obama and Kyl is among the worst between this White House and any individual member of the leadership. (Remember the odd immigration back-and-forth the two had?) Vice President Biden said in a statement yesterday that not passing START “would endanger our national security,” but what it would also do is make the president look weak on the world stage. By the way, another point some supporters of START are making, a vote against ratifying this treaty is a vote for Putin and against Medvedev. http://bit.ly/aw7Y7n

*** Are Americans willing to make the tough choices? Following last week’s recommendations by Obama’s deficit-reduction co chairs, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s (BPC) Debt Reduction Task Force -- chaired by former Senate Budget Committee Chairman Pete Domenici and former White House Budget Director Alice Rivlin -- will release its own recommendations to reduce the nation’s debt. The announcement takes place in DC at 10:00 am ET. How does the American public view the recommendations by Obama’s co-chairs? What are their thoughts on extending the Bush tax cuts? And what are their views about the outcome of the midterm elections? At 6:30 pm ET, tune into “Nightly News,” or click on to MSNBC.com, for answers from the latest NBC/WSJ poll.

*** Steele spine? As one of us asked yesterday, is the way one of Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele’s top aides, Gentry Collins, exited the RNC the final nail in Steele’s political coffin? Collins, the committee’s political director (with ties to Mitt Romney), issued a scathing exit memo, accusing Steele essentially of fiscal mismanagement. “[W]e enter the 2012 presidential cycle with 100% of the RNC’s $15 million in lines of credit tapped out, and unpaid bills likely to add millions to that debt,” Collins writes, per Politico’s Jonathan Martin, who adds that Collins says if the RNC better used its money, then they could have won the Washington and Colorado Senate races, perhaps could have won governors’ races in Connecticut, Minnesota, and Vermont, and that there were 21 House races where Republicans “could have been competitive if not for lack of funds.” The RNC shot back, saying that despite “for the first time in 16 years” not controlling “the White House or either Chamber of Congress,” the RNC outraised its counterpart, the DNC and that RNC “volunteers, donors, and state parties … enabled us to contribute to the most successful elections for the Republican Party in modern times.” So far just one person has announced an official challenge, but there are lots of rumors of at least half a dozen other seriously considering a bid and think the writing’s on the wall for Steele. Steele hasn’t said he’s running yet; most Republicans don’t think he’d have the 85 votes needed to win reelection, but there’s not consensus pick yet ahead of the Jan. 13-15th RNC Winter Meeting where voting on the next chairman will take place.

*** Cattle call: Looking back at this month’s midterms -- and also possibly looking ahead to 2012 -- the Republican Governors Association annual meeting begins today in San Diego. In attendance at the two-day conference will be at least four potential presidential candidates (Tim Pawlenty, Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels, and Newt Gingrich), GOP rising stars (like Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, and Bob McDonnell), and notable governors-elect (John Kasich, Susana Martinez, Brian Sandoval and Nikki Haley). The meeting gets underway at 5:00 pm ET with a “New Face of the GOP” event featuring Haley, Kasich, Martinez, Sandoval, and Tom Corbett. And at 7:00 pm ET, Pawlenty -- along with Haley, Martinez, and Sandoval -- hold a press avail.

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