Morning Must Reads -- White House on the political offensive (still) 

New York Times -- Obama Acts to Engage G.O.P., Testing Party’s Intentions

President Obama is looking to pick another fight with the Republicans so he can engage them on more favorable turf.

Sounding like President George W. Bush talking about terrorists, Obama said of congressional Republicans’ policy ideas: “bring ‘em on.”

Some of it, like inviting GOPers to Camp David this weekend for the Super Bowl, is an effort to restart the charm offensive that marked the first months of his administration. Obama dropped that schtick once he found Republicans intransigent on issues like bailing out automakers and stimulus spending, and voters are punishing the president for his “go it alone” approach.

Writers Carl Hulse and Jeff Zeleny explain that Obama also hopes to draw out GOP policy ideas in an effort to give Democrats something other than Bush to run against. His offer to debate the Senate GOP is part of that effort.

This part makes Republicans, even those who are inclined to cooperate where there is agreement, uneasy – especially when the motives are so poorly hidden.

“‘I think it is very important that people see what the Republican proposals are,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland [who leads the Democratic effort to retain House seats this fall]. “It is not that they are the party of no, they are the party of no new ideas. They want to turn back the clock and adopt the same Bush policies that got us back in this mess in the first place.’”


Washington Post -- Christmas Day bomb suspect Abdulmutallab providing intelligence, sources say

Under fire for its decision to put underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in the civilian justice system instead of as an enemy combatant, the Obama administration is saying that the Nigerian jihadi is cooperating with investigators. Presidential aides tell writer Carrie Johnson and others, in blind quotes, that the softer approach is paying off as Abdulmutallab is allowed to meet with his family and understands the humanity of his captors. Sources say Abdulmutallab is providing valuable information about his handlers in Yemen, etc. The FBI only says that Abdulmutallab is cooperating.

Johnson does not point out that the same niceties would have been available to military prosecutors had Abdulmutallab not been give a public defender and put in a Wayne County jail. But the same stringencies available to military prosecutors will not be available to the civilian prosecutors of the Eastern District of Michigan.

Whether this will help the White House convince a skeptical nation that civilian trials are good for high-ranking al Qaeda memers already in military custody is unclear but unlikely.

“If convicted, Abdulmutallab faces a virtual life sentence on six criminal charges, including using a plane as a weapon of mass destruction. In exchange for his renewed cooperation, authorities could recommend that a federal judge reduce any prison sentence Abdulmutallab might face, a common occurrence in the criminal justice system.”


Wall Street Journal -- Trial Lawyers Contribute, Shareholder Suits Follow

The growing power of government unions is reflected in the increasingly adventurous approach being taken to shareholder litigation by public pension funds.

We’ve know for a while that investment firms, like the one run by former auto czar and DNC bankroller Steven Rattner , have funded campaigns of Democratic officials in hopes of some consideration when it came time to award the investment management contracts on multi-billion-dollar pension accounts like the New York or California employee retirement systems.

But writers Mark Maremont,Tom McGinty, and Nathan Koppel explain that the practice has spread to the plaintiffs’ bar, where trail lawyers look for pension funds that will allow them to sue big corporations on their behalves . The claims, which usually relate to the maximization of profits, the disbursement of dividends or the release of new shares, are expensive to bring and can mean big multipliers when a client has $40 billion in a fund.

Consider California:

“In the biggest cases, legal fees can run in the millions. That's what happened in a suit by Calpers, the California pension fund, against UnitedHealthGroup Inc., where stock options were backdated. The suit was filed for Calpers by the San Diego law firm of Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins LLP.

That firm is a descendent of the famed plaintiffs' firm once called Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach, which split in two in 2004. Coughlin Stoia filed the suit for Calpers in July 2006. A month later, Coughlin Stoia and its attorneys contributed $107,000 to the gubernatorial campaign of Phil Angelides, who as California's then-treasurer was a member of Calpers's board.

Asked whether the donations were related to the hiring of the law firm, a spokeswoman for Mr. Angelides declined to say, but said that Mr. Angelides ‘was one of a number of members of the Calpers board and he had tens of thousands of donations during the eight years he was treasurer.’ He now leads a national board investigating the causes of the financial crisis.

Coughlin Stoia's spokesman—who previously worked for Mr. Angelides—said some of the firm's lawyers ‘actively support causes they believe in,’ including candidates.”


Chicago Tribune -- Giannoulias to face Kirk for Senate

The first primary of 2010 is over… almost. Illinois Democrats seem headed for a recount between gubernatorial contenders Comptroller Dan Hynes and incumbent (but not elected) Gov. Pat Quinn as Quinn’s lead was 2,702 votes out of more than 900,000 ballots cast. Republicans are even closer, with two state senators, Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard, a little more than 1,000 votes apart.

But in the race for Barack Obama’s seat, which impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich faces federal charges for trying to sell, the combatants are clear – Democratic state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias and Republican Rep. Mark Kirk.

Giannoulias’ family bank is in big trouble and the 33-year-old first-termer dodged corruption claims from his democratic opponents. He was then-Sen. Obama’s pick for state treasurer and is expecting a boost from the White House in his bid.

Kirk offers a mild form of Republicanism, and was chastised by his primary opponents for support of cap and trade legislation and other positions. He has not shown reluctance, though, to attack fiscal irresponsibility or the straightened ethical circumstances of Chicago Democratic politics.

With this matchup, Republican chances for a pickup look better than average. Writers John Chase and Antonio Olivo share some of Mr. Giannoulias’ style:

“Citing a 2-year-old quote in which Kirk said unemployment was not a major issue in his wealthy North Shore district, Giannoulias declared himself the candidate who will focus on bringing jobs to Illinois.

Addressing Kirk directly, Giannoulias said, ‘It's obvious that you've spent too many years in Washington, voting with the special interests to ship our jobs overseas, that you don't know that (unemployment is an issue). But come November, congressman, your days as a Washington insider are over.’”


Wall Street Journal -- Obama Retreats From Goal of Cap-Trade Bill

Writer Elisabeth Williamson noticed what others traveling with President Obama on a campaign swing through Nashua N.H. did not – Obama said he was open to spin off a “green jobs” boondoggle popular in Congress from the cap and trade legislation that was one of the three pillars of his agenda.

Of course, if the government isn’t going to create artificial demand for green energy by taxing or banning traditional energy sources, the green jobs bill will be akin to a city’s summer jobs program – a temporary way to get some money out to folks. It’s certainly not the “comprehensive” approach the president talked about last week. But Democrats are slamming the door pretty hard on that one.

“On Tuesday, two senior House Democrats—Reps. Ike Skelton of Missouri, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Collin Peterson of Minnesota, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee—introduced legislation to prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse-gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. In a written statement, Mr. Skelton called for setting aside legislation already passed by the House to cap greenhouse-gas emissions, and instead passing ‘scaled-back energy legislation’ that could command greater support in both parties.

‘We cannot tolerate turning over the regulation of greenhouse-gas emissions to unelected bureaucrats at EPA,’ Mr. Skelton said.”


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Chris Stirewalt


Washington Examiner Political Editor Chris Stirewalt, who coordinates political coverage for the newspaper and in addition to writing a twice-weekly column and
regular blog posts.

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