In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The Minnesota election court handed down another defeat for Norm Coleman tonight -- quite possibly a significant one -- ruling in favor of a Franken motion to forbid Coleman from bringing forward an expert witness he wanted.

The background info: Coleman has charged that the variations in how flawed absentee ballots could be accepted in some counties amounted to a violation of Equal Protection, and the only remedy is to throw out the rules entirely and count invalid ballots. To further this claim, he wanted to bring in King Banaian, an economics professor and right-wing blogger, to say that the differing numbers of ballots rejections across counties showed unequal treatment -- as opposed to simple differences in the numbers of actual ballots worthy of acceptance of rejection.

The court's very short analysis sides with Franken's motion to keep Banaian out -- and appears to go further in rejecting the whole premise of Coleman's argument:

The only question that can be decided in an election contest is which party received the highest number of legally cast votes, and therefore is entitled to receive the certificate of election. Minn. Stat. §209.12. The Court will be reviewing all ballots presented according to the uniform standard contained in Minnesota Statutes Chapter 203B. It is irrelevant whether there were irregularities between the counties in applying Minnesota Statutes §203B.12, subd. 2, prior to this election contest. The Court does not believe Banaian's testimony would assist in determining the issues properly before it.

In plain English: Seriously, stop wasting our time.

The Coleman camp has made it pretty clear that they'll be appealing the court's legal decisions against them, which could drag this out even longer. So put this one on the list.

Well, it looks like "the fairness doctrine" died a quiet death today. White House spokesman Ben LaBolt told Fox News that President Obama was not interested in restoring the Federal Communications Commission rule that basically requires broadcasters to give equal time to opposing points of view.

If enforced, the rule would obviously create havoc in talk radio land where conservatives dominate the airwaves. Not surprisingly, the right has been in a tailspin about this, predicting that Obama would somehow take away half of Rush and Sean and Laura and but liberals in their place. Talk about redistribution! But despite some congressional interest in the measure, the idea of restoring it was never really in play.

Intellectually, I think the idea is weak and the administration seems to think so, too. After all, it hearkens back to a pre-internet era when finding an opposing view was harder. But there were some lingering questions about what Obama would do. David Axelrod got asked about it on Fox News Sunday--yes, this is a News Corp obsession--and he punted, saying it was a decision best left for Julius Genachowski, Obama's not-yet-announced nominee to chair the FCC. (Genachowski is a close friend, for what it's worth.) But it looks like the decision's already been made. Seems sensible to me but the right loses something to fulminate about. I'm curious to see how much disappointment there is on the left.

One of the curious parts of the Minnesota trial has been the presence of Ben Ginsberg, a Washington Republican lawyer who has been serving on the Coleman team and firing off all manner of zingers at the campaign's press conferences. But his major role here may have been as much about being a spokesman as a counsel.

Only today, he filed his motion for admission pro hac vice -- what a lawyer from out of state does in order to serve in a specific case.

His press conferences have been amazing as it is. Who knows what might happen if he gets up to speak in court.

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It was a squeaker, but Team GOP prevailed over the Democratic squad in last year's installment of the annual Congressional Baseball Game.

As Politico reported in 2007, lawmakers found that corporate solicitations for the annual ballgame became a heavier lift than usual after the passage of new lobbying and ethics laws. But several brave businesses were willing to step up for '08 -- including the Stanford Financial Group, owned by accused bilion-dollar fraudster Allen Stanford, he of the Caribbean junkets and crusade to block anti-money-laundering rules.

Stanford's company political action committee contributed $10,000 to cover expenses for last year's Congressional game, according to disclosures filed with the Clerk of the House. Overall 2006 fundraising for the game totaled $120,000, according to the Politico report.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of Washington's biggest business lobbying groups, just released its response to the Obama administration's $75 billion mortgage aid plan.

As you'd expect, Chamber executive vice president Bruce Josten was skeptical of the aid plan, particularly the White House's support for letting bankruptcy judges modify the mortgage terms on primary residences (the so-called "cramdowns" bill). But Josten's response also included what sounds like a subtle jab at the treasury secretary in his statement, quipping that the mortgage aid proposal "should have undergone a stress test to determine if it's ready to stabilize a major portion of our economy."

A "stress test" to determine banks' solvency was a major component of Treasury chief Tim Geithner's widely panned speech last week, in which he provided vague details about how the administration would refine the enforcement of the $700 billion financial bailout.

Josten's full statement is after the jump.

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Check out the response from Team Coleman to the election court having ruled against their request for reconsideration of the court's opinion to throw out about 1,000 ballots that Coleman wants counted: They're declaring that there are now serious legal problems in this election.

