ENPR: Obama Administration Looking More Like Clinton Third Term


  1. The defeat of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) brings the Democrats closer to 60 seats and spares Republicans the unseemly task of expelling the convicted senator from their conference.
  2. Obama continues to tap the Clinton Administration for his own administration, dashing the hopes many liberals had voiced in the spring that the Democrats would no longer be the Clinton Party.
  3. Republicans remain dispirited, and amid all the talk of “renewing” the party or “returning to our roots,” House and Senate Republicans appear to be settling in as a comfortable minority without much change from the last two years.

Obama Administration

Appointments: As the Obama Administration continues to take form, the new team increasingly looks like Clinton-Administration-Meets-Chicago.

  1. It is all but official that Obama intends to tap Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) as secretary of State, and it is clear that Clinton is considering the job. She has dispatched lawyers to assist in the vetting process, but she could, in the end, still say no.
  2. The question before Clinton: Is secretary of State her best available path the presidency in 2016? It’s certainly more promising than another four to eight years in the Senate, and the governorship does not at the moment appear available to her.
  3. The question before Obama: Will the Clintons’ penchant for ethical indiscretions hurt his administration, and is there any healing-old-wounds value to picking her. It certainly wins him media adulation, but what doesn’t?
  4. Senate confirmation would give Republicans another chance to Clinton-bash, but she would face no serious resistance in that chamber, and would probably get a majority of Republicans along with all Democrats.
  5. A vacancy in her Senate seat would set off an interesting scramble. For one thing, it would give Gov. David Patterson (D) an opportunity to use an appointment to help his own cause. Patterson faces a possible primary from Atty. Gen. Andrew Cuomo (D).


Democrats: Democrats appear to have kept Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) in the fold.

  1. The party caucus on Tuesday approved a compromise resolution that allows Lieberman to keep his chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee, but strips him of his spot on the Environment and Public Works Committee. The latter was basically a slap on the wrist for Lieberman’s apostasies.
  2. The secret-ballot vote was overwhelming for the compromise, with liberal Vermont Senators Bernie Sanders and Pat Leahy leading the purge effort. Majority Leader Harry Reid also favored a tougher punishment, while President-elect Obama worked behind the scenes for reconciliation.
  3. Lieberman, the party’s nominee for Vice President in 2000, offended the liberal base by vocally supporting the Iraq War, which earned him a primary challenge in 2006. When Lieberman lost the primary, he ran as an independent and won. Then this year, he supported McCain for President.
  4. The irony of the Democrats’ punishment is that they let him keep his gavel on the committee where his stance most offends liberals—national security—while stripping him of his spot on the EPW committee, where he was a leader in advancing the left’s cause of constraining greenhouse gas emissions.

Republicans: The Senate Republican Conference meeting Tuesday, amid the ruins of the once-powerful majority, was business as usual.

  1. The leadership elections were all uncontested. The top three leaders—Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.), and Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.)—all stay in place. John Thune (S.D.) joins leadership as vice chairman of the conference, while John Cornyn ( Tex.) will head the National Republican Senatorial Committee and his predecessor, John Ensign ( Nev.) will head the policy committee.
  2. Any sentiment for a serious shakeup was buried amid a belief that upper chamber Republicans had suffered from “circumstances out of our control,” as Ensign put it. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) pushed some reform measures, such as term-limiting appropriators, but all such changes were shot down.
  3. The party postponed any vote on expelling convicted Sen. Ted Stevens ( Alaska) from the conference, but many senators stated there were certainly enough votes against him in the conference were a vote to be held. A larger majority of the conference, however, preferred not to vote if they didn’t have to—and Tuesday night’s results make it look like they don’t have to.

Senate 2008

Alaska: Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who held a significant lead on Election Day, lost his re-election bid to Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D).

This gives Senate Democrats their 56th seat in the next Congress, not counting independents Joe Lieberman ( Conn.) or Bernie Sanders ( Vt.). With Minnesota and Georgia still outstanding, and Lieberman now looking likely to remain friendly with Democrats, an effective 60-seat majority is now within reach. Even if the Democratic Caucus never reaches 60, effectively having at least 57 votes gives the Democrats filibuster-proof majority on most issues, unless the GOP leadership can exercise unprecedented discipline to prevent rogue members, such as Maine liberals Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins or Arlen Specter (Pa.)—or “maverick” John McCain (Ariz.)—from breaking filibusters.

