In it, but not of it. TPM DC

In the Minnesota election trial today, Franken lawyer Kevin Hamilton appears to be laying out a case that election officials have applied inconsistent standards in how they treated absentee ballots -- exactly the sort of case Norm Coleman has made.

The rub: The case is that a local election official in a Republican area has been especially strict with ballots the Franken camp wants included, and permissive for Coleman.

Over the last two days the court has been interviewing Sandy Engdahl, the elections manager for the GOP-leaning Minneapolis suburb of Plymouth. Yesterday, Engdahl in many cases agreed with Coleman lawyer Joe Friedberg that some ballots had been improperly rejected. She even went further and volunteered that over the last few days she'd found 11 more envelopes that ought to be included, which weren't ruled as such during the review of rejected ballots this past December.

Then it was Franken lawyer Kevin Hamilton's turn.

Read More →

A new Rasmussen poll suggests that Arlen Specter may have put himself in serious political danger by supporting the stimulus bill -- that is, by alienating Republican voters back home, as he heads into his 2010 re-election campaign.

An overwhelming 69% of Pennsylvania Republicans oppose the bill, and 58% of Republicans say they are less likely to support Specter because of his vote for it.

Remember that Specter faced a right-wing challenge in the Republican primary back in 2004, and just barely survived by a 51%-49% margin. So his hold on the GOP base has been anything but solid in recent years.

This leave us with two important questions. First, will the grassroots GOP ire continue to linger about this bill? And second, will a viable primary challenger emerge, who could successfully tap into that feeling?

As patently mock-able as it is, this morning's Politico story on the GOP emboldening wrought by Sen. Judd Gregg's (R-NH) pullout from the Obama administration has a crazy kind of truth to it. Republicans are eagerly lionizing Gregg as a conservative hero whose conscience could not allow him to serve under a -- gasp! -- liberal president who believes that government spending can heal the economy.

Listen to Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) on Fox this morning:

JORDAN: [Y]ou have Senator Gregg ... he understands that the stimulus package is going to do nothing to stimulate the economy. So I think it is kind of the final thing of a really bad week for the administration for Democrats.

REPORTER: You know, I'm not sure it was a bad week. They got an $800 billion stimulus plan pushed through. That's a pretty good week if you're a Democrat.

JORDAN: That's bad for the American people. That's what Senator Gregg understands.

And that's not even touching on control of the Census, which the GOP turned into a rallying cry to protect Gregg's power in the Obama administration -- before Gregg cited it as a major reason for his withdrawal. Suddenly the dry business of counting Americans, which helps determine congressional re-districting, has become a hot political debate for the GOP. Even our old buddy Hans von Spakovsky can't help but get in on the act.

Yesterday Matt likened Gregg to Sir Thomas More, but I'm thinking he might be congressional Republicans' William Wallace. "Tell our enemies that they can take our majority, but they'll never take ... THE CENSUS!!!"

Late Update: And the lionizing continues. Gregg's party is now imploring him to reconsider his decision not to seek re-election next year.

What's next,

It looks like Congressman Paul Hodes (D-NH), who declared his 2010 candidacy for the Senate when it looked like Judd Gregg was headed to the Commerce Department, is preparing for a scenario in which he has to run against Gregg after all.

Yesterday evening, Hodes released this scathing statement about Gregg:

"I am surprised and disappointed at this sudden withdrawal. Senator Gregg would take us back to the years of George W. Bush rather than moving forward with the change agenda that the American people clearly want. I will continue to work with President Obama to create jobs and rebuild our economy for the middle class.

I will be a candidate for the United State Senate in 2010. I look forward to working every day to stand up for New Hampshire as we come together to confront the economic crisis facing our nation."

Gregg said yesterday said he won't be running again, but while speaking to reporters he also left himself some wiggle room by saying he was "probably not" running. Considering how a week ago he was definitely going to be Commerce Secretary, a declaration that he's probably retiring isn't exactly a guarantee.

So Hodes at this point is clearly preparing for two contingencies: He either runs for an open seat, or he takes on the incumbent Gregg. In a state that swung drastically from the GOP to the Dems in the last few years, this will be a top-tier pickup opportunity for the Democrats in either case.

The House is set to pass the final stimulus deal today, with the Senate to follow as early as this evening. The one sticking point is Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), who is attending his mother's funeral today and has to return to Washington for the vote. Brown's vote is critical in this case because the ailing Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) won't be able to make it to the Capitol this time, meaning that the stimulus will likely slip past the finish line with the bare minimum of 60 votes needed to break a threatened filibuster.

It took until most of America had gone to bed, but the Democratic Congress finally posted its stimulus deal for the public to peruse at around 11:45pm. You can download the full text of the measure, split into four parts, at this site (see the left-hand links).

Several contentious provisions were tweaked in the waning hours of Thursday, reflecting changes from the leaked summary we'd showed you. But the biggest news is a question that was unresolved until the very last minute: the fight to keeping the Senate stimulus' strong executive pay limits resulted in one victory.

