ThinkFast: January 14, 2011

Today, RNC members will decide whether to retain Michael Steele as their chairman. Voting will commence sometime after noon. The Washington Times reports that some supporters of Steele are “privately urging him to consider a graceful exit” before the vote occurs.

“A broad coalition of labor unions and liberal groups has launched an intense lobbying campaign directed at the White House” cautioning the president against announcing cuts to Social Security in his State of the Union address. “Nobody in the progressive world thinks the president ought to endorse the Bowles-Simpson Social Security stuff,” said one strategist with the campaign, referring to a proposal that would hike the retirement age.

The EPA yesterday “revoked the permit for one of the nation’s largest mountaintop-removal coal mining projects,” arguing “the mine would have done unacceptable damage to rivers, wildlife and communities in West Virginia.” Arch Coal’s proposed mine “would have buried miles of Appalachian streams under millions of tons of residue.”

President Obama is extending an olive branch to big business, as he negotiates free trade agreements, supports reforming the corporate tax code in a way that could lower rates, and hires a big bank executive to be his chief of staff. Steve Pearlstein wonders whether the business lobby will reciprocate by saying “it will not support Republicans in their effort to repeal last year’s health reform legislation.”

Responding to the Tucson shooting, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) unveiled the text of new gun control legislation yesterday that would ban the “sale or transfer of clips that hold more than ten rounds.” “The only purpose for the existence of these devices is to be able to shoot as many people as possible as quickly as possible,” McCarthy wrote to her colleagues, hoping to get the support to pass the bill.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) has made what doctors are hailing as “a major leap forward” in her recovery, as she is “able to keep her eyes open for as long as 15 minutes and can move her legs and hands.” Calling her recovery in past five days a near-”miracle,” her doctors said Giffords will likely regain mental capacity, though “it is too early to say” what her physical capacity will be. Many members of Congress are looking for increased security as they travel back to their districts for events, following the shootings in Arizona — but local law enforcement agencies may not be able to help due to widespread state and local budgeting problems. A quarter of U.S. cities have reported cutting their public safety budgets in the past year and 80 percent of them have 10 officers or less.

Vice President Biden said yesterday in Baghdad that the U.S. remains committed to the agreement that calls for all American troops to withdrawal from Iraq by the end of this year. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said Biden assured him that the U.S. was “serious about activating the strategic framework agreement.”

And finally: While many politicians’ wives probably think it, few will say it publicly, but the wife of Japan’s prime minister said this week that she “would not marry” her husband again in another life. “My husband sometimes says to me: ‘I really hate going to the [parliament] because everyone is so mean and critical, but it’s a lot easier being subjected to this criticism at the [parliament] than fighting at home with you,’” she joked to reporters.

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