The Note, 12/09/08: Czars and Orphans


Remember when spending money in Washington was supposed to be fun?

With the auto bailout paralyzing politics for the moment -- who wants this to pass -- really, really wants it to become law?

Surely not the American people -- not with a new ABC News/Washington Post poll showing 54 percent opposition to an auto bailout. 

Maybe not the current president -- who’s deep into legacy mode and would rather not deal with this particular crisis at this particular time.

“We just don't want to put good money after bad,” President Bush told ABC’s Cynthia McFadden, in a “Nightline” interview Monday. “There are some pretty strict standards. One is that anything that's done would as best as possible guarantee the taxpayers get their money back. In other words, there needs to be viability.”

Probably not congressional Republicans, some of whom are sensing a powerful issue at a time that they’re set to see their power wane. (And don’t Democrats miss the Obama and Biden votes -- again?)

“Once a deal is set between Democrats and the Bush administration, it must win the support of at least 10 Senate Republicans. The Republican leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, was expected to voice an opinion on Tuesday,” The New York Times' David M. Herszenhorn reports. “His support will be crucial.”

Maybe not President-elect Barack Obama, who is busy guarding his left flank on the day of one of his more important meetings of the transition period: His face time with former vice president Al Gore.

For Obama, this is dangerous territory. And if he really does want the auto bailout to pass (even in its shaved-down form), he has an interesting way of not fully showing it (and who can blame him, really).

“It all sounds perilously close to a word that no one in Mr. Obama’s camp wants to be caught uttering: nationalization,” David E. Sanger reports in The New York Times. “Not since Harry Truman seized America’s steel mills in 1952 rather than allow a strike to imperil the conduct of the Korean War has Washington toyed with nationalization, or its functional equivalent, on this kind of scale. . . . Government’s record as a corporate manager is miserable, which is why the world has been on a three-decade-long privatization kick, turning national railroads, national airlines and national defense industries into private companies.” 

Pity your rank-and-filer, too: “Grim-faced and drawn, lawmakers Monday began parading across the Senate floor to give their views on the measure -- the start of what will surely be a joyless run-up to one of the least popular votes of the year,” Time’s Jay Newton-Small writes.

No deal quite yet: “Details of the plan, including what kind of oversight and conditions would be imposed on the automakers, could be cause for disagreement. On Monday afternoon, White House officials were concerned that the draft bill does not make explicit enough that loans would only go to companies that can prove they are viable,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl, Ann Compton, and Kate Barrett report.

“One area being hammered out concerned the exact role and powers of a government overseer -- one person, or a group, to supervise company restructuring plans and oversee spending -- with veto power on major company decisions,” James R. Healey reports for USA Today. “Another concerned a provision banning automakers taking the loans from suing individual states that want to impose higher greenhouse-gas emission standards than federal government rules.”

And they’ll be back soon, regardless: “The bill pushes the hard decisions about the future of Detroit's Big Three into early next year and the administration of President-elect Barack Obama. It requires the automakers, along with workers, bondholders, shareholders and others, to agree to major restructuring plans,” The Los Angeles Times’ Jim Puzzanghera writes.

Your day’s big transition storyline: Obama and Vice-president-elect Joe Biden meet with Al Gore, at 1 pm ET in Chicago. Per the transition office’s Nick Shapiro, the meeting will be “to discuss energy and climate change and how policies in this area can stimulate the economy and create jobs.”

The implications are greater than the policies. Obama is facing growing angst -- if not yet anger -- on his left. (And Steve Hildebrand’s attempts to calm everybody down may have had the opposite effect.)

Hear the rumbling grow: “A month into Mr. Obama’s transition, many on the political left are trying to hold their tongues,” Peter Baker writes in The New York Times. “But so far, they are mainly muting their protest, clinging to the belief that Mr. Obama still means what he said on the campaign trail and remaining wary of undermining what they see as the most liberal president sent to the White House in a generation.” 

Baker continues: “The mixed emotions on the left reflect a larger uncertainty about how to view Mr. Obama. Although National Journal deemed him the most liberal senator based on major votes and many liberals flocked to his campaign, Mr. Obama ran more on inspiration than ideology and has not always adopted the orthodoxy of the left.”

Enter Gore, a hero in these parts.

But don’t expect him to stay: “He may be assembling a Team of Heavyweights, but Barack Obama isn’t likely to have the full-time services of one of the most formidable powers on the political landscape,” Jonathan Martin reports for Politico. “When Obama and Joe Biden sit down with Al Gore at noon Tuesday in Chicago, they’ll be talking issues -- not making the pitch for the former vice-president to return to government service, say transition officials and those close to Gore.”

Both sides say no Gore job is in the offing, but: “Not announced, but almost certainly on the agenda, is drawing Gore into some kind of administration job, even if it's just a perfunctory position,” Andrew Malcolm reports for the Los Angeles Times. “Pretty please, because the Democratic left is really starting to grumble over all this sensible centrist stuff emanating from the new team.”

New disclosure out Tuesday morning from the Clinton Global Initiative: “As a non-profit organization, CGI depends upon sponsorship assistance to fund its operations and the CGI Asia Meeting. CGI thanks the following sponsors: CLSA, Laureate, the Roberson Foundation, Citi, CNN, the Li Ka Shing Foundation, The Economist, HP, Ogilvy, Suzlon, and Thomson Reuters.”

From the annals of transparency: ABC’s Jake Tapper has details on the new transition effort to post memos and suggestions it’s getting from outside groups. “The OTT has now posted some of the memos it has received from CITA Wireless Industry, unions, La Raza, and various other groups,” he writes.

