119 Rooms, 70,000 Square Feet and One Lucky Australian

The veil is lifted. We now know who is booked at Blair House, kicking President-elect Barack Obama and his family to the waiting list and across Lafayette Square to the Hay-Adams Hotel.

The only overnight visitor at the presidential guest manse is none other than John Howard, a former Australian prime minister and leading member of President Bush's coalition of the willing in Iraq.

Howard and his entourage will be bunking at Blair House on Jan. 12, the night before he, former British prime minister Tony Blair and Colombian President Álvaro Uribe are to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Bush, said Sally McDonough, a spokeswoman for first lady Laura Bush. The three current and former heads of state are longtime political allies of the president's, and Blair and Howard were key partners in the Iraq war.

Blair and Uribe also were invited to stay at Blair House but declined Bush's invitation, said a second White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Blair, who traditionally stays at the British Embassy, and Uribe apparently found other accommodations, the source said.

There are other scheduled events at Blair House, but no other overnight visits between now and Jan. 15, when the Obama family is scheduled to move in, McDonough said.

Today, Laura Bush will hold a private reception honoring members of the administration's Global Cultural Initiative, 80 of whom are in the diplomatic corps, McDonough said. The reception will be hosted by Protocol Chief Nancy Brinker.

"This has been a long-planned celebratory event at the Blair House," McDonough said.


She added that there are several other planned parties at Blair House.

The incoming first family requested an early move-in at the 70,000-square-foot, 119-room mansion across the street from the White House so the children could settle in to start school this week at Sidwell Friends School. But the Obamas was told the residence had been booked, so they took a suite at the Hay-Adams.

At the time, the White House would not say which events were bumping the Obamas.

Maybe Howard might offer his digs on Craigslist in exchange for the presidential-elect suite at the Hay?

As Seen on TV

What do you know? The chatter we noted yesterday about CNN's Sanjay Gupta as Obama's pick for surgeon general was real! This has led to much speculation that the incoming administration might be looking at other excellent media candidates for top jobs.

There's always Judge Judy, should an opening occur later this year on the Supreme Court; Dr. Phil looks good for assistant to the president and director of the new White House Office on Stress and Mental Health (OSMH); Suze Orman could step in as commerce secretary, though she's a better pick for the Fed; and, of course, CNN's Lou Dobbs could be a solid contender to head Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Dept. of Saying No

One week before confirmation hearings are set to begin for Attorney General-designate Eric H. Holder Jr. and things on Capitol Hill are already heating up.

Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, took to the floor yesterday to raise "character" questions about Holder, dating back to his days as the Justice Department's second in command during President Bill Clinton's administration, our colleague Carrie Johnson reports.

Specter said he wants to use the hearings to ensure that Holder has "the stature and the courage to say no" to the White House. He cited concerns about Holder's advice to the president in the Clinton-era pardons of fugitive financier Marc Rich and several members of the Puerto Rican nationalist group FALN who were involved in a $7 million bank robbery. Specter also wants Holder to explain why he did not push harder for an independent counsel to investigate alleged campaign finance abuses involving then-Vice President Al Gore.

"I will approach these hearings with an open mind to give Mr. Holder a chance to explain his actions and his record," Specter said.

Meanwhile, leaders of several civil rights groups, including the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the NAACP, the national Council of la Raza and the National Women's Law Center, announced they would appear on Capitol HIill today to support the nomination of Holder, who would be the first African American attorney general.

After Richardson, the Deluge

Obama's search for a new nominee to head the Commerce Department has breathed new life into the competition among interest groups to have their candidates considered. Latino advocates are clamoring for Obama to pick one of their own to replace New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who had been poised to be the new administration's most prominent Latino official.

Gay advocates, shunned when Obama passed over openly gay and lesbian contenders for his Cabinet, hope he may tap an openly gay nominee at Commerce. And women's groups have been disappointed that just five of Obama's 20 Cabinet choices are women.

As Denis Dison, vice president of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, joked: "It would be nice if we had an openly gay female Latino. That would make everybody happy."

Several minorities are said to be serious contenders to replace Richardson. Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), who turned down Obama's offer to be U.S. trade representative, is said to be back in the mix for Commerce. Latino advocates also are lobbying for Gilbert Casellas, a vice president at Dell Computer and chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the Clinton administration. Casellas has a wealth of private- and public-sector management experience and offers an added distinction: He would be the first Latino of Puerto Rican descent to serve in a Cabinet job.

"What they're looking for is somebody with some governing experience and some private-sector experience," Brent Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latino American Citizens, said of Obama's transition team. "There was a lot of interest in the possibility of Gil Casellas."

Other Latino contenders include George Muñoz, who ran the Overseas Private Investment Corp. under Clinton and now works in the private sector, and businesswoman Linda Alvarado.

"We hope that the Obama team will see this still as an opportunity to set the historical precedent and have three Hispanics in the Cabinet," said Janet Murguía, president of the National Council of La Raza.

Gay advocates are pushing for Fred Hochberg, an entrepreneur who sits on the board of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and served as acting administrator of the Small Business Administration under Clinton. "He is the community's best hope for the commerce secretary position," Dison said.

Obama could check another box by tapping another African American, someone like former Time-Warner chief executive Richard D. Parsons, for the post. We're hearing that prior vetting would be a substantial plus.

Mondays Aren't All Bad

Not exactly another day at the office Monday for WilmerHale partner David W. Ogden. He was nominated to be deputy attorney general. Baby Natalie Sylvie Ogden, weighing in at 8 pounds 2 ounces, showed up at 7:04 p.m. (Natalie's mom, Anne Harkavy, is also a lawyer at the firm.) It would have been his late father's 84th birthday. And he won a major case in federal court in Miami blocking a $100 million judgment by a Nicaraguan court against his client, Shell Oil, and another company.

With Philip Rucker

By Eric Pianin  |  January 7, 2009; 12:26 PM ET
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