Republicans will be spared the unpleasantness of voting on expelling Stevens from the GOP Conference, and the full Senate will be spared the possibility of expelling him from the chamber. Also, Alaska would be spared a special election.

Stevens had faced heavy pressure from his party to step aside when he was under investigation, and his refusal to do so has cost his party a U.S. Senate seat—something of a theme in the recent GOP collapse.

Delaware: Vice President-elect Joe Biden (D), unlike the President-elect, is still a U.S. senator, and has stated his intention to remain one until the moment he is sworn. Whether Biden sticks to this election-eve pledge will determine who gets to name his replacement—and possibly who his replacement is.

If Biden had his druthers, his son, Delaware Atty. Gen. Beau Biden, would be his replacement. Not wanting to kick off the Obama-Biden Administration with such an unseemly appearance (after all nepotism in Alaska—GOP Gov. Frank Murkowski‘s picking his daughter to fill his own seat back in 2003—was the first link a chain of events that led to Sarah Palin‘s primary upset of Murkowski in 2006), the younger Biden has said he will not accept appointment to the seat.

But many questions remain. First, when will Biden resign? Before the election, Biden told a local paper that he won’t resign until the moment he is sworn in—about noon on January 20. That is important, because Gov.-elect Jack Markell (D) will be sworn in at midnight that day—about 12 hours before Biden. If Biden follows through, Markell will get to name Biden’s replacement, who will serve until a special election in November 2010. If Biden resigns before January 20, outgoing Gov. Ruth Ann Minner (D) will get to name his replacement.

The popular favorite among Delaware Democrats is outgoing Lt. Gov. John Carney (D). Carney was upset by Markell in the gubernatorial primary, thanks (at least according to political legend) to thousands of Republicans registering as Democrats before the primary. Since then, Markell has already offended Democrats by tapping a Republican as his chief-of-staff. If Markell wants to make amends with his party, which controls both chambers, and avoid a challenge from Carney in four years, tapping Carney as the senator might be the best move.

But if Biden wants a place-holder nominee who would step aside by the 2010 election to make way for the younger Biden, he might agitate against a Carney pick and in favor of a less ambitious politician. Biden, because of clout in the state and because he can choose which governor has the power of appointment by timing his Senate resignation, has some influence here.

Georgia: As with all special elections, the runoff between Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R) and former State Rep. Jim Martin (D) comes down to turnout—and the factors that will drive turnout are still unclear.

Chambliss led Martin by three points on Election Day, 49.8% to 46.8%, with the Libertarian taking about 5%. Martin’s vote total was buoyed by an above-average African-American turnout, which voted for him in the same overwhelming proportion as voted for Obama. Obama hasn’t indicated he would campaign in the Peach State to pad his party’s Senate majority, and it’s not clear how much turnout he could drive, considering he’s not on the ballot.

When it comes to fundraising, however, the Obama machine could help make Martin flush with cash, while the GOP base is depressed, to say the least. Chambliss remains a slight favorite in this very unpredictable contest. Leaning Republican Retention.

Illinois: Barack Obama’s Senate seat is vacant since he resigned on Sunday, sparking a political drama in a state full of political intrigue.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) must name a replacement by the end of the year, who would serve out the remainder of Obama’s term, until the 2010 election. Many dynamics are at play.

Blagojevich is an immensely unpopular governor with approval ratings below those of President Bush. He is caught up in scandal, and Springfield political watchers expect he could be indicted at any minute. Nevertheless, Blagojevich still plans to seek reelection in 2010, when he is certain to face a serious primary challenge.

Also pertinent is the fact that this is “the black Senate seat”—having been held by a black Democrat for 10 of the last 16 years—and Obama’s resignation and the 2008 election results mean none of the current or incoming 99 senators is black.

Chicago obviously has a powerful and influential Democratic machine. The popular President-elect and his White House chief of staff both come from that machine, and Mayor Richard Daley (D) wields clout within the national Democratic Party—more than any other mayor, and more than many governors or senators.

But, oddly, the governor has little relationship with these power-brokers. Throw in his low popularity, and his seemingly desperate situation and his course of action and motivations become even less predictable.

