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The Rundown

4 p.m. ET: For a chamber that's meant to be a relative island of stability -- the "cooling saucer" -- the Senate sure has seen a lot of upheaval lately.

As of this moment, there are 11 faces in the chamber who were not there as recently as last month. Five senators retired last year, four lost their reelection bids and Barack Obama and Joe Biden both resigned. That number will soon be at 13, once Hillary Clinton's replacement is picked and Michael Bennet is sworn in to replace Ken Salazar. The final total could be 14, if Al Franken is ever finally declared the winner in Minnesota.

The big changes today -- Biden and Clinton both gave farewell addresses, and Roland Burris was officially sworn in, and Ted Kaufman will be sworn in tomorrow. Before too long, Clinton's successor will be named, the Minnesota drama will be over and the chamber will finally be back at full strength. For now, anyway.

8 a.m. ET: Which Barack Obama will predominate for the next four years? The one who dined with conservative columnists Tuesday night, drawing praise for being "well-informed" with "a great smile"? Or the one who will likely sign a stimulus plan that attracts far fewer Republican votes, and contains fewer tax cuts, than he originally hoped?

The answer, of course, is both. But this is the balance that may well define the foundational stage of Obama's presidency, as he pledges to change the tone and partisanship of Washington even while his party commands nearly unchecked power. After all, why should congressional Democrats compromise with Republicans on the stimulus bill? The majority doesn't really need the minority to get the bill passed, nor does this seem to be the kind of politically radioactive measure that requires each side to give the other cover. The result, then, is that Democrats have been pushing Obama's initial proposal steadily to the left since it was unveiled, with GOP support dropping off along the way.

At the same time -- dinners with columnists and invitations to speak aside -- it's not as though most Republicans are going out of their way to make Obama's life easier, nor should they. Tim Geithner's confirmation has been put off for a week, as some GOP senators voice skepticism about his past tax mistakes. Eric Holder's confirmation, which begins today, will be no picnic. Arlen Specter, Holder's chief GOP inquisitor, even wrote an op-ed this morning telegraphing one likely line of questioning. And you can expect to hear Rod Blagojevich's name invoked frequently.

Perhaps the U.S. Capitol could take a bipartisan cue from the one in Springfield, where Republicans and Democrats appear united in their determination to oust Blagojevich from office. The state Senate began its session yesterday and started preparations for a trial of the governor. Even if Blagojevich loses in that proceeding, he can at least take twisted pride in the fact that he successfully made a Senate appointment; Roland Burris will be sworn in to the chamber today, just a few hours after Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden are expected to make their farewell remarks on the floor.

Biden, by the way, is starting to talk about what kind of role he expects to have as vice president. What he doesn't want, he says, is the bad-tasting "pudding" of the Bush-Cheney relationship. (Just read the story.) Always modest, Biden adds, "I know as much or more than Cheney. I’m the most experienced vice president since anybody."

By Ben Pershing  |  January 15, 2009; 8:00 AM ET
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