updated 2/27/2011 10:59:06 PM ET 2011-02-28T03:59:06

1. Who will win the pre-shutdown spin game?
With just a few days before federal government funding ends, both sides will work furiously to get the upper hand, targeting their messages at the bases, the independent voters, and, most of all, the media.  The Gingrich-led GOP lost this very battle in 1995, and Republicans are well aware of that history and the pitfalls of appearing to welcome a shutdown.  Can Obama mirror Bill Clinton's feat– simultaneously defend the role of government and scare Americans about the implications of the loss of basic services?

2. Who lost Bahrain? And Libya? And, …..?
With violence and killing in the region escalating, the Obama administration is in danger of having its foreign policy frozen in place by the chaos. There will be a series of tough choices about how much to aid and abet continuing protests, amid threats of instability and little prospect for the kind of quick results seen in Egypt.  And: can the US-Saudi Arabia relationship thrive and survive the newest tensions?

3. As goes Wisconsin what?
Governor Scott Walker has the votes and the determination to pursue his union-destabilizing plans.  National Democrats have gone all in to become part of the forces at the barricades.  The spin wars are key here too.   Is this the beginning of the comeback the labor movement has been seeking for years or the beginning of the end of their sway in the workplace?

Related: Last week's Driving the Week Web chat

4. What kind of Speaker will John Boehner be?
Just eight days ago, the Ohioan made a strong star turn on "Meet the Press"; since then, he has been rolled repeatedly by his fellow House Republicans on a range of issues. Temperamentally, Boehner is perfectly suited to deal with the crises and challenges of balancing the national interest versus the interests of his conference and the Tea Party.  But does he have the political smarts and creativity to come up with sequenced solutions to the looming spending fights?


5. Will Rahm win the Chicago mayoral contest without a runoff – and then what?
The Magic 8 Ball suggests Emanuel will break the 50% threshold required to avoid an extended campaign.  His current success has been fueled by numerous factors, including his giant treasury—raising and spending millions more than his rivals.  Assuming a Tuesday win, what will Rahm do to consolidate his mandate, reach out to those who voted against him, and start the city’s transition to the post-Daley era?

This chat is moderated. As many questions as possible will be answered.

Live chat with Mark Halperin
Join Mark Halperin for a live chat - Monday, Feb 21, 7:45 a.m. ET

Video: Government shutdown over budget?

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    >>> it is time for our weekly segment driving the week where mark halperin gives us the top political stories. life is a highway

    >> we need a theme song .

    >> tell us the number one story driving the week, mark?

    >> the number one driving the week?

    >> it will be who will win the preshutdown spin game.

    >> you don't know what's driving the week?

    >> i was waiting for mika to introduce it.

    >> i'll introduce the stories on driving the week.

    >> this is say big story right now, libya 's important, wisconsin is important but how the two sides are setting the stage for the big confrontation next week. this will be a tough baby to split to figure out how to avoid a shutdown, because the republicans in the house are demanding there be big cuts are before they extend --

    >> does either side want to shut down? does the president think he gains by a shutdown?

    >> maybe they want one if the other side is to blame.

    >> i think republicans have to worry about the specter of what happened in 1959 when republicans shut down the government and got blamed for it it's easy for the president to say essential services are being cut because republicans won't compromise. finding the compromise in a short period of time left is going to be hard to do.

    >> do you think the white house might say this hurt republicans in '95 let's try it again?

    >> i think democrats would welcome it and think they will win the pr war if it happens. i don't think on the merits they're desperate for it but they take it on. i think it hangs in the balance.

    >> you turn your focus overseas for the second story driving the week. libya , bahrain and on and on.

    >> egypt looked easy. it happened relatively peacefully and in a transition with people the united states could do business with. what's going on in iran, libya , bahrain , very difficult for the white house to do it.

    >> what has the white house learned from egypt ? how are they handling bahrain and other challenges to allies.

    >> unfortunately not all the lessons are applicable. one thing they've learned, we saw that yesterday with secretary clinton and ambassador rice going at it, they can't hide from this. the united states is on the line to make choices in each of these countries. it's very difficult, because itas the violence escalates what america should do is not at all clear. egypt had minimal violence. these countries are seeing a lot of violence and repression from the government.

    >> the president was criticized in 2009 for not being tough enough.

    >> you don't see the covert things going on. i think they'll stet up and they have stepped what up they're doing behind the scenes to try to foment change in iran.

    >> your third story driving the week goes back to wisconsin . where's this going to go?

    >> this is where the spin wars matter. often we make too much of dealing with the media and trying to frame issues. this is where it matters. as joe pointed out, the unions have made some concessions already. but they are still on a weaker position than scott walker .

    >> why do you think that's the case? they have given on the benefits. they've given on pay. why do you think walker is in a stronger position?

    >> three reasons. one is, because he is still with the mood of the country to say anything that can predue government spending we're for. two, labor unions are weaker than they've been in the past, declining membership and popularity. the last thing is, scott walker is an executive and he's got -- he's in a honeymoon period . he just was elected with a pretty big margin. is he one person fighting against a number of democratic legislators and union leaders. it's always easier to command the bully pulpit if you're one person. that's why the president has an advantage as bill clinton did in a potential government shutdown . one guy can drive a message better.

    >> from a distance we look at wisconsin , we think it's a progressive state, yet he won handily.

    >> republicans won the senate seat.

    >> they have a senate advantage.

    >> outside the cities it's a rural state with a lot of relatively conservative people. tommy thompson was a conservative governor there for a really long time. it is not just a liberal state. it's not a massachusetts.

    >> one of the most fascinating states.

    >> you shun understatement how big the state legislative changes were in the last election. there were 700 seats picked up by republicans .

    >> largest ever.

    >> largest since the great depression.

    >> wow.

    >> that means a lot of things have been put in place. in some of those cases those are not necessarily what we would consider to be red states . it's not just that they take over both houses but they may have split the governments, gained a lot of seats. there's a lot of change and more power in the republican hands than a lot of state legislatures .

    >> mark, you've spent some time with him when he was running for governtalked to people who live in wisconsin over the weekend. is part of his appeal in addition to the popularity of government cut backs rooted in the fact that as these people indicated to me, he's not a scary, threatening figure.

    >> his style is very soft spoken. and he's a very accessible guy. his leadership style is one that worked well in the campaign. he won a tough primary in the general election . he's a former county executive and he's soft spoken but as i said before, he's tough and not afraid. he's willing to take these unions on. he doesn't feel like it's a risk for him politically. he's not afraid of losing.

    >> you said he won a tough primary. was he seen as the tea party candidate, the moderate candidate in the primary, who was? he.

    >> i don't know a whole lot about him.

    >> he was against mark newman , aformer congressman. he's popular with the far right of the party, social conservatives and economic conservatives. he's very stable, solid, approachable. he's not an impeerist guy at all. he's so tough. people underestimate him because of his demeanor. he's a tough guy.

    >> mark newman came with us in '94 and he was the budget guy. he was the guy we all turned to. he knew all the numbers. he was a pretty soft spoken guy, too. he stared down then bob livingston , chairman of the appropriations, newt gingrich . he fought them and won on several issues. now you have paul ryen from the same state doing it and now walker. this is fascinating.

    >> you have rahm as well as boehner in your web chat . i have a feeling you'll get back to wisconsin when you get online with folks. those are mark's top three stories "driving week." go to joe.msnbc.com for the full list. go to our website to submit a question.