Coleman lawyer/spokesman Ben Ginsberg said in a statement to the Star Tribune that there is a "fatal inconsistency" in the counting of votes, and that the effect of the court's ruling "is a legal quagmire that makes ascertaining a final legitimate result to this election even more difficult."

The court's rulings are creating a legal quagmire? I've been keeping track of this disputed result since Election Night itself, longer than even Ginsberg has been on board with Coleman. Trust me, we were in that zone a while ago.

Also note that Ginsberg questioned the possibility of a "legitimate" result to this election. It's very clear at this point that Coleman is laying the groundwork for an appeal, should this court rule Franken the winner. And given some prior moments in this trial, we can't rule out the idea that Coleman might shoot for a do-over, by declaring the election unsolvable.

As President Obama rolls out his $75 billion aid program to stem the tide of foreclosures among cash-strapped Americans, one key point should be emphasized: Banks participating in the government's $700 billion financial bailout are required to help modify home loans, according to the administration.

"[W]e have guidance as part of [the Troubled Assets Relief Program] that anyone receiving TARP funding must participate in this program," Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan told reporters today.

It sounds like the Obama team has learned its lesson from the framework of the bailout, which offered injections of capital in the hopes that banks would be enticed to jump-start lending -- with predictably shoddy results, as banks have largely hung onto the government's cash.

But this enforced participation in mortgage modifications brings up another question ... why can't bailed-out banks be forced to abide by Congress' new executive compensation limits?

So has Florida Governor Charlie Crist done himself any political harm among Republican voters, after he hit the trail with President Obama to support the stimulus bill?

The answer, according to the new Quinnipiac poll in Florida, is not at all.

The poll says that in the open Senate race for the seat of retiring GOP Senator Mel Martinez, Crist could easily win a Republican primary, if he runs -- he's ahead of his nearest potential opponent by 53%-13%. And there are even more numbers that suggest GOP voters aren't holding his stimulus support against him.

Crist has an overall job approval of 67%, to 22% disapproval, essentially unchanged from the 65%-24% numbers a month ago. Among Republican voters only, Crist is at 71%-21% -- again, pretty much the same as last month's 72%-19%.

So if Crist has thus far not paid any political price for backing the stimulus, this invites an important question: Would there have been any real political risk at all if other Republicans who are otherwise popular at home had supported the bill?

The AP finally takes a look today at our January Sleeper Bill of the Month, the congressional proposal for an independent commission that would investigate civil-liberties and human-rights abuses permitted during the Bush years.

Shocking as it is, Republicans tell the AP that a post-Bush "truth commission" is a terrible concept. But you've got to applaud the sheer chutzpah of Sen. John Cornyn's (R-TX) response:

This not only a bad idea, it is a diversion from the economic crisis we face.

I can't wait until the economic recession becomes a reason not to debate union organizing rules and pass health care reform.

Now that President Obama has unveiled his long anticipated mortgage relief plan, what does the permanent government of Washington have to say about the plan? The plan got a tentative thumbs up from the American Bankers Association. Diane Casey-Landry, ABA senior executive vice president and chief operating officer said in a statement.

"The American Bankers Association welcomes the Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan announced today by President Obama. The plan is a constructive, flexible and multifaceted initiative likely to have a positive effect on preventing mortgage foreclosures. The ABA is committed to working closely with the administration as it completes the remaining details of the plan. In particular, the plan is:

*A major commitment of funding sufficient in scope to have a significant impact. *Aimed at those at-risk homeowners most likely to avoid foreclosure under the planned assistance and incentives. * Designed to include market incentives, and to complement and reinforce industry initiatives and FHA programs."

I've been trying to reach the National Association of Realtors and the National Home Builders Association for their reaction as well.

Not surprisingly, the reaction from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac has been positive. They stand to get $200 billion in new funds. Besides, they're under government conservatorship and not really in a position to criticize the big guy.

"The Administration's unprecedented effort to prevent foreclosures and expand refinancing options for more borrowers offers hope to many struggling families across America. This is just the beginning of a sustained effort that will build over time. Fannie Mae is committed to working with the Administration," says Herb Allison, Fannie's CEO.

The biggest obstacle that lies ahead is the administration's plan to give bankruptcy court judges the power to rewrite mortgage terms. Not surprisingly, the banks are not crazy about this and will oppose it but the threat of giving judges such power--something opposed by the Bush administration--gives the banks plenty of incentive to rewrite the terms of loans before the judges do. Benjamin Lockwood in The Atlantic argues against these judicial "cram downs" here.

Will update as we hear more but this fight over bankruptcy judges is the one to watch.