In it, but not of it. TPM DC

With the Senate expected to approve Attorney General nominee Eric Holder on Monday, one conspicuous opening remains in President Obama's Cabinet: Rep. Hilda Solis (D-CA) has yet to be confirmed as Secretary of Labor.

We reported last week on GOP concerns with how Solis addressed queries on the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) during her confirmation hearing. It's worth repeating that the problem is not technically a Senate "hold," as some outlets have reported.

Chamber rules prevent official holds from being placed until a committee has released a nominee to the full Senate -- and a spokesman for Sen. Mike Enzi (WY), chief GOPer on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions panel, told me that Republicans are still awaiting answers to more written queries from Solis.

"Republicans are still doing our due diligence on this nomination," the Enzi spokesman said, noting that the latest round of written questions was sent to Solis on Tuesday. He declined to discuss the nature of the GOP's queries, but said that more than just the EFCA is at issue.

Late Update: TPM alum Greg reports at The Plum Line that the president will host labor leaders for a signing of executive orders tomorrow. One suspects that the Solis nomination will be much-discussed on the sidelines ...

A lot of attention has been paid lately to the idea of a "bipartisan" economic recovery bill. Clearly the House GOPers are happy to blame Dems while voting against the stimulus, but what about the Senate? Well, Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) just distilled his side's notion of cooperation during a press conference on the recovery legislation:

How about the Senate? Well, there have been two committee meetings, the Appropriations Committee and the Finance Committee, in which I sit. Not a single one of our [Republican] amendments was voted up. Every one was rejected.

So essentially no changes as a result of those two markups on the bill that will come to the Senate floor next week. And if [the Ledbetter and SCHIP bills] are any indication, we'll get votes on amendments, they'll all lose, and the bill will then pass, and we end up with a totally partisan package. I don't think that's what the president had in mind when he talked about putting legislation together in a bipartisan way.


Okay ... so "bipartisanship" means not an exchange of ideas from both parties, or a chance to vote on proposals from both parties, but Democratic agreement on approving the GOP agenda? Good luck with that.

In the Minnesota election trial this afternoon, Coleman attorney Joe Friedberg continued to lay out the campaign's reasoning for why their previous decisions in the recount shouldn't be an issue here under the doctrines of estoppel and invited error: The voters of Minnesota should not be bound by Coleman's prior agreement to arrangements that were illegal to begin with.

While exploring the issue of whether some absentee ballots were improperly copied and double-counted, Friedberg asked Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann how he had come to arrive at his office's directives on how to handle this issue during the recount -- and why he asked the campaigns for approval.

"The interested parties, the parties that have a stake in the outcome of the hand recount," Gelbmann said, "if you can get an agreement from both parties that the process you're going to use is acceptable to the parties, you would assume you would not have an issue before the final outcome."

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Rod Blagojevich is on a roll in his 90-minute speech to the Illinois state Senate, the chamber that is poised to remove him from office as early as today, lambasting them for removing him with no evidence that he did anything wrong.

Blago is taking particular pride in his decision to circumvent the legislative process during his first term in order to help Illinoisans get prescription drugs from Canada, teaming up with governors from other states. Blago pointed out how national Democratic leaders like Rahm Emanuel have actively promoted this issue.

So if you're going to throw him out of office, Blago argued, "let's demand that President Obama fire Rahm Emanuel, because Rahm Emanuel is the one who gave me this idea."

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) is one of the rising stars in the GOP, constantly prodding Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) from the right while feeling the love from conservative think tanks and bloggers.

And DeMint gave some love back today at the Heritage Foundation, delivering a speech that encapsulates the emerging Republican strategy for dealing with the popular president. He plays nice early on ...

I like President Obama very much. We were elected to the Senate at the same time and we've worked together on a number of common goals. I believe he wants to do what is best for our country ...


... and then he gets nasty.

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The Minnesota election trial is continuing today, after the Franken campaign spent the morning laying out their claim that Norm Coleman's legal arguments at this point cannot be taken at face value.

