In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Republicans truly did consider Sen. Judd Gregg (NH) one of their most effective strategists, both on policy and politics, and they'll miss him in leadership meetings now that Gregg has accepted the Commerce Secretary nod. As Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) acknowledged this morning on CNBC's "Kudlow & Cramer":

ENSIGN: To me, I told Judd this. I think Judd's one of our best strategists. He's a great thinker. And I think it's a mistake for him to leave the U.S. Senate.

REPORTER: I was afraid of that. ... Come on, Senator, rally the troops. Unified bill. The time is now. Profiles in courage.

Here's a challenge: Can anyone name a substantive similarity between Obama's first choice for Commerce Secretary and his second one?

Some news out of the Minnesota trial: The Coleman legal team has now dropped another complaint from their lawsuit against the election results.

The Coleman campaign has let go of a complaint alleging that some of the 933 previously-rejected absentee ballots that were opened up on January 3 -- after both campaigns sorted through the envelopes and agreed that they were legally cast, and had been improperly tossed because of clerical errors -- were not in fact legally cast, and shouldn't have been counted.

To be blunt, this was perhaps the single worst gambit that Coleman was trying to make. Remember that all of these envelopes were declared by his own campaign to have been legally cast -- but once they were opened and revealed to have gone for Al Franken by a 176-vote margin, they suddenly became illegal and had to be picked through for potential rejection.

The Coleman team probably realized two important things. First, this complaint had no chance of winning. And second, having this claim still out there was undercutting their current drive to open up even more rejected absentees, even in cases where a lighter standard would be needed to forgive obvious voter errors. So they're now stipulating that the votes were legit.

Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan has now announced her candidacy for the 2010 Senate race, running for the seat that has been opened up by the retirement announcement of four-term Republican Kit Bond:

Carnahan, the daughter of the late Governor Mel Carnahan and former Senator Jean Carnahan, was essentially coronated by the state Democrats right after Bond announced his retirement a few weeks ago, but this makes it official. The GOP is still sorting out a wide field of potential candidates, none of whom have officially gotten in yet.

Missouri is widely expected be a top-tier race for 2010 -- after all, most of the campaigns here are very close. John McCain enjoyed a super-thin victory here over Barack Obama, but Democrats won almost all the other statewide races, and both parties have strong campaign infrastructures in place.

President Obama has just officially nominated Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH) to take the reins at the Commerce Department. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sure (D-NV) sounds pleased:

I commend President Obama for selecting an outstanding Senate leader to guide our nation's commerce at a critical time for our economy. And I applaud his willingness to include another Republican in his bipartisan Cabinet. Senator Gregg is respected on both sides of the aisle for his impressive intellect and strong commitment to public service.

And why shouldn't Reid be psyched? Gregg may be a Republican who has consistently opposed much of the Democrats' economic agenda, but nominating him was Reid's idea, "at least in part," according to today's New York Times:

The idea of offering the job to Mr. Gregg came, at least in part, from the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada. (The two senators are close, aides to both men said.) Mr. Reid mentioned the idea to Rahm Emanuel, Mr. Obama's chief of staff, who passed it on to the president-elect.

Gregg and President Obama, the Times explains, "barely knew each other, aside from occasional chats in the Senate gym."

President Obama will take to the airwaves tonight to pitch the economic recovery bill to the people -- and he'll have his work cut out for him.

What becomes more apparent with each passing day in Washington is that the change in administrations has changed little about Congress' standard operating procedure, the wheeling and dealing that inspired Otto von Bismarck's famous quote about lawmaking and sausage-making.

Exhibit A: the business tax breaks in the Senate version of the stimulus bill.

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The Coleman legal team is continuing to lay out their case that they want the question of rejected absentee ballots to be opened again -- and in some cases, to literally open the ballots to investigate.

Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg has been questioning Washington County (Stillwater) elections official Kevin Corbid, and has been asking him about what have come to be known as "3A" ballots -- a category where a newly-registered absentee voter included their registration card inside the internal secrecy envelope containing the ballot, rather than immediately inside the outer envelope as it was supposed to be done.

Election officials now believe that 3A ballots should be considered to have been legally cast. The problem here is how one identifies a 3A ballot.

