The Note, 12/22/08: Word Matters -- Obama Report Seeks to End Blago Distraction


It won't be a long document. It may not even be a very interesting one. It will be no match for the prose of Patrick Fitzgerald (quoting Rod Blagojevich), or the poetry of Rod Blagojevich (quoting Rudyard Kipling). It will not be illustrated with pictures of presidential puppies.

It will also not be the last word (or the last distraction) for a president-elect whose world comes just too close to Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s for absolute comfort.

But it will be the next set of words -- coming Tuesday at the earliest -- and they will be the most important words yet in President-elect Barack Obama’s efforts to put daylight between himself and the tawdry Blagojevich affair.

Rahm Emanuel, the incoming White House chief of staff, is again the man to watch.

What we now know: Emanuel had only one conversation with Blagojevich, D-Ill., in the period under discussion, ABC's George Stephanopoulos reports

“The contact, described as a ‘pro-forma’ courtesy call, came as Emanuel was named Chief of Staff for Obama. Most of the discussion concerned Emanuel's Congressional seat (which had previously been held by Blagojevich), with only a ‘passing reference’ to the Senate vacancy, according to these sources,” Stephanopoulos reports

“The sources add that the report will show Emanuel also had four phone calls with Blagojevich Chief of Staff John Harris. During those conversations, the Senate seat was discussed. . . . Sources also confirm that Emanuel made the case for picking Obama confidante Valerie Jarrett during at least one of the conversations.  In the course of that conversation, Harris asked if in return for picking Jarrett, ‘all we get is appreciation, right?’ ‘Right,’ Emanuel responded.”

Per the AP’s Brett J. Blackledge and Tammy Webber: “Emanuel did contact the governor's office about the appointment and left Blagojevich with the impression that he was pushing Valerie Jarrett, a close Obama friend, so he wouldn't have to compete with her in the White House for Obama's attention, said a person close to Blagojevich. . . . It was not clear whether Blagojevich inferred Emanuel's motive for advocating Jarrett, or whether Emanuel discussed the appointment with Blagojevich directly or with John Harris, the governor's then-chief of staff who also is charged in the case, according to the source.” 

The fallout: “Emanuel's refusal to discuss the matter publicly, and the few comments offered by Obama to date, have prompted questions about Emanuel's ties to Blagojevich and what fallout he'll face as the criminal case unfolds, although sources have said he is not a target of prosecutors,” Blackledge and Webber write. “Even so, any hint of scandal for Emanuel threatens to tarnish Obama's promise of new political leadership free of scandal and corruption.”

Team Obama hopes to bore the press corps with this one:

“There will be no revelations worth burying during the holidays anyway, transition sources say,” Jonathan Weisman reports in The Wall Street Journal.

But: “Regardless of how clean the Obama camp is, the release of the report isn't likely to be clean. Thursday, former President Bill Clinton released a list of 205,000 donors -- many of them foreign governments -- to his foundation, which he had promised to do as a condition for his wife Sen. Hillary Clinton's nomination as secretary of state. That set off a scramble to tie donors to policy predicaments facing the Obama administration.” 

Does anyone think any amount of information would immediately be deemed sufficient? “He’s stopped short of pledging to release e-mails or other records that could be key to understanding those contacts,” Politico’s Kenneth P. Vogel reports. “A spokeswoman for President-elect Barack Obama said the transition team was not covered by a public information law that Politico cited in requesting copies of Obama staffers’ emails and notes about Blagojevich’s efforts to fill the Senate seat Obama vacated after winning the presidency.” 

Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff has five questions for Obama on Blagojevich: “1. Define  ‘inappropriate,’ make good on your pledge of transparency and show us the internal report. All of it. . . . 2. Explain what happened with Senate ‘Candidate 1.’ . . . 3. What did you know about Blago's exit strategy? . . . 4. Have you shared everything you have on Rezko? . . . 5. Will you promise to leave Fitzgerald alone?” 

Your political fallout: Bloomberg’s Kim Chipman and Jonathan D. Salant write up the new TV ad prepped by some political enemies of Big Labor. “The commercial is a not-so-subtle attempt to implicate one of the fastest growing U.S. labor organizations, the Service Employees International Union, in the corruption scandal swirling around Illinois Democrat Rod Blagojevich. The aim isn’t mere union bashing. The larger goal behind the ad campaign is to derail controversial legislation that would make it easier for workers to unionize, the so-called card-check proposal.” 