But: “The transition’s commitment to publicizing the names of donors has an exception: The transition is closely tied to a Democratic think tank that keeps many of its donors secret,” Politico’s Ben Smith and Chris Frates report. “The think tank, the Center for American Progress, and its president, John Podesta, are uniquely integrated with the transition. Podesta, on leave from the Center for American Progress (CAP), heads the transition operation. The transition's operations director, general counsel, and co-director all shifted from similar jobs at CAP, and the transition is full of lower-level former CAP staffers or current board members.”

Get ready for a new round of Obama house parties. Some 1,500 are on tap for this weekend -- the next step in taking those e-mail lists and turning them into action.

The Boston Globe’s Scott Helman: “If Obama's campaign was about bringing change to the country, the post-election period is about defining what that change means and how to achieve it. His backers are already using networks developed during the campaign to rally support for causes including building local neighborhood organizations and eliminating racial disparities in the criminal justice system.”

Use it, or . . . “Viewership for President-elect Barack Obama's weekly YouTube ‘fireside chats’ has tanked, dropping more than 50 percent since his initial video three weeks ago,” the Washington Times’ Stephen Dinan writes. “The first video address, released four weekends ago, drew 789,868 viewers over its first three days and is nearing 1 million total, according to TubeMogul's figures. But the second video was viewed 451,077 times in three days, Thanksgiving weekend's video garnered 152,222 views, and this weekend's fourth installment had about 370,000 views as of Monday evening.”

Obama is buying a new tux, and get your invites lined up: “The Obama presidential inauguration committee will not be sanctioning any events organized by outside groups,” Lynn Sweet reports in the Chicago Sun-Times. “That's because the Obama team -- which swore off corporate money for the festivities surrounding the Jan. 20 swearing-in -- does not want to be officially linked with events paid for with money President elect Barack Obama said he would not take. The PIC is not discouraging outside events, nor trying to cut anyone out.”

Latest buzz, at Interior: “Kevin Gover, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, is the newest name in the mix for interior secretary,” Politico’s Erika Lovley reports. “A source close to the President-elect Barack Obama’s transition says several environmental groups have contacted environmental transition head Carol Browner, urging her to consider Gover for the top Interior Department post.”

“A member of the Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, Gover could become the first Native American nominated to be a Cabinet secretary, and the potential to make history could prove irresistible for Obama. But Gover's spokeswoman, Eileen Maxwell, said he has not ‘heard anything from the transition, nor does Kevin expect to,’ ” The Washington Post’s Al Kamen reports.

Bloomie likes Caroline: “Carolyn Kennedy can do anything,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I-N.Y. said at a press conference in Washington Monday, per ABC’s Jonathan Karl. “I’ve always thought she’s hardworking, honest and understands the issues as well as anybody.”

A source close to Gov. David Paterson, D-N.Y., tells the New York Post’s Fred Dicker and Daphne Retter: “When the mayor says something like this, of course the governor pays attention.”

And Sen. Ted Kennedy is on the case: “In recent days the Massachusetts senator has called Gov. David A. Paterson and Senator Charles E. Schumer, as well as Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who took over last month as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee when Mr. Schumer stepped down,” David M. Halbfinger writes in The New York Times. “Mr. Kennedy’s message, according to Democratic aides who were not authorized to discuss the conversations, is that Ms. Kennedy -- backed by the Kennedy family’s extensive fund-raising network -- would have the wherewithal to run back-to-back costly statewide races without having to seek help from Mr. Paterson or Mr. Schumer.”

But: “Gov. Paterson said he will consider longtime city teachers union President Randi Weingarten for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Clinton,” Kenneth Lovett reports in the New York Daily News. “Paterson told the Daily News on Monday that Weingarten recently contacted him about the seat -- fresh evidence that ambitious New York Democrats aren't about to clear out of the way for Caroline Kennedy.”

Legacy time: “In case any Bush administration officials have trouble summing up the boss' record, the White House is providing a few helpful suggestions,” Peter Nicholas reports in the Los Angeles Times. “A two-page memo that has been sent to Cabinet members and other high-ranking officials offers a guide for discussing Bush's eight-year tenure during their public speeches.”

“Titled ‘Speech Topper on the Bush Record,’ the talking points state that Bush ‘kept the American people safe’ after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, lifted the economy after 2001 through tax cuts, curbed AIDS in Africa and maintained ‘the honor and the dignity of his office.’ The document presents the Bush record as an unalloyed success,” Nicholas writes.

More from the president’s interview with Cynthia McFadden, on faith: “It is hard for me to justify or prove the mystery of the Almighty in my life. . . . All I can just tell you is that I got back into religion and I quit drinking shortly thereafter and I asked for help -- I was a one-step program guy.”

When asked if he thought he would have become president had it not been for his faith, Bush said, “I don't know; it's hard to tell. I do know that I would have been -- I'm pretty confident I would have been a pretty selfish person.”

He said he is often asked if he thinks he was chosen by God to be president.

“I just, I can't go there,” he said. “I'm not that confident in knowing, you know, the Almighty, to be able to say, 'Yeah, God wanted me of all the other people.' My relationship [with God] is on a personal basis trying to become as closer to the Almighty as I possibly can get. And I've got a lot of problems. I mean, I got, you know, the ego . . . all the things that prevent me from being closer to the Almighty. So, I don't analyze my relationship with the good Lord in terms of, well, you know, God has plucked you out or God wants you to do this. I know this: I know that the call is to better understand and live out your life according to the will of God.”

The Kicker:

“Art transcends politics this weekend.” -- Barbra Streisand, on accepting a hug at the Kennedy Center from President Bush, whom she once described as “an alien sent here to destroy the Earth.”

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