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) lost their push to claw back bonuses paid to banks receiving government bailouts, but Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd's (D-CT) CEO pay limits did survive. It's not as stringent as the Wyden-Snowe limits, or Sen. Claire McCaskill's (D-MO) plan to cap bailed-out bank salaries at $400,000, but it's a win nonetheless.

Read a summary of Dodd's provisions, which are expected to become law by Monday, after the jump.

Read More →

House To Vote On Stimulus Today The House of Representatives is set to vote today to pass the stimulus bill, after Congressional negotiators spent last night hammering out the final differences over school-construction spending and tax cuts. The Senate could vote on it either today or over the weekend, which would then send it to the White House for President Obama's signature.

Obama's Day Ahead: Meeting With Business Leaders, Heading To Chicago President Obama is speaking at 10:30 a.m. ET to members of the Business Council at the White House. At 12:20 p.m. ET he will be having lunch with Vice President Biden in the Oval Office. Then at 4 p.m. ET he will leave the White House to go to Chicago, scheduled to arrive at O'Hare at 6 p.m. ET.

Biden Discussing Nuclear Proliferation With Current And Former Diplomats Joe Biden is meeting today with former Clinton-era Secretary of Defense William Perry, currently of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament. They will be holding a closed-door meeting, at which they will be joined by former foreign ministers from Australia and Japan, as well as the current ambassadors to the U.S. from those countries.

Panetta Confirmed To Head CIA The Senate last night confirmed Leon Panetta to be CIA Director. Panetta was easily approved on a voice vote.

Gregg: I'm "Probably Not" Running Again; Hodes Still In Judd Gregg appealers to be giving himself some wiggle room on whether he'll run again for the Senate in 2010, telling reporters yesterday that he is "probably not" going to seek re-election. Meanwhile, Democratic Congressman Paul Hodes has reaffirmed that he's still in the race.

Menendez Predicts Good 2010 For Senate Dems, Pins Economy On GOP DSCC chairman Bob Menendez told reporters he is optimistic about the 2010 campaign, as the Democrats move to get the 60-plus seats that could overcome Republican filibusters. Menendez also said he does not think the voters will blame Obama and the Democrats for lingering economic problems, giving a preview of what Dems will be saying next year: "They understand what President Obama inherited."

Obama Jokes About Judd Gregg While paying tribute to Abraham Lincoln at a dinner last night in Springfield, Illinois, President Obama fired off this joke: "Possibly in his law office, his feet on a cluttered desk, his sons playing around him, his clothes a bit too small to fit his uncommon frame, maybe wondering if somebody might call him up and ask him to be commerce secretary..."

Well, that was weird. I guess the senatorial career and presidential aspirations of Bonnie Newman have been cut a bit short.

Gregg seems to have acquitted himself better at the press conference than in his statement which at first seemed to suggest that he was going to try and play Sir Thomas More in "A Man For All Seasons," dying on a pyre to protect the sanctity of the Census from the politically expedient ruler.

I still think the Census thing has a slightly bogus quality to it. Gregg surely had more than enough clout to ensure that the Census Director, whoever it was, was someone he could live with even if the appointment was not his alone to make. It's not like the President was going to force Terry McAuliffe or some Demohack on him.

The stimulus thing is a little odd, too, since the whole package moved in a more Collins-Snowey direction in the last week. He should have been more reconciled to the bill by week's end, not less. But, that said, if he changed his mind for his own reasons or in part because he had raised eyebrows back home, then it's probably better we know now.

I pitch Eric Schmidt for the job. It's primarily a science job. NOAA is most of the budget. And then there's the Census. What Google was meant for (albeit in a slightly creepy way).

A pretty funny dynamic has developed in the Minnesota court case, different from the way we're used to seeing judicial issues argued in this country: The left is arguing for a strict interpretation of the law, while the right is taking the side that the mere letter of the law fails to grasp the situation.

The court today heard arguments on whether the campaigns think particular categories of rejected absentee ballots should be counted -- that is, whether certain kinds of errors should be forgiven for one reason or another. As we saw earlier, the Coleman camp now has a very expansive view that nearly all the rejected ballots should be included, even if it goes against the letter of the law.

For example, Coleman lawyer James Langdon said that the Franken team "would have you sit in a vacuum, strictly interpreting a statute," without taking into account the facts that have come into the court and shown just how complicated this all is. He also said that the circumstances of this case were "creating penumbras" around the written law.

Read More →

President Obama recently announced that he would hold a fiscal responsibility summit at the end of this month, with a particular focus on the long-term funding shortage that faces Social Security and Medicare.

And who's bound to be high on the guest list? None other than Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), who abruptly pulled out of contention to become Commerce Secretary today. Not to mention that when Obama releases his maiden budget proposal -- also likely to come before month's end -- the leader of the opposition will be none other than Gregg, the senior Republican on the Budget Committee.

All together now, everyone: Awkward!

"It really is going to be very interesting" when the budget debate pits Gregg against the Obama team, budget expert Robert Bixby told me. Bixby is executive director of the Concord Coalition, a nonprofit fiscal watchdog.

"I actually could never quite figure out why Gregg had accepted the Cabinet position in the first place, since it was obvious that [he and the president] had some very fundamental disagreements about fiscal policy," Bixby added.

Read More →