And more fallout, in Chicago (let’s see where this development leads): “A key figure in Gov. Rod Blagojevich's alleged scheme to sell a U.S. Senate seat has sought immunity from federal authorities in return for his cooperation in their ongoing probe, the Tribune has learned,” the Chicago Tribune’s David Kidwell and John Chase report

“Raghuveer P. Nayak, an Oak Brook businessman and political fundraiser, is the unnamed ‘Individual D’ who prosecutors say was being squeezed by the governor for campaign cash in return for appointing U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. to the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama, sources said,” they write.

The Chicago Sun-Times has a timeline of Jackson’s contacts with prosecutors, including this exchange: “We did have another conversation the day or so after the presidential election,” the Jackson source said. “The U.S. attorney said we still want to talk to you about these things, but we understand now there's an open seat, so let's postpone our meeting again.” 

Obama, meanwhile, enjoys some down time in Hawaii: “The Obamas, along with close friends, rented three houses, worth more than $30 million -- each a spacious 5,000 square feet, with waterfalls and a lagoon pool that flows throughout,” ABC’s Yunji de Nies reported on “Good Morning America” Monday.

“Nestled along a white-sand beach rated among the best in the world and with a view of a lush mountain range, the home has a stone fence,” John McCormick writes in the Los Angeles Times. “But even in paradise, the nation's problems will not be far away. There are at least three ‘for sale’ signs on the block, and property tax records show that the vacation home, built in 2006, has never been sold.” 

“Halfway through his round [of golf], as Mr. Obama stopped by the snack bar, he unexpectedly bumped into a small group of reporters sitting outside the club house. Asked how his game was going, he smiled and conceded, ‘I’m not that good,’ ” The New York Times’ Jeff Zeleny writes. “He chatted for a moment, telling the traveling press pool to have a beer and put it on his tab. No one took him up on the offer.”

In the holiday spirit, the best game going is the battle of the undercards -- Biden vs. Cheney.

“Cheney, offering no regrets or apologies for his aggressive role in guiding national security policies over the past eight years, openly mocked Biden for citing the wrong part of the Constitution during a campaign debate and for pledging to pursue a less expansive agenda than Cheney has,” Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post

“If he wants to diminish the office of the vice president, that's obviously his call,” Cheney said on “Fox News Sunday.” “President-elect Obama will decide what he wants in a vice president and, apparently, from the way they're talking about it, he does not expect him to have as consequential a role as I have had during my time.”

Swinging back: “I think the recommendations, the advice that he has given to President Bush -- and maybe advice the president already had decided on before he got it -- I'm not making that judgment -- has been not healthy for our foreign policy, not healthy for our national security, and it has not been consistent with our Constitution, in my view,” Vice-president-elect Joe Biden told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday

“His notion of a unitary executive, meaning that, in time of war, essentially all power, you know, goes to the executive, I think is dead wrong. I think it was mistaken,” Biden said

Biden is chairing a “middle-class task force” that will determine how the Obama administration's policies are affecting average Americans.

“My focus is going to be, I'm going to chair this group and it is designed to do the one thing we use as a yardstick of economic success of our administration, is the middle class growing? Is the middle class getting better? Is the middle class no longer being left behind? And we'll look at everything from college affordability to after-school programs. The things that affect people's daily lives. I will be the guy honchoing that policy," Biden told Stephanopoulos. (How Cheney is that?) 

And why is Biden still in the Senate? (And why will he be sworn in for another term that he has not intention of serving out?)

“Two reasons. One is that, from my perspective, I shouldn't acknowledge it, but being sworn in for the seventh time as a United States senator from Delaware, the greatest honor I've ever had is the people of Delaware electing me,” Biden said. “And it will in no way effect the seniority of the person who will follow me, number one. Number two, there was a period there when it was thought that it may be useful for me to be in the Senate, in terms of some of the votes that were going to be cast in the Senate that may have been very close, that would have been consistent with our incoming administration's position that I could have been voting on those. It turned out that did not occur.” 

(Consult the Senate historian’s office on this one -- but a replacement senator named before the next Senate session would have seniority over all the other freshman, no?)

Look for some familiar faces, at a podium near you: “Some of Washington's best-known Democratic operatives -- including Jenny Backus, Jennifer Palmieri and Howard Wolfson -- are being considered for top communications roles that would make them the public faces of the Obama administration outside the White House,” Politico’s Mike Allen reports. “Although no final decisions have been made, Backus may be President-elect Barack Obama's top spokesperson on health issues, Palmieri is in the early stages of consideration for a role at the Pentagon, and Wolfson is being considered -- along with Doug Hattaway -- for the delicate podium job at the State Department.” 

