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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 8, 2009; 8:37 AM

You could make a case, without breaking a sweat, that the last few days haven't gone too well for Barack Obama.

Richardson pulled out amid a whiff of scandal. The Panetta nomination is being hammered even by some in his own party. The Burris spectacle grows more surreal each day; his strategy seems to be to give so many interviews and hold so many pressers that the Democrats just throw up their hands and seat him.

But Obama played a pretty good trump card yesterday.

I know, I know, it was just a photo op. But images matter. And the image of Obama in the Oval with George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter was a striking one, especially for a president-elect who's been preaching about bipartisanship. The footage was on TV all day yesterday. Brian Williams led off with it, and many front pages -- including the Washington Post's -- played it big.

In an indefinable way, the lunch with the ex-leaders of the free world reinforced the notion that Obama is coming into office on an unusual wave of goodwill at an unusually perilous time in our history. Having the current president wish him success doesn't hurt. People will remember a moment like that long after the messy details involving Burris and Panetta have faded from public consciousness.

The Boston Globe calls it "an image bound to go down in history," saying: "Confronting a grim economy and a Middle East in turmoil, Barack Obama turned yesterday to perhaps the only people on the planet who understand what he's in for: the four living members of the U.S. presidents' club."

Obama is continuing his media offensive, sitting down with CNBC's John Harwood yesterday, planning an economic speech today and scheduling an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos for Sunday.

At the same time, the Blago/Burris conundrum remains a fine mess. The Dems didn't want to seat the former state attorney general because they see him as hopelessly tainted by a governor who is, you may recall, out on bail. But they face the inconvenient fact that the unindicted Blagojevich is legally entitled to make the appointment.

And while it was predictable political theater, the spectacle of an African-American being turned away by an all-white Senate did not go over well, which is why we're starting to hear talk of a deal. How many more days do Harry Reid and company want this in the news when seating Burris would actually bring them one vote closer to a filibuster-breaking 60?

So they caved.

"The U.S. Senate's Democratic majority opened the way Wednesday for Roland Burris to become Illinois' next senator," the Chicago Tribune says, "pressured by President-elect Barack Obama to remove a politically consuming distraction less than two weeks before he assumes the White House during an economic crisis."

""A top Senate Democratic source said Obama's concerns about the Burris situation were among several factors that resulted in an about-face by Senate leaders, who had vowed to reject Burris or anyone else named by disgraced Gov. Rod Blagojevich."


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