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Americans United For Change, the labor-backed political group that recently launched radio ads linking anti-stimulus Republicans to Rush Limbaugh, has just announced that they're expanding the Limbaugh ads to target GOP Sens. Jim Bunning (KY), Richard Burr (NC) and Mel Martinez (FL).

"Now the Obama plan goes to the Senate," the announcer says, "and the question is: Will our Senator, Richard Burr, side with Rush Limbaugh too" --interrupted by Limbaugh's "I hope he fails!" interjection -- "or will he reject the partisanship and failed economic policies of the past, and stand up for the people of North Carolina?"

Chances are, Burr will stick with Limbaugh.

Obama Announcing Gregg Appointment This Morning President Obama is holding a series of closed meetings with advisers this morning, and then at 11 a.m. ET he will make an announcement about his appointment for Secretary of Commerce. The president is expected to appoint Republican Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire.

Biden Meeting With Hillary, Swearing In Holder At DOJ Vice President Biden is having breakfast this morning with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, then at 10 a.m. he will go to the Justice Department to swear in Eric Holder as Attorney General. Then he is headed to the White House to join the president for the announcement about the Commerce Secretary.

Report: GOPer Bonnie Newman Will Be NH Senate Appointee CNN reports that former Judd Gregg chief of staff Bonnie Newman will be the appointee to Judd Gregg's Senate seat. Gregg made the appointment of a Republican to his seat a condition for accepting the cabinet appointment, rather than having the Democratic governor pick another Dem who would give the party a filibuster-proof margin.

Senate Taking Up Stimulus Amendments The Senate will begin voting today on amendments to the stimulus bill, as Senators sort through the changes they would like to make to the version that passed in the House. The range of opinions varies from Democrats who would like to shift the spending priorities around, to Republicans who want to cut back the spending itself.

Strib: Minnesota Senate Contest Affecting Stimulus Margins The Star Tribune reports that the protracted Minnesota Senate dispute, and the resulting absence of a Democratic Senator, appears to be making the passage of a stimulus bill more difficult. "Our burden would be a little lighter," said Chuck Schumer, while Congressman Keith Ellison was even more blunt: "Sometimes being one or two away is like being 100 members away. We need that Franken vote, and it's critical that we get it fast."

Lawmakers' Portfolios Plummet In Recession The Hill reports that the stock market's problems might be making a very important impact Capitol Hill -- lawmakers are seeing their own portfolios fall precipitously. The members of Congress who did speak to the paper about this, including Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-MN) and Paul Ryan (R-WI) all said they've been too busy dealing with the economy to worry about their own stocks, and they are unaware of any recent transactions.

Palin Backs Perry In Texas Gubernatorial Race Sarah Palin has now gotten herself involved in the politics of another state, endorsing Texas Governor Rick Perry for re-election. Perry is facing a likely primary challenge by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, so the Perry campaign has sent out a letter from Palin that is specifically addressed to Republican women.

Gregg Was For Abolishing Commerce Dept. Before He Was For Running It CQ points out that Judd Gregg voted in 1995 for a non-binding budget resolution that called for abolishing the Department of Commerce in the wake of the 1994 Republican victories, and that as a committee chairman he was for cutting the Commerce budget. Now Gregg is poised to head up that very department -- so really, a lot of things can change in 14 years.

Senate Democrats just emerged from an hour-long meeting to discuss the tax filing errors that have thrown Tom Daschle's nomination as health secretary into disarray. That Daschle's former colleagues are vociferously supporting him is to be expected, but Democrats were surprisingly confident that the former Senate leader would ascend to President Obama's Cabinet.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), powerful chairman of the Finance Committee, gave Daschle his vote of confidence, followed by Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Kent Conrad (D-ND). Daschle will have his confirmation hearing before Finance next week.

Other Democratic senators provided silent support in the background, with Republicans apparently sneaking out of the meeting in order to avoid the press.

The pro-Daschle appearance, staged in a corridor outside the Finance Committee's marble-walled hearing room, boasted only one mea culpa -- that of the nominee himself. The Democratic senators were more than happy to point fingers at Leo Hindery, the telecom mogul who paid for Daschle's private car and driver, for not sending the nominee a 1099 form indicating that Daschle would need to declare the "gift from a good friend" (Daschle's phrasing) on his taxes.

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