Specifically, Franken attorney David Lillehaug reviewed rejected absentee ballots that were vetoed by the Coleman campaign, under the state Supreme Court's controversial decision that gave the candidates a veto power over improperly-rejected absentees. The presentation made an interesting display of the Coleman camp's reasons for rejecting ballots then -- and though Lillehaug didn't directly say it just yet, it provides a contrast to Coleman's positions now:

• A ballot was rejected because the witness failed to fill in their address. This past Monday, Coleman attorney Joe Friedberg was arguing that a lighter standard should be used to include ballots such as these.

• A ballot was affirmed by the Coleman camp as being properly rejected because the voter failed to sign their absentee application, but were given the ballot anyway. Yesterday, Friedberg was saying this sort of state negligence wasn't a specific legal reason to throw out a vote.

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At this very moment, President Obama is preparing to sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law. It's an admirable bill that remedies a regrettable 2007 Supreme Court ruling which had constrained the time limit for women to file pay-discrimination claims against their employers.

Media coverage of today's White House ceremony depicts the Ledbetter signing as a major victory for gender pay equity. But a much broader bill addressing pay discrimination -- the Paycheck Fairness Act -- faces a mysteriously uncertain future in the Senate, where it has yet to receive a floor vote despite approval in the House last year and again this year.

What's the holdup? And will the (well-deserved) hoopla over the Ledbetter victory obscure the facts behind the inaction on Paycheck Fairness?

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Today: Blago Speaking To Illinois Senate Rod Blagojevich will be speaking to the Illinois state Senate, the body that is poised to remove him from office in his impeachment trial, delivering a closing argument in his own defense at 12 p.m. ET. This should be very interesting to watch.

Obama's Day Ahead -- Signing Ledbetter Bill President Obama will be signing the Lily Ledbetter Bill, a law to make it easier for women to sue for pay discrimination, at 10 a.m. ET. He will also be holding a series of closed meetings throughout the day with his economic advisers, Hillary Clinton and others. There will also be a pooled press meeting with Vice President Biden and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, scheduled for 3 p.m. ET.

Biden Meets With Daschle Vice President Biden is meeting for breakfast this morning with Health and Human Services Secretary-designate Tom Daschle. He will then join with President Obama for the meetings and events listed above.

NYT: Stimulus Varies In Speed, Efficiency The New York Times takes a look at the stimulus plan as it currently stands in the House-passed package, finding that its various components vary in terms of just how quickly they will spread through the economy. The quickest portions will be in unemployment benefits, food-stamp increase and tax cuts, while infrastructure spending would take a while to get going.

Minnesota Senate Trial Continues This is the fourth day of the Minnesota election trial, scheduled to reconvene at 10 a.m. ET. Al Franken's legal team will continue their cross-examination of Deputy Secretary of State Jim Gelbmann, who was originally called by the Coleman campaign to examine the fallibility in the system -- and which the Franken camp has rebutted by pointing out that Coleman's team fought against the fallibility case right up until he fell behind.

Senate Expected To Pass Children's Health Care Bill The Senate today will likely pass a bill expanding the SCHIP program, extending health insurance to 11 million children who are currently not eligible. The bill passed in the last Congress, but was vetoed by President George W. Bush.

Mitchell Speaks To Palestinian Leaders In West Bank Middle East Envoy George Mitchell travelled to the West Bank today to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, in an effort by the Obama Administration to restart the Middle East peace process. He did not meet with Hamas.

Obama To Make First Foreign Trip To Canada President Obama will be making his first trip outside the United States as president next month, the White House has announced. Obama will be visiting Canada, the United States' largest trading partner, on February 19.

The Coleman campaign has launched the latest P.R. front in their effort to have the rejected absentee ballots reconsidered, with some interesting potential ethical ramifications.

The Coleman camp's Web site has now published in an easily accessible form the names and home counties of every individual who delivered an absentee ballot and who has not yet been counted. In Hennepin County (Minneapolis), which has its municipalities run elections instead of the county, we are also shown the home towns of the people involved.

"Check below to see if you are one of the thousands of Minnesotans the Franken campaign is seeking to disenfranchise," the page says. "And please contact us at info@colemanforsenate.com to express your support for our effort to have your vote counted."

It gets better. By including every last rejected ballot, regardless of backstory or merit, they are including ballots they themselves earlier objected to counting, under the state Supreme Court's controversial decision that gave the candidates a veto power over improperly-rejected absentees -- and they're now saying it's the Franken campaign who is disenfranchising these people.

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