The Rick Warren fallout continues: “Giving that kind of mark of approval and honor to someone who has frankly spoken in ways I and many others have found personally very offensive, I thought that was a mistake for the president-elect to do,” Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said on CNN

Checking in on Minnesota (where the recount has already gone on more than a week longer than Florida’s in 2000): “The two sides are heading into a crucial week. On Monday, they are expected to get a new vote count after Secretary of State Mark Ritchie allocates withdrawn ballot challenges to the candidates. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will consider Coleman's claim that some votes in Franken strongholds were counted twice. And both sides will try to devise a process for counting any absentee ballots that were mistakenly rejected,” Pat Doyle and Mike Kaszuba report in the Minneapolis Star Tribune

The St. Paul Pioneer Press has Democrat Al Franken leading by 260 votes -- but things will tighten on Monday. 

Caroline Kennedy speaks (through a spokesman): “Her stances on key issues, including same-sex marriage, Israel, and Iraq, seemed calibrated to appeal both to New York's governor, Democrat David Paterson, who will choose the next senator, and its voters, who will have their say in 2010, and again in 2012,” per Politico’s Ben Smith and Glenn Thrush, who get to come out in favor of gay marriage, but to stay on the fence about supporting Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s, I-N.Y., reelection. 

The New York Times’ Nicholas Confessore: “She did not provide answers about other issues that may prove more controversial. Ms. Kennedy did not say whether she supports a cap on local property taxes in New York, something that has sharply divided Democrats and Republicans in Albany. And she did not say whether she supports raising state or federal income taxes for the rich to help balance the budget and pay for government programs.” 

Al Hunt likes Caroline: “The daughter of the late President John F. Kennedy is a talented woman who possesses a collegial charm that would serve her well in the Senate. None of the other candidates that New York Governor David Paterson reportedly is considering to replace Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton offer as compelling a choice. . . . Even some close friends worry whether the private Kennedy is ready for this rough-and-tumble world. Presumably she has thought about that in seeking the post. If so, she’s capable of conquering these challenges.” 

Why postings on Craig’s List aren’t getting bites . . .  “Officials are casting doubt on an early projection that 4 million to 5 million people could jam downtown Washington on Inauguration Day, saying it is more likely that the crowd will be about half that size,” Mary Beth Sheridan writes in The Washington Post

Watch the pricetag: “President-elect Barack Obama has expanded his goals for a massive federal stimulus package to keep pace with the increasingly grim economic outlook, aiming to create or preserve at least 3 million jobs over the next two years,” Lori Montgomery writes in The Washington Post. “The more aggressive target, up from 2.5 million jobs set a month ago, comes after a four-hour meeting last week in which Obama's top economic advisers told him the economy is now expected to lose as many as 3.5 million jobs over the next year. Obama was told that could drive unemployment, currently at 6.7 percent, above 9 percent, a figure not seen since the recession of the early 1980s.” 

Ready to galvanize the right? “Christmas falls on Thursday, but in the nation's capital it will come in early January, when the 111th Congress convenes and begins assembling an economic stimulus plan worth anywhere from $600 billion to $850 billion, and counting,” McClatchy’s David Lightman and Kevin G. Hall report. “However, lawmakers first must write a bill that, in legislative terms, doesn't become the year's biggest Christmas tree, festooned with billions for pet projects and special interest ornaments that are pleasing politically but not necessarily what the economy needs right now. One example: On Friday, The Association of Zoos and Aquariums issued a news release calling for ‘shovel-ready zoo and aquarium infrastructure projects to be eligible for federal stimulus funding.’ ” 

“The danger is not just the obvious hazard of running up a deficit that becomes a burden after the economy recovers; Obama has promised to be vigilant on that score. The more subtle problem is that as stimulus spending grows, it could become less focused -- and less effective,” Doyle MacManus writes in his Los Angeles Times column

From Dick Keil’s “News You Need” report, from Public Strategies: “On Capitol Hill, House Democrats are quietly talking about what should happen to the House Ways & Means Committee chairmanship should Representative Charlie Rangel's various brewing ethics troubles force him from the chairmanship.”

“Representative Pete Stark of California would be next in line to replace Rangel under the committee's seniority system, but Richard Neal of Massachusetts has emerged as a dark horse candidate. Neal is seen by many committee watchers as one of the only senior Democrats who has both substance and the personality to lead the committee as well as credibility with the pro-business and socially liberal camps that will weigh heavily on the Tax writing panel's agenda in the coming year.”

More on Levi Johnston’s mom: The drug bust was for oxycontin, per the Anchorage Daily News

The Kicker:

“I thought he merited it at the time.” -- Vice President Dick Cheney, on Fox News Sunday, not apologizing for telling Sen. Patrick Leahy to f*** himself. 

“How many shots do you need?” -- President-elect Barack Obama, to the photographers with him on the golf course in Hawaii. 

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