Will Blagojevich try to win over an influential constituency to rally behind him in case of a primary? He could keep the seat black by naming Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., former state Senate Majority Leader Emil Jones (who is Obama’s “political godfather”) or Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White. Jones is a power-broker in Springfield, and if a white Democrat challenges Blagojevich on the grounds of the federal investigation into Blagojevich’s administration and family, a revved-up black Democratic constituency could line up behind a governor persecuted by The Man.

Along similar lines, Blagojevich could make his pick with an eye to influencing a potential jury pool rather than an electorate. The governor may be interested in using this pick to help preserve his freedom rather than to preserve his job.

Jackson has some hurdles, too. He fought with Blagojevich years back over a third Chicago airport in his district, and his naked self-promotion could put off Blagojevich. Also, the son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson would have trouble winning downstate white votes, and could conceivably lose to a Republican in 2010.

If Obama, Rahm Emanuel, or Sen. Dick Durbin (D) had their say, Chicago and Springfield insiders presume they would push for failed 2006 House candidate Tammy Duckworth (D), a veteran amputee currently serving as Blagojevich’s director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. Getting Duckworth in the Senate would save some face for Emanuel whose biggest political blunder was pouring so many resources into Duckworth’s long-shot candidacy. It would also earn Blagojevich glowing press—something he hasn’t seen much of.

Could Emanuel, Durbin, or Obama offer Blagojevich anything in order to influence his pick? Short of some audacious gift such as earmarks or pulling federal investigators off his back, probably not. Indeed, a Chicago Sun-Times article speculated that Durbin’s support for Duckworth could sink her chances.

For months, Illinoisans have speculated that Blagojevich might tap rival Lisa Madigan, the state attorney general. If she accepted, that would eliminate a top potential primary challenger while simultaneously giving Blagojevich another vacancy to fill—and having an ally at A.G. would be valuable for a governor in his position.

National Democrats, obviously, would be most concerned with an appointee who would win in 2010, but with a dim political future, does anyone have any sway over Blagojevich?

Minnesota: Both parties have dispatched lawyers, volunteers, and money to the recount in Minnesota, the second-largest recount effort in U.S. history. The campaigns of both Sen. Norm Coleman (R) and liberal comedian Al Franken (D) have expressed confidence and satisfaction with the recount efforts, but outside advocates on both sides have cried foul on multiple occasions. If Coleman wins amid controversial circumstances, expect a Democratic push to resist seating him. On the other side, Republicans would be powerless to block Franken, and the GOP has a history of looking the other way after shady Democratic wins (for example, South Dakota in 2002 and Louisiana in 1996). With the original count so close, Franken has a very good shot, but Coleman is still the favorite.

House 2008

California-4: State Sen. Tom McClintock (R) leads retired Air Force officer Charlie Brown (D) by a (relatively) sizable 562 votes as of Wednesday morning. Both candidates attended freshman orientation on Capitol Hill. Leaning Republican Retention.

Louisiana-2: Indicted Rep. Bill Jefferson (D) is the heavy favorite over community activist Joseph Cao (R) in the December 4 election necessitated by Hurricane Gustav, which pushed the party runoff to November. Likely Democratic Retention.

Louisiana-4: Coroner John Fleming (R) faces former Caddo Parish District Atty. Paul Carmouche (D) on December 4 in the battle for the open seat of retiring Rep. Jim McCrery (R). This is a GOP-leaning district, but Republicans have lost that kind of race down here recently. Leaning Republican Retention.

Ohio: A federal judge could decide the outcome of the tight race between State Sen. Steve Stivers (R) and Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy (D). Stivers leads Kilroy by 149 votes, and the campaigns are fighting over 1,667 absentee ballots with incomplete information. Kilroy’s campaign argues that the voters should be notified, and allowed to provide missing information such as addresses.

If all of the ballots are counted, Kilroy would need to win 54.5% of them in order to overcome her current deficit. Leaning Republican Retention.

Virginia: Attorney Tom Periello (D) has declared victory and attended freshman orientation on Capitol Hill, but Rep. Virgil Goode (R) has yet to concede the race to him. Periello leads by 700 votes, but Goode points to potential irregularities. Such a margin is not likely to be overcome, but until the results are final, we’ll leave this in the undetermined column. Likely Democratic Takeover.